A natural majority for Yes

It’s a phrase I believe Nicola coined last year, and I admit I was sceptical about it. There’s rarely a natural majority for anything, even a binary choice like independence. But I’ve come to agree with her, and now I have polling that demonstrates what she means. Using my regular pollsters Survation, I asked a series of nine trust questions. These are the results with the Don’t Knows excluded (full tables here).

Who do you trust more on each of these issues? Holyrood Westminster Net Holyrood
Doing what is right for Scotland * 79.9% 20.1% +59.8%
Representing our views * 76.7% 23.3% +53.4%
Having our best interests at heart * 72.5% 27.5% +45%
Improving the lives of the most vulnerable * 70.2% 29.8% +40.4%
Keeping public services in public hands * 69.6% 30.4% +39.2%
Making the best choices for me and my family 64% 36% +28%
Protecting our environment 60.3% 39.7% +20.6%
Delivering a fairer economy 59.5% 40.5% +19%
Playing a responsible role internationally 42.7% 57.3% -14.6%

So, on eight out of nine “values” issues, voters in Scotland trust Holyrood more. Only on one (which I admit baffled me – *cough* *Iraq*) was Westminster narrowly preferred. On the first five, indicated with an asterisk, there’s an absolute majority for Holyrood even when you include the Don’t Knows. And that’s on what this question is really about: where should decisions be made? As now, split between Holyrood and Westminster, or entirely at Holyrood?

It’s no wonder, either. The last decade plus of Westminster’s decision-making could have been designed as a campaign to make the entire institution as unpopular as possible. A system of bank deregulation in favour of the City led to an extraordinary crash. The aftermath of that crash was used not to fix banking and tackle inequality, but to build a three-party consensus for a war on the poor and disabled, the demonisation of immigrants, yet more tax cuts for the highest earners, and a continuation of the ideological privatisation agenda. How could an ever harsher Union not have been designed to alienate Scottish voters?

Maybe the extraordinary scare campaign against radical change, coordinated from within 10 Downing Street with their FTSE 100 allies, will win. Maybe our superior ground campaign will win. But sooner or later we will be independent. There’s a natural majority for it.

In the music of yes, a very distinctive Green chord has been struck

Another wee guestie from Shonagh McEwan, a bit more partisan this time. Thanks Shonagh! 

Green YesBack in the day, I was cynical. At the beginning of the referendum campaign, I simply thought us wee Greens would be a lost grain of sand on a very SNP beach. How could our distinctive Green voice be heard? Salmond would beating his SNP drum upfront, I’d get a headache and the rest would be history.

The start of the campaign seems so long ago now, and so does my cynicism. My initial concern was, thankfully, misplaced. It’s been a vibrant, dynamic, creative and colourful Yes campaign. The nature of grassroots activism and community campaigning has enabled diverse strands of the debate to grow.

Postive campaigning has also allowed the Yes collective to gain strength from that diversity. There has been a shared space for the distinctive Green Yes to flourish alongside others. Visually, we’ve made our mark. The badges, the t-shirts, posters – a fantastic display of Green Yes. In the public debates, whether broadcast or not, we’ve sung our vision for a different future for Scotland beautifully and because of that, we’ve been heard.

I have hope for the music of Yes this Thursday. As someone listening closely to the campaign, it actually has been like an orchestra to listen to. And that’s not just because I’ve been moved by the distinctive, individual sound of the Green Yes. It’s also because all the Yes campaign strands have worked so well together.

Part of me could go back to being cynical, but I’m going to try hard not to. Because after Thursday, I have hope for something much bigger. And that’s for a new politics, in a new Scotland, that continues its diverse musicality without me getting a headache.

Sweden enters a brave new world

Olof Palme, the last Social Democrat to enjoy a full majority

Today Stefan Löfven, a former industrial welder from northern Sweden, expects to begin moves to assemble a Social Democrat-led government. As the latest in a long line of Social Democrat prime ministers, Löfven assumes not just the trappings of power but an office of both party and state that defined Sweden for the latter part of the 20th century. But the party that led Sweden through its golden age of economic and social prosperity after the Second World War and made the country a role-model across Europe and the wider world is not in good shape.

It used to be said the Social Democrats were in control even in opposition. Now the question is whether they are in control when they are in government. In coalition with the Greens, they no longer have the ability to lead and make others follow. When former Social Democrat leader Göran Persson left office in 2006, Sweden still possessed many of its Nordic economic and social features, from a monopoly on the nation’s chemists to extremely high levels of sick-pay eligibility and a relatively protected public healthcare system. In the past eight years many of the old certainties have vanished, and the country the Social Democrats should inherit is, for the first time in over half a century,  not a land for which they have written the rules.

Since 2006 Sweden has been led by the conservative-liberal ‘Alliance for Sweden’, a joint front of the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Liberal and Centre parties. By far the biggest partner in the coalition were the rebranded ‘New’ Moderates, who successfully overhauled Swedish conservatism under the leadership of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and proved a big influence on David Cameron’s reinvented British Conservative party.

Elected on a promise to safeguard the Swedish model,  the Alliance for Sweden have fundamentally changed key aspects of the Swedish system. Since the 1950s the country has been famous for extremely high levels of employee protection, gender and economic equality and a robust economy that has weathered global trends.

Since 2006 the expansion of profit-driven free schools has increased educational division, and tax cuts for both the wealthy and the restaurant sector, intended to stimulate employment, have had little impact on the overall prosperity of the country. Combined with an affordable housing crisis in Stockholm and well-publicized scandals involving private healthcare companies, the Moderates look set to limp over the finish line with just two-thirds of the support they won at the previous election.

The complex maths generated by Sweden’s combination of open national lists and a 4% barrier for entry to parliament means that a likely Social Democrat-Green coalition could horse trade with the Left, Liberal and Centre parties to form a majority. Unfortunately for Löfven, the Feminists failed to make it past the finish line, robbing them of a natural ally. Traditionally Sweden has operated as two electoral blocs, with the Social Democrat-dominated left competing with what Swedes label ‘bourgeois’ parties in coalition.

The difficulty for either side in assembling a complete majority has been created by the entry of the far-right Sweden Democrats. The party, which first appeared in 2010 and is rooted in neo-Nazism, was vying with the Greens to become the third largest in national politics, comprehensively pushed them into third place. Both the Greens and the Sweden Democrats had consistently hovered at around 10%, with the Greens promoting their ability to keep the far right from influence to no avail. The Sweden Democrats hit 13% though, making themselves kingmakers if anyone would be willing to work with them.  For now though, unlike in neighbouring Norway where the strongly anti-immigration Progress Party is in a governing coalition, the Sweden Democrats remain political outcasts.

What is happening in Sweden mirrors the fragmentation of European politics more generally, with voters abandoning traditional Social Democratic and Conservative parties in favour of newer voices on both left and right.  In the recent European elections the Greens beat the Moderates into third place, whilst the grassroots Feminists mobilised largely young and female voters to win an MEP. More worryingly for the traditional blocs, the far-right have been able to take votes from both conservatives and white working class voters.

The changed nature of Swedish politics means that a return to pre-Alliance days is firmly out of the question,  and the time when the Social Democrats would haul in upwards of 40% of the vote and make small concessions to other parties are long gone. It also means that the Swedish model so admired by Sweden’s European neighbours is on shaky ground even without the Alliance at the helm.

Government without overwhelming support leaves the Social Democrats with an existential question. Outflanked on the progressive left by Feminists and Greens, but unable to move further right without hemorrhaging their core support, they remain comfortably the largest party but without a clear vision of why they want to be in office. At a time when Sweden’s problems with social exclusion and income distribution risk removing it from the realms of Scandinavia and dumping it firmly within the demographic trends of the rest of Western Europe, Löfven will lead a group with the smallest percentage of Social Democrat MPs since the 1920s.  His government needs to revive the Social Democratic project and make it relevant for the 21st century if the party and the society they created are to survive.

Scotland’s public sphere, not the BBC, is the real problem

IMG_4907 Today, thousands of pro-independence activists gathered outside of the BBC in Glasgow in order to protest against bias in the state-run broadcaster.

How right or wrong they are is debatable – bias is often confused with media organisations being under-resourced or needing to satisfy commercial constraints. What it does reveal though is a larger problem – people in Scotland do not have a great deal of trust in the media.

It works both ways too. I recently interviewed a pro-UK activist for an article I was writing who complained of the partisan approach of the Sunday Herald, the only newspaper to openly declare for the Yes side in the referendum campaign. I have also been called a Yes hack, though my only involvement in the Yes campaign has been playing in a charity football match to raise money for Motor Neurone Disease at their request.

This isn’t helped by some aspects of the media that insist on sorting people into one of two camps, the result being that a very well-known and competent Scottish journalist has recently found themselves cold-shouldered by broadcasters as they did not slot neatly into the demands of five minute vox pops.

The campaign has also seen a growth in a particular kind of anti-journalistic campaigning. For too long Scottish journalism got by on the ‘succulent lamb’ approach typified by the financial scandals involving Rangers football club. Journalists were given a ready supply of stories and were not encouraged to ask questions.  Events such as the phone-hacking scandal and tabloid culture have also made the general public highly suspicious of journalists. When talking to a Yes activist in the south of Scotland, he was reluctant to let me record him before knowing exactly what my article was about and having been reassured that I wouldn’t stitch him up.

One of the shorthands of the referendum is MSM – mainstream media. MSM has become a term of abuse almost, and in some cases there are immediately resistant readings by large sections of the population to anything published in the traditional press. The other side of this is the alternative media, typified by more professional undertakings such as Bella Caledonia and the experimental Referendum TV, but also by glorified blogs such as Wings over Scotland.

Often marketing themselves as citizen media, alternative media usually crowdfunds itself for short periods and attempts to counter perceived bias. In many cases such projects provide much needed diversity to the media landscape, and Bella Caledonia for example have a track record of publishing well-written and interesting articles on all aspects of Scotland by some fairly notable writers and experts. What they can never do is attempt to be media organisations that can carry serious weight in a way that newspapers and TV broadcasters do. Between the BBC and this internet fringe there remains very little of substance.

Scotland’s conventional newspapers are severely limited in their ability to fully cover important issues, relying on wire stories, externally produced content and increasingly thin advertising margins. The people marching outside of Pacific Quay in Glasgow may feel wronged, but they should realise that they’re not the only ones being failed by Scotland’s media. There is a public space that needs to be claimed, and we’ll need an entirely new model of public service journalism to do so. Watch this space.

No shock, no awe

If Kinnick Wins-stThe establishment’s campaign to undermine a Yes vote got properly underway last week: every day a new banker or corporate boss was wheeled out to say we’d all be impoverished by a Yes. The media as a mass appeared not to be familiar with the phrase “vested interests”: each new corporate attempt to stifle Yes voters was regurgitated undigested onto our screens and newspapers. If Scotland votes Yes we’ll face massive job losses, or at least that’s the spin, as our nukes and our banks vanish overnight, then the border guards will keep us out of England. Today it got ramped up again. We’ll face a full economic depression, said one bank. Only a zombie apocalypse awaits us.

It started to ring a bell with me. It’s the exact same election campaign that the exact same establishment used to run against Labour before Blair took over. The same threats, just with added border guards. Capital flight has been cited for decades to intimidate people against change, and if it doesn’t work, it occasionally gets used if the vested interests see no other way to avoid change. No wonder Salmond felt obliged to suggest the SNP would cut corporation tax: presumably he optimistically thought it might diminish this phase of their efforts.

Pre-Blair, of course, Labour were the closest thing the establishment had to a credible threat. And so they got monstered over and over again. The arguments of those doing very well out of Thatcherism, thank you, were presented as objective economic facts. Every ad hominem attack they could muster, they did. There was no pretence of fairness or neutrality. It’s achingly familiar. We’re just waiting for celebs to threaten to leave Scotland.

But now Labour’s threat to those interests has evaporated. They’re a party intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich. They privatised whatever they could, gave sacks of cash away to corporate donors through PFI, began letting the markets into the NHS, and all because those corporate donations helped make up for a hollowed-out party membership. The party of Keir Hardie became the party of Lord Sainsbury. Alistair Darling, the No campaign’s figurehead, explained to Scots that the NHS was safe in Westminster hands having himself accepted money from the private companies taking apart the NHS. Blair did such a good job of reshaping the Labour Party in the Tories’ image that he got the Sun’s endorsement in 1997. They’d been an attempt at the solution. But by then they were an almost indistinguishable part of the problem.

But now, much to the establishment’s surprise, there appears not only to be some sort of vote in Scotland, but it could in fact lead to a rejection of the entire Westminster-establishment-elite edifice. And who knows, if the Scots successfully reject it, how long before the rest of the UK might do so too? No wonder they’ve dusted off the Defeat Change playbook from the 1980s. The grid is almost unchanged: although the threat is deeper this time, because Westminster itself faces a loss of territory and power in a way it didn’t with a hypothetical Labour win in 1992. Pre-Blair Labour parties used potentially to be transitory change. Independence is permanent change. No wonder Labour have allied themselves with the Tories, with the bankers, with the corporate chief execs. The occasional stint of Westminster rule, provided they don’t change too much, is the accommodation they’ve made with the establishment.

I should say that 1992 was the last time I’d have defined myself as a Labour voter, although they’ve had the odd second or third preference off me since. Back then I was voting with the Labour leadership as the best hope of change, rejecting the threats from the bankers and from the establishment. In this referendum, I’m voting against the Labour leadership but again for the best hope of change. Those threats meant nothing to me then, and they mean nothing to me now.