National or Northern? One is far healthier than the other

There was, for a space of about six months between the release of the White Paper on Independence and the Easter break, a huge upsurge in interest in the Nordic aspects of Scotland’s independence movement. Assorted documentaries on TV and Radio, some SNP rhetoric on ‘Nordic’ childcare and a plethora of newspaper columns ranging from the meticulously informed to the blatantly phoned-in all sought to either support or criticise the idea of Scotland’s Nordic dream.

But then silence.

Criticism of the Nordic Way (a regular and quite conscious trope of the Nordic Council) has come in from the unionist side with their talk of massive tax hikes and from the far left who see the Nordic model as a Faustian pact with capitalism hiding under a friendly veneer of Moomin and mid-century furniture. One of the big problems is that nobody is quite sure what Nordic means. If you’re a political scientist the it refers very specifically to a unique system of tax-based growth economy ploughing profits back into human capital. If you’re of a more cultural bent it is mid-century classicism and nice cakes and Carl Malmsten chairs, or on a more dubious level a perceived heritage shared by Scotland. If, like me, you occupy the that third space between the policy wonks and economists and people munching on Kanelbullar in the West End and going to crayfish parties, it is a useful tool in Scotland’s political lexicon.

What you see most of all is how Nordicness allows Scotland to articulate its own better self, and the apparent waning of interest in Northern Scotland is slightly worrying. Irrespective of how genuine Nordic Scotland is, the referendum campaign appears to be in danger of slipping back into a fight over family silver and half-truths. The Northern dream has briefly allowed Scotland to glimpse an alternative to welfare cuts and Taylor Wimpey homes, daring to speculate on a new aesthetic without recourse to nationalist shibboleths.

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Exclusive: latest Holyrood voting intention

It’s month two of our joint project with the Daily Record, Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions and our pollsters, Survation. The Record have gone with the indyref poll, the figures for which I intend to draw a veil over here. They have to try and not look partisan. I don’t think that applies to me.

Anyway, here are the latest Holyrood voting intention figures. Last month I did the vote shares as a comparison to Holyrood 2011. This month I’m comparing shares to last month’s data: but the seat numbers are still shown as the change on 2011 (I know this is a bit confusing and I am open to other ways of showing the data). I am also giving the first post-decimal point figure, although it’s false accuracy and as usual the margin of error is ±~3%. Seat projections are from Scotland Votes again.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 44.9 (+0.3) 50 (-3) 40.6 (+0.7) 13 (-3) 63 (-6) 48.8
Labour 32.1 (-1.9) 18 (+3) 25.1 (-3.1) 16 (-6) 34 (-3) 26.4
Conservative 13.5 (+0.5) 3 (±0) 12.2 (+1.1) 12 (±0) 15 (±0) 11.6
Liberal Democrats 5.7 (+0.7) 2 (±0) 9.0 (+2.3) 7 (+4) 9 (+4) 7.0
Scottish Greens - - 7.3 (-1.1) 8 (+6) 8 (+6) 6.2
Others 3.8 (+0.5) 0 5.9 (+0.1) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

A few things to note here. First, the SNP remain overwhelmingly Scotland’s most popular party, slightly above even where they were last month. If I were off to their party conference this weekend, almost seven years since taking power for the first time, I’d be pretty pleased with these figures. It’s a little off their peak, sure, and the absolute majority would presumably be replaced with another round of minority, or a coalition with the Lib Dems or the Greens. But it’s still very impressive.

Second, that would obviously be Labour’s worst ever Holyrood result – very marginally up on the first vote but paying for it on the list. There are some who think “Labour hegemony is normal setting” (sic), but if that’s true still (it isn’t) we’re a long way from normal right now. Outflanking the SNP to the right and a constant diet of negativity: these tactics are not working. In fact, much as the point of the referendum is that it’s beyond party politics, if I were to look for current non-indyref numbers that are good straws in the wind for September, it’s this: Labour are currently only appealing to about a quarter of the Scottish people, and only 69% of that 25% core vote here is voting Yes (15% No, remainder don’t know). That wider disconnect between Labour and the Scottish electorate can only help Yes.

The coalition parties have had a wee bump since last month too. It’s consistent with UK-wide polling, especially for the Tories, much as I can’t see how the last month has been any good for them.

The Greens aren’t quite at the high point we saw last month: but I’m pretty sure Patrick and Alison would be quite satisfied with six additional colleagues in May 2016 and the possibility of office.

Oh yeah, and UKIP are down to 4% in that regional “Others” vote, at the point where they need a serious target region or two to win seats. Which I don’t think they have, or if they do, I haven’t noticed.

See you again next month!

Ladies Who Launch – Why a Yes victory may already be in the bag

A confident guest post today from a certain Jeff Breslin, formerly of this parish. Thanks Jeff!

WFIFor all the excitement around the recent uptick in the polls towards a Yes win, the No camp still has an unmistakable lead. Furthermore, one would think that the remaining Don’t Knows and No voters will presumably be harder to win round than those who have, for now, committed to voting Yes.

One may wonder then why the Yes Scotland camp is so jubilant and the Better Together camp so agitated. One explanation for this may be simple political momentum, but a second reason why the Yes Scotland camp is so expectant of victory is that we have been here before. At the last Scottish Parliament elections the Nationalists were behind in the polls going into the final straight and pulled away to record a remarkable victory; but what actually happened back in 2011 to propel the SNP so dramatically from distant second to winners of an unheralded majority Government?

The answer is in the data tables of the polls that took place over the preceding months, with two selected here from Ipsos Mori to highlight the huge shifts in voting patterns that made the difference in the final months.

In Nov 2010, Labour enjoyed a 10% lead over the SNP in the constituency vote and a leaner 4% lead in the list vote. This comfortable position was clearly due to an 18% lead over the SNP amongst women for the constituency vote, and an 11% lead for the list vote. Amongst men, the SNP were in line with Labour for the constituency vote as far back as November 2010 and were actually ahead (by 5%) for the regional vote.

By April 2011, the political landscape in Scotland had changed, in the constituency vote women were now 41% SNP and 34% Labour (from 28% and 46% respectively), with Conservatives and Lib Dems relatively unchanged. An 18% lead for Labour had become a 7% loss. The SNP had increased its voteshare amongst women by a factor of 46% in five short months, precisely the same increase in voteshare amongst men (34% up to 50%).

What drove these late changes in the 2011 election is subjective but most would agree it was the following:
- a slick election campaign boosted by a bigger war chest than their rivals
- a more energetic door-to-door strategy from the SNP
- a poor Scottish Labour leader
- a high personal approval rating for Alex Salmond
- a positive campaign and more immediately persuasive arguments from the SNP

Even the most stubborn of No voters would grudgingly admit that each of the five are in position for the independence campaign, just as any Yes activist would accept that the female vote is again clearly holding the Yes side back from victory.

Recent data tables (from ICM/Scotsman March 2014) has the Yes/No vote share at 39%/46% (Female 34%/48%, Male 44%/45%). With Don’t Knows excluded, this becomes 45.5% vs 54.5% (Female 42%/58%, Male 49%/51%).

Scotland is in precisely the same position as it was in November 2010, with men splitting evenly between the two main options, women positioned to vote for the status quo, the same length of time to go to voting day and the five campaign factors as noted above securely in place.

Referendums are not the same as elections, and there is no independence incumbency factor, but if history repeats itself in September 2014, and all moving parts are in place to assume that it will, the Yes camp is on course for a landslide.

Margo Macdonald: a very brief obituary

MargoThe Scottish Parliament today lost one of its few true icons, the independent (former SNP) MSP Margo Macdonald. Long unwell with Parkinson’s, she kept working on right to the end, despite the very obvious toll the disease was taking on her. The tributes from all parties today will be genuine and heartfelt. 

Over her time at Holyrood she became associated with three issues above all, three things she campaigned on fearlessly: the right to die in the manner of one’s own choosing, the safety of sex workers, and of course independence. There would be no better tribute to her work than to make progress on all three issues this year.

Here’s her opening speech for the Stage One debate on her Bill on the right to die, from the end of 2010. When she spoke, no matter how regularly they disagreed with her, everyone in the Chamber stopped to listen. Her unique position as an independent MSP elected through a regional list means she will be unreplaced as well as unreplaceable.

Independence is a process too

27 November 2008 The Scottish Parliament and ponds during the evening beneath a orange sunset. Pic - Andrew Cowan / Scottish Parliament Photograph ©2008 Scottish Parliamentary Corporate BodyOne of the most interesting swing constituencies for the independence referendum is just one person – Jane Carnall. Yesterday morning she pointed me to a piece in which she explains why she’s leaning towards a No vote because of the SNP’s currency union plan.

As she rightly points out, if that plan goes ahead “key decisions about the Scottish economy will be made by the Bank of England in the City of London“, and, like her, I think an independent country should, for economic and political reasons, have its own currency.

Eurozone countries don’t have their own currency, of course: and their monetary policy is set by the ECB. So are they not independent? Well, they’re less independent than EU member states outside the Eurozone as a result.

In fact, all EU member states, because they’ve decided to pool sovereignty, are less independent as a result – and to a lesser extent so too is Norway, which doesn’t even get a say in the EU rules they have to adopt in order to stay in EFTA. Montenegro is less independent than Serbia, because it doesn’t have its own currency and monetary policy. Monaco is less independent than Luxembourg because its defence policy is set in France.

Similarly, countries outside the UK which have QEII as their head of state, the SNP’s preferred model for Scotland, are also less independent. Just ask Gough Whitlam (still alive at 97), whose Australian government was overturned in 1975 by the Governor-General, acting with the Queen’s authority. 

In short, it’s a category mistake to think that independence is a binary on/off, yes/no question in the modern world. Sure, what the SNP propose is now less independence than they used to prefer. But it’s still significantly more independence than we currently have (and devolution already makes us more independent than, say, the North East of England).

The crucial binary part is simply this: where are decisions ultimately taken, and by whom? A Yes means Holyrood and the Scottish electorate, and a No means Westminster and the UK electorate. By that test, for example, Slovakia was fundamentally independent of the Czech Republic on 1st January 1993, but it was clearly more independent by 8th February 1993 when both states began to use their own currencies.

However, her argument, as I read it, stands on two legs: the SNP’s flawed currency policy is just one. The second is that the actual structures of a post-Yes Scotland will be determined by the SNP. To quote Jane again:

You can argue that the referendum is not a matter of party politics and we should just not think about the SNP but only about independence. But this is absurd: the SNP is the party of Scottish government until May 2016, and the only Scottish politicians who are entitled to be part of negotiations with the rUK government in the event of a Yes vote. Therefore, what they say they plan to do in the event of a Yes win matters very much indeed – if you think Yes will win. Because, again, currency union is not independence.”

I absolutely will argue that the referendum is not a matter of party politics. Plenty of SNP voters will vote No, and plenty of Labour voters will vote Yes. Referendums aren’t party politics by definition. And the SNP have a mandate (from 2011) both to legislate for a referendum and to run a post-Yes transitional period, should Yes win. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is where the SNP’s timid indy-minimum is actually beneficial in some respects. It’d be entirely inappropriate for a transitional administration to abolish the monarchy, leave NATO, or leave the existing currency union. “The pound in your pocket” is pragmatically the only appropriate currency for us to be using on day one of independence, prior to a the election of a proper Scottish Parliament for an independent Scotland. I’m okay with those “key decisions” referred to above being made that way for the short term, unless and until the Scottish electorate vote in a Parliament which takes a different view on the currency.

Jane’s view is that people like me who oppose the SNP’s approach to the currency, the monarchy and the rest are being dishonest in saving those fights for another day: quite the contrary. We aren’t saving those fights at all. Every time they make one of these u-turns and hedge what independence means to them we object, we shout loudly that other, better options will be put to the Scottish electorate in 2016, and we remind them exactly this: neither the SNP nor Salmond himself is on the ballot paper in September. Only independence is.

Then, as is obvious already, in May 2016 Greens will stand for election on a platform of much greater independence (within Europe). We know now roughly what that manifesto would look like, and 2016 is the proper point for the parties and then the electorate to start making nuanced decisions about exactly what kind of independence we want for the long term. A Yes/No vote doesn’t allow for nuances on these issues, and nor should it. Nor is it anyone else’s responsibility to try and change SNP policy, as Jane suggests. I’d rather their positions were better, sure (as I argued here with regard to NATO), but other parties’ policies are not my remit, nor the remit of anyone outside those parties.

It would be a terrible mistake for any independence supporter to vote No in September because the SNP’s vision of independence is too halting and timid. A Yes vote will bring massively greater independence, no matter who wins in 2016. With one single vote we will have almost eliminated Westminster’s malign influence over our lives. It’s a huge step forwards, an enormous prize, and yes, there will be much more to be done after that. That’s politics.

My issue with her argument is not even about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s about recognising that devolution may be a process, in Ron Davies’s famous phrase, but so too is independence.