From the inside, the referendum is almost too close to call

Working at a university I count the year from September to September. The last few days of August have the same timeless quality as the lull between Christmas and January.

As the Scottish Parliament convened for the final time before the independence referendum a thunderstorm swept across Edinburgh and into the windows of my office, looking out over the Crags. You’ve been able to smell autumn in the air these last few days, and though the seasons may not be what they used to be they have still rolled around in more or less the usual order from last September to this.

What has changed though is Scotland, fundamentally so. Eighteen months ago I would have counted the chances of independence actually happening as virtually zero. There was a sense of inevitability that the SNP, misreading their defeat of Iain Gray as a ringing endorsement of their own policies, would plough a lone furrow. Some of the conversations that had begun to happen in the background were politically interesting but showed little sign of reaching the general public.

Having followed Yes and No activists, written about them and got to know some of them, the rising hope on the faces of the Yes side has been mirrored by a fear on the No side that everything could unravel. Nowhere was this clearer than when I ran into a wet and single-minded Jim Murphy on the harbour in Tarbert, surrounded by Labour aides and with no apparent public interest.

Whereas the Yes campaign, if not the SNP, has been able to galvanise support and activists, the No campaign has ended up going no further than where the Yes side were two years ago at Cineworld in Fountainbridge. Back then some retrograde patriotism and some minor celebrities made the Yes campaign look like an overeager and under-thought Visit Scotland ad, with Colin Fox drafted in as a fig leaf for the SNP’s centrist economics.

In the same way that the expansion of Yes has diluted the presence of some of the diehard nationalists in the SNP, the No campaign has inadvertently fuelled Scotland’s latent unionism. The Orange Order’s decision to march in Edinburgh in the days running up to the vote and the rhetoric of British or foreign produced by senior campaign members has served to isolate a great many people. I recently interviewed one English resident of Edinburgh who said they could not bring themselves to vote No, even though they were undecided as to whether they would vote yes.

The No side are unfortunate that the campaign has coincided with a fragmenting of British politics generally. Old loyalties are fading with both UKIP on the populist right and the Greens on the middle-class Left sucking up votes. Although they have huge financial resources, both Labour and the Conservatives are engaged in an electoral fight for survival to come anywhere near the dominance both crave. What chance the Liberal Democrats might have had to articulate a robust and egalitarian British federalism seems to have vanished, and given a choice between Holyrood and Westminster people are beginning to show a distinct preference.

Inside the No campaign it is just a question of hanging on till polling day and hoping the Yes side do not arrive within the one per cent margin of error. If they do, and they may well do, then there’ll be an autumn storm over Edinburgh that could wash over Scotland and leave it changed forever.

Some thoughts on nationalism and the messages of No

Maybe blogging less is a symptom of tweeting more. I don’t know. But I wrote a few things on “popular microblogging site twitter dot com” yesterday evening and was very kindly encouraged to gather them together here. So (displayed slightly oddly), here it is.


From the river to the sea: on the desperate need for a just peace in the Middle East

Thanks to April Cumming for today’s guest post on the situation in Gaza.

3286249224_22f71a902c_zThe images playing across the screens of the world today and over the previous week are nothing new; children are rushed to hospitals, with bloodied limbs and screaming parents by their sides.  Grief-stricken widows with palms to the air offer up a plea to the heavens for some reason, some explanation.  A densely populated street scarred by the bombing of yesterday, littered with car parts, crumbled walls and crimson stains on charred earth.

This is the Gaza Strip and this is the entire world for thousands of captive Palestinians, hemmed in by the ever-tightening UN Armistice line to one side, and the glittering Mediterranean Sea to the other.  The bountiful waters are, of course, off-limits to the Palestinians who would once have fished there.

The response of the international community is also nothing new, with calls for a ceasefire, strong condemnation, and yet no meaningful sanctions against an occupying force that day by day restricts even the basic human rights of many innocent people.

This shattered land, once part of a united Palestinian territory, now exists in isolation of the West Bank.  The former, ruled by Hamas, and the latter ruled by Fatah.

Israel overtook the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, from Jordan and Egypt respectively, in the Six Day War of 1967, and has maintained control of them from this time.  The threat of violent retaliation in response to occupation coming from the territory of Gaza has allowed an increased use in military interventions while at the same time drawing attention away from the continued expansion beyond the UN sanctioned borders.

Over the course of the three aerial bombardments of the strip, starting in 2008 with Operation Cast Lead, The Israeli military has succeeded in destroying vital domestic infrastructure in a manner deliberately designed to intimidate and undermine beyond the targeting of military strongholds. Water infrastructure has been disabled, sanitation has been destroyed, schools and hospitals have been damaged, and the cumulative effect of this is to wipe out any chance of a stable and sustainable state infrastructure to be developed. In a report to CNN a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) explained that this current bombardment alone more than 500 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged, more than 3,000 Palestinians are displaced and hundreds of thousands have been affected by damage to water infrastructure.  Electricity has been cut from major areas of Gaza City, and at least one major line was struck, repaired and promptly struck again. Nine UNRWA schools have been damaged.  Fatalities, including the young, continue to mount.

Is it any wonder that generations of citizens who have known nothing but this intimidation and whom have never looked an Israeli in the eye as an equal vote for a pro-retaliation administration?  Only when both the Israelis and the joint Hamas-Fatah Palestinian body come to the table as something approaching equals will this rancorous relationship be addressed meaningfully.

One positive step was taken in the formation of a coalition between Hamas and Fatah in advance of the peace talks that took place in April.  This showed that both the moderate West Bank representatives and the more territorial Hamas are willing to provide a united front for finding a peaceful resolution, and gives an indication of their recognition that diplomatic means are always favourable to military intervention.  This was not reflected in the Israeli response.  Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid stated that Hamas’ joining the Palestinian government would be “a game-changer” and that Abbas had violated Israel’s trust by reaching the agreement with Hamas.  “Hamas is a jihadi terror organization that is proud of killing civilians – women, children, the elderly – just because they’re Jewish.”

I have never met a Jewish person who believes that the current situation is just or sustainable.  It is not Judaism but Zionism and apartheid that fuels the endless violence and the hatred that comes from Hamas is a product of this.  Without understanding and communication this barrier cannot be crossed.   The use of binary oppositions, ‘us vs them’, is so common on both sides of the divide that it has become part of the everyday language and lives of the civilians who toil under a brutal and manipulative leadership.  They are the victims in the occupation and they exist, to a greater or lesser extent, in Israel, Gaza and The West Bank.

All lives are damaged and this rhetoric will continue to burn hatred and misunderstanding into the hearts of civilians on both sides of the wall.  There is no small voice of calm, only the soaring oratory of the hawkish premier and the bitter resentment and retaliation of an angry, oppressed people.  Nothing but the withdrawal of Western support from Israel, and a push towards the re-establishment of the UN agreed 1969 Armistice line, will start the process of reconciliation.  The United Nations established this boundary and agreed to monitor it and ensure it was upheld. The armistice enforcement led to the signing of the separate Tripartite Declaration of 1950 between the United States, Britain, and France. In it, they pledged to take action within and outside the United Nations to prevent violations of the frontiers or armistice lines.  This has not happened.

Following this, a space for compromise must be created by UN-agreed peace brokers.  I believe this will only be possible with a more moderate Israeli government, as they hold the upper hand.  Hamas will not approach the table as moderates as they are not equals; therefore the concession and hand of peace must be made first from the side with most power.  The window of opportunity for peace, for all of those who wish for it, is closing rapidly.

pic credit

So, what’s the big idea?

A guest post today from about the principle of democracy from Duncan Thorp, who has previously blogged for us about social enterprise. Thanks Duncan!

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 13.10.22It’s kind of reassuring that regardless of the referendum outcome, a debate has opened up about the kind of Scotland we want. While visions differ greatly, it’s good that we’re moving slightly beyond just two stark and opposing factions, something I believe most people want to happen.

Though this “new Scotland” thinking is generally by pro-independence campaigners, there’s still a bit of debate on the pro-union side too. Common Weal, the various political parties, Radical Independence Campaign, commentators like Henry McLeish, Better Together, Nordic Horizons, think tanks like Reform Scotland – all are talking about the kind of Scotland we want. How much of this influences people and is talked about in homes, pubs and workplaces is of course another question.

But in terms of the progressive side, how much of this thinking is new or original? How much still relies on the old debates of public vs private, state spending vs the market, workers vs owners etc? Though the old ideologies have clearly failed, the “smash the state” mentality as a solution perhaps still dominates.

But it shouldn’t be about who controls or does things with the state – it’s about who makes all of the decisions everywhere. We certainly need community and we definitely need society – but these are not synonymous with the state. Statism doesn’t work. Using the state so it’s in the “correct” hands is the actual problem, in fact it often results in human tragedies.

But if not the old ideologies, what exactly is the so-called big idea? The big idea is democracy. Practical examples include empowerment through the local community ownership of land, buildings and other assets, community and social enterprise and the practise of authentic localism and autonomy.

This is about street-level democracy, neighbourhood welfare and a welfare society, human rights for all, comprehensive ethical choices by consumers, employee-owned businesses as standard, community-owned renewable energy and local food independence. Doing things for ourselves. All this can be driven forward by equal access for all to advanced, eco-aware technologies. A constant, systematic spreading of this democracy can replace narrow nationalism and other false identity politics on all sides.

But who will lead and implement this democracy in the real world and how? A political leader? A campaign group? An agency? A special vanguard? A government? None of the above. There’s no mythical Revolution Day or future salvation, it’s much more subtle and current than that. It’s simply the role of everyone, acting right here and now as individuals, in our daily lives and together as people.

In effect “the big idea” must be to change who actually decides on all the big ideas. Scottish independence is hardly radical, perhaps it’s just a logical democratic step. But perhaps there are other paths too, like radical autonomy for Fife, Glasgow or Orkney. Extending democracy should be the measure for every policy decision.

In any case, leaving it up to so-called decision-makers and policy-makers is a dead end, it’s the responsibility of all of us. It’s not complicated or some unrelenting battle against the state: the big idea is simply the building of freedom and democracy in every area of life.

Exclusive: July Holyrood poll by Survation

It’s month five for our rolling sequence of Survation polls, conducted as always in partnership with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions. The June results are here, and the Record have the indyref results. The big question shows 47% Yes, 53% No again, the same as last month’s result. Having said that, last month Yes’s 47% was 46.6% rounded up, and this month it’s up to 47.1% rounded down, with No correspondingly down from 53.4% to 52.9%. That makes for an unchanged headline figure, but the No lead at one decimal place has fallen from by 1% from 6.8% to 5.8%. Confusing, but that’s rounding for you.

Onto the Holyrood results. Usual background: I’m comparing vote shares to the previous month’s figures: but seat numbers are still shown as the change on the 2011 result. Seat projections continue to be from Scotland Votes, who don’t include UKIP in their methodology. The ‘kippers would be expected to win a small number of regional list seats at this level, although it remains unclear at which party’s expense those gains would come (roughly likely to be in proportion to list seats, i.e. costing Labour most, then Tories, then Greens). With all that in mind, here are this month’s figures.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 44.1 (-2.1) 53 (±0) 36.9 (-2.4) 7 (-9) 60 (-9) 46.5
Labour 30.6 (+2.3) 15 (±0) 25.7 (-0.5) 22 (±0) 37 (±0) 28.7
Conservative 13.3 (+0.3) 3 (±0) 12.9 (+2.5) 13 (+1) 16 (+1) 12.4
Liberal Democrats 5.1 (-1.1) 2 (±0) 7.3 (+1.2) 5 (+2) 7 (+2) 5.4
Scottish Greens 1.9 (-0.6) 0 (±0) 8.1 (-1.9) 9 (+7) 9 (+7) 7.0
UKIP 4.1 (+0.9) 0 (±0) 8.1 (+1.1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 0.7 (+0.2) 0 0.9 (-0.1) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 01.00.05The first oddity is that this would see every last constituency go the same way as 2011. Although Labour are a bit up on last month, it doesn’t win them any more seats: they are at best treading water on these results. The SNP, however, would be down enough to lose their overall majority, and, as per the May result, would either need to run a very strong minority administration, or look for any other party to form a coalition with them. Despite that minor dip on 2011′s landslide, it’s an extraordinarily strong position for a governing party to retain more than seven years after taking office.

Looking at the smaller parties, it’s been a better month for the Tories and to a lesser extent the Lib Dems: both would be marginally up on their 2011 score, with the Tories now in a clear third place (last month they were just 0.4% ahead of the Greens on the list). As for the Greens, they’re 1.9% down on the list, and would elect two fewer MSPs than June’s poll indicated. I still think Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone would be pretty pleased to have seven more colleagues, though. With these numbers the second slots on the Lothian, Glasgow and perhaps even Highlands and Islands lists would be promising places for Green candidates, and selection will be competitive.

Making sure the panel is just right.

Making sure the panel is just right.

Before that, though, the small matter of the indyref. There’s been a pretty rough squabble about how to poll that. Are Survation right, or are YouGov? Well, YouGov were the most wrong about the AV referendum, the most recent similar vote. And in 2011 YouGov underestimated the SNP constituency vote by more than 3% and their regional vote by more than 9%, well outside the margin of error. You can even get odds on which side of the argument will be vindicated in September.

Sure, I’m biased, given Survation are our house pollsters, but their methodology is transparent, unlike YouGov’s. The latter have a weighting system for “red Nats”, but won’t say what it is, nor whether other segments are weighted for. More generally, Kellner’s argument, despite YouGov’s substantial underestimate of SNP votes in 2011, is that Survation have the wrong sort of SNP voter in their panel.

If you’re still not sure who to back in the battle of the pollsters, here’s a wee graph from @bgreysk on Twitter (precedes this month’s Survation result). The trend lines are the best guide, and from that YouGov look like the complete outlier. On this evidence, I think Ladbrokes would be easy to take to the cleaners given they’re offering 7/4 on Survation to be closest, but any bets are of course to be made at your own risk.