Thankyou for listening

10476399_10100915509179671_9088546730157656764_nA few years ago I was invited to become a regular part of Better Nation, at a time when it was the only blog in Scottish politics that did not exist entirely to massage one person’s ego or to cheer-lead religiously for a particular political party. It was something I was happy to do, but all things run their course.

This year has seen the independence referendum and much else, but on a more personal level I have finished my PhD and have now turned back to doing what I really enjoy, writing foreign and cultural journalism. I’m also writing a book, which all being well should appear this summer. What’s inside will be familiar to anyone who has read my Better Nation posts, and there are some other interesting projects in the pipeline to do with Scotland’s growing new media. I have also been reminded that taking an obsessive view of Scottish politics leaves little time for reading books and climbing mountains, which are the essentials of a fulfilling life as far as I am concerned.

Scotland is a much more complex place than anyone would really care to admit, and what needs to happen now in reflecting that cannot come in the form of a blog, however well intentioned its authors might be. I have never been the kind of person to salivate over polls or write insight pieces just to cultivate my own sense of performative hackery, and I can’t sincerely stand up and try and pass off my personal beliefs as being particularly valid compared to the general population. Politics is interesting, and important, because it ultimately impacts on people. As a game in itself though it is often no better than navel gazing. There’s more fun and good to be had in writing about life than about Holyrood.

There are still things to be written, not least over at the Scottish Review and The Conversation, but not here any more. You can just about feel the spring in Stockholm, and that makes me think it is time to go.

 

Latest Holyrood poll

The latest monthly Record/Survation poll (formerly in partnership with this blog) is out, and it’s a corker. As per previous polling posts here, the vote share is the change on last month, and the seat change is since 2011.  And as usual, the ‘kippers would win some seats, but the Scotland Votes model doesn’t include them. I’ll run this again with a better predictor when I can fish it out.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 48 (-2) 65 (+12) 39 (±0) 2 (-14) 67 (-2) 51.9
Labour 28 (+2) 5 (-10) 22 (-1) 22 (±0) 27 (-10) 20.9
Conservative 13 (+1) 1 (-2) 12 (-2) 13 (+1) 14 (-1) 10.9
Liberal Democrats 5 (-1) 2 (±0) 7 (-1) 4 (+1) 6 (+1) 4.7
Scottish Greens - 0 (±0) 13 (+3) 15 (+13) 15 (+13) 11.6
UKIP - 0 (±0) 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 2.1 (+1.2) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

There’s two substantial changes here, and two only. First – Labour would see their worst ever Holyrood result by some margin, reduced to barely a fifth of the Parliament. Second – this is the best poll I’ve ever seen for the Greens. We’d be up from 2 to a massive 15 seats, and would be narrowly the third largest party. Bear in mind the UKIP caveat, which would probably hit Labour hardest but would also chip one or two off the Greens and Tories.

Astonishing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 21.39.03

Big day for the Scottish Greens

Less than two hours ago nominations closed for the Scottish Greens’ list candidates in 2016, and the rumour is (as you’d expect with a party that’s probably seven times as large as it was last time we selected for Holyrood) we’ve got both quality and quantity coming forward.

I’m going to run through a few of the candidates that I know about, roughly from strongest region for us to weakest – please, I don’t know you’re standing, don’t feel snubbed. I’m sure there are many more good potential top candidates I don’t know about.

Lothian: Alison is standing again, of course, and of course there’s no-one better than her to top this list. This is the only region where we’ve previously had two MSPs, so I’m also very pleased indeed to see land reform campaigner Andy Wightman standing here. The moment he joined I thought he’d make a first class MSP: rigorous, principled, awkward in a good way. (declaration: I put in for one of the lower places on the list here, i.e. a support role, but will definitely vote these two ahead of me, and probably others as well)

Glasgow: Patrick is standing again too, and the same applies with him. I don’t think anyone else could have fronted the Green Yes campaign in the way he did, and I believe his contribution there and before that to be the largest factor in the surge in membership in Scotland. I only know one other definite candidate in this region, who is Zara Kitson, our force-of-nature Dunfermline by-election candidate, who’s moved back to Glasgow and who would be a great second to Patrick - if we do as well as the polls suggest (no-one is counting chickens) we’ll pick up a second MSP here too.

Highlands and Islands: Two strong candidates here I know of, and I’d find it hard to pick between them (fortunately that’s someone else’s problem). Fabio Villani, based in Moray, is the long-standing activist: astute, warm, hardworking. And of course John Finnie, elected as an SNP MSP in 2011 before the party moved away from the anti-NATO platform he was elected on. He charmed conference last autumn when he announced he was joining – and felt like “one of us” from the start.

North-East: For me Aberdeenshire-based Debra Storr is narrowly ahead of Dundee-based Pauline Hinchion, although either would make a splendid top candidate and MSP. Debra, like John, was formerly elected for another party, but left during the Trump fiasco, when she and Martin Ford found the Liberal Democrats to be neither particularly liberal nor democratic. She’s determined, principled, and energetic. Martin himself is standing for the second spot, and his rigour and hard work would also be an excellent asset in the Chamber if we do find ourselves getting our best ever results (just polling, the only poll that matters, etc etc).

Mid-Scotland and Fife: The only candidate I know is standing here is former Green MSP Mark Ruskell: when he wasn’t re-elected in 2007 I admit I was utterly distraught. One of the real stars of the 2003 intake, and now Stirling’s first Green councillor. Having him back in the Chamber and representing this region would be almost enough in itself for me to regard this coming election as a triumph.

South: Two here where I’d again be reluctant to pick, but again don’t have to. Jason Rose is my calm and collected successor as head of media for the Green MSPs, and he’s been doing sterling work reviving the East Lothian branch. Sarah-Beattie Smith is also standing, I believe – and she’d also be a smart, hard-working candidate, and a great public speaker.

West: Great to see Ross Greer standing here – it’s a hard region for us, but one where good organisation could get a Green over the line. And that’s one of his strengths. He’s doing a vast amount of work right now supporting new local groups and branches, and if anyone can win this for us, Ross can.

Central: I believe (and apologies if I’m wrong) Kirsten Robb is standing again for Central. She’s a great long-time activist, former candidate here, and well plugged into a lot of local campaigns and groups. As with West, we’ve got a lot more members here than we ever had before, and she’s the obvious person to lead this list – and 10% nationally, which some of the polls have us on, could see her elected too.

There’ll be loads more who’ve put nominations in I don’t know about, but just from those I do know about we’ve clearly got the potential for some amazing candidates in the top slot or two across the country. The future of the party has never looked so good.

8558-itok=zoxxvJgw

A rash prediction

There aren’t many certainties around the UK General Election due in May, so everyone says. As the proportion of voters backing Labour or the Tories, even under First Past The Post, dwindles, the maths become much more unpredictable. Sure, it seems extremely likely that the SNP will be the third largest party, eclipsing the Lib Dems, but that seems so plausible partly because so few people have any idea why anyone would still vote Lib Dem. But some continue to do so, inexplicable as it is.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 12.49.10One thing that seems almost certain, though, is that there will be no Tory/UKIP coalition, barring a ‘kipper surge from the ~15% they’re currently polling.

The numbers and mechanics of majorities are vertiginously stacked against it. To the left are the five constituencies where the bookies think they’re going to win (h/t Kris Keane): Carswell’s Clacton plus four more that do not include Mark Reckless in Rochester and Strood.

It seems like a plausible list, although tactical voting in both directions will make it pretty unpredictable.

Let’s start with two clear rules. No sensible smaller party goes into formal coalition where the larger party already has a majority (and few larger parties offer it). And no sensible smaller party takes part in a coalition where they don’t get their larger partners over the line.

So, assuming UKIP win just those five seats, the Tories would need to be between one and nine seats short of a majority for it to be even worth considering for either party (ten short plus UKIP would see it come down to the Speaker’s casting vote). But for the Tory party, being short by just one seat would be pretty indistinguishable from being ahead by just one. The DUP would probably vote for Cameron for PM, in the “one short” scenario, and even in the “one ahead” scenario they’d be vulnerable to every single Tory backbencher with a grievance or a principle. Why give Farage a bigger national stage to swap one sort of uncertainty for another?

No, in order for UKIP to be a plausible partner for the Tories, the latter would need to have fallen significantly short, yet the two together would have to comprise a clear working majority. For example (and this feels like the bare minimum for it to be considered), if the Tories were fifteen short and UKIP won twenty seats, then coalition might be possible. Just possible. UKIP winning twenty seats is a stretch to say the least (remember when Farage got beaten by a man in a dolphin costume when Labour and the Tories weren’t standing?), and the Tories being just the right amount short is also exceptionally unlikely (they were twenty short in 2010, although none of this takes into account the Sinn Fein MPs who don’t take their seats). Combine that with the natural antipathy between two parties from the same “family”, and the whole thing becomes vanishingly unlikely.

This scenario is written about as plausible, but only because it suits various people to do so (UKIP, the sensation-hungry in the media, Labour, the SNP etc). I’d say it’s about as likely as tossing two coins and having them both land on their edge. Just this side of impossible.

The Smith Revolution

Another guest post from our pal Duncan Thorp on the Smith Commission report. Thanks Duncan!

chesmithLenin, Guevara, Khomeini, Robespierre, Smith. Well not quite, but change of some kind is coming, it transpires.

Broadly speaking, the Smith report is what we could have predicted. It’s somewhere between the radical demands of the maximum devolutionaries (“everything but war/money/foreigners”) and the counter-revolutionaries.

It’s fair to say that the result was not weak and tokenistic but it wasn’t even in the next village to Home Rule either. It somehow feels reluctant and slightly miserable, with an occasional spark of genuine enthusiasm.

There may also be a hidden sting in the tail in areas such as Income Tax; the package could be a mixed blessing. With devolution of certain financial powers but not others, an awkward settlement might leave a Scottish government simply forced to implement Westminster cuts. We’ll wait and see.

Also why was the process like 1979 and not like 1997? I.e. it was about a list of powers to be devolved – as opposed to a specific set of powers retained at Westminster, and then everything left over was devolved.

There are many additional policy and tax powers that could make more of a difference and improve lives, like corporate and employment law and regulation. Smith was absolutely right to say that we should have “powers with a purpose”. There wasn’t enough of that specific thinking.

Here are some examples where the devolution of company and employment law could have huge benefits for everyone, gradually achieved over time:

  • Statutory CSR and beyond for businesses (phased legal reform to genuinely balance profit with social/environmental concerns).
  • 50/50 gender equality on all company boards.
  • A living wage (end state subsidy for in-work benefits – plus no tax paid by anyone earning it at a 35 hour week or less).
  • Pay ratios (pay of CEO linked to lowest paid worker in the business).
  • Right to employee ownership (democratic vote to ask the workforce if it wants a co-operative).
  • Employees and customers elected to sit on the boards of all large businesses.
  • FOI laws to apply to any business delivering public services (this could already partially happen in a devolved context).
  • Better regulation for harmful industries like tobacco and weapons.
  • Minimum of 1% of the workforce of all big businesses from hard to reach groups – ex-offenders, long term unemployed etc.

Many of these ideas are now mainstream as we simply seek to build a more prosperous economy and more profitable and ethical businesses. Policies that are not that radical anymore and not “right wing” or “left wing” either.

Devolution needs to be more of a revolution after the Smith report. Real change will only happen if the process doesn’t stop at the doors of The Scottish Parliament too – it’s about genuine localism, neighbourhood democracy and local community empowerment.

The unspoken point underpinning this whole process is “why devolve anything else at all?” Indeed why do we have devolution in the first place? Why can’t or won’t the Westminster System of governance reform society? If a UK Labour government was elected why wouldn’t they just do these kinds of things?

The answer is that it’s not about political parties or their policies, it’s about continuing with a failed, undemocratic political-economic system that pro-actively prevents change. The centralised Westminster System is slow and conservative and always will be and it’s bad for everyone in the UK. Perhaps the revolution will happen after the next election in that London.

Political and economic power goes hand in hand. Both need to be relentlessly decentralised, shared, dispersed, spread and pulled downwards to streets and neighbourhoods across the entire UK. Proper devolution. Scotland is currently leading the devolution agenda – but there’s plenty more to come.

(N.B. If you don’t like the Smith report at least recycle it, burning is so bad for the planet).