Archive for category Constitution

What it is and what it isn’t

Green v LabourFirst things first. We lost. We know how and why we lost, too. There was a solid base of natural No voters for them to build on, and their demographics have been well analysed in the aftermath. Many people just feel British and think their governance should reflect that: personally I don’t really feel national identity either way, but so be it. Beyond those groups, enough of the swing voters were secured for a flagging No campaign when they played two cards. First, a campaign of fear and lies, run by Number 10 and their media cheerleaders, using banks and big business to quash change. Second, of course, that promise of more powers.

We may abhor the first, and we may be convinced that the second will prove to be a sham too, but we still lost. And we need to accept it. That doesn’t mean going cold on the idea of independence, mind, any more than you should give up on any other principle or objective when you hit a setback.

The nationalists I know won’t do so. But, perhaps more importantly, I don’t think we non-nationalists for Yes will either. The ones I speak to are, like me, much more committed to independence than we were a year or five years ago. Friends who came over to Yes in the last week or month sound like they’ll never go back.

A large majority of the Scottish Greens’ membership joined in the last few days, too. Most will be Yes voters, but many will be No voters who want a radical slate of additional powers. The party has changed, and it’ll also be a lot closer to a “big party” electoral force on the ground in areas across the country where we simply didn’t have a decent activist base.

Meanwhile, the Yes activists on the ground, the true heroes of the Yes side, are networked, experienced, motivated, and informed like never before. The SNP had a great machine already, sure, but the breadth of the Yes movement eclipsed them. The No side, on the other hand, predominantly activated their existing operations.

But. But.

This is not the time to talk about another referendum, or even to spend too much thought on the last one. The specific circumstances which made the Scottish electorate into the 45% and the 55% has passed. There may be a time for another referendum, but only when the circumstances permit it, demand it even. Right now it is totally inappropriate. And there’s much more to be done right now.

Besides, in many ways we won. It certainly didn’t feel like it on Friday, but over the weekend, as the dust settled, I became more Tigger than Eeyore. Let the No side have their triumphalism, their sense that Scotland has been put back in a box: we haven’t been, and we can’t be. For one thing, it might have been less close than we thought a week out from the vote, but it was still way more close than anyone predicted a year out (aside from some of my more enthusiastic SNP friends). Whole cities voted to leave the UK. Even in our worst areas almost a third of voters backed independence.

That 1.6m people voted Yes is extraordinary. At the beginning of the campaign Yes Scotland set a target of a million pledges: bear in mind the total Holyrood turnout in 2011 was less than 2 million. A chunk of SNP voters were always going to vote No (the stereotype being the anti-Labour Perthshire resident who does well from the council tax freeze and loves John Swinney’s reassuring managerialism), and a bigger chunk of Green voters did so too: both offset by the Labour voters who came over to Yes. That vast Yes total should therefore be regarded as extraordinary and significant. Sure, less than the No vote: I can add up, but extraordinary nevertheless. Remember how far away even having a vote looked just a decade ago.

Back in the day, the 1998 devolution settlement was described as the settled will of the Scottish people, but less than two decades later the debate was being framed by the Westminster parties themselves as more powers versus independence. The 1998 settlement, and the weak post-Calman additions to it: they’re dead already.

The reality is the settled will changes. It moves slowly, perhaps, but the last twenty years have seen it move in one direction: in favour of a higher proportion of decisions being made in Scotland. The centre of gravity is now devo max, unquestionably. It’s not my first preference. But I’ll take it if I can.

Tam Dalyell opposed devolution because he thought it was “a motorway to independence with no exits”. To have arrived at our destination this week would have suggested a proper German autobahn with no speed limits. We may not even be in the fastest lane on the motorway. It may even just be a modest A road. But I think it’s likely we will eventually get there.

Right now, though, those who campaigned so hard for a Yes vote have a substantial task to work on. As some will know, on a personal level I’m not a Salmond fan. I disagree with him on a wide range of policy issues, from oil and Trump and road-building to the Council Tax Freeze and the centralisation of Police Scotland. However, I admire his professionalism and I’m extraordinarily grateful that he got us to where we were last week. I also believe he hit the nail on the head in his resignation speech. In it he said:

We now have the opportunity to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire on the “vow” that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland. This places Scotland in a very strong position.”

This is where the work needs to be done now. And that’s a project which reaches out beyond the 45%, and especially allows the Yes side to make common cause with those in the 55% who voted No because they believed the pledges of more powers. After all, the Record’s front page used Photoshop to engrave them onto a parchment, so they must be real. Are they, though? We don’t know at this stage. The disarray and machinations between the Westminster parties suggests nothing real will happen. They think it’s time to worry about England now (and they’re half right – they should be worrying about both Scotland and the rest of the UK).

They offered a lot, albeit incoherently. They made it all sound substantial, and they said it would be quick. They promised to involve us. On all of those things we should both take them at their word and not trust them an inch.

Let’s rally round this next task, the one Alex Salmond rightly set out. Let’s have a debate, an open debate, and then tell them what we think their promises mean. What we heard them say. Quote their own promises back to them. Define what Devo 2.0 looks like, not wait for them to see if Devo 1.2 is sufficient for us. Not settle for a bunch of tax powers designed to be as likely to be used as the 3p Scottish Variable Rate of income tax, let alone powers designed to push Holyrood towards austerity. Not just tax powers, either: primary powers over every domestic policy area that can be done differently within one nation state. Let’s push in the same direction on that, and bring in No voters who wanted those powers but who also felt independence was too big a leap. Aim to include not only the Greens who went for No but perhaps also the 10-15% of SNP voters who did the same. And the newspapers who opposed independence so vigorously but argued for devo max: let’s see if they meant it.

Let’s also concede something. Cameron wants English Votes on English Laws out of self-interest, but I want it out of democratic principle. I have English friends on the left who are as infuriated by the failure to answer the West Lothian Question as any ‘kipper. There’s only one democratic answer to “should Scottish MPs with no remit on policy areas devolved to Holyrood be allowed to make decisions on those same policy areas for England and Wales?”, and that’s a no. It applies in spades if we get devo max as well, and that should make it clearer which Westminster laws don’t affect Scotland. There may be some more sophistication required with drafting, but it’s not impractical. And if you’re a partisan thinking that bloc of Scottish MPs in some way helped deliver more left policies, you’re wrong: read this.

What’s more, the same logic applies to Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, in line with either the current devo settlements for them, or with whatever may follow. Being an MP for a non-English seat may become a part-time job, voting on defence, foreign affairs, a few similar issues. But the jobs will still exist, which should be a consolation for Labour. In fact, there’d be no reason to continue with the smaller number of MPs per capita outside England either. We all deserve an equal say on defence, on foreign affairs, etc.

How the rest of the UK governs itself (for England is that just the same old English MPs? Is it a separate English Parliament? Devolution to English regions?) must be up to them. I hope to see a Yes-style movement for radical constitutional change take to the streets of the rest of the country, adopting the same spirit, agitating for Westminster’s semi-democracy to be reformed out of all recognition. But that’s a matter for them, even if we might feel able to go and help support their campaign, just as many English radicals came here to help us. The problems they face, after all, overlap extensively with the ones we’ve identified in Scotland.

But we must continue to have our say about the powers we believe Scotland needs, the powers we were offered. That’s up to us, and we must redouble our efforts to secure them.

We also have the perfect vehicle for holding the Westminster parties to account for it all. The timing couldn’t be better: the Westminster election in May. In Scotland, much as some will wish it not to be, much of the debate will be about whether the Vow has been met, whatever we do. This process, whatever it becomes, will determine what powers the next Scottish Parliament will have, elected a scant year after that. Sure, I wanted all power to come to the Scottish Parliament, to the Scottish people. But let’s see if we can go a good way further down the road away from a centralised British state. I may think that leads to independence, but for now it doesn’t matter whether it does or not. There’s a natural majority for devo max, at least as the next step, and the polls show it. If we get it, and it just works, maybe that’s where we’ll stay: maybe there’ll never again be an appetite for an independence vote. It’s possible that devo max could indeed be the end destination for that settled will of the Scottish electorate. But if the Westminster parties let us down and we don’t get those powers, or if whatever gets devolved clearly doesn’t work in practice, there will be another vote on independence soon enough. I’m convinced in either of those circumstances another vote would be justified, and we could walk a Yes with the support of many who voted No last week.

So let’s go with the grain. Let’s make securing devo max the focus of the Scottish part of the next UK General Election, alongside resistance to the Westminster consensus on welfare, immigration, and the rest. Use the ballot box again to force them to deliver the powers we want as an electorate. Let’s be clear that they can’t fob us off with something weaker now the referendum isn’t hanging over them. Accept that independence is off the table, maybe for now, maybe forever, and respect the will of the electorate. If we get what we’re promised then many of the other issues I care about, from climate change to inequality and decentralisation, will be in the hands of the Scottish electorate at the Holyrood election a year later. Issues where the SNP and the Greens disagree profoundly. Before that, in May, though, the aim of those parties who argued that the current arrangements are too weak should be to hold the Westminster parties rigorously to account while they squabble with each other and try to forget about us. We’ll be fired up with that massive influx of new and activist members, many of whom will be new to party politics altogether. The Greens and the SNP should be aiming to take not just the 1.6m with us into Scottish polling places in May, but many many more from the 2m who voted No on Thursday. That’s a formidable set of forces.

Forget governance, Scotland is more of a nation than ever.


In the end it was a fairly even match, but not a question of right and wrong. The results meant tears for some in my living room, but by the end of this afternoon there were two emails in my inbox and three voicemails by people galvanised to do something as quickly as possible. They were no voters, yes voters and non-voters.

There were soft and hard nationalism on both sides, loyalties to structures and institutions and patterns that saw Labour councillors from England and Greens and secessionists from around the world shipped in to fight the good fight.  There was old-nationalist graffiti on polling stations and union flag waving, no-voting Gaelic crofters and yes voting English academics. The thing they shared was a franchise and residency in the same almost-country.

What the referendum has done is give Scotland a greater sense of itself. Calling in those councils one by one mapped the nation. There was a moment when it seemed the future of an entire country might hang on the RNLI lifeboat on Barra.

The last two years have put me back in touch with a country I thought I knew. I visited places I had not seen since I was a child, sometimes for journalistic reasons and sometimes because I simply felt the need to see it afresh.

The day before the vote I was in a tower block in Coatbridge, knocking doors with a Danish film crew and talking to disaffected Labour voters about whether they could be swayed. In the end not enough of them were, but a No does not mean that the empty shop units and discount stores on the town’s main street will suddenly  vanish.  Danny, a stair cleaner and former taxi driver tasked with rinsing down all thirteen floors of the sixties high rise, saw it not as a personal gain but as a step forward for his children’s children.

In the centre of Glasgow, people thronged to George Square in the expectation that something was about to happen. Independence was the question but nobody quite knew what the consequences of either outcome would actually mean.  The Yes/No dichotomy was a battle for different personal futures, but it is the process that means Scotland has changed.

A defining memory is running into Jim Murphy in the grey drizzle of the quayside on East Loch Tarbert, waiting for the boat to Uig. He looked like a city boy uncomfortably forced to spend time somewhere he would much rather not be, standing there without a jacket next to a No Thanks banner designed for a windless community centre in Lanarkshire. It was jammed against a recycling bin for support, bright red against the grey pebbledash of the tourist information.

Until David Cameron visited Shetland to talk about oil as the campaign clock ran down, the most important political visitor had been the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. On the side of the museum in Scalloway is a small plaque commemorating the event. Shetland has been able to use the referendum to argue for itself, but like elsewhere in Scotland the edges have also been put in firmer contact with the centre.

I watched otters diving in Sullom Voe in the shadow of the huge oil terminal, dolphins off Arisaig, and deer in an unharvested field of beans in the shadow of the RBS headquarters, set against the perimeter fence of Edinburgh airport. I climbed the Fintry Hills and saw the turbines scything out of the mist in pure silence, followed a fox down Leith Walk at rush hour and interviewed teenagers and committed treason with schoolkids on the shinty pitch in Fort William by playing football.

I talked to the guys in the changing room at the local swim centre in Scotland shirts with No Thanks badges on. We stood there drying off as the noise of Britney Spears’ Toxic boomed through from the women’s aquafit next door and talked about where Hibs could go next. I climbed Ben Vrackie in deep snow and crouched just below the summit with a group of Glasgow mountaineers talking about land reform, listened to people visiting Eigg hatch plans to buy out a bit of their own local estate and was told by a farmer in the Borders to get off his land.

I saw London-based journalists mispronounce place names and recycle the tropes of the nineties, I sat drinking tea in a Conservative Club listening to someone lament the decline of industry, and I saw a gulf open up between Nationalists and unionist party hacks to be filled by people fowhom the question they were asked was not always the one that needed asking.

This is the new Scotland that the referendum made. This is where we are.

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.

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.

As the referendum dawns, what new conversations will break?

A guest post today, looking beyond the indyref, from Shonagh McEwan, former head of research for the Green MSPs. Thanks Shonagh!

yougovScotland is nearly there. The polls are suggesting a narrow result, but in whose favour we will have to wait just a wee bit longer. After a long campaign, really long, the people of Scotland will at least waken to the result soon.  Who’s counting the sleeps? Who, in the most active quarters of the campaign, is even getting any sleep?

I’ve voted (yes, by the way). And so my attention has started to turn to the next stage in Scotland’s journey. Regardless of whether win, lose, draw, extra time or golden goal (I can’t stand penalty shoot outs, so I won’t go there), I seek assurances from our politicians over how they will handle the challenges we, the electorate, will set them on September the 18th.

Whatever the outcome, I know what I want to see.  I need positive leadership, and respect and compassion shown towards the voters.  We need to grow from the result, and move forwards, without petty or negative politics scuppering this.

So how confident am I of this happening?  Well, it seems a fairly well-supported observation, even from the most politically-neutral commentators, that there has been a positive campaign from Yes, and negative campaign from No. The pollsters say the public agree (pic above). Those choices were made, and strategies selected, by the respective campaign groups and that’s what the electorate has been deluged with. So, if the Yes campaign gets the most votes, does that mean we’ll see sour grapes? Will project fear turn into project damage? An attitude of ‘you’ve made your bed, now you’ll have to lie in it’, we’ll not be helping make it easy for you?  If the No campaign gets the most votes, will we see tired, dejected attitudes turn into resentment and blame, ‘well, if you’d only voted for independence…’?

I noticed Alex Salmond providing an open and welcome hand to Alistair Darling at the end of the last televised BBC debate.  Be part of a constructive aftermath with me, Salmond suggested. Darling’s eyebrows raised. A hint of a wry smile given. You can kind of see how tempting it would have been for Darling, after such an adversarial debate, to bring both thumbs to his temples, wave his fingers and childishly blow a raspberry back.  The more recent STV debate, after what was a very different style of debating, questioning and discussing, ended with a rather different mood.  A good question from the audience near the end of the debate asked about the ‘what next’, and panellist members Ruth Davidson and Patrick Harvie both answered constructively and positively in turn.  I want Scotland to flourish whatever the result, said Davidson, refusing to be drawn into doom and gloom. We have to accept the decision of the electorate and work for the best, was the commitment from Harvie.

That’s what we need to hear.  And I am hopeful that is, indeed, what we will get.  If there is ever a time in a country’s history that requires skillful and positive leadership, it’s in the days, weeks and months following the referendum result.  And that responsibility is not just about politicians, it’s about us all.  So many people have given their time, energy and passion to this debate whether they are voting yes or no.  These discussions have been across the dinner table, on living room couches, in the pub, the town hall, at the school gates, street stalls, twitter feeds – you name it, the referendum debate has permeated every nook and cranny of the country.

That’s partly what gives me hope, because these conversations have been overwhelmingly considered and respectful. Yet it is also why part of me is a little anxious – because virtually no-one has escaped this dynamic and changing political climate, it is of even greater importance that the next steps this country takes are taken sensitively and compassionately.  We will all be affected.

I’m also hopeful because it’s been done before. The Scottish Conservatives, for example, campaigned against devolution, but were constructive in building a new Scottish Parliament and devolution process following the yes vote. Admittedly, it was an overwhelming result, but my point is that project fear does not need to become project damage, it can become project pragmatic.  And of course Yes campaigners, need not be dejected, all is not lost. That is because the vote result in itself does not end the matter. It is another beginning.

Different political conversatons will need to emerge. A new pathway will need to be crafted either way.  This is not about breaking up relationships, but setting them on a new course.  As a country, Scotland has evolved and changed.  It’s these dynamic relationships that will continue to evolve.  And as long as we’re given the space to grow, we will not fail to meet any challenges that we are set.

This will require a new kind of politics. It’s exciting. It’s fresh. Scotland has great people, with many talents and politicians are also capable of moving us forward, whatever the result.  As a resident of this country, I want to, need to, hear nothing more than my political leaders pledge to be constructive, fair and respectful.  Decisions will have to be taken. Boldness will be required. But that doesn’t mean we lose sight of being sensitive to one another.

So come on politicians.  Get some sleep after the result. Then up your game and move this country forward compassionately and maturely.  Let’s hear you say it.