Archive for category Constitution

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.

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.

This wooden IKEA is how you sell reduction

Being back in Sweden for the first time in a while, I’ve been able to watch Labour’s devolution proposals unfold from afar. What struck me most is that Labour still want the Scottish parliament to have less control over taxation than Swedish regional government does. Having tried to explain it to a journalist friend inquisitive about the referendum she was amazed that they would even attempt such a damp squib (from a Swedish perspective, some of the logical inconsistences of the Holyrood settlement are painfully obvious)

Within a few days of the independence referendum Sweden will go to the polls for its municipal and general elections, with expected gains for the Green and Left parties and perhaps even the first seats in parliament for the Feminist Intitiative party. The strategy of the Social Democrats in Sweden at the moment is to do absolutely nothing and ride the wave of disenchantment with the Cameronite Alliance for Sweden with whom they actually share a great many polices.

The Swedish Social Democrats, once one of the most respected and successful progressive movements in global politics, has become an intellectual void in the same way as the British Labour Party. Unable or unwilling to act decisively, time after time it produces reforms and reports they fail to either honour its past or develop any coherent vision for its future. Anas Sarwar’s doxological addiction to ‘fairness’ would be well at home in contemporary Swedish social democracy, just as it would be in that erstwhile heavyweight the German SPD. Drifts to the right are one thing, but drifts into directionless tokenism and policy by policy compromise and point scoring are almost worse.

The upshot of this could be that come October of this year Sweden will have a progressive government of Greens, Socialists, Feminists and Social Democrats in which the biggest party lacks any purpose whatsoever. It is strangely reminiscent of what one Labour insider said before the last Holyrood election when a Green-Labour coalition briefly appeared to be a possibility: “It’d be great. You’ve got the ideas and we’d get to be back in power.’

Splitting yourself between two similar but also very different political systems is a fantastic way of exploring political alternatives. The question for both Sweden and Scotland come September will be whether their social-democratic heritage can help to positively influence the future or whether they end up rudderless and unambitious in a tokenistic race to tick the right boxes without knowing why.

Scottish Labour and the supposed self-evident truths of separation

We’re pleased to have a guest post today from dearly-missed erstwhile Better Nation editor and former Labour staffer Kirsty Connell. Thanks Kirsty! Come back to Scotland any time!

KirstyIt’s painful, not to be surrounded by others like yourself. Where you can repeat back to each other what you think, or are meant to think, and be reassured that others think the same.

During my time as a Labour Party member (which I am no longer) I heard from others and repeated back five core mantras as my reasons for opposing independence.

With the benefit of now being a member of no party, I have spent the last wee while having to think for myself. Likewise, I’ve not been living in Scotland, granting me distance and perspective from what I used to do and used to think.

Please don’t read the following seeking profundity, or innovation. You will have heard every line, probably many times, before. But like all oft-repeated things, these mantras are nothing but canards. Clung to. Repeated. Until they are instilled with the appearance of self-evident truth.

I’m not sure I’ve found the truth, whatever that may be, but at least I think I’ve identified the false. And if you want to tell me why I’m wrong, go ahead – at least I’ll take it as evidence you too have thought these things through. Haven’t you?

1. A vote for independence is just a vote for the SNP.

If you’re a Scottish Labour activist, the SNP are the opposition. Your reasoning goes something like this: SNP are bad. SNP want independence. Whatever the SNP want must be bad. Independence is bad. Hence, voting for independence is like voting for the SNP, and both are bad. Capiche?

Voting for, or against, Scottish independence is a decision stemming from, well, everything. What we want Scotland to be, how we want to act, what we want to do. There are considered and thoughtful arguments for and against both sides, whether Scotland is independent or part of the United Kingdom.

What a vote for independence it is not, is a vote for party politics. It doesn’t always, but it ought to transcend that. To relegate it to just choosing sides isn’t good enough.

And, if I can be really cheeky, a vote for independence is a vote to probably get rid of the SNP – how’s that for defeating your enemies!

2. Independence is a policy panacea.

“It’s the SNP’s answer for everything. Independence. We can’t do that unless we have independence. Once we have independence Scotland will be a land of milk and honey, ahem, oil and whisky…”

Oh, I’m sorry Labour, but the SNP’s competent record in government since 2007 rather puts paid to that one. Even the valid criticisms of significant policy reform – the police force, further education – still makes these not mere bagatelles popped out to make it look like the SNP have been busy. A solid opposition to Westminster cuts. A stable ministerial team with only a few hiccups along the way. In fact, I wish I could say the same for Labour’s leadership and direction since it lost power.

And of course, the SNP government in Holyrood could do more. But at least there’s a 670 page proposal for Scotland’s future under independence. Any chance you might want to let us know what life might be like under a continuing union?

3. We have as much in common with working people in Manchester as in Scotland.

Yes we do. During my twenties my friends moved from Scotland to Manchester and Leeds and Newcastle and it didn’t feel like they’d gone to a foreign country. And I have friends in Dublin and Toulouse and Stockholm and I don’t feel like they live in an exotic and faraway locale either. (And, no offence to the Greens who blog here, sometimes its a lot easier and cheaper to fly to them than to get a train halfway up the country.)

This is in contrast to all of us that moved to London (myself included), and haven’t been or thought much beyond the boundaries of the M25 since.

Solidarity doesn’t stop at the border, whether it’s old or new. It’s not good enough to not vote for independence out of a sense of obligation to (and a decent number of Labour MPs for) comrades in England. But it’s just not true to say without Scotland, England will be cast into a fiery pit, ruled by Tories and their City cronies forevermore. Labour would have won without Scotland in 1997, 2001 and 2005. There are people working hard in these green and pleasant lands for a better and more socially just England, whether that’s electing a Green MP or opposing Coalition cuts. Like an activist friend said to me: “I want Scotland to be independent. I just want you to take me with you.

4. A Labour government in Westminster working with Holyrood will deliver more for Scotland.

Debatable. My experience of working in Holyrood for Labour was that Westminster was really rather cross with us most of the time, whether about extraordinary rendition or Forth Bridge tolls. It still seems a bit frosty. And I’m not sure I favour the chances of a Labour Government being formed in 2015.

5. I didn’t get involved in politics to defend the union.

Actually, this one’s true. I didn’t. And so I won’t.

What’s the weather like in Montenegro?

MONTENEGROThe latest round of “positive campaigning” from the Westminster parties centres again on the currency. It’s clear they’ve decided it’s the SNP’s weak spot, and they want to hammer on it. So now all three of Westminster’s parties of government have declared (or will declare, so the BBC have been briefed) that an independent Scotland would be barred from the SNP’s preferred approach, a formal currency union with the rUK.

On one level this is a trap the SNP have laid for themselves. Their policy has essentially evolved like this: “Yey Euro! No, wait, the Euro’s collapsing. Shit. What shall we do? Well, we could have our own currency. But that sounds scary. What’s the only other option? Keep the pound. Phew. Sounds safe.”

A better approach would clearly have been to say “well, on day one Scotland still continue to use the pound, as is normal when countries achieve independence, and it will be for the Scottish people to decide whether they prefer to move towards an independent currency, either as an end point or as a step towards the Euro, or to seek an ongoing currency union with rUK”. Not least because then the post-2016 Scottish Government would have a specific democratic mandate for a sterling zone if that was indeed the outcome of the election. Fear of uncertainty is why this is off the table. But if you want to know what happens after a future election, you’d better get used to uncertainty for obvious reasons.

Given that formal currency union would require Westminster’s assent, though, today’s stramash was entirely predictable (Jeff saw something similar coming in November 2011, although I disagree with some of his conclusions). Perhaps the SNP genuinely like the sight of Tory/Labour/Lib Dem bullying on this issue. It certainly looks ugly, but I can see Osborne’s logic: like it or not, this announcement does take the SNP’s preferred option off the table. They can’t keep saying “once we’ve had a Yes vote Westminster will have to take Scotland seriously”. Well, they can keep saying it if they wish, but it sounds increasingly ridiculous and practically as petulant as the Westminster parties’ position. Strategically, the Tories are correct to assume that this mess must reduce the chance of a Yes vote, and of course it’s not just them. With all three of the biggest parties at Westminster now publicly opposed to currency union, the SNP are effectively relying on persuading one or more of them changing their mind. Not a solid basis for the last seven months of a referendum campaign.

The reality is that on 24 March 2016, the SNP’s proposed independence day, we absolutely will be using sterling in Scotland’s shops. Our bank accounts will still be denominated in sterling. The pre-dissolution SNP Government has no mandate to change that: it’d be utterly undemocratic to do so prior to the election which kicks off on that day. And then on 7 May 2016, when Scotland wakes up with its first independent government, we’ll still be using sterling no matter what. That government will have had a policy (or policies, if it’s a coalition) on the currency, but the starting point will be the pound in your pocket.

And the basis for the pound in your pocket won’t be a currency union. It can’t be. Even if Westminster were entirely relaxed about it, the SNP don’t have a mandate to establish a currency union in the September 2014-March 2016 interregnum and to tie future Scottish Governments’ hands. We’ll be using the pound like Montenegro uses the Euro, or (as Jeff pointed out) like Cambodia uses the dollar. We won’t have a seat on the Bank of England’s (!) Monetary Policy Committee. Scottish budgets won’t have to go to Westminster for oversight, or vice versa, as formal currency union would require. Nothing will have changed.

At that point, if that new independent Scottish Government has been elected on a platform of pursuing currency union, they can get on and pursue it and hope that the post-2015 rUK Government would support it. The only easy route to co-operation on this would be if Labour somehow managed to win both elections while losing the referendum. But if currency union is sought and rUK Ministers stick to today’s line, there would only be two options for those future Scottish Ministers: the Montenegro way, or the Montenegro way moving towards our own currency like a normal independent state. That way we could manage our affairs without our economy still being skewed towards London and without our fiscal policy still being skewed towards austerity. An independent currency seems almost inevitable, especially in the longer term. Or it would do if the Yes campaign wasn’t bogged down by the SNP’s short-sightedness on this issue. They need to think again or they risk jeopardising the recent progress that’s been made towards a Yes vote.