Archive for category Elections

Why independence requires the SNP to lose their majority

Green v LabourIt’s been a long year since I voted to set up a new country more or less from scratch, and unsurprisingly there’s a lot of chat about having another go.

What are the triggers? Who gets to decide when we decide? What, in great detail, does Nicola think about it? All good questions.

But let’s admit what underlay many of the weaknesses last time: the SNP’s one-party majority at Holyrood, the very thing which led to a referendum in the first place.

Yes Scotland was seen as just a rebranded part of the SNP, and on policy issue after policy issue, the media (disingenuously but understandably) treated the SNP’s specific independence prospectus as a gospel summary of how independence would look.

The broader Yes campaign diverged from the SNP on many issues, of course. Greens (and RIC, and the SSP) had, for example, probably a less popular position on the monarchy, one which I am proud of still.

Conversely, Greens had a more robust and defensible position on the currency issue, and just today the party announced sensible plans for more research on what I call “actual independence”. As Peat Worrier memorably put it:

Take one example. You can understand the thinking behind the White Paper’s currency policy. Folk wanted to keep the pound. The focus groups urged it. So the Scottish Government decided to back it. But in practice, the policy amounted to giving your deadliest enemy a loaded revolver and saying, “please don’t shoot me with this”. The rest is history. Osborne pulled the trigger. Salmond foundered in the first debate with Darling. Credibility was never demonstrated or gained. We lost. I could go on.

Over and over the SNP’s position got confused with the reality – i.e. that the Scottish people would make those key decisions in the first election to an independent Parliament, and at subsequent elections. Neither the currency nor the monarchy would or could have been settled by a Yes vote: both would be decisions to be made later, questions about what kind of independence we want, which would no doubt evolve. This confusion is still happening today: for just one example, the thoughtful Sunder Katwala blurs the two here.

Now it’s entirely up to the SNP to offer a monarchist Scotland, and to say they’ll seek to negotiate a shared currency with Westminster. Both are respectable positions – although I think the latter of those helped sink us. But as long as they have a majority all their own that position will be seen as what Yes2 is all about. A Scottish Government where they are the largest partner but share power with the only other party at Holyrood which supports independence would be entirely different. Such a coalition wouldn’t be able to produce a White Paper2 which just set out SNP policy, nor one which promoted Green policy. Such a document would instead have to say “those decisions will be made by the Scottish people in subsequent votes, if we vote Yes this time”, and simply to list the options. It’s stronger, it’s more winnable, and it’s more honest too.

So, if what you most want is for the SNP to continue to govern alone, and you would rather one or two more SNP MSPs plus eight to ten Labour MSPs instead of a dozen Green MSPs, please do vote SNP with both ballots. But if you’d rather both a Greener government and a more realistic prospect of independence, whenever those triggers are met, I’d urge a Green list vote.

We can’t do it without them, clearly. But they can’t do it without us either.

The Deputy Squatter

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.35.14There’s a lot of feverish chat about Dave Cameron just staying on in Number 10 even if there’s an anti-Tory majority, especially if the Tories alone happen to outnumber Labour (like that matters). We are reminded of the way the Tory press hounded Brown as a squatter for (quite rightly) remaining as PM five years ago until it was clear he couldn’t command a majority.

But there’s one crucial difference between 2015 and 2010 that seems to have been completely forgotten about. Dave’s legitimacy as Prime Minister is based on the Tory coalition with the Lib Dems. If he decides to try to cling to office past any point when it’s clear the numbers don’t work for him, would Nick Clegg try to stay on with him as Deputy Prime Minister? It seems unlikely to say the least.

Clegg knows that if Tory and Lib Dem seats together don’t get them to 323 (or near enough with the DUP), it’s over: he’s a pragmatist in the way his boss isn’t. And either way it seems inevitable that the Lib Dems will have just taken a major kicking, delivered in part by the Tories in the south-west of England. This might make cooperation harder even if they could inch over the line, let alone if they’ve lost their collective majority.

If Cameron tries to cling on through some unconstitutional definition of “largest minority” as legitimate, it couldn’t be sustained  if Clegg resigned (and if the Lib Dems abandon the Coalition). If the Tories can’t assemble an absolute majority from somewhere, including with the Lib Dems, I’d say they wouldn’t even be able to cling on through a single news cycle without Clegg. And of course, there’s more than one way for Clegg not to stay as DPM to potentially help them. If I were Labour I’d have thrown absolutely everything at Sheffield Hallam with that in mind.

SNP Tactical Voting … by Labour?

salmiliband

This election has become even more tiresome than most for tactical squeezes. SNP: “don’t vote Green and split the Yes vote“. Labour: “don’t vote Green or SNP and let the Tories back in“. Tories: “don’t vote UKIP or you’ll let Labour in“. Lib Dems: “Only we can stop both Labour and the Tories“. It’s predictable and it’s alienating. I admit that one reason Greens don’t do it is there’s no tactical way to support the Greens, apart from this kind of swap site that never really catches on. It’s vote Green or nothing if you want to support the party. One key reason for that is even if we keep Brighton Pavilion and add Bristol West, Norwich South, plus Holborn and St Pancras, holding the balance of power remains a long shot. I should say that I personally remain against it, for these reasons.

But if you’re a Tory Coalition fan in a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, your tactical vote is clear. If you’re a diehard Yoonyonisht Lib Dem in a Tory/SNP marginal, again, you know what to do. The same applies for junior parties, too. If you’re a residual Lib Dem in a Labour/Tory marginal, well, which party would you rather your MPs worked with?

Some of the maths is here on Political Betting. And it brings a tantalising thought. If you’re a Labour voter in a SNP/Lib Dem marginal (i.e. any of the Lib Dem-held seats, perhaps even including Orkney and Shetland), who do you back? You might think the Yoonyon, if you’re so inclined, comes first. And maybe it should. But if you really want Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister, you’re choosing between an SNP MP who will definitely vote for Ed to be PM and a Lib Dem MP who put Dave Cameron into office last time – and probably would again, given half a chance.

The naive assumption is that tactical voting in Scotland will be along partisan indyref lines, and therefore to the SNP’s detriment, given their far larger position within the Yes side. The ubiquitious John Curtice makes this mistake today. But if I lived in Argyll and Bute, or Gordon, or East Dunbartonshire, or the Northern Isles, or any other Scottish Lib Dem seat, and I wanted Ed Miliband for PM above all, I’d be voting SNP.

(apologies to Jeff for the title)salmiliband

Sweden’s far right a glimpse of UKIP’s potential

farageflagAt half past four yesterday afternoon Mattias Karlsson, the temporary leader of Sweden’s far right Sweden Democrats, caused a political shockwave as he revealed to the press that he and his colleagues would block the sitting left-wing government’s budget.Just months after winning a record 12.9 per cent of the vote, the populist party have found themselves kingmakers in high-stakes game of political roulette by backing the  opposition Conservative-Liberal Alliance for Sweden against the minority Social Democrat and Green coalition. By doing what nobody thought they would ever dare they have gone from being a maligned outsider party to populist crusaders intent on wreaking as much havoc as possible.

Although UKIP have their roots in euroscepticism and the Sweden Democrats in far-right ethnic nationalism, the two parties are riding the same wave of discontent with the political establishment across Europe. Sharing a European Parliament group and with a series of skeletons in their respective cupboards, the Sweden Democrats have succeeded in doing what UKIP have long aspired to – to reach a point at which they can topple governments and push their agenda of reduced immigration and an end to the perceived domination of political correctness and a liberal urban elite.

What happens now in Sweden is hard to say, but it provides a window into what might await the UK after next May. Sweden’s eight party system is a result of the country’s proportional voting system, but even in Westminster it is foreseeable that Labour could win a minority of seats and yet remain the biggest party, facing off against the remaining Liberal Democrats, UKIP, a reduced Conservative party and however many MPs they Greens might muster as they continue their slow march upward.

The idea that liberal Sweden would come to a point where a openly xenophobic party could be in a position of relative power was until now almost unthinkable. Even after the right-wing surge in September’s elections, there was an assumption that the traditional parties of the right would cooperate with the government rather than turn towards the Sweden Democrats.

Although there is no official partnership, the Alliance for Sweden has used the Sweden Democrats to put pressure on the progressive coalition without lifting a finger.The idea that the Conservatives, undone by UKIP at the polls but still unable to cooperate with Labour, should act similarly is not a completely unrealistic prospect. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, was quick to welcome the Sweden Democrat’s decision, immediately tweeting that it would allow a budget that was best for the country.

One of the potential outcomes of the far-right’s power play in Sweden is that a new minority centre-right government is formed and none of the policies produced by the Red-Green coalition to tackle the welfare and public spending cuts made by the Alliance for Sweden come to fruition. As yet nobody is talking about new elections, but Nigel Farage will be looking at his European partners’ very closely and dreaming about what might be possible come next summer.

Swedish pluralism means Nigel might get some friends in Brussels and the Greens soar higher than ever

How the European elections play out in different countries is highly dependent on which system of election the member state uses. The British regional list system (including Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland) still guarantees a significant advantage to larger parties with a very high threshold for gaining a regional seat (upwards of ten per cent), meaning parties can gain nine or ten per cent across the country yet still fail to achieve a single MEP.

                             In Sweden, however, there is a single national list, and the Swedes have thrown up a very diverse range of parties to send to Brussels. There are two bits of good news from Sweden in a Europe otherwise mired in a far-right resurgence and a directionless but emboldened populist movement. The first is that the Swedish feminist group Feminist Initiative cleared the four per cent hurdle and made history in the process. Should they repeat the feat in September they will enter Sweden’s national legislature with twenty members forming the first feminist parliamentary party in European history.

                             An even bigger piece of positive news is that the Swedish Green Party overtook the Cameron-inspiring Moderate party for the first time, making them the second biggest party on almost sixteen per cent. The Moderates are now doing a lot of soul searching, polling one of their worst results in any election since the 1970s. The division of parliamentary mandates means that larger parties do not win as many seats as smaller parties do per percentage point, so the victory is mostly symbolic for the Greens, but like Feminist Initiative they go into September’s national elections with a good chance of becoming a fairly equal partner in a governing coalition. The secret of their success was becoming the biggest party in all three of Sweden’s large cities and harnessing the youth vote.

                             The national list system also meant that the far-right (though increasingly respectable) Swedish Democrats (SD) secured two seats. Their friends in the far-right Danish People’s Party are keen on cooperation with the British Tory-led group in the European Parliament, but this leaves the Swedish Democrats without too many friends.  The talk in the Swedish media is that SD fancy their chances with Britain’s favourite non-racist party. If this comes off it will mean UKIP sharing photocopying budgets with a party who went into the election promising to combat extreme feminism among other evils. Previous japes involving SD include one of their MPs attacking someone with a metal pole after a night out and some choice words about Roma that would make Nigel Farage turn away in shame.

                             What the Swedish elections to Brussels show best is what a pluralist media and election system looks like. With nine different parties represented from radical left to extreme right, via pink, Green and blue, it is representative in a way Britain’s system is not. With a similar system Greens in the UK would probably have around six MEPs, UKIP nineteen (not twenty-four) and one or two fewer for Labour and the Tories. This does not of course take into account Britain’s complex regional politics (The SNP and Plaid would vanish on a single national list), and the only way to solve that one would be to increase the seats allocated to Wales and Scotland and keep them separate. With its four UKIP MEPs and ten seats, the South of England could surely lose a few anyway.  And if the SD’s Björn Söder pops up next to Nigel Farage in Brussels, just remind yourself that UKIP are not a racist party.