Archive for category Elections

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.

Tomorrow’s forgotten voters

A preferential ballotThe very roughly proportional electoral system for the Euro elections gives us no more nuanced a vote than Westminster, a simple crude X with not even a second preference. As with all systems that don’t let us express the range of our views, tactical voting becomes inevitable, and indeed the dominant debate on Twitter has been about whether the Greens or the SNP are better placed to stop that sixth seat going to UKIP.

It’s a double shame – personally, with a proper preferential ballot paper I’d vote Green 1, SNP 2, Labour 3, Tory 4, Lib Dem 5 on the tactical level if I could (the Tories and the Lib Dems being separated purely by honesty, i.e. both seem determined to grind the faces of the poor, but at least the Tories admit it). That way I know I’d definitely 100% be casting a vote designed to block UKIP. I’d even rather see George Lyon go back to Brussels than whichever swivel-eyed racist happens to top UKIP’s Scottish list.

The SNP would come second for me, incidentally, primarily for fairly poor reasons: the referendum is more important to me than whether one more Labour MEP or one more SNP MEP is elected, and the results from tomorrow will be seen in that light. In terms of values, the third on the SNP’s  list, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, was “unashamedly enthusiastic about the virtues of the Conservative Party” just 15 years ago. No-one who felt that way that recently can be one of us in any meaningful sense. It’s also incidentally amusing that the SNP leadership promoted someone who described Alex Salmond as “hopelessly out of his depth” and “utterly naive”.

But the absence of a preferential vote of some sort is a shame on a non-tactical level, too. I know SNP and Green voters who have been convinced by the other’s tactical arguments, and who are voting accordingly. I understand why, and I’ve done it myself, but I’d always rather vote my principles first, and a Green MEP in the form of Maggie Chapman wouldn’t be just yet another voice in the European Parliament backing unsafe oil exploration in sensitive waters, like all our current MEPs, just to pick one issue.

Anyway, we’re stuck with a partly tactical election, although attention has been unduly focused on the final seat. Personally I think the final two are in play, and between the two they could go to any of the following parties: Tory, Green, SNP, UKIP, and even the Lib Dems. The nature of the electoral system makes it very hard to predict how votes will divide down for the largest party, the SNP, and polls are also less accurate for the smaller parties jostling in the 6-12% region. My best guess is that the Tories will indeed win a seat, and that it could in fact be between the Greens and the SNP for the last one, with UKIP beating the Lib Dems. But it’s just a guess.

That list leaves out one party, what looks like the one great certainty of this list. The Labour Party will surely win two seats comfortably but be nowhere near winning a third seat. In a way, this should make their less dogmatic voters most susceptible to persuasion to go elsewhere.

If defending the Union is their priority, then a Tory or Lib Dem vote might make more sense. If their priority is stopping UKIP, or indeed if they’re Labour For Indy voters, then maybe a Green or an SNP vote could be considered. If climate change or inequality are the most important issues for them, maybe they’d decide they could make more of an impact again with a Green vote. If they’re racist “Blue Labour” and “concerned about immigration”, well, they can draw their own conclusions. Or, of course, they could stick to their usual party. But, ironically, it looks to me like folk who normally vote Labour are those who should most obviously consider putting their X next to another party tomorrow.

Who do you not hate?

In addition to the independence question and the Holyrood voting intention put as part of our first monthly Survation poll (with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions), I also get to ask another question, and I can be more partisan than they are. So I asked the following:

Irrespective of how you personally vote, which of the following parties would you like to see as part of a future Scottish government (for example, as part of a coalition)?

The results were pretty striking (I’ve changed my mind since last week, incidentally, and will show the arbitary precision in these numbers: bear in mind that just one more person picking a particular party has a one in ten chance of increasing their result by 0.1%). The figure in brackets here shows how far above each party’s list vote in the same poll their result  is.

SNP: 48.8% (+8.9%)
Labour: 46.9% (+18.8%)
Green: 22.5% (+14.1%)
Lib Dem: 19.7% (+13%)
Conservative: 18.1% (+7%)
UKIP: 8.9% (+4.3%)
SSP: 1.6% (+0.8%)

I read this question primarily as “which other parties do you not hate?”, and so if I were Labour I’d find a crumb of comfort in these figures – although the actual Labour list vote we found is pretty low, there’s a substantial section of the public who don’t currently vote for them who are not against them being back in office. The SNP, on the other hand, (with much stronger actual voting intention figures) look like they are closer to the top of their maximum achievable vote. But hey, actual votes certainly trump a reservoir of broader non-voting sympathy. And overall, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see almost half the country want to see each of those two parties having a role in office.

But the picture is a bit more complicated than it looks. The detailed tables show that about a quarter of Labour voters think the SNP should be part of a future Scottish government, and vice versa, which may be a recognition by a good chunk of the public of the broad similarity of the two parties’ positions on much of the policy agenda. Conversely, roughly 10% of both parties’ own voters do not want to see their chosen party in office, which seems a touch odd. That number is even higher for the Lib Dems, with more than 15% of remaining Lib Dem voters not wanting the party to have a role in government.

At the bottom of the list, the SSP do figure, but only one person in 125 would vote for them, and only another one in 125 thinks they should be in office. The damage Sheridan did to the party shows no sign of going away, which I personally regret. I’d like to see Holyrood return to rainbow days again, with a good group of SSP MSPs as well as more Greens. But that looks a long way off. Above them, UKIP are in the area where they might pick up a regional seat or two if their vote were to be well-focused enough, but a pleasingly small proportion of the Scottish public don’t hate them.

The middle order is also interesting. On the actual regional voting intention, the three smaller Parliamentary parties were bunched pretty closely – the Tories on 11, Greens on 8, and the Lib Dems on 7. Of those three, the Tories remain the least well-liked beyond their actual voters, the Lib Dems retain a perhaps surprising reach, and the Greens come in third overall, greatly helped by the 30.7% of SNP voters who would like to see us in office (18.5% of Labour voters also felt that way).

It’s tempting as a Green to get excited about these figures, but there’s a sting in the tail for the party, just as there is with the excellent list vote found for the party in the same poll. There may be a substantial pool of potential Green voters out there (enough for the party plausibly to aspire to become the third party at Holyrood, no less), but without bringing in more money, more members, and more activists, we will never be able to convert these figures into a reliable base for the party. That next phase is already happening pretty widely in Edinburgh, and in parts of Glasgow, but beyond that, the critical mass for the Greens exists only in the wards of key hard-working activists (shout out to Martin Ford, Mark Ruskell & Ian Baxter in particular here). As William Gibson said in another context: the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

I’m too much of an inactivist right now to criticise, but the party’s problems remain broadly the same as they were even ten years ago. Patrick and others are working hard to try and help see the referendum won while simultaneously promoting the party’s distinctive positions, but the question remains: how can an increased level of interest and warmth be converted into those three vital assets?

In for a penny, in for a groat

GroatThe Governor of the Bank of England has just sunk plans for Scottish independence today, we’re told. The flaws with the SNP’s currency union mean it’s over all bar the voting, apparently.

Except that’s a lot of nonsense for one key reason. Scotland’s medium and long-term currency future won’t be up to the SNP. Their schedule, which I was previously more sceptical about, gives us a bit over two years from a Yes vote to independence day, which coincides with dissolution of Holyrood, which means that post-independence decisions will be made by the people in the most interesting election Scotland will have ever seen.

I’m also very relaxed about an initial period where we use the pound prior to any change, either to our own currency, my preferred option, or hypothetically to the Euro, which I doubt any of Scotland’s five Parliamentary parties will offer in May 2016. But imagine Labour win at Westminster in 2015, which still has to be the most likely option. And then perhaps a separate Scottish Labour would get their act together and lead Scotland’s first independence administration. It’s not impossible: just think how the British electorate chose them to “win the peace” in 1945. Would those two administrations not work together while respecting the Scottish people’s desire for independence?

In fact, the hostility to currency union from Westminster and Threadneedle Street would then no longer have much of a real purpose, if one accepts that it’s primarily to scare Scots into voting No. Maybe the SNP would also accept over time that currency union would be too restrictive, and offer a transition to our own currency (see the Republic of Ireland’s experience for how slowly that might happen). Who knows? But the decision will, if we win, be made by the Scottish people on the basis of the manifestos offered then: each option has pros and cons, but a democratic choice is the right way for it to be made.