Archive for category Governance

Diverse In Action


The independence movement is just that; a movement. It is not a retailer of one narrative, or one coalescent ideology. It is a broad church peopled by persons of many political creeds, and none.

Disagreements about post-independence policy are inevitable, and welcome. This is one of the Yes campaign’s strengths. Any attempt to convince the public that we all agree wholesale on every aspect of post-independence direction would be completely disingenuous, and the public wouldn’t buy it.

The SNP have been very successful in recent years because they appeal to the centrists in the voting population. The electorate from large swathes of the centre centre left and centre right can all look to the SNP and identify policies which appeal. The SNP have been able to bridge ideological positions because the SNP itself is fairly reflective of public voting demography; made up as it is of people who can compromise on policy in pursuit of independence. That the SNP have cross-section appeal is no coincidence, but neither is it simply a construct to garner public support. It simply is because the SNP has to reflect the views of its membership, and we are a fairly diverse bunch.

It is no secret that I disagree with the SNP on NATO membership. The majority of Scots in any competent polling have expressed anti-Trident, and anti-Trident replacement preference, and I obviously welcome the SNPs commitment to the removal of nuclear weapons post-independence if it is in the SNPs gift to do so, but I will be campaigning for removal from NATO after that yes vote.

Similarly, I am a republican and I disagree with the current SNP narrative on a continuing monarchy. I say narrative because I am not aware of a vote in which the party have had an opportunity to express any preference for this new position.

I also have a preference for an independent Scottish currency, and agree with Professor John Kay that this is the best possible position for a post-independence Scottish Government to consider. However, I also agree that continued use of Sterling in the interim, as a short to mid-term stability measure is a rational and sound proposal. We will be using sterling on the day we become independent and any transition to a new currency would inevitably take time, but I also agree with The Sun’s Andrew Nicholl that locking a post-independence Scotland in to perpetuity of economic reliance on rates set by rUK isn’t much like my idea of independence either. That said, Sterling is ours too, and any attempt by Osborne to try persuading Scots that we will be excluded from using it is as ridiculous as it is offensive.

I am comfortable that I can be in the SNP and not agree with all of its policies. It isn’t a shock, horror moment that I don’t, instead it is a valuable lesson about the art of compromise because for every policy I disagree with, there are ten that I do agree with, and I can live with that. Post independence it is up to me, and people like me and the public to make our case to the Scottish people about what shape our independence takes.

Independence does not belong to the SNP, nor does it belong to Alex Salmond. Independence is about opportunity and democracy. It isn’t about policy. The SNP are quite right to set out their position on post-independence policy, and as the leading party in the independence movement, it is inevitable that the public expect them to. However, it is important that the public know that independence and the SNP are not interchangeable and the press are partly responsible for this. It suits their narrow reporting of the independence movement to conflate SNP policy with post-independence reality.

That said, the SNP are also not responsible to the independence movement. If Patrick Harvie wants to present an argument for a Scottish currency, then his vehicle to do that is his political party. If those on the radical left want bolder vision for post-independence policy, let them sell it to the public. If they call on the SNP to do these things, they are just as guilty as the media of conflating independence with the SNP. Diversity is strength, if those on the Yes side are bold enough to sell it.

The risk for those on the Yes side is that, while welcome, all the groups which have been set up to campaign for independence risk being consumed by navel gazing and endless posturing on post-independence policy. All the policy in the world doesn’t matter a damn if there is no yes vote.

The SNP are a campaigning party. James Mitchell’s study in to levels of activism in political parties evidences that the SNP has the most motivated membership and the membership of the SNP are used to campaigning, and campaigning hard. The SNP membership knows that to win elections it is all very well to have a national strategy, but when it comes right down to it, it is the areas where the highest levels of activism take place that garner the best results.

This campaign will be won on the doorsteps. It won’t be won on social media – or even in the national media. It won’t be won spending innumerable hours creating socialist utopian ideas in rooms with like-minded people. It won’t be won at rallies preaching to the converted. We don’t have to preach to the converted, we have to convince other voters that independence offers opportunity.

It is a frustration that people in political parties have known since the dawn of time: those that talk the loudest, or tweet the loudest, or speechify the loudest don’t necessarily work the hardest. It is all very well to talk about what you want from independence, and that is a valuable enterprise, but it must be accompanied by action, not just narrative.

A few weeks ago when David Cameron came to Scotland, around 50 people gathered to protest against him, the Conservatives and Trident in Govan. How many of these people then translated that protest in to proper affirmative action by actively campaigning for independence in Govan that week? Almost none, I can confirm. Protesting has its own value, but it certainly isn’t productive in convincing the public of the benefits of independence.

So, “splits in the Yes campaign” isn’t something to be feared. It is a necessary part of democracy that different views are represented. However, what we need to fear is inaction.

Those campaigners in the SNP will be campaigning on the doorsteps and in the streets for independence. If other groups and organisations in the Yes campaign don’t want the SNP to set the agenda, they have to ensure that they are out there campaigning right alongside them. The parties and bodies which make up Yes Scotland may have different opinions, priorities and opinions, but are united in seeking a yes vote.  The yes campaign’s breadth is its strength, but the public will only believe that if they see it.

We can live without the “keyboard warriors”, but we can’t carry the campaign without the support of active campaigners.

We have just over 500 days until the referndum, it is time to step away from the computers, end the obsession with minutiae and get our bahookies in gear. This referendum ain’t going to win itself.

Over your cities Green grass will grow

The Labour party have looked about them, taken stock of the post-Blair wasteland and identified the enemy. which apparently is those well-known destroyers of democracy and oppressors of the common people in the Scottish Green Party.

At Scottish Labour Conference in Inverness this weekend there will be a fringe event entitled ‘Green Splinters’, staged with the express aim of finding out why some people have realised that they would rather vote Green instead of Labour.

Labour peer Lord Bassam, who I am told by Sooth Folk has a flatteringly obsessive distaste for the Greens, tweeted: ‘In Inverness to discuss countering the Green threat to progressive politics.’. It is hard to think of a more obtuse statement given the situation that many people in England find themselves in. I have no idea how much Lord Bassam knows about Scottish politics or the Scottish Green Party, but I would wager that it is significantly less than he thinks.

The Green vote is not a strictly socialist vote, and it is not an anti-Labour vote. The Green vote is a vote for people actually doing their jobs with competence and enthusiasm, and for an ability to bring new ideas into an intellectually moribund arena. Green politics is socialist in certain aspects, normatively seen it embodies the values and aims of social democracy, but it is marked above all by its ability and tendency to challenge institutions from a citizen-based democratic perspective.

Green politics in Germany is a case in point. The German Green Party as it now exists was born from a coalition of environmental and democratic organisations instrumental in the downfall of the German Democratic Republic, combined with the West German Green Party. After first breaking into German regional parliaments, in the late 1990s it provided crucial support to an SDP government looking to form a parliamentary majority.

In Sweden too the Greens have been able to pick up votes from the intellectual middle class and disillusioned former supporters of agrarian and socially liberal parties where those parties have drifted to the right. They often get a hard time from the officially socialist and social-democratic parties respectively, but for the maths to work it is actually in the interests of the red left to work with the Green left in order to form workable governments, rather than expend resources trying to exterminate them and claim 45 per cent of the vote and a lifetime in opposition.

Now the fact that this event is even taking place caused a squeal of delight amongst many in the SGP because it means that the Greens have gone from being a party nobody in politics cared about to one which is obviously threatening the hegemonies enjoyed by institutionalised Labour and unimaginative nationalism.

It would, however, be sad if the Labour party were to decide that keeping the Greens at bay were more important than trying to build workable alternative governments at Westminster and Holyrood.

There is also the crucial matter of Labour failing to embrace either electoral reform or the environment to any significant degree. And devolution, childcare reform, progressive taxation and urban planning. We need a future democracy which looks quite different from today, and all tomorrow’s parties should try to work together to make it happen. The Greens have the ideas and they need viable partners to make it happen.

We’d rather be friends than enemies, but if Labour want to be enemies they should consider the fact that it is a civil war they might well lose.

Press support, democracy and well resourced media.

Following on from James calling attention to the plight of National Collective and the need for diverse media voices, a link to a post by myself on the Edinburgh based Green media project POST, and a possible solution to Scotland’s democratic deficit. 

Shetland phoney.

If Tavish Scott is serious about Shetland’s Scandinavian heritage, he would do well to consider the advantages of an independent Holyrood.

Tavish Scott is a sort of self-styled Lord of the Isles. As a constituency MSP Shetland is most definitely his, and he seems to have a habit of seeing himself as its de facto president. He also loves going on about the islands’ Scandinavian heritage whenever distancing himself from any whiff of nationalism. Shetland needn’t be independent with Scotland because it has as much to do with Norway as it does with Edinburgh, he claims.

And fair enough perhaps . I was wandering around Scalloway this week and took a look at their shiny museum, opened by Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg last year. Likewise, Lerwick’s magnificent new arts centre would not be out of place on a quayside on the other side of the North Sea. You can sit on the beach and tune in to Norwegian local radio, and Lerwick is the only place in the British Isles to have tourist signage in Faeroese.

But it has even less to do with London than with Edinburgh. Tavish wants Shetland to assert its northerness, but not for Scotland to do so.  Now Scotland will never be a Scandinavian country, just as Shetland will never be entirely Scottish perhaps, but they both share a pervasive Northernness.

But does Tavish speak for Shetland, and if Shetland is serious about some sort of political autonomy, would it really want to be reduced to a Westminster territory? There is a phrase loved by certain Scottish liberals, home rule, which will always be inextricably linked to the establishment of the Irish state, and which is also about the last time liberalism was the hottest ticket in the burgh. Tavish can beat his drum, but considering that less than half of the electorate voted for him, his claims to be the voice of the islands are somewhat tenuous.

To quote a respected colleague, “The SNP are centralising f***ers.”.  There is a serious case to be made for Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles to be given far greater powers over their day to day existence. The council tax freeze which both of the big parties signed up to is an assault on the ability of communities to take charge of their own futures. What works well in Livingston or Ayr will not necessarily be right for Harris and Lewis.

If Tavish wants to have a genuine conversation about appropriate powers, local devolution and Scandinavianism, he should probably pick up the phone and give Patrick Harvie a call.

Walk The Solidarity Talk


At Glasgow City Council Full Council today one of the issues debated- and finding a rare moment of relative harmony between bitter Labour and SNP factions – was that of the Bedroom Tax;  with the Labour Party and the SNP agreeing to an amendment asking Nicola Sturgeon to consider using Scottish Government powers to offset the worst effects of it.

All admirable sentiments, and worthwhile doing – after all it is the role of the Scottish Government to act in the best interests of the Scottish people – but can the Scottish Government always be expected to legislate to mitigate the worst effects of policy decisions taken at Westminster?

Evidently I am absolutely in favour of the Scottish Government intervening to protect the most vulnerable in Scottish society, and in fact I have some suggestions based on a huge amount of research I have been taking on the Bedroom Tax in my employed capacity. There are actions that the Scottish Government can take, and I am sure that all SNP MSPs and councillors will be pressing them to explore any and all suggested options.

In the first instance, Govan Law Centre has made suggestions about the reclassification of housing debt as a civil debt and treated as such in the same manner as any other civil debt; like council tax arrears, or utilities debt meaning that courts will not be forced to evict for non-payment as a first option. There are a number of problems with this suggestion; indeed as there are with many others, not least the fact that the most vulnerable in society will still be accumulating unmanageable debts, and that Housing Associations, and Councils as Social Landlords will be subject to huge gaps in funding and revenue stream. It is simply unacceptable to pass the problem on to Housing Associations and Councils without trying too to mitigate their funding gaps too.

That said, it is a mitigation which requires due consideration. Perhaps there are ways in which to make it workable with agreement between the Scottish Government, Councils and Housing Associations. It is only one of a few suggested options.

So whilst I fundamentally agree and urge the Scottish Government to do all it can, and further, I am not averse to utilising some existing but unused powers to do so, I have my concerns about the expectation that the Scottish Government is the line of last defence when the UK Government takes decisions which we deem unpopular, socially unjust or morally reprehensible.

That the Welfare Reform Act fits all of the above descriptions, and more, does not offset the fact that the Westminster Government is a democratically elected beast. We can quibble about the Tories going in to coalition with the Liberal Democrats not being the settled will of the United Kingdom voters until the cows come home, but, in my opinion, that is wholly disingenuous. Allow me the right to despise the Liberal Democrats the choice to enter a coalition which contravenes so many values which Liberal Democrats should hold dear whilst respecting their right to do so.

I support a reform of the First Past the Post system, and by dint, support a form of proportional representation. By their very definition, PR elections create the need for parties to negotiate coalitions.  This means compromise; and yes, if chosen, some parties will sell their souls to do so.  The Liberal Democrats did in the first Scottish Parliament where they abandoned their principles on free tuition fees – sound familiar? – To enter coalition with the Labour Party. However, many of those same voices clamouring for the same electoral change that I desire are prepared to criticise a coalition formed to govern because they dislike the hue of the parties who entered it. That, to me, is hypocrisy at best.  We either support coalition government as a compromise which is more inclusive of societal views, or we don’t. Perhaps I over simplify, but there it is.  This is a blog post, not a thesis.

The UK government has taken on the mantle of welfare reform which began under the previous Labour administration and is taking the decision to implement changes which, again in my opinion, undermine enshrined ECHR Article 8 on right to family life. Clearly by implementing the Bedroom Tax, the state is interfering with this right by preventing respite for carers, overnight access for parents with shared custody rights etc. But The United Kingdom electorate gave them the power to do so.

I have been to a number of the University of Glasgow Independence debates, and I obviously pay attention to social media and messaging which is coming from the “Better Together” camp and its partners in the Labour Party. A now constant refrain seems to be that asserting the right to independence is a betrayal of solidarity with fellow Brits in Salford, or Brixton, or Bradford who are also suffering from austerity measures. Indeed, as I sit here typing at the last of the University of Glasgow independence debates, I am listening to Willie Bain attempt to articulate the same point – very confusedly, as it happens.

It is beyond me that a constitutional settlement means that we cannot share solidarity with fellow human beings across the United Kingdom as we do those fellow world citizens across the globe. A point was made by a member of the audience last night that solidarity respects no borders. Choosing independence is asserting the right to self-determination; it is not an abandonment of humanity.

Another argument seems to be predicated on the basis that by choosing independence we consign England and Wales to eternal Conservative domination. This is as ridiculous as certain factions of the Yes campaign who believe that voting Yes means no more Tories.  It could be argued that a small c conservative party would have a small renaissance in an independent country, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, as the state, and the Left, needs to have checks and balance.

These shouldn’t be arguments which are made by either side. They are lazy and crass and entirely without empirical evidence. Blair’s landslide Labour Governments would have been elected regardless of the Scottish block voting. It England wants to vote Labour, it can and will. If England wants to vote Conservative, it can and will and we do not have the right to usurp their will. Staying in a union to subvert the voting will of the English people is entirely nonsensical and presumptuous and fundamentally undemocratic.

That the Labour party is simultaneously using the issue of solidarity with fellow Brits as a reason to vote no in the referendum whilst urging the Scottish Government to act in mitigation of the choices of the United Kingdom Government to offset a degree of the worst effects for the Scottish people only, smacks of double standards. That the powers retained by the United Kingdom include all legislative powers over Welfare should not be forgotten, and whilst the Calman Commission was an opportunity for the pro-Union parties to make suggestions about this, they failed to make any substantive points which would change the impact of Welfare Reform.  That they also failed to advocate a second question on the ballot paper with powers over welfare is again indicative of their inability to practice what they preach.

The “Better Together” Campaign has made no concrete suggestions which would entrust power of welfare to the Scottish Parliament, yet they want and expect the Scottish Government to mitigate any decisions made under that retained power when they disagree with them. Surely the UK under their premise, which retains the power, should make UK wide welfare decisions, or they shouldn’t. The only way they shouldn’t or couldn’t is if welfare is devolved. And whilst the pro-Union parties hid from any concrete proposals for a second question on the Independence Referendum ballot paper, there is only one option on the table whereby Scottish voters have the opportunity to help build a welfare system that they believe in and shares their values of fairness. And that isn’t the status quo.

So, yes, the Scottish Government should take any and all actions it can to help the Scottish people it serves, but we should remember, by choosing to remain in the UK, we choose to retain UK wide welfare reform, and long-term, it is not feasible, practical or affordable for a parliament which survives on a set, and shrinking, block grant to continue to play the role of mitigator. And consequently ,Scottish tax payers taking on the burden of reduced public expenditure on other vital public services to correct the folly of the coalition.