Archive for category Parties

A rash prediction

There aren’t many certainties around the UK General Election due in May, so everyone says. As the proportion of voters backing Labour or the Tories, even under First Past The Post, dwindles, the maths become much more unpredictable. Sure, it seems extremely likely that the SNP will be the third largest party, eclipsing the Lib Dems, but that seems so plausible partly because so few people have any idea why anyone would still vote Lib Dem. But some continue to do so, inexplicable as it is.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 12.49.10One thing that seems almost certain, though, is that there will be no Tory/UKIP coalition, barring a ‘kipper surge from the ~15% they’re currently polling.

The numbers and mechanics of majorities are vertiginously stacked against it. To the left are the five constituencies where the bookies think they’re going to win (h/t Kris Keane): Carswell’s Clacton plus four more that do not include Mark Reckless in Rochester and Strood.

It seems like a plausible list, although tactical voting in both directions will make it pretty unpredictable.

Let’s start with two clear rules. No sensible smaller party goes into formal coalition where the larger party already has a majority (and few larger parties offer it). And no sensible smaller party takes part in a coalition where they don’t get their larger partners over the line.

So, assuming UKIP win just those five seats, the Tories would need to be between one and nine seats short of a majority for it to be even worth considering for either party (ten short plus UKIP would see it come down to the Speaker’s casting vote). But for the Tory party, being short by just one seat would be pretty indistinguishable from being ahead by just one. The DUP would probably vote for Cameron for PM, in the “one short” scenario, and even in the “one ahead” scenario they’d be vulnerable to every single Tory backbencher with a grievance or a principle. Why give Farage a bigger national stage to swap one sort of uncertainty for another?

No, in order for UKIP to be a plausible partner for the Tories, the latter would need to have fallen significantly short, yet the two together would have to comprise a clear working majority. For example (and this feels like the bare minimum for it to be considered), if the Tories were fifteen short and UKIP won twenty seats, then coalition might be possible. Just possible. UKIP winning twenty seats is a stretch to say the least (remember when Farage got beaten by a man in a dolphin costume when Labour and the Tories weren’t standing?), and the Tories being just the right amount short is also exceptionally unlikely (they were twenty short in 2010, although none of this takes into account the Sinn Fein MPs who don’t take their seats). Combine that with the natural antipathy between two parties from the same “family”, and the whole thing becomes vanishingly unlikely.

This scenario is written about as plausible, but only because it suits various people to do so (UKIP, the sensation-hungry in the media, Labour, the SNP etc). I’d say it’s about as likely as tossing two coins and having them both land on their edge. Just this side of impossible.

Questions for the SNP depute leadership candidates

The SNP may know who their next leader will be, but the polls are open until Wednesday night for the depute role, and there are three contenders. I thought I’d ask them all three awkward questions, and they were all kind enough to answer. I know it’s too late for most SNP members to use when making their minds up, but it may be of interest to any last-minute waverers. Thanks again to all three candidates.

Are there areas of policy innovation the SNP should consider?

angelaAngela Constance MSP Party policy should always be open to review, challenge and improvement. Rather than focus on specific areas of policy myself, I am more concerned with ensuring that the rank and file membership, through their branches, is empowered to discuss new ideas and improvements to existing policy such that our party is led by initiatives inspired by our grassroots and their communities. I will not seek to lead the party to particular policy positions, rather I will seek to find the best mechanisms through which our branches can develop policy, informed by their everyday personal and professional experiences, and make the party much less driven by policy initiatives from parliamentarians and their advisers. However, it is clear from hustings meetings that I have attended that the party will wish to address the issue of fracking.

stewartStewart Hosie MP The key thing I would like the SNP to change is the way in which major policy is formulated. National Assembly, which was the policy formulation body of the Party, should be re-constituted to meet on a regional basis. This would give many more of our members, particularly new members with a great wealth of experience in all sorts of areas, the opportunity to have a real input into SNP policy making.

keithKeith Brown MSP The most pressing area is in relation to poverty and child poverty.  We need to have full powers over taxation and welfare, amongst others, from the Smith Commission.  We need to eradicate child poverty and the need for food banks, and we need control over tax and benefits to do it. We haven’t done nearly enough work on reserved areas and we need to sort that now. We have to be bold and imaginative in our plans and building a better future. We’ve done well in devolved areas and I want to see us go further. Early years education; something like the Reggio Emilia approach. More emphasis on health promotion to lessen the costs of treating sickness and reduce health inequality. Support for small businesses and new business start-ups.  It has to be done by the whole SNP membership – we have to give policy-making back to the members.


What does a roadmap to independence now look like?

stewartStewart Hosie MP There are many roads to Independence! The bottom line, though is that the Scottish people will determine the speed and direction of travel.  We have just been through a referendum where the result was clear and I personally think that the referendum route remains the most credible. There are however many things which could trigger another referendum. For example an in/out referendum on Europe where Scotland and rUK vote different ways. Perhaps an overwhelming demand from many who voted No – expecting substantial devolution – if the UK Government fails to deliver on that promise. The key thing is to keep making the case for Independence and to keep campaigning.

keithKeith Brown MSP The same always – get a mandate and hold a referendum. We can’t run the referendum again, though, our tactics have to be better: build momentum earlier, have different Yes voices lay out their visions of an independent Scotland so it’s not one vision with fractures but different visions with the same first step. Trust those tens of thousands of Yes activists who put heart, soul and imagination into this campaign – they should lead; our big victory was that the people took the referendum and ran with it. Want another shot at the prize? Campaign, win and deliver. We can’t be the Jim Bowen of Scottish politics and saying “let’s see what you could have won”, we have to be the party and the movement looking to the future and saying “this is what you can win”. Scotland will be better after independence but we have to work for it.

angelaAngela Constance MSP The SNP is a democratic party and, whatever our view of the approach of the No campaign, we must accept the result. That said, the promises that were made in support of securing a No vote must be kept. We have every right to hold the vow-makers to account and to continue to persuade people of the case for Independence. If the final fortnight of the Referendum campaign proved anything it is that only the prospect of Independence forces Westminster to consider conceding meaningful power. Ultimately it will be the people, not politicians and parliaments, who will dictate the timetable and route to Independence. It is our job as a party to continue to persuade the people to make the journey.


How should the SNP act if the party holds the balance of power at Westminster in 2015?

keithKeith Brown MSP It’s a bit of a jump from here to there but if we hold the balance of power the negotiations over what we’ll do will be led by Nicola Sturgeon. The incoming UK Government will have to decide how to respond to the Smith Commission and whether to deliver on additional powers for our Parliament. That’s why it has to be the First Minister of Scotland and her team doing the negotiating – Scotland’s interests have to come before the SNP’s interests or the interests of MPs. She’ll have Angus Robertson as leader of the Westminster group to advise her but it will be her job to do. As she’s already pointed out, though; we won’t prop up a Tory Government and Labour isn’t much better, so our deal has to be just about what Scotland can get and how much we can squeeze out of Westminster for Holyrood. Coalition with Labour is possible but we’ll act in Scotland’s best interests.

angelaAngela Constance MSP  It would be my preference for some form of Yes Alliance to hold the balance of power rather than the SNP in isolation. However it would not be the job of either to prop up a Unionist government at Westminster. Our job will be to work day by day, issue by issue, to deliver the best deal we possibly can for Scotland and, obviously, there would be a particular task in delivering meaningful constitutional change. At the present time I cannot see the circumstances arising where we would seek to be part of a formal coalition with any Unionist party, but the rise of UKIP raises the spectre of a rather unpleasant kind of government emerging. Therefore if the only alternative to a Tory/UKIP coalition government is to enter a formal coalition with others then, in my view, there would be a strong case to do so.

stewartStewart Hosie MP The SNP needs to win more seats in the 2015 General Election. That should be our sole focus. Our ability to force Westminster to sit up and take notice will be determined by that and that alone. The job of the SNP Parliamentary Group (with the possible addition of other Independence supporting MPs) will be to get the best possible deal for Scotland. While the SNP will be the guarantors of new powers, it would be wrong to speculate on precisely how any arrangement might work or what any demands would be. Let’s win the seats first and look at the Westminster arithmetic later!

There is only one coherent solution to Scottish Labour’s problems

jpegPrior to Johann Lamont’s doomed leadership, there was no leader of Scottish Labour, just a Leader Of Labour In the Scottish Parliament, a mere LOLITSP. Iain Gray, a much better politician than he ever gave the impression of in that role, wasn’t the formal leader of the Scottish Labour MPs: that was still run through Westminster. And it showed.

Labour’s priority, as everyone has been observing ad nauseam, has remained on Westminster throughout, with Holyrood mistakenly regarded as a stepping stone to winning UK general elections, or in some cases, at an individual level, to a Westminster seat.

Scottish Labour MPs regarded their MSP colleagues with utter disdain, and the feeling was (with more justification) mutual. But the 2011 changes were meant to resolve that. From that point on, Johann Lamont was formally the leader of the Scottish MPs. Except Ed Miliband was her leader. And selection for Labour MPs remained with the UK party, as did their loyalty. All that had changed was a formality, a line on an organisational chart. The previous situation, although broken and in need of reform, was at least more honest.

It’s clearly not working. And giving Lamont’s successor some nebulous “more powers” over the Scottish party (sound familiar?) won’t help either. There is only one structural solution within which Scottish Labour could flourish, and, ironically, it’s closer to independence than federalism. A true Scottish Labour Party, with links to rUK Labour more akin to the partnership in Germany between the CDU and the CSU: both part of whatever the centrist ex-socialist European grouping calls itself nowadays, but closer than Labour are to the SPD or the French PS. All policy, selection, fundraising, expenditure – the lot – run in Scotland.

It’d allow a coherent set of policies to be constructed in Scotland for Scotland, perhaps an inch or two to the left of rUK Labour. It’d end the back-stabbing and sniping which have gone on since Dewar died, or at least limit it. The leader would be in Holyrood, but the group leader at Westminster would be a key role too – perhaps the deputy, until Scottish independence. If rUK Labour need Scottish Labour MPs to make a majority (or even if they don’t – up to them) they could work together just like the CDU and CSU do in Germany. Scottish Labour MPs could still serve in a UK administration. If the talent sent down was exceptional, which may be hard to imagine when you look at Brian Donohoe or Ian Davidson, maybe one amongst them could still be a good choice for a Labour PM. There might sometimes be a need for a little policy compromise if the two parties set different courses, but that’s manageable. Possibly even constructive.

The alternative is more of the same. It’s not just the Sunday Herald gloating about the party’s travails: even this weekend’s Sunday Mail editorial said it was time for change or “hell mend Labour”. In a way, of course, it’s none of my business, although this isn’t intended unhelpfully. I’ve not identified as a Labour voter since about 1992. One part of me thinks they can’t be saved, and (given the continued power of Blairism and Blairites) isn’t upset about that – but another wants to see Labour get its act back together and provide a proper opposition to the SNP. If Labour want to do that, they should be listening to Andrew McFadyen, not falling for John McTernan’s complacency. That way lies the wasteland, or even the graveyard.

Join the conversation

A guest post today from Andrew McFadyen on the future of the Labour Party: here’s the Labour for Scotland statement

lfsSeptember 18th was a misty, murky morning in Edinburgh. Beneath the haar that rolled in from the Firth of Forth something extraordinary was happening.

People came out to vote in unprecedented numbers to decide on Scotland’s future. In some districts, turnout topped 90 per cent. Many who hadn’t taken part in any election for years felt energised and engaged.

The result confirmed Scotland’s place in the UK, but some of the areas with the deepest connection to the Labour movement voted Yes. In Glasgow, every single constituency produced a majority for an independent Scotland.

At its simplest, those people who looked out their windows and didn’t like what they saw voted Yes. Those 1.6 million votes should be heard as a deafening call for change in the way that politics is done in Scotland.

When the people shouting loudest are those who have traditionally looked to Labour to speak for them, the party must respond.

This matters to me because the Labour Party has been one of the longest and most important relationships in my life.

As a boy, my brother and I were packed off every summer to our grandparents in Kilmarnock. We spent our days playing football in the grounds of the Grange Academy. In the evenings my grandpa would talk about politics.

He described to me how the 1945 Labour Government was the best the country had ever had and spoke about Nye Bevan, the Welsh coal miner who founded the NHS, as if he had known him personally.

When I went up to Glasgow University, to study history, I signed up to join the Labour Club during Freshers’ Week. My next four years were spent marching against fascism and campaigning for student grants.

Twenty years on, I am a bit older and wiser but Labour is still my party.

That’s why I got involved with Labour for Scotland’s initiative to hold an open meeting at Strathclyde University, on October 18th, at which Labour members and supporters can discuss what happens next.

I believe that Labour’s distinctive contribution to the political debate in Scotland must be as a force for socialist and progressive policies.

Now that the referendum is over, we should admit that spending the past two years running a joint campaign with the Conservatives has done real damage to Labour’s reputation in its heartlands.

You can’t talk credibly about solidarity when you are sharing a platform with the people responsible for the Bedroom Tax. The values that motivate your politics are a far more important dividing line than whether you are Yes or No.

It is time to surprise people with imagination and ambition. Labour needs to set out a vision for how home rule in the 21st century will shift power, not just across borders, but from the elites into the hands of working people.

A more democratic Scotland must be a way of achieving a more equal Scotland.

I would like to see Labour’s next manifesto containing commitments to make the minimum wage in Scotland a living wage, to give communities a far greater say over issues that affect them, such as school closures, and to put railways into public ownership.

But this is just my view. The most important thing is that we start a conversation from the grassroots upwards.

This debate should include how we democratise the Labour Party itself. For example, is there a case for directly electing members of the Shadow Cabinet at Holyrood? This would make party spokespersons far more accountable for policy decisions.

Labour for Scotland is not offering a plan, or a blueprint, about how Labour should respond to the referendum, but we want to talk. Come along on Saturday and tell us what you think.

This is England

burford

Those who squeezed in to the Scottish Green conference this weekend were greeted by thought-provoking image on the front of their delegate packs – an inverted map of the UK with Scotland in the middle nestling comfortably between Norway and Ireland, England fading into the distance.

In England though Scotland is as peripheral as ever. On a Saturday afternoon in rural Oxfordshire people mill about the bus stops and market in Witney, the nominal home of the Prime Minister. This is small town English life as the modern Tories envisage it. Pavement cafes and bistros line the high street, itself furnished with ample parking. Witney is a bus ride from Oxford, and functions as a jumping off point for even quainter Cotswold towns and villages.
A few miles away, just down the road from the RAF base at Brize Norton, sits the town of Burford. Its long street of pubs and restaurants is straight out of the Visit Britain adverts plastered on the white walls of airports across the globe.

The town hall has a noticeboard outside listing all the goings on, a public letter of support about the maintenance of rural bus services in West Oxfordshire taking centre stage among the bulletins. There’s no appeal for food bank donations or invitations to public meetings though. The various crises and pressures hitting contemporary Britain from both left and right are well beyond being felt here. Burford is the final navigable point on the Thames, and it feels a very long way from London.

In the local deli, a phenomenon quickly replacing the dying village shop in places like Burford across the South, a woman is giving out samples of locally grown organic fruit liqueur. “I’m guessing you’re not local” she says, pushing over a thumbfull of red liquid. “It’s very nice here, even if it is a bit Midsomer Murders sometimes.”
Stepping outside on the street it is obvious she is right. This is not the kind of place that needs to put up Union Jacks. Its Englishness is written into the buildings, as is its wealth.

A taxi driver who ferries people from village to village, a British-Asian called Abdul, puts it succinctly. “I mostly just do station runs or take non locals to weddings. Almost everyone here has a car.”

At a local wedding venue you can hear the transport aircraft whine as they race up the runway at Brize Norton, headed for Afghanistan, the Falklands and perhaps now Syria too. Inside a Ceilidh band is starting up and a mixed crowd of nervous home counties partyers peppered with a few Scots nervously practice the dances the band want them to play. The Scots, kilted-up and playing their part, lead everyone else as the good whisky is uncorked on the sidelines. This is the only manifestation of Scotland that could possibly work in this part of the country, detached as it is from the reality of the England outside too.

The following morning the TV at the local pub broadcasts a silent Andrew Marr as guests tuck into their full English breakfasts. The UKIP election victory in Essex is comparable to the shockwave the SNP have created in Scotland, he says. In Burford and Witney though it is very easy to forget what is going on, chillax and eat your cereal.