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.

Fringe benefits of independence

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 11.04.23The worst reason for voting No to independence is because you don’t like Alex Salmond, and the worst reason for voting Yes is because you don’t like David Cameron. This is a long-term decision about the future governance of Scotland, not a referendum on some here-today, gone-tomorrow politicians on either side of the campaign. However, as the Telegraph reports today (emphasis mine):

The Prime Minister is mindful too of the political peril that comes with defeat. Losing the referendum would be a terminal event for the Conservative and Unionist Party and, as Westminster now acknowledges, would require his immediate resignation. Unsurprisingly, if somewhat depressingly, some Tory MPs have begun factoring in the loss of Scotland as a way of achieving the regime change they yearn for at the top.

Let’s not leave that anti-Cameron glee to the headbangers and Europhobes. Let’s instead accept that the stakes are a little higher even than we thought. Imagine if we could achieve democratic self-governance and simultaneously leave our English/Welsh/Northern Irish friends with a legacy to be thankful for, i.e. ending the political career of the most right-wing Prime Minister in living memory.

This should be a wakeup call to the rUK left. You may not instinctively support independence, perhaps because you’ve got an unduly rosy view of the dinosaurs and timeservers (of all parties) we tend to send to Westminster, or perhaps because you don’t see how it will benefit you. But a Cameron resignation, followed by a vitriolic battle for the future of the Tory party just eight short months before a UK General Election? It’s surely time to book the buses to Scotland from Brighton and Manchester and the Rhondda. Help us to help you.

Seeing an end to Cameron’s misrule shouldn’t swing any votes in Scotland – after all, if he stayed on after a Yes vote he wouldn’t be our problem anyway. But a Yes vote certainly brings some pretty enticing fringe benefits for the left both north and south of the border.

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?

New polling, specifically our new polling

Three major Scottish institutions today join forces (well, two major Scottish institutions plus Better Nation) to start a regular monthly series of polls, running at least up to the independence referendum. The other two are the Daily Record, who today report on the independence numbers (Yes: 39, No: 48, or Yes: 45, No 55 if the don’t knows are excluded), and 5 Million Questions, based at Dundee University, who are providing the analysis for them.

The data comes from Survation, a BPC member company, and is (of course) based on a ~1,000 representative sample of Scottish voters. Everyone involved has the option for other questions (I’ve got one more I’ll be writing up later this week), and we’ll be offering a crowdfunding option shortly if you have burning questions in mind. Organisations wishing to take out questions should contact Survation – the omnibus format means there’s room for many more to be asked.

Each month we’ll be doing a Holyrood voting intention as well. So, without further ado, here are those numbers. Changes are to the 2011 result (with those results rounded to avoid false precision), and seat numbers are derived from Weber Shandwick’s Scotland Votes site – that will be the case until we have the capacity to do a seat predictor ourselves.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 45 (±0) 44 (-9) 40 (-4) 15 (-1) 59 (-10) 45.7
Labour 34 (+2) 24 (+9) 28 (+2) 17 (-5) 41 (+4) 31.8
Conservative 13 (-1) 3 (±0) 11 (-1) 8 (-4) 11 (-4) 8.5
Liberal Democrats 5 (-3) 2 (±0) 7 (+2) 5 (+2) 7 (+2) 5.4
Scottish Greens - - 8 (+4) 10 (+8) 10 (+8) 7.8
Others 3 (+2) 0 6 (-3) 1 (±0) 1 (±0) 0.8

I’ll be honest, I’m surprised that such a small change in the first vote figures should lead to nine constituency losses for the SNP. Having sought to avoid false precision, though, the rounding does marginally bring down the level of change here (i.e. Labour would be up 2.3%, not 2% etc). But one of these seats has flipped already (Dunfermline), and there were a lot of other pretty narrow constituency wins for the SNP which this projection would see flip: Edinburgh Southern, Edinburgh Central, Clydebank and MilngaviePaisley, Kirkcaldy, Aberdeen CentralGlasgow Shettleston, and the closest 2011 result, Glasgow Anniesland. I’m not really sure about Weber Shandwick’s calculations for some of those, notably Clydebank and Milngavie and also Aberdeen Central, but so be it.

The two other surprising results would be the Lib Dems being up a little but still being beaten by the Greens on the second vote. Again, much as I’d like to see a Parliament full of Greens, I suspect the party’s ground campaign remains too weak to support quite this level of triumph: probably three in Lothian, two each in Glasgow and Highlands, plus one each in North East Scotland and Mid Scotland & Fife, and one in either South or West. Quite the haul.

And in terms of who would form the next Scottish Government, an SNP-led administration would seem inevitable on those numbers, either a numerically stronger minority than the 2007-2011 period or a coalition with their pick of any one of the three smaller parties.

Clearly all of this is over the event horizon of the independence referendum, so it’s just a bit of fun. But for the SNP to be looking strong for a third term despite the coordinated fire they’re taking in the referendum debate is still quite extraordinary: it’s not hyperbole to say that they do look to have forged themselves into the default party of government at Holyrood. More next month!

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.