Posts Tagged SNP

EXCLUSIVE: Tom Harris, calling all parties to the unionist cause

In yet another exclusive guestpost for Better Nation, Labour leadership contender, Tom Harris MP, responds to Pete Wishart’s call with one of his own – and he doesn’t pull his punches. 

What are the chances of an all-party campaign for “No to Independence”?

Well practically zilch, if we are to listen to Pete Wishart, writing on this site on Friday.

It would seem that he and the SNP have set themselves up in a bizarre contest to be the keenest defenders of separatism, and in that defence they will be steadfast. But why have they allowed themselves to be so entrenched on the nationalist side of the debate, and is there any prospect whatsoever of them even entertaining the notion of Scotland continuing as part of the UK…?

You get the idea. Such is the arrogance of the SNP post their impressive Holyrood victory in May, that they are filled with scorn for anyone so dim-witted as to disagree with the central driving force within Pete’s own party.

Labour, writes Pete in that patronising tone that might have well been patented by the SNP, has a “proud tradition” when it comes to constitutional change. Well, that’s nice of him, eh? Scottish Labour Action was an excellent example of “free thinking” on Scotland’s constitutional future, he writes, patting Wendy Alexander and Jack McConnell on the head and offering them a lump of sugar. So why the poverty of thinking on the issue now?

Well, Pete, I have the answer to that one: it’s because SLA achieved their aim. Remember that? Remember when the Scottish Parliament was opened in 1999? Come on, it must at least ring a bell!

In calling for Labour Party members to support a pro-independence campaign, Pete ignores the fact that there are many, many more SNP voters who support the Union than there are Labour voters who support independence. And yes, Pete, you’re right that no-one joined the Labour Party to protect the Union; they’re a bit more concerned about the economy, poverty, inequality and progress – you know, important stuff. None of these issues is at the top of SNP members’ list of priorities – without their obsession on constitutional issues, they have no guiding mission.

That’s the difference between the politics of identity and the politics of progress.

Labour and all the other unionist parties, says Pete, risk irrelevance in a “new Independent Scotland” (although he doesn’t quite explain what is “new” about turning the political clock back 300 years, but I’ll let that one go) by not getting on board the independence bus now.

Do you see what he’s doing here? In the week that the SNP government were obliged to talk about what they’re most uncomfortable talking about – budgets, services, the economy – Pete wants us all to move back on to the nationalists’ ground – the constitution. Just as the media and much of Scottish business are beginning to suspect that the future being shaped by Alex Salmond isn’t quite as rosy as they had been led to believe, Pete wants us all to close our eyes, click our heels together three times and imagine that he was right all along to talk about the “inevitability” of independence. I wonder why?

To Pete (and, I assume, his attitude is entirely typical of his fellow SNP members), everyone of all parties and of none accepts that independence is as right as it is inevitable, but that only the SNP are honest enough to admit it.  Nationalists are true and honourable, unionists are dishonourable and base.  We’re all nationalists, if only we were brave enough to look inside ourselves and admit it.

The alternative – that some Scots genuinely believe that we’re better off in the UK than out of it – isn’t even considered by him as a possible alternative.

Memo to Pete: you’re wrong. Prepare for a fight.

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God help Glasgow

Hot on the heels of dissent in the ranks of the SNP come tales of woe from within the ruling Labour party in the City of Glasgow.

There’s a lot at stake. A resurgent SNP has taken the prized political scalp of the City Council as its number one target in next year’s local government elections. It signalled the seriousness of its attempt by appointing Cllr Alison Hunter as the opposition group leader after James Dornan won election to the Scottish Parliament in May.

Yet, there are internal problems over the campaign strategy, essentially over the number of candidates to field. One group advocates a 40 candidate approach while, it has been rumoured, a group backed by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Depute First Minister (from whose constituency Cllr Hunter hales), want more candidates to stand. It has resulted in bad tempered city association meetings and resignations. For what it’s worth, the Burd reckons the latter strategy – of more than 40 candidates – is the right one. In some wards, a carefully targeted 1 – 2 voting scheme could pay dividends. Labour has managed to get more than one candidate from wards elected in the past. But the way the party is behaving it will be lucky to win any wards at all.

The party is undergoing a purge, removing dead wood in the form of sitting councillors to make way for fresh faces. But newspaper reports suggest the scale of the scalping is causing deep divisions with some who have been dumped threatening court action over claims of procedures not being followed properly. And worst of all, the party might find itself embroiled in financial irregularities with allegations against former Shettleston MSP Frank MacAveety, hoping to return to active politics as an elected member, currently being investigated by police. It might come to nought, but the publicity will be damaging to a party already in the doldrums and still recovering from the resignation of its energetic reformist council leader, Stephen Purcell.

God help Glasgow. For in amongst this morass, the city faces huge economic and social challenges. Even during the boom years, Glasgow featured in all the “worst of” rankings. Lower life expectancy, high levels of poverty, long term economic inactivity, huge social dislocation – these are Glasgow norms. And things are about to get worse. The city council’s budget will be hit hard by cuts coming downstream from Westminster via Holyrood. Services are bound to be affected. And measures like changes to benefits through the welfare reform bill will cause unprecendented strain on families and individuals. If folk who have not worked in 20 years are thrown off the new universal credit after 12 months, where will they turn to prevent themselves and their families becoming destitute and homeless?

The ropey economic recovery will also require careful stewardship to ensure that Glasgow, with its lower skill base and more fragile base, is not impacted disproportionately. Investment means new jobs are still being created but it is hard to tell if it amounts to growth or simply displacement. And in amongst it all is the prospect of the city showpiece of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Glasgow has a chance to shine on the global stage and the city has to be ready for its big moment.

At a time when the city needs strong and energetic leadership, the two biggest parties, vying for the right to rule, are fighting among themselves. We are less than eight months out from the election, and neither of them have all their candidates in place nor evidence of a campaign strategy in the pipeline. To be sure, the SNP’s problems are fewer than Labour’s and it has the bounce to be expected from an outstanding performance across the city.

Perhaps the internecine troubles over candidates point to an obvious solution, that of allowing city folk to participate in candidate selection through primaries. Seeing as the parties are having a little difficulty working out how many and whom, handing the whole process over to the public might work? There have been others touting the use of primaries for candidate selection for Holyrood, mainly I think from the Labour camp. Not only would such an innovation sort a little local difficulty, it would provide a useful road test of a different way of selecting candidates that might result in quite different candidates being put forward.

And Glasgow might just get the candidates and councillors it deserves, rather than the ones the parties think it does.

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100 Days have come and gone

Belated congratulations are in order as the SNP marked another significant milestone in reaching 100 days, not of its first term in office, but its second running the government of Scotland.  Self-congratulation appears to be off the agenda though – nothing on the SNP website, nowt from the Scottish Government either.

Right on cue, though, a trio of disparaging and dispiriting articles in the Scotsman – a political one, an almost identical analysis, and in case we hadn’t got the message, a down in the mouth leader that ponders these last 100 days and concludes, clunkily, that the SNP Government hadn’t hit the ground running but jogging.

No we haven’t witnessed 100 days of dynamic action, as we did in 2007.  But then there are fewer quick fixes to be found.  And this time, where’s the hurry?  The SNP has a whole extra year to work with – pace is going to be everything this time round.

Moreover, with three opposition parties in disarray, floundering and leaderless, there has been no one snapping at their heels;  indeed, some of the Scottish Government’s poor headlines have been of their own making (or rather the media’s, seeing it as their collective national and noble duty to offer some kind of scrutiny).  This administration will last the course – the previous minority one did not know when its number might be called – and indeed, unless Labour gets its act together might even enjoy a third term.  Who needs a hundred days when there are thousands in which to make your mark?

In any event, many of the SNP’s manifesto commitments either involve no change at all – continued council tax freeze, free personal care, free tuition fees etc – or ambitious, sweeping change – new capital investment programmes, innovative legislation, a living wage, a real shift to localism.  Such measures are hard to fashion into immediate actions and ready soundbites.

These kind of reforms take time.  As the First Minister found out, in a rare lesson in humility, with the harried anti-sectarianism bill, sometimes the old proverbs really are the best:  less haste, more speed.  Our patience is likely to be rewarded with a number of “big bills” to be announced when the Scottish Parliament returns the week after next.

The only show in town, as far as the SNP is concerned, has been the opportunity presented by the Scotland bill to maximise devolution.  Its parliamentary timetable at Westminster demanded that the Scottish Government focused its attention on securing as many additional powers as possible;  indeed, one of the most vibrant and busy committees of the next 100 days is likely to be that set up to explore, scrutinise and make the case for all the powers the First Minister has put on his shopping list.  The prospect of items being crossed off that list is highly unlikely given the dominance of the SNP on the committee and in the chamber.

But it was not just the Government which eased itself gently into this session;  the Parliament too did not exactly spring into action.  Weeks went by with minimal parliamentary activity;  committees took an age to appoint convenors;  in the seven weeks before shutting up shop for the summer, the Parliament did not even open officially.  But with a very different shape and size to parliamentary groups, as well as a whole host of new parliamentarians, the logistics of getting the show on the road this time round were harder to achieve.  And crucially, everyone seemed exhausted from the efforts expended in the election – no one had much appetite for bounding Tigger-like into this session.

Now they’ve all had the summer to recover and recuperate, to rejoin and renew, there can be no excuses.  Yet, while the press appears to have rolled its eyes and declared the summer to have been “boring”, it has largely ignored the fact that the Scottish Government has been very busy indeed.  In fact, most of the Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers have had little more than a week off.  Not only has the Scottish Cabinet been on tour around Scotland, visiting far flung places like Stranraer, Fort William and even Kirkcaldy,  its members have been on other tours and trips, immersing themselves in their portfolios in different parts of the country.  Inbetween times, some of them have even managed to find time for some constituency work and pop home for tea with the family.  There are no five holiday Cameronians in this bunch.

And yes, it might make for few headlines.  It might seem – to some – to amount to aimless wandering, but it actually purports to serve a much needed purpose.  To make clear that Holyrood is not Edinburgh’s Parliament but Scotland’s, that this SNP Government belongs to and governs for all of the country, reminding everyone that it takes its new-found responsibility as the National Party of Scotland seriously.

Taken together, it might not amount to an action-packed, thrill a minute hundred days of glory.  But if it ensures thousands more days in government, and thousands more yes votes in the independence referendum, the SNP will consider it time well spent indeed.

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Beware the worms lurking in cans!

Can WormsIt seems that in the absence of anything meaningful to offer the populace, and despite being given a kicking of the first order at the polls, Scottish Labour has decided that it’s groundhog day.

Carping, sniping, empty posturing. That’s what the people rejected, so we’ll give them more of the same.

How else do you explain the shitstorm its elected representatives have been trying to generate in the last few weeks? First, with tongue firmly not in its cheek, it demanded to know just how close the SNP and Alex Salmond had got to Rupert Murdoch and his News International empire in Scotland. In an extremely linear approach which would keep no person out of jail, Paul Martin determined that because the Scottish Sun had supported the SNP in the last election, ergo this was damning evidence of the SNP being in Murdoch’s pockets.

So the Scottish Government duly publishes a full list not only of First Ministerial contacts with the media since 2007 but those of key Cabinet members AND copies of correspondence between Eck and Rupe. The latter ain’t pretty and caused many toes to curl in discomfort. Yes, the First Minister might have been really, really trying to portray himself as the global media mogul’s equal and really, really trying to persuade Murdoch to become a Caledonian champion. But frankly if there had been anything to hide, the goverment would have hidden it.

But like much of its interventions in the last year, Labour might well have scored an own goal. Disclosure of Labour leaders’ contacts with the media has been asked for and… we’re still waiting. Oh why are we waiting? What’s so hard about pulling together a list of all the meetings, lunches, receptions, letters etc exchanged between the Scottish Labour leadership – Iain Gray, Wendy Alexander in opposition and Jack McConnell and Henry McLeish during their time as First Minister – and Scottish media representatives? The longer they take, the worse it looks, even if there is nothing untoward at all. But they started it.

But the real can of worms opened up by Scottish Labour recently involves the insinuation that the SNP Government offered Brian Souter honours for political donations. They haven’t actually come out and said it, but the inference is of cash for honours on our ain doorstep. Siller for hallions no less.

A whole webpage has been set up over at Scottish Labour’s website – the Souter files, powered exclusively with righteous indignation, over-wrought hyperbole, and rank hypocrisy and inaccuracy. Cathy Jamieson MP suggests that “The First Minister and his party must look seriously at the relationship they have developed with wealthy individuals handing them large sums of cash. The public will rightly be asking what’s next on Mr Souter’s shopping list and waiting for the First Minister to deliver.”

Individuals plural. Who exactly? Apart from Souter’s admittedly eye-watering donation in 2011, other donations to the SNP were five figure sums, the vast majority of its donations far, far lower. The SNP does not have that many supporters with deep pockets: Souter’s donation was matched by hundreds more, much smaller ones by members and supporters. The only person who out-donated Brian Souter was the late Edwin Morgan through a bequest in his will. What’s that? Nothing nasty to say about the Makar appointed by a Labour First Minister? Oh.

Apparently, Souter’s donation(s) are why the SNP has not re-regulated bus provision in Scotland. I acknowledge – it’s a policy that makes sense and it should be done. But then again, I don’t recall Labour-LibDem Scottish Executives, in power for double the time the SNP has been, rushing to re-regulate. Indeed, in four years of opposition, I don’t recall Labour making this a big issue and pushing for it to happen. How curious.

So let’s overturn the can and see what comes wriggling out. What’s this? A number of individuals – all of them wealthy, some of them longstanding Labour supporters or who have donated to the Labour party and bestowed honours while Labour was the lead partner in the Scottish Executive and Ministers were involved in nominating people for honours.

Moir Lockhead is one such, Willie Haughey is another, as is Duncan Bannatyne and Tom Hunter. All of them distinguished businessmen in their own right, who have also made huge charitable contributions during their lifetime. These are the reasons their honours were bestowed but following Scottish Labour’s current logic, all were given awards at the time they were active supporters and/or donors to the Labour party. Though historic, the worms in its can are far more juicy than the ones in the SNP’s.

Frankly, the Scottish public doesn’t give a damn. It holds all politicians and political parties in equally low esteem. Labour might think it is landing blows on the SNP but all such activity achieves is to confirm what people think of all parties, its ain included. In May the people spoke loud and clear – the SNP was the party they liked better or at least, disliked least. Given the current electoral mood, Labour will continue to come off second best if it persists in pursuing this kind of puerile politics. Making the road back to electoral credibility a whole lot harder.

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Election round up: Never mind the parties, what about their voters?

How do you round up when there’s nothing to round up?  I mean, they might as well not have bothered this week.

It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day: every morning the meeja are summoned to some inane photo opportunity in some poor unsuspecting town; the respective machines reel off constant announcements and statements (go visit the Steamie to see how relentless they are); news programmes dutifully report the day’s headlines and if they’re really lucky, a gaffe.  And then everyone goes leafleting, canvassing, to hustings and meetings and then they do it all again the next day.  Yep, so far, so dull.

What happened this week?  More polls showed a super soaraway lead for the SNP;  a relaunch for Labour put Salmond, the SNP and independence firmly in its sights;  Annabel presented a ridiculous caricature of herself, if this is possible, in a hairnet eating teacakes;  Iain Gray failed to fight Salmond in the Asda aisles;  and Hadrians wall was breached as UK leaders and big hitters headed north to shore up the faltering Labour and Lib Dem campaigns, and Mr and Mrs Salmond went to London to see the Queen and that wedding;  shock, horror there was a wumman in charge of the country and the sky didn’t fall in.

Dear voter, hang tight, the end is in sight. Here’s hoping for a rip-roaring grand finale with two leaders’ debates this Sunday on the BBC and then on Tuesday at STV.  Please inspire us with a gripping toe-to-toe discourse on the key policies and issues.

So that’s the parties;  what about the voters?  Who is actually voting for whom in this election and what does that say about, well, anything?

Using the IPSOS-Mori poll because it has the most detail in terms of voter disaggregation, there are few surprising variations on what we might expect.

If you intend to vote SNP on 5 May, you are most likely to be male, aged 35 -54, working full time, born in Scotland and living in a rural area, in the least deprived communities.  However, the SNP can also expect a considerable vote from pensioners, though amongst younger age groups, its vote is pretty evenly split between those having children and those not.

Given that Labour and the SNP are fighting it out for the centre ground, they might also be tussling over the same voters?  Actually, no.  Labour voters are more likely to be female, under 35, working part time, living with children in a council or housing association house in the most deprived areas in cities or towns.  Interestingly, their voters are just as likely to come from other parts of the UK or indeed, beyond, as from Scotland.

What does this tell us?  That Labour is holding onto its traditional voter ground, is resonating with the “squeezed middle” but needs to do more to secure the aspirational vote.  It is clear that this vote still sits largely with the SNP.  And despite big efforts, the SNP is still toiling to appeal to women and urban voters.  This matters: if the SNP’s projected lead turns into seats, expect Scotland to turn largely yellow all across the North and South of Scotland, but the central belt will stay stubbornly red.  One other interesting demographic is how few people (according to this poll but probably backed up by experience) born outwith Scotland intend to vote SNP:  the party’s civic nationalist messages do not appear to be getting through.

Perhaps the most significant development is the switch of the all-important pensioner vote, which has been mirrored in the polls throughout this election and which I blogged on previously.  Given older people’s propensity to actually go and vote, these are the voters likely to have a huge bearing on the overall result.  And the shift would appear to be just reward for the SNP Government’s overt woo-ing with a range of pensioner-friendly policies.

What of the other parties?  Conservative voters are most likely to be female, retired, without children, born elsewhere in the UK and living in the most affluent areas in rural communities.  Little surprise there then, but note that their main challengers for this vote are the SNP (who are winning it hands down).

The Lib Dems’ vote is most likely to be younger (25 -34), have no children, own their home, and again live in the most affluent areas of rural communities.

Do you see the pattern?  It seems to support the headline findings which show that the SNP is taking votes from both these parties.  And it also shows the danger of believing the national polls in terms of how big the SNP’s lead over Labour actually is.  Unless and until the SNP is winning votes from Labour in urban constituencies, few seats in the central belt will change hands.

Effectively, the SNP is in the lead because it is taking votes away from the Tories and Lib Dems in largely rural seats, which is also supported by IPSOS-Mori’s findings on the regional vote.  These suggest more Tory and Lib Dem constituency voters intend to vote SNP on the list vote than for Labour.

It all points to two things.  First, that we are likely to have a big urban-rural divide in terms of election outcome.  How that will play out in Holyrood and government remains to be seen.  Secondly, Labour has indeed got its campaign strategy wrong.  Its lagging behind the SNP has less to do with losing the national battle (though this has undoubtedly had an impact), and more to do with mistaking this election – as veteran political journalist Angus McLeod deftly pointed out – as a core vote one, when it has actually been a switcher election.

Finally, what of the Scottish Greens?  Well, the party enjoys pretty even support across all the demographics, though its vote is more likely to be urban, living in the least deprived areas and most likely to have been born outwith the UK.  Everything else is pretty marginal: while having a universal appeal across age groups, gender and employment status might suit the egalitarian spirit of the Greens and their need to pick up regional votes from all types of voters, one wonders what might happen if it targeted more heavily towards particular groups and communities?

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