Posts Tagged SNP

Election round up – follow the leader

Four weeks down, three to go.  There is light at the end of the tunnel, or at least polling booth.

A good way to get a sense of what seats the parties are targeting and how the campaigns are going is by playing follow the leader.  Anyone who remembers the 2007 election might recall that Alex Salmond spent rather a lot of time campaigning in Stirling, Alloa, Kilmarnock, Glenrothes and even the Western Isles.  That’s because the SNP’s canvass returns were telling them that these seats were shifting.  And while SNP wins came as a surprise to many, reading the leadership travel runes in the campaign definitely gave signs of real hope.

So where have the four main party leaders (and other leading party figures) been on their travels this week and can we glean anything meaningful from their journeys?

Since last Saturday, SNP leading lights have visited Renfrewshire, Glasgow Southside, Dundee, North East Fife, Glasgow again, Stirling and er, Liverpool.

Labour has been to Edinburgh, East Kilbride, Stirling, Ochil, Edinburgh Eastern, Aberdeen and Dunfermline.

The Conservatives have visited Falkirk, Perth, Cunninghame North, East Lothian, Edinburgh and Ayr, while the Liberal Democrats have been to Glasgow, Argyll and Bute, Midlothian South, Aberdeenshire East, Fife and Midlothian South (again).

I do hope they are all choosing to offset their carbon emissions….

These are probably not all the destinations covered.  No doubt Ed Miliband and Iain Gray called in at Dundee on the way from Aberdeen to Dunfermline today.  And the SNP leader’s trip to Renfrewshire probably shoehorned in as many of the seats in that area as possible.

But overall, it seems that Labour and the SNP are already targeting in terms of expending leadership energy and giving a boost to local campaigns.  Both appear to be trying to shore up marginals they hold, such as the SNP’s Dundee seats and Labour’s Aberdeen Central.  But their voter identification data would appear to indicate that seats like Stirling and Edinburgh Eastern are currently on a knife edge. 

Interestingly, the SNP reckons it is gaining more of the soft Lib Dem vote, hence the parachute into North East Fife.  The burdz not sure if this isn’t just a bit of mischief making, given that it hasn’t yet featured on the Lib Dem leadership’s radar.  Time will tell.  If we see Salmond in seats like Caithness, Aberdeen South and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch then the Lib Dems can really start worrying.

At the moment, they seem determined to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Midlothian South in a bid to keep Jeremy Purvis at Holyrood.  In fact, if  Tavish spends any more time here, he might just qualify for a vote himself.   They do not seem to have written off Dunfermline West just yet and the amount of focus on Argyll and Bute suggests they think they have a chance of retaking this seat.

As for the Conservatives, it is hard to see what strategy is being deployed, other than keeping Annabel busy.  Falkirk?  Cunninghame North?  Nope, can’t see the point at all.  Though spending time in East Lothian and giving Derek Brownlee plenty of media airtime suggests they are worried about him retaining a seat through the South of Scotland list (as all we experts have already predicted!)

Despite the campaign being half way through and the very tight position at the top of the polls for the SNP and Labour, it is hard to discern a clear pattern.  Expect their focus to narrow in the remaining three weeks to the absolutely key marginals.  Watch carefully and as with 2007, by following the leader all the way to the finish line, you might just be able to spot which candidates have been abandoned as lost causes, which seats might spring a surprise result, and ultimately, who is going to win the election.

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Election round up: the media battle

How does the saying go?  A picture is worth a thousand words and elections are no different.  The uninitiated might think the battle is for copy and content but no.  One big, fat visual is enough to make even the most grumpy campaign co-ordinator smile.  For a moment anyhow.

So, two and a bit weeks in, a slew of manifesto launches later, who is winning this particular battle?

Never thought I’d be saying this but STV vs the Beeb?  No contest.  Hats off to Matt Roper, the digital content geek at STV -  the commercial channel has wiped the floor with the one what we pay for.  And frankly, have a right to expect better from.

STVstole a march with the first televised leaders’ debate and a live blog facility.  Its offering includes news, news round ups, live streaming, a postcode searchable facility for your constituency and region, profiles of them and the candidates, blogs and analysis, a twitter stream for all candidates, its pack of reporters assigned a party each, a polling panel, innovative programming and of course, Bernard Ponsonby overseeing proceedings.

What does BBC Scotland offer?  A shoestring in comparison.  No dedicated election space or heading.  A bog standard round up page that scrolls the oldest first (even the burd knows that is a big no-no).  There is, though, an impressively designed candidate map with postcode search facility.  And of course, Brian’s Blog (Taylor in case you were wondering), though it’s not been updated since Wednesday. Tsk, tsk.  It is all a bit, well bitty and half hearted.

The fact remains, though, that newspapers and what they print during the campaign will play a big role in informing the voting public, even if they are no longer the influencers they once were.  Looking at this week through the papers’ pictures provides some clues about who they will all be backing and urging their readers to back.

It’s unlikely that the Record will spring a surprise on us this election by transferring its traditional allegiance from Labour.  The Tories’ manifesto launch got a whole page (with an image of Annabel looking like she was about to eat the thing), the Lib Dems a paltry half page with a bigger photie of Iain Gray than Tavish Scott, and Labour a full two pages, complete with graphics, analysis and one or two well place pics of the leader.  Everyday this week (I think  – funnily enough, I’m not an habitual Record reader) Iain Gray’s fizzog featured somewhere, though Nicola Sturgeon also scored a few.  If Record readers still can’t recognise Mr Gray at the end of the campaign, it won’t be for its trying.

The Sun appears to be moving towards backing the SNP if its current coverage and slant is any indicator. Some nice pics of Salmond, highly positive coverage, a couple of front page exclusives, all adding up to what seems like a successful wooing.  A result in any party’s book.

Of the two Scottish broadsheets, the Scotsman is playing it most canny.  Pretty fair, proportionate coverage so far for all the parties and a share of the images.  Plenty action shots which they all like: how refreshing that someone is playing nicely.  The Herald – well, if they don’t come out for Labour I’m going to be a curry and a tenner down.  The Tories got a nice pic of Annabel (with a bizarre rainbow background) and damning headlines for their manifesto launch, but by far and away the best image of Iain Gray this week appeared in Thursday’s edition to coincide with his party’s manifesto launch.

The SNP, of course, tried to steal Labour’s thunder with Brian Cox’s endorsement of the SNP in this election.  Did it work?  Sort of.  A great big splash and clever headline on the front page of the Sun on the morning of Labour’s manifesto launch ensured coverage spilling over into the broadcast news headlines and into other newspapers the following day.

They did the same to the Lib Dems, with the endorsement of Salmond for FM from retiring MSP John Farquhar Munro.  They needn’t have bothered – no one was up for covering it much anyway.  Yesterday’s people would appear to be the view of the meeja, which tells us a lot.

In terms of news management, the SNP is playing a blinder, though its Scottish Futures Fund launch did fall a bit flat, when such an initiative deserved much more coverage.  Its experience tells, not least because they have veteran media man Kevin Pringle at the helm.  But they should be careful on two counts.  Playing dirty can always backfire, especially when the other parties have time to prepare to counter the SNP’s manifesto launch this coming Tuesday.  Moreover, the problem with blizzarding is that news – and pictures, as happened this week – can get lost in the whiteout.

But of course, the images that dominated the week are the ones that Iain Gray will want to forget.  Whoever is advising him on media management deserves a dressing down.  Or locked in a cupboard until it’s all over and replaced with some more experienced heavyweights.

There’s a Goldilocks effect at play right now.  The SNP?  Too much.  Labour?  Too little.  The media with its low boredom threshhold and attention span needs to be fed just the right amount of stories and images to sate its appetite.  Otherwise, incidents like the one in Glasgow Central station end up dominating the headlines.

Does Labour’s PR fail mark a downward turning point as some journalists and commentators are suggesting?  Nah.  A bad media day dents the morale of the party concerned and provides a filip for the opposition.  Such incidents provide a day’s news, and while they might entertain the masses for a moment, they do not actually influence the outcome of elections.  Anyone remember Jennifer’s ear?

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Scottish Civic Nationalism: The Bhangra & Bagpipes Solution

Today’s guest blog contribution is from Humza Yousaf, SNP Holyrood candidate for Glasgow. You can also find Humza on Twitter or Facebook.

Humza Yousaf

55 years ago this week America’s civil rights movement was catalysed by one granny who refused to be shoved aff the bus or even relegated to the back. The result of Rosa Park’s historic stance was not only the dismantling of many barriers between communities but began the formation of the melting pot, which in turn we have developed into modern-day multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism was once a concept we looked up to but it has now become one of the dirtiest words on the European continent. Just last month Chancellor Merkel pronounced it had ‘utterly failed’ when addressing her Christian Democratic Union colleagues. Funnily enough, she decided to keep quiet on that one while the country’s football team, made up of a part-Ghanaian defender, Polish striker and a midfield maestro of Turkish origin, went on to reach the semi-finals and come 3rd in this year’s World Cup.

Germany is not alone – observers of European affairs will note, with increasing anxiety, that an extreme right-wing, xenophobic tidal wave is sweeping across Western Europe, with Muslim populations particularly under the spotlight.

Belgium has become the first European country to implement a nationwide ban on the face veil worn by ‘at most’ 215 Muslim women in Belgium, according to the Belgian Institute of Equal Opportunities. It is difficult to comprehend why there is a furore spreading across Europe concerning this mundane black piece of cloth. It is, no doubt, a symptom of a much deeper malaise concerning the role of immigrants, their apparent refusal to integrate and the loss of ‘traditional values’.

With deep and severe cuts forthcoming, the debate regarding immigrants and the role they play in society will continue to rage on and worryingly may increase strain in already volatile communities. It is the very nature of the debate, which is centred on the identity and loyalty question, and how this is presented, which is fanning the flames of racial intolerance.

It was 20 years ago that Norman Tebbit declared the cricket test as an apt means of gauging a community’s loyalty to the state, many of us think that times have moved on – but in some cases Tebbit’s sentiments are more prevalent than ever.

We are a people obsessed with defining each other’s identities. Are you Muslim or are you Scottish? British or Pakistani? Such unhelpful categorisations ignore the reality of a multi-ethnic Scotland and UK, where identities are a lot more fluid and unrestricted. This is perhaps demonstrated if I take my own example. As an Asian Scot born in Glasgow to a father from Pakistan and a mother from Kenya, I went on to marry my wife, Gail, who is a White Scot born in England to an English father and Scottish mother. I would challenge anyone to accurately define the identity of any children we may have in the future. Will they be ¼ Scottish, ¼ Pakistani, ¼ English etc? Are we really happy to simply reduce people to fractions?

In the UK the debate about race equality and multiculturalism often finds itself manifest in the heartlands of middle England and, more often than not, is won and lost in London. However, little attention is given to Scotland’s multicultural landscape which has its own unique challenges and, more importantly, offers some of its own very fresh solutions.

While not being complacent about racism and intolerance in Scotland, we have to question why, time and time again, the BNP and Scottish Defence League have been rejected by Scots. I firmly believe that our notion of civic nationalism, as opposed to ethnic nationalism, creates an atmosphere of inclusiveness which makes us less hostile to one and other.

Whether it is the British National Party or France’s National Front, the concept of nationalism is being dragged through the mud until it resembles almost nothing of its true form. This is not helped by political posturing by some within the Holyrood bubble, where the word ‘Nationalist’ has been used (often derogatorily)  to describe only one political persuasion.

The late Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Asian MSP and a man respected across the Scottish Parliament chamber, explained the concept of civic nationalism in the simplest and most concise manner:

‘It is not important where we have come from; it’s where we are going together, as a nation.’

Although most comfortably propagated by the SNP, they do not claim to have possession over civic nationalism. It is a concept which is interwoven in the fabric of our nation, we will all be familiar with the age-old saying that in Scotland ‘we’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns’.

This forward-thinking and progressive notion does not attempt to define people’s identity but rather, allows them to define themselves, if they feel it necessary. The result? Black and ethnic minorities living in Scotland are just as likely, in some cases more likely, to define themselves as Scottish than their white counterparts (see Hussain and Miller).

As a nation we have accepted that people can be Indian-Scots, Polish-Scots, Scots-Irish and not have to choose one over the other. Even our cuisine reflects this with cheese, chips and curry sauce mixing in perfect harmony to create a culinary delight to be found in any West of Scotland takeaway!

Civic nationalism is something we can all be proud of as Scots. We have moved away from obsessing over each other’s identities and instead focussed on how different communities can and do contribute to our society – we have, in essence, shifted the nature of the entire debate.

Perhaps Chancellor Merkel would care to turn her head towards Scotland’s direction and in doing so she may well hear the vibrant sound of bhangra and bagpipes – confirmation that, despite its challenges, multiculturalism is thriving and continuing to evolve.

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A Nationalist Government?

I understand the SNP’s decision not to look at revenue options and simply to hand on Westminster’s cuts, though I disagree with it. But today UK Ministers have told us that someone in the Scottish Government let the powers lapse in 2007 when the SNP took office. Even the Labour/Lib Dem 1999-2007 coalition had the good sense to retain the power itself, though they didn’t use it (and during those budgetary boom years I think that was the right decision).

Michael Moore’s letter says it will now take two years to get the relevant HMRC systems up and running again, and then another ten months to bring any change in. It’s extraordinary. If some ultra-Unionist party had handed back a Scottish tax power the Scottish people explicitly and overwhelmingly endorsed in 1997, the SNP would be calling for Ministerial heads to roll. You simply cannot bang on about hypothetical future powers as an excuse for not using the existing ones, let alone when you’re returning them to Westminster.

Through SNP incompetence or deliberate intention, the voters now have their choice limited, and it will be much harder to find ways to raise revenue and step away from these Tory cuts. Someone should consider their position.

Does it remind anyone else of this epic speech? A nationalist Government, a nationalist Government, scurrying about in limos handing powers back to London.

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Wither Internal Democracy

Should a party’s annual conference make binding policy, and what role should an ordinary party member have in those decisions? Scotland’s main political parties appear to have come to very different answers to this question, which I will try to sum up below. Please bear in mind that I have only got direct experience of my own party in this respect, and will be happy to correct any factual errors below.

At one end, the Scottish Conservatives adopt an approach to policy-making which does not include any notion of internal democracy. There are no votes on policy matters at conference, even token ones, although early in the Cameron era his Built To Last document was submitted to a vote. Instead, the leadership determines policy: typically just the leader plus his or her kitchen cabinet. In this sense therefore, the Tory system is relatively close to that used by the Workers’ Party of Korea, who rarely bother with the rubber-stamp assembly beloved of other notionally leftwing personality cults. It’s at least honest, and to be fair, since 1998 the Tories have also let the membership choose their leaders from a shortlist of two by one member, one vote. This is clearly progress over the old approach – where MPs only got a vote – or the even older version – a leader “emerged” from the “magic circle”: i.e. it was carved up out of sight in a way that must have been great fun for those who regard politics as a full contact bloodsport.

Next along this sliding scale: Labour. Their procedures used to be highly democratic, including the formal setting of policy through motions such as the composites beloved of union bigwigs and loathed by the Millbank Tendency. This is all basically over now, with the leadership now setting all policy, not even the Blairite National Policy Forum. Some of the changes are relatively recent: until 2007 branch parties and trade unions could bring policy motions for a vote, even if the results would then be ignored by Labour Ministers. Having mentioned leadership above, personally I also deplore the way Labour allows people to join several “socialist societies” and unions and get several votes for a new leader, not to mention the way MPs both sift the candidates then get massively disproportional say in the outcome.

Then the Lib Dems. They have picked a particularly bizarre point on the spectrum from Stalinist control through to radical democracy. As I understand it, their conference is open to all members, all of whom can vote and bring forward motions. The problem is they mean nothing, especially when Lib Dem Ministers have got some selling out to do. This week the issue was so-called “free schools”, discussed here previously by Jeff. As the Lib Dem proponent of the motion said, “Just as the supermarket drives the corner shop out of business, so it will be with schools.” Danny Alexander, described by one Twitter wag as tree-promoter turned economics expert, then declared it would make no difference to policy. The same used to apply to Scottish Lib Dem conference when they were in government here. The membership said that GM crop trials should stop. Ross Finnie pressed on regardless. Curious. Not particularly liberal nor notably democratic.

Although it was put to me that this blogpost was designed to make Greens look good, the brief research I’ve done does show the SNP joining us at the actually democratic end of this spectrum. I must admit I know less about the SNP’s procedures, but I do know that, like the Greens, their conference does formally set policy, with members and branches free to bring motions. I also can’t find an instance of the leadership simply over-ruling them, although Mr Cochrane, the Last Black-Hearted Unionist, has got one. The party’s leadership procedures are posted online in their entirety, and seem pretty hard to fault. Like us, it’s one member, one vote, no special treatment for MPs or interest groups.

The open question is not one of principle, though – obviously it’s hard to make a principled objection to internal democracy. But are parties with actually democratic procedures more likely to survive internal tensions and evolve, or can that internal democracy make it harder to respond to changing circumstances? Does Labour’s “democratic centralism” actually help them more than they pay in demoralised activists, unable even to slow a swing to the right? Those decisions surely weren’t taken simply for self-interest: Peter Mandelson or someone else must have concluded that the open expression of democracy was more damaging than the alternative. My sense is that that move was wrong both strategically and in principle, but I don’t have any evidence for that view.

And is going into government something which ought to change a party’s approach? Did the Lib Dems stick to the policy set by conference except where it restricted Lib Dem Ministers’ activity? Will Labour return to a more democratic approach now they’re in opposition across the country? Have the SNP really managed to keep internal democracy while running the Scottish Government? There seems little point letting the membership set policy only when you’re in opposition, rather than when you might be able to make real change.

As a press officer for a democratic party, I certainly see one downside of the radically democratic approach, not that I’d change it. Any radical new policy development the party makes can’t be unveiled dramatically in March or April of an election year. It must instead be decided in public at our autumn conference. If only there was a way we could agree any policy changes democratically but still keep them under our hats until we could publicise them as effectively as possible.

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