The difference between Tory rule in Scotland and SNP rule in England

Lady Thatcher alongside former PMs on the Grand Staircase

Lady Thatcher alongside former PMs on the Grand Staircase by Number 10, on Flickr.

David Torrance seems to have become the latest cheerleader for the (wrong) idea that the largest party must form the government:

[T]he SNP appears to have given no thought to the perceived legitimacy of a nationalist-tinged government in swaths of England, not to forget Wales and Northern Ireland – while it also risks coming across as arrogant: promising to implement “progressive politics” in the rest of the UK, whether it likes it or not, just as Margaret Thatcher “imposed” rightwing policies on Scotland in the 1980s.

Under current SNP logic, the Iron Lady had a perfect right to do so, for she commanded an overall majority within the “Westminster system”. Funnily enough, nationalists did not defend her governments on that basis at the time. Rather, up went the cry of “no mandate”. Where, then, would the English, Welsh and Northern Irish mandate be for the policies of a party that doesn’t even field candidates outside Scotland?

This is total nonsense. The problem with Thatcher’s governments was that they had very little support in Scotland and yet ruled Scotland (in those ancient times before the recreation of the Scottish Parliament, providing the Secretary of State for Scotland was the equivalent of running the Scottish Government). However, even if all the three smaller nations in the UK ganged up together, they’d only have 117 MPs in total (59 Scottish ones, 40 Welsh ones and 18 Northern Irish ones), but a majority in the House of Commons requires 326 seats, so at least 209 English MPs would need to take part, too.

In other words, in the worst case England will be ruled by its second-largest party in a coalition in which at least half the MPs are English. I don’t think Scotland would have found such a situation intolerable at all.

What’s really happening is of course that English politicians have become so used to the fact that Scotland has almost never made a difference to who governed at Westminster that they think it’s undemocratic for the other constituent nations of the UK to exercise real influence.

They should probably have thought of that before they begged us to stay.

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Posted in England, Westminster | 4 Comments

Making Scotland a British region

Day 150

Day 150 by Matt Preston, on Flickr.

Effie Deans (a.k.a. Lily of St. Leonards), who is well-known for suggesting last year that Unionists should vote tactically to keep out the SNP, has written a long article about how to defeat the independence movement and the SNP.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the main argument:

There’s only one good argument for an independent Scotland. But it is a very good argument indeed. It can be stated in the following way:

  1. Scotland is a country.
  2. Countries ought to be independent.
  3. Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

[…]

In order to defeat an opponent it is necessary to put forward his best argument and then refute it. The only way to refute an argument is by either refuting the reasoning or the assumptions. […] In order to defeat the SNP we must defeat their assumptions. The initial assumption “Scotland is a country” must not be allowed, for if we do allow it, the rest of the argument follows as a matter of course.

[…]

We must attack the SNP at their roots. I have tried to outline how to do this in the past few weeks. First, accept that the UK is one nation, that is indivisible. Therefore, cease treating the parts of the UK as if they were really countries. […] It has turned out to be a long-term historical mistake that in a number of respects the parts of the UK have been treated as if they were independent countries. No other nation state in the world allows its parts to have separate money and separate international football teams. […] Secondly, rule out any further referendums ever. No-one would allow Aberdeenshire a referendum on independence. Well, on the same basis we should say that Aberdeenshire is to Scotland as Scotland is to the UK. Because it is an indivisible part of the whole, there is no right to secede. […] Thirdly, don’t make any sort of deal with those who have only the goal of destroying our country. Don’t work with them even if they pretend to be our friends. They are nothing of the sort. They are the greatest threat to the UK in over 300 years of history. Treat them as such. […] Fourthly, we must find a way to bring about more unity into the UK and promote a feeling of common identity.

Effie Deans is not very explicit here about what exactly will need to happen to stop Scots from perceiving Scotland as a country, but I reckon it will include the following:

  • Abolish Scottish separateness in sports, such as the Scottish national football and rugby teams and the Scottish football leagues.
  • Abolish Scots law and introduce English law in Scotland.
  • Abolish the Scottish education system and introduce the English curriculum, GCSEs and A Levels in Scotland.
  • Force all charities to set up UK-wide bodies (outlaw Scottish charities).
  • Merge the Scottish NHS with the English NHS.
  • Remove all powers from the Scottish Parliament that wouldn’t be granted to an English regional assembly (if these are ever created).

In my opinion, Effie Deans is both right and wrong. She’s right that only by making Scots think of Scotland as a British region (like Yorkshire) would the dream of independence ever die. However, she’s wrong to think that a plan such as this could ever gain widespread support in Scotland. I reckon only a very small part of Scots (perhaps 10%) think of Scotland as a region of the UK, and the rest of us agree that Scotland is a nation within a political union called the United Kingdom — we just disagree whether this union is a good or a bad thing.

Unless I’m completely mistaken, any plan to execute Effie Deans’s plan would cause opinion polls to show at least 80% support for independence within a fortnight, and Scotland would become independent soon afterwards.

Perhaps her plan could have been implemented successfully in the 1980s, when Scottish self-confidence was at a historic low. Not today.

That said, many leading Unionists — both in Scotland and in England — might quietly agree with Effie Deans, and we should watch out for any threats to Scotland’s status as a constituent nation of the UK. They’d probably start with small things and only deal with the highly symbolic areas (such as the education system) after many years.

Finally, I’d like to quote her request that many more Scots should join the SNP:

Some people who voted No in Scotland will object to what I write here. My answer is as follows. If you think that Scotland is a country in the same sense as France is a country, you should join the SNP. If you don’t feel particularly British, you likewise should join the SNP.

I very much agree, but how she can possibly think that’d help the Unionist cause is beyond me.

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Posted in alternativestoindependence, England, Unionism | 14 Comments

Could the Lib Dems and the Tories overtake Labour in Scotland?

A map of the predicted result.

A map of the predicted result.

I’ve decided to update my prediction of winnable SNP seats which I wrote two weeks after we lost the referendum. At the time it seemed incredibly optimistic, but since then it’s been overtaken by lots of polls by YouGov and other well-known SNP cheerleaders.

Apart from the much more positive opinion polls (from an SNP point of view), the past months have also seen the publication of Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polls (which found a greater-than-average swing towards the SNP in Labour-held constituencies) and more recently by tactical voting polls.

I’ve put the detailed analysis in separate pages (please click on the constituency names below), but in summary format my findings are as follows:

Constituency 2010 MP 2010 2015 pred. Pred. maj.
Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael LIB LIB 3349
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale David Mundell CON CON 2066
Ross, Skye and Lochaber Charles Kennedy LIB LIB 1575
North East Fife Sir Menzies Campbell LIB LIB 853
Glasgow North East Willie Bain LAB LAB 695
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk Michael Moore LIB CON 392
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Gordon Brown LAB SNP 119
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill Tom Clarke LAB SNP 479
East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson LIB SNP 540
East Renfrewshire Jim Murphy LAB SNP 718
Glasgow South West Ian Davidson LAB SNP 1674
Rutherglen and Hamilton West Tom Greatrex LAB SNP 2664
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross John Thurso LIB SNP 2689
Motherwell and Wishaw Frank Roy LAB SNP 2943
Paisley and Renfrewshire South Douglas Alexander LAB SNP 3495
Glasgow North Ann McKechin LAB SNP 3628
Dunfermline and West Fife Thomas Docherty LAB SNP 3850
Glasgow North West John Robertson LAB SNP 3962
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Sir Robert Smith LIB SNP 4164
West Dunbartonshire Gemma Doyle LAB SNP 4169
Inverclyde David Cairns LAB SNP 4181
Glenrothes Lindsay Roy LAB SNP 4290
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Danny Alexander LIB SNP 4549
Glasgow East Margaret Curran LAB SNP 4924
Glasgow Central Anas Sarwar LAB SNP 4947
Airdrie and Shotts Pamela Nash LAB SNP 5762
Paisley and Renfrewshire North James Sheridan LAB SNP 6002
Edinburgh South West Alistair Darling LAB SNP 6149
Edinburgh North and Leith Mark Lazarowicz LAB SNP 6338
Edinburgh West Michael Crockart LIB SNP 6402
Dumfries and Galloway Russell Brown LAB SNP 6509
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East Gregg McClymont LAB SNP 7167
Na h-Eileanan an Iar Angus MacNeil SNP SNP 7207
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock Sandra Osborne LAB SNP 7285
Glasgow South Tom Harris LAB SNP 7294
Gordon Malcolm Bruce LIB SNP 7508
Edinburgh South Ian Murray LAB SNP 7831
Central Ayrshire Brian Donohoe LAB SNP 7937
Argyll and Bute Alan Reid LIB SNP 8461
East Lothian Fiona O’Donnell LAB SNP 8682
Midlothian David Hamilton LAB SNP 8786
Lanark and Hamilton East Jimmy Hood LAB SNP 9128
Aberdeen North Frank Doran LAB SNP 9742
Aberdeen South Anne Begg LAB SNP 9873
Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore LAB SNP 10022
Kilmarnock and Loudoun Cathy Jamieson LAB SNP 10360
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow Michael McCann LAB SNP 10586
Dundee West James McGovern LAB SNP 11466
Stirling Anne McGuire LAB SNP 11732
Angus Michael Weir SNP SNP 12301
North Ayrshire and Arran Katy Clark LAB SNP 12397
Linlithgow and East Falkirk Michael Connarty LAB SNP 12964
Livingston Graeme Morrice LAB SNP 13160
Banff and Buchan Eilidh Whiteford SNP SNP 13178
Moray Angus Robertson SNP SNP 15332
Perth and North Perthshire Peter Wishart SNP SNP 15850
Dundee East Stewart Hosie SNP SNP 17278
Falkirk Eric Joyce LAB SNP 17465
Ochil and South Perthshire Gordon Banks LAB SNP 19651

Shockingly, it looks like the LibDems and the Tories might fare slightly better than expected due to the inverse Ashcroft effect (if the swing towards the SNP is greater in Labour-held seats, it must be smaller in other seats) and tactical voting.

If this prediction is correct, the Lib Dems will hold onto three of their seats, the Tories will go from one to two (by winning a Lib Dem seat), Labour will be reduced to one, and the SNP will win the remaining 53 Westminster seats.

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Posted in opinion polls, SNP, Westminster | 19 Comments

The English SNP

For England and King George.

For England and King George. by William, on Flickr.

BBC Scotlandshire’s April Fool’s story about the SNP standing for election in England was very amusing, but it also made me wonder whether it could happen.

Naturally the SNP in its own right would never stand in England (not even in South Berwick or Corby), but the excellent partnership between the SNP and Plaid Cymru could — and should — be extended to England.

Unfortunately, English political parties have tended to belong to the xenophobic right, but now that Nicola Sturgeon is taking part in the leadership debates, the SNP’s political programme will become better known in England, and surely a lot of voters there will be thinking to themselves that they agree with her (and with PC) more than with any of the parties standing in England.

I therefore call on such English voters to create their own English version of the SNP. To ensure that voters don’t mistake it for a UKIP or BNP clone, perhaps the best name for this party would be “England’s Social Democrats” or similar.

The SNP could liaise with the ESD to ensure their aims were compatible, and they could be voting together at Westminster a lot of the time.

The ESD would define itself as a non-violent, non-xenophobic, anti-austerity social democratic party in favour of the creation of an English parliament as a step towards English independence.

Being English rather than Scottish, it would of course not agree with the SNP in every regard, just like Plaid Cymru doesn’t. However, using the SNP’s policies as a blueprint for this new English party would surely be a winning formula.

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Posted in England, SNP | 24 Comments

Indyref postmortem IV: Postal voting considered harmful

I think it’s quite likely the next independence referendum will happen sooner rather than later, so it’s important to have a look at what we could have done better, not in order to point fingers at anybody, but simply to make sure that we win next time. This is the fourth of several indyref postmortems.

After verification, the referendum ballot papers were put back into ballot boxes to be counted at 4pm.

After verification, the referendum ballot papers were put back into ballot boxes to be counted at 4pm. by Epping Forest District Council, on Flickr.

I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists who believe the independence referendum was rigged. Electoral fraud might have happened in a few places, but not to such an extent that it can possibly have turned a Yes into a No.

However, I still think postal voting as practised in this country is a very problematic.

Firstly, it’s democratically questionable when there’s a late shift in the public opinion. As a campaigner, I don’t like the fact that there is one deadline for convincing postal voters and another one for everybody else, and from a postal voter’s perspective, it’s horrible if a late development in the campaign suddenly makes you realise you’ve changed your mind.

Secondly, it’s not healthy for democracy when conspiracy theories flourish. Ideally, everybody should be able to convince themselves that no fraud took place, and huge numbers of postal votes makes this much harder, especially when there have been many examples of fraud using postal votes in the past.

Thirdly, Westminster politicians have been pushing postal voting in a vain attempt to stem the tide of low voter turnout. However, the independence referendum demonstrated that people are very happy to vote, so long as their vote counts and the election matters. The corrupt Westminster system with its FPTP electoral system and nearly identical main parties might need postal voting as a form of life support, but independence referendums most definitely do not.

Of course there needs to be a mechanism in place to allow everybody to vote, also those who cannot go to the polling place for various reasons. In Denmark, in lieu of postal voting voters can cast their vote at council offices and embassies for a period of time before the election if they know they will absent on the day, and polling places have a small mobile team who can take a small ballot box out to immobile voters. Mechanisms such as these could be considered in Scotland, too.

Hopefully the Scottish Parliament will soon get more responsibilities for conducting elections and referendums in Scotland, and if that happens, postal voting should be replaced by a better system, hopefully in time for the next independence referendum.

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Posted in postmortem, referendum | 4 Comments

UK democracy: A three-headed monster

Cerberus

Cerberus by Joe Dykes, on Flickr.

The UK democracy is a disaster, it’s like a monster destroying democracy with its three heads: FPTP, over-centralised political parties and the House of Lords.

First Past The Post (FPTP) is a decent way to elect one person, especially when there are only two serious contenders. For instance, in France the second round of the presidential elections is a FPTP election between the two leading candidates. However, as the number of candidates grows, FPTP starts producing increasingly absurd outcomes.

In some seats, there’ll be five parties that are more or less equally popular, so they’ll all get around 20% and the winning party might be the one that gets 25%. That’s hardly very democratic. In other seats, random demographic variations will mean that only one party can realistically win, which isn’t very democratic either.

In single-member constituencies with many candidates, it’s generally better to use the Alternative Vote system, which allows the voters to rank the candidates (e.g., a Green-leaning Yes voter might want to rank the candidates as follows: Green, SSP, SNP, Labour, LD, Tory, UKIP); however, the AV system was comprehensively defeated in the 2011 referendum, and it’s unlikely it’ll be resurrected any time soon, and the AV defeat seems to have made most Westminster politicians conclude that any electoral reform would be unpopular with the British public.

If the electoral system was functioning well, it would automatically limit the control exercised by political party headquarters, because only an excellent candidate with strong local credentials would have any chance of getting elected. In the current FPTP mess, your best chance is to be parachuted into a safe seat and not to rock the boat too much once you’re in parliament, so more and more MPs have given up independent thinking and instead always toe the party line.

Finally, the existence of the appointed House of Lords gives the party leaders yet another way to reward the loyal MPs. Whenever they run into trouble, they can normally be persuaded to step down with the promise of a subsequent elevation of the Lords.

The three problems are therefore connected. A broken electoral system and an appointed House of Lords gives far too much power to political party leaders, who as a result have absolutely no reason to change the system, because it works for them.

If it wasn’t for this fact, it would be easy enough to sort out the mess. The solution to the first two problems identified above is clearly proportional representation, ideally in a variant without party lists. Not only would every vote count, but it would also be much harder for the political parties to control the selection of specific individuals. And if the House of Lords was abolished (or replaced with a democratic chamber), it would be much harder for the party leaders to reward “good” behaviour.

However, I don’t think there’s any reason to be optimistic. In the UK, opposition parties routinely promise reforms but always forget about them as soon as the gain power. If Labour can only get into power with the SNP’s votes, then perhaps there’s a chance we’ll get some sort of reform, but left to their own devices the big Westminster parties will just waffle for decades. The system works for them, after all.

One of the reasons I’m so strongly in favour of Scottish independence is because I believe Westminster is fundamentally unreformable. Scotland already has a functioning parliament elected through proportional representation, and there is no appointed chamber here, so independence will solve the problem for us.

In the meantime, I hope the SNP will use its MPs after the Westminster election to force the other parties to introduce proportional representation and/or abolish the House of Lords. It would be rather ironic if the SNP fixed the Union for the Unionist parties, though.

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Posted in Westminster | 5 Comments

Indyref postmortem III: Why were EU citizens ignored?

I think it’s quite likely the next independence referendum will happen sooner rather than later, so it’s important to have a look at what we could have done better, not in order to point fingers at anybody, but simply to make sure that we win next time. This is the third of several indyref postmortems.

European Union flags

European Union flags by futureatlas.com, on Flickr.

One thing I didn’t really understand during the indyref campaign was why EU citizens were largely ignored by the Yes campaign.

I do realise some leaflets were produced in Polish and possibly other EU languages, but most EU citizens living in Scotland speak English fluently, so what was missing wasn’t really materials in other languages, but answering the specific concerns shared by EU citizens in Scotland, such as the following:

  • Would they be forced to leave Scotland if the EU terminated Scotland’s membership after a Yes vote, as the Unionists were often warning the EU would?
  • Would the non-discrimination of EU citizens continue without change after independence? In particular, would they be continue to be able to work, to access the NHS, to vote in Scottish Parliament elections, and so on?
  • Would it be easy to become a Scottish citizen after independence?

The last question was answered unequivocally — it would be rather hard, much harder than for British citizens living in Scotland. However, the first two items weren’t addressed very clearly.

It would have been very easy for the Scottish Government to issue some clear plans to reassure all EU citizens. However, this didn’t really happen — there were some promising clauses hidden in the draft constitution and other places, but it was all too hidden to be of much use in the campaign.

It’s really rather sad, because most EU citizens were fundamentally sympathetic to getting away from the Eurosceptic consensus that often seems to reign supreme in England — indeed, for many EU citizens here, the in/out referendum could lead to losing their jobs and being deported back to a country they haven’t lived in for many years.

I don’t know why the Scottish Government didn’t do more. I can think of a few possible explanations, but I don’t know whether they’re correct or not.

Firstly, I think there was an unwillingness to discuss the possibility of Scotland being thrown out of the EU — if the Scottish Government had said: “We guarantee your rights to live and work here even if Scotland is temporarily excluded from the EU”, they may have feared the Unionists would have used this as evidence they were right to raise doubts about Scotland’s continued EU membership.

Secondly, they may have wanted to keep their powder dry for the membership negotiations with the EU. If they had already guaranteed the rights of all EU citizens in Scotland, their negotiation position might have been seen to be weakened. However, as an EU citizen it’s not very attractive to vote to become a bargaining chip.

Thirdly, there might have been some disagreements within the Scottish Government about the right way forward, and this kept things vague.

Finally, I’m not sure many Scots really understood how scary the prospect of being chucked out of Scotland as an unfortunate side effect of the EU playing hardball was for EU citizens here. However, we’re so used to threatening and xenophobic language from many English politicans (especially from UKIP) that it’s easy to become somewhat paranoid.

Of course a large number of EU citizens (including myself) voted Yes enthusiastically in spite of all this, but a more proactive approach from the Scottish Government could have led to an almost unanimous backing for independence from these voters. In the end, No won the referendum by such a large margin that it didn’t really matter what the EU citizens voted, but nobody could have known this in advance.

(Much of this blog post might also apply to Commonwealth citizens in Scotland — I’m not sure. On the other hand, people from outwith the EU and the Commonwealth couldn’t vote in the independence referendum unless they had obtained British citizenship, so there wouldn’t have been a specific reason to appeal specifically to them in the campaign.)

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Posted in EU, postmortem | 13 Comments