Category Archives: SNP

There’s more than one way to do it!

Perl Camel
Perl Camel.
Some of my fellow Nats seem to be going rather mental about the crowd-funded anti-BBC billboards.

I have a few observations to make in that connexion:

Firstly, I think we all have to learn to campaign and let campaign – we shouldn't waste our time criticising other people's campaigning efforts but instead spend our time doing what we think is right. After all, as Perl programmers are fond of saying, there's more than one way to do it. Also, nobody can know for sure what will work till afterwards.

I tend to think that one of the main reasons why the Yes parties didn't do better at the last Holyrood election is that people spent far too much time arguing about the merits of "both votes SNP" versus "second vote Green", rather than taking the fight to the Unionists.

Secondly, the main reason why some activists spent some of their hard-earned money on these billboards is that they're frustrated so little campaigning is happening. If Yes Scotland II had already been up and running (hopefully using a better name than that!), spewing out campaign materials and putting up billboards, the vast majority of people would simply back them up and send their money to them. It's because nothing is happening that people get frustrated and start doing things on their own.

Activists aren't employees that can be commanded to do something different by their manager. They need to see that something is happening, especially when the situation in the UK post-Brexit is so dire and so ripe for a change for the better.

Thirdly, it has been suggested that this shows that Tommy Sheppard's idea about paid organisers in the SNP was right. I'm not so sure. I agree community organisers would be really useful, but they'd have to work with the wider Yes movement, not just with the SNP. I can't imagine that those Yes activists who aren't members of the SNP would take very kindly to getting told not to undertake certain campaigning activities by a paid SNP organiser.

The two last points show why we need Yes Scotland II to get up and running as matter of priority. We need somebody to produce campaign materials (and of course the SNP cannot really do that before they call the referendum), and the Yes movement community organisers need to be employed by some organisation other than a political party.

In the meantime, we should all focus on campaigning for a Yes vote in the next referendum, not on criticising each other. There's more than one way to do it.

The Blue Tribe of Scotland

Schtroumpfs
Schtroumpfs.
I thought I'd have a closer look at the four tribes of Scotland as described in my two earlier blog posts.

I defined the Blue Tribe as "the 33% of voters who want Scotland to be an independent country inside the EU [mnemonic: blue as the Saltire and the EU flag]".

The Blue Tribe of Scotland encompasses a spectrum of people, ranging from people who're closer to the Yellow Tribe and are relatively happy to put up with an independent Scotland being outside the EU so long as we get independence, to people who're closer to the Green Tribe and only want to see Scottish independence within Europe, not without.

The Blue Tribe is the only one of the four tribes that has lost two referendums in short order, first the Indyref and then the Brexit vote. As a result, many of its members are getting a bit paranoid and are wanting to play it safe, calling Indyref2 only when victory is practically ensured. Although I'm a Blue myself, I do wonder whether this ultra-cautious approach is going to cause us to miss the boat by delaying the next independence referendum for too long.

Both the SNP and the Green Party are dominated by the Blue Tribe. However, the SNP also contains most of the Yellow Tribe, and the Green Party also contains a good number of Green Tribe members, so it would perhaps be more accurate to think of the SNP as a Yellow-Blue Party and the Green Party as belonging to the Green-Blues. As a result, the SNP is now perhaps finding it harder to rally all its members behind a new referendum than the Green Party.

It would probably be fair to describe the Blue Tribe as internationalist civic nationalists, and most of its members are probably as far removed from ethnic nationalism as you can get, which of course made them rather angry during the last Indyref when they were accused of being blood-and-soil nationalists.

So although this tribe is the one which has dominated Scottish politics for the past decade, its members are feeling rather paranoid and under attack. This will probably not change till we win Indyref2.

Fisking Alex Neil’s article

Minión asegurado
Minión asegurado.
I mentioned Alex Neil's article ("How my party leader Nicola Sturgeon could get ‘neo-independence’ from Brexit – without another referendum") in my post about the Yellow Tribe of Scotland. However, his article seems to be attracting some support and I thought it'd be useful to look at it in more detail, so here's a fisk of the main parts:

Three months on from the EU referendum it is blatantly obvious the UK Government hasn’t got a clue about how or when to proceed with Brexit. [...] The Scottish Government has therefore got a golden opportunity, which it should not let slip, to fill the void by putting Scotland’s Brexit demands at the top of the UK/EU negotiations agenda and doing so now. Rather than wait until Theresa May eventually gets her act together, the Scottish Government should immediately publish its “List of Scottish Demands” for the Brexit negotiations. [...]

Yes, fair enough, but it can easily seem like an acceptance of Brexit if the demands don't go far enough, and it can easily undermine any effort to call a new independence referendum. It also means accepting Westminster's view that it's irrelevant that a large majority of Scots voted against Brexit, instead of insisting that the Scottish people is sovereign and voted to Remain.

Top of the list of Scottish demands should be the transfer of the powers being repatriated from Brussels, as they relate to Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament; not Westminster. All the powers relating to existing devolved matters, such as farming and fishing, should automatically transfer to Edinburgh. Brexit also provides the ideal opportunity to devolve all the other powers currently controlled by Brussels to the Scottish Parliament.

The problem with this is that it's completely contrary to making Scotland an independent country within the EU. Basically, if Westminster is currently in charge of A, B and C, and the EU is in charge of D, E and F, an independent Scotland within the EU would take over A, B and C rather than D, E and F, so if we follow Alex Neil's proposal, once we leave the UK and join the EU, we'll have to swap A, B and C for D, E and F instead of simply taking over A, B and C. That doesn't seem very sensible, especially not if Scottish independence is expected to happen within a decade or so. I can only interpret this as a way to sabotage any subsequent move to rejoin the European Union.

This would include powers currently exercised by the EU covering employment laws and workers’ rights, environmental protection, social policy, consumer protection, certain aspects of transport policy, some aspects of energy policy, public health matters, and certain aspects of justice and home affairs policies as well as external affairs.

So basically Scotland would take over legislation that was already harmonised with the EU and then start changing it to make it different? Or would we try to keep it in sync with EU legislation? I rather suspect Mr. Neil has the former in mind.

Finally a range of other powers which haven’t been devolved to Scotland because of EU rules should also be transferred to Edinburgh. The most important of these would be giving the Scottish Parliament full control over Value Added Tax (VAT).

This actually would be OK, because the EU does allow the various member states to set their own rates. The reason Scotland hasn't been able to do that is because the EU requires one set of rates per member state. So rejoining the EU while having different VAT rates from the rUK wouldn't be a problem.

The UK Leave Campaign’s promise during the referendum that if the UK voted for Brexit then Scotland would get control over immigration policy must also be honoured and included in Scotland’s List of Demands.

I believe this has already been shot down by Westminster, but it was probably always going to be a non-starter so long as the UK doesn't issue residence permits that are only valid for specific places – otherwise everybody wanting to move to England would simple go via Scotland if that was easier. From an EU perspective, this shouldn't be a problem so long as Scotland maintains a less restrictive policy than the rUK.

The second item on Scotland’s List of Demands should be the transfer of all the funding associated with these new powers mentioned above, including Scotland’s share of the UK annual contributions to the EU budget, itself estimated by the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre to be worth around £800 million a year net of all the funding Scotland currently gets from the EU. With this money, post-Brexit the Scottish Government could continue to finance all the projects currently supported by the EU in Scotland to the same level of funding as at present and still have another £800 million per annum or so left over to invest as we choose.

To be honest, this reminds me of the Leave campaign's infamous promise of £350m to fund the NHS (which was later disowned). Given that the UK is likely to lose an enormous amount of money due to Brexit, the reality is more likely to be a cut to the block grant going to Scotland.

In other words, the Scottish farmers would be expecting replacement subsidies from the Scottish Government, which unfortunately wouldn't have any money to pay them. That doesn't sound very attractive to me.

Don't get me wrong – if the Scottish Government could convince Westminster to add all of the above to the block grant, it'd be great, but I don't think there's a snowflake's chance in Hell of that happening.

The accumulation of all these new powers and finances would bring about “neo-Independence” for Scotland, creating the ideal platform for advancing to full sovereignty for the Scottish people in the early 2020’s.

As far as I can tell, these proposals would make it significantly harder for Scotland to join the EU, compared to remaining inside it when the rUK leaves, and this would worry all those voters who think that Scotland needs to be in the EU in order to be successful as an independent country. Furthermore, if the block grant to Scotland goes up, Scotland will get even more dependent on the UK and that would make it even harder to convince people that we can pay our own way after independence.

So far from creating a platform for advancing to independence, I fear Mr. Neil's proposals would push Scotland even further into UK dependency.

The third key item on Scotland’s List of Demands must be continuing access to the benefits of the European Single Market. Eleven per cent of all goods and services sold furth of Scotland every year go to the EU. These exports support many thousands of jobs in Scotland that we can’t afford to lose; so retaining both free access to this market along with the other benefits of the single market, such as “passporting” for our financial sector, is essential.

Good – the only kind of Brexit I could live with is a soft Brexit, which basically means being an EU member without any influence (like Norway).

However, I'm not entirely sure how this tallies with repatriating "employment laws and workers’ rights, environmental protection, social policy, consumer protection, certain aspects of transport policy, some aspects of energy policy, [and] public health matters". Some of them, perhaps, but many of these areas are covered by normal EU rules and would have to be adhered to. For instance, this is what Wikipedia writes about the EEA: "The non EU members of the EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have agreed to enact legislation similar to that passed in the EU in the areas of social policy, consumer protection, environment, company law and statistics. "

Scotland should continue to benefit from the free movement of people between Europe and Scotland. The crucial role played by people from Europe and elsewhere in the world in staffing some of our key industries such as tourism, agriculture and horticulture has to be protected. There is no reason why Scotland shouldn’t be able to implement its own immigration policy which would allow free movement to continue.

So basically we'd continue to have free movement of EU citizens, as well as freer immigration from the rest of the World. That's fine, but as I wrote above, I simply cannot see how Westminster will put up with it, given that the main demand of the Leave campaign was for the UK to control its borders. It would entail having completely different immigration policies north and south of the border, which would be fine if Scotland and the rUK were independent countries, but it's a complete non-starter at the moment.

I'm afraid that much of Alex Neil's article to me sounds quite delusional and would seriously undermine any effort to achieve Scottish independence in Europe within my lifetime (I'm 44).

Don't get me wrong – if Scotland could stay within the Internal Market in some sort of Norwegian set-up while the rUK pursued its wild hard Brexit dreams, that'd wouldn't be too dire, but it would be almost impossible to implement and would depend on Westminster being willing to jump through hoops to make it happen, so I believe it's a complete non-starter. But very importantly, it's also completely incompatible with his vision of ‘neo-independence’ within the UK, which makes me suspect that the paragraphs about remaining in the Internal Market have been added to make pro-EU SNP members go along with his proposal.

It's very clear that the only way we can build a coalition for independence is by focusing on the majority of Scots who want to continue to be part of the EU. Alex Neil's proposal will only really appeal to the Yellow Tribe, and they only represent 11% of the electorate, so if we go down this road, independence will not happen for another 50 years.

The Yellow Tribe of Scotland

Minions Singing In The Rain
Minions Singing In The Rain.
I thought I'd have a closer look at the four tribes of Scotland as described in my two earlier blog posts.

I defined the Yellow Tribe as "the 11% who want Scotland to be a completely independent country outside both the UK and the EU [mnemonic: yellow as the background on the lion rampant flag, which this group in my experience is very fond of]", and I speculated that they typically voted Yes to independence and Leave in the Brexit referendum. It's also the group that Wings over Scotland recently called "the unhappy 11%".

They're obviously not a homogenous group. Some members are ultra-idealistic lefties who denounce both the UK and the EU as being neo-liberal conspiracies, others are ethnic nationalists who are romanticising about Scotland's glorious past, and others again are completely average voters who just don't see why either union is needed.

Their preferred way forward was described rather well by Alex Neil in The Telegraph (I'm not saying that he is a member of the Yellow Tribe himself -- he might or might not be):

Top of the list of Scottish demands should be the transfer of the powers being repatriated from Brussels, as they relate to Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament; not Westminster. [...] The accumulation of all these new powers and finances would bring about “neo-Independence” for Scotland, creating the ideal platform for advancing to full sovereignty for the Scottish people in the early 2020’s.

It might sound tempting at a first glance. What is not being said is that it would make it time-consuming and cumbersome to rejoin the EU, because Scotland would in that case have to build a huge apparatus to deal with these power only for them to get delegated back to the EU a few years later.

Because of this, this is a very off-putting prospectus for those voters who prioritise EU membership, including those who voted No to independence two years ago because they thought continued EU membership was secured in that way. This is exactly the group of voters that will be needed to build a winning coalition for independence, so following this piece of advice kicks independence into the very long grass.

Interestingly, I think Theresa May might be eying up the Yellow Tribe, trying to convince them that independence won't even be needed after Brexit. Here's what she wrote in Holyrood Magazine:

As we strike that deal, we have an exciting chance to forge a new role in the world. Scotland’s status will not be diminished by that; it will be enhanced.

Although the Yellow voters only make up 11% of population, they're rather more important within the Scottish National Party for historical reasons. Archive footage of the early SNP events looks like Yellow Tribe meetings. It was probably only when the Independence in Europe policy was adopted in the 1980s that the Blue Tribe began to dominate. However, my gut feeling is that there are many more Yellows amongst the old-timers of the party than amongst those of us who joined more recently.

This is significant because as Wings pointed out, it's a group that desperately wants to avoid an early Indyref2. They want Brexit to be fully implemented before calling a new referendum, and they most definitely don't want to see a ballot paper that asks the obvious question: "Should Scotland be an independent country within the European Union?"

Because they dominate amongst the long-term members of the SNP, it's of course very difficult for the leadership to call an early referendum, because if they do so, their inboxes and voicemail will get inundated by complaints from people who have supported and mentored them since the day they joined the party.

Every political party has a strong instinct to stay united, so if the only way to keep the Yellow Tribe on side is by delaying the referendum till 2025 or so, there's a strong incentive to do so, even if it means the Green Tribe won't be converted to independence and Scotland faces economic ruin in the meantime.

At the end of the day, I find it inconceivable that many members of the Yellow Tribe will vote No to independence next time. They might huff and puff, and they might not pull their weight during the campaign, but at the end of the day they should know that campaigning for an independent Scotland to leave the EU will be easier than convincing people to back independence once Independence in Europe is no longer on the table. However, it will take guts for the SNP leadership to call an early referendum when the Yellows are so strongly against it.

Is Scotland going for the worst possible solution?

Hard & soft
Hard & soft.
I'm seeing more and more independence supporters saying that we should wait and see what Brexit brings before launching Indyref2, so perhaps delaying it till 2020 or even later.

For instance, Iain Macwhirter wrote the following in The Sunday Herald today:

I don't think we'll see another Scottish referendum until well into the 2020s because the implications of Brexit will take many years to sort out. Article 50 hasn't been declared yet and isn't going to be for some time. It will take more than two years to disentangle Britain from the EU, and the years immediately after formal departure will be as chaotic, if not more chaotic, than now.

Robin McAlpine has expressed similar thoughts in the past, for instance at the recent Independence Rally on Glasgow Green.

I'm afraid I totally disagree with such ideas. Getting dragged out of the EU and then rejoining a couple of years later is insane, as anybody who knows the complexity of the modern EU will tell you. It means going through enormous amounts of change and then reverting everything immediately afterwards.

Of course it depends what kind of Brexit we're getting.

If the Tories opt for a soft Brexit (essentially a Norwegian solution, which means that the free movement of goods, capital, services and people will be maintained), I agree it makes sense to take a deep breath and think hard about the timing of the next independence referendum. The main downside to delaying is perhaps that all of us EU citizens will have lost our right to vote in it, but it shouldn't affect other people or businesses drastically. I still think there would be many advantages to Scotland remaining within the EU when the rUK leaves, but we can sit down and have a civilised discussion about the pros and cons.

On the other hand, if the Westminster government goes for a hard Brexit, taking us out of the Internal Market and all the other parts of the EU in order to restrict migration, we need to get out in time. Sadly, all the smoke signals emerging from Westminster seem to be pointing towards this being the preferred solution.

A hard Brexit will be a like a wrecking ball taken to the Scottish economy, and saying that we might leave five years later if we don't like it will only make things worse. This is because a hard Brexit will be both a disaster and a business opportunity. Lots of companies are going to relocate to the rEU, shedding a lot of jobs here in the process. However, once that is done, there will presumably be opportunities to create products and services to replace those that suddenly cannot be sourced from the rEU profitably. For instance, if it becomes clear that the UK will slap a 20% import tax on Manchego cheese from Spain, it might become a business opportunity to create a clone here for the British consumer. My gut feeling is that there won't be enough of these new jobs to replace the ones lost to the rEU in the medium term, but at least there will be a few of them. However, if you're a business person thinking about setting up a company making a British Manchego clone, will you place it in Scotland if there is a possibility that Scotland will five years later leave the rUK and rejoin the EU? No, of course not. You'll place the company south of the border. If it's clear that Scotland will remain in the EU if the rUK goes for a hard Brexit, many of the EU-oriented businesses will potentially relocate to Scotland, but if it isn't clear what Scotland is going for, we won't get any of them – they'll go to Ireland, Germany or some other rEU country instead. We need to make it clear whether we're going to stay within the Internal Market or remaining within the UK no matter what, or we'll end up in the worst of all possible worlds, getting neither relocating EU businesses nor new post-Brexit companies. It would be a disaster of Darien Scheme proportions.

I'm not saying we need to call the referendum just yet. But Nicola Sturgeon needs to go out and say that Scotland will remain within the Internal Market, and if Westminster are going for a hard Brexit, Scotland will hold a new independence referendum in time for Scotland to leave the UK before Brexit happens. This would also provide the kind of message control that Robin McAlpine has correctly called for.

The morning after Brexit, when Nicola took charge and promised EU citizens and their families in Scotland that we'd be OK, we were all ready to kiss her. The impression I and others got was that she would explore the options for keeping Scotland within the Internal Market (e.g., whether a Reverse Greenland would be possible), but that she would definitely call a new independence referendum if that was the only was to achieve that. You can always discuss the finer legal and linguistic aspects of her statement, but that was definitely the impression I was left with. Because of this, if she follows the advice offered by Messrs. Macwhirter and McAlpine and allows Scotland to be taken out of the Internal Market just because the opinion polls aren't favourable enough (and let's face it, they're much better now than when Indyref1 was called), she will have broken the promise she made to us that morning, and I will be tearing my SNP membership card apart.

Hopefully I'm just worrying needlessly, and all that is happening just now is that the SNP leadership are trying to ascertain whether the Brexit will be soft or hard before fixing a date for the next independence referendum. Salmond's prediction that it'll be held in two years time sounds OK to me, although I don't like the fact that Boris Johnson has started saying that the negotiations might be concluded in less than two years, in which case we might have less time than we think.

The reason for the lack of movement in the opinion polls, as well as for the laid-back attitude with regard to Brexit exhibited by the Indyref2-after-2020 crowd, is perhaps the general feeling in the UK media that Brexit isn't going to be that bad after all, based on the fact the economy is still ticking along nicely. However, Brexit hasn't happened yet, and many businesses will be waiting to find out whether it's going to be soft or hard before relocating, so we ain't seen nothing yet. This is likely to change soon, however. I've started hearing about the first redundancies due to Brexit amongst my acquaintances this week, and if that continues, the general mood might change abruptly. We need to be ready to seize the moment when that happens.

The independence campaign catch-22

CATCH 22
CATCH 22.

Back in the early days of the first indyref, Yes Scotland designed some cards asking people to places themselves on an independence scale from 1 to 10, and they told us activists to knock doors, ask the questions and fill out the cards.

I did exactly that (being a bit literal-minded), but I soon realised that most other activists took it as an opportunity to talk to people about the benefits of independence. In retrospect, I think most of the conversions from No to Yes were due to these conversations -- much more so than the targeted materials Yes Scotland will have sent to some people based on the classification on the cards.

I'm mentioning this because the SNP recently launched a huge National Survey that asks even more questions than the small cards Yes Scotland sent out, and they're asking their members to get as many people as possible to answer the questions.

What I'm wondering is whether they just want us to go out and record the answers, or is it really just an excuse to campaign on the doorstep? If it's the former, it won't change many minds (but it might tell the SNP who the soft No voters are and where they live), but if it's the latter, we really could do with some new pro-independence campaign materials to aid us in the conversations.

It's really a catch-22. It would be easier to campaign if the campaign had been officially launched and we were backed up with materials and all that. Also, many people won't change their opinion on independence before somebody talks to them -- they won't just have a eureka moment in the bath one morning. However, the SNP clearly doesn't want to launch the campaign prematurely and there are many indications that nothing will happen before Yes has clearly overtaken No in the opinion polls. So opinion won't shift before we start campaigning for real, but we won't start campaigning before opinion has shifted.

This makes me think National Survey is probably a campaign in disguise. They hope that we will all campaign hard on the doorsteps while pretending it's just a listening exercise, so that opinion shifts enough that the official campaign can start.

Perhaps it's the right way forward, but annoyingly it means we'll have to create campaign materials on our own instead of getting them from Yes Scotland II or the SNP. I just wish the real campaign would start, but then I'm of course really impatient given my status as an EU migrant.

The SNP Depute Leader election

Eastwood Hustings.
Eastwood Hustings.
I went along to the Eastwood Hustings last night to get a better idea about who to vote for in the SNP's election for a new depute leader.

It was quite interesting -- although unfortunately Angus Robertson couldn't make it -- and I now feel I know how to prioritise the candidates. Here are my thoughts, started with the candidate I'll be ranking lowest and ending with my preferred depute leader:

  • Chris McEleny has some decent ideas about reforms to the party structure, but I think the other candidates have listened to these and are likely to implement them, too. However, his focus seemed very strongly to be on local elections, and with the possibility of a new independence referendum, I don't think this is the right kind of depute for the SNP at the moment.
  • Tommy Sheppard is great and I'm really appreciative of the things he's done during the indyref campaign and as an MP. At another point in time I can imagine he would have been my preferred candidate. However, like Chris he seemed to focus more on local elections and on the party structure, and again I'm just not sure this is the right time. Paid organisers might be a great idea, but when the next referendum campaign gets called, a lot of activity will probably shift to Yes Scotland 2 (or whatever it'll get called), and then these organisers could almost become a hindrance.
  • Angus Robertson is one of my heroes. As somebody who's half German myself I really admire the way he's explaining Scottish politics in German to German and Austrian audiences -- he simply says all the right things, like for instance: "Wir Schotten sind [...] Weltbürger -- von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten." He's also doing a great job in Westminster, and I'm sure being depute leader of the SNP could help him there. Finally, his point about making sure that the SNP doesn't lose the rural areas now that the party is becoming much more urban makes eminent sense to me. I'll be very happy if he wins this election.
  • Alyn Smith is, however, my preferred candidate. His famous speech in the European Parliament has shown he can win over European hearts and minds, and that really matters at the moment. He also pointed out last night that his election will send a strong signal to Europe that the European Parliament matters more to Scotland than the UK Parliament in London, and he can really use the depute leader title to impress on people across Europe that he's to be taken seriously. Finally, although he didn't say it, I can't help thinking that somebody who'll lose his current job if Scotland gets chucked out of the EU will perhaps work harder to keep us there than those who won't. Given how much staying in the EU matters to me as a New Scot from another EU member state, I'll cast my first vote for Alyn Smith.