All posts by thomas

Post-election thoughts

The final result of the 2015 election.
The final result of the 2015 election.
I wrote a blog post on the 5th of October 2014 (just a couple of weeks after the No vote) called “Which Westminster seats can the SNP realistically win?“. In this, I pointed out that if the referendum results were replicated in May 2015, the SNP would gain 56 seats. However, I didn’t really believe this myself, so I looked at the figures in various ways and came up with a more believable figure of 28 seats. I clearly should have gone straight down to the bookies instead!

I’d like to think that my predictions helped SNP activists believe that victory really was possible. I know my article about East Renfrewshire was widely circulated and discussed in the constituency, and perhaps it contributed a bit to the immense activity levels we’ve seen amongst SNP activists in the past months.

As an SNP member I’m obviously delighted with the Scottish results. My main worry is that the Unionist parties have been weakened so much that they’ll find it hard to provide effective opposition to the SNP in Scotland. Perhaps the Greens will have to step into those shoes next year — my impression is definitely that many Scottish Green supporters voted tactically for the SNP this time, and they’re unlikely to repeat that next year. If the Unionist parties have any sense, they will now set up separate parties in Scotland to enable them to speak with authentic Scottish voices, but I have my doubts.

I’m less pleased with the UK-wide results. The Tories are going to have a small majority on their own and I dread what the Tories will get up to now that their worst ideas won’t get vetoed by the Lib Dems any more. For instance, there’s now nothing we can do to prevent them from holding a referendum about leaving the EU.

It’s instructive to look at the results in two ways: The main figures (after 647 of 650 have been declared) are Con +23, Lab -26, SNP +50, LD -48, which looks like the Tories have taken seats from Labour. However, if we look at England on its own, the figures are Con +20, Lab +15, LD -36, so the real story is that the Tories and Labour murdered the Lib Dems and divided the spoils between themselves; because the Tories were significantly bigger than Labour to start with, that helped them more than Labour. What this means is that — contrary to what Scottish Labour are spinning — even if Labour had swept the board in Scotland, it wouldn’t have made a Labour government possible. Labour needed to take a few dozen seats from the Tories in England. They failed to do that, and that’s why a Labour government with SNP support isn’t now possible.

Another consequence of this election is that UK-wide opinion polls probably won’t be produced any more. They’ve excluded Northern Ireland forever because the political parties there are so different, but Scotland is now just as different, and it’s likely to lead to less useful results if the fortunes of Scottish Labour constantly get mixed up with those of English Labour.

Scotland now seems to have a system with one huge party and four or five small ones, while England has reverted to a two-party system with a few almost unelectable parties.

Incidentally, I reckon this means we can wave goodbye to electoral reform. The parties that would benefit from proportional representation are the Scottish Unionist parties, UKIP and the English Lib Dems, and all of these have almost no seats in the Westminster parliament. What would the Tories gain by introducing PR? Nothing. What would English Labour gain? More Scottish MPs. What would the SNP gain? Nothing, unless they started contesting English seats.

Much as I’m dreading five more years with the Tories, at least it makes it less likely the SNP will go native in Westminster, the way Scottish Labour did nearly a century ago. As Craig Murray puts it: “Exercising power within the United Kingdom state can be heady and addictive.

What the 56 SNP MPs will now have to do is to challenge every unpopular decision made by the Tory government and ask for the policy area to be devolved. If they cut child tax credits, demand that this benefit is devolved. If they cut down immigration, request separate immigration quotas for Scotland. When they hold their Brexit referendum, tie it in with a new independence referendum.

And when the next independence referendum is held, we’ll win it. The activity levels during this election campaign were much higher than before the referendum, due to all the new members. If we can hold on to all these activists and get them to campaign just as energetically for a Yes, we’ll win it by a landslide.

2015 Westminster election live blog

Friday at 4.30: Labour has won Edinburgh South. It’s looking like this might be their only Scottish seat. Going to bed now.

Friday at 3.15: YES!!! Kirsten Oswald has beaten Jim Murphy! She’ll be a wonderful MP!

Friday at 2.45: The swing to the SNP is so big that it’s breaking my programs. I suspect the result so far would be a bright yellow map anyway…

Friday at 2.25: Wow, Mhairi Black has beaten Douglas Alexander by 23,548 votes to 17,864!!!

Friday at 1.45: Sorry for not posting for a while, but I’m still waiting for any figures that will teach us more than the exit poll.

Thursday at 22.35: YouGov’s final predictions (SNP 48%, Lab 28%, LD 7%, Con 14%) would according to my calculations be quite good for the Lib Dems in Scotland:

Constituency 2010 MP 2010 2015 Maj.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk Michael Moore LIB LIB 7715
Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael LIB LIB 3752
Ross, Skye and Lochaber Charles Kennedy LIB LIB 2385
North East Fife Sir Menzies Campbell LIB LIB 1786
Glasgow North East Willie Bain LAB LAB 1471
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Gordon Brown LAB LAB 1090
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale David Mundell CON CON 951
East Renfrewshire Jim Murphy LAB LAB 632
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill Tom Clarke LAB LAB 620
East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson LIB LIB 577
Edinburgh West Michael Crockart LIB SNP 489
Glasgow South West Ian Davidson LAB SNP 836
Rutherglen and Hamilton West Tom Greatrex LAB SNP 1405
Motherwell and Wishaw Frank Roy LAB SNP 1908
Dunfermline and West Fife Thomas Docherty LAB SNP 1985
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross John Thurso LIB SNP 2018
Paisley and Renfrewshire South Douglas Alexander LAB SNP 2439
Glasgow North Ann McKechin LAB SNP 2500
Glasgow North West John Robertson LAB SNP 2608
Inverclyde David Cairns LAB SNP 2979
West Dunbartonshire Gemma Doyle LAB SNP 3053
Glenrothes Lindsay Roy LAB SNP 3222
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Danny Alexander LIB SNP 3452
Dumfries and Galloway Russell Brown LAB SNP 3477
Glasgow Central Anas Sarwar LAB SNP 3781
Glasgow East Margaret Curran LAB SNP 4077
Edinburgh South West Alistair Darling LAB SNP 4415
Edinburgh North and Leith Mark Lazarowicz LAB SNP 4532
Airdrie and Shotts Pamela Nash LAB SNP 4817
Paisley and Renfrewshire North James Sheridan LAB SNP 4849
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Sir Robert Smith LIB SNP 5520
Aberdeen South Anne Begg LAB SNP 5536
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock Sandra Osborne LAB SNP 6073
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East Gregg McClymont LAB SNP 6081
Glasgow South Tom Harris LAB SNP 6236
Gordon Malcolm Bruce LIB SNP 6371
Central Ayrshire Brian Donohoe LAB SNP 6775
East Lothian Fiona O’Donnell LAB SNP 6809
Na h-Eileanan an Iar Angus MacNeil SNP SNP 6819
Midlothian David Hamilton LAB SNP 7292
Edinburgh South Ian Murray LAB SNP 7727
Lanark and Hamilton East Jimmy Hood LAB SNP 7899
Stirling Anne McGuire LAB SNP 8127
Aberdeen North Frank Doran LAB SNP 8306
Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore LAB SNP 8503
Kilmarnock and Loudoun Cathy Jamieson LAB SNP 9133
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow Michael McCann LAB SNP 9241
Argyll and Bute Alan Reid LIB SNP 9818
Dundee West James McGovern LAB SNP 10486
North Ayrshire and Arran Katy Clark LAB SNP 11181
Linlithgow and East Falkirk Michael Connarty LAB SNP 11424
Livingston Graeme Morrice LAB SNP 11896
Angus Michael Weir SNP SNP 13428
Dundee East Stewart Hosie SNP SNP 13927
Banff and Buchan Eilidh Whiteford SNP SNP 14321
Falkirk Eric Joyce LAB SNP 16125
Moray Angus Robertson SNP SNP 16356
Ochil and South Perthshire Gordon Banks LAB SNP 17045
Perth and North Perthshire Peter Wishart SNP SNP 17246

Thursday at 22.10: Has nobody got actual figures from the exit poll, rather than just the seat predictions? I want to run my own programs! Apart from that, it’s not entirely clear to me whether the exit polls predictions are taking tactical voting into account, and the Lib Dems’ fortunes depend almost entirely on that.

Thursday at 22.05: The BBC/ITV exit poll is predicting CON 316 LAB 239, LD 10, UKIP 2, SNP 58, GREEN 2, OTH 25. If this turns out to be the final result, the Lib Dems will have been weakened so much that they can’t possibly enter government, and neither can they tie themselves to the Tories, so what happens then?

Thursday at 21.45: I’ll be live-blogging here during the night — I’ve updated my programs so that I can change my Scottish forecasts when we get the first exit polls and when the declarations start coming in.

Taking the whip

20100205 SDLP IMG_4715
20100205 SDLP IMG_4715 by Allan Leonard, on Flickr.
According to Wikipedia, Northern Ireland’s “SDLP is […] working to strengthen its ties with the Parliamentary Labour Party, whose whip they informally accept.” I must admit I’m not entirely sure what this means. Normally taking the whip means participating in a parliamentary group, including voting with it in important votes, but I don’t know how they do that informally — do they just vote with the Labour party without getting the influence that comes with participating in internal parliamentary party business?

Normally this wouldn’t interest me terribly, but like others I’m finding Labour’s different attitudes towards the SDLP on the one hand and the SNP on the other quite puzzling, given that both parties advocate independence from the UK through peaceful means. When you ask Scottish Labour, they reply that the difference is that the SDLP takes the Labour whip at Westminster.

In other words, it would appear that it’s not actually the SNP’s commitment to an independent Scotland that really upsets Labour, but the fact that the party won’t always vote with Labour in the UK Parliament. Of course, there’s also the fact that Labour is a major party in Scotland, so there is a lot of rivalry between the parties here, not like in Northern Ireland where Labour never contests elections (something which the local Labour members are quite upset about).

Would UK Labour be happy to disband Scottish Labour if the SNP in return promised to take the Labour whip at Westminster in perpetuity? From an SNP perspective, I think this would be disastrous, and I haven’t heard anybody advocating this ever. However, would it suit UK Labour? From their point of view, it would give them free rein to pursue their policies in the parliament that matters to them. In practice this would be very similar to the way the Scottish Unionist Party operated before 1965:

Independent from, though associated with, the Conservative Party in England and Wales, it stood for election at different periods of its history in alliance with a small number of Liberal Unionist and National Liberal candidates. Those who successfully became Members of Parliament (MPs) would then take the Conservative Whip at Westminster just as the Ulster Unionists did until 1973. At Westminster the differences between the Scottish Unionist and the English party could appear blurred or non-existent to the external casual observer, especially as many Scottish MPs were prominent in the parliamentary Conservative party, such as party leaders Andrew Bonar Law (1911-1921 & 1922-1923) and Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1963–1965), both of whom served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

This sounds rather similar to the current relationship between the CDU and the CSU in Germany. I’m not entirely sure how the Unionist/Conservative handled policy differences (it was probably easier in those days when political parties were less centralised), but it was clearly more attractive to Scottish voters than the post-1965 UK-wide Conservatives.

I can’t see the SNP would gain anything by being forced to vote in favour of austerity and Trident in return for Scottish Labour being dismantled, but it would clearly make things a lot easier for UK Labour.

To return to the SDLP, I’d love to find out whether it’s just the party whip that differentiates them from the SNP in the eyes of UK Labour. Surely Miliband should take one of the following two positions: (1) Peaceful sovereigntism is bad, so Labour will refuse to deal with the SDLP, not just with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, or (2) Taking the Labour whip is all that matters, so the SNP will be welcomed as a sister party if only they take the whip. Which one will it be?

The Ayes to the Right?

House of Commons: MPs debate 2013 Queen's Speech
House of Commons: MPs debate 2013 Queen's Speech by UK Parliament, on Flickr.
In the House of Commons, the MPs supporting the government are sitting to the right of the Speaker, while the opposition MPs are sitting on the left (TV footage is often shown from the other end of the chamber, obscuring the use of right and left here). For instance, in the 2010-15 Parliament, the Tories and their Liberal Democrat bedfellows were sitting on the right, while Labour, the SNP and all other parties were sitting on the other side.

The consequence of this seating arrangement has so far been been that the MPs on the right have been somewhat more numerous than the ones on the left, and in most cases one would expect the Ayes to the Right to win all votes (except for rare rebellions).

However, what will happen if the current opinion polls turn out to be correct, so that the Tories remain the largest party, but Labour forms a minority government with ad hoc support from SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and other parties (i.e., without any formal confidence and supply deal)?

Will Labour be sitting alone on the right (~275 seats), while the left-hand side of the chamber will have to accommodate the largest party of the Commons, as well as the SNP, the Lib Dems, PC and all other parties (~375 seats)? Or will all the parties supporting the government in confidence votes be sitting with it?

It seems likely that Westminster’s adversarial layout will suddenly be quite impractical. Is there any possibility that the seats could be moved into a more normal semicircle within the next few weeks?

How the Lib Dems blew their chance

Lib Dem Mental Health investment
Lib Dem Mental Health investment by Liberal Democrats, on Flickr.
Forgive me, for I have sinned: I used to be a member of the Liberal Democrats.

Looking back, it’s tempting to think I must have been mad. I know there are many other people like me who were members or at least voted for them every time, who now look at them and wonder what on Earth they were thinking. However, it actually made sense at the time.

So what has happened? I believe the explanation is two-fold: I (and others) probably misunderstood them to some extent, but more importantly, they reacted to events in a way that alienated their supporters. Let’s look at a few issues in more detail:

Firstly, I believed all their talk about federalism meant they were in favour of more devolution for Scotland. I would have placed the Scottish political parties on a scale like this: At one extreme, the Tories were against devolution and wanted to scale it back; Labour were quite happy with the status quo and definitely didn’t want to expand it drastically; the Lib Dems wanted to expand devolution and introduce federalism and perhaps home rule; and the SNP wanted home rule and eventually independence. (I wasn’t too sure where to place the Greens back then.) At the time, it looked like the SNP would never gain power on its own, so it made sense to press for further devolution by voting Lib Dem.

Secondly, I thought their support for proportional representation meant they actually would work with different parties to achieve their aims, and perhaps that they had thought through how best to wield influence in a coalition.

Thirdly, I naïvely thought their support for federalism stemmed from a lack of belief in British Unionism — I didn’t realise that it was the opposite, a way to protect the Union.

Given these assumptions, I started getting annoyed at them during the Labour-LD coalitions at Holyrood for not achieving enough, but I put it down to the lack of experience. It got worse when Sir Ming claimed that “liberalism and nationalism are the antithesis of each other“, but I only got really angry when they refused to sit down with the SNP in 2007 to discuss a potential coalition unless the SNP stopped believing in independence — I thought at the time that an SNP-LD coalition would have been a great way to advance Scottish home rule. When the Conservative-LD coalition was formed, I was dismayed that they got so few things through — no more powers for Scotland, a horrible little compromise about a voting system referendum — and of course their conversion to being cheerleaders for tuition fees was an unmitigated disaster.

I left the party around this time, but their vitriolic hatred of the SNP during the Scottish elections in 2011 was really off-putting for somebody like me who had considered themselves almost equidistant between the two parties. If I had still been a member when the Scottish independence referendum was being planned, I would surely have left in disgust at their refusal to campaign to put Devo Max on the ballot paper.

It could all have been so different. If they had pursued a home rule strategy, working constructively with the SNP in 2007 and again in 2011, they could effectively have become the natural political home for the third of Scots who traditionally have been in favour of this option. After the referendum campaign, all the disenchanted Labour voters would potentially have moved in great numbers to the Lib Dems instead of the SNP, and Scotland could now have been heading for home rule under Lib Dem leadership.

They really blew their chance.

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.

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.