I moved to Scotland in 2002, so I don’t have any memories of the creation of the Scottish Parliament — when I moved here, it was already a fact of life. However, based on what I’ve read, I believe Labour’s thinking in the ’90s could be paraphrased as follows:
When we’re in power at Westminster, the Scottish Office works great, but when the Tories are in power, they control the Scottish Office, too, which is a problem because they’re not us. So if we create a Scottish Parliament with a Scottish Executive to replace the Scottish Office, it’ll work exactly the same as before when we’re in power in both places, but when the Tories are in power, we can at least rule Scotland and use it as a showcase for our superior policies.
Unfortunately for Labour, there were a few problems with this analysis. For instance, voters tend to get fed up with all parties at some point with the inevitable consequence that the SNP would eventually get into power in Scotland. Also, Scottish voters would naturally expect the Scottish parties to respond to their concerns and desires, so it would become impossible to have the same policies on both sides of the border, which would be a bigger problem for Scottish Labour than for the other parties.
However, I believe the biggest problem is that New Labour is based on triangulation (“the tactic of shifting party policy in to a broadly perceived “centre-ground” in order to increase electability and outmanoeuvre the opposition, who subsequently become associated with extremism and anachronism”), but you can’t triangulate against two different parties at the same time without exploding like a chameleon on a piece of tartan.
The reason for this becomes clear when you consider than triangulation really means moving towards your opponent. However, when you have one opponent on the right and another on the left, doing triangulation towards both — let’s call it hexangulation — will tear you apart.
The alternative is to triangulate only in one direction and completely ignore the other opponent. This seems to have been Labour’s solution, focusing on triangulation against the Tories while allowing the SNP to monopolise all the popular policies in Scotland. The result is that they have deserted the centre-left in the process, making it easy for the SNP to supplant Labour as the dominant party north of the border.
Of course it hasn’t helped Labour that their best talent has always been sent to Westminster rather than to Holyrood, and their disastrous idea to keep the constituency candidates off the regional lists got rid of a lot of their best people at the last election.
However, at the end of the day the decision to sacrifice ideology on the altar of triangulation while introducing devolution must be the main reason for Labour’s collapse in Scotland.
Of all the seats that the SNP would like to win in May 2015, surely East Renfrewshire must be the jewel in the crown. In 1997, when Jim Murphy won what had until then been a safe Tory seat, it demonstrated the strength of New Labour. Today Jim Murphy is still one of the most faithful believers in Tony Blair’s project and it is with this background that he’s trying to become leader of Labour’s Scottish Branch Office. If the SNP manages to win his seat, it will symbolise the final defeat of the New Labour project in Scotland.
The way to read this is as follows: The SNP got a poor result in 2010, ending up as number four just behind the LibDems. Once we’ve applied uniform swing (according to last month’s opinion polls), the SNP is up at number three, getting close to overtaking the Tories; however, Labour is still far ahead. The prospects look similar if we look at the 2011 Holyrood election. Only if we look at the referendum results and assume the No voters would divide up in the same way as in 2010 would the SNP win, providing a Yes Alliance was in place. However, once we look at everything together, an SNP victory looks like quite a challenge.
This table doesn’t show the full picture, however. For instance, if we apply uniform swing based on the recent sensational Ipsos MORI poll, the result would be SNP 20,964, Labour 16,263, Cons 12,138 — in other words a very safe SNP victory.
There’s another reason to believe the SNP can win East Renfrewshire, and this has to do with voter psychology and tactical voting.
Many people like to think of East Renfrewshire as a Tory stronghold although Labour has been the strongest party for two decades. The number of Conservative voters seems to be relatively constant, normally fluctuating between 26% and 33% of the votes — Westminster Tory support: 46.8% (1992), 33.5% (1997), 28.7% (2001), 29.9% (2005 [boundary changed]), 30.4% (2010); Holyrood: 32.7% (1999), 26.3% (2003), 33.6% (2007), 33.4% (2011); East Renfrewshire Council: 40% of seats (1999), 35% (2003), 35% (2007), 30% (2011).
Given that it strikes me as unlikely that very many people would vote Tory tactically to get rid of Labour, it’s probably safe to assume that the Conservatives will get about 30% of the vote in 2015.
If the Tories get this many votes and the LibDems get less than 5% (the uniform swing predicts they won’t get any votes at all, but let’s be generous), it follows that Labour + SNP are fighting over 65% of the vote. This means that if they split it evenly, both get 32.5% of the vote, which is more than the Tories, and in all other scenarios, the winning party will be significantly larger. This means the Tories cannot realistically take East Renfrewshire back.
However, just because the Conservatives cannot win it doesn’t automatically imply that the SNP can do so (although both the referendum result and the recent Ipsos MORI poll suggest that they can).
The reason the SNP has traditionally done so badly in East Renfrewshire is because the Tories have been seen as a real threat. In other Scottish seats, the Tories disappeared from the horizon a long time ago, but here the Tories have been seen like real contenders until recently. Many people have therefore voted for anyone-but-the-Tories, and that has normally benefited Labour.
However, if we can convince the voters that the Tories cannot win in East Renfrewshire (based on the arguments above), it follows that there’s no point in voting Labour tactically to keep them out. This might weaken the probably significant number of tactical anti-Tory voters in this constituency.
At the same time, many people are strongly against Murphy. Of course the Yes voters from the SNP, the Greens and Labour for Independence want to see him lose, but there must also be many No voters who cannot stand the man for various reasons. If they believe the SNP has the best chance of getting rid of him, they might vote tactically for the SNP candidate.
Finally, Jim Murphy’s candidacy for the leadership of Scottish Labour means that one of the following will be the case in May 2015:
He lost the leadership battle and now looks like a loser condemned to returning to Westminster when he really wanted to become First Minister. This is hardly a good platform for winning East Renfrewshire.
He won the leadership battle but is returning to Westminster for a year until the next Holyrood election because Labour’s rules say you have to be either an MP or an MSP but not both to be leader. This means that he isn’t committed to representing the constituency and a good candidate should be able to use this against him. Also, it means a good SNP candidate will get a second shot in the subsequent by-election.
He won the leadership battle and managed to get into Holyrood through a by-election. In this case a new Labour candidate will be fighting this seat, and the incumbency effect practically disappears.
In other words, because the Tories cannot win, because Murphy is hated by a large number of voters and because Murphy will be weakened in this seat by the leadership battle, it should be possible to get an SNP candidate elected in May 2015. It will require a strong candidate however — it remains one of the most challenging seats for the SNP in the entire country.
When Johann Lamont announced that she was going to step down as leader of Scottish Labour, she also pointed out what needs to happen now: “The Scottish Labour Party must be a more autonomous party which works in partnership with the UK party. We must be allowed to make our own decisions and control our own resources.” Some people are even suggesting that Scottish Labour should become a separate party that works together with rUK Labour in the House of Commons, in the same way that CDU and CSU always work together in Germany.
I totally agree that this is sorely needed to enable the party to compete successfully with the SNP again. However, as far as I can tell, nobody in Scotland can make that kind of decision — just like devolution in the UK, it would have to be granted by the centre. This was exactly Lamont’s problem — she didn’t have any real power and constantly got overruled by Miliband and the other Labour MPs, and whoever succeeds her will have the same problem. Unless they want to form a brand-new party and resign en masse from Labour, they’ll have to convince UK Labour to grant them the internal devolution they need.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe UK Labour will do this. The only thing that matters to them is whether they get a lot of loyal MPs sent down from Scotland at each general election, and the SNP’s electoral successes have so far been limited to Holyrood, the European Parliament and the councils. From their point of view, Scottish Labour is still supplying the goods.
Because of their focus on Westminster, UK Labour HQ also won’t agree to a separate party in Scotland — that would create the possibility of disloyal MPs that wouldn’t vote for UK Labour’s ideas all the time, and thereby potentially undermining a UK Labour Government. (This is of course also why they’re against Evel — if they can’t rely on Scottish MPs, they’re useless from their point of view.)
The only thing that will make them reconsider is if lots of Scottish Labour MPs lose their seats in May. If Miliband doesn’t become PM becomes his party was decimated in Scotland, UK Labour will start thinking that the only way forward is to give the Scottish party the autonomy it has craved for so long. Interestingly, this means that the only way to save Scottish Labour in the long term is by voting SNP in May.
As many other people, I’m absolutely appalled by the announcement that the BBC and the UK’s other main broadcasters will host a leaders’ debate in the run-up to the General Election that includes the Tories, Labour, the LibDems and UKIP, but neither the Green parties nor the SNP.
This is simply ludicrous! I blogged recently about how the pollsters should stop treating Great Britain as one unit, given that the party political systems are very different. In Scotland, the SNP is either the incumbent or the main challenger in most constituencies, and UKIP is nowhere to be seen.
The purpose of a leaders’ debate is to guide people on what to vote, and this selection of parties gives voters in Scotland the misguided idea that UKIP is more of a real party than the SNP. It’s barking mad!
On the other hand, I can understand that people in England don’t really think it’s very relevant to see Nicola Sturgeon in such a debate, given that they cannot vote for her party.
At the same time, the BBC’s idea about a Scottish debate simply doesn’t makes sense, because they want to invite the people leading their parties at Holyrood. However, the Westminster election is about the non-devolved subject areas (e.g., foreign policy, the military and pensions) — exactly the ones that the Holyrood politicians don’t have any influence on.
I hope the BBC and the other broadcasters will change their minds as a matter of priority, but the best way to avoid failures like this in the future is to get full devolution of broadcasting, so that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can have completely separate debates hosted by their national broadcasters.
In this way, the English leaders’ debate could include whoever they thought were important (and that might include UKIP), but the Scottish debate would replace the English debate, not supplement it, and so the debate up here would most likely include Nicola Sturgeon (or maybe the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson), David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and perhaps somebody from the Scottish Green Party, and everybody would be happy.
If broadcasting doesn’t get devolved, I guess the SNP will need to start putting up candidates in most English seats, even if it leads to a lot of lost deposits, simply so that it cannot be dismissed as a mere regional party.
It’s very clear that the best way to ensure that Westminster keeps paying attention to Scotland and to the promises they made during the referendum campaign is to elect as many Yes MPs in May 2015 as possible.
I’d love to see some Scottish Green MPs elected together with a strong SNP contingent, and a Yes Alliance might be the way forward. However, given the weak Green performance in 2010, I’ll concentrate on the SNP’s chances in the following.
How many seats can the SNP realistically win? To find out, I decided to look at the question from three different angles.
Secondly, I took the constituency votes cast at the 2011 Holyrood election and calculated the equivalent Westminster result. For instance, my calculations showed that Banff and Buchan consists of 74.8% of Aberdeenshire East plus 90.2% of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, so I simply applied these percentages to the 2011 results.
Thirdly, I took the independence referendum results, assigned the results to the Westminster constituencies (in a way similar to the above, just based on the council areas instead, except for Glasgow, which published the results for the Holyrood constituencies, and Edinburgh, which used Westminster ones), and mapped the Yes vote to SNP votes and the No votes to Labour, LD and Conservative votes according to their distribution at the last UK election. Of course the referendum was very different from an election, but it shows what a united Yes Alliance could potentially achieve.
Finally, I calculated the average of the three predictions described above and the actual 2010 result, which should take the incumbency effect into account.
The results are very interesting:
This means that according to uniform swing, the SNP stands to win 24 seats, but if we can convince the voters to vote like they did in 2011, the SNP will get no less than 45 seats, and if we can replicate the referendum result, a total of 56 seats is possible. However, if we look at the average of the predictions and of the 2010 result, the SNP will get 28 seats, one more than Labour.
I’ve listed all the Westminster constituencies below, ranked from formidable ones (where the SNP is not in the lead according to any of these measures) to safe ones.
The Unionist MPs from Scotland (such as Jim Murphy, Gordon Brows and Alistair Carmichael) dominated Better Together strongly because they were the only people with a strong personal interest in the status quo. The majority of MSPs and councillors didn’t care all that much, and neither did most rUK MPs.
It’s therefore really important that we get rid of as many Scottish Unionist MPs as possible at the next Westminster election in May, because this will weaken as future No campaign a lot. However, how realistic is it?
To find out, I looked at the votes cast for Unionist parties in 2010 and compared it with the Yes vote in the referendum. Unfortunately, at the moment referendum data is not available on a constituency basis, so I had to group some constituencies and council areas together to achieve comparable areas. In the table below, the first three data columns show first the votes cast for pro-independence parties in 2010, then the votes cast for Unionist parties, and finally the votes cast the the largest Unionist party (given that this is a FPTP election); the next two columns provide the referendum results, and the last column lists the difference between the votes cast for the largest No party in 2010 and the Yes vote in 2014:
Largest No party
Aberdeen / Aberdeenshire
Angus / Dundee
East Ayrshire / North Ayrshire / South Ayrshire
East Dunbartonshire / North Lanarkshire
Falkirk / West Lothian
Clackmannanshire / Perth and Kinross
Dumfries and Galloway / Scottish Borders / South Lanarkshire
Argyll and Bute
Na h-Eileanan an Iar
Orkney Islands / Shetland Islands
As an example of how to read the table, the constituency of Argyll and Bute in 2010 saw 8563 votes cast for Yes parties and 35427 votes for No parties; however, the latter were divided between three parties, and the winning party (the LibDems) only got 14292 votes, which is 12032 votes less than the 26324 votes cast in favour of independence last Thursday.
(I should point out that SNP constituencies haven’t been eliminated — for instance, Na h-Eileanan an Iar currently have an excellent SNP MP.)
It’s clear that almost everywhere, more votes were cast for Yes than for the largest No party. The two exceptions are Orkney and Shetland, where there is a very strong Liberal tradition, and East Renfrewshire, which was a Tory stronghold until recently and so Labour benefits from a lot of tactical voting to keep out the Tories.
In other words, in most of the country it should be possible to unseat the sitting Unionist MP if we can mobilise all Yes voters from the referendum. I do have my doubts about Orkney and Shetland, but I guess it would be quite useful to keep one Unionist MP so that we don’t have to stop telling panda jokes.
Of course, this analysis is rather crude because I didn’t have access to the referendum data on a Westminster constituency basis. If I manage to find this, I’ll publish a new version of this blog post.
Although I’ve written hundreds of blog posts over the past couple of years, I’ve never described my personal journey to Yes. With just a few days to go before the referendum, here it is.
Getting to know Scotland
When I moved to Scotland from Denmark in 2002, I hadn’t thought much about Scottish independence, but I was broadly in favour of it. It would be hard not to when you come from a successful independent country the same size as Scotland.
However, at first I wasn’t really aware of the differences between Scotland and the other UK nations. I think I thought the differences were mainly cultural and linguistic, but I gradually started to notice the differences were much more fundamental than that, that Scotland really isn’t just another region of Britain (something which most English people never seem to have realised).
Indeed, surprisingly to foreigners, most Scots seem to consider Scotland to be a country within a political union called the UK. Sometimes believed to be too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent, perhaps, but a country nonetheless. This is very different from how the UK is seen abroad. In most languages, ‘Britain’, ‘the UK’ and ‘England’ are used with exactly the same meaning. For instance, I have often received letters from Denmark addressed to ‘…, Glasgow, Scotland, England’.
The reason that it took me a long time to work out that Scotland wasn’t just a region wasn’t helped by the media. At first I watched BBC News, Channel 4 News and all that, and it took me some time to realise that half the news stories they were reporting weren’t relevant to Scotland. (Thank goodness I picked The Scotsman as my daily newspaper — I could just as easily have gone for The Independent!) The lack of devolution of the media is bizarre — it should have been a very easy thing to devolve.
However, once you start to realise that Scotland is indeed a country, a lot of things fall into place. You also start noticing how the native culture of Scotland is considered inferior by many people. For instance, although I had learnt some Gaelic before moving to Scotland, I only really started learning Scots after I moved here. It was very difficult, however, because most people will look at you like you’ve got three heads when you speak Scots with a foreign accent. It’s such a strange situation — a language that is spoken by almost half of the population but that people treat as an embarrassing dialect. The language of Dunbar and Burns, for crying out loud! It should be celebrated and be an obligatory subject in all schools as far as I’m concerned!
A political journey
During my first few years in Scotland, very little seemed to happen on the independence front. The SNP wasn’t getting close to power, and I started to think there would never be a majority in favour of independence in the Scottish Parliament (those were the days before Salmond returned to Holyrood), and so I gradually started thinking that perhaps a more realistic solution would be a reformed UK — a written constitution, proportional representation in Westminster, proper federalism, an elected House of Lords. I even joined the Liberal Democrats, thinking they had the determination to reform the broken union.
However, I rapidly grew disillusioned with the LibDems. I think it started when they refused even to sit down with the SNP in 2007 to explore whether a coalition could be formed. It started dawning on me that their commitment to federalism was just skin-deep, and that their real instincts were pro-Union and pro-Empire.
When the LibDems entered government with the Tories, I was initially hopeful that they would manage to get some meaningful reforms out of it. However, they repeatedly got outsmarted by the Conservatives. The introduction of tuition fees was of course a huge betrayal, but from a Scottish perspective it was even worse that they failed to introduce the AV system and to reform the House of Lords. Clearly the voting system referendum should have been about proportional representation (and not AV) if the Tories were going to be campaigning against it — AV should only have been accepted if the Tories committed themselves to campaigning in its favour.
More importantly, if the UK political system couldn’t even implement such a minor reform, what hope was there of ever enacting the far bolder reforms that I considered necessary?
These political events (on top of the Iraq war and the numerous other scandals that New Labour presided over) convinced me that the UK was a failed state that couldn’t be reformed. Many political parties seem quite idealistic when they’re far from power, but as soon as they get involved with the civil servants, they become part of the establishment machine and become carbon clones of the previous government.
In the meantime, the SNP had demonstrated that they could do things differently at Holyrood, and as a result they gained an absolute majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, which then made an independence referendum an inevitability. I finally realised that I was a member of the wrong party, and I joined the SNP.
A different journey
At the same time I had been pursuing a career at a large publishing house in Bishopbriggs. Every other year, a redundancy round would move more of the best-paid jobs down to London, and I realised that you can only progress so far in your career in Scotland — at some point, you need to spend some years — or even the rest of your career — in London.
This might seem obvious to Scots, but to a Dane like me it was hugely shocking. Unless you want to be CEO of a multinational company, Danes expect they can have fulfilling and rewarding careers without leaving Denmark. If people do move abroad for work reasons, there’s not a single destination that dominates — Brussels, London, Berlin, New York, Oslo and Zürich are all equally likely.
I also fell in love with one of my colleagues, and one thing led to another. With five children in the house, I now see the educational aspect of devolution, too. Because they’re at Scottish schools, you can’t easily move to England for a couple of years, and you worry whether they can have a good career here. You also notice that the school holidays here aren’t in sync with the BBC’s school holiday programming and with the back-to-school products in supermarkets. The separate school system is making it hard to move to England and back, but you need to do that for your career. In this regard, the current system gives us the worst of both worlds.
Reforming the UK
If it was likely that the UK would be fundamentally reformed soon, my natural instinct would be to give it a chance. However, given that very few meaningful reforms have happened after more than a decade of Labour governments followed by a coalition government that includes the Liberal Democrats, I cannot see where the willingness to reform the UK will come from.
The main political parties in Westminster don’t seriously want to overhaul the system (because it’s working exceptionally well for the Westminster and City of London elites), and there’s not even a party that can carry the beacon of hope (in the way the LibDems did before 2010). The only untested party that has a chance of gaining power within the next decade is UKIP, and that will most certainly be a change for the worse!
If we have a choice between being part of a failed state or a new, potentially very successful one, the choice is easy.
Some people have suggested that the main diving line between people voting Yes and No is whether they feel Scottish or British. This national identity question is not what makes me a Yes. I don’t feel British in the slightest — I would probably describe myself as a Danish-Swabian-Scottish European, but I’m not against unions per se.
If somebody suggested creating a single country out Denmark, Norway and Sweden, I would look carefully at the proposal. If the new Scandinavian Union could achieve things that the existing countries couldn’t do themselves, and if all three countries were going to get a fair share of political power, I might be in favour. If, on the other hand, the Union simply meant putting Stockholm in charge of Denmark and Norway too, making Swedish the official language in all three countries, and the main benefit of the Union was to give the Swedish generals a bigger army to wage wars with, I would most definitely be against it.
The same applies to the UK. I haven’t found any area where we’re better together inside the UK. Externally, the UK might be stronger than its constituent parts when the country tries to punch above its weight in the UN and on the world stage generally, but unfortunately the result is not anything that furthers peace, democracy and the rule of law elsewhere on the planet, and what’s the point then?
Scotland can lead the way
It’s also very clear that Scotland and the majority of the rUK have very different visions for the future. An independent Scotland would want to retain and improve the welfare state (the Common Weal), whereas the rUK (led by London) is on its way to becoming a terribly unequal global city state. I believe Scotland could even inspire the other Nordic countries, where a certain degree of welfare state apathy has set in, but where Scotland’s experiences with living under Thatcher and Cameron will galvanise the resolve to do better.
What I want
I want to live in a rich, egalitarian country. Where my children can have a decent career without moving away. Where a welfare state provides healthcare and education for everybody. Where people get a hand when they’re down instead of being kicked further down. Where important rights are guaranteed by a constitution. Where immigrants are welcomed because most families consist of immigrants and emigrants. Where people are focusing on building the best small country in the world, not feeling disempowered and disenfranchised. Where nobility has been abolished, and ideally where the monarchy has been voted out too. A country that is growing at a normal speed, rather than seeing all other countries overtake it. A country that is a happy EU member state, not suffering from the Little Englander syndrome. A politically normal country, where people discuss the economy and foreign policy, not independence all the time.
The choice is simple. It has to be Yes.
(I haven’t mentioned the currency of Scotland, the transition costs or anything like this, because those aren’t reasons to vote Yes or No to independence — they’re purely practical problems to be resolved.)