Saturday, July 4, 2015

For one day only : introducing the Scot Goes Pop Hellenic Poll of Polls

I can't totally vouch for the accuracy of these figures, because it's difficult to find an exhaustive list of opinion polls for tomorrow's crucial referendum in Greece, but as a far as I can see an average of all the polls conducted entirely since July 1st produces the following numbers...

Between the options of YES and NO on the institutions proposal, which one would you choose?

Yes 44.3%
No 44.1%

In other words, it's far, far, far too close to call. The bookies' expectation (and therefore by automatic extension Neil Lovatt's expectation) that Yes will win is probably based on two main factors - the theory that voters tend to break for the more conservative option when it comes to the crunch, and also the modest momentum that Yes has enjoyed over the course of the ultra-truncated campaign. We'll soon discover whether that reasoning proves well-founded.

However, you don't actually have to wait on tenterhooks for the result, because PB's David Herdson has, in his trademark unassuming style, told us what will DEFINITELY HAPPEN regardless of whether it's a Yes vote or a No vote -

"The act of a snap referendum was, however, perhaps predictable as the equivalent of a student sit-in or protest march, which is the kind of politics Syriza is familiar with: the belief that a demonstration of solidarity and causing enough of a fuss will force opponents to grant concessions.

Those tactics work rarely enough in the workplace or the university, never mind the conference chambers of government, which is why Syriza has signed its own government’s death warrant."

David goes on to congratulate himself on being a pro-austerity Tory, and therefore right about absolutely everything. It would save a great deal of time if the rest of us would just grow up and accept that.

Still, I'd just like to gently say that I'm not sure David's logic is entirely solid on this particular occasion. He assumes that a Yes vote will lead immediately to the Greek government's resignation. Will it? Quite possibly, but I'm not 100% convinced. He also assumes that the centre-right New Democracy would win any subsequent general election, and that's where I'm much more confident he's going astray. Greece has a barking mad electoral system, which effectively turns PR into a winner-takes-all affair. Syriza could easily win a fresh general election on a substantial minority vote similar to that won by Cameron's "One Nation" Conservatives in this country, and after a tight referendum I think that would be the most likely outcome. Why would a significant chunk of the 45%+ of voters who had just voted No to austerity in a referendum suddenly start to vote for pro-austerity parties at a general election? That's the only way Syriza could lose (as long as the party itself doesn't fracture, which may be a risk).

* * *

RevStu is rightly proud of a new Panelbase poll which shows that Wings Over Scotland is now the third most popular source of political content in Scotland, with 10% of the population reporting that they visit the site at least once a week for that specific purpose. However, just to inject a small note of caution, this is one of those rare occasions where we can say with confidence that an online poll is likely to have produced a slightly misleading result, because we know that politically-committed people who use the internet a great deal are over-represented in volunteer online polling panels. We'd really need a telephone poll to get a more accurate result - my guess is that it would still show the alternative media doing extremely well, but not quite reaching the giddy heights suggested by Panelbase.

For example, the poll suggests that NewsShaft is visited by 2% of the population for political content every week - that would imply that they get well over 100,000 unique visitors per week (I say 'well over' because any Scottish political site also gets visitors from outside Scotland). I don't know what their actual figures are, but I would guess that they're probably a bit lower than that.

Incidentally, Scot Goes Pop had 12,500 unique readers on Tuesday of this week. That's far and away the most it's ever had in a single day - I think the previous record high was somewhere between 6000 and 7000. It came completely out of the blue, and was plainly caused by the outrage over the cheers at Westminster after the huge 56-3 Scottish majority in favour of Home Rule was overturned by English MPs.

Questions for Tim Farron on Devo Max

Putting to one side the Lib Dem leadership contender's cretinous implication in the Herald that the SNP are turning Scotland into some sort of ultra-nationalist police state, Farron has actually said something today that's quite interesting.  He's unambiguously stated that a Devo Max option should have been on the ballot paper last September, although regrettably he doesn't seem to have been asked the obvious follow-up question - ie. does he condemn his Lib Dem colleagues in government for directly ensuring that didn't happen?

He was, however, asked whether there should be a Devo Max option in any future independence referendum.  This was his reply -

"Yes, I guess that would make sense.  The Scottish party would make that choice and I would respect that choice. But I am sure they would consider that."

Which again begs an obvious question - WHY are you so sure they would do anything as sensible as consider the matter with an open mind, given that they dismissed the idea out of hand last time?  In reality, of course, the distinction between the Scottish party and the UK party is as much of a fiction in the Lib Dems as it is in any of the other London-based parties, so unless he changes his mind, Farron's views on a Devo Max option should indeed move things in a very different direction.  In the light of that, it would be useful to have clarity from him on the following points -

1) If you have conceded the principle that Devo Max is something the people have a right to decide on, that implies it is a legitimate and feasible option (regardless of whether the Lib Dems support it themselves).  Will the Lib Dems therefore stop pretending that the Smith package more or less represents the end point of what is possible for Scotland within the UK, and that the choice is a binary one between Smith and independence?

2) If Devo Max was a legitimate option to put to the people last September, will the Lib Dems now acknowledge that their failure to do so means that it is a nonsense for anyone to claim that the referendum result established that a package of powers far short of Devo Max was somehow the will of the electorate?

3) The public have already been consulted on independence, but they haven't yet been consulted on Devo Max.  If you think there should have been a multi-option referendum last year, it would surely be logical to now hold a single-question referendum on Devo Max as a remedial step.  If, for the sake of argument, the SNP were to propose that, would they be able to look forward to Lib Dem backing?

Two Minute Manifesto

As you know, I always try to keep you posted on podcasts I've taken part in (or anything along those lines), so here's a very, very belated one.  On election day in May, I took part in the first of the monthly Two-Minute Manifesto shows at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh - I was originally told that it was going to be a podcast as well as a theatre event, but nothing ever appeared online, so I assumed there had been a change of plan.  But a website is now up and running, featuring the full show from June, plus clips from the two election day shows.  There's plenty of good stuff to listen to - including Juliet Swann of the Electoral Reform Society, who proposed that the House of Lords should be replaced by a Citizens' Chamber, with members selected at random from the general population.  You can find the website HERE.

And here are some photos from the day, courtesy of Facebook (ie. I've stolen them from Facebook).

If you're interested in going to the July show, it's on at 7.30 on Tuesday evening at the Traverse Theatre, and features Susan Egelstaff, Ron Butlin, Libby Brooks, Andrew Tickell and Hailey Beavis.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Your verdict : the SNP's Holyrood group is still the "A-Team"

Thanks to the hundreds of you who voted in the poll asking whether the SNP's "A-team" is to be found at Holyrood or Westminster these days. The result was much more decisive than I expected, although as someone pointed out, it's perhaps inevitable that the A-team is whichever team Nicola Sturgeon is in.

Which is the SNP's "A-Team"?

Holyrood MSPs : 72%
Westminster MPs : 28%

Thursday, July 2, 2015

If EVEL is about "fairness", Mr Cameron, I presume we'll be getting all of the following...

1) The Scottish Parliament will be granted the power to unilaterally abolish the Westminster Parliament, as long as 61% of MSPs vote in favour of doing so.  This equalises the current situation whereby 326 out of 533 English MPs (61%) can unilaterally abolish the Scottish Parliament at any time, even if every single Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MP votes against.  If it makes the London press feel any happier, we can always put a meaningless platitude into the legislation about how "it is recognised that the Westminster Parliament is a permanent part of England's constitutional arrangements, as long as we stay in a good mood".

2) The Scottish Parliament will be granted the power to veto any constitutional changes affecting England, provided that 61% of MSPs vote for the veto.  Loud cheering is strongly encouraged.  This equalises the current situation whereby English MPs were able to veto Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland on Monday night, even though 95% of Scottish MPs voted in favour of it.

3) An English Affairs Select Committee shall be set up as a hybrid Holyrood/Westminster body.  The majority of the members will be MSPs, but don't worry - a substantial minority will be English MPs, one of whom will be allowed to be chairman as a special treat.  There will naturally be just as many SNP MSPs as there are English Tory MPs.  This equalises the current situation whereby just FOUR of the ELEVEN members of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee will actually be Scottish MPs (all of the other seven represent English constituencies), and whereby there will be as many English Tory MPs among the members as SNP MPs.

4) The Scottish Parliament will be allowed to influence the levels of public spending in England.  This equalises the proposed EVEL scenario whereby English-only votes will be permitted on legislation that alters the amount of public spending going to Scotland, via the Barnett Formula.

5) There will be a U-turn on the rejection of a "double majority" system for the upcoming EU referendum, ensuring that Scotland cannot be overruled and dragged out of the EU against its will.  This equalises the current situation whereby Mr Cameron feels that it is intolerable that England should be "overruled" by a UK-wide majority.  It seems that double majority arrangements are not incompatible with living in a "glorious United Kingdom" after all.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

VOTE : Which is the SNP's "A-Team" now?

When the Scottish Parliament was founded in 1999, the SNP took great pride in being the only one of the three parties with Scottish parliamentary representation to send their "A-Team" to Holyrood.  All of the SNP's six sitting MPs made the switch across, compared to only a small minority of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs (although to be fair the party leaders Donald Dewar and Jim Wallace did both make the move).  As the SNP's numbers in the Scottish Parliament swelled after the 2007 and 2011 elections, it seemed obvious that almost every last drop of the cream of the crop was in the Edinburgh chamber.

But all of a sudden, it doesn't seem quite so clear-cut.  The referendum drew a large number of very talented people to the SNP for the first time, and some of them now represent the party at Westminster.  Many of them have dazzled the most seasoned of London political observers with classy maiden speeches over the last few weeks.

So I thought I'd put it to the vote.  Which is the SNP's "A-Team" in 2015?  Is it Team Holyrood, or Team Westminster?  Here are some of the leading lights in each camp...

TEAM HOLYROOD : Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Alex Salmond, Humza Yousaf, Richard Lochhead, Roseanna Cunningham, Angela Constance, Fiona Hyslop, Joan McAlpine, Kenny MacAskill, Alex Neil, Shona Robison, Linda Fabiani, Derek Mackay, Keith Brown, Michael Matheson.

TEAM WESTMINSTER : Angus Robertson, Stewart Hosie, Alex Salmond, Pete Wishart, Angus Brendan MacNeil, Philippa Whitford, George Kerevan, Tommy Sheppard, Deidre Brock, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Ian Blackford, Brendan O'Hara, Michelle Thomson, John Nicolson, Mhairi Black, Joanna Cherry.

Although Alex Salmond is on both lists, it's probably fair to say his firm focus is now on Westminster.

As ever, the voting form is at the top of the sidebar.  Vote wisely!

Have the Greens just killed their own "2nd vote" strategy by voting against Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland?

Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion and the Green party's only representative in the House of Commons, was challenged on Twitter a few hours ago on why she had voted against Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland on Monday night.  Perhaps surprisingly, she didn't attempt to make the case that FFA would somehow be bad for her own constituents, but instead indicated that she was consciously voting in line with the views of her colleagues in the Scottish Green Party.  I've since seen two people who previously intended to campaign for SNP supporters to vote Green on the list say that they will no longer do so.

That's just a straw in the wind, but my guess is that they won't be alone.  If so, the Greens may have just undermined a key part of their own strategy for next year's election.  We've seen fairly clear indications in recent weeks that they intend to woo SNP supporters by making some fantastical claims about how the AMS voting system can supposedly be "hacked" by voting Green on the list.  A number of us have been trying to explain why listening to those claims would be horrendously dangerous for the cause of independence, and how "tactical voting on the list" is a contradiction in terms that could directly bring about an anti-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.  But that's a very complicated argument to make, and thankfully the Greens have just supplied us with a much simpler one - there's not an awful lot of point in trying to "hack" the system if the aim of the exercise is to elect Green MSPs who are not on the same page as you on the constitutional question.

Now, to be fair, it's perfectly possible to oppose Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland within the UK while remaining in favour of full sovereign independence when the opportunity next arises, and that appears to be the Greens' position.  But this episode does clearly demonstrate the limits to the idea that we are all part of a cohesive "movement", and that switching votes back and forth between different component parts of that movement can never dilute the impact of your voice on the constitutional issue.

Are we fast reaching the point where it will be untenable for the SNP not to put radical constitutional proposals in their Holyrood manifesto?

You might remember that in the early days after September 18th, some people on the moderate wing of the SNP were shooting down anyone who even dared to raise the topic of a second independence referendum.  Although I didn't agree with Yes supporters being told what they should and shouldn't say out loud, there was a big part of me that did feel the SNP were just going to have to "take their medicine" for a prolonged spell.  It seems quite strange in retrospect, but I even suggested in an International Business Times article that the party should categorically rule out pushing for independence for two full Holyrood terms, unless something drastic happened, such as Britain leaving the European Union.

So what has changed since then?  Just about everything, actually...

1) The SNP membership has increased several-fold to 115,000.  Most of those new members have not joined with a view to seeing the constitutional question neglected for the next decade.

2) The Smith Agreement has been reneged upon by the UK government in several key respects.  That's not something that can simply be allowed to pass, given that the No option in the referendum was so explicitly tied to the Smith process.

3) The SNP's performance at the general election was in itself a game-changer.  Nobody thought in late September or early October that anything even remotely close to 50% of the vote or 56 seats was a possibility.  Sometimes you have to press forward when history beckons so obviously, regardless of the timetable you originally had in mind.

4) The UK government are going out of their way to act as if the general election changed nothing, and have rejected out of hand each and every amendment to the Scotland Bill that has been tabled by the SNP.  Such utter contempt for the verdict of the Scottish electorate requires a firm response.

5) Brexit may still look unlikely, but it no longer seems quite as fanciful as it did last autumn, and there is now a clear route-map which might just take us there.

6) It seems that EVEL is about to be introduced, and in a manner which shows total disregard for the democratic and parliamentary process.  This by definition will constitute a "material change" in circumstances, because it will alter the basic "deal" of the United Kingdom - henceforth Scottish voters will be second-class citizens.  Remember that Westminster retains absolute sovereignty over Scotland, and can abolish the Scottish Parliament on a whim at any time - so the oft-heard line about English MPs having no say on domestic Scottish matters is absurdly inaccurate.  But in future, Scottish MPs will no longer have a say on matters that have a direct financial impact on public services in their own constituencies.  This new inequality is utterly intolerable, especially when an English parliamentary majority has just been used to veto Scotland's democratic will for Full Fiscal Autonomy.

Now, I'm not saying that any of these material changes are necessarily sufficient to warrant an unconditional manifesto pledge for a second independence referendum, but they do warrant something substantial.  It already seems very likely that there will be a conditional commitment to a referendum in the event of Brexit, but I wonder if we might also see a move towards a referendum on FFA itself.  Another possibility might be to use the Holyrood election to seek a mandate to negotiate FFA with the UK government - with an explicit indication of what the consequences will be if Cameron ignores that mandate.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The "United" Kingdom, in numbers : how MPs from Scotland and the rest of the UK voted last night on Full Fiscal Autonomy

I did the SDLP a severe disservice last night, but I was also far too kind to the Green Party of England and Wales.  I had assumed that, as a sister party to the Labour party, the SDLP might have voted against Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland, but they most certainly didn't - both Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie were in the 'Aye' lobby alongside the SNP.  They were the only non-Scottish MPs to vote in favour of Home Rule, because two of the three Plaid Cymru MPs acted as tellers to allow a full showing for the SNP (I presume the other one wasn't able to attend), and remarkably, the sole Green MP voted against.  That means not even a single MP representing an English constituency - not Caroline Lucas, not Dennis Skinner, not Edward Leigh, not Jeremy Corbyn, nobody - voted to respect the result of the general election in Scotland, and the overwhelming mandate given by voters to Full Fiscal Autonomy.

Here are the full, and rather stark figures...

Vote on a new clause to deliver Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland

Scottish MPs :

Yes 56
No 3
Abstentions 0

Non-Scottish MPs :

Yes 2
No 501
Abstentions 80

(The numbers add up to 642 rather than 650, because the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and tellers are unable to vote.)

Still, we're a "glorious United Kingdom", aren't we?  Oodles of mutual respect and all that.  English Labour and Tory MPs would never, ever dream of exploiting Scotland's smaller representation in parliament by voting down our democratically-expressed will, and then loudly cheering what they had just done.  Would they?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Deafening cheers as Westminster celebrates using English votes to block Scottish Home Rule

Something extraordinary happened a few minutes ago in the House of Commons chamber.  It wasn't the fact that MPs voted against the addition of a new clause to the Scotland Bill that would have paved the way for Full Fiscal Autonomy.  It wasn't even the fact that they did so by 504 votes to 58 - that was expected, because we knew that Labour and the Tories would both vote against.  No, it was the fact that the result was greeted by deafening cheers - which, by definition, came almost exclusively from non-Scottish MPs.

We don't yet know the exact breakdown of the figures, but it's near-enough certain that the result among elected Scottish MPs was well over 50 in favour of Full Fiscal Autonomy, and only 3 against.  Among non-Scottish MPs, there must have been almost 500 votes against Full Fiscal Automony, and probably less than 10 in favour (the only likely possibilities are the 3 Plaid Cymru MPs and Caroline Lucas, and maybe the odd Tory like Edward Leigh).  In a nutshell, then, this was a straightforward battle between Scotland and the rest of the UK - and Scotland lost.  We lost simply because there are far more of 'them' than there are of 'us'.  The fact that this happened on an exclusively Scottish piece of legislation, at a time when we're constantly told that Scotland has no business having any influence at all on English laws, is nothing short of breathtaking.

What the hell did English Tory and Labour MPs think they were cheering about?  Did they persuade the Scottish electorate of the case against Full Fiscal Autonomy?  No.  Did they persuade Scotland's elected representatives?  No.  Scotland said Yes, but the London parties said No, and they presume to decide on our behalf.  If I'd been in their shoes, I wouldn't have been whooping in those circumstances, I'd have been sheepishly looking at the floor and hoping that someone would change the subject as a matter of some urgency.  By logical deduction, it can only be that they were consciously cheering the fact that they'd just overruled a democratic election result and got away with it.

Or rather, they think they've got away with it.  Over the last few weeks, they've been demonstrating the case for independence more eloquently and effectively than the SNP ever could, but they don't even seem to have noticed.  Hell mend them.

We're ready for the question, David

"OK, SNP. Tense moments in the studio here. The offer from the banker is a vastly watered down version of the Smith Agreement, and the abandonment of the Full Fiscal Autonomy plan that you won an overwhelming, historic mandate for at the general election just a few weeks ago. So what's it to be?  Deal...or no deal?"

"No deal, David."

"That's the wrong answer, SNP, but the good news is that we'll be vetoing your decision, because London Tories understand these things better than the people of Scotland. Congratulations! You've just won a vastly watered down version of the Smith Agreement! How does it feel?"

"Have you ever actually watched Deal Or No Deal, David? Let me try to explain the rules to you..."