Brexit: a depressing day

Today is a depressing day for those of us who believe in European integration.

In marking the day, I posted six photos on Instagram from a visit last week to the northern European city of Schwerin, where trade, religion and art from all across northern Europe has characterised the city and the people. All six are reposted below.

The Westminster government is putting all such connections for the UK at risk, and whilst parliaments/assemblies in Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff may yet help their people retain those connections, in England, there are few such prospects, it seems to me.

You may wish to follow me on Instagram.

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Alasdair Codona and Scottish homelessness

Feasgar math h-uile duine – that’s the Gaelic for “good evening everyone”. The first Gaelic speaker I ever met was a music student at Aberdeen called Alasdair Codona. A warm and engaging individual, I shared a flat with Alasdair for a while, before moving closer to the university. We saw each other regularly as we were both involved in the Student Christian Movement, but after I graduated, I lost touch with him. Perhaps, subconsciously, my efforts to try and learn Gaelic now have their origins in my encounter with Alasdair.

A few years ago, however, I saw him completely by chance late one night on BBC Alba, as I was channel-hopping. I don’t now remember what he was singing, but there are some clips available online, for example:

and this one with Jenna Cumming:

and another song with her:

Here he is singing one of his own compositions about Calum Cille (Saint Columba of Iona):

Do take a few minutes to listen to these if you don’t know Alasdair’s music already. Also, if you’ve ever sung ‘Forgiveness is your gift’ in church (no. 361 in the Church Hymnary, 4th Edition, 2005), you’ll see it’s a Skye folk melody arranged by Alasdair.

I wrote to BBC Alba after seeing him on TV, seeking to get in touch with Alasdair, but he never heard from them. And then two evenings ago a friend, Déirdre Ní Mhathúna, not realising that I knew Alasdair, contacted me on Facebook with her page about him: he is on hunger strike, protesting homelessness legislation. The Daily Record newspaper has already run stories about him, but I had missed these: 23.12. and 24.12.

I went to Edinburgh today to meet him, and spent two hours sitting outside the Parliament chatting – we reconnected immediately, and spent some time reminiscing about Aberdeen days, and he then described some of what he has been trying to do. Having experienced homelessness, he has tried to lobby Members of the Scottish Parliament and councillors to change key parts of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, which define who is homeless and give enormous leeway to officials to block people from accessing services to which they would otherwise be entitled. In particular, not having a fixed address of course hinders all kinds of access to services, even to basic ones such as the Post Office Card Account (ironically, run by JP Morgan!). Alasdair feels that he now has no choice but to seek to pressure the Scottish Government to address these issues through his own body, hence the hunger strike, now into the third week.

How you can help

If you live in Scotland, do contact one of your MSPs, especially if you have a connection to one of them or you see that they are on e.g. the Local Government and Communities Committee, or the Social Security Committee. You might ask if they will meet with Alasdair – he is quite literally on their doorstep! – and address the concerns he has. Given the nature of his action, this is obviously urgent. It appears parliament is only in session again from 10.1. – but some MSPs may well be around the Parliament before then.

Wherever you live, a suggestion is emerging about setting up a Scottish Parliamentary petition and anyone can sign such petitions, whether they live in Scotland or not. Do join Déirdre’s Facebook page and follow the updates there for news and possible actions that might be taken.

Finally, if you are in Edinburgh, maybe go and visit Alasdair and offer your encouragement and support – though be aware he is weakening all the time, and you may not be able to stay for long.

Brexit – what next? Thinking about the outcome.

I regard the referendum outcome to leave the EU as a disaster for many reasons, as will be clear from my last blog posting, written shortly before the vote. I’ll maybe write something short about my reaction to the outcome in the coming days.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

In the meantime, the report from the House of Commons Library makes for fascinating reading (tweeted in the early hours of 25.6.16).

There are countless useful resources here, such as this note (p12) about devolution and how this situation may affect Scotland, citing Sionaidh Douglas-Scott:

It would still be necessary to amend the relevant parts of devolution legislation. But this would be no simple matter and could lead to a constitutional crisis. Although the UK Parliament may amend the devolution Acts, the UK government has stated that it will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the devolved legislature. This requires a Legislative Consent Motion under the Sewel Convention. However, the devolved legislatures might be reluctant to grant assent, especially as one feature of the ‘Vow’ made to the Scottish electorate was a commitment to entrench the Scottish Parliament’s powers, thus giving legal force to the Sewel Convention. So the need to amend devolution legislation renders a UK EU exit constitutionally highly problematic.

Section 7 on the future options for Scotland are also very interesting for me (pp17-19), given that England (and to some extent Wales) voted to leave, but Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay. It will be for Holyrood and Nicola Sturgeon’s government to chart a course through this situation; I am confident that she and her allies in Holyrood will do this well. Her speech after the referendum indicates as much:

I think it is safe to say that independence for Scotland looks much more likely in the meantime.

Eleven brief comments on the Scottish elections

Scotland Can... the Scottish Green Party's campaign banner

Scotland Can… the Scottish Green Party’s campaign banner

Eleven short comments on the Scottish election:

  1. I’m delighted my party did pretty well, electing 6 MSPs on various list votes, including Mark Ruskell in my own region. It is excellent news that Andy Wightman is now in the Scottish Parliament – serious land reform becomes more possible. I am very sorry that Maggie Chapman and Sarah Beattie-Smith in particular did not get elected.
  2. The SNP did amazingly well, in a system not designed for such large votes (156,000 more than last time). They polled more votes than Labour and the Tories together, and gained 59 constituency seats (previous record: 53 Labour in 1999, 53 SNP in 2011). Most of Scotland’s cities went to the SNP: Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth, Stirling. It’s also very good to see that the percentage of women who were elected SNP MSPs has risen from 28% to 43% (we Greens have one woman out of six MSPs…).
  3. The Liberal Democrats did badly, though I wish they had not even won the constituency seats they had (especially Orkney and Shetland, given the scandal of a self-confessed liar in the form of Alastair Carmichael as the Westminster MP): although the LibDems have the same number of seats as before, their constituency vote is down to the lowest level they’ve ever had.
  4. Labour did disastrously badly: the lowest Labour vote in Scotland in living memory. I was at the Stirling count, and was shocked when sampling at how few Labour votes there were – it was clear early on that this was shaping up to be an awful night for them. I agree with Paul Mason to some extent: I cannot see how the Labour party can be relevant in Scotland again until they sever the link to Labour in London and realise that independence is the only way forward. They’ll sink further into irrelevance if they don’t do this. It probably has to happen within 2-3 years – half-way through this parliament – and be genuine. That is going to be tough. I don’t know if it can happen, or if Kezia Dugdale can manage to get her party to do that.
  5. The Conservatives did well in certain regards: it’s still a lower share of the vote than they had in the 1992 general election, but it has been effective, partly because they are clearly the party of the unionists: I suspect most of their support is not about welcoming the vicious policies the Tories espouse, but about wanting a solid unionist bulwark against the SNP. This will become apparent very soon: Ruth Davidson will get to be the first to ask questions at Holyrood’s First Minister Questions, and this gives the SNP a glorious opportunity to make Davidson defend, week after week after week, the pernicious effects of Tory Westminster policies on normal people in Scotland. Whilst Ruth Davidson is good at media stunts, Nicola Sturgeon is far more accomplished as a debater and will relish the challenge, I am sure, of attacking the Tories directly on such a regular basis. This has the potential to cause the Tories considerable harm.
  6. Rejoice: UKIP failed dismally across the board.
  7. Unsurprisingly, RISE did not rise. I still think most people will go for the Greens if they want a party of the clear left with environmental concerns.
  8. Although the SNP are the largest party, they cannot form a majority, so need an alliance. The only realistic party they can rely on are the Scottish Greens (seriously, the LibDems?!). Whilst I cannot see a formal coalition taking place (and the Greens’ co-convener isn’t expecting that either), having the SNP reliant upon SGP votes to get legislation through will help keep the SNP veering to the left. This is important, because an SNP majority with the Tories as second party would probably not do this as they would then pander to the right, the natural home of several SNP MSPs, such as Fergus Ewing. We know that most Yes campaigners and ergo most newer SNP members were to the left of the party’s elected representatives – we’ll see if that has changed as a result of this election – and a connection to the SGP will help to solidify that.
  9. I think it was a mistake for the SNP to try and push the #BothVotesSNP line so hard. It was entirely predictable, after the Westminster election last year, that the SNP would dominate the constituency vote, and that then means to achieve anything significant in the list requires an absolutely massive number of list votes (for my own region, Mid-Scotland and Fife, results were: Conservatives (4 list seats) 73,293, Green (one) 17,860, Labour (two) 51,373; SNP had 120,128 but no list seats). That was always unlikely given the diversity of list parties on offer, and whilst no party will ever say “don’t vote for us”, a more nuanced approach might have led to better results for the broad pro-independence parties and therefore let fewer Tories in. This is something many people tried to argue, but certain die-hard SNP-supporters have done themselves no favours by shouting such voices down. The Scottish parliament is not designed for majority government and I don’t think the system can be gamed to achieve that – as reputable psephologists such as John Curtice repeatedly explained – so the 2011 result should be seen as an anomaly and not an expectation.
  10. In some ways, the future appears to be like the past shortly before the Scottish parliament: the main opponents of Scottish independence (or even constitutional change) are the Tories. The choice, articulated as putative in the independence referendum by many on the Yes side, is now clear: independence or the Tories.
  11. The SNP cannot deliver independence on its own, as the 2014 referendum showed, based as it was largely on an SNP approach. For example, arguments for reducing Air Passenger Duty, blind support for oil and gas with no vision for change, keeping the United Kingdom’s monarchy etc. were not things that most Greens could fully subscribe to, and we therefore had to make complex arguments about all these things being proposals that could be decided upon after independence. There are many who argue this case (for example, here), and I broadly agree with that argument. However, the SNP connecting with the SGP as another clear pro-independence party will help in this regard, and make independence a surer prospect when the next referendum comes. And it will.

Edit 7.5.16:  added Mid-Scotland and Fife results to point 9.

Manifestos and Mandates

Andy Wightman (Scottish Green Party candidate) tweeted last night:

Even if your manifesto is a joke, as UKIP’s clearly is (this interview with STV’s Bernard Ponsonby is a must), at least it’s possible to decide that for yourself if you have a manifesto you can read.

I read somewhere recently that Labour are only releasing a manifesto eight days before the election – I find this utterly incredible, given that we can use postal votes and therefore some people will decide their vote long before that. This morning, their manifesto page shows ‘A note from Jim Murphy’ on it! This is obviously from the 2015 Westminster election:

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

The SNP website doesn’t yet appear to include any mention of a full manifesto at all, as far as I can see (I can’t be bothered looking up the LibDems, but I’ll take Andy Wightman’s word for it).

Such lack of respect to the voters should be impermissible. Even a shambolic semi-democratic system like ours should be able to require parties to release a manifesto a set time before postal ballots are sent out – even if it was just a week or 10 days, that would probably be sufficient.

Expecting voters to place blind faith in a party that isn’t prepared to outline it’s proposed programme in some detail is a singular failure in the democratic process.

——

I’m delighted that my party, the Scottish Greens, launched our manifesto before the postal ballot began.  You can read all about it on our website:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

You can also download our full manifesto as a PDF in two different formats:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Why vote for the SNP in the Scottish Parliamentary elections?

On 7.5.16 Scotland will vote for a new Scottish parliament.

It’s worth understanding how our voting system works. Stephen Paton’s wee video is excellent:

In thinking about how to vote, it’s important to know my background. Very simplistically put, I…

  1. … am broadly on the left;
  2. … am a vaguely active member of the Scottish Green Party (SGP) and have been involved at various levels for a few years;
  3. … campaigned alongside Scottish National Party (SNP) members and others in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and voted Yes;
  4. … voted SNP in the 2015 Westminster elections (I know, I know, it’s bad for an SGP member to do that when an SGP candidate was standing in my constituency, but I wanted to be absolutely sure the racist Labour candidate Johanna Boyd didn’t win, and I wasn’t trusting enough of the polls predicting an SNP victory… I also couldn’t campaign for the SGP at this time, so hadn’t sought to persuade others to vote in a way I wasn’t prepared to do… all this is one of the bad side effects of Westminster’s FPTP voting system).

I still want Scottish independence, and am sure it is coming. I cannot foresee any circumstances in which I’d ever vote Conservative or LibDem (the former basically hate everyone not part of the 1% and are profoundly racist, sexist, and just downright awful for anyone with a social conscience, whilst the latter are mendacious and equivocal, actively supporting blatant liars like Alistair Carmichael). Although I voted Labour solidly for years I doubt I’ll ever do so again: this is not only about having watched them celebrate the 2014 referendum outcome at the Stirling count with their Tory Better Together friends, but that is a potent symbol for their broader failing to represent the interests of the vulnerable in society, which I think is one of the primary roles of political parties. As the Greens are not putting forward a constituency candidate in my area (it’s just SNP, Conservative, Labour, LibDems), I therefore need to think carefully about how I vote. Many might see the options as:

  1. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: SNP
  2. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: Green
  3. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: RISE
  4. or…?

One of the things Paton points out in his video is that the list vote allows you to vote as you really want to. However, the constituency vote also impacts on the list vote, reducing the value of the list vote for parties that do well at constituency level – and that has serious implications for those who want to vote for a broadly pro-independence and left position. Lots of SNP supporters on Twitter and elsewhere follow the SNP’s line of arguing for #BothVotesSNP (option 1 above) – and of course the SNP would be a very strange party if it didn’t argue that people should vote for it whenever possible! But I don’t think option 1 is a good idea, in part because the SNP is likely to win most constituency votes with a substantial margin and so the number of SNP votes needed in the list to not let Labour, Tory or LibDem candidates in would have to be absolutely huge.

Many folk on the pro-independence left are therefore suggesting: vote SNP for the constituency, and then Green (option 2) or RISE (option 3). However, I am inclining towards another option – of not voting SNP in the constituency vote at all, and just voting how I want to in the list.

I like Nicola Sturgeon as a First Minister (and I certainly wouldn’t want Kezia Dugdale or Ruth Davidson as FM!), and Bruce Crawford, our constituency MSP candidate seems a decent person who mostly tries to work for the interests of the constituency. But the SNP as a whole is failing to do more than tinker with some of the great problems we face, such as:

  1. environment – the unbridled enthusiasm for oil and gas (and the SNP’s Energy Spokesperson’s equivocation over fracking) when we actually need to be moving away from fossil fuels and towards additional renewables;
  2. land reform – even the party membership recently rejected the cautious approach of the party leadership;
  3. economics – John Swinney’s fiscal conservatism at times seems remarkably close to Westminster’s Tory austerity: I wonder if he is so caught up in financial concerns that he’s lost sight of the purpose, the telos, of economics, which is to improve society;
  4. Council Tax – based on valuations from 1991(!), the SNP’s revised CT (after years of the anti-democratic interference of local finance through the CT freeze) still means those in the cheapest properties will pay proportionately far more than those in the most expensive properties, as these two tweets show (with the contrasting amounts proposed by key parties contesting this election);
  5. standardised testing in schools – a policy opposed by pretty much anyone in education (but with enthusiastic support from the Tories!), it is hard to imagine why the SNP wants to promote this.

There are many more examples. Although the SNP’s membership is now far to the left of the leadership, this appears to be having little effect on policy, at least for this election. Whilst the SNP has never, to my knowledge, described itself as a left-wing party (it’s broadly centre-left social democratic), its new members might see that differently.

In contrast, the Scottish Green Party is at core progressive, seeing independence as a way to implement progressive policies (as do RISE, but I doubt they’ll do well in May). The SNP – and certainly many of its supporters – see independence as a primary aim after which all other things can be sorted (see many of the comments on sites like Derek Bateman’s): for many, progressive policies are a tool to get to independence. This results in half-hearted and tepid efforts at the truly transformational politics that Scotland needs right now.

Of course Scotland should be freed from Westminster’s priorities, but we can do so much more in the meantime, and the SNP’s timidity in the face of the truly enormous challenges faced by so many people who, after the bankers’ crash of 2008, have suffered from Labour/Tory/LibDem policies at Westminster. The SNP is failing here: ignoring the huge injustices of unequal land-ownership, the reliance on fossil fuels, the Council Tax shambles – these are all things they could act on, but the assurances of electoral victory are perhaps making them too complacent to do so (just as happened with Labour in Scotland?).

I therefore have to ask: why should I vote for the SNP at all? They’re doing too little to earn my vote. After all, we’re not obliged to cast both votes. Option 4 then becomes: no constituency vote (blank or spoiled ballot), and Green (or another preference) in the list vote. And one day, the SNP’s members might help it to become the more radical party so many of them want it to be – in the meantime, my vote for them is hesitant, but I will give it. This time.

Edit 4.4.16: correction to list vote procedure.

How to resist the Scottish Government’s attempt to create a national identity database

Yes, I know the Scottish Government claims it is not setting up a national identity database, but the practical effect of what it is proposing to do based on the National Health Service Central Register is creating a national identity database.  If you opposed the National ID card proposals when they first came around (as the SNP and many others did), then you will not be enamoured by the current proposals – from the SNP government, ironically! – to create a national identity database.

You can do something about this, but I have only just managed to address this myself, and so it is late in the day – the consultation process ends tomorrow:

25. February 2015.

So you need to act fast, but if you have half an hour, it can be done!

If you want more background information:

Go to the consultation page:

Consultation on proposed amendments to the National Health
Service Central Register (Scotland) Regulations 2006

The document is available here as a PDF.  If you’re pushed for time, just look at the paragraphs mentioned in the consultation document, which you can download here (a Microsoft Word document).

Do not worry: the consultation document is short, and the form has only four questions after you have filled in your name and contact details etc.

You then have to email your filled in document to the Scottish Government:
NHSCRConsultation@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

You have to do that by the end of the day tomorrow!

I wrote my response in haste this evening, and make no claim for perfection by any stretch of the imagination, but if you would like to see what I have written, I have my responses available here in PDF form.

Resist the SNP’s attempts to create a national identity database!