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.

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.

British ethnic nationalism – an ugly exclusiveness that encourages Scottish independence

One of the most welcome features of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was the principle that (almost) anyone who lived in Scotland could have a vote in the referendum. This meant that those who identified as Scots but did not live in Scotland would not have a vote, but those who had decided to live in Scotland and wanted to play a part in its future could vote. This is called civic nationalism: it is based on who lives in the country and is contributing to it, and is not based upon origins or birth or parentage.

One of the side effects of this decision was that many people who had been born in Scotland or who had Scottish parents but who did not live in Scotland were not able to vote. Many of these people left Scotland because they felt it lacked the opportunities for a good career that other places offered: I heard this many times in the years we lived in London and my wife was the minister of one of the two Church of Scotland churches there.  In today’s judgemental environment we would probably call them ‘economic migrants’ even though many of them would be appalled to think of themselves like that (other people are economic migrants…).  Many left for love, or had to leave for work even thought they didn’t want to, and still others will have had other reasons for leaving Scotland.  I know that many of these people were disappointed not to be able to vote in the 2014 referendum – but the referendum was decided by those who had stayed in Scotland or who had moved here, and quite correctly in my view, they were the only ones determining Scotland’s future.

This approach also represented the starting point of many of the Yes campaign’s arguments: they/we took a civic nationalist standpoint, whereas the British nationalist/unionist position was very different – it took an ethnic nationalist standpoint for its arguments.  I explained this in a blog posting that was widely read at the time, and is available here (the original place of publication), and (republished by National Collective) here, and (archived on this blog) here.

United Kingdom EUNow we face another referendum in 2017, this time across the whole of the UK, to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or not. In this referendum, organised by the Conservative party, only people who have a British passport will be allowed to vote, according to a report in today’s Herald newspaper:

Members of the House of the Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will be given a vote, in addition to those on the Westminster voters’ roll.

Those entitled to vote in UK elections include British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, plus UK nationals resident overseas for less than 15 years.

This means that all of those people who have moved to Britain and chosen to make their lives here (including other EU citizens – such as my wife!) are going to be denied a vote. However, those British passport-holders who have chosen to live elsewhere as (economic or other) migrants, or those who have chosen in the last 15 years to retire abroad (including my parents!) will have a vote – even though they no longer have as substantial an interest in what happens here compared to those who live here.

In doing so, the Conservatives are disenfranchising people who have chosen to contribute to this country – it is classic exclusive ethnic nationalism, rather than inclusive civic nationalism. There is a measure of hypocrisy here too, as David Leask of the Herald points out:

So let me state unequivocally, that this is the consequence of what people have voted for last year and this year:

When the No voters prevailed in last year’s Scottish referendum, this exclusive understanding of nationalism is what they were voting for (if you voted No you may say that you are not an ethnic nationalist, but that is the basis on which the No campaign argued the referendum and it has given the British nationalist/unionist parties the mandate to act as ethnic nationalists).

When people voted Conservative in this month’s general election, this exclusive understanding of nationalism is what they were voting for.

Ethnic nationalism invariably leads to chauvinism (I think that in theory it doesn’t necessarily do so, but in practice it always does), and in my view, is to be utterly condemned.  Westminster’s espousal of ethnic nationalism despite the good example of broad engagement set in the Scottish referendum affirms my view that Scotland and Westminster are still moving ever further apart, and this in turn encourages me – and no doubt others – to work harder towards the day when Scotland becomes independent and engages all those who live here and contribute to the country in whatever form.  I want a truly broad and inclusive body politic of all who live here, not one that excludes people on the basis of their birth and parentage.  We are clearly not getting that from Westminster.

A response to the new Tory administration

This is a guest posting by Rob Hudson, a photographer I know who is based in Cardiff.

Is there an emoji for feeling completely and utterly depressed? Because that’s all I felt like posting yesterday. Honestly I don’t recognise this country anymore and I don’t suppose for one second I’m alone. I suppose I was privileged to be born into a humane country, where for the most part people cared about their fellow citizens (even occasionally citizens of other countries), but I surely won’t die in one.

I feel like taking the first boat out of here, but there are people here who’ll be all the more reliant on me after this election. The country is broken, the NHS is in mortal danger, the poor, the weak and the young and elderly will be sacrificed to the vagaries of the unfeeling, unthinking free market.

It’s the sense of disbelief that’s most palpable here today. We really are a nation divided, divided ideologically, philosophically and morally. Forget national geography for a moment, this is neighbour against neighbour, town against country, city against City. And that gulf is enormous, I actually find myself hating, fearing and despairing of my fellow countryfolk and countrywomen today. How could they do it, how could they vote for self-interest and against caring for those in need? It’s hard to believe we will ever be reconciled, it’s like we were born on different planets. What they voted for is evil and I don’t know how I’m going to talk to them again.

I have heard rumours that perhaps 30-60000 of our fellow citizens have died after being declared fit for work, more after their benefits were sanctioned for the most trivial reasons. There’s an FOI request imminent (the DWP have been sitting on it during the election, despite having been ordered to release the figures in February) and I do hope Tory and UKIP voters will feel sick when they see the bold facts. Because with £12bn in unspecified welfare cuts it is only going to get worse.

But will they feel sick? Are they so self interested or sociopathic that they will think that an acceptable toll for a £5 a week cut in income tax? I hope you spend it wisely, because it’ll be little use if you lose your job, become ill, are young or get old.

No. I can’t think that negatively about the people I grew up amongst. I don’t believe we’ve become inhumane overnight. I believe we (in England and Wales) were not offered an alternative in the form of a party with the remotest chance of power that could inspire us.

Labour offered no serious critique of our situation, allowed the Tory lie that they were responsible for the deficit through overspending to become commonplace. They failed to propose an alternative to austerity, an alternative electoral system, to propose reform of an inequitable tax system, failed to propose any meaningful response to the huge growth of inequality and fell into the Tory trap of failing to propose an anti Tory alliance with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. And on top of that ignored the environment.

I speak as someone who joined the Green Party last year and it’s amazing how taking that stance has enabled me, in my mind, to critique what had formerly been my party of choice – Labour. But I feel guilty; I take some of the blame because I have not been nearly active enough. And that makes me even more depressed.

Yet it’s little wonder Labour lost, they tried tinkering at the edges under Blair and Brown, and that’s simply led to large numbers of disenchanted Labour voters, who’d seen no real change, to switch their allegiance to the bigots, homophobes and thinly disguised misanthropes of UKIP. I hesitate in calling them racists, but suspect that hesitation is unjustified.

There is one glimmer of hope and that comes from Scotland. Whilst Plaid Cymru made little progress outside of their language based heartlands, the SNP were elected in nothing less than a political tsunami. I thought I might have more to say about Plaid, but I really don’t. They’ve made little progress; they are essentially still a political irrelevance. They obviously have much to do to convince the electorate that they no longer represent the interests of the minority of Welsh speakers alone. In essence they are where the SNP was thirty years ago. It’s not to say their message won’t have impact in the future, they are undeniably a progressive party.

I know many of you in England and Wales base your opinion of nationalism on an analysis based in the 1930s. But what that fails to recognise is that the nationalist parties learned from the experience of Nazism, and rejected ethnic nationalism to become what are now known as ’civic’ nationalists. The SNP aren’t the evil Scots rising up to steal your babies as portrayed by the Tory press, the Tory Party and depressingly Ed Miliband. They are what we might have once called broadly social democrats before every major UK party moved to the right of social democracy, including Labour. They believe in government close to the people who elect them, as I do, and I include Wales and the English regions. Most importantly they offered something of an alternative to the cold winds of free market austerity.

But it’s not nationalism or even particularly regional democracy that I want to agitate for at this time, that’s an argument for another day. What is really important is the way the independence debate engaged and politicised the electorate. How grassroots activism has sustained and (in Scotland) elected a party that presents a genuine alternative to the status quo.

We, south of the border, need to come together too, we must offer an alternative. We need to become active citizens: screw your online petitions, join together, and actually do something. Join a political party, join a union, form groups of like-minded people outside the current broken system. Take every opportunity to protest and to inform your fellow citizens because you can be sure the tax avoiding non-doms who own our press won’t. You can be sure the newly enfeebled BBC won’t.

There is no Tory majority; they simply have the most seats in the discredited first past the post system (in fact only 27% voted Tory). Politics comes from the people and that means you and me folks, because there isn’t anyone else, we are the people. And if we don’t, if we stand by and let the new government literally kill tens of thousands of our citizens and unleash yet more evils of neoliberalism; what does that say about us, other than we are complicit. Because alone in our despair we are weak, but together we can find hope.

Giving the “Labour” Party the space to grow up

The immaturity of much of the “Labour” Party, whether the UK party or the Scottish branch office, is disconcerting.  Rather than opposing the Tories and austerity, key elements of the shadow cabinet appear to be fostering the idea that the values underpinning the ideology of austerity are sound, even if the Tory implementation of this ideology is not.  For example, here is the terrifying Rachel Reeves (yes, the Labour shadow work and pensions minister who promised to be tougher than the Tories):

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,” she said. “Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.”

So she is saying that “Labour” is not interested in people who are not in work – who, then, is to represent them?!  I can only hope that this is childish posturing, designed to appeal to Tories, rather than meaningful policy (though I’m not convinced, given how far right the “Labour” party has moved in recent years).

The other key issue – the extent to which the party might enter some kind of cooperative arrangement with the SNP – is, of course, driving a lot of debate at the moment, but is connected to things like Reeves’ statements.

There are some signs that Ed Miliband is, at least, smarter than people like Reeves and Scottish branch manager Jim Murphy: for example, here’s Neal Lawson explaining why Labour must do a deal with the SNP, whilst Peter Arnott wonders if sanity might be breaking out in certain circles (on all sides, maybe, slowly…).  However, there are also reasons to be concerned about Miliband’s position, whilst Stephen Daisley, though acknowledging Miliband is probably smarter than Murphy et al, has slightly different concerns.

All of this points to a need to give “Labour” space.  I do expect the “Labour” Party, driven by a desire for self-preservation, to move position on a number of key issues, including possibly even independence or at the very least devo-max over the coming years.  I think they need the predicted wipe-out (or at least, severe punishing) in May – for too long “Labour” has taken the Scottish electorate for granted, and doesn’t realise it needs to earn the right to represent constituents.  If it can learn from this, we might have a very different Scottish “Labour” party in five or ten years’ time (ideally one that is actually more Labour so I can dispense with the tiresome scare quotes!).

In the meantime, Nicola Sturgeon is playing a fabulous hand.  I think she realises something that many in the SNP do not: once the “Labour” Party becomes more of a party that seeks to represent everyone (Reeves, take note!), it becomes more of a natural and useful opposition to the SNP, but also a party the SNP can more readily deal with, at least on the UK level.  Getting there needs space: a very wise artist friend of mine, Carrie Gooch, recently pointed out that changing position on big issues was like turning a tanker around in the sea: a lot of space is needed.  I think Sturgeon is giving them that space at the moment, and if for no other reason than self-preservation, I do expect wiser heads in “Labour” to prevail eventually.

Certainly, one of the wiser things Miliband could now do is copy Sturgeon – and categorically rule out a cooperation deal with the Tories.  He and his party need to realise that on a UK level they have a bigger political opponent than the SNP – and Cameron, Osborne, and those Tory-lites Clegg and Alexander, are the leaders of that opponent.

Better Together? Not according to Better Together’s members…

As many will know, I’m not a member of the Scottish National Party, but of the Scottish Greens.  I shall be actively campaigning for the Greens in the Holyrood 2016 elections, but in the meantime, I am very happy that the SNP appear to be doing rather well in the polls – something of an understatement! – and I hope for a substantial SNP contingent going to Westminster after 7. May.  The so-called “Scottish Labour” party (neither Scottish, nor Labour, in my view), who have had the most Scottish MPs at Westminster for many years now, have not served Scotland well.

During last year’s referendum campaign, the British nationalist/unionist/No campaign used several names for themselves, but the key one was ‘Better Together’ and was in fact the registered name of the campaign.  The substantive argument was that Scotland was better as part of the UK.  The Better Together website appears to have been taken offline now, but I wrote a longer blog about their arguments in 2013.

In the meantime, one might be forgiven for assuming that Better Together was an entirely altruistic affair – it seems Scotland would be Better Together with the rest of the UK, but rUK is not Better Together with Scotland.  After all, what else could explain the spate of stories that have emerged from English politicians and writers decrying the possibility of Scottish voters sending lots of SNP MPs to Westminster?   For example, this week we have former Conservative PM John Major (whose government, as you may recall, was such a good example of shamefulness!) telling Labour leader Ed Miliband that ‘it is shameful that Labour hasn’t ruled out a pact with the SNP,’ whilst in another right-wing newspaper, Max Hastings is being driven crazy by ‘the terrifying prospect of the Scots ruling England [that] is now all too real… [it’s a] nightmare scenario facing Britain after the Election.’  It’s not just those on the right arguing this: the Labour Lord Lewis Moonie (incidentally, I always think ‘Labour Lord’ should be an oxymoron, but…) said he’d ‘rather have a coalition with the Tories than the SNP.’ Meanwhile the coalition that was at the root of Better Together is being revived by Labour and Tories, who are co-operating to counter ‘the current nationalist threat.’

Hastings’s piece is of particular interest to me on various levels, much as I am repulsed by it.  There is much to critique, but let me just pick up one line.  He writes: ‘Like the French and Greeks, the Scots seem immune to rational argument about their circumstances and prospects.’  This is a particularly telling part of his article.  It is classical Orientalist discourse: by describing others’ irrationality, our rationality becomes clearer.  Scotland is being treated as a barbaric periphery, against which the civilised metropole must be defended (a few years ago a colleague wrote a book describing precisely this phenomenon, with the title Discourse on Civility and Barbarity – perhaps Hastings should read it?).  It is ironic that Hastings lumps together Greece (origins of the first democracy), France (arguably the first modern state following the 1789 revolution) and Scotland (home of the Enlightenment in these islands).  His own ignorance is revealing.

If, as seems likely, Scotland votes for a large number of SNP candidates and the SNP play a role in forming or enabling a government of some kind in Westminster, it will be one of the few times since World War II when Scottish votes make a difference at Westminster: in general, Scottish votes have not changed the outcome of Westminster elections, so that effectively, rUK has got the government it voted for (except on three occasions: in 1964 a Labour majority of 4 resulted from Scottish votes, otherwise the Tories would have won albeit with a majority of 1, and the government collapsed after 18 months anyway; in the second 1974 election, Labour won a majority of 3 on the basis of Scottish votes, but in the end formed a pact with the Liberals so wouldn’t have need Scottish votes anyway; in 2010 Scottish votes meant the Tories couldn’t get an overall majority without a pact with the Liberal Democrats, resulting in the present incumbents; incidentally, I suspect Wales hasn’t voted Tory too often, so actually, Westminster generally reflects English votes).

Surely, having Scottish voters’ wishes respected in a Westminster parliament is exactly what Better Together wanted, isn’t it?  Or did Scotland misunderstand the parties when they argued for being ‘better together’ – perhaps they meant the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats are ‘better together’?  Or perhaps they meant we’re only ‘better together’ if we vote the way they want us to: we should be obedient colonial barbarians, just as Hastings wants? But, but… that’s not quite what most of us thought we were being told…

The only reasonable response to be made to the kind of nonsense now being peddled by British nationalists/unionists is to say loudly and clearly: ‘Get over the referendum, please – that was last year! You wanted us in the UK – well, we’re here, and you have to respect our votes.’


Incidentally, I note that whilst I was mocked on social media for suggesting some form of Labour-Tory alliance at Westminster (in November, in December, and then more flippantly in January), this is undoubtedly being discussed as a serious possibility, as the links above suggest.  As I said in November: ‘the Yes campaign members were not the only ones to have collaborated closely – the No campaign also worked closely together: I, for one, will never forget the “Labour” and Tory parties at the Stirling count early on 19.9. celebrating Stirling’s No vote together – who is to say that kind of cosy arrangement doesn’t herald greater cooperation in other contexts?  (Incidentally, it amazes me that few on the former Yes side seem to think this is important.)’

Ed Miliband is not stupid enough to go for a formal alliance with the Tories, but if the votes pan out in such a way that Labour decide to form a minority government rather than an alliance with the SNP (the SNP have said they won’t ally with the Tories), I think it’s safe to assume there will be informal agreements between Labour and Tories about not allowing the government to fall in case the wicked Scottish Nationalists gain in influence.  If that happens, so be it: that’s part of the FPTP system.  However, the British nationalist/unionist parties should bear in mind that this will further the argument for radical reform of Westminster – and Scottish independence.

Addition, 7.3.15: as if to make the points I’ve outlined here even more dramatically, here’s the cover story of today’s Independent: