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)

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.

Westminster coalitions: why the SNP will win at the 2015 General Election

One of the best political parody accounts on Twitter commented on Alex Salmond’s decision to stand as a candidate for the Scottish National Party at Westminster:

Most Scots, whether they voted Yes or No in the referendum, want Devo-Max.  This is not what the Smith Commission is suggesting the Westminster parties offer Scotland.  This is because it cannot: the raison d’être of the Smith Commission was to preserve the existing sovereignty of Westminster (which derives its authority from the monarch, not the people) and the principle of devolution is that the powers of Westminster are effectively ‘loaned’ to Holyrood, and can be taken back at any point without consulting Holyrood, as happened with the (energy) Renewables Obligation in 2013 (see here, and here, for example).  What the Smith Commission has essentially done is (a) look for any other titbits from the lucky-bag list (Lesley Riddoch’s term) that Westminster could give Scotland, or (b) things that will damage the standing of the Scottish parliament, and especially the SNP in the expectation that this will strengthen the unionists’ cause (as Iain Macwhirter argued eloquently in the Sunday Herald: “The Tories didn’t propose income-tax devolution by accident. It is a scorched earth policy that they believe will kill social democracy in Scotland.”).  Devo-Max, or Home Rule, is easy to understand – everything apart from defence, foreign policy and macro-economic policy – whereas almost nobody I’ve spoken to remembers anything much from Smith, except the poisoned chalice of income tax rates without the power to change thresholds.  We are certainly not getting rid of Trident as most Scots want; indeed, the Ministry of “Defence” (War Ministry is more apt given British foreign policy!) is planning on relocating further nuclear submarines to Scotland in the near future.

Some argue that the May 2015 General Election might change all this if the SNP hold the balance of power, with neither “Labour” nor the Tories able to form a simple majority at Westminster.  Nicola Sturgeon has reaffirmed that the SNP will not support the Tories, and that the price for supporting “Labour” would be to get rid of Trident (and presumably stop other nuclear submarines from being based here).  That’s a welcome move on her part, but not one that “Labour” will necessarily find easy to deal with, wedded as it is to the hypocrisy that WMD are A Good Thing (as long as it’s us that have them and not countries we don’t like).  However, even aside from such a policy issue, I’d be surprised if “Labour” will want to have any kind of alliance with the SNP.

The key difficulty for “Labour” is that they pretend the Scottish branch is left of centre, whilst the rest-of-the-UK party is actually right of centre, as they seek to outdo UKIP and the Tories.  The obvious problem with trying to outdo such racists rather than addressing their racism is that it makes “Labour” racists too.  We can also point to “Labour’s” broad acceptance of the Tory/LibDem budget and austerity plans (minor tinkering aside) and we can see that “Labour” have clearly positioned themselves to the right.  That is their choice.

However, that the SNP, even under Salmond, has in recent decades become more left-wing than “Scottish Labour” could ever even pretend to be given the policies the Scottish branch is told to support from the London head office, is a profound difficulty for them in Scotland and in the wider UK.  It now gets worse for “Labour” because Sturgeon is genuinely more left-wing than Salmond, and “Labour” simply cannot convincingly argue a left-wing case against the SNP (as this desperate internal message from one of the “Scottish Labour” deputy leadership candidates, Katy Clark, shows; see also here).  And for the 2015 General Election, the old “Scottish Labour” message that voters need to vote “Labour” to keep the Tories out no longer holds: Scotland voted “Labour” in 2010 (40 out of 59 MPs) and the Tories still got in.

There are many people in the “Labour” party in Scotland and rUK who are genuinely left-wing.  How they cope with the right-wing leadership is difficult to comprehend… except, of course, that they chose these leaders because their primary purpose is achieving power.  There is little sense of how that power might then better be used to benefit the wider population, and that, perhaps, is one of the consequences of Westminster’s sovereignty issue: if your power comes from a useless hereditary institution such as the monarchy rather than the people, it will eventually make the people irrelevant and result in a political cartel, as John S Warren puts it.

So never mind “wee things” like Trident (as former “Scottish Labour” leader Johann Lamont memorably described our WMDs, illegal wars, the Bedroom Tax, childcare and more): the real issue is that the SNP, especially under Sturgeon, is far more of a left-wing party than the Scottish branch or UK “Labour” as a whole can hope to even pretend it is.  This, I think, substantially drives the irrational visceral hatred of the SNP on the part of “Scottish Labour” and to a somewhat lesser degree the wider UK “Labour” party: there is a recognition that the SNP are where “Labour” once were, but deep down they realise they are no longer of the left, despite their public protestations.  And with Sturgeon in charge of the SNP, this is likely to get worse, not better.

So will there be a coalition at Westminster in 2015?  I’m sure that if there were a coalition between the SNP and “Labour” we would see Trident being got rid of, and a substantially improved powers arrangement coming into play, probably moving towards Devo-Max, with Salmond heading that up for the SNP at Westminster under Sturgeon’s direction from Edinburgh.  However, I think a coalition between “Labour” and the SNP is unlikely.  Whilst I think the SNP could enter a coalition with the “Labour” party based on policy agreements on issues such as Trident and Devo-Max, I don’t see how “Labour” could overcome the resentment they have for the SNP being where they think they should be on the political spectrum, even though they themselves refuse to make the necessary changes to be put themselves on the left: Salmond as Deputy Prime Minister would be too much for “Labour” to cope with.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, I think the cartel may well come into play and we’ll see a Grand Coalition of “Labour” and Tories sharing power between them: not only are their policies very similar, they are both far more comfortable with each other than they are with the provincial upstarts from North Britain.  Whilst Britain has not had such coalitions in the past (other than in war time), other countries have had such coalitions, and Britain is changing: up until 2010 there hadn’t really been a coalition such as we have now between the Tories and Liberal Democrats.  All things are in flux, and they could easily argue the economic crisis is so severe that a Grand Coalition is needed to fix it (never mind that the Tories have made it worse, and “Labour” would do the same).

Whichever way the 2015 election goes, presuming the SNP maintains something close to its current level of support, Sturgeon’s party wins:

  • if “Labour” or the Tories win a majority even though the SNP take most of Scotland’s Westminster seats, the “democratic deficit” argument is immeasurably strengthened, and any decision on the Smith Commission proposals will probably be watered down still further.  Both of these things make the case for independence ever stronger, especially since the cuts the Tories and “Labour” plan to continue making are going to be devastating (as is evident from local council budgets: 1, 2) – if you think they’re bad now, in a few years’ time they will have transformed the country, and not in a good way!).
  • if there is a coalition, the SNP can justly claim they got rid of Trident and achieved something better than the Smith Commission proposed, approaching the Devo-Max that the unionist parties promised before the referendum and that many Scots want; this would be a positive move for Scotland (and indeed the rest of the UK, even if rUK media seek to portray otherwise!) and a real achievement for the SNP.  Of course, Salmond would be a responsible Deputy PM in coalition, as evidenced by the competent way he behaved as First Minister of Scotland – he takes such responsibilities seriously.
  • if “Labour” need a coalition partner but opt for the Tories in order to exclude the SNP, they have no hope of recovery in Scotland and possibly elsewhere for a generation or more (how would “vote Labour to keep the Tories out” sound then?).  Meanwhile, the SNP can make left-wing mischief for the government at Westminster from the sidelines, perhaps with Plaid Cymru and the Greens.  I’m sure Salmond would make a very good leader of the opposition to a “Labour”/Tory government, in a way that would probably come as quite a shock to their comfortable rhetorical routines.
    More importantly, the arguments for Scottish independence would become ever stronger and the case for another referendum would become more difficult to resist.  A “Labour”/Tory government would, of course, resist that, perhaps even along the lines suggested by the “Labour” party’s Jack Straw, but would they really want an irredentist Scottish resistance movement on their hands, rather than a peaceful campaign for independence?  They’re surely not that stupid?

Katy Clark is right: “Scottish Labour” are in deep trouble.  More than that: “Labour” as a whole are in deep trouble.  She’s right that “Labour” don’t have the “right values and policies” – the problem for her and the rest of “Scottish Labour” is that Ed Miliband’s “Labour” shows no intention of moving towards the “right values and policies” before the 2015 election.  All of which benefits the SNP – perhaps the Angry Salmond Twitter account really is onto something in suggesting Salmond ‘takes’ Westminster: the SNP will win regardless of the outcome.

PS No, I still am no further with thinking how, as a Green party member, I should approach the 2015 election.  I’ll be waiting to see what happens with candidate selection and perhaps discuss the issue there…

Alliances and Not-Alliances: Westminster 2015

I’m a Green party member, and during the referendum campaign I canvassed a bit for Yes in my area. My party’s strength in the Stirlingshire area in terms of elected representatives is centred around the Dunblane/Bridge of Allan area, where the marvellous Mark Ruskell is a local councillor. However, that’s 20 miles away, and with active canvassing for Yes happening closer by, it made sense to join my local canvassers. Given that two of the local councillors, Ian Muirhead and Graham Lambie, are from the SNP, the people I mostly canvassed with were SNP activists.

I was warmly welcomed by them, and was very aware that my presence (wearing my bright Green Yes tshirt) helped us – it clearly demonstrated to voters that the Yes campaign was not about the SNP, but about a broader alliance of people from different constituencies.

All the Yes parties have grown since the independence referendum, including the Greens: the first branch meeting I went to after the referendum needed a hall and over 50 people turned up; meetings before the referendum had been in cafés and pubs with half a dozen or so folk! We are still, overall, a small party when compared to the SNP, but we’re not insignificant. Therefore, I was delighted to see that my old friend Peter McColl has been selected as a Green candidate for Westminster in my former constituency of Edinburgh East (we moved from there last year), opposing the present “Labour” incumbent, Sheila Gilmore. This won’t be easy – the seat has been held by “Labour” for a long time, with Gavin Strang preceding Gilmore.

The Green party does not have the resources to stand candidates in every constituency, so it chooses seats where it might realistically be able to make progress. The combination of Edinburgh East and McColl really does offer that – but it’s far less likely if the former Yes vote is split and an SNP candidate stands too.  In fact, it might even mean Gilmore gets back in, and the unionists will hold the seat.

I welcome Nicola Sturgeon as the new leader of the SNP, and I think she’s likely to be a very good First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. However, I do think it’s a shame that she seems to have ruled out a party political alliance, even a very loose one, for the 2015 Westminster election. The SNP has said it is prepared to support candidates from outwith the SNP who would stand under an SNP banner: whilst this is very welcome (I can’t wait to see who some of the candidates might be), it seems an alliance between parties is being ruled out.

Alliances are common in many European and other countries, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t work well in Scotland for Westminster elections, given that many of us who voted Yes are keen to have parties in Westminster that will stand up for Scotland. This is something that none of the unionist parties offer, least of all “Labour” – as the former leader of their Scotland branch, Johann Lamont, has made clear.

What I would have liked to have seen is as follows: an agreement that in constituencies such as Edinburgh East, where the Greens have a realistic possibility of unseating a unionist politician with a capable candidate such as McColl, the SNP would agree to not stand a candidate themselves but put their considerable resources into serious canvassing for the Green candidate (the ballot paper could say something like “Peter McColl – Scottish Green Party (Scotland Alliance incl. Scottish National Party)” or similar, perhaps also including the SSP, who were an important part of the Yes campaign). In turn, members of the Green party (and the SSP?) would canvass for the SNP/Scotland Alliance candidate in their various constituencies where they’re not fielding candidates, such as Stirling.  Whilst I was out canvassing for Yes with local SNP members variations of this were discussed and generally thought to be a good idea.

Why is this important, when the SNP is dominating the Scottish political landscape just now? Given that in Stirling (and most other parts of Scotland) we, the Greens, are unlikely to be standing a Westminster candidate, I and other Green voters will have to vote tactically, and for many that will mean voting for the (as yet undecided) SNP candidate; I can’t see many Greens voting for the “Labour” party or any of the other unionist parties. Now voting tactically is one thing, but if I knew that the “big beast” that is the SNP was willing to openly work together with smaller parties such as the Greens in an area such as Edinburgh East where the Greens have a realistic chance of defeating “Labour”, I could actually see myself canvassing for an SNP/Alliance candidate in Stirlingshire/Strathendrick (perhaps on the ballot paper as “XXX – Scottish National Party (Scotland Alliance incl. Scottish Green Party” etc.). I simply cannot canvass for the SNP if it does not also represent the Greens.  If there is no alliance, then I might try and go back to Edinburgh a couple of times and help canvass for McColl.

Now that kind of call really is for the larger party to make, as the Green statement on the issue says – and it is a shame that it now seems it won’t be happening this time around. Instead, it seems the SNP is emphasising the more narrow party political advantage it thinks it has on the basis of current support. I very much hope that it is not underestimating the might of the forces against it, when the tired old clichés about “vote Labour to kick the Tories out” and similar nonsense will be revived, for sure (or as I like to think of it: “vote redTories to kick the blueTories out”!). Using the undemocratic FPTP system for Westminster to advantage is not something the SNP has been particularly successful at in the past, and even with polls showing overwhelming support for the SNP at the moment, I am a bit uncertain about how that will translate into Westminster seats. Better, I would have thought, to involve as many campaigners and variety of candidates as possible in standing up for Scotland in order to increase the chances of winning seats at Westminster, than to risk not doing so well alone in the skewed system that is FPTP.

This is especially the case since if there is another hung parliament in 2015, it is, I think, entirely conceivable that the red and blue Tories could form a grand (unionist) coalition, possibly with UKIP, that excludes the “separatists” in the form of the SNP and perhaps Plaid Cymru (I expect the LibDems – who? – to be an irrelevance). For the SNP to think it could play “kingmaker” could therefore well be wishful thinking:

  • it underestimates the visceral and completely irrational hatred that “Labour” have of the SNP, which, if anything, has worsened since September (and is likely to worsen further if “Labour” really are stupid enough to choose Jim Murphy as Lamont’s replacement);
  • the “Labour” party have already said they will continue the economic, military (Trident etc.), social security/welfare and other policies of the Tory party – so there isn’t very much that divides them anyway, making a grand coalition relatively straightforward;
  • 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.)

Of course, you might ask why I don’t join the SNP instead of the Greens and then I could campaign for them in Stirling/Strathendrick without any of these moral qualms. I actually know a Green member who after 18. September resigned his membership and joined the SNP, so it’s not as if others have not done so (in a time of crisis, he said, it was what he felt he needed to do). But I joined the Greens for more reasons than independence – the Greens are much more closely aligned to my way of thinking in most areas, and for me and others in the party, independence simply offers the best way to achieve these things (I note that not all Greens agree on this, with some opposing independence).  For me, independence is a tool to achieve greater social equality and a more responsible way of living with our resources and so on – but at the moment it’s a tool we don’t have, and therefore I want to pursue my ambitions for these things in other ways, in the first instance by increasing powers for Scotland via the Smith Commission. I’m pretty confident that independence will come before too long, and quite possibly with Nicola Sturgeon leading the way. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that we have the strongest possible pro-Scotland representation at Westminster in order to ensure that the Devo-Max promises that were made by the unionist parties are kept to. I think working together is a more likely way to achieve that.

I’m not interested in trying to ‘punish’ the “Labour” party

There is a much chatter on social media about ‘punishing Labour’, trying to ensure a ‘Labour wipe-out’ in 2015 (Westminster General Election) and 2016 (Holyrood election).  For a longer version, though not necessarily more coherent than a handful of excitable tweets, the Scottish Times offers an example of the kind of thing I mean (I have no idea who ST really are).  In contrast, my Stirling University colleague Scott Hames writing at the Scottish Constitutional Futures Forum offers a more sober interpretation of where we are, including in relation to the next two elections (if you’re still a bouncy Yesser, that one might deflate you a bit, but it is worth reading).

Let me say right at the start: I can understand the desire to whack the “Labour” Party, I really can.  After all, I can’t even use their name without quotation marks now, since they clearly no longer have a connection to labour as most understand it (i.e. that thing people do that’s meant to provide them with a stable and sufficient income).  With the two Eds, Miliband and Balls, firmly committed to Tory/LibDem spending cuts, the argument that it actually makes no difference whether you vote Tory, LibDem or “Labour” at Westminster makes increasing sense.  Why vote “Labour”? For a pink-tinted version of Tory viciousness? For a party that pretends it’s got your interests at heart, when it actually serves the same neoliberal forces as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats?  I always used to joke that I preferred Thatcher to Blair – at least everyone knew Thatcher was awful, but for a while Blair managed to fool many people into thinking he was nice (several wars and privatisations put paid to that).  Nobody was ever going to make that sort of mistake with Thatcher!

“Scottish Labour” is no better.  In fact, I should probably have separate quotation marks around “Scottish” and “Labour” – but that level of pedantry is a bit much, even for me.  This is an utterly shameful and ignorant group of politicians: a cheerful front for the Tory/LibDem-funded Better Together organisation, doing their legwork: Johann Lamont as ‘leader’ (I’m not even sure if she thinks she is genetically programmed to make decisions), Ian Davidson (wanting to ‘bayonet the wounded’ – what is wrong with him?), Jim Murphy (who only cared about visiting communities across Scotland to secure the British state and bolster his own profile, not to engage with any social issues these communities might be facing under his Tory/LibDem allies’ tender care), Alistair Darling (the darling of the Scottish Tories and house flipper extraordinaire), Margaret Curran (so deluded she thinks her party can ‘reach out’ to those who once supported it)… oh, and Gordon Brown (who cares so much for his constituents that so far in 2014 he’s voted in parliament on eight days, and makes promises that then need huge petitions to ensure they happen).  I could go on.  What astonishes me most is their complete lack of self-awareness: campaigning for Yes even just in my area, the contempt so many people feel for “Labour” took me aback: these politicians are not just disliked by many people, they are actively despised.  And yet they don’t seem to realise it.

So… I can appreciate the desire to ‘punish’ a party that many people at one time actually liked, respected, and voted for – and of course, when people are attached to something like a party that then moves to occupy ground they disapprove of, the disillusionment is strong.  I fall into this category, and although I left the “Labour” party over the Gulf War (no, not that Gulf War, the 1990-1 Gulf War, when they fully supported the Tories plans for attacking Iraq), for some time I still occasionally voted for them – including in 1997, despite my misgivings about Blair.  To use a cliché: the “Labour” party left me, not the other way around.

However, I don’t think those of us who voted Yes should set out to ‘punish’ “Labour” – not because they don’t richly deserve it, but because they’re not worth the effort.  Blair McDougall, the director of Better Together, said recently that negative campaigning may not be nice but it wins.  I am not convinced.  The astonishing increase in support for Scottish independence in the last two years, from being at about 25% to almost double that on 18.9., is not down to negative campaigning.  There was relatively little of that in the Yes movement.  Instead, Yes was broadly positive and vibrant and encouraged people to imagine a better Scotland (some might say too much so and that turned some folk off, but that’s another issue).  45% of voters did just that.

Whatever constellation of candidates emerges, either from the main parties that supported Yes (SNP, Greens, Scottish Socialists), or through some kind of ‘Scotland Alliance’ or ‘Devo Max Candidate’ system, I think the emphasis should be on what they can achieve for Scotland and beyond.  The ‘Vow’ may now be unimportant to Westminster, where extreme right-wing UKIPpers dominate the thinking, but Devo Max/Home Rule etc. was promised to Scots and we need to push for it and push hard, whether we voted Yes or No.  Only with control over all taxes will we be able to counter the worst of the Westminster austerity cuts all three main parties there have promised.  That message, about the need to control our own finances, is the one we need to communicate to voters.

Against that, what can “Labour” offer? They are austerity Tories in red rather than blue (not for nothing the #redTories hashtag on Twitter).  They are widely discredited and mistrusted… But I still expect them to retain a decent number of parliamentary seats (the LibDems may be wiped out in most of mainland Scotland, but few will mourn them).  There are sufficient folk in Scotland who can still see something valuable in the “Labour” Party that I can no longer see – how long that might last I don’t know, but we should not waste our time on that negativity.  Instead we should seek to show that the parties that actually have Scottish, and therefore wider solidarity at heart, are the ones who can implement more significant changes.  I don’t buy Scott Hames’ line, that:

… even if it were possible, ‘destroying’ Scottish Labour would be a terrible strategy for supporters of independence (or, now, home-rule). At the electoral level, the driving force of Scottish devolution was the self-preservation of the UK Labour party, desperate to hold seats threatened by the SNP. If Labour were somehow to lose all its Scottish seats, the key electoral ‘lever’ would be broken by which the threat of independence was leveraged all the way to the establishment of Holyrood and the indyref itself. The less Labour have to play for in Scotland, the less the Scottish question is a counter in Westminster party politics – and the No result puts Westminster firmly in charge of what happens next….

I don’t believe “Labour” would do much if anything for Scotland if they won at Westminster: if they were interested in doing something for Scotland or the wider UK, they wouldn’t be following the Tory/LibDem austerity programme, and wouldn’t be pushing for ever harsher measures against the young (you thought Osborne at the Tory conference was bad in wanting to stop benefits for young people? Maybe he learnt from Miliband’s speeches in June?).  Of the three British nationalist parties, “Labour’s” pre-referendum ‘offer’ was the worst and least coherent.  No: Miliband is counting on Scotland to provide some ‘safe seats’ (probably in vain, as John McAllion, former Labour MP and MSP, now an SSP member, argues) whilst he chases right-wing voters in the south of England.  UKIP talk about threatening Tory and Labour seats – and you can be sure Labour take this seriously and will try to forestall it, offering more right-wing enticements to the electorate.

Whichever of the austerity parties – Tories/LibDems/”Labour” – emerges victorious in 2015, we know that since WWII Scottish votes have hardly ever made a difference to the outcome of Westminster elections. I therefore don’t think anyone should feel obliged to vote “Labour” to ‘keep the Tories out’.

Neither should we focus on “Labour” in order to ‘punish’ the leadership – that just drains energy that could be used in a more positive way.  The current “Labour” party is a hypocritical Toryised husk of a once great labour movement, and the few good folk in the party who persist with it because they want to rescue it can be supported as friends (buy the poor souls a drink every now and then), but we should not vote against “Labour”. Instead we should vote for parties offering a positive vision for Scotland and the wider world.  Until “Labour” start doing that, we should ignore them and support parties that do offer a positive vision for improving wider society (as a Green, of course I think they are offering the best programme for that!):

Vote positively, not negatively.