Sunday, 27 October 2013

Credibility is Everything: The Yes Scotland Declaration

For the second time in a month I have had my blog stolen! I wrote, briefly, at the end of September about how my three quarter written blog on the abolition of corroboration had been comprehensively pre-empted on the eve of publication by Lallands Peat Worrier, to the extent that my own thoughts on the matter could only have appeared at the risk of allegations of plagiarism.

And today it has happened again, albeit from a different source. For my intention in this Sunday blog had been to follow up what I'd said about our Dunfermline Campaign on Friday, and to try and address the extent to which both universalism and current local government funding needed to be reviewed by Scottish Labour if we were to have a credible policy platform in 2016. But, as it turns out, I've once again been beaten to it, this time by Kate Higgins at Burdzeyeview who, albeit writing from a (semi-detached) Nationalist perspective, covers the same territory so comprehensively that all that would be left for me would be to reach different conclusions.

I will return to that topic but only when recollection of Kate's piece has faded a bit from the memory of my potential readers!

But I'm left instead scratching about for a topic and have resolved on the old standby of having a go at the opposition when they set off down on a patently absurd course and then quietly hope everybody will forget about it.

Purely from the detached perspective of a political hack of thirty-nine years standing I was utterly bemused as to why, at the launch of Yes Scotland on 25th May 2012, the ambition was declared of securing one million signatures to the Yes Scotland Declaration. It struck me as something which could only have been thought up by somebody with no knowledge of electoral politics for it was something that was always going to be impossible to achieve.

Let me frame this in entirely Nationalist terms. There are Four  Million people, more or less, entitled to vote in the Referendum. In reality, somewhere between two and a half and three million will actually vote. let's split the difference and suggest 2,750.000. So to win the Nationalists would need 1,375,001 votes. Let's even concede them, for this purpose, a big win. 1,500,000 votes.

To get one million signatures to the petition would then require persuading two thirds of these people not only to vote yes but to (semi) publicly (I'll come back to that) declare individually an intention to do so in advance.

Now, here I simply ask a question of all hardened Party activists? Has any of our respective Parties ever achieved that degree of voter identification, even in the most marginal of seats, worked intensively over years and even then relying on the fall back of asking in telephone or doorstep canvassing if the views of the elector you're speaking to are shared by the whole household? Of course we haven't. And even then, we are only asking people how they are voting, not to sign in blood to that effect and, what's more, we are mainly relying on telephone contact which makes signing anything physically impossible.

So what persuaded Yes Scotland to set themselves such a patently absurd objective of a million signatures? It is difficult to conclude it was anything other than being completely naive about the realities of political campaigning. I can't imagine if Kevin Pringle had held the position then that he holds today that this would ever have seen the light of day. Nobody has ever suggested that the modern SNP don't know how to fight elections. I remain completely puzzled why they initially entrusted their most important election ever to such rank amateurs.

But the more interesting thing is what has happened since.

Firstly, almost immediately, the declaration became something less than a declaration. In common sense usage, a declaration is something with which you are prepared to be publicly identified. We all know who signed the Declaration of Arbroath; The US Declaration of Independence or indeed the Declaration (proclamation) of Ireland's Provisional Republic. Very quickly however it was announced that the identities of those who had signed the Declaration of Cineworld would remain secret. Three reasons have since been given for this. The first was that this was always the intention, although that rather contradicts the public nature of the first signatures on the day  and might have been expected to have been said on the day rather than several weeks later. The second was that to make the names of the signatories public would only alert the "unionists" to the strength of their opponents, although most people would think that was precisely the point of a Declaration. The third was that some people would want to sign who could not be identified publicly as supporters of any political cause by reason of their employment. That of course is marginally true but while it might justify an option for a signatory to ask that their name not being publicised, it hardly justifies downgrading the original apparent intention of the whole exercise.

But more interesting still is what has happened since. At the end of September 2012, Eck announced at the first March and Rally for Independence that 100,000 had signed up. That seemed to the outside an entirely credible claim (even if from a normally dubious source). The first one tenth of the number required was always going to be the low hanging fruit. All of the SNP's membership and most of those of their minor Party allies. And most of those true believers prepared to approach a street stall or go on-line in both the good weather and the first flush of enthusiasm. But the very fact that even then, only 100,000 had signed in the first four months showed the impossible scale of the overall task. The assumption, I think all round, was that this would be something, in time, quietly forgotten about.

And indeed that appeared to be the case until, in a bizarre development, on 24th May 2013, Yes Scotland announced that precisely 372,103 (secret) people had signed their Declaration. "What?" I hear you ask. Having only got 100,000 in the first four months, an average of 135,000 had then signed in each of the further two four month periods since. Through the depths of the Winter when face to face contact with any electors is at its most difficult? Really? Was anybody actually expected to believe this?

I suspect at this point even the SNP realised that such absurd claims were damaging their credibility for there have been no mention of any numbers since. Notably even as Nicola made her equally outlandish claims as to those in actual attendance at this Year's March and Rally.

Now here I want to finish with some advice. It would have greatly cheered my Labour readers if I'd blogged last Sunday on my return from Dunfermline that I expected a Labour landslide. But it would have so clashed with the actual feeling of those with experience on the ground that it would have been rightly dismissed as cheerleading. And cheerleading has never won any election. Whereas making claims that lack all credibility has lost more than a few.

So, if, as I suspect, we will hear no more about the Yes Scotland Declaration then I suspect the hidden hand of Kevin Pringle might, once again, be at work

Friday, 25 October 2013

Dunfermline digested

My  Report from the front line last Sunday stands up pretty well in light of the final result.

The only real error was in miscalculating how the Libs would do. although amidst what was a poor poor result for them, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, even then, they still beat the Tories.

I  was also perhaps a little pessimistic about the turnout, although all Parties should pause to think a bit about describing 42.75% as " better than expected".

Now, as a supporter of the People's Party, I should, on one view, just sit back and bask in what was a (reasonably) good result but I have to say I have  pretty substantial reservations about just doing that.

What exactly was the Labour message? Essentially that our candidate was personable enough and lived locally, that we were a bit more generally organised than 2011 and that we were opposed to Scottish Independence which, everybody on both sides knows, is really not very popular . And, surprise surprise, that was enough to win in Dunfermline as no doubt it would have been had the by-election been in Paisley or Clydebank or Airdrie or Cathcart or any number of other seats that we should never have lost in the first place.

But the problem is that we lost these seats in 2011 from the already losing position of 2007. We could get them all back, more or less, in 2016 and, unless the Libs experience a recovery that would astonish even Lazarus, it is difficult to see how that would lead to (even a minority) Labour Administration.

And, by 2016, we won't even have two of the three cards that we played in Dunfermline. Personable local candidates are all very well but they do not per se provide the material from which to form a Government and unless the Nats decided on a collective suicide pact around "having another go", by 2016 Independence won't be on anybody's (immediate) agenda. Indeed on both these points, objectively, the Nationalists could even be strengthened by 2016. They will still have the same technocratically competent Ministerial team, perhaps even improved by the departure of some of their old guard "their life's work failed" and the removal of the Marmite figure of Alex Salmond. They will also have the card they always hold of being seen to be best placed to "stand up for Scotland". It's all very well for us (and the Libs and the Tories) to protest that this is either completely meaningless or, if it is not, is equally true of all Scottish political parties. Just as any amount of wishful thinking by the SNP won't make Independence any more popular, no amount of wishful thinking by us will ever deprive the SNP of that "patriotic" advantage in the context of a purely Scottish election.

No, if Labour wants to get back in 2016 we need to have a policy offer and nothing in Dunfermline indicated that we are any closer to that.

I might write more about this at the weekend but for the moment I will finish with a football analogy. Diehard football fans like to see their team play attractive football but not if the price paid for that is to get beat. So for those ever loyal to the Labour cause the big thing in Dunfermline was to win. And we certainly got our result. More occasional supporters however place a greater premium on entertainment. And if, week in week out, they are not enjoying the product then they eventually find something else to do on a Saturday afternoon. Even if the team is winning.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sometimes You're just beat

Sometime's you're just beat.

Karl Marx famously observed that the value of labour is the source of all wealth. And of course he was right.

A Modern Fairy Tale

A long long time ago, in a country far far away there was a great city in a verdant valley between great mountains. And the city had great natural resources, among them abundant vineyards from which was produced the most wonderful wine. And many men made a living from carrying that wine in pigs bladders from door to door and for a few fraction of a groat selling the wine to the city's inhabitants.

Till, one day, a wine seller went to a particular house where he had in the past enjoyed much custom. "I would love to buy your wine" advised the lady of the house, "but we do not have a beaker between us from which to drink it." "But why?" replied the wine seller.

The lady responded "Beakers are only sold by pedlars from beyond the mountains. And they are very expensive, two Groats each. We are poor people and, our beakers having all been broken, we cannot afford others." And the wine seller went on his way. Until he met the same story a few doors later and over the next few days found it repeated many times. And the wine seller found himself worrying for his future, for if people wouldn't buy his wine, for want of beakers, how would he feed his children. Of which he had many, as wine selling opened a number of opportunities.

Then, suddenly one night he found himself dreaming of the words of the prophet Rahm Emanuel. Every crisis is an opportunity. And he remembered his friend Jimmy the baker, a man who he remembered had travelled across the mountains as a young man. "Jimmy" he inquired the next day, "I don't suppose you know how to make beakers?" "Of course I do," replied Jimmy, "you take some clay, you shape it into a beaker and you then fire it in a kiln."

"Clay? A kiln?" inquired the wine seller? Jimmy looked quizzical at his friends ignorance. "Clay is that red mud you find by every river and a kiln," and with this he turned smiling towards his bread oven.

A week and a few other free drinks later exchanged with Jimmy and others for information, the wine seller returned to the baker with a question. "How much would you charge me for ten beakers, clay included?" The baker thought for a moment "The clay is free, it just needs collected from the river so......Five Groats" he replied. And when would you need paid, my old, old friend?" the wine-seller continued. "For a month" and with that they shook hands.

For, in the interim the wine seller had returned to his (former) customers with a proposition. "I know you like my wine but have no means to drink it. Suppose I could sell you not only wine but a beaker to drink it from, for, perhaps"....pause...", a Groat a beaker?" And a lot of other hands had been shaken.

One month later the baker and the wine seller sat down for a glass of wine. Ten beakers had been produced and sold. The wine seller gave the baker his five Groats and suggested that perhaps next month's order might extend to fifty beakers at the same price. The baker nodded in agreement even though he was slightly disquieted for reasons he couldn't quite put his finger on. He wasn't reassured when, at the door, his friend asked for a Groat for the baker's share of the cost of their wine.

[We stop for a Marxist gloss. Marx says that the source of all wealth is the value of labour and the evil of capitalism the exploitation of its surplus value. From the story so far, on one view, the view broadly of the left, the wine-seller was sitting with five groats profit for having persuaded the baker to sell him ten groats worth of beakers for five groats. On the other view however, broadly the view of the right, had the wine-seller not identified the market and found the first ten customers then there would never have been the need for any beaker manufacture. The wine-seller would then have no extra groats, the baker would have no extra groats and the potential beaker customers would have no beakers. For what it's worth the beaker customers would at least still have a groat each but, this being (very) primitive capitalism, they would have nothing else to spend their groat on. Except wine. Which they had no means of drinking. But Marx is right on either view. For the clay, still inert in the ground, has no value. So the wealth here has been created by the value of the baker's labour, in making beakers, combined with the value of the wine-seller in primitive development, sales and marketing. Whether the division of the spoils is "fair" is must await the next bit of the story.]

Twelve months later, the baker was dead. A (primitive) intellectual property dispute having arisen, both he and his one time friend, the wine seller, had sought in vain for (primitive) corporate lawyers. So, instead they had sat down for a reconciliatory glass. After which, in circumstances never entirely satisfactorily explained, the baker had been found floating in the river in a form of (primitive) "alternative dispute resolution".

At the funeral, the wine-seller approached the baker's family. "I'm so sorry" he explained. "I thought he had had too much to drink to go swimming but he simply wouldn't see sense. Anyway, you'll be needing some money. I wouldn't insult you with charity but perhaps I could buy your father's kiln for, shall we say, ten groats? I've always wanted to try making my own bread."

"That's very generous" replied the baker's widow, "but how, wine seller, will my sons make a living?" The wine seller paused. "I will find them something." The widow was moved to tears: "How could the Baker family ever thank you wine seller?"

"There is no need for thanks, but I think you mean not the Baker family but the Beaker family...... and perhaps I misheard you when you called me Wine Seller, when of course you meant to call me the Boss".

And the widow nodded.

Twenty years later, the Boss had become a big wheel in the beaker market and had long since stopped selling wine. He was now selling 10,000 beakers a month, not just in the city and not just for wine and he employed 1,000 beaker makers, not all called Beaker. At the end of each month they had their five Groats each and he had, eh, 5,000 Groats. The subsistence of that first original supply agreement between him and the baker  might have looked, to the outside, a bit unfair had there been a (primitive) free press or indeed a (primitive) democratic assembly with a (primitive) social democratic administration. That might indeed have prompted demands for a (primitive) minimum wage. But, of course, this being a primitive society none of these things existed. So the Beakers and their similarly employed non-namesakes were on their own.

But then, one day, one Beaker, with a particularly large family, went to the Boss and complained he was struggling to feed his family. Could I not, he asked, be paid six groats for every ten beakers? The Boss pondered. He could easily have given this one man his six groats a month. The Boss would still have 4,999 groats a month but he was conscious that giving this particular Beaker an extra groat would undoubtedly lead to similar demands from others. So he told  him to get lost. As one individual, what could he do? He could go and get another job but that assumed that job would pay more than five Groats a month. And it also assumed that he could find one, particularly if the Boss let it be known in the City that he was a "troublemaker".

So the snubbed Beaker, realising that he has no power on his own, decided the only solution is to enlist the assistance of the other Beakers. Indeed not just the Beakers but of all the beaker makers. "I'm worth more than five groats a month" he told them "and so are we all". "And with his 5,000 Groats a month, the Boss can well afford to pay us that. We should form a Trade Union." And the beaker makers agreed and agreed that their Union demand that every beaker maker be paid six groats a month. Failing which they would withdraw their labour. And the Boss, being a (primitive) Development, Sales and Marketing guy and not unfortunately also a (primitive) HR person told them to get on with it. And a strike followed.

Except that after one month of the strike, while the beaker makers were all five groats worse off the Boss suddenly realised he was 5,000 Groats worse off (he was also not a (primitive) stock control person). And what's more those customers presenting at his factory to buy new beakers were telling him that not only would they go and buy their immediately needed beaker elsewhere, they wouldn't be back to him in the case of future demand for a beaker, now they knew they can't rely on the supply he purported to provide. Indeed there was talk of somebody else setting up another beaker factory, possibly even one run by its workers.

So not only was the Boss worse off he was beginning to realise that his customer base was melting away. And he found himself thinking that 4,000 Groats a month is still a lot of groats and if things went on much longer it might not even be 4,000 Groats a month when the dispute was resolved. So he decided, after all, "in a spirit of magnanimity and recognising that we're all in this together", to concede the Union's demand.

So the beaker makers got their six groats and hailed their own wisdom in joining the Union. And they all lived happily ever after in a spirit of industrial harmony and collective enterprise, more or less........................

Until a hundred years later. Beaker demand is unprecedented. There are 10,000 beaker makers and 100,000 beakers produced every month. And thanks to ever increased power of the Union the beaker makers are being paid nine Groats a month. But the great great grandson of the Boss is collecting 10,000 Groats a month, still twice as much as his forebear. And he loves being called The New Boss. Neither side is entirely happy but both sides can live with it.

And then, one day, a man arrives in the town with a caravan full of beakers. "How much are they?" demand the people. "Three quarters of a Groat each" replies the trader. "How can that be" demand the people, "beakers from beyond the mountains have always been much more expensive?"

"Have you not heard of the new Pass through the mountains that has been found? Or of the famine there that means people will work for bread alone?"

And the people had heard of neither but they knew that the cheaper they could buy their beakers the better. So they bought from the trader and not from the New Boss.

And at the end of the month, The New Boss sat down and looked at the books. He had paid the beaker makers 90,000 Groats but he had sold no beakers. And so he called in the Union.

"This can't go on" he said.

"Why?" replied the Union. The New Boss was puzzled. "Because I am the Boss and the purpose of being the Boss (old or new) is to make money. Not to spend it on beaker makers."

"But you have millions of Groats, all entirely derived from our labours and the labours of of our forefathers."

"Let's just set aside for the moment the issue of the role of entrepreneurship and accept that to be true. So what?"

"You owe us an obligation"

"Let's just to agree to differ on that"

"Alright, what do you suggest?"

"I suggest that if you accept seven groats for ten beakers then we could still turn this round"

"No way, nine Groats is the rate for the job"

"It's not across the mountains"

"What does that matter"

"Tell that to the people not buying our beakers"

And so the Union went on strike. Only the New Boss discovered that while the (old) Boss had been 5,000 Groats a month worse off as a result of a strike, the New Boss was actually 90,000 Groats better off.

And so, one morning, when the beaker makers woke up, they discovered the New Boss had piled all his remaining Groats on to a cart and disappeared over the mountains during the night.

And the beaker makers complained they had been treated appallingly. And they were right for the New Boss had given them no warning. But a lot of good  did their complaints do them. For the people still had beakers. Cheaper beakers than the local beaker makers were prepared to supply. And it was too late now to offer to match that price.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Report from the front line

I was in Dunfermline today.

There are only two places in Dunfermline with which I am remotely familiar: The Sheriff Court and East End Park. Professionally I am a rare visitor to the former and thanks to the travails of the football club I have regrettably not been a recent visitor to the latter. My memory was that Dunfermline was further away than it actually is and having reached there from Kilsyth in well under an hour I feel rather ashamed that I have not been a more frequent visitor to what has become By-Election City.

Nonetheless, having been, it would be appropriate for me to file a report from the front line.

It is only right that I say these observations are based more on conversations in the Labour Committee rooms than any great feeling on the street. 

In the morning (Sunday morning) my activities were confined entirely and understandably to delivering literature. I met a single voter and hailed him with the immemorial “I trust we can count on your support?" To which he replied “I've just come outside for a cigarette” as if he feared being mistaken for the mythical elector who spontaneously rushes out to embrace his Party’s representative on the street.

In the afternoon we did a knock up in a village just outside the town to hand out pledge cards to those who were already identified as our supporters. In so far as they were in at all, these people were voting Labour. But then we knew that already. As to whether, where I was, their number should have been more or less than it was I simply have no idea. As I’ve already said, I was in Fife, a place that was not as far away as I thought it was but still beyond any informed knowledge of mine. In terms that local activists in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth of all Parties will understand, the Labour identifiers would have been brilliant for Banton but terrible for Croy. Or in Paisley terms, brilliant for Glenburn but terrible for Shortroods.

But what then was the feeling in the Labour Rooms?

After Donside, I wrote a blog suggesting the result was bad news for everybody. This time the feeling is that it might be qualified good news for everybody.

First, us. We look like winning and if, as I observed after Donside, winning is everything, winning in Dunfermline will be important.

I won’t bother with the “but” for it is implied in what follows.

Second, the SNP. Their vote won’t collapse as we had hoped and as “liberal” opinion might have expected to have been their due for having chosen a known domestic abuser as their previous representative and thus, once the rest of us found out what they had known all along, triggering the by-election in the first place. This is important. There is a significant section of the electorate, aside from Independence true believers, who are still not impressed with Labour’s ability to “stand up for Scotland”. If we don’t turn that round by May 2016 then we won’t be back in power. Perhaps we should commission a report from Rhodri Morgan.

Third, the Libs. Ages ago I had a row with a Liberal-Democrat (otherwise) pal over my assertion that they were really no more than a “neither of the above” Party. And, do you know, he may have been right and I may have been wrong. For in May 2011, despite the coalition travails, 20% of Dunfermline’s voters “still” voted Liberal-Democrat. At the start of this campaign both us and the Nats saw these voters as easy pickings. They’ve not been. They may indeed be actual Liberal-Democrats. Comfortably off but with a social conscience. Jings.

And then finally we have the Tories. They have clearly got the best candidate (except, of course, for our own most excellent candidate) but more to the point he (the Tory) might be, I think, the likely beneficiary of a renewed wider confidence. Every other opinion in this blog had to be canvassed by me but, spontaneously, two people volunteered to me that they agreed with my thoughts last week that a (minor) Scottish Tory revival might be under way. We’ll see. They’ve only got 7% but I suspect they may hang on to that.

As for the rest. UKIP will beat the Greens senseless but the Greens days in the sun (or Calton Hill) had already been seen off in Perth this weekend past. The Trots didn’t stand and the Jacobite Candidate will, once again I fear, find himself on the way to Skye disguised in women’s clothing.

So that’s my call. Except for one final and important point. On my way back in the morning I undertook a tour of the town. This was not engaged upon for any political purpose but rather because I got lost and couldn’t find the Sheriff Court or the Football Stadium from which to get my bearings back to the Labour Rooms.

But on that tour, albeit at a Sunday lunchtime, I hardly encountered a place in the midst of a political ferment. Not a single householder had a poster for any Party in their window or garden. Nothing reassured me that Thursday’s turnout would be anything but derisory.

In so far as there is a crisis in our politics it is not a constitutional crisis but a democratic one. A crisis of disengagement. And against that background I fear that on Thursday coming, while we are all winners, we will all be losers as well.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Eck's Speech

I've read Eck's speech and it's a good speech.

Salmond is a good platform speaker but even his closest friends and allies would concede privately that, before today, his most recent efforts had given concern as to whether he was losing his mojo. Today he was back to top form. Credit where it is due.

It is worthy of more wider consideration however as to whether platform speeches, although regarded universally among the political class as an essential part of "the leader's" tool kit are really as important as we (all) think. The best two major Party leaders of recent times in delivering a platform speech (Kinnock and Hague) never won an election between them whereas the most electorally successful, Thatcher and Blair, never really spoke from the platform to the nation (as opposed to their Parties) in a way that was truly memorable.

I followed Eck's speech on twitter from the terraces at New Greenhill Road, where I suspect that I was the only person present more interested in that than in whether Rangers could really be losing at Brechin. Tomorrow, the 2% of the population really engaged day to day with political debate will pour over the analysis of the speech in the Sunday Herald and Scotland and Sunday but when the "don't knows" finally make up their mind ten months from now I doubt if a single person, for or against, will attribute their final choice to what Eck said today. It would have been an astonishing achievement for today's speech to have been a game changer and, good though it was, today's speech changed nothing . It simply confirmed the best argument that can be made for freedom/separation (delete to taste). And it confirmed, in a different way, that this argument is not enough.

The real reason that we are waiting three and a half years from the 2011 Scottish General Election until the referendum is that in their heart of hearts the Nationalists knew that they couldn't win without "something turning up". And, logically, the longer they waited, the more chance there was that this "something" might turn up. But, increasingly time is running out on that. The remaining hope is that the Tories might look like winning in May 2015, but I suspect that will be no more a possibility in September 2014 than it is today. Even then, I suspect that this has already been factored in by those who might vote Yes or No based on that potential outcome.

To be fair, I have met one solitary person who said that they might vote Yes if they were certain that the Tories would win the 2015 General Election but in September 2014 even the most optimistic Tory will not be certain of that. And even the one person who did express that opinion in Lefty/liberal company was more than outweighed by others weighing in to argue that they would rather have Thatcher, never mind Cameron, than Salmond. Sorry to disappoint any Nationalist readers but a very large number of people on the left really don't like your leader at all.

Yet the prospect of a Tory Government in 2015 remains the straw to which the Nationalists cling. For it is increasingly clear that they are incapable of changing the game by their own efforts. That was the real message from Eck today. "This is as good an argument as we can make". And yet, outwith the ranks of the faithful, it is patently not an argument that is sufficiently strong to convince.

My money remains on 28%.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

An Interesting By-Election.

There was a really interesting by-election last week. No not that one (although I'll come back to that). The by-election I'm referring to was in Tweeddale West on the Scottish Borders Council.

But first an anecdote. In 1995, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the Tory MP for Perth and Kinross died, triggering a by-election in that seat. This was the absolute high watermark of new Labour. We were polling well ahead of even the result that brought us a landslide two years later and the most recent by-election in a Tory seat, Dudley West, had seen one of the largest ever recorded swings between the major Parties.

So our comrades in the South initially looked forward with some optimism to Perth and Kinross. They were soon disillusioned by the Scottish end of the operation. Somewhere like Perth and Kinross would never vote Labour we assured them. These people were posh and rural. The likes of them did not vote for the likes of us. Ever. And so indeed it proved.

But the high water mark of New Labour popularity was also the absolute nadir of the fortunes of the Tories. So those unwilling to vote Tory but horrified at the prospect of voting even for bright happy smiley new improved Labour had to go somewhere. And that somewhere was the SNP. Where they have more or less remained.

The 2011 landslide for the SNP was built on three pillars. The first was the true believers. People who genuinely believe in an independent Scotland and who finally had a credible vehicle through which to express that support. Polling on the referendum puts that at about a half of those who voted SNP in 2011. The second pillar was "Labour Despairers": those who would have liked to have voted Labour but who despaired of the Party for reasons ranging from the Iraq War to the intellectual bankruptcy of our 2011 campaign, But the third pillar was the "Anybody but Labourers", people who would never ever vote Labour, perceiving us as statist, congenitally inclined to higher taxes and (not unimportantly in Scotland) really only interested in the central belt. These people are natural Tories. By voting No in large numbers, they were key to the indecisive vote in the 79 Referendum but somewhat bizarrely by 2011 had found themselves voting SNP on, the principle that now there was to be a Scottish Parliament, the last thing they wanted was it to be a Labour run Scottish Parliament.

Of the five mainland Westminster Parliamentary seats held by the SNP, an area not, I think, unreasonably to describe as their heartlands, only one (Dundee East and on different boundaries) has ever been held by the Labour Party. Or ever will be I suspect. And the Nationalists in power in Holyrood have looked after these people pretty well. Not just by the Council Tax freeze and the often overlooked small business rates exemption (on any view overtly right wing policies) but by other initiatives that carefully cloak middle class perks as egalitarianism, such as universal free prescriptions and, most obviously of all, "free" higher education at the expense of slashed college budgets and maintenance grants for poorer students.

But, nonetheless, two separate developments are slowly persuading these people that perhaps they should return to their original loyalties.

The "problem" for the SNP is the Independence Referendum. Firstly, it is demonstrating, in spades, that in addition to looking after the comfortable middle class under a devolved settlement, the SNP also actually do stand for Independence for Scotland. And that's not what the rural shires signed up for at all. But, secondly, the nature of the campaign being waged in support of a Yes outcome, in pursuit of the left wing voters seen by some at least as key to victory has suddenly put the sober suited, patently centrist, Church going, John Swinneys and Angus Robertsons of this world in some pretty strange company indeed. Suddenly the prospectus is not just a Scotland "running itself" but a Scotland inevitably then running itself in a much more left wing direction, with Scandinavian levels of public spending, and, more frighteningly, personal taxation; a willingness to indulge the long term unemployed (from Glasgow!) with a wholly unreformed benefit system and an open door to every waif and stray from around the world who might want to settle here. And not only that, a nod and a wink to the likely long term future of the Queen and the Pound Sterling.

Most worryingly of all, a Scotland, once freedom is achieved, anticipated to be run by a more left wing version of the current Labour Party!

Now this might play well at the SSP Conference, or even Calton Hill,  but somehow I doubt if it represents the on the street opinion in Forfar, or Elgin, or Perth.

But you don't need to take my word for that. Last Thursday, there was a by-election in Tweeddale West for the Scottish Borders Council. And there was an eighteen percent (you are not misreading) eighteen per cent increase in the Tory vote. A full half of it at the expense of the SNP. And on the same night, amidst my own Party's euphoria in Govan, the Tory vote resolutely refused to be squeezed in a Nationalist direction as would have been routine in an SNP/Labour marginal until very recently. Indeed, in percentage terms, the Tory vote actually increased there as well.

Now, this is of course completely counter-intuitive to those who maintain that Scotland is a "naturally" more left wing country than England. How can Scotland be the only part of the UK where the "universally hated evil English Tories" currently appear to be making progress in the polls? Best just look the other way.

In Dunfermline, the SNP are desperately trying to cling on to this vote, with entire election literature highlighting the Council Tax freeze, Labour's threat to other middle class Holyrood perks and, that old faithful of the Right everywhere, the alleged profligacy of the Labour controlled Council. And, tellingly, not mentioning Independence at all. Let alone the "Common Weal".

Let's see how well they get on.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

What is there to say

Even by the standards of this seemingly never ending referendum campaign it has been a particularly boring period. Both sides seem to have run out of new things to say. In the middle of September, there was a brief flurry of excitement when it was suggested Eck was going to announce a "new fact" but as it turned out that came to nothing, presumably because it was discovered it wasn't new. With a different politician you might also have to accept the possibility that it wasn't a fact at all but in the First Minister's case that's not a consideration that has concerned him in the past.

Last week, the Scottish Government's Council of Economic Advisers produced another report confirming that Independence would mean tax rises or major public expenditure cuts but nobody on either side got particularly excited as this was hardly something new, being only what they'd said previously. It seems to me the Nats have largely given up on this point, just resorting to bland assertion in the belief that the game is up anyway and what they claim is never going to be put to the practical test. We used to point out that "Divorce is an expensive business" but it's a pity we couldn't organise a wee trial separation.

The most entertaining thing I saw from either side was this video which I initially thought was a BetterTogether spoof but which if you persevere proves to be the genuine view of (some) on the Nationalist side. Stick with it past the pensioners with the "Ban the BBC" placard (and the balloons on sticks) until you get to the man with the toupee. The best efforts of Blythswood Square could not have invented this.

Increasingly we're being told that the White Paper will be a game changer but to be honest I fail to see how or why. We know the prospectus of the SNP and its unlikely to change dramatically before the end of November. Radical ideas such as "Banning the BBC" are unlikely to find themselves making a late bid for inclusion. "Answers" are unlikely to suddenly emerge to the questions on Currency, EU Membership, Pensions etcetera etcetera etcetera which, to the mind of our side have not been answered to date, or which, to the mind of the true believers, have been answered entirely satisfactorily already.

Nor is the sudden emergence of an Eck v David debate going to ride to the rescue. It's patently not going to happen and, having made legitimate capital on that point, at some point the First Minister will eventually work out that he can't spend the entire campaign sulking, like Achilles, in his tent or speaking only to the ready converted.

In other news, Patrick Harvie made a whistling in the dark speech to his conference suggesting that Green and other Radical elements might yet be decisive. Somehow I think that's more appropriately judged by the two by-elections in which the Greens did and will trail in behind UKIP and in which the other Radical elements lacked the courage to face the electorate at all.

In reality, the campaign has already moved on to how effective the Big Parties are at getting their vote out. And that's kind of boring, which is why, I suppose, so is this blog.

But I am exhorted constantly by Blair McDougall to emphasise that THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY. So, I repeat, THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY.

But, in an entirely uncomplacent way, feel free to sit back and enjoy the video.