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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Vote SNP - And Get Labour!

If there is still a place for such a thing as "Emergency Resolutions" on the agenda of the SNP Annual Conference this month, there should be one which addresses the issue of how the SNP will behave, if they have a substantial presence in Westminster after the next general election. With the latest polls showing Labour in melt-down in Scotland, the problems with Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party and the Scottish "branch office" facing its own leadership contest, the election prospects for Labour in Scotland do not look good. One poll showed their Scottish MPs reduced to 4, losing the other 36 to the SNP. The thought of that actually happening gives me no end of pleasure but, realistically no experienced follower of Scottish politics expects it to happen. However, if the current mood in Scotland continues to the next general election in May 2015, the SNP looks likely to take a substantial number of constituencies from both Labour and the Lib/Dems, giving them anything up to 20 seats in Westminster. That is 9 more than the 11 seats the party won in October 1974 and, depending on the seats won by the other Westminster parties, including UKIP, some commentators, as well as more enthusiastic members of the SNP, have speculated about the SNP holding the "balance of power".

We have been here before, prior to the election of 1987, when the "hung parliament" scenario of Alex Salmond and his infamous, " if Parliament is to be hung, let it hang by a Scottish rope", persuaded the SNP to run that central campaign theme, talking up the Labour vote in Scotland and leading to the loss of Western Isles and Dundee East to Labour. This time the speculation may be a bit more realistic but it throws up its own problems for the SNP, some constitutional, others strategic and tactical which go to the heart of what the New SNP actually stands for. On 2nd November, Alex Salmond said, "I certainly think there is no chance whatsoever of the SNP ever going into coalition with the Conservative Party..." "I think it is unlikely (to go into coalition) with Labour, but who knows?" He went on to say it would be taken on a "case by case basis" if Labour wanted SNP support. Alex Salmond has still not said whether or not he will stand for Westminster, although every man and his dug expects him to do so, therefore making any comment whatsoever, about the likely strategy of the SNP's Westminster group, could cause difficulty both for them and more importantly, his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Of even more importance, it raises serious questions about what New SNP means by independence, the message it sends to the thousands of new members. Salmond also said, "Labour will not be forgiven or forgotten for a generation in Scottish politics....because of their cooperation with the Tories on the Unionist side in the independence referendum....they will pay a heavy price for many years to come." Not if the SNP keep it in power in Westminster it won't, in return for what? Callaghan preferred to risk defeat in a general election in 1979, to granting any concessions on devolution. He was more responsible for the Thatcher years than ever the SNP was. Will the current Labour party be any different? What is the purpose of the SNP, is it to get independence or make it easier for Westminster and Devolution to work? After a generation of the "Gradualist" approach of demonstrating ability and competence in devolved government, the SNP failed to win independence in the referendum, which was the promise held out, in return for unquestioning support for the gradualist strategy. For the SNP to keep ANY Unionist party in power in Westminster must cause enormous concern and strain among the members, but to keep Labour in power would be to breath life into the one party in Scotland which has betrayed the interests of the Scottish people more than any other. The upsurge in SNP membership is a direct consequence of Labour's perceived betrayal in the referendum and those new members want Labour to be punished, not kept in office.

In his new book, "Scotland. The Battle for Independence", Gordon Wilson, the man who led the SNP for eleven years, commented, he was "struck by the ambition of many delegates who wished to have a career in the devolved parliament now that the list system made this a realistic proposition". In other words, the Ministerial Mondeo syndrome. Gordon was commenting on the period when Gradualism was adopted by the party and independence came TENTH on the party's list of ten priorities. Since Salmond announced he was standing down as both leader of the SNP and First Minister, I have spoken to a number of party members, most of them full of enthusiasm for the future, although bitterly disappointed with the result of the referendum. Inevitably, discussion included the strategy of the referendum campaign itself, as well as hopes for the future. The future obviously included the new leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, as well as the candidates for the Deputy Leader. As usual, I stressed the inconsistencies, to say nothing of the contradictions, in New SNP's policies, some of them of long standing, particularly on the question of the EU.

"Independence in Europe" was always a nonsense and became even more of a nonsense as EU centralisation increased. But the SNP has been nothing if not consistent in its total inability to see the contradictions in its policies on the EU. At its National Council in March 2000, the party agreed to support the euro, with control of monetary policy, interest rates etc passing to the European Central Bank. In the same motion, it also emphasised its support for the EU as a Confederation. That this was an impossibility passed them by, and despite the EU's increasing centralisation, SNP support for the organisation has also increased. The three candidates for the Deputy Leader's post in the SNP, appeared on Scotland Tonight and were asked what their attitudes were to a number of SNP policies which had been highlighted during the referendum. On immigration both Stewart Hosie and Keith Brown favoured controlled immigration  but also emphasised that membership of the EU is "essential". It is inconceivable that two Ministers in the Scottish government do not know that members of the EU cannot control immigration. They also still favoured the currency union which caused so much of a problem for the SNP and the Yes Campaign during the referendum, and which they were told was "incompatible with sovereignty" by none other than the Governor of the Bank of England, as well as numerous other economists.

A large Westminster contingent of SNP MPs will inevitably cause tension if their handling of strategy and tactics there, does not find favour with the leadership in the Scottish Parliament. At the same time, the leadership in Scotland will find it difficult to micro-manage events as they unfold in both Holyrood and Westminster. Keith Brown said he wants to ensure that the new members are allowed to play a part immediately, in policy formation in the SNP. Delegates to Annual Conference will have been decided long ago, by the branches and constituencies, therefore are unlikely to include many new members. A great many of those new members are going to be more than a little disappointed if the campaign slogan for the next Westminster election is to be "Vote SNP - And Get Labour"

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Nicola Was Wrong, Very Wrong To Open Pandora's Box On EU

The timing was unfortunate to say the least, but it merely underlines the fact that short-termism in politics rarely comes without its down side. Unionists have been doing their utmost to emphasise that the result of the referendum should be accepted by those who voted Yes, by which they mean the campaign for independence should be shelved for at least a generation - as Alex Salmond said it would be - or, better still, shelved permanently. There was even a suggestion that it should be written into the constitution that Scottish independence is illegal. That is only one reason why Nicola Sturgeon was wrong to suggest that Scotland should have a veto, if the rUK votes to leave the EU. Her suggestion would mean that irrespective of how much support there was for leaving membership of the EU, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland should be able to stop the exodus in the event that a majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU.

For a party that has spent over 70 years complaining of the lack of democratic control in Scotland, because of Westminster's lack of concern for Scottish interests, to suggest that 5 million people should be able to subvert the decision of almost 60 million, is hardly going to be taken seriously. Ironically, Ms Sturgeon has been let off lightly, both by the other parties and the mainstream media. Of far greater importance, Ms Sturgeon has opened the door for Unionists to suggest a quid pro quo, the next time Scots demand either another referendum on independence, or build up such a pressure for independence, that a majority of seats in Holyrood or of Scotland's Westminster contingent, for parties which support independence, will be considered sufficient for independence negotiations to take place. That was the original policy of the SNP and recent opinion polls show it is perfectly possible in the current climate. Within days of Ms Sturgeon's statement, two opinion polls showed that if there was a general election now, the SNP would have a majority of both the popular vote and seats for Scottish constituencies in Westminster. MORI gave the SNP 54% of the vote and 52 parliamentary seats, YouGov gave them 52% of the vote and 47 seats. Other polls showed that over 50% of Scots want another referendum within five years, while 66% want one within the next ten years.

Why was Nicola Sturgeon wrong to suggest Scotland should have a veto on the result of a UK referendum which says the UK should leave the EU? There are two reasons, both of which are likely to cause problems for the SNP in the future. The first is the assumption Scots will vote Yes to remain in the EU, more of which below; the second is perhaps more dangerous for the future of the independence movement. She has elevated what was no more than a referendum campaign soundbite to be one of the central pillars of the Treaty of Union of 1707. When David Cameron said, "The UK is a family of nations", he no more meant that to be taken literally than any of the other promises that he made of "more powers to the Scottish people". In time, a very short time, the comment would have been dismissed, as it should have been, had Nicola not given it a life of its own. Some Unionists have suggested that like Baldrick, Nicola "has a cunning plan" to disrupt Westminster and to continue to build on the energy in the independence movement, created by the referendum campaign. If making life difficult for Westminster was behind the move, it might have some merit, but Nicola has also said that a majority of seats for independence parties in the next Westminster election, will not be sufficient to declare independence. That suggests that disrupting Westminster is not going to be a serious consideration, as winning a majority of seats has far more validity than allowing 8.7% of the population to have a veto on the decisions of the other 91.3%.

By opening this Pandora's Box, Nicola has given Unionists the opportunity to use it to claim a veto on any future decision of the Scottish people to vote for independence. Cameron and other government figures have initially dismissed out of hand, any veto on the EU for Scots, which is no more than might be expected. If however, the mood in Scotland shifts, as it has done since the referendum, we can expect the veto claim to be resurrected swiftly, but by Unionist politicians this time. A number of letters have already appeared in newspapers, asking if Nicola would expect the rest of the UK, or any part of the rest of the UK, to have a veto on any future decision of the Scots to declare Scotland independent. Of course there has been no reply because there is no reply that could possibly retain the notion of a Scots' veto and at the same time, recognise the sovereignty of the Scottish people. There would be absolute outrage in Scotland at any suggestion that we should be denied the right to independence, on the votes of people in other parts of the UK and if the SNP persists in taking this line we can be certain there will be serious demands for a quid pro quo.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are wrong to assume Scots will vote Yes to continued membership of the EU, although the notion of giving Scots a veto is based on that assumption. If Scotland voted NO to continued membership, the veto would not be necessary. A referendum on membership of the EU while Scotland is still a part of the UK, would be a different animal from a referendum on the EU if Scotland was an independent country. Whatever shortcomings exist in Westminster's guardianship of Scottish interests in the EU - fishing is only one example of many - Scots will view the size of the UK including Scotland, as a better bet to fight EU power and bureaucracy, than Scotland on its own. There are currently 751 MEPs in the European Parliament of which the UK has 73 or 9.7% of the total, of which Scotland's share is 8. If Scotland were in the EU as a sovereign state, we would have 13 seats or 1.7% of the total, the same as Denmark, Finland and Slovakia. The SNP has consistently complained about being at a disadvantage in the Commons, how much greater would the disadvantage be in the European Parliament?

As many as 36% of Scots have regularly expressed their desire to leave the EU with just under 50% wishing to stay in, but that is before any campaign on membership has even been conducted. The SNP refuse point blank to consider a referendum on the EU in an independent Scotland, despite 67% of Scots saying they want a referendum on membership. The SNP arrogantly claims a referendum is not necessary and constantly over estimates the support for the EU in Scotland, as the election of the first UKIP MEP and successive opinion polls have shown. The arguments the SNP make for continued membership of the EU are exactly the same as the arguments Unionists make for continued membership of the UK. It is all about jobs, trade, disruption of industry, with a complete absence of any mention of democratic control, sovereignty, bureaucracy and neglect of Scottish interests. Right from the outset, Independence in Europe was an oxymoron and the increase in centralised control in the EU, since the SNP adopted the slogan, makes it even more of an oxymoron. More and more Scots have recognised as much and now view the EU with increased suspicion. The SNP is out of kilter with the views of the Scottish people and if it continues to assume it can push the Scottish people to adopt membership of the EU on their sayso, that will soon be brought home to them. Nicola is coming to office with a great deal of goodwill on the part of the membership of the SNP. She should not waste it by ignoring their fears for the future.