Monthly Archives: March 2015

General Election 2015 – Groundhog Day!

The closer the election gets the more the debate gets stuck in a seemingly immoveable groove. It’s getting to be a bit like the film Groundhog Day, only this time every morning we get to hear the same tired old patronising insults. At least as far as Scotland is concerned. All the Unionist parties are at it. They seem to be collectively unable or unwilling to get beyond their Project Fear mode of operating.

Labour for example is still churning out the lie that only the largest party gets to form the government at Westminster. That Jim Murphy & Co are stuck repeating this lie is further evidence that Labour treats us as if we are a bunch of idiots. We need more journalists to challenge the likes of Ed Miliband to confirm that if Labour has less MPs than the Tories, but could form a government with the support of other parties, he would just stand aside and let David Cameron continue as Prime Minister.

Then we have Labour MP Rachel Reeves boasting that the Labour party is not the party of people on benefits.  She went out of her way in an interview to stress that, “We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.” Now the really, really sad thing about this is that Rachel is probably telling the truth here.  Labour no longer wants to represent the poor and disadvantaged it seems. Much better to just insult lots and lots of people. Not to mention insulting the memory of countless thousands of Labour party stalwarts who did think it was their job to represent all working people, including those who became unemployed and had to rely on the welfare state.  Seems the Labour party has decided that the only way to get elected in England is to insult and cast off as the new untouchables the millions of people who continue to suffer the ravages inflicted on them by our nasty coalition. Does this mean that Labour is now just as nasty?

Unionists and it seems most of the media in London are equally happy to indulge in a bit of repetitive insulting. Only this time it is Scots who have to bear the brunt of their ire. How dare we presume to have any kind of influence over the next UK government. Or even worse, God forbid, actually become part of the next UK government. While the Tory party is the most vocal in this almost daily repetition of anti-Scottish bile, neither Labour nor the LibDems are immune from this. All three Unionist parties are determined to rule out any kind of post election co-operation with the SNP at Westminster.

It is all so depressing and shows just how hollow were all those protestations of love coming from the Unionist parties before the referendum. The truly unexpected follow-up from the referendum campaign is that it is the Unionists who are stuck in referendum mode. The Yes campaigners have accepted the result and want to move on. To move on to reforming the UK, if that is possible, and to building a progressive UK wide alliance to bring an end to all this unnecessary austerity, which has caused so much damage to the economy.

One would have thought that the Labour party would want to be at least part of this, if not actually leading. What would be more natural than for the Labour party to be trying to build a progressive coalition with the support of other parties across the UK? But no, it seems that Labour remains trapped in its very own Groundhog Day. The SNP must be opposed and derided at every opportunity and at all cost. Even if the cost includes more Tory rule and more suffering for the poor and disadvantaged. Yet again, if the likes of Rachel Reeves represent Labour thinking, the party hardly deserves to be part of any king of progressive alliance.

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Lots of Bombs, but not much Love

In the aftermath of the referendum campaign the real views of English Unionists pretty quickly began to emerge. David Cameron could hardly wait for the result to indulge in a bit of Scots bashing with his barely thought through wish for English votes for English laws, the aptly called EVEL. More of a proposal to turn MPs from Scotland into second class citizens than anything else. That little bit of indulgence is nothing compared to the barrage of anti Scottish hysteria which seems to have gripped almost everyone in the English media.  See here for a glimpse into this mindset, curtesy of Wings over Scotland. The lovebombing from before the referendum has disappeared completely, to be replaced by rather nasty hate bombs.

It is truly remarkable that for a mixture of short term gain and a tribal hatred of the SNP most Unionists are pursuing an approach which can only damage what they profess to hold most dear. What is really surprising is that these Unionists seem to be blissfully unaware of the potential damage they are doing to their beloved UK. Only a few distressed Unionist such as Alex Massie have remained clear headed enough to see the big picture.

This is one in which most Unionist have either crossed, or have come close to crossing the line between opposing the influence of the SNP and rejecting the right of any MP from Scotland to influence the government of the UK. This is particularly dangerous territory for Labour. It is perfectly understandable, if utterly stupid from a pro UK perspective, for the Tories to reject outright any involvement of the SNP in a UK government. They and everyone else knows that the SNP will not have anything to do with supporting a Tory government. So it is a pretty cheap stunt on the part of the Tories to call for Labour to also reject outright any deal with the SNP. The Tories have nothing but David Mundell to lose in Scotland, and his loss is most unlikely to have any effect on the prospects of the Tories remaining in government.

There is though far more at stake for Labour. Even if the party does as badly as some of the predictions, it will remain a major party in Scotland and will hope prosper once again, not just at Holyrood but also at Westminster. Here is the rub though. If Labour were to reject now any kind of deal with the SNP after May, they run the risk that at future UK elections, English Unionists will question why Scottish Labour MPs should get any say in a UK government.  If SNP MPs can be excluded, why not all Scottish MPs?

The recent intervention by Alan Johnston was also misjudged. He wants to rule out a deal with the SNP, not apparently because they are Scottish, but on the grounds that they would want the removal of Trident as part of any deal. However many Scottish Labour MPs also support the removal of Trident. Are they too to be cast out from any deal? What about any English or Welsh Labour MP who also supports the removal of Trident? Are they to be excluded from the formation of a Labour government? This is pretty much inconceivable. Which just exposes that Alan Johnston’s real objection is to MPs from Scotland having any kind of influence on a future UK government. His comments are doubly dangerous for Labour. They confirm that Labour is a pro Trident party, a position that is at odds with most of the potential voters that Labour has to win back. By opposing any role for the SNP in a UK government he is effectively ruling out for the future, any role in a UK government for any MP from Scotland.

Whatever the result of the election in May, the long term effects of this hate bombing of Scotland can only persuade even more Scots that next time, and there will be a next time, the only vote is Yes.

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The English Question

As the UK general election inches ever closer, the more feverish becomes the media’s outpourings. All eyes it seems are on Scotland and the implications of the projected SNP surge for coalition building at Westminster. What however seems to go unmentioned is the consequences of the results in England. Put simply, do future UK governments need to have an overall majority in England? This has always been the norm up till now, and pre devolution did not really matter much anyway. It does now, as can be seen from all the furore over the various attempts to introduce some way to ensure that only English votes determine English laws – EVEL to its friends and foes. The problem at heart is of course the lopsided nature of the current devolution settlement with parliaments or assemblies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but nothing for England. Which means that the UK government is also, for all devolved matters, the government of England. Which in turn begs the question, do UK governments need to have an overall majority in England in order to govern in England? Another way to put it would be to ask for how long would the majority in England tolerate “their” government being dependent on Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish votes?

This is an English Question that is possibly even more important than any Scottish Question. It is particularly relevant right now as just about all current opinion polls indicate that it will very difficult, if not impossible, for either Labour or the Tories to form a government with an overall majority in both England and the whole of the UK. The difficulty is different for our two main UK parties. The Tories are likely to emerge with an overall majority in England, but will find it very difficult to construct a stable majority in the UK as a whole. While for Labour their problem is the opposite – they are most likely to be in a minority in England, but find it possible to form a majority across the UK.

In England the magic number is 267, the number of seats that ensure an overall majority. The Tories currently have 294 of these seats and even with any losses in May are still likely to emerge with 267 or more MPs from England. This is in large part due to the party’s continuing unpopularity in Scotland and Wales. With only one MP from Scotland and merely eight from Wales, the Tories are effectively already an English party. Even if, against all the odds, the party was to increase its representation in Scotland and Wales, it is most unlikely to be by much. Let us assume, for the purpose of illustration, that the Tories emerge with a total of 13 MPs from Wales and Scotland. That means that with a total of as low as 280 MPs, the party would still command an overall majority in England. Of course if, as expected they do not make any progress in Scotland and Wales, then 275 MPs in total could be sufficient to ensure an overall majority in England.

For Labour, it is looking very grim in England. Currently the party has 191 English MPs and while this number is likely in increase considerably, it unlikely to increase enough to ensure an overall majority in England. This of course is partly due to the party’s strength in Wales and Scotland. While the SNP look like eroding Labour’s Scottish bastion, they may not be quite as successful as the latest polls indicate. Which paradoxically is bad news for Labour in England. By way of illustration, let us assume that Labour in Scotland hold on to 11 seats, retain their current 28 seats in Wales and win a total of 300 MPs. Take away the 39 non English MPs and Labour are left with just 261 seats in England, still a minority. If Labour were to win 300 seats across the UK, their best chance of securing an overall majority in England would be for the SNP to win just about everything in Scotland. If there are only two Labour MPs from Scotland, Labour would then have a comfortable overall majority of seats in England. What this little illustration shows, is that it is more important for Labour to do better in England than in Scotland.

For the UK as a whole, the magic number is 326 or 323, if you assume that Sinn Fein continue to not turn up at Westminster. This is where the projected collapse of the LibDems complicates matters greatly, or adds to the excitement if you prefer. With around 20+ MPs, it is most unlikely that they will be in a position to ensure an overall majority for either Labour or the Tories. Only if one of the large parties win 300 or more seats will the LibDems on their own come into play. Currently most polls show neither Labour nor the Tories getting much above 290, if even that number. Again to illustrate the options, let us take 290 as the figure for both the Tories and Labour. Both then need to find another 36 MPs in order to secure a minimum overall majority.

It is somewhat simpler for the Tories in that they are likely to have an overall majority in England and as the SNP have ruled out any deal, their options are reduced. The only viable option would seem to be a tripartite coalition with the LibDems and the DUP from Northern Ireland. That might just take them over the winning line, but just as likely might leave them a few seats short. Support from any UKIP MPs might help, but on the other hand might put the LibDems off. With 290 MPs this coalition is possible, but with anything less, say just 285 MPs, the Tories would find it almost impossible to lead the next government.

When it comes to Labour, their first problem will probably be to secure an overall majority in England, which almost certainly will mean reaching an agreement with the LibDems. However that would still leave a projected Lab/LibDem coalition around 12 or so seats short of an overall majority. As with the Tories a deal with the DUP would not be enough. The other Northern Irish MPs – the SDLP for example – might be sufficient, but their inclusion might create problems for the DUP. At the margins any Green MPs might help, but again it is unlikely they would want to be involved in a formal coalition. For Labour the SNP are likely to provide enough votes on their own to form a coalition, but without the LibDems Labour would remain a minority in England. A Labour/LibDem/SNP coalition would provide the most stable outcome in terms of numbers, but is probably the most unlikely, given both Labour and LibDem hostility to the SNP.

All the above, and most of the media commentary is base on the assumption that the next government needs to have an overall majority at Westminster. However minority government is not uncommon in many countries and was successful in Scotland from 2007-2011. This is where perhaps the SNP has its clearest role in the next parliament. Abstention by the SNP on a confidence motion would then be crucial in who does get to lead the next UK government. The SNP would remain free to vote against Trident and would not need to actually vote for any of the alternatives. The question then would be what price would the others be willing to pay for SNP abstention?

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