Unionists voice is broken

October 24, 2008

Is the Unionist argument finally maturing?

David Cameron's new book

David Cameron declared today that:

“Of course it is possible that Scotland can stand alone – that is true”

Could this be the beginning of the end of the Unionist scare stories about Scottish independence?

Have the Unionists begun to realise that their constantly negative ‘can’t don’t’ attitude is a turn off to Scottish voters?

If so, nationalists may for once have a real fight on their hands.

It seems that the Conservative leader has realised the correct argument for the Unionists to take:

“I don’t think we’d ever succeed in saving the Union by frightening Scots to say you couldn’t possibly make it on your own.”

In other words, ditch the negative agenda and promote a positive one.

Of course many parties in Scotland support independence:- the Greens, the SSP, Solidarity and of course the SNP. There is also an independent MSP – Margo Macdonald – that supports independence.

Such is the size of the SNP, they are the main drivers for Scottish independence. They are the dominant party of Scotland:- in Government at Holyrood, on the rise in Westminster, and have the largest number of councillors compared to any other party. They have a clear voice to the Scottish public.

The Conservatives though have currently 17 MSPs in Holyrood and 1 Scottish constituency MP in Westminster. They don’t have a great platform in Scotland.

So can they persuade the other Unionist parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats – to follow their positive agenda?

I doubt it.

Labour are so far stuck in a negative agenda that their MPs and MSPs should be kept in a darkroom! Witness Jim Murphy’s Arc of Insolvency slur towards Iceland, for example.

And the Liberal Democrats with their federalist ambitions are hardly the best bedfellows for the Conservatives.

The three have just about managed to keep the Calman Commission afloat, all paddling in different directions! Without Kenneth Calman at the helm it would have perished on the rocks a long time ago. And even the Calman Commission is looking into more powers for the Scottish Parliament, so its more of a soft nationalist approach in any case.

So if the Conservatives alone argue for a positive case for the Union, their voice will just confuse with Labour’s negative case for independence and the Liberal Democrats case for federalism.

In short, the voters will switch off to the Unionist message.

Leaving the clear SNP positive message to take centre stage.

I have previously argued that unless the Unionists argue with a coherent message, then it would always lack ‘stickiness’. Something that the independence message doesn’t lack.

‘Stickiness’ is the vital quality before achieving the political Tipping Point; the backing for Scottish independence amongst the voters. And if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book you’ll realise that the Tipping Point is usually well before a majority; its just an equilibrium point – after which the product or message reaches everyone.

The course is clear for Unionists. To save the Union both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have to follow the Conservative’s lead.

And have a grown-up debate on the matter.

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Conservatives and the Union

September 30, 2008

Just a couple of days after Gordon Brown was nicking SNP policies and passing them off as Labour policies in his conference speech, now the Conservatives do the same.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has just announced the Conservatives will introduce a freeze in Council Tax in England.

Of course, this successful SNP policy in Scotland was opposed by the Scottish Conservatives in the May 2007 Scottish election.

They argued for a reduction in council tax for pensioners instead.

Just how will they take the new Conservative policy in England?

And there is the rub.

No matter how much David Cameron says he believes in the Union, the Scottish Conservative Party and the UK Conservative Party are becoming more out of sync.

Of course, with devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland policy divergence between the Scottish branch of the Conservative Party (and for that matter the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party) and its UK counterpart is only to be expected.

And the longer devolution makes policy decisions that are only applicable to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the greater this policy divergence will become.

So it seems to me that it would be better for the Conservatives just to have done, and liberate their devolved partners and instead become the English Conservative Party.

This case applies more to the Conservatives who only have 1 MP in Scotland, and 3 MPs in Wales; than Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

That would leave the English Conservatives room to strongly argue the case for an English Parliament, or even ending the Treaty of the Union altogether.

It already has been the most dominant of the main parties giving proposals to try and answer the West Lothian Question. For example here and here and here and here and here are just some of the Conservative proposals. Yet English votes for English matters may just bring about the end of the Treaty of Union anyway.

And ditching its support of the Treaty of the Union could make an English Conservative Party the main party of Government in England for decades to come.

David Cameron may be against Independence for Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales now, but if the planned 2010 referendum in Scotland doesn’t end up with Scotland leaving the UK, he may find that Labour will once again regain control of the UK purely because of its Scottish and Welsh MPs.

And if the West Lothian Question has not been answered by then, the pressure on his party to change position may become unbearable.

Surely taking a long-term view it is better to change now whilst ahead in the polls and in a position of strength?

Right now, their professed support for the Union in words isn’t backed by their actions.

For example, their plans for a high-speed rail network that only goes as far north as Leeds.

Now David Cameron may say that he will run the line up to Scotland at a later date – he doesn’t say when – but I doubt it will convince Scots voters.

Again, a high-speed rail link was SNP policy, but obviously they planned for the service to go between Edinburgh and London.

The Conservatives need to come clean on their view of the Union:

They need to back up their words with actions.

Or will they steal another SNP policy? Independence?

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A British century?

September 24, 2008

“This is no time for a novice” said Gordon Brown in his conference speech.

Those words came back to me when Ann McKechin, the new Scotland Office minister – having taken over from David Cairns, was trying to explain – on Radio Scotland’s Scotland at Ten – why Gordon Brown was talking about implementing policies in England, that are SNP policies in Scotland. It didn’t sound like she convinced interviewer Derek Bateman, nor anyone else listening I suspect.

Gordon Brown’s SNP-lite policies:-

“So our plan is next year to abolish all prescription charges for everyone with cancer.” That’s in April 2009. By that time, the SNP Prescription charge will be £4 to everyone, and those on extended care with PPCs will pay £38 per year. The scheme will further reduce costs in 2010 and be free to all in 2011. I think the SNP are ahead of the game here. Although everyone is playing catchup with Wales, where they are already free.

“Greater visibility for people doing community payback” That means offenders working in the community. Something that Kenny McAskill, SNP Justice Minister, has championed.

And the SNP have pointed out that Gordon Brown’s flexible GP surgeries are already done in Scotland under this SNP Government.

Likewise his carbon emission target.

And his financial help for the elderly. Its already free in Scotland. That was brought in by the previous executive, and maintained by the SNP Government.

Well they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Or is Gordon Brown just trying to steal the SNP’s clothes?

One thing is for sure. How Gordon Brown can come out and say that this will be a ‘British century’ with devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is extraordinary!

The SNP are in power in Scotland. Their popularity shows no signs of ending, and look favourites for the coming Glenrothes byelection.

They also plan to hold an independence referendum in 2010. Hardly a sign that Britain is united!

Plaid Cymru are jointly in control in Wales. A recent poll shows 70% favour devolution, with the majority of those wanting more powers.

Both Scotland and Wales provide powerful arguments to why Brown’s Britishness agenda is dated. Not to mention the demand for an English Parliament in England. Even Cornwall has a political party advocating self-government.

If the 21st century is to be a ‘British century’ it will surely mean that each nation will finally have its own voice.

In fact, as The Telegraph reported earlier this month, even his ‘British century’ idea is not new. Brown used it in the 2007 TUC conference as well.

No wonder I was bored with the speech.

I wasn’t the only one. Check here. And Here. And Here. And Here.

And more especially here, for a nice picture of one of the Labour delegates at conference!

All in all, even the standing ovations reminded me of Iain Duncan Smith’s last Conservative conference in charge. He managed 17 in total then was hurled out on his ear!.

I don’t think Gordon Brown is fooling anyone. At best he has bought some time.

Even the Labour Party must realise it.

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David Miliband: Bring it on!

September 22, 2008

The Sunday Mail is reporting that David Miliband will force a referendum on Scottish Independence if he becomes Prime Minister.

In an echo of Wendy Alexander’s ‘Bring it on!’ policy, the Sunday Mail reports that:

“Miliband’s camp believe she was right to call for an early vote.”

This is in stark contrast to Gordon Brown’s approach of denying that Wendy Alexander said she wanted a referendum, and instead await the Calman Commission’s proposals.

As Gordon Brown’s leadership looks increasingly shaky, it looks like David Miliband is already positioning himself for the role.

The longevity of Gordon Brown’s premiership is – according to which Labour source interviewed – dependent on

1. His conference performance.
2. The Glenrothes by-election.
3. The 2009 European elections

Given that the Labour conference is now upon us, there does seem to be a will among the delegates to try and provide a united front behind the Prime Minister.

There have also been reports that Labour’s own canvassing puts them 5 000 votes behind the SNP in the upcoming Glenrothes by-election. Some pre-emptive commentators are already remarking that Labour shouldn’t ditch Gordon Brown if they lose.

So will the European elections be the final nail in Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministerial coffin?

Will the Labour MPs want to wait that long?

And if David Miliband does become Prime Minister this term will he withstand the pressure – as a 3rd leader between General Elections – not to call a General Election? As I have noted elsewhere, it won’t be the first time that Britain has had three Prime Ministers in one term.

And if he does call a General Election; the way the polls are looking it will be a Conservative victory.

So, on one hand David Miliband wants to hold a Scottish Independence referendum.

On the other, it looks likely he would lose an ensuing General Election.

His willingness for a quick Scottish Independence referendum must then lead to one likely conclusion: that David Miliband has no intention of calling a snap General Election. On taking over from Gordon Brown, David Miliband would wait until the term finished in the summer of 2010 before having a (mandatory) General election.

His strategy must then be to become Prime Minister, hope for a Miliband bounce – that may be likely given how unpopular Gordon Brown has been in recent polling, although Miliband’s own poll ratings suggests otherwise – and pursue a quick Scottish Independence referendum; as the Sunday Mail puts it:

“It would give Labour control of the timing and wording of the vote because the referendum bill would be passed in Westminster.”

The control of the question may be critical to the outcome. (Although since the question has never been asked of the Scottish electorate it remains to be seen; we have only opinion poll evidence for this.)

Miliband must then hope that his carefully worded referendum question pays off in his favour and the Scots back the Union. He must also hope that the margin is conclusive and so derails the SNP.

He could then turn his attention to the Conservatives before the mandatory election of 2010. At which time he may have done enough for Labour to be re-elected.

There are a lot of hopes, ifs, buts and maybes in that strategy. Labour need to decide if David Miliband is really a better option than Gordon Brown. Gordon Brown’s strategy seems to be ‘keep going and eventually we’ll turn our fortunes around’. If Gordon Brown leads Labour to disaster in 2010, would this speculative David Miliband strategy be any better?

2010. Given that it is the SNP’s intention to hold an independence referendum in that year, it means that David Miliband’s ‘bring it on’ position must mean that he would have to be Prime Minister in 2009, otherwise how could he implement such a proposal?

And one last thing. How will David Miliband’s Scottish Independence Referendum sit with the Calman Commission and Liberal Democrat and Conservative partners? They have already endured Labour’s disdain at the hands of Wendy Alexander. The new Scottish Labour MSP leader, Iain Gray, says he is in support of the Calman Commission.

All of this just emphasises how divided and forlorn the Labour Party currently is.

Brown or Miliband? Calman or Referendum?

Labour needs to decide soon.

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Comings and Goings

September 13, 2008

Congratulations to Iain Gray and Johann Lamont who were elected Labour MSP leader and Labour MSP deputy leader respectively.

Both won their nominations with around a 60 – 40 split.

Iain Gray will be the third Labour MSP leader to take on Alex Salmond since the SNP leader became First Minister in May 2007.

Also today Gordon Brown is meeting Margaret Thatcher for lunch at Chequers. No doubt the beleaguered Prime Minister will be asking her advice on how best to stay in power leading a disaffected party and public.

Margaret Thatcher was unceremoniously kicked out of Downing St by her own party in 1990 when poll ratings began to slide.

I did think that that meeting at Chequers would overshadow the Scottish leadership contest of the Labour MSPs.

But the fact that several Labour MPs have now been writing to Downing St demanding a leadership contest at Westminster again putting Gordon Brown’s tenure as Prime Minister in doubt has stolen the spotlight.

Under Labour rules there needs to be 1/5th of the Labour MPs to call for a leadership election before it can automatically happen. Currently that means there needs to be 70 Labour MPs calling for a contest.

Downing St says that only a handful of Labour MPs have formally asked for a leadership contest.

Guido Fawkes has compiled a list of 39 Labour MPs – as it currently stands – that would be expected to demand a leadership contest.

Not the 70 yet but it may be the start of a bandwagon.

It will really depend on how Gordon Brown plays the situation, and also how he performs at the upcoming Labour conference.

Iain Gray and Johann Lamont must be very disappointed at the way the Westminster agenda has stolen what should have been a good news day for Labour.

With a Prime Minister again lunching with Margaret Thatcher and open speculation among Westminster Labour MPs about his future they must surely be thinking that a stand-alone Scottish Labour Party must be the way to go.

They can’t do anything about headlines from other parties.

The SNP have announced Sir Angus Grossart will run the Scottish Futures Trust.

The co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Robin Harper MSP, has decided to stand down. He is now backing the election of one single leader of the Scottish Green Party.

That leaves the Conservatives as the only party not to have changed their Scottish parliamentary leader under the SNP Government. Should Annabel Goldie be worried?

The Liberal Democrats are also today beginning their UK conference in Bournemouth. Plaid Cymru are also finishing their conference in Aberystwyth today.

Labour have just elected two new Scottish MSPs to lead the party but its Labour’s own desperate Westminster headlines that have swamped the media.

Not a great start for Iain Gray and Johann Lamont and its not even their fault!

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Is England softening on Local Income Tax?

September 8, 2008

As the argument in Scotland rages about LIT, it seems that there is softening in England over the Local Income Tax policy.

First of all, Michael Portillo, former Conservative minister has come out in favour of LIT.

“Having thought hard about local government finance, I am convinced that an income tax supplement must be part of any equitable local tax system. I admit that earners would pay more and high earners much more, but greater social justice is not a powerful argument against it.

More importantly, raising the money in that way would enable local government to grow in scope and importance. By comparison with almost every country I know, we suffer from chronically weak local government and from central government that is too powerful. Decisions are made remotely, national policies are imposed although they are inappropriate in most localities and terrible amounts of public money get wasted.”

And now even Labour bloggers are starting to argue in favour.

And even some Greens argue for LIT.

And if English bloggers are starting to favour LIT for England, could this tempt Gordon Brown into another U-turn?


Iain Gray wants pact with Conservatives

August 18, 2008

According to The Scotsman, Scottish Labour MSP candidate Iain Gray wants Labour to ‘team up’ with Conservative at Holyrood to try and beat the SNP.

Iain Gray
Scottish Conservative logo

They already have joined forces in the Calman Commission at Holyrood.

Currently the favourite to take over as leader, Iain Gray is the right wing candidate of Labour and has a strong pro-Westminster affliation.

Yet it is Westminster that is probably most against the plan.

Can they afford to have a pact with the Conservatives in Scotland and try to attack them in Westminster?

Wouldn’t that be another case of double standards?

And how would the few remaining disillusioned socalists react to such a pact? Or the trade unions?

For all that, I think for Labour Iain Gray’s idea of a pact with the Conservatives is worth considering.

For one thing, it is difficult to put a cigarette paper between Conservative and Labour policy these days. James Purnell’s draconian green paper on Social Security reform came from a Conservative think tank and went even further right in ideology than the Conservatives, for instance. Gordon Brown inviting Margaret Thatcher for tea and biscuits in Number 10 shows the Labour mindset.

For another, a pact with the Conservatives might finally lead to a coherent Unionist position in an attempt to argue for the continued existence of the union between Scotland and England. As I have argued before in The Tipping Point the lack of a coherent message means that as everyday passes the case for the union collapses among the electorate.

A Labour – Conservative pact might be the only way to save the Treaty of Union.

Whether it can save Labour in Scotland remains to be seen.