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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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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Liberal Democrat new direction

August 27, 2008

Congratulations to Tavish Scott, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats.

He won with 59% of the vote over rivals Ross Finnie and Mike Rumbles.

The result was a predictable shoo-in. Even I managed to get it right when I suggested the winner would be between Tavish Scott and his ego, some time ago in the middle of the Glasgow East campaign.

So where does Tavish take the Scottish Liberal Democrats now?

I guess he is going to follow Nick Clegg’s new strategy of kicking Labour to death in Scotland, where possible.

This follows the political maxim if a party is down keep kicking them.

It would make sense for the Liberal Democrats to try and hoover up as many disaffected Labour voters as possible. From where the Labour Party is currently, it should be fairly easy to pick up ex-Labour voters that feel betrayed by the party’s lurch to the right under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Those ex-Labour voters that don’t go straight to the SNP anyway.

And what of the Liberal Democrats new approach to the SNP?

Well, it seems that Tavish might just come out in favour of a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s future.

Is this the begiinning of an olive-branch?

Or just the start of a Liberal Democrat move similar to that of the Labour Party moving to the right under Thatcher and Major when the realised that left-wing politics wouldn’t get them elected in the UK? Are the Scottish Liberal Democrats going to get more nationalist using their federalist umbrella?

Its obviously too early to tell.

Tavish has barely sat down in his chair and arranged his stationary.

But its something we should be watching for.


Sub sea cables and double standards

August 17, 2008

It seems the Scotsman has a story of the SNP being ‘slapped down by Westminster’ over attempted talks to create a Scotland to Norway subsea cable.

At the heart of the matter is Westminster wanting to enforce the Scotland Act of 1998 which forbids the Scottish Government to have any international relations and any involvement of the generation and supply of energy.

Why this is an issue for Westminster now – with an SNP Government – is a mystery.

They seemed to be happy with Scotland’s unilateral involvement with aid for Malawi.

They seemed to be happy with Scotland promoting Tartan Day in the U.S.

They seemed to be happy when the 2006 Scottish Executive funded a feasibility study into running subsea cables from the Western Isles and the Orkney and Shetland Isles to the Scottish mainland.

They seemed to be happy when the 2006 Scottish Executive were considering plans to run subseas cables to Ireland and Norway.

Yes. You guessed it. All initiatives started by the last Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive.

All breaking the terms of the Scotland Act.

Previously not an issue.

But now when all the SNP Government want to do is talk, its strange that Westminster is hiding behind the terms of the Scotland Act in trying to deny them a freedom of speech.

The law should be the same for everyone; no matter which Government – it can’t be overlooked when your pals break it.

Otherwise its a bad law and needs to be revised.

The fact that all parties in the Scottish Parliament – SNP, Greens and Independent for independence; and Liberal Democrat, Labour and the Conservatives in the Calman Commission (with the blessing of the Westminster Government) – want the powers of the Scottish Parliament increased, changing the terms of the Act – agree on revising the law, all imply the latter conclusion: Its a bad law.

The mature approach then from Westminster would be just to let those breaches pass – as it did in the past – before the Act itself can be changed; instead of enforcing a law that has the agreement of no-one.

Enforcing it now seems petty, small-minded and just plays into the hands of the SNP.

And just reeks of double standards!!


Devolution has killed nationalism stone dead

August 8, 2008

So said George Robertson, one time Secretary General of NATO.

Of course he is right.

But not in the way he intended.

Devolution has killed British nationalism stone dead.

It was always going to be the weaker nationalism that would die. And considering Scottish nationalism – and for that matter English and Welsh nationalism – has been around a lot longer than British nationalism, it was always going to be harder to artifically maintain the youngest and weakest.

British nationalism is now in its final swansong. Of course we won’t see many Saltires, English or Welsh flags at the Olympics – as they have been banned – and we’ll only see the Union Flags, but reading into flag waving to surmise that British nationalism is alive and well would be utterly ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I fully expect some commentators to reach that conclusion!!

The English FA fully expect to field a British football team in the 2012 Olympics, even though the Scottish FA, the Welsh FA and the Northern Irish FA have already indicated that they will not let their players be involved.

So the 2012 British team will be the England team.

That illustrates a common attitude in England. Britain = England. Its one of the reasons why British nationalism never really took on in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Which is ironic for Wales especially as the original Britons of these isles were forced back into Wales and southern and central belt Scotland by the Romans, before the Romans finally took all the lands south of Hadrian’s Wall. Apart from a brief upset by Boudicca, the land that is now England folded like a pack of cards.

If Scotland is not independent by 2012 I doubt many Scots – or Welsh or Northern Irish, for that matter – will be supporting an English team purporting to be from the whole of the UK.

Brian Wilson, former Labour Energy minister, yesterday admitted that devolution was constructed to keep out the SNP:-

“The masterplan was for there to be permanent Labour-LibDem coalition at Holyrood. This cosy strategy reflected the warm personal relationships between Labour and LibDem grandees of the time – Donald Dewar and Gordon Brown, Jim Wallace and Menzies Campbell. A Byzantine electoral system was created which would ensure that the Nationalists would remain in the minority.”

But his comments were strangely not – as a fervent anti-nationalist – related to trying to resussitate the dying Union, but of trying to resussitate the dying Labour Party.

No doubt he would argue that keeping Labour alive is vital to keeping the Union alive, as if Britain would die if there was no Labour Party; somehow both vitally joined together like empathic twins on life support.

Yet there’s no doubt which twin he wants to save with his donor card.

The Labour Party.

And isn’t that one of Labour’s biggest problems? The self interest of the party machine comes before country.

And it isn’t any better at Holyrood for Labour.

They will never stand up for Scotland like the SNP can.

They will always have to look down to Westminster first before making a decision.

Recently there were reports that Jack McConnell as First Minister had to phone up Downing St to ask if the agreed policy decisions of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive were OK by Westminster.

The SNP always put Scotland’s interests first. Every time.

Obviously that rankles Brian Wilson:

“Whether devolution was good for Scotland is a matter for debate. But it is indisputedly a disaster for the Labour Party.” and also concedes “that devolution is now irreversible”

Never mind, Brian.

You never know, Labour prospects might just improve after independence!

The union has no chance.


Home nations flags banned at Olympics

August 5, 2008

So it seems that fans won’t be able to fly the saltire at the Olympic Games in China.

This is the relevant ruling on the Chinese Olympic website:

“2. To avoid delays at security and to maintain an orderly flow, please DO NOT bring the following articles to any venue:… flags of non-members of the Olympics or Paralympics; flags or banners larger than 2 m x 1 m; flagpoles; any banners, slogans, fliers, brochures or samples.”

As Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland combine into one team, only the Union flag will be allowed into the games.

Obviously this is a Chinese attempt to stop any Tibetan flags flying at the games, but it impinges on the Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish fans rights to support their own separate nationalities.

The Tibetan flag

Obviously the Chinese are sensitive about the Tibetan situation and their human rights record, but should the British Olympic Association be enforcing this rule too, in relation to the Home Nations flags?

It wasn’t so long ago that skier Alain Baxter was banned from wearing his saltire haircut. Will they ban Andy Murray’s trademark saltire wristbands too?

The Scottish Parliament has a good record of protest on China’s human rights and Tibet.

It has a Tibetan rights group that has cross party support, convened by Liberal Democrat Mike Pringle.

Jack McConnell, as First Minister, raised questions over China’s poor human rights record on his 2004 visit.

The Dalai Lama visited Scotland in 2005 as part of a World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet.

Mike Pringle as convenor of the Tibet group put forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament deploring China’s actions:

That the Parliament deplores the Chinese Government’s violent suppression of recent democratic protests by the people of Tibet, which has been controlled by the Chinese Government since a military assault in 1950; commends calls by the Dalai Lama for an international fact-finding mission to be sent to Tibet to investigate the causes of the protests and the actual situation in Tibet under Chinese rule, and reminds China, as host of the 2008 Olympic Games, that it should look to improve human rights and religious freedom in Tibet.

This had cross party support from the majority of backbenchers in the Scottish Parliament.

And when Fiona Hyslop went to China in April this year – a trip supported by the Dalai Lama – promoting Aberdeen University as Education Secretary she wasted no time in letting China know how Scotland feels about its human rights violations.

“Fiona Hyslop did take the first opportunity she had on the first day of her visit to China to raise the Scottish Government’s concerns about human-rights issues in discussion with China’s vice minister of education.”

The Scottish stance is supported by Amnesty International’s Scottish programme director, John Watson. He believes “engagement can provide the opportunity to push for exchange”.

I believe the Scottish Parliament is taking a much firmer stance on this issue than Westminster.

The saltire ban did make me think of fifth columnist George Foulkes again, who recently got hot under the collar about the new train logos.

In 1990 as a Labour backbencher he is quoted in Hansard:

“Whatever one’s view of Tibetan autonomy claims, and there may be differing views in the House, there can be no excuse for such repression and brutality.”

Possibly pro-Tibet there, I think.

But later as Overseas Development Minister in 1997 he pretty much backed the Government’s fudged position as to not offend China:

“We believe that we can best assist the people of Tibet through small-scale projects that respond directly to the needs of local communities.”

though he eventually gave this response after questioning:

“The Government are concerned about human rights in the whole of China, including Tibet, and we shall continue to raise our concerns directly with the Government of China, both bilaterally and in international forums.”

When George was Overseas Development Minister it seemed a bit more softly, softly to me.

I guess at best Lord Foulkes position on Tibet is unclear. Certainly he was one of the few backbenchers not to support the Tibet motion in the Scottish Parliament.

As a former Overseas Development Minister at Westminster his name was conspicious by its absence.

Maybe George will be delighted that the saltire will be banned at the Olympics?

Here's a Scottish saltire, George!

In which case, does he similarly support the banning of Tibetan flags?

While I was writing this, I stumbled across this blog which puts the Tibet issue from the Chinese viewpoint:

“Promoting independence of Tibet from China is infringing China’s sovereignty. Tibet is part of China, just like Scotland is part of United Kingdom. If China started supporting the Scottish Separatist movement, I am sure UK will be really unhappy too.

Separatist movement are not well tolerated throughout history, just look at Easter Rising (1916) in Ireland, many civilians were killed, 15 separatist leaders were executed, 3000 political prisoners were put behind bars by the British. Unfortunately, the reality is suppression of separatist movements are equally harsh all over the world.”

There are a few things I could say on this, but the crucial one is the UK is a democracy and Scottish people can vote for independence parties if they want too. The SNP are in Government in Scotland, for instance, and the public await the promised Independence Referendum in 2010.

I don’t see the same freedoms applied to China and the Tibetan people.

Flying our flags is a bare minimum of our freedoms.