A Competent Alternate Government?

Every major party in opposition should be doing all it can to demonstrate that it’s not only acting in the interests of the country by holding the government to account when required, but supporting the government when they do right. They should also be demonstrating that they’re a credible and competent alternate government at the next election. I’m now officially baffled at Scottish Labour’s incompetence on a really basic point.

Scottish Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale challenged the new SNP leader and FM to a few policies. All OK so far, but there’s a problem.

“Take on the big six energy firms, forcing them to freeze bills and
rein in eye-watering profits earned on the backs of working people.”

“Bring back the 50p tax rate for top earners, so those with the
broadest shoulders carry their fair share.”

“Tax [bankers’] bonuses and use the cash to create jobs for young
people.”

The problem is that none of these powers are devolved. They’re all reserved at Westminster. On the surface this just seems like Labour’s usual standards, but look a bit deeper and it exposes a much more serious issue.

As a major party in both Scotland and the UK; one of the only two capable of winning government both sides of the border, don’t you think any competent alternative government would at least know what powers they had, so they could convince us they had a plan on how best to use those powers?

If Kezia Dugdale is re-elected in 2016, and if a miracle happens in Scotland that Labour win government, she, as one of the high profile Scottish Labour MSPs will likely be in a cabinet position. She doesn’t know what powers Holyrood has. She expects voters to reject the party that actually listens to them, and offers competent policies the electorate want, to choose a party offering a product the public don’t want, and who don’t even know what powers they have to improve Scotland.

A first step would be for UK Labour to send a memo out to their branch members in Scotland with two lists; devolved and reserved. It won’t change their fate in Scotland, it’ll only save them some embarrassment.

George Orwell’s Scottish Labour Party

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four gave us a glimpse of a totalitarian future. It has rightly entered popular culture with concepts such as Big Brother and the Thought Police. I’ve discovered another parallel however.

Try reading the novel again, but thinking of Winston as a Scottish Labour Party member. Blind loyalty to the party is the only way to succeed. Anything the party says or does is beyond your understanding, but you know it’s for the good of all. Big Brother is the office of the UK Labour Party leader and his or her cronies. Any dissenters, or thought criminals are denounced and ostracised. Look at how they react to the people who try to tell Labour that their aping of the Tories makes them a hard sell in Scotland.

Look at how they react to the SNP. Their visceral hatred of all things SNP and Alex Salmond makes you wonder if they don’t have regular minutes of hate where Big Brother prepares a tirade of smears and the party faithful all gather together to shout and swear at images of Alex Salmond the dictator eating babies and kicking puppies.

Winston’s job is to edit past news items with updates, often it’s either complete fantasy designed to please Big Brother, or it’s a prediction after the events are known, so as to portray Big Brother as all knowing. All previous versions of events are destroyed, and everyone in the party takes the current version as absolute fact without hesitation.

Think that’s exaggeration? Remember during the independence referendum, Scottish Labour lined up to insist that the NHS was safe with a No vote and that the idea that it was under any threat of privatisation in England was just a nationalist scare story? The week after the result was announced, Labour had their party conference. The NHS under serious threat of privatisation was both their conference centrepiece, and recruitment drive.

Not one of the Labour Party seem to be aware that they were saying the exact opposite a mere week before in Scotland. Events are what the party need them to be at any given time. During the referendum, the party needed the NHS to be safe, after the referendum they needed it to be in serious danger.

The difference is that while Big brother and the party were all powerful in the novel, the Scottish Labour Party are a badly discredited organisation among large parts of the electorate, and are oblivious as to the reasons why they’re shrinking into irrelevance fast. Winston had no escape from Big Brother, the electorate have an escape from the Scottish Labour Party; and seem increasingly keen to take it.

We Want The Same Thing

The Yes Scotland group was always very small and centrally organised. The campaign decisions started there created a fertile ground for the much wider and much more diverse Yes Movement to grow and flourish. The Yes Movement became a self sustaining, all encompassing group of different groups. It had people who identified with lots of different organisations, and people who identified with none.

On the morning of September the 19th, the Yes Scotland part had run it’s course. It was an official campaign set up to run until the ballots closed on the 18th. Due to how the campaigns were run, the media bias, the last minute broken promises and a whole lot of other little contributing issues, we felt we’d won the argument, and lost the referendum. The Yes Movement were not going to just accept defeat and go home.

The other motivator in the Yes Movement, is that Yes Scotland asked us to examine the case for the Union, and Scotland’s place in it. They asked us not to just assume that because we’re in it now, that it must be good for us, or that we can’t be better if we left it. As a campaign tactic this was genius. Not only does it let us see what we can’t now unsee, it imbues it with a positive future. We now have 1.6 million people who can’t just accept that being in the UK is in our best interests. We know it’s not. The fact that independence is delayed hurts, and the thought of independence being a one shot deal that we blew will never even be considered. So where do we go from here?

In the days and weeks after the vote, lots of Yes Movement people chimed in with their own ideas, many of those were about keeping the Yes Movement together to keep fighting for round two; for that we needed a name, a Twitter hashtag to prove we’re still here and going nowhere. We have awoken. One of the hashtags that sprung up was variants on the 45% number. It took off. Many people have that in their avatars, and tweet using it.

Initially I thought that was a bad name. I still do think it’s a bad name. For me, it’s a built in class system. It refers to those who did vote Yes on September 18th 2014. We don’t have time travel, so nobody can change their votes. Those who did vote Yes then are thr real 45%, those who voted No and later regretted it, will always be a lower class of member. I doubt they’ll be treated as a lower class member, but the name insists they are.

Initially I added my voice to the others in trying to settle around a more inclusive name, something that encouraged and welcomed those regretful No voters into the fold. I felt it’d be a mistake if the 45% name became the established one, so I decided not to RT any tweets with the 45% hashtags in them. It’s a minor protest, but a protest nonetheless. I’ve since came to a different conclusion; we’re on the same side.

The Yes Movement was a wide community consisting of lots of unofficial groups with their own niche concerns and focuses, who all realise that Scotland’s independence is a major improvement. We all come under the Yes Movement banner. Why should that have changed? We lost the referendum, not the argument. How things have played out since the 19th has only given us more motivation for round two, and more evidence to show that the UK is not acting in our interests.

I suggest we use whatever label we want, and accept each others choices to do likewise. We need to keep our eyes on the much bigger prize; an independent Scotland.

A Controversial Leader

If Labour think Jim Murphy is the man to lead them to salvation in Scotland, I really hope they elect him. The Scottish Labour bus is heading rapidly for a cliff edge. They need a new driver to slow down and turn it around. Jim Murphy will lock the steering in, and stomp on the accelerator.

He’s a controversial character. That in itself isn’t a problem if you have enough things going in your favour. He doesn’t.

Alex Salmond is a controversial character. Certain sections of the public, mostly hardcore Labour people hate him. Neutrals neither love or hate him, but they can see he’s a good leader and ambassador for Scotland. His own party love him too, as do SNP supporters and members. The SNP are offering policies that the mainstream want, such as protecting the NHS from privatisation. I honestly don’t understand why people hate Salmond but some do.

Jim Murphy by contrast is hated by the now growing number of SNP supporters, and a large chunk of his own party. He’s an Iraq war supporter and friend of Israel. He’s the epitome of London led UK Labour, and their shift to morph into the Tories. Scotland rejected the Tories and Tory policies, they won’t accept any party offering Tory policies. When Johann Lamont resigned because of a lack of autonomy from Westminster, is the solution, a Westminster MP?

When you have half of the electorate who won’t give you the time of day, you need someone capable of reaching out well beyond your usual base. Jim Murphy has a nationalist paranoia that won’t let him do that. He sees nats everywhere, even when they’re actually disgruntled ex Labour folks demanding Labour get back to their roots. While the party is a branch office of UK Labour, they can’t change anything, meaning the people berating him will simply increase in number.

Scottish Labour have been exposed as a branch office of a UK party willing to lie to the people, and who put their own party ahead of the people. No matter who the candidate is, they’re fighting against that backlash. Many people have passed a death sentence on Scottish Labour, while many others are waiting to see if it can be turned around before they’re willing to buy back in.

What I find really funny in all of this, is that Labour have bought into their own lies. They think the SNP are scared of Jim Murphy. I don’t see that at all.

A Baffling Poll

I’ve just seen a poll stating that if there were to be a General Election tomorrow, that the SNP would take 54 of the 59 seats in Westminster. Labour would shrink from 40 to just 4, and the LibDems from 11 to 1.

Of the three Unionist parties, the Tories became a minority party in Scotland with Thatcher, only Labour and the LibDems had a strong presence here. Now, all three Unionist parties are facing oblivion in Scotland, at least in the short term. Think about that for a second. The people of Scotland don’t want ANY of the Unionist parties in power.

If that’s the case, why did people vote No? Those same Unionist parties are the governing parties in Westminster. A No vote followed by this poll says “we still want to be ruled by Westminster, but we don’t want any of the Westminster parties governing us”.

That makes no sense. We can’t make a dent in Westminster politics. We’re 1/10th the size of England, yet somehow we expect to be able to oust the Unionist parties and replace them with humane parties? The only up and coming party outside of that comfy threesome are UKIP; hardly a welcome sign for a left of centre Scotland.

If we don’t want to be ruled by any of the Unionist parties, the only logical solution is independence from Westminster.

Of course you could say that political parties go through ups and downs all the time, and that this plummet in support could just be temporary. The Tories support in Scotland won’t change much, but it will always be at minority levels. The LibDems have been exposed by being in Coalition with the Tories as being excess to requirements, they have no function. Labour have betrayed Scotland with their decisions to lie to the people to get a No vote. When around 50% of the Scottish electorate now see your utter destruction as a lifestyle choice and goal, you’re not recovering from that. All you can do is try to slow the decline.

Since devolution, the Tories have been a minority party, as have the LibDems, now Labour are heading towards being a minority party. They’ll all fluctuate with events, but they won’t peak much beyond that for long. This is the beginning of the end of Unionist party support in Scotland.

An Easy Devo Solution

What powers Scotland has over it’s own future and how they’re funded are two things that have been linked, but they need not be. If we separate them, it becomes a lot easier. For that Scotland needs the ability to raise and spend all of it’s tax revenues. That includes VAT. Next we split the tax up, and send our portion down to Westminster to cover our share of the reserved powers.

On your pay slip your tax won’t be listed as one item, with one figure, but two; devolved and reserved. Hollyrood will be entirely responsible for setting the tax rates, including the fine detail to balance it out among different demographics for both devolved and reserved tax. Their only requirement is that the total per year for reserved UK policy is met by the Scottish taxpayers as an overall group.

That way we can see if one side raises taxes a lot, it will show on their side of the pay slip. People can see what areas are devolved and decide if it’s value for money or distributed fairly. It affects how they choose to vote. The same applies with the reserved side of the payslip. It shows a lot clearer the real costs of constant military adventurism, as it’s the major reserved power. It also ends the idea of a subsidy, as well as any reliance on the Barnett Formula, or block grants.

The idea that only English MPs can vote on the English NHS is perfectly fine. Whatever they do does not affect Scotland in any way, including the money sent to fund the Scottish NHS. It’s the answer to the West Lothian Question.

How much we pay as our share of the UK’s reserved powers should be per capita so we’d pay a bit more than Wales and Northern Ireland, but a lot less than England into that UK shared pot.

After that, deciding what powers to devolve is easy. It’s simply down to which side to the payslip it’s listed under.

Using Semantics To Break The Vow

In the final weeks before polling day, the Daily Record published “the vow” on it’s front page. The image they used had the words of an agreement between the current leaders of all three Westminster parties, in addition to their signatures and images. They even aged the paper so it looks more official. Since the No victory, various parts of all three parties have been back pedalling on any extra promise of new powers, claiming that the offer made no difference, and people would have voted No anyway. In that case, why zip around Scotland with the mainstream media in tow, repeating the offer over and over again? Of course it made a difference. Remember the difference is a tiny 400k votes. If only 201k switched sides, Yes would have won by 51%. It’s not decisive, I’m merely pointing out the small margin of victory, and the last minute impact of “vote No for new powers”.

Ed Miliband’s office have stated that there is no such document. I can believe that, but it’s playing semantics. I ask Dave Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and the Daily Record, if that agreement was real. If it was, then it’s binding in the eyes of the electorate. If not, then the Daily Record subverted democracy. The Daily Record informed it’s readers of a solemn vow made by politicians seeking votes, of something they never said. They invented quotes, invented an act, they lied, to help win a No vote. Newspapers are not meant to do that. Isn’t that illegal?

I can certainly imagine a conference call between all four parties, where they hammer out the agreed text, and authorise the Daily Record to mock up a visual image of it, using Photoshopped signatures. The document would never have existed, but the agreement did, and does. The fact that the document never existed, meaning they never signed it, so therefore they’re not bound to it, even though they agreed is irrelevant.

Pay careful attention to the semantics used by all four parties about “the document” when the real question is “the agreement”. The document is simply a delivery mechanism for the agreement.

Setting The Record Straight

Some years back I watched a Dispatches documentary called “Inside New Labour”. It showed how slick the New Labour machine was, how obsessively they watched all media output, and how they’d manipulate it. It’s like mission control. They have whole teams of people monitoring everything, as it happens. The other main parties, if lacking before, now had an example of how to watch the media. Arguably, this era was the start of the 24hr news cycle with 24hr TV news channels. Now we can add the internet to that mix.

Let’s skip forward to the final few weeks of the referendum, when the three amigos were in Scotland, with lots of bewildered Westminster MPs in tow to promise us the earth for a No vote. If Scotland wasn’t the centre of the UK political world in the previous few months, it certainly was now. You couldn’t throw a stick without hitting some of the mainstream media interviewing or discussing all of these new promises of vast new powers, rushed through, all guaranteed.

During this time, the Daily Record published their now infamous Vow. They’d even used Photoshop to make the paper look like an ancient artefact. It was a guarantee signed off by all three Westminster party leaders. The mainstream media ran with it.

The 19th of September came, and we awoke to a No win. Immediately Dave Cameron started linking other things to these extra powers; such as English votes on English laws. On the face of it, that sounds fair. Of course, what England decide to do affects their budget. This in turn affects Scotland’s budget, so our MPs do actually have a stake in English only laws. All of that is beside the point of this post however.

For the last few weeks of the referendum, when all of these extra promises, super devo, the vow etc were being lauded by the mainstream media and Unionist political pundits, not one of those three men came out to say “I didn’t agree to the Vow the Daily Record published” or “those promises were not made in parliament, therefore they’re not legally binding”.

Reread the first paragraph if that didn’t sink in. They wanted those extra promises and pledges to convince people to vote No, knowing that they’d renege on it anyway. Not one of them made it clear before the vote. Why not?

Around three weeks before the vote, Yes had popped it’s nose into the lead. It had the momentum. All of the activity and passion on the ground, as well as social media was for Yes. It’d likely have kept increasing, finishing with a decisive Yes win if not for that flurry of last minute promises.

Imagine the scenario if the Daily Record published their vow, and all three Westminster party leaders denounced it by lunchtime the same day. They could do it personally, or via a spokesperson. What credibility would the Daily Record have to continue pretending to be neutral while campaigning for a No win? Imagine the scenario if the day Gordon Brown did a tour of the mainstream media promising something close to a federal system along a fast tracked time line, if by lunchtime, he was being contradicted in those same interviews by interviewers saying “but all three Westminster party leaders have ruled that out”.

What affect would that have had on those who switched to No at the last minute? Would they still have switched? We can assume there’s a decent number of people who were always going to vote No regardless, but how many only did so because they believed the cacophony of Westminster voices assure them that a No vote is a vote for substantial new powers, and quickly.

By knowing about all of these promises, pledges and vows, and not setting the record straight as soon as possible, the Westminster parties are consenting to them. It’s little wonder that people are reacting badly when the excuses start to come out.

The Real Reason Nobody Wants To Be Scottish Labour Leader

In the last few days Johann Lamont has stood down from leading Scottish Labour because she wants more autonomy from London. Irony alert. She led the party to campaign for a rejection of that autonomy from London rule in the referendum. While that’s sad in itself, something else has started to emerge; one after another, senior Labour people have been ruling themselves out of the contest to replace her. Why would any career politician want to turn down the possibility of leading their party? The answer is pretty simple.

Despite all the bravado in public, they’ve known for a while that their appeal is slipping rapidly in Scotland. They’ve watched helplessly as UK Labour’s “One Nation” policies are an increasingly hard sell in Scotland, and as a Scottish branch of a UK party, they can’t change it. In private they know they’ve pissed a lot of the electorate off over the fact that they backed London rule over Edinburgh, and that they lied and sided with the Tories to get that vote.

They know that around 30% of their own voters backed what they see as a nationalist cause. They know these voters will be very hard to win back, if they can win them back at all. They seem incapable of comprehending that the Yes support came from a wide variety of political hues, some with a party affiliation, and others, like me, of no party. By their own logic, 45% of the electorate are nationalists. Not only that, but the Yes parties have all seen a huge surge in their popularity and support since the 19th September. By their own logic, Labour would have to get at least 45% of the vote to win government in 2016.

Keep in mind that 45% and 45% is 90%. That means they need to rely on a huge turnout and taking lots of votes from the other UK parties to even have a hope of winning government. They know that a lot of the 45% who voted Yes have been awakened to the idea of change, they are motivated to come out and vote. Can they rely on that determination from No voters to back them? I suspect they know they can’t.

All major parties, organisations and companies have waves. There’s always a section of the public who hate them for one reason or another, just as there’s always a section of the public who agree with them. They play the long game. Blair’s Iraq War turned a great many people away from Labour, myself included. After a few years have passed and the party changed it’s leader, the leader picked their own team, it’s a new era. Some who did reject Labour then, will come back to it. I suspect that privately, they know this visceral hatred of Labour from a significant number of the electorate is not temporary. It will not blow over. It’s not just a protest vote, like a local election to punish the party in government. They know that they’ve created a significant number of the Scottish electorate who will pursue a lifestyle choice of punishing Labour at every turn no matter what they say or who they appoint as their leader.

This is a very long road back for Scottish Labour. They’re completely bereft of ideas, or people capable of turning it around. They’re also handcuffed to UK Labour.

Winning government in the near future isn’t even remotely on the Scottish Labour short term outlook. They’re looking to build on their current low position. They also know they’re going to reap the whirlwind. Nobody wants to be in the leaders chair on the morning after the 2015 General Election. Nobody wants to be the leader who led the party to lose a lot of safe seats, and made the party fall lower than the hated Tories in Scotland. Nobody wants that on their record. Senior Labour people want to be the Scottish Labour leader who comes in after that, to start a new era, and has the time to build something, anything, to win voters back.

Anti-Establishment Politics

UKIP are busy trying to market themselves as an anti establishment party, knowing there’s a lot of discontent among the electorate for the status quo. In one sense they are anti establishment.

If you look at what the establishment means, it’s the three main parties who have been there for decades and the combined decisions made by them. Each area has pockets of people who have voted Tory for generations, and will always vote Tory. That applies to all three parties. Look at moments in the UK’s history, and you have senior figures from Labour and Tory specifically, either in government or in opposition, have their impact on it.

By comparison, UKIP is a very new party. It was formed because right wingers felt their views on immigration and the EU weren’t being reflected in Westminster. The party you’d expect to champion those views didn’t go far enough for them. They formed to break into that comfy tripartite system. They’re tapping into the rather obvious conclusion that the status quo doesn’t work, and even if they’re right wing, they’re going to break that system. That’s appealing to many voters.

I should point out that while I don’t like UKIP, I don’t have a problem with them getting the airtime comparable to their support, to air their views. It’s also perfectly valid to criticise those views, and hold those views to scrutiny. This is the whole point of all political parties after all. The problem for me, is that there’s only one party doing this; it happens to be a far right one.

While UKIP are anti establishment from one angle, the majority of their senior figures have defected from other establishment parties. They’re a landing zone for disaffected Tories in particular. The people standing for UKIP seats, or donating the large sums of money to UKIP are therefore “establishment”. They’re not going to run anti-establishment policies. They’re only going to use that as a platform to help get votes.

UKIP are no more anti establishment, than UK Labour are socialist. Both parties are pretending they’re something they’re not to get people to vote for them. A strong left of centre UK party with a proper uncompromising alternative to the status quo could break both UKIP and Labour.