Alex Salmond is no Nick Clegg

I was disappointed when the SNP voted to join NATO if Scotland became independent on Friday. The only positive reason I have for voting Yes so far is that the SNP’s policy was to get rid of nuclear weapons if Scotland became independent. That policy would have been tough to maintain in the face of rUK opposition, since it would be impossible for rUK to build another base for its nuclear weapons at Faslane in the time planned between vote and independence, but it will be impossible if it’s attempted in a kind of “we want to join NATO but we’re getting rid of nuclear weapons: we don’t care that this means rUK loses its nuclear weapons” game.

As the Scotland on Sunday rightly notes, this is unrealistic: the movement in the SNP to reverse their anti-NATO policy is a means of reversing their no-nukes policy without officially saying so or needing a vote.

The other issue is the unrealistic basis of the entire debate, which was only about membership of Nato. This was endorsed, but without the SNP abandoning its opposition to nuclear weapons based in Scotland. As things now stand, the SNP is committed to Nato membership – but with the proviso that Nato’s nuclear weapons are not hosted on Scottish soil. To remain anti-nuclear while professing loyalty to Nato is an untenable position.

The Sunday Times poll noted that winning 50%+ support for independence is fundamentally dependent not on anything the SNP or Yes Scotland have announced they’re doing or campaigning for, but on whether Labour can win the 2015 election. There’s a hard core of support for independence, and from my own experience, the hard core are generally better at convincing themselves than anyone else. There’s a fairly definite proportion of people who are likely to vote No, and there’s about 17% who identify themselves, like me, as undecided.

But if you ask voters to suppose “Labour loses in 2015″, giving us another five years of Tory misrule from Westminster, that is enough to tip a significant proportion of the No voters over to Yes. (I wasn’t polled, but I suspect I’d have answered the same. What the Tories are doing to us now is scary: the prospect of five more years is just too much.)

That part got headlined. What didn’t get headlined, when I read the full article, was the gender balance. More men than women support independence. More men than women vote SNP. Of all the Parliamentary parties in Scotland, the SNP skews male more than any of them: and isn’t interested in changing that. (Alex Neil is still Health Minister, despite publicly declaring a lack of interest in healthcare for women: apparently to the SNP, that doesn’t matter.)

I’d be interested to see the raw data of the poll, but from what the Sunday Time’s published, it seems that if asked to suppose Labour loses in 2015, more women than men decide to switch from No to Yes, or from Undecided to Yes. If asked to suppose Labour wins in 2015, more women than men will vote No in 2015.

So the voting group to which the SNP – and Yes Scotland – particularly have to make their case for independence, have to give positive reasons for voting Yes, is pretty much the voters in the broad demographic category that includes me: lefty women who are currently undecided. And, at the moment, it doesn’t appear that the SNP or Yes Scotland are at all interested in finding out what “undecided women” want from a independent Scotland. From the Scottish Women’s Convention’s manifesto, NATO membership wasn’t even a blip on the horizon.

Which makes the Scotland on Sunday’s speculation about what else the SNP will “have” to do a little ridiculous:

The SNP has two years – realistically, 18 months – to revisit all the areas of its programme that are voter-unfriendly. If electability is the goal, there are other problematic issues to be addressed. The reassuring pledge to continue with the monarchy still seems too much an Alex Salmond policy, not sufficiently a party commitment. The EU issue needs spelled out, chapter and verse. Can the SNP secure a guarantee of retaining the pound and EU membership? It would help it enormously if it could. Its commitment to renewable energy is too extravagant a goal for a small nation when many other countries are rowing back on this. And the baffling decision to provoke an unnecessary controversy over same-sex marriage, which is now clearly a vote-loser, may not do the party any favours if it wants maximum support at the referendum. Ideological purity is a luxury of opposition; winning a referendum requires flexibility and compromise.

The monarchy? I’m yet to be convinced that’s a particularly important issue for anyone in the real world. (Alex Salmond wants to transfer the Crown powers from Westminster to Holyrood: pretty sure that’s why he wants to keep the monarchy.)

The EU issue? It hardly needs to be made any clearer. If Scotland becomes independent, of course it will have to reapply for EU membership. There is no reason to suppose that this application would be rejected. Nor is there any reason to suppose the EU would set any barriers or conditions on Scotland joining. Fuss over the EU is generally pure red herring or anti-Europe hysteria.

Currency? Yes, the SNP needs to be a bit more specific about their plans there. This is properly a decision that should be made openly and transparently, not by a single party or campaign, but showing the reasoning behind the decisions, which should not be made on a sentimental fear that people won’t vote for independence if means changing the currency. Right now, there are four options: to retain the GB Pound and accept currency controlled by the Bank of England; to convert to the euro; to adopt a new independent Scottish currency; or, theoretically, to convert to another currency controlled by another national bank, not the Bank of England/the GB Pound. Given that four years can be a long time in currency, ideally the possible reasons and conclusions are laid out as clearly as possible so that people know what the decision is likely to be.

Renewable energy “extravagant”? No. We’ll come back to this.

The baffling belief expressed by conservative “thinkers” that support for equal marriage is controversial or a vote-loser? Clearly they have not been paying attention, or they do not wish to consider the facts at hand. Equal marriage is supported by a solid and consistent two-thirds of the Scottish population – there is more definite support for Scotland lifting the ban on same-sex marriage than there is for Scotland becoming independent.

Its inclusion here says something more about the leader-writer than it does about the SNP or about gay marriage. When Barack Obama, the most successful conservative President the United States has had since Ronald Reagan, comes out in support of the freedom to marry, you know it’s a vote-winner for left and right alike.

But Mark McAlpine is correct; it’s a right-wing agenda for the SNP and of a piece with the SNP’s U-turn on NATO and thus on nuclear weapons:

This, for my money, is just part of exactly the same campaign that made Johann Lamont think it was clever to attack the universal welfare state. Persuade Scottish Labour it must become a right-of-centre party to win power. Persuade the SNP it must become a right-of-centre party to win the referendum. Then campaign really, really hard to make sure there is no vote for Scottish independence. And then sit back and puff on your cigar as a newly-United Kingdom has a northern frontier which no longer meddles with pesky left-of-centre politics. Job done.

I think it entirely possible that in the name of “realism” the SNP will deal with the polling that tells them women voters who are undecided about independence prefer Labour to the Conservatives, by telling women that the SNP are better than the Tories (I have already been told this several times – it tends to come up when I point out that Alex Neil kind of spoils the rosy view of the SNP as a party of progressives) and by arguing that women are demographically more likely to vote Conservative than Labour.

What women have actually said they want will not be of any concern. (I applaud the attitude of Women for Independence, but their survey was too badly constructed for me to finish responding to.)

I think it entirely possible if the SNP persists in “realistically” drifting rightwards that there will be no point at all to voting Yes in 2014, since there will be no reason to suppose the SNP want a Scotland any different from that which Labour in Westminster will create.

Alex Salmond signs the pledge to support same-sex marriage But I do not think the SNP or Alex Salmond will U-turn on their support for equal marriage, and this Facebook photo is why. That’s Alex Salmond, at the SNP conference, publicly signing the pledge to support same-sex marriage and being photographed holding his pledge.

Alex Salmond is many things, but he’s no Nick Clegg: he’s not silly enough to do a public U-turn, especially not over a change to the law that enables the SNP to figleaf themselves as still a progressive party – no matter how conservative support for gay marriage has become.

Update, Lesley Riddoch:

Maintaining that balance matters. Moral authority matters. That’s partly why this weekend’s Sunday Times poll revealed the prospect of another Con-Dem government at Westminster would be an independence game-changer. Voters obviously want to dodge another five years of Westminster-led austerity – but they also want a new era of principled politics. They want a world where ideals are not there to be traded away, sniggered about in private and mocked in public.

Are the SNP really just the same as everyone else? Does every politician, every party and every cause have its price? Was fear of American government opposition in 2014 really important enough to justify a debate that did what no other politician, policy, election or predicament has hitherto managed – putting the mighty Alex Salmond within inches of embarrassing, public defeat? The preoccupation with power at all costs was precisely what prompted scunnered Labour voters to switch to the SNP in 2011.

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2 Comments

Filed under Elections, Scottish Politics, Women

2 responses to “Alex Salmond is no Nick Clegg

  1. Interesting blog from an undecided Referendum voter. I’m not a member of any political party, but do intend,at the moment, to vote Yes in 2014. Like you, I was not particularly amused at the NATO decision. Although quoting the fervently pro-Union Scotland on Sunday on NATO doesn’t help your case.

    However, I don’t recognise this rightward drift of the SNP, nor do I recognise the anti-women skew that you claim exists in the SNP. Incidentally, I would be most interested to see a link where Alex Neil “publicly declares a lack of interest in healthcare for women”.

    The poll you quote that prospect of another Conservative-led Westminster government would give a majority for Yes is, of course, correct. However, hidden behind the pay-wall was an equally interesting finding that 43% would vote Yes given the prospect of Westminster LABOUR-led government, just 4% behind the No vote.

    I have been waiting for some time for a single positive fact from the No campaign why I, or anyone, should vote for them. I’m still waiting.

    • However, I don’t recognise this rightward drift of the SNP, nor do I recognise the anti-women skew that you claim exists in the SNP. Incidentally, I would be most interested to see a link where Alex Neil “publicly declares a lack of interest in healthcare for women”.

      That SNP skewed towards men is, alas, a demographic fact. The SNP disproportionally tends to select men as candidates. That women tend not to vote SNP or join the SNP is also an indisputable fact. If the SNP wants to change that, they would need to take action to stop disproportionately selecting men and to try to make itself, as a party, more attractive to women to join and to vote for. They aren’t, so I conclude they don’t care.

      Alex Neil’s proclaimed indifference to healthcare for women was from an interview published the first weekend in October. Pregnant woman can have a scan to detect major physical health problems with the foetus between week 18 and week 20. If Alex Neil and David Cameron got their way, a woman who discovered a major problem at her 20-week scan could have days or even hours to decide if she needed to have an abortion: or she might find she would have to fly to Belgium or the Netherlands to pay for her abortion there. Now, either Alex Neil was ignorant of this when he made that statement two weeks ago, in which case he has had plenty of time for his civil servants to educate him and for him to retract and apologise: or he knows that the most desperately-needed and urgent abortions for medical reasons happen after 20 weeks, and he wants to make those women suffer worse and pay more. Either way, at this point, he is unfit to be Health Secretary, and if the SNP had any concern for women’s health and women’s votes, they’d have invited him to quit before the party conference so that a more appropriate replacement could be appointed.

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