What are the leaders’ debates for?
Because the UK is run by representatives from elected from constituencies, most of us watching a leaders’ debate will never get to vote for the party leader we think made best showing, or whose views we most agree with.
The current plan for the leaders’ debates – one on the BBC, one on Channel 4, and one on ITV - is for them to include the four men who lead four parties in the UK – the Conservatives, Labour, the LibDems, and UKIP: but exclude the women who lead the Green Party, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru.
In 2010, three leaders’ debates were for the three men who led what would obviously be the three biggest parties in the next Parliament, and in the sense that we saw David Cameron and Nick Clegg bonding as the two younger, public school men, excluding Gordon Brown, they were illuminating – even if Nick Clegg managed to parlay his brief popularity into a five-year crash for his party.
When the story broke that David Cameron had refused to wear a t-shirt that said “This is what a feminist looks like”, ELLE professed itself surprised:
When ELLE asked him, along with Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats (and other influential men including Benedict Cumberbatch, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Tom Hiddleston) to wear the Fawcett Society’s iconic ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ t-shirts for ELLE’s inaugural feminism issue (on sale October 30), he refused.
Not once, but five times.
It’s possible, of course, that Cameron refused because he knows he isn’t a feminist. Not only is he known for telling the Shadow Chief Secretary of the Treasury in the House of Commons to “calm down, dear” (six times), his government has since 2010 imposed austerity cuts that place a disproportionate burden on women.
The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 will be holding
three four debates before the general election in May 2015.
One of them, reasonably enough, will be a head-to-head between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
Another two, also reasonably enough, will include besides the Conservative Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party (still predicted to be Labour Prime Minister by a narrow majority), the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the LibDems, Nick Clegg – even though the LibDems appear likely to see their 57 seats drop to 18 after 7th May 2015.
The fourth debate will privilege a minor party above the SNP and the Greens: Nigel Farage, who is not an MP, whose party is still predicted to have no MPs after 7th May 2015, will get to take part in a four-way debate with Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg.
As I write, the SNP membership has increased by 63% to be the UK’s third party by size. (The LibDems, whose membership has fallen by a third since May 2010, have 43,451 members: the SNP now have 62,870.)
The Scottish Green membership quintupled in a week, from 1,200 to nearly six thousand.
The most likely result of the May 2015 general election is still a Labour majority or Labour as the largest single party.
Everyone in Scotland is so focussed on the referendum that they’re forgetting the European elections on 22nd May. (And that’s worrying, because low turnout is how parties like UKIP get in.)
Illustrating this forgetfulness about the European elections, last night on Have I Got News For You an English comedian made a joke about “Methadone elections” and Susan Calman took audible offence because she’d forgotten about the EuroElections and thought he meant the independence referendum was methadone: but the English comedian had forgotten about the Scottish referendum – he was making a joke about the methadone of the European Parliament elections compared to the heroin smack of a General Election.
When I published Leaning Towards No, I expected reaction from Yes voters who’d been hoping I would come down on their side of the fence.
I wasn’t expecting the reaction to be so supportive of the SNP. From the reactions, [hardly anyone]* who plans to vote Yes intends to challenge the SNP’s plans to install devomax “currency union” in place of our present devolved system, and while some actively support the plan, many simply don’t see changing the SNP’s policy as possible.
*Not quite “no one”, as I initially wrote.
It therefore seems likely that – much to my annoyance and disappointment – I really don’t have any choice but to vote No. I don’t support devomax. I never did. I won’t vote Yes to have devomax replace status-quo devolution, and that’s what the Scottish Government’s White Paper says is going to happen.
Let me go through the various objections I’ve received to this, beginning with the silliest. (None of these are direct quotes from anyone, so if you recognise yourself in them, it’s purely coincidental.)
David Cameron is bringing his Cabinet north to Aberdeen today “to highlight the importance to Scotland’s oil industry of staying in the UK.”
Presumably you have to be Scottish to understand why this is such a ludicrously bad idea. Or at least, not an English Conservative who was 25 and working for the Conservative Research Department in London in 1992.
In the 1992 general election, the Conservative Party won 5 seats in Scotland.
It’s been 22 years and that victory remains the highlight of their electoral achievements in the past quarter-century. (Yes, they do have 14 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, but most of them are “list” MSPs – they represent a region, not a constituency.)
The most effective thing David Cameron could do to win a No vote for independence in Scotland is to stay in England and repeat some variation on “Of course the Scots have a right to hold a referendum on independence: naturally I want Scotland to remain part of the UK but we will respect the democratic will of the Scottish people whatever happens.”
I actually respected Cameron’s decision not to debate Alex Salmond; I assumed his advisors had let him know it would have done neither Cameron or the Better Together campaign any good in Scotland, however well the English Tory Prime Minister comes across in his own electoral territory.
The notion that a Conservative Prime Minister visiting Aberdeen to tell the Scottish people that we’d never be able to cope with our own oil industry if we were independent so we’d much better stay part of the UK…