Category Archives: Elections

Nigel Evans: accused

Nigel EvansNigel Evans is a conservative and a Conservative.

He’s been a Conservative politician since 1985, when he was elected a councillor for West Glamorgan (the former administrative county in Wales that is now Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot). In 1992, he won Ribble Valley in Lancashire for the Conservative Party, and held it for them until last year when he lost the Tory Whip and became an independent. He held it through the 1997, 2001, 2005, and 2010 general elections.

From June 2001 to November 2003, Evans was Shadow Secretary of State for Wales: he was appointed a Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party from November 2004 to December 2005: from June 2010 to 10th September 2013, he was First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means – that is, the second deputy Speaker of the House.

He is also, as I find from his Wikipedia page, a disbeliever in man-made climate change and was a fan of The Great Global Warming Swindle.

Nigel Evans is on trial for rape, indecent assault twice, and six counts of sexual assault, and it is further alleged by the prosecution that the following named, senior Conservatives knew of his record of sexual assaults at least since 2003. Evans denies all charges.
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UKIP: gamechanger?

Last night the political reporter for the Nottingham Post tweeted:

The Bus Pass Elvis party is in the great British tradition of Screaming Lord Sutch. And they polled more votes than the LibDems.
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Just think: this could be your next MEP

David Coburn, who is UKIP’s London Regional Chair, is the leading UKIP candidate for Scotland in the European elections in May.

This being Scotland, UKIP are polling better than the LibDems, who are still sliding into their slow electoral wipeout for giving Scotland a Tory government at Westminster again. (It’s not that we’re vengeful. It’s quite possible that LibDems will recover in Scotland. After the last of the current batch of politicians has lost their seats, MP, MSP, and MEP, and Nick Clegg is kicked out and the LibDems after 2015 start pulling themselves back together again and trying to figure out what they’re for, well… sometime after that, Scotland might start voting them again. It’s not that we’re vengeful. It’s just that we think cheating politicians who put Tory governments into office should suffer humiliating electoral defeats until morale improves.)
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Rennard and 50/50 hindsight

Chris RennardWhen the question about sexual harassment was asked of the Question Time panel in Dundee last week, all three men on the panel – including David Dimbleby – went awfully quiet. The two women, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson, roundly condemned sexual harassment and the behaviour of party leadership that ignores complaints; especially telling coming from Davidson, as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

It gets written off as “not a big deal” or “he probably didn’t mean it” or “he’s not a bad guy, really.” Any discussion of the bad behavior must immediately be followed by a complete audit of his better qualities or the sad things he’s suffered in the name of “fairness.” Once the camera has moved in and seen him in closeup as a real, human, suffering person, how can you (the object, always an object, as in “objectified,” as in a disembodied set of tits or orifices, or a Trapper Keeper, or a favorite coffee mug or a pet cat) be so cruel as to want to hold him accountable for his actions? Bitches, man. “My friend group has a case of the Creepy Dude. How do we clear that up?” Captain Awkward, August 2012

For twenty years, Lord Rennard was the man in charge of Liberal Democrat campaigns and elections. He was appointed Director of Campaigns and Elections for the newly-forged Liberal Democrat party in 1989. In 1992, the LibDems lost two seats – by the 1997 election, they had 18. But in 1997, 2001, and 2005, targeting winnable seats, Rennard increased Liberal Democrat representation from 18 to 46, to 52, to a high of 62.
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What should the LibDems do after May 2015?

Nick Clegg tuition fees 2010The next General Election for the UK will be on 7th May 2015. In Scotland, we’re all looking at 18th September 2014, but for the Westminster parties, the general election campaigning has already begun.

At the 2010 general election, the results were Conservatives 307, Labour 258, Liberal Democrats 57: the LibDems dashed into a coalition with the Tories, and the hugely unpleasant mess that followed is still miring us up.

It’s fair to say that without the LibDem decision to join the Tory party and keep them in government (despite Tories not having won an election since 1992) – there likely would not have been a majority-SNP government in Holyrood: conceivably, if enough Scots had voted LibDem in 2011, there might not be an independence referendum this year.
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SF: what are we voting for?

Scotland's FutureThe SNP published a White Paper on Scottish independence in November, and while the ebook has been sitting on my reader, I haven’t yet pushed my way through it. So. for 2014, I’m embarking on a blogging project. Every Thursday, I hope (with July exemption) to write deconstruction on the SNP’s vision of what we’ll be voting for if we vote Yes.

Scotland’s referendum on 18 September 2014 is a choice between two futures.

This is a splendid opening line. But: one reason for the high turnout in 1992 and 1997 is quite possibly, that on both occasions, Scottish voters wanted the Tories out – and wanted Labour in. After the poll tax and the destruction of heavy industry in Scotland, voters were energised, aware, and hugely angry. We really did feel there was a choice between two futures – the grim grey Toryism that had, by 1997, been plodding on for 18 years of hell, and a bright hopeful New Labour future with Tony Blair. (Yes, I know what that sounds like now. But we did.) And to be fair – I had infinitely rather Labour won in 1997 than we’d had another five years of Conservative rule. Whatever New Labour’s flaws and failures, and they turned out to be huge, the Conservatives had done worse before 1997 and are doing worse now. (And yes, a Tory government would have done exactly what Labour did over the Iraq war, but faster and with bells on.) No other election since has felt like 1997 did.

Still: if enough of us vote Yes on 18th September, Scotland becomes independent in March 2016, and for good or ill, that is a huge change. So, yes, two futures. Fair enough.

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Undecided Leith

Undecided About ReferendumAt the beginning of October someone tweeted me a link to Yes Edinburgh North & Leith‘s first public meeting, on 3rd October in the Halls on Henderson Street.

Unlike most Yes events, this one was billed explicitly, both in the header and in the text, as for undecided voters – so, unlike with most events organised by Yes Scotland, I felt free to go along. When I got there, about five minutes before the start, I found some Yes activists who’d come anyway were leaving, and people identifying themselves as undecided were being let in on a one-for-one basis (the hall was packed). I got a seat at the front that had been vacated by a Yes voter and was sitting next to two Yes voters who weren’t budging and who didn’t know Leith votes Labour.

Undecided voters in the audience will have the opportunity to ask a top panel – including Nicola Sturgeon and leading human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar – why they should vote Yes on September 18th next year.

Yes LeithThere were four speakers: Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP, Aamer Anwar for Labour – the only speaker who wasn’t a politician, Margo MacDonald – the woman the SNP tried to get rid of in 2003, still being elected as an Independent MSP for the Lothians – and Chas Booth, the Scottish Green councillor for Leith.

I didn’t know how I was going to vote on the 18th of September when I got there, and when I left I still didn’t know, and six weeks later I still don’t know – but I’d been convinced all over again by the event that I’ll have to make up my mind on my own – because nothing the Yes Scotland campaign or the Better Together campaign say is likely to be helpful.

Lesley Riddoch, though herself a solid Yes voter, puts it bluntly:

the thinking Scot does not want to hear “Just say yes” or “Independence is the normal condition for a country” (tell that to the happily and highly devolved Lander of Germany or the federal states of Canada) or “Independence gives us the chance to decide Scotland’s future” (it does, but devolution’s already given us a stack of choices we haven’t had the courage to use) or “Decisions made in Scotland are better than those made in Westminster” (the trams debacle and Holyrood Parliament scandal spring all too quickly to mind).

It’s not that these bald assertions are untrue. They just aren’t enough. Repeating formulaic arguments won’t cut it in this debate. “Heart” supporters of independence are already signed up. The gullible are least likely to vote. The majority of Scots want grown-up, credible reasons to up-end the constitutional arrangements of several lifetimes.

This, none of the speakers provided, though Chas Booth came closest: unsurprisingly, since the Scottish Greens have spent years of party time thinking about how Scotland could do better. And will continue to do so, I have no doubt, whichever way the referendum next September goes.

You can see for yourself what they all said: Yes Leith had organised a video record.

Chas Booth presented independence as the chance to create a better nation in Scotland. He mentioned a Leither who’d come to him for help, and presented a solid case that she was in less trouble than she might have been had she lived in England, because of Scottish legislation that was keeping the more vulnerable better protected.

And then he said: “Decisions that affect Scotland should be made in Scotland.”

Well yes: but why? Decisions that affect Scotland are also made in Westminster, in Brussels, in Strasbourg, in Geneva, in New York, in Vienna. Independence will not get rid of any of those other external-to-Scotland decisionmakers, nor, I assume, would Chas Booth wish it to – except, presumably, OPEC in Vienna.

Margo MacDonald presented the purely nationalist case for independence: fair enough, until the SNP were foolish enough to think they could drop her from the ballot in 2003 and replace her with someone more in the party mould (stale, pale, male….) she was a member of the Scottish National Party.

I will admit that Margo MacDonald put my back up almost immediately by arguing that she didn’t see why people who planned to vote “no” wanted to call themselves Scots. I have called myself Scottish, British, and European for decades: whichever way I vote in 2014 won’t change that.

By the nationalist argument, I mean the argument for voting yes that rests on the idea that things will magically become better because we are Scottish. We have as much capacity to screw things up as any other nation: I don’t believe in arguments that rest on the idea that Scots are kinder or more just or more socially conscious than the English. Nor do I believe that Scots will necessarily keep voting for left-wing governments, just because we mostly have so far.

Aamer Anwar presented the negative case for independence. Perhaps that’s too a negative a way of putting it. Kenny Farquarson calls it the “I’m not a Nat, but – “ I find it strongly compelling, but it is a negative argument, and one based strongly on the current political situation.

David Cameron’s Tory/LibDem coalition are doing a terrible job running the country. The great institutions – the Royal Mail, the BBC, the NHS, the welfare state itself – that might have been a fine argument for a “No” vote, are being destroyed; broken up and sold off. If the Conservatives win in 2015, or even scrape in with the LibDems to support them, the only way Scotland will keep a national mail service or retain our NHS or keep welfare intact is to go independent. That is an honestly compelling argument, but it’s an argument that depends on David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and the rest of the sorry crew to make it for Yes Scotland.

Even if Labour wins in 2015, it’s fair to say that Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves and Ed Balls have none of them convinced me that they intend to try to undo what the Tories and LibDems have done. The argument that we need to take the drastic step of independence merely to ensure we’re rid of the Tories lessens in force the better chance there seems to be of Labour getting in – but it doesn’t go away, because Ed Miliband and the rest of his crew aren’t standing up and committing themselves to ensure the Royal Mail is re-nationalised, the NHS is re-founded, the welfare state is re-formed: still less to undoing the damage done by Tony Blair’s New Labour government.

So, that’s an argument. But, it’s not a good argument. It doesn’t present voting Yes as a positive choice, merely as a desperate manoeuvre to destroy the bridge in order to stymie the pursuing wolves. The wolves are still there, still hungry, still rabid: all we’ve done is cut ourselves off from them while leaving them loose just across the Border, with allies north of the Border.

Are we justified in doing that? If the Conservatives – or the Tories/LibDems – look likely to get into government again in 2015, yes we are: that would be self-preservation. But it doesn’t look likely that they will: so far Labour is well ahead in the polls.

And then Nicola Sturgeon spoke.

Nicola Sturgeon is a good speaker and an admirable politician. She spoke about putting the levers of government into our hands. And primarily because of that, I thought I’d wait til the White Paper came out today to post about the Yes Leith event, because I didn’t want to be told “oh, wait for the SNP to publish Scotland’s Future!” Well, they have, and it confirms what Sturgeon told me in response to my question about these “levers of government”.

The plan from the White Paper, which is much as Nicola Sturgeon described it briefly on that night in October, is that if Scotland votes a definite Yes* in 2014, then on Thursday 26th March 2016 Scotland becomes independent and six weeks later on Thursday 5th May 2016 the first election for a Scottish Parliament will be held, elected under the current system of Regional party lists and constituency first-past-the-post, and this new Parliament will be responsible from Friday 6th May onwards for creating a Constitutional Convention to determine how newly-independent Scotland will be governed.

The next General Election in Scotland after 2016 would be in 2020 if, by that time, the 129 MSPs have decided Scotland will continue to follow the four-yearly general elections laid out in “Scotland’s Parliament: Scotland’s Right”.

The development of a constitutional government for devolved Scotland took seven years to work out, from the initial decision in 1988 to the publication in 1995: and it was not implemented until 1999. If we assume that the Constitutional Convention envisaged by the SNP as being set up some time in 2016 proceeds at about the same pace, probably there will be a Scottish Constitution published for us to think about by 2023 – a year before the second general election of the independent Scotland.

I have said for over a year now, and at this point it’s far too late: the time to think about presenting a Constitution to Scottish voters would have been before the referendum. I think Yes will lose: it will be interesting to see if one of the follow-on effects of a lost Yes vote will be a renewal of interest in developing a Constitution. This would be easier to do across party lines and with real effort to be inclusive, if it were not happening under pressure to get it done in time for a referendum or a general election. (I suspect, supposing Yes were to win, that the Constitutional Convention would be instructed to hurry up and get it done in time for campaigning, well before 2020.)

The Constitution for an independent Scotland would be far more important than any stagey TV “debate” between David Cameron and Alex Salmond. (Which will never happen, because Cameron and his advisers know perfectly well it would win them no votes in Scotland, no matter how well Cameron presented himself and his arguments for voting No.)

North Pole lake

There is the red herring of whether Scotland would be in the EU, the important but not particularly debatable question of what currency Scotland would have, human rights questions – we are not magically less racist or less homophobic or less sexist than other nations – questions about Scotland’s oil and our territorial waters and global warming.

But what was my question to Nicola Sturgeon?

I asked what would change about Scotland’s governance if we voted Yes.

Nicola Sturgeon had said the SNP wanted to “put the levers of government into our hands”. That should mean, if it means anything, that the centralisation of powers to the Parliament in Holyrood would be reversed: a campaign for real local government, for an increase in the number of local authorities, for an end to the practice of instructing local government what their policies will be and forbidding them from raising their own funds from local taxation: an end to siding with billionaires over locals.

We will lose 59 Scottish MPs. The 129 MSPs will find their workload double or triple, as they must do what Westminster MPs do, what they now do, and also are responsible for setting up the Constitutional Convention. Either their funding for personal staff increases, or don’t expect a good response time if you’ve got a problem you want your MSP to help with.

Nothing below that level will change. We will continue a system of local government that is quite literally the least democratic in Europe, until or unless the Scottish Constitutional Convention, appointed by MSPs, proposes a change.

Simon Brookes notes the state of Scottish local democracy today compared to the smaller countries that the SNP are so fond of citing:

Iceland is an extreme case, of course; a nation of proud and independent people with an ancient history of democratic organisation, and strong civil society. But Denmark, with a population roughly equal to Scotland’s, has three times as many local authorities. Norway, with three quarters our population, has 400 more local authorities than Scotland has.

Put it differently: Dumfries and Galloway has three times the population of the average Danish local authority; four times of the average Swedish or Dutch; twelve times the average for Norway; thirty six times the average for Iceland. I said Iceland was an extreme case, didn’t I? Get this. Dumfries and Galloway has eighty four times the population of the average – the average – French commune.

To say this system will continue until further notice is not “putting the levers of government into our hands”: it is ensuring the levers of government stay centralised and far away from us, our only access to them much what it is now: except that we lose 59 MPs at Westminster.

What struck me about the evening at Yes Leith was that even though the evening had been billed as for undecided voters (and I do appreciate the Yes voters who went back out into a cold and rainy night to let those of us undecided have a seat – thank you!) there appeared to be no thought by any of the four speakers or by most of the audience that one could listen to Yes speakers evangelising for independence, and still not be convinced, because nothing new has been said and nothing definite offered, to give me a reason to vote Yes beyond the negative reason “The others are worse”. So, I remain undecided.

Yes Scotland are talking to themselves. They don’t want to hear from the undecided. The same is true of Better Together, but the status quo does have an advantage: it’s Yes Scotland that needed to pay attention to the undecided, and hasn’t and doesn’t.

*Note: I would say for a definite Yes they need a 60% turnout and a clear majority from those who voted. The last time Scottish voters had a 60%+ turnout was for the Scottish devolution referendum in 1997. I know that the SNP got the Tories to agree to a simple Yes/No vote and a simple majority of those who voted, but if turnout for the independence referendum is below 50%, I do believe that’s an answer: not enough people care about the issue for constitutional change. Low turnout is itself an answer, just not one that politicians want.

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Dunfermline, the last byelection

DunfermlineYou may think it’s a bit premature to dub Dunfermline “the last byelection” when there’s 11 months to go to the independence referendum and 73 MSPs on the wall. (Yes, there are 129 MSPs, but when a Regional MSP falls off the wall, he, she, or it is replaced by the next-senior name on the party list.)

Every time there is a Scottish byelection between now and next September, there will be the same drama. Only more so. And every time, the byelection will be dubbed “the last“, and deep significance found in the results.

The results were:
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What are LibDems for?

For about fifty years, until Nick Clegg agreed to a coalition with the Conservatives, probably most people would have agreed that LibDems or Liberals, the third party in UK politics, were “for” providing an alternative to Labour or the Conservatives: a party basically on the left in politics, but edging towards the centre. Sometimes letting Tories be elected on a minority of the vote, since left-wing voters split between Labour or the LibDems.

Since May 2010, Liberal Democrats have voted to support massive cuts to funding for public services, terrifying attacks on support for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, in favour of retroactive legislation on money due for unlawful workfare sanctions, and of course the privatisation of the NHS, and now are expected to vote for selling off the Post Office.

Support for the Liberal Democrats has crashed. To win back even half their seats in 2015, the LibDems will have to treat every maybe-winnable constituency as a by-election like Eastleigh – will have to recruit massive numbers of volunteers while their party is losing memberships. The current prediction is 23 LibDem MPs in Parliament after May 2015, while Labour should have a majority of over 100.
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Undecided Scot decides

Alex Salmond: Better Together, that's what I sayI still don’t know how I’ll vote in autumn 2014. But a few days ago, one thing at least was made definite for me: the Better Together vote is going to win. I’m certain enough of that to lay a bet on it, if I were the gambling sort.

What made me so sure?

It’s not just that the SNP are saying blithely that Independence Day will be March 2016, though that is a highly-unrealistic timescale. (It’s also not a binding decision.)

On 11th May I predicted, correctly, that Barack Obama was going to be a two-term President. My certainty was founded in Obama’s own sense of political security: that’s when Obama opted to come out for repealing DOMA and in support of lifting the ban on same-sex marriage recognition: for gay marriage.

For the most part, there are two sorts of politicians who come out for LGBT equality: the very principled, who will stand up for what’s right regardless of what this does to their future career, and the very confident, who are sure of their future career regardless of what they say. Barack Obama is not the first sort of politician (that sort doesn’t become President of the United States) but he is superb at the job of getting elected. I was sure Obama was going to win.

I’m now sure that the SNP leadership is certain they won’t win the referendum in 2014: they can set a date of March 2016 for independence because that’s not in their plans. They can separate off the “Yes Scotland” campaign as officially not-really SNP, and the morning after the votes are counted and the result is published, the SNP can move on with their plans for contesting Scottish seats in the May 2015 Westminster election.
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