Just back from a Hogmanay holiday to Mull…the north west tip which gets the ferocious Atlantic blast one day and then melts in the low sun the next revealing glistening sand and ochre-coloured rocky landscapes.
The kids chased ducks, sheep and bogles in the woods and squelched through seaweed. We came from Scotland, London, Oxford, Vermont and Oregon and only had one political row (yes, independence).
We ate well and drank better. And as ever, I bumped into a Yes supporter. They pop up wherever I go, this time in the ferry queue at Craignure. Phone reception and wi fi were severely limited so I’m catching up with communications generally.
The saddest story seems to be the Pauline Cafferkey, the nurse with Ebola, who went to help others knowing the risk. She seems to encapsulate the dilemmas of our time by making the physical commitment to go, driven by a deeper need to contribute, something we all recognise in ourselves but leave to others – she was caring for the terminally ill and I was filling my glass; she is critically ill and I’m writing about it.
In the political cesspit, I had the usual slew of filth and bile from the Britnat bigots. Can’t something be done about them…the abusers, the conspiracy fantasists, the trolls? There are those who parade as sensible commentators to make a living whose online character is embarrassing, like neds agitating for a fight, and who, like them, have no analysis or meaningful contribution. Insult measures their own shortcomings, not mine.
A retweet of Jenny Marra caught my eye in which she clearly shows how politics works, both the strategic and the simplistic in terms of messaging.
The Vow was promised, voted for and delivered. @theSNP Cllrs burn it in a bin. Embarrassing for Scottish democracy. With Youtube link
Two messages there, both clear and containing deeper triggers. First the Vow has to be completed for Labour to stand any chance of holding enough of the party deserters to save seats in May. The voters have to hear that it was delivered as promised and on time and that the devolution issue is put to bed. It is saying that whatever your devo dream up to and including Devo Max, it is in the bag and that game is over…all the Nats are doing are peddling an out-of-date line. They can’t let go and are obsessed while Labour has calmly got on with the job and given you what you want. All talk of further powers is redundant. Don’t listen. Scotland will be transformed by the Smith proposals which were based on the Vow and guaranteed by Gordon Brown.
The second part confirms the first – that the SNP are not democrats, are obsessed and don’t care what the people voted and how the parties, including themselves, agreed under Smith on a package. Forget the SNP. The constitutional argument is over, now it’s time to revert to traditional politics and vote Labour to boot out the Tories.
Therefore it also plays into the general Labour theme of Tories Out – Labour In.
You can see how that might resonate, indeed how it will resonate with a section of the electorate who’d love a reason to go back to Labour if only they could see one. But the Marra message is shot full of holes even for those who take only a marginal interest in political events and read the Daily Record.
The first question to ask is the most telling: What is the Vow? Nobody has been able to distil into a meaningful and succinct phrase what the Vow is, such is its sweeping insignificance. It is deliberately couched in imprecise language to make it usable by the Unionists without having to agree on any detail and yet implying, in a glancing read, maximum devolution, or damn near it. The only word of meaning is ‘extensive’ and that is debateable on any measure. It could for example cover only the range of powers (welfare, tax, road signs) without the depth of control being offered.
The Vow was a tabloid con, on fake parchment from an organisation dependent on Labour success and whose market is closely aligned with the party’s previous domination and imminent demise – mutually assured destruction. It did produce the Smith Commission and its hotchpotch menu of responsibilities but none has been enacted and very likely, never will be. The original plans were vetoed in London and the remaining contents are hotly disputed at the Palace of Westminster where they are certain to meet with serious revision even if Labour win the election such is the anti-Scottish mood whipped up in England.
This election will become an argument about the governance of Scotland with bid and counter bid and expect more last-minute concessions from Labour if the vote looks like going against them. In that event, I think Smith will be subsumed in the turmoil of campaigning and become an irrelevance.
The way to boost Scotland is to elect Yes candidates whose commitment isn’t to any London leadership.
Marra reminds us though of discipline and how easy it is turn a misstep against us. I can’t think of any political operator anywhere who would have nodded agreement to burning policy papers on camera. You can make any comparative judgement you like, it was a mistake and it’s too early to be using up popular capital on unnecessary gestures.
But I think the key issue in Scotland has been largely ignored so far. It is this. With independence out of the way (effectively), voters are free to back the SNP without the ‘fear of separation.’ Remember, it wasn’t love of independence that got rid of Jack McConnell and Labour in 2007 – it was disgust at his obsequiousness to London and failure to ‘stand up for Scotland’. And it wasn’t love of independence that drove them to give the SNP an overall majority four years later – it was admiration for a job well done in government. Many Scots voted SNP despite the independence policy and because they knew it required a referendum where they could decide that question precisely.
Here we are again…a rampant SNP, an effective and popular government, an improbable and unproven opposition, a hated Westminster and NO immediate ‘threat’ of independence. This is the perfect storm in which the Scots can demand what they really wanted all along (by all opinion polling) and that’s powerful Devo Max. Labour will only deliver, if they can, the diluted Smith bilge whereas a sizeable SNP block has a chance to end the stalemate and force proper change.
Jenny Marra can implore Scots to get rid of the Tories by voting Labour, but we did massively in 2010 and still got Tories. Even if Labour did oust Cameron, they are only offering the incoherent Smith plans, not real devolution.
Having past up the chance for transformative change last year, the Scots could be on the brink of turning not just Scotland but the UK inside out and opening the sluices to release a tidal wave of powers to people across the UK.