You Only Vote Twice

So, Mr Kelly. You have released the dogs of war to challenge me. I have to confess I expected an easier opponent and perhaps some pirhanas, no more. Instead I find myself assailed by the furies, one who has tried to take over my blog with constant posting, one who questions my commitment to the cause and one who suggests I may even be a coward for accepting the result of indyref1 – exposing new and unexpected depths of bampottery. Such is your power.

But it will take more than the evil forces of Spectre to rattle me. I have the Scottish people on my side and the unimpeachable leadership of La Sturgeon bringing reason and common sense to my case.

To recap. The issue of indyref 2 will always lie with the people and an unquestionable demand for a second say should triumph over all else, no matter when it comes. Personally, I think that may begin to build relatively soon if the message hits home that the General Election mandate has been ignored and the measures conceded are designed as a fiscal trap to enmesh the SNP – rather than a genuine attempt at the logical development of devolution.

However, I firmly believe that too much open discussion about a second vote plays into the hands of our opponents. It is difficult to over-emphasise the fear and loathing the prospect of a re-run elicits among No voters, including, I suggest, those who may ultimately be persuadable and whose votes we will need to win. The referendum, however enervating for us (with the obvious caveat) was on the other hand a draining and stressful period for those convinced their country would be isolated and bankrupted outwith the UK. To confront them just a year later with the idea of another one looming in short order will repel them further and push them into the knee-jerk ‘The Nats are Nuts’ camp. For me one of the defining strengths of Yes has been its non-threatening, non-violent nature – that is not always the case in self-determination campaigns. We – and the SNP government – have won over many uncommitted Scots by being reasonable and competent, contradicting what many used to think of as quackery or extremism. The fervid propaganda of the lurid Press still plays on this theme with some success so it’s important to maintain our demeanour of being level-headed and serious-minded. I’m afraid that arguing today for the next best slot for another go has exactly the opposite effect, suggesting a hot-headed and unreasonable enthusiasm. There is no escaping either the implication from this white-hot zeal that September 2014 was not the resolution people expected it to be and that the outcome was somehow equivocal. It wasn’t sold as that at the time. Nor would we have accepted any attempt by Whitehall to re-run had their been a narrow Yes vote from which they devised a means of contesting the result a year later. We asked the Scottish nation what it wanted and we got the reply. The mere hint of not accepting the result, or at least, not believing it to be truly representative in some way, threatens to damage our democratic credentials. (You know the kind of stuff…they lied about pensions and prices. They made it about the economy, not the constitution. The media was against us, etc). Next time it has to be driven by a consistent and unequivocal public demand and nothing that can be dismissed as party manoeuvring, especially as it looks like we’ll still need legal approval.

I am NOT advocating a stop to campaigning as some imply. I haven’t watered down my commitment. I’m still writing this bloody blog, making the case through Newsnet, paying into indy projects and public speaking. Disturbing how a preparedness to take a longer view – the very route which has put the SNP into power – is construed as weakness. This has an echo of the many failures of the Left in Britain to accommodate differing views within a movement.

I think people will come round in time to the realisation that independence is logical although, as I said, I have my doubts that the European issue will trigger it. And I’ve no doubt that a second loss within say, five years, would deflate the movement dramatically forcing some to peel off and others to change direction towards a federal goal. It would render independence and certainly any further attempt at a referendum the butt of a million jokes. That we would all still believe in the Cause wouldn’t alter the wider public perception of a failed project, fatally wounded by lack of credibility.

On the longer generational trend, by the way, I agree you can’t count on it remaining constant but I do think the Scottish electorate has undergone a fundamental change in this regard. It isn’t like a Labour or Tory choice and therefore inter-changeable. I think they’ve genuinely altered their outlook in favour of independence which makes the indyref process one that politicised a generation.

So there. A doctrinaire Tory government and a shambolic Labour opposition appear to present a perfect storm for Scottish Nationalists. But for a wider Scottish public, cautious in their judgement and wary of heady promises, one that withstood the battering of Thatcher, it may take more than another passing five-year fiasco to convince them of indyref2. Nicola has seemingly ruled it out for five years at least which looks like a device to push it beyond an electoral cycle thereby removing it from the agenda except in the theoretical sense. Beyond that, who knows. But to play this effectively requires patience not panic that we’d better hurry before it all goes sour.

How I wish we’d just taken the chance at the time. But we didn’t. That would have been too simple. There’s a longer more agonising route to be taken and after all, we’re Scots.

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Double O Crivvens

So, Mr Kelly. You think you can stop my plan for total domination? How foolish of you. Let me explain my entire strategy before I kill you. (It will also help the audience get to grips with this bloody awful script.)

What follows will look like a stitch-up between me in my underground laser centre in Maryhill and James Kelly’s buried rocket silo at Scot Goes Pop in Cumbernauld. It will appear to be a joint effort to create controversy to generate traffic to our sites and at the same time, publicise Phantom Power’s Altered State documentaries, part three of which has been released. But don’t be fooled. This is war.

First you really should view the doc. It’s here…

And this is James’ review and counter argument to my contribution.

My argument is pragmatic. It is that before you try to repeat a major democratic event like a referendum on the constitution of the country you must first accept the original result for what it is – a decisive outcome that voters were told, and most understood to be, the ultimate word on the matter. Not final. But the one and only direct vote on the issue in 300 years and one that was signalled by both sides as deciding the matter for a generation. These are of course loose terms open to interpretation but I doubt if any but the most committed Nationalists think a break of two to five years is a reasonable interregnum before having another go. Would it have been reasonable for a voter to have said to himself: Ach, I’ll vote No because there’ll be another chance in a couple of years?

Altering the constitution and creating a new state in Scotland, not to mention the effect on the remaining UK, is a seismic event, more than a General Election and not a reversible option. Scots believed they were settling this question in 2014 and the continual talk of a re-run since is, in my view, an affront to every single voter and to the democratic process. It sounds like we’re not accepting the outcome, as if it were a temporary blip and we’ll get it right next time. Just give us a second chance. Yet the people – the Scottish nation – have spoken and they said No. Hinting that if they stop and think for a minute, they’ll come round, is an implied insult to their intelligence. It also appears to take democracy for granted – a deeply unattractive trait in a political movement.

Part of the case against me is that SNP support won’t always be this high and the chance should be seized before it declines. Even if a second vote is lost, it makes no difference if you’re only going to wait and wait until support drain away in any case. There would be merit in this argument were it ten years hence but coming only 14 months after the last vote, it sounds desperate and lacking in belief. Think of it this way. If we have to rush into a referendum to catch the voters before they lose faith, is that the ideal situation in which to gain independence? Imagine sneaking a win by one per cent just before the polls turn against the SNP and then trying to run a new country against an increasingly hostile public mood. I believe independence needs every single Scot – OK, maybe not Brian Wilson – on board whether they are Yes or No, to strive to make it a success. There will no room for slackers, for wait-and-see laggards backing a concerted rearguard action by angry Unionists seeking legal impediments or votes to re-run the referendum (using the Yes argument that they didn’t get the result they wanted so it was fair to try a year later.) How would Westminster reluctance to agree a deal work when they knew public feeling was starting to run against the SNP? The disaggregation talks would take place against this background of a diminishing SNP mandate.

Of course, it might be a resounding success and give oxygen to the SNP as well. It might. It is just as likely to piss off a whole swathe of voters who had enough after two and a half years of acrimony and personal division leading up to September 2014 and who can’t stand the thought of going through it all again. Indeed, opinion polls giving a narrow lead to Yes today are surely academic in that there is no campaign in existence. Would they hold up once the event was afoot? Didn’t we learn exactly that last time – that a daily array of bankers, employers, bosses, generals, diplomats and celebrities warning of grave consequences gradually encroaches on the fears of the middle aged professionals with pensions, mortgages, loans, growing children, cars and plans? Think they couldn’t be scared again?

And make no mistake, a second failure is the end. The dream will go on but the movement will be castrated. The lesson we learn from the Scots and the rise of the SNP is that the Scots won’t be rushed. We didn’t deliver in 79 and we failed again in 2014. Yet people have backed the SNP gradualism and are inching, according to the demographics, in one direction. In fact, the age profile of the committed Nationalist today is another reason to believe that independence is a prize to be taken by the next generation.

It is perfectly possible that a major change in our affairs would be enough to trigger a second vote. It’s just that danger lurks here too because people are grasping at anything in the belief it paves the way. Whatever the percentage divide between Scots and English on an EU referendum, it is a leap of faith to think it will translate into a Yes vote to come out of the UK and stay in the EU. We may say we prefer to stay in – and the polling clearly shows that – but does that mean we love Europe so much we would end the Union? Will Scots eagerly embrace open borders and, in today’s circumstances, the immigration that brings? Will they happily put euros in their pocket? Will they really ponder the enormous upheaval of extricating themselves from the UK when England will be subject to different trading conditions outwith the EU? Perhaps. I know I would. But most voters aren’t like me.

We are not held hostage to a previous decision of the referendum. It’s just that continually challenging the people’s decisions leads to electoral anarchy. People have to have faith in the system which they don’t if there is no stability.

What remains true is that our future is in our own hands. If enough Scots demand change, they cannot be denied. But they don’t. They vote SNP for many reasons and it’s clear that for some removing the risk of independence encourages their vote. And it’s an overstatement to say that because something is in the manifesto – like a referendum – it must be delivered. It puts a moral but not an absolute obligation on them to do so.

The time may be coming soon when the patience with Whitehall evaporates and the people, as opposed to the SNP, demand change. At the moment, the dynamic is reversed – the momentum comes from the party and the people are led by them. For the foreseeable future, that means to me that independence is parked. But if the Scots decide in enough numbers that they must have independence, then so be it. And a referendum will be the least of it.

That’s my case. Do participate. And remember, if you succeed in arguing for an early referendum and it’s lost – I’m coming looking for you and I’ve got your address.

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Joker Jez and Calamity Kez

Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. The Labour leadership just can’t get anything right. The naivety shown in London and Edinburgh is killing what hope there was for a radical new politics. Incompetence and inexperience will always trump good intentions as both Jeremy Corbyn and Kezia Dugdale reveal themselves as parvenus ill-equipped for the job.

Energised youth in Dugdale’s case and principled scepticism in Corbyn’s are merely the calling card that gets them through the door. It’s what you do with the position thereafter that counts. That demands craft and precision in plotting a way through personal relations as well as public perception and, probably more than anything else, not making mistakes – certainly not an entire litany of them.

Corbyn has public support for a principled and logical position vis a vis bombing campaigns and it says more about the childish, short concentration span of British journalists that a long internal debate – suspended for further discussion – is regarded as a crisis in itself. Surely the insult to the voters is on the other side where one man and his adviser on a sofa determine the views of hundreds of MPs.

No, the error is in letting the shadow cabinet think they were engaged in forming policy and would return to the table in due course and then blind-siding them by issuing a letter (bound to go public) declaring his own position as fixed on the matter. It undercuts both his colleagues and the process. It would be a bad enough move by a leader in a powerful place but for someone with enemies all around, it is suicidal. Instead of winning hearts and minds with his conscience, he causes despair with his incompetence. Is he unaware that he is not popular in the PLP?

We now have the absurd situation of so-called left-wingers threatening to resign over their desire to bomb another country. This way, Dr Strangelove…

For a man who has spent an adult lifetime in the House of Commons, Corbyn appears to have learned little of how leadership works. Perhaps that’s a consequence of spending all of that time as agit-prop, in constant anti mode, using his party ticket to get elected but putting himself in perpetual opposition to what his party was actually doing. He has been amazingly successful in winning ever-larger majorities in Islington and there is no shame in acting as the conscience of your party, but he is demonstrating that he has few if any of the skills required to front that party to the public and to lead it internally.

The public will have patience for a man who wants to do things differently if they think his heart in the right place, but presiding over a shambles is not the way to convince them you can lead the country. That will be the judgment of most voters too on John McDonnell, a man for whom I have a lot of time having interviewed him often for his insightful and genuinely left-wing views. The joke with Mao’s Little Red Book at the Dispatch Box was in itself fair enough and pointed up the irony of right-wing Tories bowing and scraping to communist China. But when you debate such ideas beforehand, you need someone savvy enough to ask what happens next. Even if the joke works – and the delivery didn’t – you ask yourself what the opposition will do with it. Do you imagine an Alastair Campbell nodding that through? Isn’t it more likely he’d say: People will forget the joke. They’ll remember you holding the Red Book because the Tories will use it relentlessly as a pointer to your own politics.

He becomes the Man who Read Mao’s Little Red Book in the Commons.

Kezia is finding it impossible to cast off her student activist image too having failed so far to imbue her performances with any hint of gravitas. There is a difficulty at Holyrood when the big story is clearly at Westminster and yet the Scottish government is to be held to account, not the Tories. To major on oil prices and the referendum – 14 months ago! – sounded gratuitous against the background of an Autumn Statement which affects the livelihood of Scottish families. Yet critics are right to scoff at Sturgeon’s complaint about the oil question since First Minister’s Questions is, well, questions to the First Minister, not the Chancellor. Why didn’t Kezia just do both?

Question one: Does the FM agree with me that the Chancellor’s U-turn on tax credit cuts which we successfully opposed, does not alter the brutal programme of austerity, merely delays it?

Question two: Does she also agree with me that Scottish livelihoods would have been severely affected by the collapse in oil prices if she’d won the referendum etc…?

Her option made her look petty, out of touch and obsessed with independence. Her credibility needs all the building up she can get and sharing a view with the government from time to time shows sense and maturity – as Ken McIntosh said in his leadership campaign.

The same lack of nous arose in our later Twitter exchange when she upbraided the FM for her aside in the chamber about Richard Simpson being an oaf when he interrupted her. Kezia said it was disrespectful to a doctor and member of the royal colleges, etc. She’s not wrong, either. But anyone with a memory long enough would immediately recall the same distinguished Dr Simpson saying Scottish fire fighters, who were in dispute in 2002, were ‘fascist bastards’ – a somewhat worse example of rudeness and he had to resign as a minister. Her tweet opened the door to that challenge and reminded people of an awkward moment in Labour’s past, one they’d rather forget. Of course, she has the excuse that she was in university at the time but isn’t that exactly the problem? Labour has picked a leader without the years of experience behind her. It isn’t her fault but it’s a hard fact that she simply isn’t immersed in the detail and appears to have no one at her side saying at the very least: Ca’ canny. Here’s the history. Do you want to risk it?

This is hardly Corbyn level damage but it adds ammunition to the idea that she isn’t equipped yet for the job she’s doing. As Sillars said: She might be ready in another 10 years. Labour don’t have that time. So far there is no discernable impact on voting intentions from her leadership and even if the public get worried about SNP internal problems, do they look worse than the mess Labour is in? The minimum requirement for credibility is competence. Labour currently lacks it north and south.

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By George! He’s Done it

The fantasy money flowed, the promised targets were missed and the manifesto commitments reversed – all to the uncritical acclaim of the British media in awe of the Magician Osborne. It’s hard to imagine any other finance secretary getting this soft soap treatment – would (Chairman) John (Mao) McDonnell? Would John Swinney?

Yet the right wing loony Press was awash with celebration, delighted as rabbits were pulled from the hat with barely a glance at the underlying reality.

This shows deficit reduction targets have been consistently missed since 2010.

Borrowing projections have been wrong too. He pledged himself to the now-largely-forgotten borrowing target of £37 billion, yet actual borrowing for the fiscal year came in at £90 billion, two-and-one-half more than the target.

The rabbits were bought not with real money but as yet fantasy OBR projections, any number of which could be out in any given year rendering his virtuoso performance meaningless. Remember, this is the same OBR which admitted in 2012 that it had predicted growth six times stronger between 2010 and 2012 than the official figures suggest was the case and whose record in forecasting is worse even than the Treasury’s. Among the ways an extra £27b was ‘discovered’ was via the OBR ‘altering its modelling’ of VAT receipts and deciding that by 2020 an additional £3.3b will magically appear. Did ye, aye?

He is also breaching his own self imposed benefits cap after deciding he cannot find enough savings to compensate for the decision to slow the pace of cuts to tax credits. So much for promises and prudent planning…

(There is also a specific manifesto promise broken – he cancelled the £1bn competition for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology six months before it was due to be awarded, breaking a pledge in the Conservative election manifesto. This is a serious blow to Peterhead. This was championed by Cameron as vital in tackling global warming will be an embarrassment to the UK, just days before the Paris Climate Summit. Industry figures called the move devastating and experts said it would make meeting the UK’s binding carbon cuts almost impossible and more expensive. Yet there will be £250m towards creating a mini nuclear reactor – such are Tory energy priorities.)

Amid a welter of housing measures which at least shows the UK is getting serious about providing a roof over its citizens’ heads, there is one area which points in a worrying direction. Osborne continues to feed the inflationary beast that is the London housing bubble. There was already a government subsidy for London first time buyers giving them 20 per cent state aid to buy a home. That subsidy – in the form of an interest-free loan – has been doubled to 40 per cent of the purchase price. Forty per cent! In an already inflated market where the average price is £530,000. The free money will be available for new-build houses up to £600,000 leaving open the question of how this helps to keep prices affordable – the subsidy to the purchaser is also a subsidy to the builder and vendor and an incentive to keep prices high.

The Help to Buy is an explicit recognition of the imbalance not just in the housing market but in the UK economy. The Tories have abandoned any interest in attempting, as Cameron promised, to rebalance the economy by spreading investment.

In part at least the extra subsidy to London will be paid from the additional Stamp Duty on buy-to-let properties but, given the housing shortage, isn’t it likely landlords, who control much of the housing market, will merely pass on the extra cost in rent rises? It’s worth noting too that some of those benefitting from the first time buyer subsidy will already be receiving another tax-free benefit aimed at boosting the housing market. They can save in a Housing ISA which guarantees a bonus from the taxpayer of up to £3000 when the savings are used to pay a house deposit. So instead of creating an affordable rental sector, the ideology of the Tories uses tax breaks to grow the ownership market.

When you realize house prices went up nine per cent in the last year and in London the average is 15 times the average wage, you can see why the government acts. But isn’t it another example of how the favoured South East corner devours the attention and resources of the whole country? And, of course, it could yet lead to a crash. London has 25 per cent of all UK mortgage debt and more than a third of that is made up of interest-only mortgages in which the capital sum borrowed is not being paid back as buyers bet on the market growing so their house price goes up and will eventually allow them to repay from the proceeds. And it’s true the rate of increase is outstripping the FTSE index so more people pile into property.

Yet the Bank of England continually talks of interest rate increases and many owners will be in a precarious position between monthly costs and property value. It might not take much adjustment to take the air out of the bubble, prices to tumble and negative equity to bite. The financial crash of 2007/08 was triggered by sub prime mortgages. The Centre of Economic and Policy Research in the USA explains: ‘…increase in demand had the effect of triggering a housing bubble because in the short-run the supply of housing is relatively fixed. Therefore an increase in demand leads first to an increase in price. As prices began to rise in the most affected areas, prices increases got incorporated into expectations. The expectation that prices would continue to rise led homebuyers to pay far more for homes than they would have otherwise, making the expectations self-fulfilling.’ This was fuelled by what we also have today – historically low interest rates. That encourages borrowing but discourages savings so family budgets have no reserves for tough times ahead. Five billion pounds is owed by families in financial difficulty. Five million others are struggling with repayments, according to the Children’s Charity.

Meanwhile the austerity programme rolls on, its bitter effects merely delayed, not abandoned. The real conjuring trick isn’t sorting the national finances, it’s deluding the spoon-fed media.







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Women for Notoriety

At last, the SNP are in trouble. You can almost hear the squeals of delight. It’s what David Clegg and the one-eyed Record live for. When you’ve been systematically humiliated, rejected, reduced to electoral rubble and find yourself defenceless with neither leadership nor policy, you have to hang on to something. And somebody else’s woes will do. That yet another young Scottish woman politician has a difficulty is of no matter – just keep pushing to get her out…all that feminist solidarity thing can wait for another day.

Intriguingly, not one of Jennifer Dempsie, Michelle Thomson nor Natalie McGarry has been ‘convicted’ of anything. In politics, which should be the arena for a higher standard of probity, this makes no difference. It is enough to brand, accuse and smear. Job done. And behind each you’ll find the impressive figure of Jackie Baillie, exultant smile on face, pointing to the gallows. Grateful we are for one of such imperious moral standards and rectitude who has never put a foot wrong.

It would be interesting to ask voters which of the four women mentioned they would prefer. Ms Baillie might be in for a shock. As indeed might Labour if her campaign to oust Nationalist MPs were to be successful. In Edinburgh West Thomson has a 3200 majority but that’s over the Lib Dems. Does anybody see them surging to by-election success? And it’s the Tories who are in third with Labour back at number four on less than 12 per cent of the vote. There is little sign here of a potential Green rush either to take SNP votes. They came in with 2 per cent, fractionally ahead of UKIP.

Labour is in second position in Glasgow East but Natalie McGarry was swept in with a majority of 10,387. Looking at the polls, do you see Margaret Curran recovering that ground nine months on? McGarry has 57 per cent of the votes, a stonking endorsement. Of course if found guilty of some heinous crime, public support could in theory evaporate overnight but to whom would the disaffected turn? Would they welcome the return of Curran, the Trident-replacing, £180,000-a-year expenses claimant who was blamed by Johann Lamont for her downfall and who is disliked by another Glasgow fixer, Anas Sarwar? There is lingering discontent that a high proportion of party funds were directed to Glasgow East at the expense of other seats in the General Election meltdown. A by-election would be a serious test of Labour activism and just imagine the doubly crushing effect of losing seats twice over. Such an outcome would deflate further the oxygen-starved Labour effort, make certain a Labour rout next May and leave Dugdale’s leadership on life support. But I’m sure Jackie could come up with a good excuse. Ms Baillie should be careful what she wishes for.

I confess to being confused by her attempts to liken McGarry to Alistair Carmichael and the suggestion she was incorrectly elected. Carmichael admitted lying to the voters about the leak of a document designed to damage his opponents and not owning up until after he was narrowly re-elected. The court ruled ‘a false statement about his own personal character or conduct made before or during an election for the purpose of affecting his return at the election’ had the effect of engaging section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

The judges then stated that they wish to hear evidence in relation to two remaining issues – the distinction between a personal and political lie for the purposes of the act, and whether that lie affected the ultimate outcome of Carmichael’s election.

As far as we know, McGarry is implicated in funds from a separate campaign group going missing. They did so during the independence referendum, not in the General Election so the Baillie charge is irrelevant. Also did McGarry speak about this before or during the election? Did she lie to voters? Did she make a false statement about her character or conduct? Was she manipulating events illegally to ensure her election? Did it affect the outcome? Eh, no.

In the certain knowledge that I’ll offend someone, let me speculate nevertheless. The matter of the missing money has been referred to the police but there is no indication that a law has been breached. If she was nominated to have responsibility for the account, was she not therefore authorized to use the money? It seems WFI had not been incorporated into a formal entity at the time and therefore there were no rules or protocols to be observed when it came to expenditure. Whose money was it? If it’s raised for a campaign, does not an official of the campaign have the authority over it? If there is no legal entity in existence at the time, there is no entity to be ‘robbed’. There would certainly have been a matter of personal trust involved and that may be the reason for WFI disquiet but that’s a personal issue between the individuals involved. The public who donated are unlikely to have specified what their donation should be spent on in detail and so long as it can be said to meet the published description – spent broadly on WFI work in the referendum – there appears to be no comeback.

It looks like a breach of trust between individuals at worst and at best, a misunderstanding. Grisly and destructive of reputation for sure, but hardly terminal for her career, especially if they agree to a rapprochement based perhaps on some repayment. This is not strictly a party issue – it involves a separate organization composed of all parties and none – so there is unlikely to be a reason for the SNP to refuse her the whip. Where Baillie is right however is that both Carmichael and McGarry will be accompanied henceforth by the whiff of notoriety.

(Wonder why the Thomson is taking so long? If it’s mortgage fraud, the lender could tell the police in a single phone call.)



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