Monday 27 April 2015

Memo that No One is Asking for Yet

This is basically the letter I sent to the Smith commission in October. A few minor tweaks and it's a memo to Miliband and Clegg for May 8th. Just because his Lordship paid no attention (why would he?) doesn't mean that I have any expectations that anyone else will give a monkeys either, but I wanted it on the record.  Rather like applying for an important job that you know you won't get, because when they give it to some tosser, you can say to least I tried.

What follows is an attempt to make the best of a bad job anyway. Had some specific package of "Devo Max" been on the ballot paper in September...then...Wha Kens?


Here goes.
"The nearest I can get to a "solution" to both Scottish and English demands for "home rule" that doesn't explode almost instantaneously into chaos and vitriol is a properly federal wholesale reconfiguration of how these islands are governed - a writing of Britain's unwritten constitution.
This would entail , as a minimum condition of success and minimal durability, a full "granting" or "devolving" - or, more properly, "acknowledging" - of popular sovereignty within Scotland as an autonomous democratic entity and that this sovereignty be reflected in a new democratic constitution for all of the nations. Power would need to transferred wholesale. And Scotland would then decide what, if any, sovereignty it would be appropriate to devolve "back" to Westminster and Brussels.
And write it down,  for God's sake.  Enough of this "unwritten" "glorious compromise" bullshit
This constitution would need a specific democratic mandate. We'd all have a good fight about what form that should take, but it must be decided on the simple basis of popular sovereignty within Scotland as mandated through the democratic process.  It must be a  vote conducted here that needs no permission from elsewhere to be binding.
This fully autonomous "region" of the UK then devolves "back" an agreed package of powers over matters agreed by a democratic mandate at some future date. 
The details of the powers and responsibilities we hand back will probably need to be taken at a properly informed and briefed constitutional convention after an election in which a mandate can be sought. The Scottish and general elections of 2020 spring to mind. No less heated or fraught an alternative to "independence", to schism through crisis rather than reform through negotiation, is available. 
But the specific packages of proposals on proportion of taxes and English votes for English laws etc etc on offer at the moment look more like a poker game with Smarties than any serious attempt to address constitutional anomalies which can only properly be decided in detail and then put to a popular vote to receive a mandate.
Yes...there needs to be another referendum, but this time as proper one based on legislation we can actually read, not between two varieties of pigs in pokes.
Independence vs federalism. Now there's an interesting argument. 
To pretend that the recent No vote decided all this for a generation in any but the most superficially legalistic and wholly symbolic sense, and then to expect that "settled will" to be permanent, is several degrees past wishful thinking.
On principle, I believe that only a permanent and irevocable transfer of constitutional "power of decision" to Scotland would both reflect the sea change implicit in recent events and go some way towards marrying the aspirations expressed by Yes and No voters, and those two halves of Scotland that vote for the SNP or for anybody else next week.
It seems clear even at this stage that any consensual package agreeable to all three main Westminster parties that retains all decisions over further devolution in Westminster's exclusive gift cannot be stable, even if it is capable of being stitched together in a "let's pretend" way after the election.
The bottom line of any sustainable settlement, whether we call it independence or transferred sovereignty or federalism or association...or man in the moon mushrooms,is that meaningful democratic sovereignty of decision on these matters remains where the referendum put it,  in the democratic gift of the Scottish people, and not of the Crown in Parliament". 

Sunday 26 April 2015

Has EVERYONE gone Tonto?

I'm coming to the end of the biggest and most difficult piece of writing I have ever done. You've no idea how little I want to be writing this now.  But I've no choice,

I went out for a walk this morning and came home via the newsagent.  Name of jumping Jesus!

Has everyone gone mad?

This is a question you hear a lot from bewildered Labour canvassers when people who have voted for them all their adult lives won't even take their leaflets for fear of radioactivity.  When Jim Murphy addresses "rallies" across the country 7 in the morning to the pigeons...flanked by the same group of volunteers who apparently live everywhere in Scotland.

While Nicola Sturgeon walks up Buchanan Street like Cleopatra arriving for a word with Mark Antony.  Only as a Queen Of the Catwalk who does convincing selfies. Without security men, without the need of message minders, why man, she bestrides this world like a five foot colossus.

It maybe can't last, but I've never seen anything like it.  And those who fear what's happening are right to see in this phenomenon something we're not used to in this country.  Mass feeling.  A sense of the collective, of people valuing themselves because they feel part of something bigger.  This isn't politics as a sales pitch, democracy as a choice from the usual catalogue of managed or unmanaged decline.  This is a movement. This is exhilarating to be part of, and scary as hell to feel left out of it, estranged from it. Threatened by it. People have been fed a totalitarian consumerist, individualist ideology that places all value solely in the satisfaction of personal desire, for wealth, power, stuff.  And it may be that what is happening right now in Scotland is the same as what has happened in lots of other places and lots of other times for good and ill.  The assertion that WE matter. Damn you and your offshore tax dodging. This time is ours.

But the sheer investment in Nicola Sturgeon right now of the people's need for the sense of hope and collective worth and purpose that has so long been denied and ridiculed is only part of the "insanity." The occasional excesses of random and unorganised cybernats pale into insignificance besides the desperate front pages of the nation's print media doing FRONT PAGE screaming headline stories on unwanted haircuts for Dollies, for God's sake.

It may seem like an annoying wee distraction right now, but the response in the dusty halls of power to the unprecedented popular political energy in Scotland may well be equally unprecedented. Both Nick Clegg and Teresa May have now explicitly said that a government formed by Labour with the support, in any shape or form of parliamentary jiggery the SNP...will be illegitimate.

Let me put that another way. They are saying that the result of a democratic election in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the choice of the citizens of this precious Union of theirs, can be disregarded if we get it wrong.

The rumour is that they've already been to see the Queen to get the nod for an attempt to cling on to power after they lose the election,

Excuse the fuck out of me, but does that not sound like a coup?

Her Maj  (God Bless Her), is said to have sent them packing, and the whole thing may well be posturing bullshit designed to get the sad and angry twats of UKIP back in the Tory fold...but Hell's Teeth!  Whatever happened to the family of nations?  Whatever happened to the Greatest Democracy the World Has Ever Known?

Pausing only to note that the pious fiction that all the nations of the UK are equal, and that all MPs are equally the representatives of equal British constituencies that don't recognise (in UK elections) nationality at all, has been blown from the window, I can only read the Sunday papers now and wonder what the Hell will be there NEXT week when they begin to get the serious heeby jeebies.

Will it say in the Sunday Times that Nicola Sturgeon is an Alien Baby Eater from Space?

Who can say?

All I know now is that on May 8th, the UK Labour Party may well find that it has to defend the legitimacy of an SNP victory in Scotland - that wipes them out -  in order to defend it's own legitimacy to govern the UK.

Who'd have thought we'd get here as soon as this?

Breaking Up Britain was always too big a job for Scotland. When you want a thing done properly, send for the Tories.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Take a step back and look into the crystal ball

Take a step back from the Apotheosis of Everywoman that is the Nicola Sturgeon phenomenon. Distance yourself for a moment from Boris Johnson calling you a baby killer, Max Hastings getting Churchillian and the conspiracy theories of John Major.

What is actually going on here?

Well, if you ask an intelligent Labour strategist - and there are some - what the Tories are doing by "bigging" up the SNP is getting the not very nice, not very young voters they've lost to UKIP to come home in England while gleefully banging another nail into the coffin of Labour in Scotland.

They'd be right about that.  Linton Crosbie, the shadowy Australian strategy wonk who actually runs the Tory party, thinks his party workers wearing Sturgeon masks at Labour events in England is a fair dinkum idea. Lord Forsyth of blessed memory, by cautioning against the long term damage to the Future of the Union we were all told was so terribly important, is, according to some sources I've developed in the Machiavellian undergrowth of political strategy, merely doing his bit to keep the SNP in the headlines.

What Nicola Sturgeon thinks, other than that every day is Christmas and she'd better try to keep a hold of herself from actually levitating or going for a stroll on Loch Leven and damp down some expectations, I wouldn't presume to say.

So, as is often the case, especially at election times, there is a Byzantine and complicated (for politics geeks - journalists and politicos) version of "what's going on" and there is what appears to be going on for the rest of us, for whom, (in my case) other than as entertainment, political process as such is merely an indicator of reality, and not reality itself.

Most of the time.

However, for what it's worth, what i think is going on is this : Politics is catching up with the cultural meaning of devolution.

That's right.  I don't think we're on the threshold of a new form of chaos, or stepping on to the sunny uplands of a new vista for independence.  I think we're just getting used to two basic realities that devolution has always indicated since the very beginning.

First, Scotland, even in the UK, now exists "as such", as a thing in itself.  Scottish English and Welsh constituencies are not all the same anymore, even in a general election. (Northern Irish ones, for reasons of history, have NEVER been "just the same as everywhere else" since 1921.  I'll come back to Ireland in a moment).  The election of SNP MPs is an elementary electoral recognition of the Cultural Reality of the "beginning of federalism", and not yet, I don't think, the beginning of "independence" (Whatever THAT means, and I'll come back to that later too.)

Second, in becoming wholly an English nationalist party the Tories are just catching up with what we always thought they were anyway, what in a sense, they've been since the Scottish Unionist party merged with the British Conservatives back in the mists of time. (Before Thatcher).

Willie Rennie's recent indication that the Liberals in Scotland would potentially go into coalition with the SNP at Holyrood while Nick Clegg has sworn on his mother's bible never to go near the appalling Salmond and his cohorts - is again an acknowledgement of reality, that the UK now consists of quite distinct polities, and clearly differentiated electoral units to reflect our cultural, post imperial distinctions.

So, if the presence of 40-50 SNP MPs at Westminster does not immediately presage another bid for Independence, as, despite the insistence of Jim Murphy that not ruling it out is the same thing as announcing it, it clearly doesn't, what does it actually mean?  What might actually happen? When does the earthquake we seem to have been experiencing pretty much non stop since the beginning of 2014 actually do a bit of new country building?

Well, there are a few mathematical variables to take into account that we'll get to on May 8th - from (shudder) a Tory Majority and an EU referendum ;a Tory minority that Labour refuse to bring down because they fear being illegitimate in England if they rely on the Nats; a Labour minority that the SNP sweetly support through thick and thin, driving them MAD with kindness (this is my favourite) and a Labour majority where the SNP would need to watch internal discipline as they are insulted by labour day after day until the NEXT Westminster election.

The thing about all four rough sketches is that while each has its own challenges and unknowns, I don't think any of these roads into the 2020s don't end with fundamental constitutional change from devolution to...what?

Well, I don't know that exactly, and whether a die-hard Tartanite (which is what I keep being told I am) would call it independence...I don't know either

But the difference between the electoral reflection of power devolved but essentially retained at Westminster, which is where we are, and the possibly federal settlement that will involve all power being centred in Scotland and possibly devolved outward to the rest of the UK and the EU...or maybe just to the EU...that is rock solid certainly going to happen by 2030 at the very, very going to be huge.

It is preparing for that difference, and negotiating it, that will be among the many tasks with which all our political parties will be engaged, some of the time, between now and then.

The only one of them that currently needs to pretend that devolution will crush the Nats eventually...just you Scottish Labour.  And they're about to take a punching from which they will have to re-invent themselves completely to recover.

I hope they do.  I think a grown up country like the one I hope to live in one day will need a party of the centre left even as it will need a party of the establishment, and even some liberals, heaven knows, under whatever name those parties reconfigure themselves in the famous "next generation"

What is going on is both the unusually exciting banalities of politics and a profound political change.  It took the Irish Nationalists (I told you I'd get back to them) 50 years as a bloc within Westminster to finally arrive at Ireland's complicated version of Independence and equivocal variant on Statehood. I don't think it will take an SNP bloc at Westminster anything like that long. But the other thing that the history of Ireland since the electoral franchise was opened up in the 1870s tells us , is that on "our" side and "theirs" there are right and wrong ways of doing this kind of thing.

Personally, I'm hoping for an easy life. I think that the Yes movement can be calm and confident enough to take events as they come. Unfortunately, that's not just up to us.

I do hope that some of the smart, pragmatic folk who are in the Labour party now will come along for the ride once they see that's where the horses are all going. I also hope that even the Tories, with their "wizard wheeze" of demonizing the Jocks to shore up their vote in the shires, keep the direction of travel in mind.

Thursday 2 April 2015


I wrote this last July:

"Look at them.  Look at what has become of the "people's" party in Scotland. Look at the narrow, ugly, sad hatred that blinds them to everything else.

They only know their own resentment.  Their political ambition is that you and I share it.  That we should hate Alex Salmond like they do.  Because he stole their baw. They seem to actually believe that serving up their twisted souls for us to look at will serve them in this debate.  That we'll look at their hatred and think this is what "Better Together" looks like. They think that this is what a happy family of nations looks like.

His manifesto commitments aside, I really want Ed Miliband to look at what and who he is leading, and just how contorted by their tribal loathing they are.  Just how deep their obsession goes.
And to ask himself. can I trust the judgement of people who think this is a clever piece of campaigning?

Have they considered what it means to win, if this is how they win? They are not only manipulative of the fears of their core voters, they are mendacious on so many levels.

Don't they know that they are burying themselves with this? That even if they win, they are being contemptible in how they go about it? That the means they use will overcome the end they seek?
The Yes campaign is not breaking the Union. A union whose party of welfare and progress has been reduced to this is bankrupt of ideas as well as morality. The Union is already broken. The Yes campaign, it is becoming clearer by the day, is recognising something that is already reality. The resurgence in our already existing independent political culture evident everywhere in the humour and energy and invention of the Yes campaign embodies the independence that it argues for. We are not the cause of the death of empire or of British welfare-ism and solidarity. The death-hauntedness of the No campaign radiates from every word they speak.  They exhale the breath of the grave.
We are getting away from the corpse of the good things Britain used to stand for, which were once embodied in the Labour movement...and the corpse is beginning to smell. "