The Father Dougal McGuire School of Politics

In the Westminster elections on June 8th the SNP lost 21 seats. That doesn’t sound like much if you say it quickly, and it could have been worse. Much worse. Stephen Gethins in Fife was elected with a majority of just TWO. Neil Gray in Airdrie went from a 9596 majority to a mere 195. Overall the SNP lost 476,867 votes. almost half a million people who previously voted SNP in 2015 either switched to other parties or failed to turn out. Examination of the figures shows that Labour gained almost 10,000 votes on their 2015 showing, yet the Tories gained a whopping 323,852 votes more than their last time out. Long Term Goals vs Short Term Aims

Last week RISE co-founder Cat Boyd revealed that she had voted for Labour in the 2017 Westminster elections to show her support for Jeremy Corbyn. The revelation that a well kent face of the Indy movement had gone back on her word and voted Labour (she previously stated she would “never” vote Labour again) was siezed upon by many, with some claiming it showed that Labour were winning back voters from the SNP. In all likelihood they were in a roundabout way. Many people wanted to show solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn in England and voted for “him”. In reality they were voting to endorse an anti independence manifesto and in some cases (like Ian Murray) anti-Corbyn candidates. Someone as well versed in politics as Cat Boyd, who has a weekly column in The National should have known this. Voting for a party is an endorsement of their manifesto. If you want to change that manifesto then you join the party and change it.

Putting that detail aside though, Cat, like many others looked at Labours UK manifesto and swung on behind, no doubt hoping to sweep the Tories out in the process. Even though they supported independence and as Cat herself said, she still does, they voted for a party which was offering something they felt was immediately achievable, even though it contradicted their long term goal. Why? That is simple; their long term goal wasn’t on offer. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP were intent on playing down talk of a second referendum to such an extent that not only did some of their core vote slip away to Labour, but many, many more just didn’t turn out at all. They weren’t fired up. They weren’t inspired. The message they received was clear: This election isn’t about independence. Their response? We’ll come back when it is.

Overall Labour gained only 9860 more votes than 2017. That’s a fraction more than the total votes lost by Neil Gray alone! So while the SNP were failing to motivate their supporters they were also losing votes to Labour. Labour’s problem was of course that they were losing voters in even bigger numbers to the Tories. The Tories had set themselves out as defenders of the union and employed the same tactic they had employed in the council elections: treat every election as a mini-referendum, motivate the voters and get them out. Which they did, pulling in an extra 323,852 votes on 2015, in an election where the turnout was down overall by over a quarter of a million votes.

That was never more evident than in the SNP’s vote, and if there’s a lesson they need to learn it’s that they too have to treat every election as a referendum, because every defeat will be used to hammer away at not only the SNP but at the cause of independence. Because although supporting independence doesn’t mean you automatically support the SNP, we need to recognise that every defeat for the SNP, any deficiency in their policy as a party is, by unionist logic, reason against independence. If the SNP are poor on education then an independent Scotland by default would also be poor. Repeat ad nauseum.

In the last 12 months Cat Boyd has revealed that despite her strong opinions on the subject she didn’t vote in the EU referendum and then followed this with her revealing she voted Labour has left many to ask why she is given a political column at all and if there’s anything they can learn (or indeed want to learn) from her, and there is. It’s this: If you give people something to vote for or against, and make your case, then they will turn out and vote. If you don’t motivate them, then forget about it. Because they won’t show.

Reform The Scottish Parliament Electoral System

In the 2016 Holyrood Election numerous candidates for election were resoundingly rejected by their constituents, yet due to the parties they represent placing them favourably on the regional list, they were elected anyway.
We, the Scottish people, are told that we have a democratic government/parliament. We are told that if we do not like the government or our elected representative we can vote them out. Clearly that is not the case.
It is entirely undemocratic that 45 MSP’s of all parties were elected to stand as MSP’s having been rejected by the voters in their respective constituencies. In some cases those rejected were the incumbents. The latter circumstances are of course the most insulting to the electorate, for no matter how poorly performing a sitting MSP may be, how out of touch they are with the local area, if they are valued by their respective parties they cannot be got rid of by the voters.
In my view, to prevent this from occurring constituency candidates should not be allowed to be placed on the regional list, and should gain office on merit. Furthermore, to prevent manipulation of the list, the ranking system should be removed. If a party gains for example three list places, those three posts should be drawn at random from the list submitted by each party, and not a from an order selected in advance; a pool rather than a determined list. This would in my opinion encourage all parties to make sure that they submitted only the very brightest and best to represent their parties, and by extension, the electorate.
In addition to the above, the actual system of regionally allocating members fails to truly represent the percentages of votes cast nationally, creating an imbalance to the detriment of the smaller parties, and this needs to be reviewed to reflect the national balance. For example in the May 2016 election the Scottish Green Party gained 6.6% of the vote share which equates to around 8 MSPs, and for which they only gained 6 seats. Similarly in the 2011 election they received 4.4% of the vote which should mean 5 MSP’s, and for which they actually gained 2 seats.
I feel that in the years since 1999 when the first elections to the reconvened Scottish Parliament took place there has been no examination of the system itself to ensure that it is delivering a fair and representative system which reflects the will of the Scottish people, and that such a review is long overdue.
To this end I have submitted a petition through the Scottish Parliament petitions system which is now live, and will remain so until the 28th August 2017.
If you agree that our Scottish electoral system is in need of reform then I would urge you to please sign the petition which can be found HERE.
You can also add your own comments and suggestions, all of which are welcome.
Thank You

Kevin McKenna’s Attack on the Territorial Army (and Ruth Davidson)

They always say you should write about what you know. What a pity Kevin McKenna failed to heed this basic guideline when writing his attack on Ruth Davidson for taking up the post of Honorary Colonel of 32 Sigs regiment, as clearly he knows little or nothing about the Territorial Army and fell back on the much worn stereotypes of it being a Dad’s Army type organisation, wandering aimlessly around the Campsies playing dress up. As someone who spent a total of 17 years in the TA let me try and put Kevin straight on the “part-time professionals”. When the regular soldiers were going off duty on a Friday night many TA soldiers were finishing shifts at their normal Monday to Friday jobs, they would then spend a weekend training, often on exercise with little or no sleep in all conditions, before returning to work on Monday. The training we would carry out was virtually the same as that carried out by regular soldiers, so much so that on the occasions where we were trained or deployed alongside regular soldiers you would be hard pushed to tell the difference. I attended many training courses where I and other TA soldiers not only equalled but outperformed our regular counterparts, and the TA soldiers I served with included some of the finest soldiers I know, regular or otherwise. TA soldiers have been deployed alongside their regular colleagues more and more in recent years, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea that they are somehow all in the Private Pike mould couldn’t be further from the truth, and perhaps Kevin McKenna should take the time to visit a TA deployment and maybe he’d learn something.

As for the real subject of his article, I as an ex-serviceman was left slack jawed at the appointment of Ruth Davidson as Honorary Colonel to her former regiment, as it showed a complete lack of tact from the MOD for offering the role and from her in accepting it. Once upon a time for an ex-serviceman to become an Honorary Colonel was a sign of your contribution to your regiment, a reward for perhaps long and distinguished service; as far as I am aware Ruth Davidson only spent some two years as an officer cadet before leaving through injury, and was never actually commissioned. Nowadays the role of Honorary Colonel is dished out to all and sundry and is perhaps on par with those gaudily attired Regimental Goats that are wheeled out for ceremonial occasions.

These are however the least of my concerns. Davidson has spent the last few years rallying the forces of unionism to rebuild the Conservative Party. She’s wrapped herself in the union flag and banged on about “no divisive second referendum” above all else. She has successfully managed to convince hard core British Nationalists that her party will protect the union and by exploiting Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent support for the IRA has also seen the Orange Order come back to the fold en-masse, with many abandoning Labour and any pretence of concerns over policies as they do so.

I was told recently of a soldier who decided to run in the council elections, who was told that if he was successful he would have to leave the military. The military is supposed to be impartial, to represent all of us equally, but this appointment blurs the lines of impartiality, and instead subliminally invites us to draw a line between supporting the union, the military and the Orange Order/ the far right and the Conservatives.   Army regulations clearly forbid the wearing of uniform where it may infer some sort of support by the MOD. The fact that Ruth Davidson is not actually a serving soldier means the rules don’t actually apply in this case, however the spirit of the rules should be adhered to as they exist for good reason and their minutiae is not known to the average person. Most people will simply see the Tory leader being endorsed by the Army, nothing less.

Someone, somewhere has played up to Ruth Davidsons vanity, allowing her to extend her repertoire from prancing around on a tank to actually playing dress up as Colonel Gadaftie. If Davidson had any sense she’d have politely refused the offer until she had left politics, instead she has grabbed it and will milk it for all its worth, and as we see from Kevin’s article, will taint the armed forces reputation in the process.

Colonel Davidson: Rank Stupidity

IMG_20170624_142436Sometimes I’m left slack jawed at the tactlessness of our politicians. Ruth Davidson is the latest to leave me open mouthed, having been granted the role of Honorary Colonel to her former regiment. Once upon a time for an ex serviceman to become an Honorary Colonel was a sign of your contribution to your regiment, a reward for perhaps long and distinguished service. As far as I am aware Ruth Davidson spent some two years as an officer cadet before leaving through injury, and was never commissioned.

That though is the least of my concerns. Davidson has spent the last few years rallying the forces of unionism to rebuild the Conservative Party. She’s wrapped herself in the union flag and banged on about “no divisive second referendum” above all else. She has successfully managed to convince hard core British Nationalists that her party will protect the union and in the process has seen the Orange Order come back to the fold, with many abandoning Labour and any pretence of concerns over policies as they do so. IMG_20170625_124819

I was told recently of a soldier who decided to run in the council elections, who was told that if he was successful he would have to leave the military. The military is supposed to be impartial, to represent all of us equally. Army regulations clearly forbid the wearing of uniform where it may infer some sort of support by the MOD for their cause, so I have to ask, what in the name of the wee man is happening when the MOD make the current leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland an Honorary Colonel? Does the MOD now endorse the Tories? Is it encouraging serving personnel to support the Tories?

Someone, somewhere has played up to Ruth Davidsons vanity, allowing her to extend her repertoire from prancing around on a tank to actually playing dress up as Colonel Gadaftie. If Davidson had any sense, she’d have politely refused the offer until she had left politics, instead she has grabbed it and will milk it for all its worth, tainting the armed forces reputation in the process.

2 Weekly Bin Collection: Another North Lanarkshire Labour Promise Broken

Before the council elections in May, Jim Logue, the Labour leader of North Lanarkshire Council, took to social media to state categorically that media reports of plans to reduce waste collection from a two weekly cycle to a three weekly one were categorically untrue, and that if re-elected this would not happen. Full stop.

In fact they said no such proposals had ever been made by THIS Labour administration which is kind of true. It didn’t take them long to dust off those old plans though…

Fast forward two months (and barely a month since the election) and Labour have carried out a u-turn which makes you doubt the honesty of their pre-election promise. Once again there’s the fall back of trying in some way to rope in the Scottish Government, but that’s getting a little tired and it’s time Logue’s labour man up and accept the fact they have made a decision which people are finding extremely unpopular, and which on the face of it is a gross betrayal of the people who recently elected them as the second largest party in North Lanarkshire.

For years Labour made the case that the Council Tax freeze had to end. Then when given the chance, just before the election they decided not to do the very thing which they said was necessary to save jobs and services. It seems to me that North Lanarkshire Labour were willing to make any promise to the electorate to push themselves over the finish line to win the election. In effect they promised anything to protect THEIR seats and are now paying for that by cutting other peoples jobs and public services. I’m sure that Keir Hardie would be proud.

Radical Independence Campaign, 20/06/17: Less Is More

I attended the Radical Independence Campaign meeting in Edinburgh’s Augustine Reformed Church last night. It was my first time at one of their meetings and with eight speakers given 10 minutes each over a two hour time slot, it was more akin to political speed dating than an in depth exploration of ideas. The discussion was supposed to be on Independence, Corbyn and the Future, and on two of those it hit the mark. Former SNP MP George Kerevan appeared to be on fast forward for his 10 minutes trying to pack so much in to so little time; so much so that it became difficult to follow. In broad brush strokes he felt that the SNP had retracted from the Yes movement and had focussed too much on its parliamentary profile, to the detriment of both Yes and the SNP. He said that he accepted that the SNP had suffered a setback in the election with the loss of so many seats, with the loss of votes being attributed to people moving to Corbyn Labour. He finished off by stating we needed to mobilise and radicalise, but unfortunately this wasn’t explored, which is a great pity, because this was an area where I know the SNP was (at least in Airdrie and Coatbridge) light on bodies.

Rory Scothorne of Roch Winds was of the opinion that that Kezia Dugdale’s main aim in the election was to return Ian Murray as an MP and anything else was a bonus, and that the additional seats gained by Labour were gained by Corbyn’s policies. That’s an over simplification; to use the Coatbridge seat for example, Hugh Gaffney increased Labours vote by 2000 votes, while Phil Boswell, representing a split SNP who have been suspended by the party dropped 11,000 votes. Had there been no such split, with an effective campaign the SNP could have retained that, and Labours vaunted magnificent seven would have been a less impressive six. Rory seemed to be of the opinion that the radical left should shift to backing Corbyn, to put the short term aim of getting the Tories out over independence. I did make a contribution which related to this in the discussion; that grabbing the short term achievable aim of putting Corbyn in power only gave us a potential stay of five years on being gifted another Tory government.

Pete Connell of RISE observed that the debates which took place in England around housing, immigration and austerity didn’t take place to the same extent in Scotland, overshadowed by the unionist parties combined focus on constitutional matters. He also said that without extra parliamentary groups keeping the pressure on parliament there would be no progress in many areas and where aims coincided, RISE would work with Momentum (which we really should acknowledge as a Labour party internal pressure group), and that’s laudable, so long as we bear in mind that what Momentum is doing is to advance the Labour Party and by extension, British Nationalism. Pete in fact mentioned that he was surprised to see that there was little acknowledgment of the concept of British Nationalism in UK discussion, nationalism of course being a quirky Scottish thing. He should know by now that Britons are of course patriots, not nationalists…
Hilary Horrocks of the Edinburgh TUC spoke for time about the Grenfell Tower fire and how the TUC was putting members of the community in touch with help from the Trade Unions to help with a number of housing and community issues: she pointed out that in Edinburgh alone there are 4000 high rise homes with no sprinklers fitted. Lynn McCabe, a local anti-evictions activist also spoke of housing problems, in Edinburgh social housing accounts for only 13% of the total stock, well below the 24% national average. She made the point that Tory ideology is that social housing is a short term solution, not a long term one, demonstrated by the selling off of council housing stock and not replacing it with similar levels of new housing.
Peter McCall of the Greens spoke about how across many parties there was an acceptance of capitalism but also a broad agreement that certain areas should be excluded from free market exploitation and influence: social housing and health being notable examples.
I found Jonathon Shafi to be one of the most relevant speakers as regards the debate title, pointing out the similarities between the Yes campaign in 2014 and Corbyn’s campaign in 2017, the role played by the media in both cases against Independence and Corbyn and how both appeared to grow organically from the ground up. His observation that Jeremy Corbyn and Angus Robertson were better at understanding such movements than Nicola Sturgeon rang true, and his view that Sturgeon’s response to such a movement was to ask how she could control it was spot on. Had there been time I would have added a further point, that there was an element who neither understood it or wanted to control it but actively deterred it. I also agreed with him that both Yes (as it loosely exists) and the SNP are not radical enough.

The resulting Q&A session was as scattergun as the debate itself, and a combination of a shortage of time and a few blawhards who clearly weren’t allowed to talk at home meant no exploration of anything in detail. One questioner asked how we could have a more democratic system of government, Peter McCall of the Greens summed it up perfectly: democratise the political parties, with the over centralised SNP a prime example. The evening concluded with Holly Rigby of London Momentum speaking about how her inspiration for campaigning came from the RIC during the 2014 independence campaign, and that with the media against them they relied on the enthusiasm and effort of activists to beat the media and the opposition, a lesson sadly lost on the SNP at present.

Time For The SNP To Take It’s Place in Team Yes

The results of last weeks election should be a stark reminder to Independence campaigners that the campaign for Scottish independence is not the sole preserve of the SNP and that while for many years they were the driving force behind it, it was the cross party/all-party/no party Yes Scotland campaign which united almost half the country to support independence, and while the SNP were the main beneficiaries of that movement post September 2014, they have grown lazy and complacent since then. Many people have been looking to the likes of the Scottish Independence Convention to take up where Yes Scotland left off. But it hasn’t quite sparked a fire in the way Yes did; it really needs to become louder, bolder and more visible: it needs to become the new face of Yes.

The closure of Yes Scotland was the first in a series of mistakes made by the Yes movement (and I suspect the SNP were the prime movers in that regard) in which everything closed down almost overnight. With the central core gone many Yes groups followed suit and two years of hard work, contacts, networks and all the infrastructure they had created went with them. A period of reflection may have been in order rather than outright shut-down, and in the absence of Yes the movement gravitated towards the next best thing: the SNP. The SNP was not a substitute for Yes and while in the short term wins at Westminster and Holyrood were a boost to pro-independence supporters, the SNP failed to move the case forward for independence. As a political party full of people who now rely on being elected as their employment, the SNP’s prime focus is to be re-elected. The focus is always on the short term campaign, not the long term one. Since 2014 we have seen a Westminster election, a Holyrood election, the council elections and another Westminster election in close succession and independence campaigners should ask themselves this question; other than campaigning for their own personal election, what has my Councillor, my MP, my MSP done to promote independence? The honest answer is probably very little. That’s not to say it’s not something they don’t care about, but it’s not their priority anymore. The party is. So while they are tied up in the backstabbing world of internal party politics, the day to day business of attending committees, poring over minutes of meetings, the meeting and greeting, they simply aren’t making the case for independence in the way it needs to be made. The idea that by providing competent government, the SNP would make the case for independence by default is erroneous. No government has ever got everything right, all governments have failures, crises, scandals. The threat for years was that the country would collapse under an SNP government. That argument failed to hold water after one term of SNP government, but the longer the SNP remain in charge the longer they will be associated with and blamed for, all the failings which exist in the main subjects of concern: health, welfare, education, transport.

As a realist I know that no government can deliver the funding required for the NHS, for education, for a welfare state, and that there are things outside their control which will never be fixed, regardless of funding. But those failings are now being used to make the case against independence. The argument goes that if the SNP cannot run X, Y or Z, then Scotland cannot function as an independent country. That’s a ludicrous argument, but it’s gaining traction. Repeated ad nauseum by the leaders of the unionist parties, it’s repeated by their members and by the media until it gains traction in the public mind: If Davidson, Dugdale, Rennie and the BBC are all saying that education is in crisis then it must be.

So while the SNP are now involved in fire-fighting, defending and spinning in a game of self-preservation, trying to appeal to as wide a base as possible in one election campaign after another, they have lost sight of their core directive, their raison d’etre: Independence For Scotland. The three Unionist parties have been for some time saying that Nicola Sturgeon has been so obsessed with independence that she is failing to do the day job. I say the reverse: she has been so busy doing the day job she has failed to promote independence. In fact she’s not only failed to promote independence, but when asked seems to pointedly deny it’s even on the radar. Is it any wonder that the SNP lost so many votes? By denying independence, by playing it down to appeal to floating unionist voters, she demoralised and disincentivised the huge number of people who flooded to the SNP from Yes. By saying that we may vote on independence in 2019 or 2020 many people will say, ‘you know what, the SNP don’t need my vote at the moment, they have huge majorities and I’ll come back out and vote when it matters’. And hundreds of thousands of votes go down the pan. Way to go Nicola.

That’s why Yes Scotland (or another suitable high profile group)needs to be back, making the case for independence. Because independence isn’t about SNP policy, it’s about what Scotland can do if it has the chance to make it’s own decisions. It’s about pointing to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Scotland and saying to them “Look! Even with their best ever result in years, Labour cannot win in England, and if they cannot convince England, their policies are pipe dreams! But they are good policies that could make Scotland better. They could actually be implemented here, if you had the belief in an making a successful independent Scotland”. It’s about pointing out the benefits to all Scots of all parties why their policies needn’t be just ideas: they could be enacted. So why not work to enact them?

In the coming months people across the Yes movement will start to realise that the SNP is not the be all and end all of the independence movement. It’s time to get the team up and running again, to be active and noisy again, to start to think again about the big picture, not the party picture. Of course we need to recognise that there are times when the opposition are giving the SNP a kicking to put the boot into independence, but there are times when they will justifiably be putting the boot into poor performance and bad policy. What we can’t allow is for the latter to be used as the former. So the SNP can be part of the team, but not to the extent it calls the shots.

We are faced with the prospect of Scotland being dragged out of Europe, tied to right-wing Brexit Tory Britain, with a hint or DUP and Orange Order on the side. If you can’t make the case for independence from that, you might as well pack it in. Who’s up for independence then?