Archive for the 'Scotland' Category

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Tipping point. Why Scotland’s ultimate independence now looks inevitable

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Wednesday was not one of those days when it was difficult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance.  The SNP launched a choreographed flounce from the House of Commons following a spat between their leader Ian Blackford and the Speaker over the treatment of Scotland’s position in the Brexit debates.

The government was quick to accuse the SNP of pulling a stunt and of manufacturing discontent.  It’s certainly true that the SNP haven’t exactly gone out of their way to seek concord with Westminster in the past.  When copies of the SNP’s staging notes were discovered, the Conservatives claimed that the stunt had backfired. 

The following day, however, the SNP announced that they had signed up 5,085 new members in the previous 24 hours.  The former editor of the Daily Record, Murray Foote, who had been instrumental in 2014 in putting together the unionist Vow in the last week of the referendum campaign, announced that he was now a supporter of independence.  Stunt or no stunt, the SNP have struck a chord with some.

What’s the deal?  Well, the Speaker had allotted just 15 minutes in the Brexit debates on Tuesday to discuss post-Brexit devolution concerns.  Given that the Scottish Parliament had not accepted the Westminster government’s approach to devolved matters in Brexit, the SNP felt that this was wholly inadequate.  Ian Blackford had asked the Speaker to extend the debate, and the Speaker had refused: hence the walkout.

We now enter constitutional niceties that are of no interest at all to the English.  (This uninterest, incidentally, is an important point that I will come back to.)  Devolution, as the word suggests, is a devolving of power from Westminster to Holyrood.  It means that in theory at least Westminster can overrule Holyrood when push comes to a shove.  This makes Holyrood’s power contingent on Westminster’s goodwill.

At the time, it was recognised by the government that devolution needed more entrenchment.  So a constitutional convention was created at the instigation of Lord Sewel, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland at the time of the passage of the Scotland Act 1998, under which the UK government would not normally seek to legislate on devolved matters except with the agreement of the devolved legislature.  

This convention, which applies to the devolved assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland as well, was reaffirmed by the UK government as recently as 2013.  Unusually for a constitutional convention, it is referred to in legislation.  Section 28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998 provides:

“But it is generally recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.”

In practice, the devolved assemblies have rarely refused consent. So far they have done so just ten times in aggregate.  The Scottish Parliament has done so only twice (the Welsh have been much more awkward in practice).  The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is the second time on which it has done so.  So it can hardly be said in reality that the SNP government in reality has been fomenting discontent on a routine basis.

The Scots took a very different view of the EU referendum from the English. The Scottish government has a genuine concern that Westminster might seek to use the repatriation of powers from Brussels as the opportunity for a power grab at Holyrood’s expense. 

Theresa May’s government has been desultory in addressing these concerns.  No doubt its attention span for Scottish matters has been sharply diminished, given its need to negotiate with the EU, the hardline Brexiters, the rebellious Remainers and the DUP and, for that matter, to reach an agreed position itself.  Nevertheless, the strong impression has been given of a government that is intending to steamroller its way past the rebellious Scots by the use of its residual power and forcing a settlement on its terms.

It is against this background that the battle between Holyrood and the UK government came to be considered this week in Parliament.  For English MPs, this is a complete sideshow.  For the Scots, however, it goes to the heart of devolution.  For Parliament to allocate just 15 minutes to discuss the impact of Brexit on the constitutional framework of devolution was an insult to the Scots.

At such points it is usual to say that the optics of such a dismissive approach to devolution are appalling.  But that wouldn’t be correct on this occasion: it is the dismissive approach itself that is appalling.  

The fact that devolution throws up some very difficult problems in relation to Brexit does not mean that devolution should be treated as a disposable luxury: those difficult problems should have been engaged with and considered properly by the House of Commons.

It is this fundamental unseriousness of the English towards devolution which is going to doom the current constitutional settlement.  When the architect of the Vow gives up on unionism, it is likely that many others will follow.

The economics of Scottish independence continue to look daunting.  But where there’s a will there’s a way.  Scots will not indefinitely accept a grace-and-favour devolution.  This week may well have been the week when Scottish independence became an inevitability.

Alastair Meeks




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Those who think the SNP are a busted flush might be surprised by the latest YouGov Scotland poll as Labour set to be reduced to just 1 Scottish MP, again

Friday, June 8th, 2018

TSE



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Unless LAB can win back Scotland then there’s little chance of Corbyn becoming PM

Friday, May 25th, 2018

The latest Scotland only polls have LAB down in third place

The biggest impact on the Labour-Conservative seat balance in the past decade was the virtual wipeout of LAB north of the border at GE2015.

Five years earlier at GE2010 when Labour lost power there were, extraordinarily, no seat changes at all north of the border with what was then Gordon Brown’s party retaining all 41 seats that it held on an overall increased Scottish vote share. The SNP had just 6 seats with the LDs 11 and the Tories just 1.

Then came the 2014 IndyRef which although Yes lost it totally changed the political environment leading to at the following general election SLAB losing all but one of the 41. The LDs lost 10 of their 11 and the Tories remained with just one Scottish MP.

It is not often remembered that Ed Miliband’s LAB actually made progress in England gaining 15 more seats. It was the Scottish wipe out that overshadowed everything and the SNP found itself with 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats displacing the LDs as the third party at Westminster.

    Move on to GE2017 which proved to be something of a setback for Sturgeon’s party losing 21 seats and holding onto 35. But, alas, it was Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Tories who were the main beneficiary not Scottish LAB

To put this into context in England Corbyn’s party made just 21 net gains which wasn’t much better than what EdM had done two years earlier.

If Corbyn’s LAB is to return to government then much of the current seat deficit it has nationally with the Tories will need be made up from battles with the SNP and current Scotland only polling doesn’t look good.

The most recent Panelbase survey had LAB on 25% in Scotland trailing the Scottish Tories and way behind the SNP.

Mike Smithson




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The continuing strength of the SNP makes it is harder for Corbyn to become PM

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Scottish turbulence not good for the red team

Today’s YouGov LAB members has one finding that shows the extraordinary optimism of those who backed Corbyn in the last leadership election. 80% of them told the poster that they believed that Mr Corbyn would at sometime become Prime Minister.

Given his age and the current parliamentary situation that essentially means waiting till the next general election and requires two things to happen – Corbyn to retain the leadership and LAB to win most seats or be in position for form coalition. The latter is made much more difficult because of what happened in 2015 when the huge SNP surge in Scotland swept almost all before it and Labour’s seat total drop from 41, north of the border to a single MP.

For decades LAB had been top party north of the border one of the reasons why, alongside the collapse of the LDS, the electoral system appeared to favour them. Their Scottish dominance came was swept away in the general election which took place nine months after the IndyRef

Things changed a bit at the June 2017 election when LAB made a smallish recovery but still found themselves in 3rd place with 7 seats which was well behind the Conservatives in second and of course the SNP still there with 36 of the 59. The red team’s current Scottish total look paltry compared with the heady days of 2010

The most recent Scottish polls have double digit leads for the SNP with LAB still languishing in the 20s.

What sould encourage Labour, though, is that many of the SNP seats are held with very small majorities and a small recovery could bring bigger than expected rewards.

Without a substantial contingent Scottish MPs LAB will need to win more seats in England and Wales if it is to get near to power.

Mike Smithson




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Boundary conditions. How Brexit might be helping to lay the ground for the SNP

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Some international boundaries are easy to understand. The Pyrenees form a natural frontier between Spain and France. The Kattegat conveniently separates Sweden and Denmark. While in the past each pair of countries has seen their border shift over time, the current resting place looks very natural.

The boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland does not come in that category. There are few obvious natural boundaries along the route. Donegal is almost cut off from the rest of the Republic of Ireland. Roads snake in and out of the border. Despite or because of its fraught history, it is all rather arbitrary.

The boundary was established in some disorder at the height of the Irish war of independence. As a quick solution, the six most north-easterly counties were retained within the UK on their existing county lines. This made no particular sense on religious grounds, since substantial parts of those six counties were majority Catholic even at that time. The boundary was originally supposed to be reviewed but in the end the review proved too controversial to see through to its conclusion. So the impromptu boundary stuck.

The contrast between the border’s informal origins and its fraught history is stark. After a lot of bloodshed, a way forward for Northern Ireland was brokered through the Good Friday Agreement. Any Brexit settlement is going to need to deal with not just the way in which the EU and the UK wish to establish their ongoing relationship but also to address the hopes and fears of both Northern Irish communities.

The Northern Irish border will be the main land border between Britain and the EU (pedants will note that there will also be EU/UK land borders at Gibraltar and in Cyprus). If Britain is to be outside the customs union, as hardline Leavers are suddenly insisting is essential to honour the Brexit vote, the UK is going to need to put in place a system for monitoring the new trade boundary.

If it fails to do so, it will in substance be giving the EU preferential access over other nations with which the UK trades. It is hard to see how that is consistent with Britain’s Most Favoured Nation obligations under the WTO, under which it must offer all WTO members the terms offered to the otherwise most favoured trading partner. And it needs to do so in a way that is not going to have either the nationalists up in arms because the border has been resurrected or the unionists up in arms because the boundary of the customs union has been moved to the Irish Sea. In each case, “up in arms” has the nasty potential to be literal rather than metaphorical.

The main part of the Brexit agreement is going to require all the élan of Fred Astaire. Those aspects that deal with the Irish border are going to require the skills of Ginger Rogers, who did everything that Fred Astaire did, but in high heels and backwards.

Other better brains than mine are looking at how this might be achieved. For present purposes, I’m going to assume that a solution of some kind will be found. I’m a sunny optimist, you see.

At that point, the UK government will have provided the Scottish government with a route map to dealing with many of the trickier aspects of independence. The Irish border is longer than England’s borders with Scotland and Wales put together. The two English counties and the two Scottish counties that border each other are collectively bigger and emptier than the five Northern Irish counties that border the Republic of Ireland (never mind the Irish counties on the other side of the border).

The practical, legal and technological problems of a border between Scotland and England look far more straightforward than those of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A precedent would have been established as to the nature of the enduring relationship between the two sides after they had disentangled.

When the Scottish independence referendum was fought in 2014, one of the biggest weaknesses that Scotland faced was on the practicalities of transition to independence. In a few years’ time the Scottish nationalists may well find themselves with a manual for many aspects, courtesy of Brexit.

For now, the cause of Scottish independence has slipped back slightly from its high water mark. The unionist cause, having been in disarray, has become more organised. After an initial spasm after the EU referendum result, it seems that Scottish opinion is as-you-were so far as independence is concerned.

The SNP, however, has not given up on the cause and it will be waiting for the right moment to declare that a generation is up. When it does, it will be much better prepared on the technicalities than first time around. So Unionists are going to need to be much better prepared than they were last time round on the questions of identity. They don’t look it yet.

Alastair Meeks




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The Tories look solidly back in third place in Scotland – the part of the UK which has seen the most seat turbulence

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018


Wikipedia

How the parties are faring north of the border

Next week I’m off to Scotland the part of the UK that played a critical part in the outcomes of GE2015 and GE2017.

For since the IndyRef in September 2014 there has been a huge amount of turbulence in Scottish politics. At the last two general elections there’ve been more seats changing hands there than anywhere else in the UK.

Initially the failure to win independence in September 2014 saw a huge move to the SNP placing it in an extraordinarily strong position at GE2015. From holding just six of Scotland’s 59 seats at GE2010 the party took 56 as Cameron was securing a majority in the rest of the UK.

But it was not to last. The great success story for the Conservatives at the last general election was Scotland.

There were 11 net gains which enabled the party overall to come out of the election not too far off a majority position in the House of Commons. The Scottish performance, which was mostly down to the Tory leader north of the border, Ruth Davidson, helped offset the considerable losses that Team Theresa unexpectedly suffered south of the border.

We don’t get too many Scottish polls and all of the published ones since the general election are in the Wikipedia table above. As can be seen the Tories are down a bit and have been in 3rd place in all but one of the polls since June 8th. The SNP, certainly in the latest survey from Survation, seems to be the one that’s benefiting most.

The one caveat I would have with Scottish polling is that every single survey between in the 2015-2017 parliament had the SNP in a better position than they finished up WITH in many cases by some margin.

At GE17 more than a a third of Scottish seats changed hands with LAB and the LDs, a well as CON benefiting

Because most SNP MPs have smallish majorities a lot of seat changes can happen on relatively small vote changes.

    It has been estimated that if CON, LAB and SNP each got 30% of the Scottish vote the SNP could be reduced to just 6 MPs.

Although many of the issues decided at Westminster are not relevant to Scotland their MP numbers are critical to the overall balance nationally.

I don’t buy the easy assumption that the SNP would always line up with LAB in the Commons against the Tories. Sturgeon’s party will do what it sees as best for Scotland not Corbyn’s LAB.

Mike Smithson




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Double blow for SNP in new YouGov Scotland poll: support for independence down & more MP losses projected

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

But they should still be top party at Holyrood

We get so few Scotland only polls these days that when a new one comes out, as this morning, it is quite an event.

It is extraordinary to recall that just two years ago the SNP could do no wrong. In the aftermath of Scotland’s September 2014 IndyRef for the party surged and at the 2015 General Election the SNP picked up 56 of the countries 59 Westminster seats.

In doing so Labour was absolutely smashed. From holding 41 Scottish seats in 2010 they were reduced to a single MP.

All this meant that after the 2015 General Election the SNP became the third party at Westminster pushing the Lib Dems out of the position they had held for decades.

Then came the June 2017 surprise General Election which the SNP was the only major party at Westminster to oppose. The 56 MPs of 2015 were cut to just 35 and its Scottish vote share declined by 14 points.

Today’s new YouGov Scotland poll suggests that worse things are in store for Sturgeon’s party north of the border. It could be down to 27 MPs and support for a second IndyRef and independence are declining.

The poll suggests that in MP total terms the main beneficiary of the change would be LAB which could see its total of Scottish MPs increased by 10. So good news for Mr Corbyn provided the poll is right and of course this holds until the next general election whenever that will be.

Mike Smithson




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Survation Scotland poll offers great potential for Corbyn

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Picture: Latest Survation Scottish Westminster VI poll translated into seats

Over the last day or so Survation have released their Scotland specific polling, and it presents get potential for Corbyn.

Survation say

If we input today’s published vote share figures into Baxter’s Scotland model, modelling today’s figures against the vote share the parties achieved at the General Election we can see the effect on seats at play.

Although the SNP has essentially the same vote share in today’s polling as at the GE and despite the Conservatives having the worst showing overall in this poll, Labour’s slightly improved fortunes vs. the election mean that the party would pick up 7 seats – from the SNP. SNP held Fife would go Lib Dem, with the SNP picking up just a single seat – Stirling – from the Conservatives.

With most of the GB wide polls and the polling averages indicating it being very close between the Tories and Labour an improvement in Scotland will help Labour get ahead of the Tories in seats and correct the imbalance in the electoral system which favours the Tories at present.

The one thing people should remember is given the quite violent swings we’ve seen in Scotland over the last two general elections making long term predictions about events in Scotland can be quite risky.

The other impact of this polling is if the Scottish Tories are destined for third place in Scotland it could force Ruth Davidson to focus her attentions on Westminster. My own personal belief, gleaned from being a member of the Tory party for over 20 years, is that were she to stand to be Theresa May’s successor, she’d win.

Forget the Brexit ideological issues, the Tories want to win the next general election, and Ruth Davidson is perceived to be a winner among many Tories, being a Remainer won’t be an impediment to becoming to Tory leader, just ask Theresa May.

There was also a question on another indyref.

Anyone who gets overexcited by a 1% change really needs to calm down, the overall figure can be seen in two ways.

1) This is is a really shocking poll for the Independence movement, given the fiasco at Westminster, especially over Brexit, you’d think Scots would be desperate to be Leave the Union, but no, they still want to Remain part of the Union.

2) This is a really shocking poll for the Unionists, at the start of the last indyref No had a much larger leader which was whittled away by voting day, a six point lead won’t be sufficient if the next indyref campaign follows a similar to the last one.

Survation also conducted some Holyrood specific polling, which I’ll cover in more detail in a later post.

TSE