The Illegitimate Electorate

Ever been told your vote doesn't count? Of course you have; even if you haven't been told it directly, it's implicit in our democracy in the UK - it's a paradox of sorts. If you don't vote you might not get the candidate you want. If you do vote it's likely that your vote won't make a bit of difference at all. It's a strange duality and one that makes people disenfrachised at the start.

During the IndyRef there was consistent message (one of very few actually) that stated that the UK would be stronger as a unit. Indeed, the campaign for the No side was actually called Better Together, if you were in any ambiguity at their core message. You and I might disagree with that of course, but we can admit that the debate engaged an electorate that hadn't been engaged before. I mean, you could count the number of times I've written about politics on this blog in it's eight years on one hand pre-summer of 2014, and since... it's been quite a few times.

The strangest thing to come along in the past week or so is the frantic realisation that the SNP, notionally called the Nationlists in the demonising press, are going to do very good numbers across large parts of Scotland. Whatever the actual results are in the coming general election, the landscape has changed entirely, just like it did following last years referendum. Even if the SNP "only" manage 25 to 30 seats of their possible and predicted 50 that is still a massive swing from Lib Dems, Labour and yes the lone Tory seat. For Scotland it is the next chapter in a falling out with Labour policy and Labour voting that has been rushing down hill since the 2010 and maybe the 2011 elections (and maybe even further back, from the right-leaning centrist politics of the Blair years).

This has understanably scared the establishment in Westminster. They're realising too late that the UK voters are wanting actual change. The reason UKIP and the SNP (and the Green Party) are gaining votes from the Tories and Labour is because these two parties have fallen into the centre. The Tories aren't right wing enough for the UKIP voter and the Labour party aren't progressive enough for the SNP or Green voter. Sturgeon put it perfectly; "I'm not saying you're not different from David Cameron, I am saying you're not different enough". It's obvious that's the case, but the reality is that the future of Westminster might be at stake.

The First Past the Post system is a bag of shit and loads of people know that - but the issue is that to reform it you need to get on board the people it'll put out of a job. In my current working climate we have a similar issue - engineers are getting let go due to lack of work but instead of a top-down reorganisation to remove the wasteage at the top there has been hiring in and setting up a "task-force". You can't get folk to sack themselves. So we're stuck in a perpetual state of stand-off, much like Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four super powers.

The press love a good scare story and the SNP are the perfect target - they're un-electable in the parts of the country where it matters to the papers (England) and they're an easy sell following the perception of the IndyRef down south as "breaking up the United Kingdom" - controlling that narrative, instead of the "self-determination of Scotland," of course. However, the recent comments about "holding a government to ransom" and "chaos" is startling in it's hypocrisy - why would 25 to 50 elected MPs be illegitimate? Telling the Scots that you're welcome and should saty but only if you vote for who we want is insane. Almost too insane.

In fact, it's like the Tories are playing the long game. The longest game there is - stir up angry sentiment in Scotland because they want to undermine the Scottish Parliament with an English Voter System (which in practise I am in favour of if we move to a federalised system entirely, not this hodge-podge of shit) and power that with angry sentiment directed at the SNP in England. The effect would be to kill Labour entirely; Labour needs Scotland to vote for it, the Tories don't. The tories have backed Labour into a checkmate so strong it's astonishing this isn't an episode of The Thick Of It - either you agree with the idea of splitting the votes in parliament up, which would cost Labour their "Scottish block" (which doesn't exist anymore anyway) or refused to fix a problem that will only get worse - the lack of an English Parliament in which Scottish Ps can vote on non-Scottish affairs - and cause an upset in the majority of voters.

Perfectly played. And Labour fell into the trap. They're fucked either way nationally. In Scotland they're already banjaxed - recent polling suggests that (outside of the margin for error) 1997 Survivor Jim Murphy, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party (which is in it's self a strange idea, with him peddling ideas that he can only implement in Holyrood, where he is not a standing MSP and his party has no majority) could lose his seat in my parents home consituency.

And the results of May 7th will be interesting no matter what. Polling got IndyRef ahead and the panic mobilised the No parties to step up their campaining to a very powerful level. With the SNP coming into power the Tories will rail them and the press will rail them saying that any government with them involved is not proper or moral, a concept so decietful it borders on a coup. The reality is that the SNP will have "power" or "influence" in any Westminster government because the Scottish voters will have voted for it. 

Your move Westminster.

Politics Next: After the Storm

Politics Next - After the Storm

Last year I wrote three posts (here, here and here) about Scottish Independence and they were my "Why Yes?" posts, and a fourth Politics Next post as a wash-up. I am still for Scottish independence and I am certain that I'll see it in my life time. Actually, I think I'll see it in the next ten years, but we will come back to that. In the past few weeks as the General Election Campaign has kicked into high gear people are starting to really consider what they want and how they will vote. The first major test of the post-IndyRef UK is almost upon us and as a Indy-leaning Scot - actually, just as a Scot of any political persuasion - the bullshit has come rolling back towards us.

See, back in August and September 2014 I was at home a lot. I was dipping in and out of my phone every few hours becuase when I got a free moment when Joni was asleep, Connie was asleep, and I wasn't asleep, I had time to read a lot about the different tactics being used by the UK parties, the pro-Union parties. They were very much "stick with us, it's better". If you can boil the entire argument down to two different views: 1) We are better off going it alone and 2) You're better off as part of the UK. The contray point to my own views, the second one, had to be argued from the idea that Scottish MPs were worth a vote in Westminster, that the engine that had been powering our country wasn't broken and useless, not ruined by decades of the right and the left parties moving into the centre, creating a beige of bullshit. In the vaccuum two parties on the left filled the void - the Lib Dems and the nationalist parties (SNP/Plaid Cymru) and two-ish parties filled the void on the right - the BNP and UKIP.

In 2010 there was a choice but little to show for it - you could chose the smaller parties but they wouldn't have any impact, that's what we were told. But in 2010 the two members of the old guard found it impossible to form a government without one of the smaller parties, and the UK had a coalition government for the first time in generations. Since the IndyRef voters in Scotland have realised that they have a very powerful vote for two reasons - the first being that the balance of power sits with our votes as Labour needs them to win a majority. The second is that we have been energised and now a whole generation of people who wouldn't have even considered voting in this year's GE are very interested.

The tactics that were employed during the latter days of the IndyRef by the pro-Union teams was that the Scottish were an integral part of the UK and that our voice would be heard in a future Westminster government, and that we were all more powerful together. That is why the recent attacks by Labour and Tory strategists and spokespeople are shameful: telling us that a vote for the SNP is like Putin or against the democratic will of the British people. The idea that a democratically elected MP from Scotland is illegitimate because they are Scottish is pretty astounding in it's lack of respect...

Taken from  Electoral Calculus  on 3rd April 2015

Taken from Electoral Calculus on 3rd April 2015

There is an argument being made that the SNP winning 30 to 50 seats in Scotland (which is mad, but entirely possible) isn't good for the UK - voting in to Westminster a party that wants to break it up, which on the surface is a valid concern. Sturgeon has an uphill struggle to prove that not to be true, but she has some powerful evidence on her side. The thing is that we voted against Independence last year, rightly or wrongly, and you have to accept that. I have to accept that. The SNP had to accept that, and so does the rest of the UK. The SNP want independence, but they are not a single-issue party. They're a left-leaning party aiming for progressive policy and that is something that a lot of the UK won't have heard before - it's what has been changing my own mind over the past five or so years, and it's one of the best things about last night's debate. It'll be the first time in a long time anyone who is "on the left" in England has heard mainstream media show politicians like that without a snark of bias or a sliver of impartiality. It was refreshing not only to see one, but three left-leaning party leaders on the stage, but also that they were all female showing that there are powerful voices in the UK system not heard on a regular basis. 

It also went some way to dissuading the idea being pitched by the English parties that the SNP are there to sneak in a break-up of the UK. Sturgeon rightly has noted that if that is going to happen it will only happen through the will of the Scottish parliament, not in Westminster. There will have been people in the rUK that were listening to her and what she was saying noting that we do have it better up here. We don't pay for prescriptions, for hospital parking, we don't pay for tuition, we don't have the bedroom tax. Those things are things that I am proud that Scotland has and pays for. The funniest thing on Twitter last night was the English voters wishing they could vote SNP. Imagine SNP candidates standing in English constituencies! 

The next four weeks are going to be fascinating to see how it all shakes out. I am voting to empower Scotland, and in doing so I expect to empower the Westminster system. If last night's debate showed anything it was that the new system of many parties fighting a battle designed for two parties isn't going to last much longer. The rUK will see what Scotland have been annoyed about in the first place - a system rigged against the people who have the voices we want to here. You could hear the old system creaking under the weight of the reality that we live in, and for once I can relax. Political reform isn't just possible, isn't just required, it's inevitable

Politics Next

Following the disappointing result on Friday (if, like me, you fancied an Independent Scotland) there has been a vast amount of reaction from all ends of the spectrum. I knew that defeat was a very real option (see If It Is A No) but I still had a little glimmer of hope that I had backed the winning side. Of course, we know now that I hadn't, but my city, the one I voted in, voted Yes which was nice to see. It also had the lowest turn out too, which confused a lot of people. It amazes me actually that with a 85% turn out nationwide, there was 15% who didn't care to vote (who were registered, of course), but in my city, 1 in 4 didn't turn up to vote, which blows my mind. The most important decision in my political life time, and some of those folk just didn't vote.

I conceded defeat at 5.46am, just before I got up to go to work with a simple tweet.

I then followed that simple tweet with a few more that were less flippant and more confused and disappointed, before tweeting:

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I realised shortly afterwards that that tweet said more than just a throwing in the hands in the air with despair that had created it. It spoke to the core of my politics, which were prior to the IndyRef at an all time low and basically non-existent. I don't mean my internal politics, the ones that make me feel and think about the world and the country I live in, but my engagement with the people and processes that govern us and those that we vote in.

The last time I voted was earlier this year in the European Elections - those disconnected "I don't even know what we are voting for" elections that even after I tried to explain to Connie what they were (and failing), I read up about them (and decided who I was voting for) and even then I still didn't quite understand the system in which I was voting, or how it was going to run down. 

I remember being similarly disconnected from the first time I voted, back in the 2005 General Election, when I didn't know who I was voting for, and didn't read too much about it. It felt like a bewilderingly nonsensical approach to the way the country should be run, and I failed to see how me and my vote could make a difference. The thing that energised me and many other voters in the IndyRef was that it was pretty explicit the two options. There was no middle ground, beyond not voting.

That, and there was something to "play for" - you were either going to be lead down the path one way or the other, and a good chunk of Scotland was going to be annoyed. That is the paradox of democracy - if I believe that the majority should get their way, how can I be annoyed when the majority vote against my own views and win? It is a difficult one to stomach, and one that "Yessers" all over Scotland have been having to deal with since Friday morning.

One thing that has been particularly hard to stomach is the feeling that the IndyRef was hard done by, even if you think that it might have been a fair fight. One statistic that was intersting was that the older voters, the above 55s, voted resoundingly as Nos, when the younger voters voted as Yeses. This lead to some saying the younger voters are less wise and more optimistic (imagine being that arrogant and that dismissive) or that the older voters were scared into thinking their pensions were in danger (which is a legitimate worry, if it weren't for the fact that it was a blatant lie by the No campaign). The ins and outs of the two sides and the campaigns will make for a wonderful study project for students in the future, that's for sure.

The reaction to the vote amongst my friends was varied too - one No voter actually said "Ya fucking dancer!", whilst others were quietly defensive about their choice to vote either Yes or No. In the days that followed, others that had voted No with the promise of more devolution and reform in the back of their minds felt dismayed at the lack of process and the bending of the promises made. The resignation of Salmond was celebrated by a select few who thought he was the head of the Yes campaign, and bemoaned by a few others who mourned the loss of a true politician that was principled and steadfast.

One thing it is clear that has survived is the engagement in the country. I have constant re-tweets, shares and posts still appearing on my social media feeds with folk paying close attention to the way the Westminster Parties are negotiating the next few days. A General Election is there to be won (or lost) and the little speed-bump of the IndyRef has been negotiated successfully. The problem is that something changed in Scotland, and something also changed in the rest of the UK too.

The main parties have backed themselves into a corner that might not be easy to get out of - for the Conservatives, they have said they'll give Scotland further powers as long as England gets them too, which is fair. However, that gives Cameron the power to delay the Scottish changes which isn't what was promised (rightly or wrongly). Milliband has an even bigger issue - he said that Scotland should get extra powers, but disagrees that England should be able to stop Scottish MPs voting on their policies. This is an untenable position, and he's pretty fucked - either he refuses let England decide on their own reform and face a backlash there, block the Scottish powers entirely too and face an even bigger backlash, or agree to Cameron's  proposals and lose the Scottish MPs at Westminster, Labour's big powerplay, and probably the only reason that he was against Scottish independence in the first place.

And that's before you even consider that some die-hard Labour voters that I know of are never voting them again due to their alliance with the Tories, their lies about the NHS (last week it was the NHS is safe if you vote No, and now it's We'll Save the NHS, and generally the fact that the party doesn't stand for what it originally stood for.

On Wednesday the 17th last week...

On Wednesday the 17th last week...

...and then Monday the 22nd.

...and then Monday the 22nd.

As Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. Maybe not in the memories of Scottish voters, mind.

The point I'd make, to wrap this wash-up post, is that the electorate have changed, in my eyes. I still have politics being discussed in my WhatsApp chats, five days after the vote, amongst people who said before hand that they were "going to be glad when it is over". The Scottish people, the 45% of the population that voted for Independence are going to be watching the UK system like hawks, and the 55% who voted for either the Status Quo or the furthering of devolution, will also be paying close attention.

The UK is going to change. It feels like it has to. If the Westminster parties renege on their promises, the SNP will probably go to the Scottish elections on the mandate of a second referendum following their broken promises. 

As for me, I am considering joining the Scottish Green Party, because they align with my own personal politics very closely.

Scottish Independence Part I - A Long Road to Change

Here's the thing - when the IndyRef was announced I was dead against it. I hated the idea that the Scottish government had legislated for it and that there was going to be a vote. That knee jerk reaction changed to an understanding of the need for a vote, but still dead against the idea of an independent Scotland, dead against the end of the UK that I knew and back then I wanted to remain.

Notice the past tense. Since about June I have been pretty set on voting Yes for Scottish Independence. This hasn't been an easy or a quick decision - indeed, quite the opposite. In the next five days I am going to post several posts ranging from my thoughts on the No campaign to the reasons why I am voting Yes. 

But first, here's a post about my road to Yes.

The first place I'd start is in 2009 where I rather amazingly posted this titled "Being Scottish. Is It Shite?" where-in I ridiculed the idea of independence because we are a bit of a "shite" nation, and also was worried about a few things. I wrote some amazing sentences in that post: (and I lift directly) "We are a nation hurtling towards the brainwashed masses voting us out a Union with England and Wales that could ruin everything for all countries involved." and I went even further with "[independence]...is a car crash in slow motion, hurtling towards a long, expensive and pointless program of devolution and independence. Why should we think that we can pull out of the Union when if anything we have been the ones who a benefited most from it?".

Ahem.

Okay, so I have changed my mind. The advantage of this blog having existed for so long is that I can pull back from five years ago and know that at that point in time that was my true feelings. That's what I thought, and for better or worse, that's what I wrote. Am I now having to eat those words? In a way, yes. But I am not apologising for writing them. Actually, here's the things - that last part of the second quote is interesting; it qualifies something - at that point I thought we were getting the better deal. I thought that the traffic went in one way - to us, and we benefited greatly from the Union. This is a key point - because I don't think so any more.

It was around 2010 I think when walking down Buchanan St a friend, his boyfriend and I scoffed at the idea of iScotland. It was then when I truly remember realising with alarm at the idea of Scotland going it alone. I had in my head an idea - one that seemed to suggest that Scotland was doing a bad job. I believed that the SNP government were not doing things correctly. Then several things started to happen.

The first was that I realised that this wasn't about the SNP. This happened shortly after my return to Aberdeen after living in Texas. The second was that the UK Government started to mess with things that they shouldn't be messing with - the NHS, Royal Mail, benefits, and tax. I dislike the conservatives a lot, but anyone who votes either way because of party lines is making a grave mistake. This is bigger than that.

It wasn't until I was describing the current set up to a Canadian that I realised how nonsense it actually is. The Scottish parliament, Westminster, the House of Lord (that bit especially, actually)... it all really doesn't make any sense any more.

We pay our taxes, and they go to Westminster (or Whitehall, a turd is still a turd by any other name) and then they decide how much we get back. We get to spend what they give us in anyway we want on certain things. That isn't the right way it should be. Devolution was a way to give us powers to govern things that needed to governed in Scotland, like health and education, and in my mind we've done a very good job with them. But we are still at the mercy of the Barnet Formula, which is a pretty unfair way to work out our budget for both Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

Additionally, I realised that the question being asked wasn't about "What Ifs" like the No have been suggesting - instead, it should be "Imagine If" - imagine if we had control over everything. Imagine if we voted for the and got our government. Imagine if we could take all the oil income and spend it on us rather than splitting it across the rest of the UK?

There are a lot of great reasons to vote yes, but the one that clinched it for me (shortly after I posted this speculative post titled "Yes?" in February) was why notSeriously - why not? Why not have a go? All of this fear peddled by the No side is because they're the ones scared. The vote was given as an appeasement to silence us - instead it has actually given us a voice... and we're starting to shout.

Later this week I'll explain why I think that even a No vote will change everything in the UK, and not just for Scotland, but in the meantime my journey from a dead-cert No to a optimistic Yes is almost at an end. Yes, I love England. I liked Northern Ireland. I've got nothing against Wales. Yes, my sister lives in the Lake District. Yes, the Union has worked, but it's not working now.

Time to change it up. Time to grow up. Time to take a chance.