JUNE 8TH/9TH 2017

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As my son Brodie hands me the last soggy knock up list from Bute Drive in North Muirton we knew we had made an extraordinary effort. We had completed two sweeps across the city and everybody we now knocked up had been out to vote.

It was 8.45pm and we were soaked to the skin all over again. A horn peeps and through the gloom I see John Swinney pulling in to finish the last of his list. Further round the corner I see a team down from Dunkeld. Three teams out in one little corner of Perth demonstrated our commitment to get out the vote.

It had been a miserable day. It started raining in Perth at about 10.30am and it rained all day until about 9 o clock in the evening. It had in fact been a miserable 7 weeks and from the minute the election had been called I knew that I was up against it with daily predictions from the press and Conservatives that I was going to lose my seat. Knowing we were in the fight of our lives the local party responded magnificently and there was more canvassing in Perth and North Perthshire than any other constituency in Scotland. We took the threat to holding the seat extremely seriously and organised a campaign barely seen since we first won over 20 years ago. We had just lost control of the council on a massive swing to the Tories and if the swing against John Swinney in last years Scottish elections is repeated my majority has gone. To win we would have to do things differently, call in help and use my incumbency for every vote it was worth.

In the morning I cast my vote around 9am and turnout had been brisk in Craigie Church. P&NP always has a high turnout and today a high turnout would be more important than ever. We calculated that I would need a minimum of 42% of the vote to win calculating the Tories would come in over 40% and the others fighting it out for the remaining 15%. In 2015 I had secured 50% of the vote and a nine and a half thousand majority. There was absolutely no chance that a victory on that scale would be repeated today. Today, I would settle for any sort of victory.

Almost cursing the rain I head to the office for the start of a day of doing nothing other than knocking people up and getting them out. The first thing I notice was just how busy the office is. The local party had responded to the call that the knock up was going to be extremely important and it was organised on an almost military scale. Colleagues were coming in from Dundee and elsewhere and the persistent rain was almost forgotten. In the last week of the campaign I had spent nearly all of my time going from door to door talking to people we had identified as moving away from us trying to persuade them to stick with us one more time. Today it was all about the areas where our vote was traditionally strong and just getting them out.

It has been a tough, miserable campaign fought under the most unfavourable of conditions. If you could pick a date for an election that had found us at our most vulnerable, today would just about be that day.

The Conservative campaign was exclusively about opposing a second independence referendum and it had chimed with the weariness that was abound following two big constitutional choices. Meanwhile our campaign had barely got off the ground and we had failed to shift the campaign on to Westminster issues. Where the rest of the UK was moving away from the Tories because of the shambles of their manifesto and the chaotic way Theresa May was leading the campaign, the election in Scotland (when not about a second referendum) was about the performance of a Scottish Government, unprepared and entering mid term territory.

I call it a day at about 9.30pm and head home in plenty of time for the exit poll due at 10pm. I actually feel quite positive and know that we have fought an incredible campaign and if the national swing against the SNP can be restricted to 8%, I can do it.

The 10pm news begins and I just could not believe what I was hearing.

The SNP was to lose 22 seats, worse than anything predicted and almost certainly meaning that I was out. I was fourth in line to go on a uniform swing to the Tories and there just did not seem any way that I could survive with the size of the Tory wave predicted to engulf us. I even start to pen my concession speech and inevitably start to watch the election coverage. In the studio Perthshire list Tory MSPs Murdo Fraser and Liz Smith are talking about ‘hearing good things from Perth’ and it was a ‘99% certainty’ that the seat would be taken by the Tories.

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Having lost 6 Perthshire constituency contests in a row I secretly prayed that Murdo Fraser would be selected for the Tories for this election but was disappointed when they instead selected the cerebral, if slightly odd, Perthshire born MEP, Ian Duncan. The Tories crafted this strange working class man of the people persona around Ian which jarred entirely with how he came across on the doorstep. We duly ignored him denying him any publicity from us. In the end, regardless of the best efforts of the Scottish press to big him up, very few people in P&NP knew who he was. Ian was smart enough to keep Murdo Fraser at a distance presumably observing just how toxic he was to his cause. Throughout the night Murdo is true to form with a series of crass and antagonistic social media contributions.

I was now as ready as I could be to face what seemed like certain defeat. In fact I had always prepared myself for defeat knowing the scale of the task in front of me. With the exit poll I almost feel relief that I will no longer have to constantly work out election scenarios in my head. I decide that I wouldn’t go down to the count until the last possible minute as I couldn’t bear facing joyful Tories enjoying the prospect of winning the seat I had represented for 16 years.

Then…..

Then I get a phone call from John Swinney who is down at the count. He asks me how I usually do at the Gospel Hall in Letham? I say we usually win there with about 60% of the vote. John says he is seeing ballot box samples which suggests I’ve got that. He then asks how I usually do at Tulloch and again John tells me that I’m roughly in the same terrain as previous elections. John says he is seeing ballot box samples and I am ahead in most of them. Even in the rural areas I’m slightly ahead or just slightly behind.

Could I dare believe? It was like being shredded all over again and I didn’t know if I could go through the torment of thinking I could now win only to be disappointed once more.

Sara, Brodie and I decide it’s a good idea just to get out the house and we drive around Perth before deciding we were hungry stopping off at Tesco for pizzas which we brought back, heated up, but barely touched. John was constantly on the phone with updates and it seemed it was turning away again as ballot boxes form smaller rural communities started to add up. John was actually starting to apologise for getting my hopes up, as if he ever needed to. John Swinney is an electoral force of nature, with incredible instincts, whose advice and friendship helped me endure the last 7 weeks of misery. He was always there for me with advice and encouragement and the way he threw himself into the campaign encouraged everybody else.

At about 1am I get the call that the verification is done and the result wouldn’t be far away. I prepare myself and grab all the things that I thought had been lucky totems. Sara, Brodie and I conclude that it isn’t going to happen but we should be proud that we had run them damn close. I get down to the count and the demeanour of the Tories is something else and gives me some encouragement again. I think it just suddenly dawned on them that they might not actually win this after all. Where we are experts in ballot box sampling the Perthshire Tories are singularly useless and so often never have a clue what’s going on until the votes are stacked up.

Looking at the votes sitting in these perspex boxes you just couldn’t tell who was in the lead. We had decided that if we were beat by anything below 200 votes we would call for a recount.

Then it was time. The returning officer calls candidates and agents down. Sara gives me a big hug and I head down to what now looks like a very imposing table. In a daze, incredibly big numbers are read out, which to me seem to be exactly the same. In my confusion I thought I had lost and started to walk away and it took my election agent, Andrew Parrott, to convince me I had in fact won. 36 votes was what was between us and the Tories and they call for a recount which we couldn’t possibly resist.

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I was utterly and totally elated barely able to comprehend that after all I had been through I had won. In the periphery of the evening I was of course aware of results elsewhere and that colleagues and friends such as Angus, Alex and Mike were in trouble. If we had managed to win here it would have been truly extraordinary.

But there was still the matter of the recount. We tried to convince ourselves that recounts very rarely reverse the original result and it should be alright. Then the recount is in and we’re down to 21 votes. 15 votes had been lost and I almost feel sick as the Tories call for another recount. Will this ever end?

The wait for the second recount is therefore a lot more of a tense affair than the first one. After what felt like an eternity the second recount was concluded and it was 21 votes again. It was all over and the Tories conceded. By this point I was something approaching a barely twitching wreck.

I hadn’t prepared any victory speech but I went to the rostrum and just thanked everybody promising to track down the 21 souls that had made the difference. Over the next few days I learned of some extraordinary efforts of people who had voted for me claiming that it was they who had got me over the line. I was happy to accept all such representations.

I had got 42.3% of the vote and secured 21,804 votes making it the biggest SNP vote in any constituency in Scotland. It was also the second biggest vote in numbers and percentage share that I had secured in the 5 elections I had contested. There had been a swing against us but we had restricted it to just over 8%. It was simply an amazing result given what had happened elsewhere.

We eventually get home exhausted but exhilarated still wondering how on earth we had done it. This was my fifth victory and even if it was the narrowest, it was the sweetest. At home we observe the full scale of our losses and were amazed at how accurate the exit poll was. We were the seat that deprived them of their prediction being spot on. We had lost some very talented people and the scale of the Tory swing had even extended to places like Ayr and Stirling. Our failure to get our vote out elsewhere had also meant that Labour had taken 6 seats from us, surprising them as much as us.

Theresa May had been deprived of her majority and her bad judgement of calling this election would now be her total and exclusive responsibility. It had been seven weeks of electoral hell and no-one had won this election. Heading for bed the only thing I was thinking was, thank god, hoping we never have to go through a contest like this, ever again.

 

 

 

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SCOTTISH TORY MPs ARE NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS…

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It’s now over six months since we’ve had Scottish Conservative MPs as a feature of the House of Commons. You’ll remember how they were going to be a distinctive voice for Scotland always putting the Scottish interest first. They were ‘Ruth’s’ Tories prepared to bravely defy their Westminster whips if it was in Scotland’s interest. Maybe it would then be an opportunity to check in and ask how these most curious and enigmatic of Scottish political creatures have got on with this selfless political task?

Well, the truth is they have been nothing other than Scottish lobby fodder for Theresa May and are amongst the most enthusiastic cheer leaders of this chaotic and haphazard Government.

They have trooped through the lobbies supporting a series of measures imposing the hardest of Brexits on Scotland threatening our devolution settlement. They have been enthusiastic backers of the £1.5 billion DUP bung. On Scotland’s behalf they have ensured that Universal Credit and WASPI are administered in their cruelest and most vindictive of forms. If these are Scottish Tories looking after the Scottish interest god help us if we ever secured ones that wanted to see Scotland given a further kick-in by the UK Tories…

They seem to spend all their time bravely holding the UK Government to account on behalf of their constituents by, ehm, asking questions about a Scottish Government 500 miles away! Some of their number, so desperate to desert the Scottish Parliament, have even travelled all the way to London to ask questions of Nicola Sturgeon. Being pulled up by a succession of Deputy Speakers, the Scottish Tories are observed with a ‘what on earth are they on about’ bewilderment from everyone across the chamber from them? Meanwhile turning up for important debates on issues in which they have responsibility such as seasonal workers on our farms ranks a poor second in scoring debating points about the ‘essenpee’ in Edinburgh.

Noticing how embarrassing they have become the Government have had to take ingenious steps to give them some sort of purpose and ‘credibilty’. Laughingly, it is their ‘representations’ that have saved the oil and gas industry, frozen duty on Scotch whisky and eradicated VAT on police and fire services. Next week it will be the Scottish Tories who will have been responsible for securing world peace, inventing leprechauns and winning the Battle of Bannockburn! They almost seem to delusionaly believe the nonsense that it is they who are singularly responsible for these ‘achievements’ repeatedly tweeting photos of themselves sitting with some distracted and bored UK Minister, or other.

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The problem for the Scottish Conservatives is that they were elected as the ‘Ruth Davidson says no to a second referendum party’ and had no real idea what they were going to do when they got to Westminster. The whips were never going to let them operate as a distinctive group particularly when the Conservatives are a minority Government. Watching the former Tory Chief Whip apply the thumb screws to one of their number who dared to think for himself on Brexit was beyond embarrassing and cringeworthy. They are simply Theresa’s Scottish Tories expected to ask ‘how high’ when asked to jump on her behalf.

The Scottish Conservatives are now dropping like a stone in Scottish Westminster opinion polls and are now back firmly in third place. I reckon that a lot of this decline is down to their constituents observing the performance of their MPs in Parliament and deciding what a dreadful mistake they’ve made. Scotland needs champions who will take on this government and defend their communities. Instead in large swathes of Scotland they have got nothing other than the most obedient and supine of lobby fodder for one of the most disastrous Governments in recent political history.

This is Pete Wishart’s article for next edition of the Scot’s Independent. Available monthly.

 

TOWARDS AN INDEPENDENCE 2.0

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WITH all the many things said about the anniversary of the referendum it’s hard to believe that the case for independence was crafted some five years ago. Scotland’s Future, or just simply the white paper, now seems to belong to an altogether different political era. Since the white paper there have been two General Elections and a UK vote to leave the European Union. What we now need is a new programme for independence, an independence 2.0, a new blueprint for an independent Scotland.

Scotland in 2017 is an altogether different country from the time of the white paper. This year’s General Election found Scotland apparently weary of constitutional change but at the same time restless for solutions. We saw the Tories’ Unionist campaign opposing a second independence referendum resonate with many of our fellow Scots. We also saw the SNP lose almost half a million votes as our vote came under assault on a number of fronts as Scotland’s political mood became almost impossible to predict

Yet support for independence remains at around 45 per cent, defiantly the same as the 2014 referendum. There are still almost half of our fellow Scots who believe independence is the ultimate destination for our nation and there is no sense that desire for self-government is diminishing.

This is a constituency that urgently requires reassurance and who we need to address and refresh. We need to offer a new prospectus that will re-motivate and inspire. These are people looking for a new way forward for their constitutional ambitions and who are looking to the Scottish National Party to signpost the way to that destination.

We also now know that this is a fragile constituency that can not be taken for granted. We lost a third of our Westminster MPs just as much because independence supporters decided to stay at home, uninspired by what they saw as an agenda that did not meet their constitutional ambitions.

Where we must start is with the realities of Brexit. Brexit will be an absolute disaster for Scotland, cutting average pay by £2000 and resulting in the loss of 80 000 jobs. When the reality of this folly finally becomes apparent, the Scottish people will almost certainly want to fully review and consider all their available constitutional options. The Tories are doing everything possible to uncouple Brexit from a further referendum on independence and that is why we in turn must do everything possible to ensure that connection is seen and felt. As the good ship UK fully collides with that Brexit iceberg, we must make that lifeboat available for Scotland and have it fully equipped and seaworthy.

The first thing we therefore need for Independence 2.0 is a credible post-Brexit vision for an independent Scotland. We will always be a European-inclined nation and the desire to be a full member of the EU must always be our ambition. But we have to carefully craft a road map to match that ambition which realistically reflects the position we will find ourselves in. We also need to be sensitive to the many people in Scotland (including the many SNP supporters) who remain suspicious of the whole EU project.

We need a graduated approach, starting with institutions we can apply to join on day one of our independence. We should say that we would seek immediate entry to the EEA and EFTA while starting discussions about a return to the European Union. We should also say that our membership of any European multi-lateral institution will be kept under review in any ascent up that stairway to full European Union membership.

There are other things we must address as urgent major chapters in Independence 2.0. The fiscal commission is due to report soon and that will hopefully address some of the issues concerning our onshore economy and the still potent issue of the currency in an independent Scotland. So much time and energy was spent addressing currency in the last referendum that we must never again allow the Unionists to hold the whip hand on what we may or may not be “allowed” as an independent nation.

In a post-Brexit UK our land border is likely to replace currency as the top of the ‘we’re not going to let you do that’ list. A Brexitised UK will have the full ability to determine any future border relationship, and is likely to be as unhelpful as possible in how it engages in these conversations. We have to prepare ourselves with solutions for when the UK assumes its isolation and uses borders as political muscle to oppose our independence.

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Then there is how we get there, and I notice the impatience of some to have this tested as quickly as possible. Timing is everything and we must seek the optimal time for success, carefully assessing opportunity against risk.

We must also have an unquestionable mandate. This time round the Tory Government is less likely to be so accommodating in granting the same democratic arrangements we secured last time.

This means contesting the next Scottish election with a clear commitment to revisit our constitutional future with a reference to allow Scotland to consider its position when Brexit finally concludes. With transitional arrangements in place, it is likely that the full impact of Brexit will start to become apparent just as we start to contest the 2021 election. We therefore have to seek a renewed mandate in 2021 and have the courage of our convictions to fight the next Scottish election on securing a renewed referendum mandate.

More than anything we need a new case. An Independence 2.0. A properly thought out, considered programme for independence in the 2020s. Independence 2.0 must be positive and realistic, with a strong powerful vision of what we want to contribute internationally predicated on the best inclusive, social democratic traditions of our nation.

We need to demonstrate what we can achieve with the full powers of self Government.

Let’s put the case together and then go out and claim the main prize, a nation of our own.

ME AND JEREMY CORBYN

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I remember the good old days when a small group of MPs were the front line in Parliamentary opposition to Blairite Labour. There were the 6 SNP MPs, 3 Plaid, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, latterly Caroline Lucas and the rest of the small band of Labour Campaign Group MPs. Where we never operated as a group we were a sort of a nascent, embryonic ‘progressive alliance’ that conjured up the possibilities of securing a progressive agenda across the UK

Together as comrades we opposed Trident, ID cards, 90 days detention and the rest of the horrors of Blair’s anti-civil libertarian state. We railed against Labour’s foundation hospitals, tuition fees and that totem of high Blairism – the Iraq war. I have probably voted more with Jeremy and John over the years than Jeremy’s current deputy leader and the vast majority of former Scottish MPs. The SNP’s constitutional agenda was never a feature in how we operated. Our Labour comrades knew next to nothing about it and cared even less. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to all those involved in our little group and how they’ve fared since…?

I was our Chief Whip during this period and I regularly observed the Labour whips not even bothering to try and persuade Jeremy and John to support them. They were beyond their control and were dismissed with a ‘well, that’s just them’ shrug of the shoulders. Now Jeremy and John run the Labour Party and people chant Jeremy’s name before he gets up to speak. Knowing my old comrade I sense his discomfort at all the adulation and his embarrassment at all the attention.

The Corbyn surge has been a true political phenomenon that nobody predicted and no-one as yet fully understands. Jeremy is an unlikely working class hero and his shambling, self conscious geography teacher persona is probably a main feature of his appeal. He is the antithesis of the stereotypical traditional hard left leader. He and, say for instance, Tommy Sheridan, couldn’t be further apart. Jeremy speaks to you politely, almost apologetically, rather than trying to carry you away in a verbal sea of rhetoric. It’s hard not to like Jeremy and I’m almost disappointed that our old band has disbanded and has gone its own ways.

When Jeremy assumed the Labour leadership I suppose, like most, I presumed it would be short lived and the Labour establishment would soon be back. But instead Jeremy has become the Labour establishment and his victory over the old Blairites is almost totally complete. Only in Parliament is there an opposition to his leadership and that is pretty much reduced to the condition that Jeremy used to find himself in those far off days.

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Was there ever any chance of our old band’s vision of some sort of ‘progressive alliance’ surviving Jeremy’s elevation? Well, that probably went the day the briefing from Scottish Labour arrived on the new leader’s desk. Tribal, and overwhelmingly hostile to anything to do with the SNP that briefing first inclusion would have probably been something along the lines of ‘under no circumstances ever work with the SNP’. The rest would have detailed all our plans to ‘break up Britain’ and their favourite ‘they are not a left wing party’. I could imagine Jeremy’s confusion trying to square all of this with his own experience of working with the SNP, noting that it was in fact Scottish Labour MPs who were in the opposite voting lobbies. Leaving Scotland in the hands of a chaotic Scottish Labour Party signalled that nothing would change in Labour/SNP relations.

Now Labour are predicting a comeback in Scotland having won 6 seats back from the 40 lost. Observing their current leadership contest this looks like so much wishful thinking. Scottish Labour remain on the wrong side of Scotland’s constitutional divide and their enthusiasm for Corbynism is at best embarrassingly skin deep having set itself so defiantly against it over the past few years.

Having become the establishment Jeremy is also curiously starting to behave like a fully paid up member of it. High Corbynism has probably passed already as the tensions over Brexit and worries such as ‘runs on the pound’ become the realities and the difficult compromises creep in. Jeremy was always going to be a better oppositionalist than establishment figure but it is quite amazing watching this new empire rise and fall.

A CLUELESS DELUSIONAL BREXIT.

Parliament returns this week and there will be only one show in town and that is the on going agony over Brexit. On Thursday we will start the first of two days on the Repeal Bill as we continue to progress this bizarre and disastrous endeavour. The repeal bill is a mess and it is impossible to think of a more crude and dysfunctional instrument to unpack the thousands of EU laws that define our legislative relationship with Europe. The Government have even come up with the imaginative solution of ‘Henry the 8th Powers’ simply giving itself legislative authority over large swathes of laws untroubled by democratic oversight. It allows the blueprint for an assault on Scotland’s devolution arrangements and says nothing about returning EU powers to Scotland. I think it’s fair to say I will not be voting for it in a month of Sundays.

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Then there are the negotiations. Let me put my cards on the table about how I observe these tricky conversations – and I will try and lay them down as sensitively and delicately as I possibly can. Never before has an enterprise of such political significance been prosecuted with such utter, delusional, cluelessness. It’s hard to think of major international negotiations being handled so ineptly and chaotically and it’s like we’ve put the clowns in charge of the Brexit circus. Observing how things are going you just can not help but conclude that this is going to be really, really bad.

The UK negotiators singularly fail to understand the dynamic at the heart of the negotiations and continue to promote the delusional view that we can ‘have cake and eat it’. On the other hand skilled EU negotiators (like trying to explain to stroppy children) patiently explain to them that you are either in or out of a club. Next to no progress has been made and we are out of the EU in little more than 18 months. Meanwhile EU nationals in our communities are starting to leave unsure of their status and holidaymakers coming back from the Costas and Playas are almost impoverished with the crashing post referendum pound.

Looking at this in the round the UK is currently engaged in almost unprecedented national self harm with this Brexit project. We are indulging in a grotesque episode of economic, political and cultural self flagellation and, by god, we’re determined to give ourselves a damned good thrashing. Opting for the hardest of hard Brexits we are reaching for the most painful implement in the box and the pain will be felt for years to come.

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Every single person in Scotland is going to be worse off following Brexit with the Fraser of Allander Institute estimating that it could cost Scotland up to £8 billion with 80 000 being made unemployed whilst our economy takes a 5% hit in GDP. Our plan for Scotland to avoid the worst of the madness was comprehensively rejected before the ink was barely dry and it looks like Scotland will be shackled to the rest of the UK as we motor ever closer to the cliff edge, regardless of how we voted on the project.

Staying with the transport metaphors the good ship UK is currently on full course to hit the Brexit iceberg and the last of the engines has just been stoked up. On deck the ‘negotiators’ aimlessly re-organise the deckchairs comforting themselves with tales of ‘international trade deals’. But below decks attached to the side of this stricken, doomed, empty vessel their remains a lifeboat for Scotland. All we need to do is get on board, lower it down, and row as quickly as possible to the shores of sanity.

FEDERALISM

Jeremy Corbyn’s been back in Scotland and that can only mean a renewed debate about federalism in the UK. Where there’s been talk of a new Act of Union and maximum devolution it is federalism that can always be relied upon to be brought out when something needs said about Scotland and the UK’s constitutional future. Only ever referred to in the vaguest of possible terms very few people actually seem to know what Labour mean when they use the F word.

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What we do know is that they want a UK wide constitutional convention which will consider ‘federalism’ along with the other big intractables of House of Lords and voting reform. What this constitutional convention lacks in detail it certainly doesn’t lack in ambition but as yet there are no terms of reference about what it would actually consider.

But can Labour deliver a federal UK, would this be a good thing and what would it possibly look like? Labour are certainly feeling encouraged just now with what they see as the success of the modest amount of devolution that has taken place in the English regions. They also seem to have recovered from their last disastrous dalliance with English constitutional change when the North East decisively rejected their plans for an assembly by 77.9% to 22.1% in 2004.

But maybe we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves because any federal solution for the UK would have to take into account the fact that we are a union of nations. There are four nations of the UK and any federation would have to start with them. This leads to the first very obvious problem in that England dwarves all the other nations combined with 53 million people out of the UK’s total population of 65 million.

However, even with this in-balance it isn’t impossible to achieve and the realities of scale are what they are. That great example of symmetrical federalism, the United States of America, secures equal representation on its senate for tiny Rhode Island with giant California. A trans national ’Federal Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ would certainly be the easiest and most elegant way to secure a ‘federal’ UK. The House of Commons would become the English Parliament and powers other than foreign affairs, defence, international treaties and macro-economic matters would be transferred to the new state Parliaments. We would then all send representatives to the UK Senate (occupying the House of Lords) to look after the federal powers. Where this would be a positive progression from the asymmetric devolution of the current UK I get the impression that this sort of trans national federal solution is not what Labour are intending.

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What they really seem to hanker for is more ‘devolution’ particularly for England. I’m suspecting that what Labour are looking for is some sort of solution that creates regional assemblies in England to then send representatives to a new UK wide senate (along with the devolved assemblies) that would replace the House of Lords. I also suspect that they pretty much want to leave the House of Commons as the UK’s sovereign Parliament. This may be lots of things but federalism it ain’t. If this ‘federalism’ is just Labour getting confused with devolution we can forgive them and let them get on with it, wishing the very best of luck. But if they are actually serious about creating ‘federalism’ and intending that new ‘regional assemblies’ should have parity of status with the nations of the UK, then we do have a real problem.

That would mean that Scotland as a nation would be given the same status as a ‘region’ of England and would have equal clout with (and with no disrespect to them) the West Midlands. This would have an enormous impact on our place in the world. And how is this to be done? ‘The West Midlands’ would have to be practically re-invented, with institutions replacing Whitehall departments created from scratch. Again, not impossible, but realising the West Midland-ian Parliament as a legislative body would not be ‘issue free’. Now, it might just be me, but I’m also not detecting a huge enthusiasm in England for any sort of constitutional reform far less one that would deliver the equivalent of the German Lander.

Not for the first time I suspect that Labour are just getting a little confused with all this constitutional lexicon and have absolutely no intention of creating the ‘British Federation’. Yes Labour, get on with reforming the House of Lords (it would help if you didn’t take places in it) and by all means let’s see your plans to transform it into an ‘assembly of the nations and regions’. But please stop all this talk of federalism. It really isn’t helping anyone.

NATIONALISM

With an international interest in what is described as ‘nationalism’ it should be no surprise that Scottish ‘nationalism’ is once again being forced in to the spotlight of political debate. Indeed, such is the interest in the word that the First Minister has conceded that the term is ‘problematic’. Sensing the mood unionist politicians and columnists have therefore wasted no time in trying to once again suggest a dark side to Scotland’s relationship to this most enigmatic of terms.

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Probably the best summary of how many unionists perceive the Scottish variety of ‘nationalism’ has come from Douglas Alexander the former Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary. In response to the FM’s remarks, in a series of tweets, he suggested an equivalence amongst all ‘nationalist’ movements. According to Douglas’ definition all nationalisms are characterised by ‘grievance, othering, victimhood and exclusion’. He ended his return to Scottish political debate by concluding ‘patriotism needs no enemy while nationalism demands one’.

For Douglas there are no apparent exceptions to this ‘nationalist rule’ and all nationalist movements are therefore undesirable. Even Gandhi, George Washington and Nelson Mandela along with the movements that brought independence to former British colonies and democracy to nations once controlled by the Soviet Union are all a product of ‘grievance’ and ‘victimhood’. The sheer stupidity of this position needs no debunking from me other than to note with astonishment and regret that someone as thoughtful as Douglas Alexander can seriously believe this.

But Gandhi and Mandela are not the targets in this extraordinary recasting of historical heroes as grievance nurturing villains. The target is what is happening in Scotland and the campaign for Scottish independence. A critical part of defeating Scottish ‘nationalism’ is to suggest that it is motivated by the most sinister of motives. Unionists who peddle these arguments take no interest in the many interpretations of Scottish ‘nationalism’ as an entirely civic affair which puts at its core the simple belief that the people who live and work in Scotland can make a better job of running Scotland than Westminster. The democratic argument at the core of the case for Scottish independence is the one feature they can’t acknowledge and must be discarded and ignored.

What in fact the movement for Scottish independence has done is to practically recast the arguments about what we understand as ‘nationalism’. Contemporary civic nationalism was only an academic theory until it was adopted and put into action during the independence campaign. Scotland’s nationalism has no ethnic association and it is a nationalism where culture is also pretty much a side feature. People involved in the movement for Scottish independence wave saltires and express pride in Scotland because they are the patriots that Douglas Alexander praises and are pretty much the same as patriots right across the world.

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Then there is the suggestion that those who do not support Scottish independence and enthusiastically favour continued membership of the UK are somehow not ‘nationalists’ themselves. A UK that has just demonstrated its own ‘nationalism’ by voting to leave the EU, mainly on an argument that wished to restrict immigration, would surely rate much higher on any ‘nationalist’ scale than an independence movement that wants to abolish nuclear weapons and end austerity.

But it is in the use of the word against supporters of Scottish independence that will continue to consume our debate in an almost pointless and self defeating way. The 45% of Scots who voted for Scottish independence will simply not recognise themselves as ‘grievance seeking victims’ in hock with Radovan Karadzic. People who voted for Scottish independence simply saw independence as a better way for Scotland to be run and a means to make our own positive contribution to world affairs and the international community. They imagined a better future for our community and saw the opportunities that the full powers of independence would give us to achieve that. If unionists really believe that independence supporters are the equivalent of Steve Bannon it might go a long way to explain why Douglas Alexander lost his seat.

Finally, like most Scots regardless of their view on independence I believe in inter-dependence, international solidarity and social democracy. Like everybody who lives here I am a passionate Scot who loves this country and fundamentally believes in the abilities of the people who live and work here. My political motives have never been motivated by ‘nationalism’ and if I had my way I would rename the party the ‘Stop the world Scotland wants to get on Party’. I simply believe that my country would be a better place if we had the normal powers of self-Government. It is that, and only that, that separates our approach to politics, and yes, our differing ‘problematic nationalisms’.

This is Pete Wishart’s article for next edition of the Scots Independent.