LET’S MAKE THE TORIES REGRET CALLING THIS CYNICAL ELECTION

images

Like the first cuckoo of spring the start to general election season in Scotland is never quite complete without the call of the Tories that they’re going to take Perth and North Perthshire. Where the call of the Tories is oft-repeated and grating it is at least predictable. In fact I’d almost feel disappointed if the discordant song of the Tories in full voice wasn’t forthcoming as it is the perfect noise to ensure that the opposition to the Tories is galvanised once again in Perthshire. It, probably more than anything else, helped me treble, then double my majority in the last two elections.

The Tories may have been buoyed by recent opinion polls and projections but when it comes to defending their record we have seen the damage the Tories have done with no majority of their own and then with a small majority. We should be in no doubt what a strengthened Tory government would mean – more austerity, further cuts and real damage to our public services.

Where the recent Tory rise in opinion polls may indeed appear dramatic, it seems to be almost all at the expense of what is left of the Labour unionist vote across Scotland. The SNP vote remains pretty much unchanged and the SNP go into this election with opinion poll ratings in the mid 40s, pretty much the same as the same as they were in advance of the election in 2015.

What is different about this election is the Tory campaign. The Tories one and only tactic this time round appears to be to shout as loudly as possible ‘no second referendum’ – completely ignoring the unequivocal mandate the Scottish Parliament has already given the Scottish Government on this and hoping to distract attention from the fact that this election has been called in the narrow self-interests of the Tory party.  They also seem to believe this will detract from their appalling austerity agenda and how they are prosecuting the hardest and most destructive of Tory Brexits. Where this may rally and rouse a bit more of the unionist core vote across Scotland it will not get them off the hook that this is a general election where this Tory Government will be judged. I have sat almost in horror as I have witnessed this Tory party descend into a nasty right wing collective, something approaching UKIP with ministerial cars. Contemporary innovations of nastiness such as the obscene rape clause and capping benefits to third children now defines them. This week the assault moves on to pensioners as they become the next vulnerable group to be targeted with a potential U-turn on the triple lock.

I am also immensely proud to stand on my local record of 16 years of service. Everyone in Perth and North Perthshire will know someone I have assisted and they will also see how I have stood up for Perthshire from helping secure city status for Perth to saving rural phone boxes in Glen Lyon. All this faux outrage over a misrepresentation of a ‘retweet’ on social media is simply counter productively annoying the voters of Perth and North Perthshire, especially when this outrage is manufactured by a list Tory MSP who regularly embarrasses himself on Twitter.

This is an election that has been called for the most cynical of purposes. It has nothing to do with ‘uniting’ behind the Tory’s hard Brexit but everything to do with taking advantage of the chaos in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Voters across Scotland – tired of four elections in a year – should make sure they get out to punish this Tory Government for so blatantly trying to destroy all opposition to them in Parliament. Added to that there are also 26 Conservative MPs under police investigation with decisions about convictions due in the next few weeks. Now, call me cynical, but the prospect of losing a Parliamentary majority of 18 in these circumstances must at least be a factor in this election being called now.

This is an important and critical election and in Perth and North Perthshire it will be either a Tory or an SNP MP. A vote for the SNP is a vote to end austerity and for investment in our public services. And it is a vote to ensure that the future of Scotland – the kind of country we are – will be decided, not at Westminster but in Scotland, by the Scottish people.

Dear Prime Minister, about this Tory election fraud business……

Dear Prime Minister

At Prime Minister’s Questions on the 22nd of March, I asked you about the Electoral Commissions record fine of £70 000 on the Conservative Party, the largest ever levied on a political party in the UK. In response you told me you could not answer as this was a ‘party matter’ before adding that you believed this was all simply an ‘administrative error’.

Theresa-May-and-the-Conservative-Party-s-battlebus-779318

I write to you now confident that you will now be in a position to answer my questions as the Leader of the Conservative Party.

Firstly. I’m sure we can both agree that our electoral laws are a critical feature of our Parliamentary democracy and are designed so that our elections are conducted fairly and transparently? I am also sure you agree that any transgression of our electoral rules should be treated with the utmost seriousness? Can you therefore explain the cavalier manner in which the Conservative Party have flippantly dismissed these investigations and the way in which they have been nonchalantly explained away and excused in the media by people speaking on behalf of your party?

The Electoral Commission’s investigation found the Conservative party’s spending return for the 2015 general election was missing payments worth at least £104,765. Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the commission or were incorrectly reported. In addition, it found invoices or receipts for 81 payments worth £52,924 in three by-elections were unaccounted for. Critically the commission found that Conservative Party apportioned national election spending when it in fact should have been accounted as candidate expenditure.

Throughout the course of the enquiry the Electoral Commission complained about the way the Conservative Party hindered its work accusing your party of “unreasonable unco-operative conduct”, which they claim delayed this investigation for a number of months. Is the Electoral Commission right in these assertions and, if so, why did the Conservative Party attempt to thwart the progress of these investigations? It is simply inconceivable that a political party as well resourced as the Conservative Party was unaware of our electoral rules and far from being an ‘administrative error’ do you agree that this is at best wilful negligence and at worst electoral fraud?

The Electoral Commission do not have the legal powers to take this further and have passed on their concerns about the role of the Conservative Party Chairman to the metropolitan police stating he “knowingly or recklessly” falsely declared the party’s 2015 election spending return. His investigation will join the 20 Conservative party candidates and agents currently being investigated by 12 police forces the length and breadth of England. If at the conclusion of these police inquiries there is shown to be any criminal conduct there could be custodial sentences, by-elections with the outcome of the 2015 election brought into question. Such is the seriousness of the complaints that the Commission chair, Sir John Holmes, said the Conservatives’ failure to follow the rules “undermined voters’ confidence in our democratic processes”. Will you now pledge to take this investigations seriously, end all talk of ‘administrative errors’ and co-operate fully with all the investigations?

battlebus1

I asked you at Prime Minister’s Questions about who was involved in organising all of this? Could you now tell me who designed this activity, particularly the battle bus and accommodation exercise? What did they know of our crucial electoral laws? Did this involve Government aides? Who along with the Conservative Party Chair signed off the accounts for the battle buses, accommodation and associated spending? Did anyone in the cabinet or Government know about what was going on? Were you personally aware of this activity?

If it is all merely a ‘misunderstanding’ I’m sure you will have no problem in disclosing this information and I am confident that you will want to be fully transparent in all of these regards.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Pete Wishart MP
SNP Shadow Leader of the House

PROJECT FEAR 2 – THE COMEBACK….

And so it begins.

‘Greece without the sun’, ‘turbo charged austerity’, ‘deficit of £15 billion pounds’. These are the opening salvos in the pre-indyref campaign and as I predicted the next union campaign was never going to be pretty. I have almost been impressed with the enthusiasm that out unionist friends have rattled out the number of ways in which we would be almost immediately impoverished if we had the temerity to run our own affairs.

images

Their one mission in the forthcoming independence referendum is to persuade the Scottish people that we can not possibly afford to be independent, squash confidence and scare people into believing we uniquely would be doomed to economic failure. With the imminent arrival of the actual reality of a hard Brexit and the experience of the first project fear still ringing in our broken promises, all I can say to my unionists friends is – good luck with that one.

To try and get the Scots to accept this ‘case for impoverishment’ it would require the Scots to suspend belief about the actual state of our nation and discount the very experience of living in this country. Our historic culture of creativity and entrepreneurship would have to be rewritten. Scots would have to discount the example of every other similar sized successful nation and they would have to set aside practically every other country that has secured its independence. The Scots would then have to be convinced that despite our enormous advantages and immense resources we would fail to make a success of running our own affairs. That everything from our whisky exports to our renewable potential to our world class universities are merely mirages and valueless.

cropped-projectfear1

We can’t forecast how a future independent Scotland will fare for the very obvious reason that we are not independent. What we can, inconclusively, assess is how Scotland as a nation has fared as part of the United Kingdom. If we are indebted to the degree that our unionist friends suggest then that tells us much more about the failure of UK stewardship of Scotland than our prospects as an independent nation. If we indeed have the ‘largest deficit in Europe’ then that was created as being a dependent part of the United Kingdom. Surely the natural response to such a calamitous situation would be to look at the conditions and political environment that created this situation and resolve to address them as expeditiously as possible? If not, it’s a bit like the victim returning to the scene of the crime and asking the assailant to assault him all over again whilst expressing gratitude for the service.

What we do know is that if we remain within the UK is that Scotland will be Brexitised with all the associated costs to our economy and our place in the world. I’ve lost track of the projected cost of Brexit to the UK and the level of debt that the UK currently endures – though I still sincerely believe that the UK will just about muddle through as an independent country. Nearly all nations have debts and deficits (except similarly sized Norway and now Denmark, of course) but only Scotland’s, secured as part of the UK, seems for some reason seems to be immediate and unassailable. Within or out with the UK we will have a deficit but only one of these scenarios gives us the tools to deal with it.

What the Scottish people will have to consider is if they believe that their prospects are best served within the confines of an isolated Brexitised UK run for a generation by right wing Tories or whether they believe that Scotland would be better served by securing all the powers of independence and our own relationship with Europe? There is no safe continuity option anymore and there will be risks and opportunities attached to continuing with UK dependency or opting for self government. At some point the unionists will have to stop running down our ability as an independent nation and start to sell the virtues of a Tory run Brexitised Britain.

Trying to suggest that we would uniquely fail or that immediate impoverishment will descend upon the people of Scotland feels almost like a parody of project fear and will spectacularly backfire. It’s almost as if our unionist friends have learned absolutely nothing from the lessons of the last independence referendum.

THE NEXT UNION CAMPAIGN WILL BE FULL FRONTAL BELLIGERENT AND AGGRESSIVE

The next union campaign is not going to be pretty.

This is a battle that the Tories really do not want to fight and the tone of their campaign will be tetchy, belligerent and aggressive. There certainly will be no ‘love bombing’ and inclusive ‘vows’ next time round. There will only be threats and the starkest of warnings. Their membership and MPs grow tired of ‘pandering’ to Scotland and the next campaign will therefore be a ‘no more Mr nice guy’ full frontal type affair.

images

Look at their tone since the Brexit vote. Scotland simply has to fall in line with what they determine for us because that is the ‘UK position’ and that should therefore be good enough for us. For the Tories Scotland’s interests increasingly mirror the UK’s and no differentiated arrangement will be tolerated.

This no accommodation or pandering will similarly inform the next independence referendum. The Tories approach to Scotland has increasingly been more of overlord than partner and that is how they will fight the next referendum campaign. Unencumbered from Labour influence the next union campaign will feel very much like a brutal Tory election campaign. ‘Family of nations’ will be more like behave like the grateful smaller sibling, or else….

And boy, will that junior sibling be in for it if it dares think about leaving the roost! The Tories without subtlety, and in the most dramatic terms, will warn of impeding impoverishment if we become independent. The days of old fashioned 2014 scaremongering will seem like distant halcyon days of considered debate. Dispensing with reason it will just be one impending catastrophe after another.

The Tories are sincerely weary of fighting this all over again and there will be a bit of ‘scorched earth’ put in place in what will be seen as the final settling of this debate. So threats will be raised about our devolved Parliament being curtailed. For so many Tories Holyrood is the beachhead for further constitutional wrangling and is therefore ripe for diminishing. Notice the emphasis on UK institutions and a reluctance to be clear about devolving powers not listed in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act

The invention of a ‘UK single market’ is also a stark warning that somehow, whatever it is they’re taking about, it will be closed to us if we become independent. Forget about the fact that the rest of the UK, Brexitised and isolated, will be desperate for a deal with anybody who will accommodate them. Expect to hear about this ‘UK single market’ to almost ad nauseam.

images

Because it will be Tory led the next campaign will also be much more ‘British’ nationalist than last time. There won’t be the ambivalence and discomfort that the last Labour led campaign had about British symbols. The Tories are true believers in the myths of the UK state and those ‘virtues’ will be punted for all their worth. Brexit has necessitated a review and promotion of British values and and this will be similarly deployed in a referendum campaign.

But more than anything the union case will be economic. We are about to learn all over again just how worthless they think we are and how singularly and uniquely incapable we apparently are of running our own affairs.

Just now they are caught in the bind about whether they will grant a further referendum. All their instincts are screaming ‘give them nothing’ but they are petrified of ruling one out because of the impact that will have on independence support.

So in the background the plans are being laid to fight a further referendum because they know that they must. Approaches are being tested and outriders are being dispatched to test the mood and see how much they can get away with.

If you thought that the union case in 2014 was a brutal scaremongering fest. Just wait till you see the next one….

THE CASE FOR THE UNION IS NOW A TORY OWNED FRANCHISE

If there is one critical difference from the independence referendum of 2014 and the impending second contest, it is in the composition of the forces of Scottish unionism. The Scottish Conservatives are not just the principle political opposition in Scotland, they are now also the de-facto leaders of the case for the union. This elevation changes everything about the next contest and the rules of engagement.

images

The calamitous near extinction of Labour has, of course, been the main catalyst for this realignment. Scottish Labour continues to reap the bitter harvest of their disastrous dalliance with the Tories in the last referendum and it is hard to see how their situation can be improved as long as they remain defiantly opposed to their former voters on the constitution. Where most of their vote has been lost to the SNP, they are now haemorrhaging votes to the Conservatives. In the Scottish Conservatives, Labour unionists have found a more natural and accommodating home for their support for the UK. When you look at the fall out of the last referendum you can only conclude that Scottish Labour are the biggest, most useful, idiots in Scottish politics and they have been played as prize fools by the Tories.

What happens now though? And is the growing support for the Tories any more than an anti-referendum unionist alliance? Scotland has not, and is unlikely to, become in thrall to a Tory agenda of austerity, tax cuts for the rich and the privatisation of public services. Added to that, the Scots Tories will be called on to do the heavy lifting in the selling of the hardest of hard Brexits to a reluctant Scottish public. The affection of former Labour voters might be sorely tested when they observe Tories behaving like, well Tories. This is why the rhetoric against a second referendum must be maintained at fever pitch.

The Conservatives now almost exclusively own the ‘No’ franchise and in making it their own, they have consolidated the ‘No’ support, but at the same time shrunk its ideological base. The cause of vociferously opposing a second referendum is, therefore, the Tories’ greatest salvation and also their eventual downfall. It is also immensely helpful to us. Their leadership of the union cause allows us to frame the constitutional contest as one that pits the Westminster Conservatives against social democratic Scotland. The more the Tories rage against a ‘second referendum’, the more they make that contest more likely. The more a union cause is seen as an exclusively Conservative cause, the harder it will be to sell that cause in Scotland.

m220488749

To be a ‘No’ voter next time round you will, therefore, have to be at least willing to accommodate Conservatism as an almost permanent feature of government in the UK. To be a ‘No’ voter next time also means that you have to at least be prepared to accept a Brexitised Tory UK, economically isolated with social policy crafted by the ideological victors of the Brexit solution. A hard right Conservative-run Brexit Britain is the reality that will await another successful union vote. It is perhaps right then that the union cause will be delivered, prepared and mainly argued by the Scottish Tories.

No wonder what’s left of the Labour Party are running a million miles from being included in another cross-party campaign.

THE DAY OUR INDEPENDENCE WAS WON

It’s 4am on the morning of the Seventh of September 2018 and the final declaration of the second Scottish referendum has just come in. Highland has voted for the proposition that ‘Scotland should become an independent country’ and Scotland will now leave the union. The overall result is a convincing victory for the independence side of 58% to 42%.

Scottish independence supporter

The disconsolate looks on the ‘Scotland in Union’ side dramatically contrasts with the ‘Better Together’ campaign in 2014. The Yes2 campaign are just simply overjoyed. Leader of the union side, Ruth Davidson, has long conceded whilst campaign director, Alan Roden, is dispatched to the media to deliver a message of acceptance and conciliation.

The closing weeks of the campaign had indicated an even bigger victory for independence but the large leads that Yes2 had commanded was tempered by ‘the offer’ in the last few days of the campaign. Headlined in the Daily Record as ‘the offer we can’t refuse’ the ‘offer’ was a carbon copy of everything that the SNP Government had asked for in its differential EU arrangement that was so roundly rejected in the early months of 2017. If we voted to stay in the UK we apparently would now secure single market membership, powers over immigration and even a new undefined ‘devo-max’ arrangement. It was the classic too little, too late, too been there before.

When the SNP Government first said it would hold another independence referendum following the rejection of what is now just simply referred to as ‘the Scottish EU solution’ there was huge resistance to any further plebiscite in London. Defiantly refusing to allow a further Section 30 Order Scotland responded with outrage. Opinion polls immediately pointed to a double digit indy lead with the Scottish Government saying it would hold a referendum anyway. As tensions increased a compromise was agreed whereby the UK Government would grant a Section 30 Order if it was allowed to determine the question and set the date. The Scottish Government reluctantly agreed and the date of 6th September 2018 was fixed. The UK Government optimistically believed that, by then, a convincing Brexit deal would be concluded and it would be something that the Scots would be able to support. This time there would be a dual option referendum to stop a Yes campaign – Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom? Or Should Scotland become an independent country? Campaigning started immediately.

The independence side simply and defiantly called itself Yes2. With so much of the previous indyref infrastructure still in place the joint leaders of Yes2, Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie, let campaign co-ordinator Kevin Pringle get on with a campaign that was long planned. Chair of Yes2, Henry McLeish, put together a formidable board of civic Scotland and the most far reaching engagement with Scotland’s public started apace.

Scotland in Union’s birth wasn’t quite as straight forward. When it was announced that Ruth Davidson would lead the campaign Labour initially refused to join. It took a fractious special conference of Scottish Labour before they eventually decided to participate in a cross party campaign. Many Labour activists refused to take part and key Labour figures said that this time they would be voting for independence. With their own electoral and leadership woes in the rest of the UK, Labour simply didn’t feature as a force in the second referendum. The battle this time was characterised by Yes2 as a battle between social democratic Scotland and the Westminster Tories.

images

There were other problems for Scotland in Union. The UK Government were consumed with Brexit and it was not going well. The hard Brexit was becoming ‘bargain basement Brexit’ as negotiations with EU leaders broke down. As the relationship with the EU soured EU leaders were increasingly making it clear that a pro EU Scotland would be more than welcome in its club.

What existed of a union campaign centred round the well rehearsed economic and currency themes of the previous independence referendum. They were easily dealt with by Yes2 who had spent months considering its new approach to these issues. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish press the scaremongering this time also seemed ridiculous, having been tempered by experience. The suggestion that an rUK wouldn’t trade with an independent Scotland was simply laughed off as the UK was finding it hard to secure a deal with any significant country.

The union side were also hampered by the fact that they couldn’t present themselves as a status quo option this time. Yes2 carefully framed the contest as a choice of two very different futures which both presented opportunities and risks. Would Scotland be better off in a Brexitised Britain or would we be better off taking decisions ourselves with the full powers of independence? Scotland was already beginning to witness the crafting of the new soon to be out of the EU Britain with the success of UKIP in the many by-elections following all the Blairite Labour resignations. The ugly side of this new isolation in the treatment of child refugees and privatisations in the English NHS was becoming only too apparent.

What no-one could properly understand is why the Tory Government faced with the complexities and dangers associated with Brexit just couldn’t respond positively to the Scottish Government’s compromise plans to keep Scotland in both the UK and the EU in the first place? There had been an arrogant view that a) Scotland wasn’t serious about holding a further referendum and b) if we did it would be easily seen off. Those early days of early 2017 now seem a long way off.

As all the deflated unionist activists head home disconsolate they were only thinking one thing – ‘if only we had responded differently when we had the chance……’

‘The cold beating Heart of this Bad British Brexit’

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)

“I will start by putting my cards on the table. I loathe and detest this Tory Brexit. I despair of what this Tory Brexit would do to my beautiful country.

This is, as we know, to be the hardest of hard Brexits, with cuts yet unimaginable and consequences yet unconceived—and for what?

If we were doing this for some lofty ideal or grand purpose, like maybe addressing global poverty or some of the huge issues of injustice around the world, that might make it just about palatable, but no—we are doing it because the UK does not like immigration.

images

That is the cold, beating heart of this bad British Brexit, and it underpins absolutely everything concerning our departure from the EU. It takes precedence over everything else, and all other considerations are merely consequential.

The fact is that we live in an interconnected, globalised world where the movements of people have never been so profound, sometimes fleeing from persecution, or perhaps exchanging skills and ideas. Yet we are asked to believe the myth that a Brexitised UK will beat back this historic tide like some sort of Farageous Canute.

I actually laughed out loud when I heard all the guff about a global UK. A global UK is the last thing the Tories want to create—they are trying to create a drawbridge UK.

Look at the response from the rest of the world: when they are not laughing at us, they are simply taking pity on us. As the Foreign Secretary goes out of his way to insult the very people we have to negotiate with, they are thinking of nothing other than the hardest of conditions to deter anybody else from considering leaving.

The negotiating position seems to be to threaten our EU partners by saying that we will indulge in even further economic self-harm if they dare look after their own interests. Apparently we are even considering turning the UK into some sort of offshore deregulated tax haven if the EU actually thinks about looking its own interests. That’ll show them, won’t it?

It is not just the fact of leaving the EU that concerns me, ghastly enough though that is: it is the new ideology—the new world view—that has hastily been designed to accommodate this new splendid isolation. I see a Brexitised Britain as a world of weird, ’50s nostalgia and antipathy to foreigners—a reality that will feel very much like the pages of a Daily Mail editorial. People of Britain: work as if you live in the early days of a UKIP UK, because that is what is coming.

Scotland, of course, did not want any part of this, yet we have to be driven off the cliff edge with the rest of the United Kingdom. What we have now, though, is options. We have presented a plan to stop Scotland indulging in the worst of this madness. If that is not listened to, we have every right to reconsider our membership of this United Kingdom”.