Monthly Archives: September 2016

INDYREF2 WILL BE THE SNP vs THE TORIES

I remember when Scottish politics was pretty boring and predictable and nothing ever seemed to happen. When I was first elected in 2001 only one Scottish Westminster seat changed hands and in 2010 absolutely no seats changed hands at all. In the Scottish Parliament the steady decline of Scottish Labour was more apparent but was always considered to be a temporary set back and something that would, in time, be reversed. The great adversaries of the era were the dominant Labour party and the insurgent SNP. Everybody understood the rules and the terrain of the fight and we got down to the business of slogging it out.

Scottish Labour Party Leader Johann Lamo

Now everything has utterly changed. The contest for political dominance is now between the SNP and the Conservatives profoundly changing the nature of our political debate and redefining the terrain that our politics are now conducted in. All of this has happened within five dramatic years and the changes in our national politics has been as quick as it has been overwhelming. Scottish Labour has all but disappeared reduced to one MP and a diminished rump of mainly list MSPs. The remarkable feat of the Conservatives beating Labour into second place in the last Scottish election has firmly established them as the main opposition in Scotland.

There may be several reasons why all this has come to pass but the only one that matters is the independence referendum. Where the Conservatives got it right in their pitch in the referendum Labour got it totally and utterly wrong. Labour took the gamble that they spoke for their support when they enthusiastically embraced the union cause. Their arrogance extended to believing that campaigning with the Conservatives would be uncontroversial and they sincerely believed that following the independence referendum they would be placed with a 1979 supremacy with the SNP humbled once again. The Tories on the other hand had absolutely nothing to lose knowing that there would never be an issue with their support.

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If fighting the independence referendum war was bad for Labour the way they have tried to prosecute the peace has been disastrous. Their former ‘centurion guard’ of seats now have unassailable SNP majorities and their unionism now only seems to antagonise those that they once represented. The Tories on the other hand quickly understood that the constitutional debate instead of concluding was only getting in to its stride. If they could remain the true defenders of the union they could enlist unionist support from a diminished Labour Party and establish a new potent pitch based around personality and a cause that secured fifty five percent support.

This is why the campaign against an indyref2 is just as important for the Tories as the SNP’s campaign for another referendum is important for us. Labour meanwhile are stuck in a meaningless no-man’s land pitifully wailing about the continuing constitutional debate, hoping, praying, that the Scottish people will move on. It could not be worse for them.

With a Conservative opposition the constitutional debate will therefore be promoted even more enthusiastically as Conservative support becomes increasingly motivated and dependent on opposition to a referendum. Having a Conservative opposition as the main unionist party is also immensely helpful for us in the SNP. That’s because they help properly define what unionism now represents. Westminster rule increasingly means continuing Conservative rule and voting for the union now means endorsing the right of a Conservative Government we didn’t vote for run its writ in Scotland. The case for the union therefore will in time become a proxy and a case for Conservatism. Having the Scottish Tories as the union’s main proponents in Scotland helps crystallise the clear options available to the Scottish people.

And what of Labour you may ask? Well they seem to have made their choice. No sensible person associated with the Labour Party is talking about any sort of Labour government for a generation yet they still seem to be asking what is left of their support to get behind what can only now be a Conservative led union. After the disaster of recent years it would seem Labour have learned absolutely nothing.

The new constitutional debate is therefore quickly becoming about whether we should have Scottish self Government or Westminster Tory Government. That seems quite a good place to resume hostilities.

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REFERENDUM NIGHT

September 18th September

It’s finally here. I joined the SNP in 1995 when we had 4 MPs and were less than 20% in the opinion polls. Now today we are asking the people of Scotland whether they want our nation to be an independent country. It has been an incredible journey and I feel quite emotional as I go and cast my vote in Craigie Church, just round the corner from where I live. I started out believing that we had absolutely no chance of winning this but have been genuinely surprised at just how close we have run them. Even today I think there might just be a chance we could pull this off. It has been all down to this incredible new constituency for Yes that has been created in the last few weeks of the campaign. The old industrial working class vote has now almost entirely embraced Yes and the young people of Scotland have come on board embracing the many opportunities to define a new nation doing things differently from the UK. Will enough of them turn out to vote? Will the fear be enough to drive out the still hostile pensioner vote in the necessary numbers? Which way will cautious aspiring Scotland fall? All will be answered in a few hours time.

The polling station is mobbed and I recognise all the returning officer’s staff who said it has been going like a fair since they opened at seven in the morning. On polling day there’s always a little bit of trying to judge how people have voted through body language but it’s all just mainly nonsense. The only difference today is that people seem to be voting more purposefully, if that’s even such a thing. There’s also a feeling of powerlessness on polling day. There is nothing much you can do make meaningful interventions and it is all about knocking up the people you have previously canvassesd to ensure that they have been, or are, going out to vote.

I make a tour of the polling stations round the city and they are all busy. I take time to speak to the new comrades who have become involved in politics for the first time through the Yes campaign. For most of them polling day is a new experience and they are both excited by the event but equally bored by the drudgery of polling station duty and the early knock up of supporters who are inevitably out at work.

In the afternoon I head up to my rural areas and if anything they are even busier. Here the Nos seem to be out in real force and it would seem that they have their support mobilised. I go back to the office to help the get the vote out effort at the crucial early evening period to be told that this is probably an unnecessary exercise from Yes Scotland. Everyone, apparently, is voting and looking at our knock up sheets most actually have. I therefore do another tour of Perth with the van and the loud speaker. Call it a night about 9pm and return home for a break and something to eat before the count. Can’t relax though, and venture down to the Bell’s Sports Centre for the Perth and Kinross count early. Here we go. Can we, can we?

Evening of 18th September/19th September

An expectant Bells is mobbed. All the registered groups have the right to have a full compliment of representatives and there are people from all the campaigning groups such as women for indy and business for Scotland. All elected representatives have also been invited and there was an invitation extended to the Head and Deputy Head Boys and Girls from all the Perth High Schools. The start of the count is always a curious affair as we await the first boxes to arrive. We are all organised for the ballot box samples and there is lots of nervous pacing of the cavernous sports hall.

The first boxes arrive at about 11.30, later than usual. By midnight there is a steady stream of boxes being opened and their contents spilled in front of the many counters and supervising campaigners. You can usually tell from the first few boxes on how it’s going to go and already I’m beginning to feel that first sense of disappointment starting to find a place in the pit of my stomach. We’re also now hearing from counts elsewhere that it is not going our way. It is apparent that we are clearly behind here but in the last few weeks expectations was that Perth and Kinross would not be one of our better areas. Surely this can still be turned round in the places we can do well?

The first declaration is from Clackmannan. A decisive win for No in a county that we would need to win if we are to prevail. As further boxes are opened we look well behind in Perth and Kinross and the No campaign are looking increasingly happy. More declarations, more success for No. But then there is a bit hope in a series of results from East Dunbartonshire, Dundee and North Lanark where we win and for one beautiful moment we are slightly ahead. Didn’t last long though, as more declarations pushed our percentage share further down and down. This isn’t going to happen now.

Hearing good things from Glasgow. Could a huge Yes vote from there bring us back into the game? We’re grabbing at anything now. Perth and Kinross is declared at about 4am and we get beat soundly 60% to 40%. I was just grateful that we got 40. Head home knowing that we are beat. Glasgow is finally declared and we won. Not enough to make a difference though and it is now officially all over. At 6am the First Minister makes a speech conceding the referendum and congratulating the No campaign. In a dignified speech he says we will now hold the unionist parties to their promises of more powers. An hour later the Prime Minister is there accepting the victory. In his speech he seems to say some things about England and more powers for the rest of the UK and some stuff about voting rights of Scottish MPs. What on earth is this? Certainly something that will be mulled over in the coming hours. Finally the Chief Returning Officer. Mary Pitcaithly, announced the final result. Yes 44.7% No 53.3%. It’s all over we have lost. I lie down for a break, absolutely exhausted and bereft.

Friday September 19th September.

Must have dozed off and awoken by the first of several phone calls from journalists wanting my response to the results. Ignore them all. Can’t help but look at the extended results programmes on all channels and the scenes from the various counts. There are of course the looks of jubilation on the faces of the victors in the No camp and looks of despair and despondency on the faces of my many friends and colleagues I recognise in the Yes camp. Both camps seem to accept the result in good grace and there is no sign of any rancour predicted by so many on the No camp. Try to examine the national picture from across the country and make a few calls to close colleagues to see how they are.

Then there is an announcement that there will be a further statement from the First Minister from his Edinburgh residence, Bute House. Expecting this to be a further concession speech Alex instead announces that he is to stand down as First Minister and leader of the SNP. It is at this point that I eventually lose it and the tears come rolling down and I appreciate what we have lost and that this is finally all over. Alex recruited me to the SNP and I served as his whip in his time at Westminster and I just can’t believe that he is now no longer going to be there to lead us and lead our nation. The rest of the day I spend in a fragile state before going out in the evening to meet a few close colleagues in the Yes campaign in Perth. Have to concede that I had a little bit too much to drink and finally fall into a deep sleep. It’s all over.