Monthly Archives: February 2020

WITHOUT THEIR ‘NO TO INDYREF2’ IT COULD BE A LONG, HARD ELECTION FOR THE TORIES

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I admit it (sad as it may seem) I’m a keen student of the Scottish Conservatives. Having had them as my main and only credible opponent in Perthshire I find them a fascinating, eccentric and curiously dishevelling political organisation. I observe them scrupulously and am always keen to understand what they are up to and where they are at. After all these years I think I can confidently say that I have got to know them reasonably well. For example, at the last General Election I was able to tell that I was more or less safe when I saw that they were re-running the same campaign as 2017. I think I can say (with all due modesty dispensed with) that I knew well before they did that they had no chance. In the end I increased my majority from 21 to 7,550 and secured 51% of the vote. 

They now have a new leader and they are quite rightly excited about their prospects at the next Scottish election. They certainly don’t lack ambition. They have said that they intend to become the next Scottish Government after May next year. And to be fair, for them, they have had a few successful years. They have overtaken Labour and have become the main opposition in Scotland. Two years ago they secured 13 MPs and for a while it seemed that their upward trajectory had real momentum. They were dynamically led and managed to almost distance themselves from the traditional Conservative image with all the negative connotations associated with what had became something close to a toxic brand in Scotland. 

Unfortunately, a couple of minor things came along which brought this progress to a shuddering halt. One, was the election of a deeply unpopular (in Scotland anyway) Conservative Prime Minister in the shape of Boris Johnson. Secondly (as a consequence) the departure of the Scottish leader who had presided over this modest success. The first electoral test they faced under these new circumstances was calamitous. They lost more than half of their Westminster representation and saw their national vote share plummet. 

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So what now for their chances as they go forward?

I think that it would be uncontroversial to suggest that their new leader is not exactly imbued with the charisma of his predecessor. Jackson may be many things but a font of charm, he most definitely is not…

The one policy that has come to define the Scottish Conservatives in the past few years has been their absolute and determined opposition to a further referendum on independence. They have pretty much made this their exclusive domain and are more or less defined by stopping Scotland deciding again. I collect all their literature (again, sad, I know) and every single leaflet I have had since 2015 is at least 2/3rds is devoted to this ‘no to’ message.

So what is the first thing they do under their new regime? Well, almost incredulously, it is to dispense with the one thing that has underpinned any modest electoral success that they have had in the past few years. The Scottish Conservatives have ‘ruled out’ an independence referendum so will now no longer be able to campaign against it.  No more field posters asking us to ‘say no to indyref 2’ no more ‘vote for us to stop another referendum’. Campaigning against something they have ruled out would render them ridiculous and more critically would have them concede that a referendum is still a possibility.

Losing this means they will have to do something different and that looks like a hysterical and sustained assault on the SNP’s record. Attacks on education, the health service, policing will now descend into the apocalyptic. They rightly calculate that the media will pick up on this supersonic ‘SNPbad’ armageddon with them telling us that only by voting Scottish Conservative will this be put right.

Only, there’s maybe a couple of obvious flaws in this plan. The first is that the Conservatives are actually in power in the UK and everyone can see what they are like in Government. All the Scottish people need to do is observe what’s happening in England and compare and contrast that with Scotland and come to their own conclusion about who is performing better. If they want, they can even have a cursory glance at their disastrous ‘Council of Chaos’ in Perthshire to see how Tory stewardship works in Scotland. 

The other problem is probably more of an issue for the Tories. People actually use public services in Scotland. For any criticism to work it has to chime with the day to day experience of our fellow Scots, most of whom are relatively satisfied with our health service, our schools and the fact that Scotland is now a safe place to live in. Yes, the Scottish people want better public services but they also get it that it’s the Tories who have introduced austerity and devastating cuts to the Scottish budget. The Scottish public know that the SNP Government are trying their best under difficult circumstances and the 45% who voted SNP just a couple of months ago suggests that they trust the SNP to deliver. Screaming at the Scottish public that they should be appalled at our hospitals, schools and police service will just alienate the Tories even further from the Scottish pulbic. 

The Tories, being Tories, will also have their own ideological agenda to pursue and that is likely to involve cutting tax and eroding the very public services that they are so unhappy with. With no ‘no to indyref2’ to campaign on they will have to have real policies which will be forensically scrutinised. Then there is the little matter of Boris Johnson, the real boss, who will continue to do things in which Scotland is unlikely to approve of. 

Without their ‘no to an indyref’ message this could be a long, hard election for the Scottish Tories, particularly in a Scotland where the constitution will define our politics like never before. Losing your only horse in the race before the starting shot is not a good start. 

It looks like their ‘mini revival’ may be well and truly over. And, ironically, they will only have themselves to blame for that.

 

 

AN ‘ADVISORY’ REFERENDUM IS NOT CONSEQUENCE FREE

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What a few months it has been for the independence movement. After the SNP’s incredible victory in December we have seen the first clear example of sustained majority support for independence with 3 polls in a row showing Yes in the lead. Out on the doors we are finding more people than ever considering independence and our Brexit opposition has brought us to the attention of a whole new swathe of Scottish public opinion. It certainly now feels like we are approaching the tipping point where support for independence is becoming the new consensus. Independence has never been closer and the only people that can now beat us is ourselves. 

What the Tories and the unionists are counting on is for the independence movement to be consumed with impatience, frustration and fragmentation. The Tories are looking for anything to get them off the independence hook and are hoping beyond hope that we embark on a strategy that will alienate our new support and confine ourselves to illegality and unconstitutionality. They counted on aggressively opposing a further independence referendum to bring Scotland to heel. Instead what has happened is that support for independence has risen with every Johnson denial of our democracy. They are now looking at us and observing with satisfaction what they see as the seeds of division. 

Where our new support for independence has been hard won it remains tenuous. Our new recruits have come mainly from former No voting remainers and they are looking to see if we are worthy of their continuing support. Talk of UDIs, ‘dissolved unions’ and wildcat referendums terrify them half to death and pursuing any such strategy could very well return them back to the Nos.

Just now all the talk of is of an ‘advisory referendum’. This is now being presented as a cost free strategy to break the deadlock. The suggestion is that the Scottish Government simply legislate to hold a referendum and in doing so provoke a legal challenge from the UK Government. The supporters of this approach suggest that nothing will be lost if this is judged illegal and that all could be gained if successful in court. I’m afraid that the suggestion that this course of action would be consequence free is simply fanciful.

Let’s look at what would in fact happen if the Scottish Government went down the ‘advisory’ referendum route. Firstly, there wouldn’t be a Brexit type drama at the Supreme Court, instead there would just be the UK Government continuing to say their usual ‘No’. Their strategy would be to boycott the whole process and refuse to engage and acknowledge any result. They would not dirty their hands on a legal challenge on something they refuse to even countenance. Instead, they would leave that to any number of unionist groups who would be positively salivating at the prospect of having independence declared ‘illegal’.

If somehow a legal challenge fails and an ‘advisory’ referendum goes ahead it would no doubt be won (given that there would be no ‘No’ proposition). It is in what happens next that we enter the unknown and where things could get really messy. Firstly, we would need to win over 50% of the total electorate as the boycotters would claim ‘victory’ with anything less. This is a huge threshold to achieve and would have to be done with co-operation from unionist local authorities who may not be particularly well disposed to participate in such a referendum. 

Then what happens with this ‘victory’ with or without such a majority? The view from supporters of the ‘advisory’ referendum route is that this would make the UK Government engage, though why they would then when they won’t now, remains unexplained. Much more likely is that the UK Government would just decide to change the law as they did with the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill and retrospectively declare any poll illegal.

With the UK refusing to accept the result we’d be right back to roughly where we are having indulged in a one sided supra-opinion poll that may or may not have given us a useful result. More worryingly there could be pressure to use the result as a mandate for independence and simply declare UDI with all the Catalan style consequences and impacts on our international standing. In the meantime the people of Scotland will be observing all of this and we can only start to imagine what their reaction might be.

Then there is more than a good chance that any advisory referendum is declared ‘illegal’. You could just imagine the whoops of joy from the unionists. A court case would have turned independence form a political cause into a legal one and we could well have confined ourselves to our own designed legal cage. 

An ‘advisory’ referendum is therefore anything but consequence free. It is something that could set us back significantly and could also unleash a range of forces that could quickly escalate out of control. 

If I believed for one minute that this or any one of the number of ‘Plan Bs’ being considered would get us to our goal easily and quickly I would back it, and them all, in a blink of an eye. But none of them do, and this was always going to be hard work. I can also understand all those who want to grasp at ‘anything’ and who feel we should ‘just do something’. But this is about securing our nation’s independence and we have to keep our patience and constraint and not set out along a route that could be playing in to our opponents hands and could set us back years. 

With majority support in place there is a feeling that things could in fact move on quickly and this is all likely to come to a head at next year’s Scottish election. If we win that with a clear majority for independence then there will be no available grounds on which the UK Government can legitimately continue to oppose. If they do then the ‘section 30’ road may indeed be running out. It is at this stage we consider all options to progress our cause. What we have to demonstrate to the international community is that we have tried everything possible to secure our independence legally and legitimately in the face of a belligerent and non compliant parent state. 

Right now we are winning and the Tories know that they can not continue to hold out. They are praying for our discipline to break – do not oblige them