The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘SNP’

The Biggest Irony Of Election Night

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 6, 2011 @ 09:06

A very misleading photo of some guy

One quick thought for you.

Labour, in Scotland, suffered a “shellacking” at the hands of the SNP.

That defeat was magnified to a very large extent by none other than the First Past The Post electoral system.

You know, that system most of them came out and backed.

But wait!

Scotland doesn’t have just FPTP. It has the joyous Additional Member System, allowing additional MPs to be distributed in accordance with the PROPORTIONAL preference of the electorate. And, even better, taking into account seats already won under FPTP, thus correcting for its distortion.

Hmm.

To recap. Labour, facing meltdown at the hands of the First Past The Post electoral system in Scotland, are rescued from utter disaster by a fair voting system, enshrined in proportional representation.

“Lord” Reid, your boys took a hell of a beating.

How do you like them apples, Iain?

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Scottish (Labour) Power

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 9, 2010 @ 18:12

Wonder if Labour would change this back...

The most boring, and yet the most intriguing, result at the last election was the one in Scotland. Let me explain.

Boring because not a single seat changed hands.

Intriguing because not a single seat changed hands.

The SNP ran quite an ambitious campaign. They insisted they were on course for as many as 20 seats, and there were certainly at least a few within their reach. You couldn’t move during the campaign for Alex Salmond complaining about his exclusion from the debates. And, to be fair, the BBC, ITV and Sky more than made up for it, with fair few Scottish debates of their very own.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems too were hoping to capitalise on Labour’s perceived weakness. After the stunning by-election win in Dunfermline and West Fife, and a number of easy targets in Edinburgh and beyond, the feeling was good that progress could be made.

The national opinion polls were putting Labour in the doldrums. But little did anyone, or at least anyone south of the border, realise that Scottish Labour voters had not gone anywhere. The national opinion polls hid the greatest variable of them all. Scotland.

The Tories improved on their miserable voting share, but remain with just a single MP. And that is very likely to be their high watermark. Meanwhile, the national Lib Dems, who these days look very English, failed to resonate north of the border, and the Scottish party remains in terminal decline.

The failure of the others to dent Labour expressed itself even further. In some seats, Labour’s vote share actually increased. Not bad for a party apparently at rock bottom after 13 years in power.

All this is very good news for them, especially with crucial Scottish parliamentary elections in May next year. At least, we think they’re in May. And with the SNP not looking quite so good as they used to, their perilous one seat lead over Labour looks in real jeopardy.

Even better, with Labour now out of power in Westminster, the Scottish Labour party can get a boost from the national party’s usual opposition bonus. The aggression of the outsider can be once more turned to their full advantage.

There is just one down side. Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s leader. Not the best, shall we say.

But, at this stage in the game, I would strongly expect Labour to be the largest party in Holyrood after May 2011.

Then what? Coalitions?

No way. Lab-SNP, a massive joke. Lab-LD, tried in the past, could work again. Oh, but hang on, those pesky Lib Dems are now in coalition with the Tories at Westminster. Which is, naturally, toxic in Scotland. Labour would never touch that.

And even if Scottish Labour were crazy enough to offer, the Lib Dems would surely realise it would just look a little too opportunistic to be in bed with different partners in different parts of the country. Which happens anyway at local council level, but who cares about that!

So a Labour minority government will be in place. Oh well, at least that’s something new!

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Whither Scottish Independence?

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 30, 2009 @ 08:27

Tough times ahead for Alex Salmond, methinks. We won't be seeing too much of this in future...

This morning, on St. Andrew’s Day, Alex Salmond publishes a white paper laying out what his government would do, if only it could get the backing of the Scottish Parliament…

The Telegraph have called his blueprint “doomed” – and that’s probably right. The SNP will not get the necessary support to get the referendum plan through. The consequence of this is that we’re probably not going to see an independence vote before the next Scottish Parliamentary election, to be held in 2011.

Polling data suggests that support for independence is almost unchanged, roughly hovering between 20-30%, a lower figure than SNP support, suggesting that a large number of their voters simply picked them as the alternative government to Labour.

This is not how the SNP hoped it would work out. Upon their success of 2007, the big plan was to govern competently for two years, at which point they would have convinced enough people perhaps not of the needs of independence, but definitely that the Scots deserve the right of self-determination.

Unfortunately for them, no other Scottish party have chosen to play the game. Wee Wendy Alexander nearly did, but her deathbed conversion to the referendum cause was too little, too late. The Scottish Tories obviously want nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have sort of toyed with the idea, but their latest leader is resolutely opposed. They’re worried that they may appear to be dancing to Alex Salmond’s tune.

But they are wrong. The Scots do have the right of self-determination. I accept that there is no clamour for a referendum, but that’s because people tend to be poor at compartmentalising things. People see support for a referendum as support for independence. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with asking people the question.

And where better for the Scottish Lib Dems – who are, let’s face it, in dire need of a little limelight – to be at the front of a public debate for the best part of a year. A year in which there will be a UK General Election.

It strikes me as a strategic blunder by Tavish Scott. Not only would he have gained the right to a little quid pro quo from Alex Salmond at some point – a favour to be cashed in – but, since the Tories and Labour had chosen to sit on their hands, the Lib Dems would have achieved all the publicity, and could have painted themselves as the true defenders of Scottish national interest, pushing for a federal UK.

But no. There will be no independence referendum. Not in this way anyway…

There does remain one last throw of the dice. A hung Parliament at the next election… the Tories pretty close to a majority… an SNP with at least 10 MPs… combining with a little Welsh nationalism… in exchange for…

Independence and more powers referendums in both countries.

It’s a long shot. But from all previous experience we know one thing.

Alex Salmond enjoys a gamble.

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Will The Nats Scupper The Debate?

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 6, 2009 @ 07:30

Might our debates end up looking like this? So many participants that there is no opportunity for banter...

Might our debates end up looking like this? Too many chiefs... no opportunity for banter...

Yesterday’s news that the SNP will take legal action if they’re not involved in the election debates was the first sign that it’s not going to be plain sailing to get this new idea off the ground…

In fact, the reason why Brown was so stupid to dither over the issue for so long was the fact that problems like this were bound to arise which might eventually kill the idea. Why not take the plaudits for being the first sitting British PM to agree to a debate on TV as soon as possible; especially when there’s a good chance it might never actually happen?

Admittedly, though, I didn’t think it would be the Nationalists causing the problem. I had expect the fine detail to be the spanner in the works, like how long each person gets to speak, how many debates, whether there is a public audience, where the debates will take place, whether Nick Clegg should even be there… and so on.

The argument against having the SNP or Plaid present in the debate is that, clearly, neither leader of those parties can become the PM of the UK. And if they aren’t there, maybe Nick Clegg shouldn’t be either for the same reason. But, surely, it would be unfair for them not to be allowed to get their agenda across. They do, after all, contest every constituency in their respective countries, and are all major players in the political system.

But this is where it starts to get tricky. If we invite Alex Salmond and Ieuan Wyn Jones, why not include the Greens? Or UKIP? And what about the BNP? They will each be contesting a large number of constituencies, more than SNP/Plaid in fact. And their leaders have no prospect of becoming PM either. So why not?

That’s not even considering the logistics. Let’s say we have to have a debate each in Wales and Scotland. But that would mean we need more than one debate in England, as surely England deserves more attention than one debate. And what if we wanted to introduce themes to the debates: foreign policy, domestic policy… like the way the Americans do it? Well, we won’t really be able to if there are separate debates for each country.

Unless there are huge numbers of debates. Which is, obviously, never going to happen. Too many debates would be a total failure, as the audience would be split, it wouldn’t be a big set-piece event, lacking the necessary prestige. There’s a reason why there are only three debates in the USA. It truly is the magic number. And that’s completely ignoring the logistical point that Brown, Cameron et al would never agree to more than four debates because of the time consuming nature of them.

Basically, the SNP have opened the can of worms. A rotten, festering can that has enormous potential to ruin what could have been the most interesting development in British electoral politics in many decades.

I hope they know what they’re doing.

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Westminster Can Learn From Holyrood

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 5, 2009 @ 09:14

The "Mother of All Parliaments" Also Comes With The Mother of All Price Tags

Westminster

Most people now appreciate that, in comparative perspective, Westminster really is not the mother of all Parliaments after all. We may have thought that in the era before mass communication simply because we were ignorant to all the alternatives.

These days, however, there is no excuse. Especially as we have a beacon of best practice right on our doorstep. The London-centric media had until now tried to pretend it didn’t exist. Then, with the al-Megrahi excitement, they suddenly realised that there was a lot of good stuff going on there…

The real political anoraks will, of course, say that that has been the case for a very long time. Sure, it was always going to take time to bed in, but after 10 years of restored devolved government, it is a very opportune moment to consider some of the things Scotland is getting right that Westminster should be keen to copy.

Expenses

The MSP expense system is far superior to Westminster. Take a look for yourself. They have been doing it like this for years, where expenses are only reimbursed on the actual costs incurred, supported by receipts for everything. Simple and transparent. It’s when others make something look so easy that you realise MPs whinging that it was “the system” that caused them to behave so badly is a bare-faced lie, conveniently created so tey can dodge their real culpability in allowing it to continue unreformed for so long.

Recess dates

The Scottish Parliament consistently sits for longer than the Westminster Parliament every year. Its recesses are always shorter; and though they still have a two month summer recess (which is too long), it is still better than the 2.5 month one that MPs get.

Business

In the Scottish Parliament, control of business is in the hands of a separate committee, which the Scottish government does not control, and all agendas and minutes are put into the public domain. Even better, the final agenda for business that the committee produces has to be approved by a motion in Parliament. In Westminster, none of this happens. It’s all done cloak-and-dagger in “the usual channels” – which are, as Tony Benn said, “the most polluted waterways in Europe”.

Petitions

The Scottish Parliament has a nice little device whereby petitions are submitted to a Committee which then takes a short investigation on the subject and gets the relevant government department to reply. All done publicly. Westminster does a similar thing, only there is no committee, and the government’s responses are invariably extremely late or inadequate.

Conduct of business in Parliamentary proceedings

Holyrood: Scottish Parliament

Holyrood: Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament is far less arcane, allowing members to refer to each other by name, and without all the usual ostentations that go with Westminster proceedings. MSPs are even allowed to clap, something far more natural than the raucous din of “hear hear” that we hear in Westminster. The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament also has much more powers to keep contributions brief, but it seems Westminster is at least learning on this score, as it’s one of the things new Speaker John Bercow has concentrated on.

Voting

The nonsense of physically going through a corridor to vote is one of Westminster’s most ridiculous traditions. A single vote takes between 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Holyrood dispensed with four votes in the space on five minutes the other day on the al-Megrahi affair. This actually means Holyrood takes more votes on issues, since many things are not voted on in Westminster merely to reduce the number of times they have to go through their rigmarole. While some may say the Westminster traditions should be preserved, I am not one of them.

Accessibility

Being a building designed for the modern era, Holyrood is far more publicly accessible as it has been designed to be a public building… unlike Westminster which was, primarily, a royal Palace which has been retrofitted to try to accommodate democracy. Hence why it is such a rabbit warren. Holyrood is far better equipped to deal with the public getting involved, with a better and (I think) larger public gallery. Westminster is constantly undergoing refurbishment to try to make the place more hospitable to visitors; the costs of which are astronomical and always rising. Something to do with being in a royal Palace, I think…

Different political culture

My final point stems from the fact that Holyrood has always been elected by a form of proportional representation, meaning governments either have to be coalitions or minority administrations. This has created a completely different ethos where the parties must work together on their objectives. There seems to be a lot less bad faith. For instance, in the Westminster climate, one would have thought that if the Tories had backed a Labour minority administration then the third party (in this case the Liberal Democrats) would get so uppity about the whole thing that they would refuse to engage on princple.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Tories backed the SNP’s budget, allowing it to pass… but the other parties haven’t thrown their toys out the pram in disgust. Instead, Labour intend to work with the SNP on alcohol policy in this parliamentary session, and until recently the Lib Dems had been trying to find a compromise on local income tax.

At Westminster, majority rule is the order of the day. Government defeats are extremely rare and always seen as a political earthquake, even though they shouldn’t be. The SNP administration is used to such defeats, but they are symbolic and only cause trouble on a PR level. But the fact that they are in a minority and could be toppled if they piss enough people off at any moment forces them to play nicely. Not like Labour in Westminster. And not like the Tories will be when they come to power.

Conclusion

Holyrood isn’t perfect – but it sure as hell has looked across the border for an example of how not to run a Parliament. It’s learned from that, and adapted much of its system to learn from their mistakes. These are the benefits of being able to start again from scratch. And where there are weaknesses, many of them are caused by having insufficient powers to legislate or because they are beyond their remit.

Westminster, on the other hand, is a monster that various MPs have tried to tame and got nowhere, simply because it doesn’t suit the government of the day to be more open and have less control of the agenda. There are too many vested interests, and too many people hiding behind the defence of “tradition” to preserve an institution that is still stuck in the 19th century.

The solution? My answer is too radical and will never happen. A constitutional convention to make us start again from first principles. And why does Parliament even need to be in London anyway?

A liberal can but dream…

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Newsfelch: 27/08/09 – Life. Oh, Life.

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 27, 2009 @ 06:36

What is the significance of this picture to this post? A prize for the winner!

What is the significance of this picture to this post? A prize for the winner!

This morning I’m too busy to write anything substantial. This has been caused by – would you believe it – having an oversupply of work. How excellent.

But I just thought I’d pass some comment on a few of the things that caught my attention…

  • Very sad news about Senator Kennedy. I hope America gets his dying wish of true healthcare reform soon. From a practical perspective, it’s going to be even more difficult though with one less vote in the House.
  • Unsurprising news from Scotland: the polls haven’t really shifted all that much despite there being a slight majority against the Lockerbie bomber release. Nevertheless, I stand by my prediction that the SNP won’t be damaged by this. This is the kind of polling data that the opposition will need to weigh up before they decide to topple a government. If I were a Scottish Labour strategist, this wouldn’t convince me at all.
  • Amazingly, I found someone more cynical about politics than me. I always read Daily Kos to see what the left are up to in the USA. But this post really summed up why many people find politics such a difficult profession to maintain interest in. It’s long, but well worth it.
  • Should Cameron start opposing the Afghan War? Tough call. Wouldn’t be very Tory to do so. But that, in typical Blair fashion, could be exactly what he needs to show how different he is from Conservatives of the past. He’s got to be considering it.
  • Meanwhile, Clegg is pandering to the Telegraph by trying to stir up their indignation over the expenses debacle again. A decent idea… as it is extremely important that people don’t forget exactly why it is we want to bring about the changes we do. But maybe the time to do this is after the Queen’s Speech and in the run up the  election.
  • Finally, yet another reason why Dan Hannan is a huge liability for the Tories. Headlines like this aren’t good. Yes, this is the Guardian. But it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Telegraph either. He may be an intelligent, erudite man, but I think his public relations sensors are a little off.

Time for work. Well, at least I have a job. Who knows what the long term implications of one-in-six households being completely jobless are going to be…

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Rubbish Journalism Ahoy

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 24, 2009 @ 06:31

How much longer will they last?

How much longer will they last?

In what is starting to become a common theme around here, this morning’s brief look through what’s churning through the news cycle has not impressed me one bit.

The real problem here is the way the newspapers are behaving over the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Personally, I think it was handled very well, and the SNP appear to have arrived at the right outcome and have again shown themselves to be worthy of holding high office, exercising power cautiously and responsibly.

Meanwhile, in the Times, the stakes have been raised:

Lockerbie release could topple SNP government

Everybody loves the chance of a motion of no confidence. The drama, the excitement of politics at its most fragile. With everything on the line.

But they appear to be the only paper leading with the possibility that the SNP government could fall as a result of this decision. No other people appears to have the same quotes from Alex Salmond. Indeed, the Telegraph is more interested in how the affair reflects on Gordon Brown. The Guardian instead are looking at the alleged damage to US-UK relations.

The fact that there’s no one key theme suggests that everyone’s looking for their own angle on the story. All looking for how the story can further their agenda. The Telegraph is the obvious example of that.

But The Times really does take the biscuit. For an SNP administration riding high in the polls, after taking a brave, principled stand on a very difficult decision, one which co-incidentally happens to put them on the world stage and give a chance to rile up our friends across the Atlantic, it would be utter madness for the opposition parties to gang together and topple the Scottish Government.

In short, it’s not going to happen. The Times appear to have their political radar severely off kilter. Perhaps not a surprise; they are heavily London-centric after all.

The SNP would love another election. They have been looking for an opportunity to do so for a long time. Secretly, I think they hoped they would lose their budget battle, and hence get a chance to take their agenda back to the electorate while simultaneously blaming the opposition parties for the mess of a motion of no confidence.

The same would be true here. The SNP don’t want to engineer their own downfall; electorates don’t tend to look kindly on governments that do that. But if they are removed as a result of opposition parties trying to play to the gallery, looking tough on television, they are sure to get bonus sympathy votes.

Of course, such a situation might also achieve the useful benefit of being able to use the momentum to carry forward into next year’s planned independence referendum. The SNP would be sure to increase their number of seats, Scottish Labour would plunge even deeper into crisis, the Scottish Lib Dems would lose even more territory.

Again, in short, it’s not going to happen. Unless the advisors surrounding Iain Gray and Tavish Scott are complete fools, they will sense a mile off that Alex Salmond has once again thrown down the gauntlet, and laid the bear trap ready for them to stroll into it, as they normally do. He is fully in control of the agenda.

The opposition just don’t know how to handle him. Like the Tories didn’t know what to do with Blair, and had to wait till he departed the scene for reasons other than electoral defeat, the so-called opposition will merely have to wait for nature to take its course before they get a chance again.

That The Times fails to understand the nuances of this situation is, perhaps, yet another reason why print journalism is failing; and the blogosphere will continue its ascendancy.

And Murdoch wants us to pay for this crap.

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Separate Those Powers!

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 21, 2009 @ 06:31

It's impossible to draw a similar diagram of the UK system, because it ain't so neat as that... but you get the picture. Not that I drew this one; it was stolen, as usual...

It's impossible to draw a similar diagram of the UK system, because it ain't so neat as that... but you get the picture. Not that I drew this one; it was stolen, as usual...

It seems everywhere you turn at the moment it’s hard to escape the news regarding the release of the “Lockerbie bomber”. An appalling incident, yes. But, as is the case with anything like this, it’s very hard to know who is telling the truth.

If we make an assumption that the Americans and the Scots eventually got their man, we know for sure that there were other people involved who have never been brought to justice. To obsess so much over the only person we can hold responsible is understandable, but it does mean we narrow our focus a little too much. If we were really that upset over it, then we would never have normalised relations with Libya. But that’s Western hypocrisy for you.

But what’s fascinating me most is the way such a difficult judicial decision is needlessly politicised. The SNP, newbies to running national administrations, have had their first real taste of being between a rock and a hard place. And overall, I think they handled their responsibility extremely well and came to the right conclusion.

My main worry is why on Earth does a political figure take this kind of decision? Yes – there is an argument that at least we could hold them accountable by doing so. But following that logic we would end up with the election of all judiciary like in the USA. That would be totally unacceptable. I may be a democrat, but not that democratic that we would see the judiciary infected with populism and horrendous party politicking.

No, our justice system is very different. It is based on different principles of impartiality and strict adherence to statute, with judges knowing their place beneath the overriding power of Parliament. That balance has shifted in recent years due to the Human Rights Act, but broadly speaking judges cannot strike down a law.

The Home Secretary of the UK no longer has the power to adjust sentencing. We got rid of that because it was too easy for him/her to meddle with them for political purpose. I don’t want my politicians having anything to do with trials, juries, barristers – nothing at all to do with judging. They are just too susceptible to the wonders of the opinion poll.

That power instead resides with the Attorney General, who can appeal that a sentence is “unduly lenient” (but never that it is “excessive” – oh no!). Alas, the Attorney General is still a political appointee, serving at the patronage of the Prime Minister. Not good enough, but at least the decision is out of their hands.

So it should be the case in Scotland. The decision should have been either been made by the Lord Advocate – a political appointee, in part, but one with security of tenure and no “constituency” to impress – or by some other element of the judiciary.

The principle of the separation of powers is so important to me and to many other true liberal democrats (small ‘l’ and small ‘d’ in this case). It is only by enforcing that and strengthening it at every opportunity with rigorous checks and balances that we can protect our way of life, preserve our constitution and values over generations, and ensure the maximum freedom for all.

Unfortunately, this case fell some way short of the standards necessary to do that.

And the irony of it all? That the Americans, biggest fans of the separation of powers, had the high cheek to lobby the Scottish Justice Secretary to get the decision in their favour, when they wouldn’t dream of lobbying their very own Supreme Court.

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Glasgow North East: Who Will Win

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 18, 2009 @ 08:09

This morning Politicalbetting.com is leading on the issue of what exactly is going to happen in the Glasgow North East by-election.

For those considering a punt on the outcome, clearly nothing would be closer to the front of their mind, and the site’s punter-in-chief Mike Smithson has yet to come to a considered judgement on the issue.

It’s understandable why. As we know, the three “main” parties didn’t stand against Michael Martin at the last election by convention. The result looked like this:

glasgowne

As you can see, Michael Martin managed to secure over 50% of the vote. Probably easy considering the paucity of the opposition. But the presence of the SNP is an important factor. I would venture to suggest that the serious party opposition may well have hoovered up a significant degree of the votes that the other opposition candidates would have got.

Nevertheless, the suspiciously large vote share for the Socialist Labour party would also suggest that a significant proportion of these voters were confused and could well return home to the Labour Party when they get the chance.

I’m prepared to assume that most of the vote for the Speaker will return to Labour at the by-election. Michael Martin was well known locally, and Scottish Labour is particularly tribal. Most of its supporters will have been well aware who the “Labour” candidate was.

For those who voted for him but were not supporters of Labour, perhaps they will return to their natural party. But I think this will be balanced out by those returning from Scottish Labour.

The outcome, I think a similar vote of 15,000 or so for the Labour Party candidate would not be unreasonable. In the circumstances, I reckon that would be sufficient to win the seat.

The SNP, Tories and the Lib Dems will be all be competing to say which amongst them is the best home for the “only we can beat Labour” vote. Yet, clearly, only the SNP will have the genuine right to claim that. The Lib Dems, alas, don’t have a chance. And I think the anaemic performance of the Conservatives in the 2008 Glasgow East by-election, held at the height of Labour’s unpopularity (another one), will naturally rule them out for this one.

I just don’t think, though, that the SNP will be able to get enough traction. The Glasgow East by-election victory last year was unprecedented. For lightning to strike twice is surely asking too much. Last year the opposition to Labour was extraordinary; and yet they still achieved a vote of 10,000. Those levels of fever pitch are not quite so strong now. Bear in mind that only a few months later Labour sailed home in Glenrothes. Not entirely comparable, but a good sign that Labour aren’t doomed to failure at every single by-election they encounter…

My conclusion: this will be a Labour victory. It will be a well fought battle,  and the SNP will indeed get close. But I think a Labour majority of some two to three thousand over the SNP the most likely outcome.

Of course, we haven’t even had an “official” election campaign yet as no by-election date has been called and won’t be until October. Maybe something exciting will turn the tables by then. We can but hope…

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