Questions for Question Time

Clearly expressed view of what was so awful about BBCQT last Thursday and how the rest of the BBC’s current affairs output is letting viewers and listeners down.

Wee Ginger Dug

On Friday, the Conservative commentator Toby Young became the latest Brexit supporting Tory to express the wish that Ireland would leave the EU and “rejoin” the UK. Toby Young was roundly mocked on social media for his suggestion. However to be fair, Ireland leaving the EU and becoming a part of the UK again is not an entirely unpopular idea. It is a fact that there are millions of people who yearn for Ireland to leave the EU and become a part of the UK once more. It’s just that they’re all British nationalist Brexiteers living in England. In Ireland itself, the notion is about as popular as a massive plook on a prom night. Besides, Irish people will not unreasonably point out that it’s not really a question of Ireland rejoining the UK because Ireland never exactly joined the UK in the first place, more that it was despoiled…

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Independence – is there no choice?

Firstly, a history lesson.

In the second half of the last century (doesn’t that seem such a long time ago) and the beginning of this one, Scotland voted Labour at every UK general election, because there was no alternative for those hoping for a left leaning government, the sort of government that would be good for ordinary working people. Labour used the fear of right-wing government as their main campaign argument.  Vote Labour to stop the Tories was what they always said.  However, more often than not, even when Scotland voted Labour in large numbers, they didn’t get the government they wanted because English voters had voted Conservative and, because of their much larger numbers, English voters pretty much always got what they wanted.

This was the situation in 2010. Scotland again voted to stop the Tories, giving Labour 41 seats.  Again it was a waste of time, as the Tories, with the help of the LibDems, gained power again in the UK.  However, this time there was going to be a difference.

In 1999, Scotland’s Parliament had been reconvened and after an eight year spell of relatively unsuccessful Labour control with some help from the LibDems (again), the SNP took charge in 2007, leading a minority government.  Perhaps, Labour should have taken more notice of the Holyrood result, because it only got worse in 2011.  An absolute majority for the SNP (this wasn’t supposed to be possible, the whole system was created to prevent it) led to the eventually unsuccessful independence referendum.  But what followed the referendum was an enormous upsurge in popularity for the SNP and the huge increase in membership.

At the next UK election in 2015, Labour went with the same (tired?) strategy of vote for us to stop the Tories, but when the results were announced, the SNP took all but three of the Scottish seats, leaving only one each for Labour, Tories and LibDems.  Thus, in the space of 5 years, a tiny amount of time for such a seismic shift, Labour had been reduced from half a century of dominance in Scotland to irrelevance, a drop of 97.5% in a single election, the biggest fall from grace in UK politics, possibly the biggest in world politics.

So what’s the point of this history lesson, which most of you will already know. What it illustrates is that in Scotland today, it’s possible for political changes to happen very quickly, when a dominant party with a tried and tested strategy which it repeatedly uses in its election campaigning, has a history of not delivering on it.

In Scotland today, the SNP are the dominant party, having won practically every election at every level since 2007, the only blots being the aforementioned 2010 UK election and, of course, the 2014 independence referendum, though the latter was a Yes loss, not just an SNP loss. The SNP are, of course, the party of independence, created for that very purpose in 1934. After a number of false dawns, their move from being just a minor part of the Scottish political scene to their current position began in 2007 as described above.  Their campaigning in each election has always emphasised their commitment to the independence cause, such as last year’s:

“Let’s put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands, and escape from Brexit. Vote SNP on December 12th.”

But recently, despite the apparent level of commitment to independence in pre-election campaigning, many supporters have become increasingly disturbed that winning campaigns haven’t translated into party calls for a fresh independence referendum. In post election speeches, party leaders have emphasised the need for patience, saying that independence wouldn’t be won by rushing before they were ready.

Supporters have separated into two opposing camps, those who follow the party line that independence won’t be won by rushing and those who have concerns that delay, particularly delay until we’re completely out of the EU by the end of this year, could cost us the opportunity by allowing Westminster to change the rules to prevent a referendum (so it’s Delayers vs Rushers).  Unfortunately, discussions between the two sides have often descended into increasingly bitter arguments, with accusations from the delayers that the other side are not real independence supporters and rushers claiming the party were spending too much time on Brexit to the virtual exclusion of independence, threatening to cancel their party membership and find another way to achieve independence.

But, for change to happen, there has to be an alternative.  Labour’s downfall came about because there was another centre-left party (assuming you still think of Labour as centre-left) with a proven record of competence just waiting in the wings.  So we would need an alternative and that alternative would have to be available pretty soon.

So how could change come about?  It has been suggested that we need a new independence party, relegating the SNP to a government role only.  However, those suggesting that should think how long it took for the SNP to become a real political force.  Can we afford to wait 20 years, or even 80 years, for a new party to reach the dizzy heights currently occupied by the SNP.  The same holds true for the suggestion of a list only independence party, which, in any case, would have to be created from scratch in 15 months and would only apply in the Holyrood election.  The history of small independence-supporting parties in the list is not full of success.  Even the Greens, a pretty well-known independence-supporting  party, only won six seats in 2016.

So what should independence supporters do.  My view is that we have no chance of gaining independence without a big political hitter.   We need a large independence-supporting party in Holyrood to be the focus of any future campaign and, at the moment, there is no choice other than the SNP.  Like many, I have reservations about the party’s current strategy and I have serious concerns that the dangers of delaying a referendum till next year, or even later, have not been sufficiently taken into account.  However, until it becomes certain that the party no longer supports independence or there is a clear well-established alternative, I cannot, in all conscience, refuse to support the one party that can bring it about.

To all those SNP members who have quit the party or who are thinking of doing so, to all those Yessers who have said they will no longer support the SNP, think carefully whether what you’re doing is going to bring independence closer.

Were you excited?

What follows is the letter I sent to the National when they requested comments on Nicola’s speech last Friday.   Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut, perhaps too long or perhaps they already had enough to fill the space by the time they got mine.  However, to put the letter in some sort of context, and before too many of you get annoyed, I should make it clear that I have been a member of the SNP and a supporter of the Yes movement for many years and nothing in Nicola’s speech has changed that.  No tearing up the membership card, no refusal to campaign and definitely no desire to give up on independence, something I’ve wanted for at least 25 years more than Nicola.

I did, however, want to express my disappointment at the content of Nicola’s speech.  Not only was it largely something we had really all heard before, it mainly failed to rouse the activists to get out to have the conversations to get the so-called ‘soft noes’ moving to yes.  Ok, I’ve had lots of folk tell me that the speech wasn’t aimed at people like me: it was aimed at middle Scotland, folk who are cautious, not easily moved from the status quo, and though I can understand that point of view, activists like myself still need encouragement, still need to see things moving forward, still need to believe that we’re not being taken for granted.

There was a load of anticipation about the speech, a lot of it generated by the media and the Yes movement themselves, but the timing, moving it to Brexit day, also contributed.  Unfortunately, Nicola’s speech seemed not to read that mood and this, I feel, was a big factor in the enormous sense of disappointment felt by so many.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my immediate reaction to the speech.


My reaction to Nicola’s speech on Friday 31st January

I remember all the talk pre and post the December election about how poor Labour were, because they were not able to make progress against possibly the worst Tory governments ever.  Was that because they were the worst Labour opposition ever?

Well, here we have the SNP making little progress on independence when faced with that same useless Tory governments.  Was that because too much time was spent on Brexit and not enough on independence?   Or was it because the SNP’s managerial, passionless approach hasn’t stirred enough enthusiasm in Scottish hearts?

I approached today’s speech with mixed feelings.  I hoped we were to get something to stir the blood, but I feared we would get more of the same.  Unfortunately, it turned out that my fears, rather than my hopes were justified.

Nicola Sturgeon’s speech today focussed on Brexit (again) and how WM couldn’t continue to deny us a section 30.  Well, good luck with that.  Westminster don’t do embarrassment, so trying to embarrass them enough to make them change their minds seems doomed to failure.  Little mention of the people of Scotland being sovereign, a fact she’s made a bit of a song and dance about before, but sovereignty of the people doesn’t fit too well with pleading with Johnson for a section 30.  If the people of Scotland are sovereign, they don’t need a section 30 to prove it.

Go out and campaign, she told us.  Get on to the doorsteps.  Convert the soft noes.  Well, some of us have been doing that since September, 2014 and the polls have barely moved.  But now support for independence is around 50%, I hear many cry.  When we started campaigning for 2014, support was only in the middle twenties and look where we finished, they tell us.  But there is one big difference between then and now.  Then, we were in the middle of a campaign.  Excitement reigned.  People were enthused.  Everyone was talking about it.  The media was full of it, even if much of the coverage was negative.  Now, there isn’t the same level of interest because not much is happening

Nicola suggested patience and many have agreed with her.  However, one final reminder to the ‘let’s wait for support to grow to 60% or whatever mythical level is chosen’ brigade, that waiting is not a risk-free option. The Scottish Parliament we vote for in 2021 may not be what we have today.  It may not even exist.  If Johnson has his way, existing powers will be removed, Holyrood’s budget will be cut and much of the money will go instead to the Scottish Office, or whatever they call themselves now, to be distributed directly to their pals with a big Union Flag on it.  And you can be sure that more money will go to Tory supporting councils, so Westminster can say that Tory managed local government is better than the rubbish ones run by the SNP.

All told, I found Nicola’s speech extremely disappointing, more likely to encourage the unionists and discourage Yes supporters.