Saturday 16 September 2017

Hubris and conceit

Labour's David Martin has called for Labour and the SNP to start working towards a coalition at the next Holyrood election in 2021.  It's hubris and it's horrendously conceited and here's why -

1.  It assumes that the SNP and Labour will be in a position to form a coalition.  The election is four years away and votes belong to people, not to parties.  Parties have to earn those votes at each and every election; we have no guarantees, no safe seats, no cast-in-concrete will of the people.  Politics always had some malleability but politics in Scotland is definitely fluid now, it's constantly shifting and politicians have to keep ahead of that.  It may be difficult to appreciate that when you're divorced from it in Brussels and Strasbourg and glad-handing your way around other similarly disconnected politicos but it's there.

2.  It shows contempt for the electorate.  If you want to form a coalition ahead of an election to fight the election on a joint ticket there's already a term for that, we call it a political party.  Members of political parties don't agree on everything, they agree on enough to stand on the same platform, distinct enough from other platforms to set them apart but not together on every jot and tittle of policy.  If Labour members want to suck it up and admit that the SNP is the better party they can apply for membership here -

3.  If supporters of the Labour party don't like what the SNP does / is doing / proposes then why would Labour candidates tell those supporters to suck it up and vote for them anyway, to put the SNP back into government to do the things that those supporters do not like?  Similarly, if SNP supporters don't like Labour's bawbaggery why would we suggest that Labour should get a say in forming our policy platform?

4.  Minority Government (from our limited experience of it) appears to be good - the party in government has to be braver but more willing to compromise, sharper in office but more attentive to the voices elsewhere.  Parties in opposition need to be constructive as well as oppositional, need to offer an alternative that could work rather than just be a soundbite.  All of that, along with the need to get a majority for votes in Parliament, leads to better and more meaningful debates in Parliament and makes Parliament stronger.  I appreciate that there is a view that a strong Parliament is not a good thing but it's not one I share.

5.  If parties agree a coalition ahead of an election then they are depriving the electors of choice - they have made their two parties into one party but without the strength of being one party.  Politicians have the right to stand on a collective platform but they don't have the right to pretend that it's a plurality.  If you're standing together you have to be in the same party.

6.  Politicians don't get to tell voters how to vote.  That horrible arrogance that says "who else can they vote for?" is no basis on which to seek to govern a country.  It also ignores the recent history of politics in Scotland where Labour dominance gave way to the SNP without much fanfare and where the Tories made a comeback without offering any substance.  Anyone who stands in the path of Scotland's voters these days, trying to direct them down one path or another, risks ending up like Wylie Coyote and wondering why.

There are a couple of other things from that article worth pointing out.  Firstly, it says that the SNP in Edinburgh and Labour in Cardiff working together proves an affinity.  Observing from Brussels and thinking that you're looking down on Scotland and Wales I can see how they might come to that view but it's wrong.  Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones working together is an example of two governments working together in common cause; not of the SNP and Labour being best mates.

Secondly, it suggests that the coalitions that are forced on councils show that the SNP and Labour love each other.  That's simply not true.  In the councils I have knowledge of they dislike each other and hate working together but do it because they have to and the distrust creates a stagnant culture where nothing can happen.  Our councils would be better served with minority administrations trying to make it work and needing support from all of their opposition.

Here's another thing to consider - politics needs politicians to oppose each other if it's to do any good.  The UK's terrorism legislation down the decades is a sparkling example of how bad law is created by a lack of opposition.  Only by having that constructive conflict do we ever move forward, enjoy new ideas and create new futures - there's almost a need to have a statutory curmudgeon so people remember there's an opposing view.  If politicians stop debating they are no longer politicians, if they seek coalitions four years ahead of the election they are clearly unable to engage in the debate or afraid of it or disconnected from it.

I appreciate it's hard if you've been an MEP and you're facing the end because of Brexit and you want to do something or be relevant at least once before you have to put on a fringe show at the Edinburgh Festival but piss off, the people will make their choices, individually and collectively, and that will be how we get a new government in 2021.  Any politician on either side of the fence who suggests there shouldn't be a fence doesn't understand their job.

Politics is about people's lives, it's not a game, and deciding to shake hands on a result you want to fix four years ahead of the vote suggests your interests are about yourself and trying to get some newspaper coverage while you can.  The careers of all MEPs from Scotland have a wee ticking clock beside them but that doesn't mean they have anything sensible to say.  Here's a wee question - how naive do you have to be to think that Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones working together as First Ministers means that Sturgeon wants the advice of Anas Sarwar?

There's always going to be someone who wails "why can't they work together?" but it's opposing that makes politics work and any politician who says "why can't we work together?" either knows that they've lost the public debate or is too stupid to understand politics.  We need the contrarians and the intellectuals who question, we need obstructionists and cleverclogs on all sides.  We really don't need simpletons in politics.

Monday 24 July 2017

NHS much healthier under the SNP than it ever was under Labour

Labour and the NHS campaign
Labour, being the mendacious and unprincipled bunch of self-seeking wannabes we all know of old (I love them really), has been talking a lot recently about 'saving' the NHS from the SNP.  I remembered, though, that all was not sweetness and light in the NHS while Labour was in power so I had a wee look back to see what things were like -

Death rates in the 15-44 age group have dropped from 118 per 100,000 people in Labour's last year in power to 101 per hundred thousand in 2015 - a 14% improvement.

Coronary heart disease incidences dropped from 498 to 362 per 100,000 over the same period and the death rate from CHD dropped from 302 to 220 - something is clearly going very right in coronary care.

Cancer diagnoses in men have dropped from 985 to 979 per 100,000 over those years but gone up in women from 713 to 757.  The death rate from cancer in both sexes has dropped, though - 434 down to 391 in men and 287 down to 272 in women.  Seems cancer outcomes are heading in the right direction, too.

One of the reasons behind the improved outcomes might be the improved staffing.  In 2006 NHS Scotland had 9,600 medical staff and this year it had 12,326.  Over the same period dental staff went up from 561 to 625, nursing and midwifery staff from 56,783 to 59,799, allied health professionals from 8,842 to 11,552 and support staff from 12,645 to 13,717.  Total NHS Scotland staff increased from 127,062 in 2006 to 139,431 this year - and that at a time of shrinking Scottish budgets.

Getting your medicine to make you better used to cost you money.  Under Labour it was £6.85 for each medicine (I think that's about £8.50 in today's prices but you'd have to check) so if Mrs Shuggie McDufflecoat had to get 3 prescription items she'd be paying £20.55 in 2006 (£25.50 today, maybe) but the SNP Scottish Government abolished the charges and now you don't get taxed for being sick.  Interestingly, Nye Bevan resigned from government in protest over prescription charges.

Paying the bills
Scotland's health spending now is £13,168.2 million and it was £9,499 million in Labour's last year in power.  I reckon the figure from Labour's time would come to around £11bn in today's money so that's increased investment of about £2 billion from the SNP Scottish Government.  To be fair, though, sport and food standards have been added to the health bill which accounts for a bit short of £58m.  Per head of population, health spending was £1,847 under Labour and is £2,487 now.

And so
Scotland's NHS isn't perfect but it's in pretty good nick and it's in better shape than it was when Labour was in power.  If you get a nyaff at your door telling you Labour will save the NHS, provide them with a flea for their ear and send them on their way - the very cheek of them!  Tell them the SNP is doing a simply splendid job and should carry on with it.

Thursday 29 June 2017

When ye lay doon wi the De'il...

Yesterday (Wednesday) there was a division on the Queen's Speech (translation from Westminsterese - a vote on the Government's legislative programme) on getting rid of the pay cap on public sector workers.  It was good, sensible stuff, good opposition from Corbyn's team before they went back to fighting each other today (sacked for rebelling against Corbyn - that irony meter is going to have your eye out) and it nearly worked.  Theresa May's Government squeaked a win by 14 votes, including her 12 newbies from Scotland.

Twelve new Tory MPs in seats taken from the SNP thanks, in part, to a dodgy agreement between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems that the SNP was the enemy in this election.  Incredibly, the one Labour MP at the time was reported in the Labour in-house magazine "The Granwad" thusly -
Labour’s sole surviving MP, Ian Murray, said he supported tactical voting to defeat the SNP
 Kez Dugdale, leader of the Scottish branch of Labour, said something similar, too, encouraging people to vote Labour where they were second place to the SNP and Tory where they were in second place.  The glorious revolution was celebrated at Labour HQ as they cheered Tory victories in Scotland.

Imagine if they had done the reverse and encouraged the electorate to vote tactically to defeat the Tories rather than the SNP, imagine if Labour and the Lib Dems had done a deal with the SNP to beat the Tories instead of the SNP - 12 votes away from the Tory Government and 12 more votes for the progressive side of the chamber; the 14 of a majority overturned.

Ach weel, Labour, when ye lay doon wi the De'il mind ye micht rise in the De'ils hoose...

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Did Cameron Save May's Bacon?

EVEL raises its head
David Cameron may have saved Theresa May's Government.  I'd been wondering why she was so fixated on getting a deal with the DUP that gave her confidence and supply but no other support and why she wasn't looking around for other options.  It made even less sense when you consider John Major's intervention noting that the DUP wouldn't bring her down while Corbyn was leading Labour - he knows a thing or two about tight majorities and how the DUP votes.  It might well be, though, that she doesn't need any other options, just support in any confidence motion and votes to get her Money Bills through, and she needs that tied up for any future sticky situation.  She might be in that strange situation and saved from oblivion thanks to a change that David Cameron brought in when he was Prime Minister.

Cameron needed to quiet his backbenchers who were harrumphing over more powers being vested in Holyrood and he introduced English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) which, in essence, stops Scots MPs, Welsh MPs and Northern Ireland MPs from voting on matters which only affect England.  Specifically, the Speaker issues a certificate on each piece of legislation that determines whether EVEL applies and, where it does apply, MPs who don't represent an English seat can't vote on it (there is a very simple explanation of the process on the UK Parliament website here if you fancy reading a bit about it).  This means that for great wodges of legislation the Prime Minister only needs a majority of English MPs to support it and she has a majority of 61 among English MPs and that's a working majority.  Where the EVEL certification is England and Wales she's in a tighter spot because the opposition has a 24 seat majority over the Tories in Wales - but that still leaves her with a 37 seat majority for England and Wales.

Confidence, supply and reserved powers
That means that Theresa May needs cover for matters which won't be EVEL certified - the most important of which are votes of confidence and getting budgets passed (without cover here her Government is always vulnerable - emptied if it loses a confidence motion and unable to function properly if it can't pass a budget) so the DUP covers her back on those.  That leaves the items in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 which you can see here or get a rough idea of from the Scotland Office guidance from 2013 (but note that it hasn't been updates as powers transferred to Holyrood) or you can get an idea from the Scottish Parliament website (which also needs a wee update as powers transfer).  You get the general gist, though.

If you look through that list you'll see that Theresa May won't be worrying about much of it.  Defence?  The big issue is Trident and Labour is hand-in-glove with the Tories on this - Labour will vote to renew, and even made the commitment in the manifesto where it said "Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent."

Immigration?  Remember Labour's immigration mug?
The manifesto has moved a little from a blunt closing of the gates but it's still in territory the Tories will feel comfortable with.  It's not so much "do this differently" as "we could do with different paint on the walls".

The constitution (they keep it unwritten, you know, much better that way) - on Scotland being able to take a decision on its constitutional direction of travel, Labour and Tories are dancing to the same tune, as the recent election showed.  On Brexit there is less difference between the positions of Labour and the Tories than there is considered thought in Boris Johnson's impromptu musings.

Foreign policy?  Long gone are the days when Labour ever aspired to an ethical foreign policy - the manifesto mentions it four times - three on page 116 where it says, repeatedly, that foreign policy should be guided by good intentions and once on page 122 where it says the same thing.  It's a conversation that goes "What's our policy on bad things?" " We're against them." "What about good things?" "We're for them."  In actual debate, though, you can't spot any real divergence between Labour and the Tories on foreign policy.

Welfare benefits is one area you would imagine there would be massive differences between Labour and the Tories but the evidence suggests otherwise - in July 2015 184 Labour MPs stood back and refused to oppose the Tories' welfare cuts - and claimed that it was fine because they'd said they were against it.  That wasn't the first time, either; two years earlier Labour MPs stood back and let the Tories and the Lib Dems change the law to avoid complying with a court order to give benefits claimants money that was withheld from them when they were sanctioned unfairly.  Earlier this year Labour Lords did the same thing on cuts to the benefits paid to disabled people, standing back and letting the Tories off the hook while passing a motion that said "we disapprove".

Nuclear energy?  Labour's manifesto has them supporting new nuclear power stations - just like the Tories.  On trade the Labour manifesto mimics current Tory policy, on employment there's little in the Labour manifesto (the Tory manifesto actually offers more action on employment than the Labour one), on broadcasting, consumer rights and data protection there's no remarkable difference between them.  They are, as the saying goes, like twa cheeks o the same bum!

Labour saves the Tories
So Labour will prop up the Tories on the issues which won't be EVEL certified, the Tories have a working majority on any issues which will get EVEL certified and all that's left to cover is confidence and supply.  Enter the DUP...

I don't know whether David Cameron likes Theresa May or what she's doing in government but I think he saved her bacon when he changed the rules and the irony is that it's Labour that will be saving the Tory Government where EVEL doesn't.  If you're waiting for another General Election you may be waiting for quite some time, unfortunately, and you may have to watch the Tories tap-dance through a whole parliament while Labour has to try to maintain discipline.  The wonders of an unwritten constitution, eh?  This may be excruciating.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Orwell and a Tory

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories in Scotland, made a speech about Orwell (you can read the whole thing on the Tory website if you so desire but you don't have to) and what struck me is that no-one picked her up on what Orwell actually said.  The BBC covered it with a bit of a whizz-bang and quoted her saying
"Nationalism is about power, and its obsessive pursuit, and the dichotomisation of a population into the authentic and the inauthentic.
"Here in the second decade of the 20th century, despite his [George Orwell] efforts, nationalism is still confused with patriotism.
"That is because, too often, there are political movements that deliberately ensure that is the case."
She was referring to Orwell's essay Notes on Nationalism which is dragged up often by politicians trying to do in the SNP.  You can almost hear them say "Aha! Orwell said this and he wrote 1984!" and they frequently seem very pleased with themselves.  Firstly, here's a wee list of some of the 'nationalisms' that Orwell was critiquing - 

  • British Toryism
  • White supremacism
  • Semitism
  • Anti-semitism
  • Communism
  • Catholicism
  • Scottish nationalism
  • British jingoism
  • Neo-Toryism
  • Zionism
  • Pacifism
  • Class feeling
  • Colour feeling (almost the antithesis of white supremacy)
  • The feeling that you belong to the Proletariat
Orwell was writing while the Second World War was still being fought - the essay was first published in the month that Germany surrendered.  He gave an indication of some of the thinking that he was criticising in a section that referred to that war - 

If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:
BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.
COMMUNIST: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.
IRISH NATIONALIST: Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.
TROTSKYIST: The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.
PACIFIST: Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.
He also said -
In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British jingoism.
 That sentence, though, if read in its place in the essay, doesn't mean what it seems to mean when it's taken out and laid on its own like that.  It's important to get things in context, just as Ms Davidson failed to do in her speech when she said
However, all those caveats aside, the truth is that the nationalist politics identified by Orwell – the attempt to classify and label human beings into groups marked “good” and “bad” – has become a key part of our political practice in Scotland.
Someone less generous than me might ask whether she means good like the family making a tax credit claim that only contains two children and bad like the family doing the same that has three (unless the third is as a result of rape in which case they can climb back into the good group after filling in an eight page form).  Is it the disabled who are being told they are fit for work who are bad and millionaires paying less now in capital gains tax who are good?  Are immigrants bad but people stashing their money in tax havens good?

I don't know what Orwell would have made of modern politics or of the constitutional debates and it doesn't really matter, Notes on Nationalism is an essay written at the end of a global conflict at a time when the atrocities committed during that conflict were just being discovered.  It was five years before the United Nations was created and six years before the fledgling trade agreements from which the EU grew.  Orwell had been an anarchist, a socialist, a combatant on the Republican side in the war against Franco before working for the BBC creating propaganda during the Second World War.  His essay is a decent old read, but it is an old read and it doesn't say that nationalism is bad and unionism is good - he says that unthinking and amoral judging of groups of other people is wrong and that politics should be a thinking past-time.  This is the final paragraph of the essay and is worth reading - 
The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for instance — it is even possibly true — that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and that organised religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can be argued that no unbiased outlook is possible, that all creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one's own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.
It's a point of view, and an interesting one, but it's not the opinion that unionists would have you think he espoused.

Never trust a Tory - they're all bad ...