Archive: Holyrood

A couple of tools have emerged in the run-up to the European elections. They aim to help people decide who they should vote for.

This is nothing new — nowadays every election comes with its own similar tools. They are the cousins of Political Compass and the like. While they may not be totally scientific, they are quite enlightening in their own way — and a bit of fun whatever. So I have taken both tests to see what they say.

EU Profiler

This test doesn’t give you results for all the parties, but the big hitters are there. This has the advantage of also comparing your views with parties right across Europe, not just in Scotland or the UK. The Europe-wide results are interesting in themselves.

But first, here are my results for parties that I can actually vote for. The top party is the Liberal Democrats, which perhaps shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Ideologically, they are the only party I am closely aligned to, and I have always voted for them in the past. I am a 60.3% match. Not terribly high, but higher than the other parties.

Second is the Conservatives with a 58.3% match. The SNP are a 55.2% match, while Ukip edge ahead of the Greens to be my fourth-closest match. Labour slug it out with the BNP to be my least favourites.

If you exclude the importance I attach to issues, Labour actually rise up to 4th place. Perhaps this suggests that I agree with many Labour policies — just not ones that I think are important.

I have a much closer affinity with other political parties outside the UK. My strongest match, by quite a long way, is Sweden’s Pirate Party. This is a recently-formed party which rose up in protest at over-zealous copyright laws. Makes sense I guess.

One striking thing about the Europe-wide results is the fact that three Croatian parties appear in my top five matches! Is there something about Croatia’s politics that would make me swing that way ideologically? Are there just lots of similar parties in Croatia? The three are the Social Democratic Party of Croatia, the Croatian Social Liberal Party and the Croatian People’s Party — Liberal Democrats.

The other parties in the top ten are: Liberal Democracy of Slovenia, People’s Movement Against the EU (Denmark), Estonian Reform Party, Freedom Union — Democratic Union (Czech Republic), Humanist Party (Portugal), Liberal and Centre Union (Lithuania). To be fair, having had a glance at each of these parties, they seem to vary quite a lot, so I wouldn’t put too much faith in them.

Incidentally, the Liberal Democrats are only my 65th strongest match. So in theory, there are 64 other parties across Europe that I would rather vote for. Not very good, is it?

Vote Match

Vote Match gives me very different results. My strongest match is Libertas with a score of 51/54, which seems quite high. (I’ve taken the test three separate times now, and Libertas were the top result each time.) This is despite the fact that I chose Scotland as my region and Libertas aren’t standing in Scotland.

Joint second are the Greens and the SNP with 41. The Lib Dems, the Conservatives and Labour are all joint fourth with 39. Jury Team’s Alan Wallace has 33 and Ukip have 28.

The results page on Vote Match is very comprehensive, with a table of each party’s position on each of the 30 questions. Looking down the table, it does appear as though I agree with Libertas on a lot of issues, and all of the issues that I marked as important. On all the issues I marked as unimportant, I disagreed with Libertas. This has perhaps accentuated their score.

These results just don’t sit right with me though. The list seems wrong. It is especially odd to see the Greens so high up there. Perhaps this is where differences in policies for Holyrood or Westminster and Europe come into play. But I’m taking this result with a pinch of salt.

Political Compass

This isn’t related to the European Parliamentary election, but it is the granddaddy of online political tests, and I think it is a couple of years since I have taken it. So I thought I’d take another look. My result now is:

Political Compass 2009
Economic Left/Right: 1.25

Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.82

So I’m — just — on the libertarian right. But I am still more of an economic centrist, though firmly a social libertarian. This is more or less what I expected. A clear trend that I have noticed is a slow drift towards the libertarian right. The last time I took this quiz, two years ago, my economic score was 0.38 — closer to the centre, but still on the right. The social score was a slightly less libertarian -6.10.

The time before my score was 1.00 and -6.21. The time before that, in 2006, it was -0.13 and -5.08.

I still haven’t decided whether or not I will vote. However, I think if I do vote, I know which party I will vote for. I’ll report this evening on my action / inaction.

Scottish politics became exciting and sexy yesterday. Sexy as politics goes anyway. The excitement is over the fact that the SNP have failed to persuade the Scottish Parliament to back its budget. Cue lots of finger pointing.

It’s the sort of thing that makes members of the public disdainful of politicians. I chose to listen to Radio Scotland for a short while following the budget vote. The first set of text messages to be read out, around 15 minutes after the vote had taken place, was practically an encyclopaedia of lazy Scottish political commentary. All the old chestnuts were wheeled out. One person blamed proportional representation. Another suggested getting rid of the Scottish Parliament altogether. A few more had decided never to vote for the Greens again.

But I can’t find it in me to blame the Greens for this one at all. Not remotely. Maybe I am allowing the fact that I am hugely in favour of their insulation scheme cloud my judgement. It is, after all, the only vaguely sensible thing I can remember hearing pass through a politician’s lips in years. That’s something to get passionate about.

But in seriousness, I struggle to see how the Greens can possibly be blamed for this. Their policy has been well-established. It was put on the table months ago. And it seems like a very sensible policy at that. The Greens’ proposal took up just £100 million of a £33 billion budget — just a third of a percent. It’s amazing to think that the SNP were unable to properly accommodate the Greens’ demands until literally the last minute. It’s even more incredible when you consider that the SNP are supposed to be broadly in favour of the scheme!

This all seems like sheer carelessness on the SNP’s part. Going by Patrick Harvie’s media appearances, his chief concern was not the fact that the SNP were unwilling to stump up the full £100 million. In this supposedly consensual Parliament, politicians should expect to make compromises. It may well be that the Greens would have taken what John Swinney put on the table were the Greens treated with a modicum of respect, with negotiations conducted properly. But the Green co-convener seemed quite livid at the apparently haphazard way the SNP conducted the discussions.

If half of what Patrick Harvie says about last-minute phone calls and faxes being delivered halfway through John Swinney’s speech is true, it makes the SNP look like an organisational basket case. Given that negotiations have been going on for weeks — months, even — it seems awfully careless for the SNP to sleep in like this. It’s hardly the slick operation that skilfully won the 2007 election.

It’s no surprise that the Greens should feel insulted. It looks like they were totally taken for granted — fobbed off with a half-baked scheme, and communicated to practically in grunts. The SNP must have calculated that they could get away with taking the Greens for granted. They might have got away with it when Robin Harper was in charge. Yesterday the Greens stood up for themselves, and rightly so.

It wouldn’t surprise me now if the new budget goes through unanimously, as Jeff suggests it might. I interpret the events of yesterday as a warning to SNP not to be too arrogant and that they can’t take the Parliament for granted. But politicians will surely know that they can’t take this game too far.

It won’t be popular with the public if we end up without a budget and — worse — having to trudge out to vote for this shower again. I’m sure every politician in Holyrood knows that. Nor, surely, can the parties really afford all the campaigning that would be involved. So they will be prepared to avoid that outcome. In the aftermath of yesterday’s events, all of the parties appear to be more willing to play ball.

That’s the risk the Greens now face though. Either Labour or the Lib Dems — or both — might like to make some political capital out of this by making some compromises so that they can go around the place saying they saved Scotland’s public spending. In that case, the SNP really would be able to take the Greens’ votes for granted.

In that case, the Greens will look like they have made a major strategic error here. But I still think they did the right thing yesterday. The Greens may not have been very pragmatic, but their principled stance is exactly what we need more of in politics.

The shock is not so much that Labour won. I had a feeling in my water as long as a month ago that Labour might win, even when the bookies and the pundits were saying otherwise. But the scale of Labour’s victory must have shocked everyone.

Yesterday, the BBC’s coverage began on the premise that it was “too close to call” or that, if anything, the SNP had squeaked it. Jim Murphy was making his excuses early (and doing a fairly good job of it, it has to be said). Coming towards midnight, it became clearer that Labour had won. The SNP were saying they hoped to have halved Labour’s majority.

Even with that knowledge, the scale of Labour’s victory when it was finally announced amazed me. The SNP hadn’t even halved Labour’s majority. In fact, Labour’s vote actually went up from the 2005 General Election result. The only real consolation the SNP can have is that the swing was 5% from Labour to the SNP. Even so, that looks minuscule compared to the swing of 22.5% achieved just a few months ago in Glasgow East.

There are all sorts of reasons why the SNP will be disappointed with this result. First of all, Glenrothes must have been a target seat for them anyway, even before this by-election was announced, with the SNP having won the similar Fife Central seat in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. When Labour was in its trough of popularity, the SNP must have thought Christmas had come early.

Labour’s campaign had seemed like a total shambles. I do not live in the constituency so I haven’t seen any of the literature, but I have heard some bad things about it. Sarah Brown’s well-publicised visit to Cardenden was a complete botch job, and Gordon Brown’s visit to a cafeteria wasn’t much better.

Labour did not need a superstar candidate either. Lindsay Roy is a very nervy and uncomfortable performer on the television. However, it looks as though that actually played into his hands. Labour emphasised the fact that Lindsay Roy is not a career politician, and his track record of being out in the “real world” helping out Fife’s schoolchildren must have gained him a few votes.

As an aside, I doubt that Lindsay Roy actually wanted to become MP. He certainly didn’t look overjoyed at having won, and even after it was clear that Labour had won his body language seemed pretty negative to me. I have heard it said that Lindsay Roy wanted to retire from headteaching anyway and that he saw this as the ideal opportunity to get an early retirement. He probably thought he had no chance of winning.

There is also the fact that the SNP Scottish Government was still in its honeymoon period. Some people are reluctant to say that the honeymoon is over, but there is no doubt that this is at least a slap in the face.

Let us not forget that one of the SNP’s flagship policies was designed to please Fifers in particular. The SNP must have thought that the abolition of bridge tolls would have secured a few votes in Fife. Glenrothes in particular is within comfortable commuting distance of both Edinburgh and Dundee, meaning that many residents will be frequent users of both the Forth and Tay Road Bridges. The fact that the voters of Glenrothes in particular have given the SNP the cold shoulder is a major snub.

Nationalists may counter that Fife is fertile territory for Labour. Time and again I saw pundits on the television saying that Labour benefited from a “halo effect” spilling over into Glenrothes. Fifers, apparently, are proud that Gordon Brown is Prime Minister.

Let me just say, as someone who has lived in Fife all my life, that this is a complete load of tosh. Since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, I have never heard anyone say that they are proud that the PM is a Fifer. In fact, I have sometimes heard people wonder out aloud how it could possibly be that Kirkcaldy can have such high unemployment when the Prime Minister represents the constituency. (I once heard someone say, referring to the perceived unwillingness of Gordon Brown to help his local area, that Kirkcaldy has the highest rate of unemployment in the country, although I doubt that.)

Fife is not Labour loopy. Yesterday there was the opportunity for three of the four constituencies in Fife to be represented by a party other than Labour, leaving just Gordon Brown’s seat in tact. That didn’t happen. But the fact is that the Kingdom of Fife has the capacity to elect any one of three parties. As such, Glenrothes’s decision to vote for Labour should not simply be batted away because it was supposedly as “safe seat”. According to Alex Salmond, there is no such thing as a safe Labour seat these days, and Glenrothes certainly wasn’t one for the reasons outlined above.

The SNP may complain about the negativity of Labour’s campaign. But they should be alarmed that it worked. In retrospect, the decision of the SNP to select Fife Council leader Peter Grant as candidate must be seen as a major tactical error. The Labour Party was able to tap into some real dissatisfaction that people have with Fife Council at the moment.

Because of the complexities of this situation, it is not exactly clear what message the voters were sending out. There is no doubt that there was a message of some sort. But was it a verdict on the Labour government in Westminster? Was it a vote of confidence in Gordon Brown? Was it about sending a message to Holyrood? Or was it about punishing the leader of Fife Council?

Whichever, the SNP should take this seriously. I have no reason to doubt that they will, and the reaction from SNP members’ blogs is sober and reflective (see, for instance, Richard Thomson). There was some real evidence that the SNP were becoming complacent with their position. In the run-up to the election it was looking as though the SNP was giddy on power.

Alex Salmond’s supreme confidence was completely misplaced. And his attempt to attach himself to Barack Obama’s election as US President was crass in the extreme. Voters can smell this sort of thing a mile off, and I’d be amazed if it didn’t cost the SNP votes.

It is no longer enough to rely on the dissatisfaction with the Labour Party that many people have. With Labour’s vote having gone up, it’s pretty clear that they benefited from some serious tactical voting, with the Conservatives and the Lib Dems being squeezed. If this election shows anything, it is that while Labour are unpopular among many voters, the SNP are also loathed among many others.

A word on the Lib Dems, who must be very disappointed. For the second Scottish by-election in a row, they have come in fourth and lost their deposit. Glenrothes is practically sandwiched in between two Lib Dem constituencies — Dunfermline and West Fife and North East Fife. While there is no reason to automatically assume that the Lib Dems should therefore win Glenrothes, they must be disappointed by their complete inertia just now.

It is tough for smaller parties in by-elections anyway. But the current political climate cannot be doing them many favours. Despite PR, Scotland is beginning to look a bit like a two party system. In the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, one of the biggest changes was the almost complete disappearance of the small parties. Now it looks as though both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are wilting in a highly charged political atmosphere that pits the SNP versus Labour, leaving little room for much else.

I can’t say I’m surprised that an SNP candidate has pulled this old one out of the hat again. But it does amaze me that people constantly believe the argument without seeing the blatant inconsistency.

Julie Hepburn:

David Mundell’s comment sent shivers down my spine… Even if they don’t have a single Tory MP elected in Scotland… they still think they have the right to impose policies upon the people of Scotland that they have rejected at the polls.

Yes, but the only problem with this is that they do have the right to do that. A UK General Election is just that — a general election for the whole of the UK, whether the SNP likes it or not. That means the seats are totted up for the whole of the UK and whoever has the most seats forms the government. A pretty simple concept.

It’s the same concept that applies in elections to the Scottish Parliament. Seats are totted up for the whole of Scotland and whoever is in the best position to form an administration does so.

While the SNP are always quick to jump up and down to point out the Conservatives’ alleged unpopularity in Scotland (which isn’t really true, but I’ll let that slide for now), they are always a great deal more reticent about the geographical differences that occur within Scotland as well.

2007 constituency results 2007 regional vote results
Images stolen from the Scottish Politics website

The above maps show the results of the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. On the left is the constituency result, while the map on the right shows how the regional votes were cast in each constituency.

It is pretty clear that there is a distinct difference in voting patterns between different parts of Scotland. Broadly speaking, the further north and the deeper into rural areas you go, the more likely the SNP are to win. This is especially emphasised in the case of the regional vote where voters are more likely to vote for the party they really support rather than tactically voting. Meanwhile, the central belt still heavily voted for Labour, particularly in the west.

Does this mean that the SNP is just a bunch of northerners foisting unwanted policies which have been rejected by voters in the lowlands? I don’t think so. But Julie Hepburn’s logic, all too prevalent among nationalists, would conclude this if only it was not so hypocritical.

As I said, the Scottish Parliamentary election is a Scotland-wide election and whoever gets a plurality of seats across the whole of Scotland wins. So it was right that the SNP ended up forming the Scottish Government. The SNP will quite cheerfully accept their right to govern the whole of Scotland.

By the same token, if the Conservatives win the most seats in the next UK General Election, they will be well within their rights to form the government for the whole of the UK. That would include Scotland, no matter how much foot-stamping the nats do. Neither case sends a shiver down my spine.

Meanwhile, the SNP often tries to make out that it speaks for the whole of Scotland. That sends a shiver down my spine.

I am not trying to say, as the nationalist logic goes, that the central belt and the south should pursue independence because of these geographical differences. Such differences between different parts of any area will inevitably form. Look at any election map for any country, no matter how large or small, and you will doubtless see certain trends. These could be along urban / rural lines, differences between coastal and inland areas, north / south divides, east / west divides, or whatever.

Is this an ideal situation? Far from it. Adopting a federalist structure can go a long way to mitigating these effects and that is part of the reason why I am a federalist.

Unfortunately, the SNP is not a federalist party. You can see this in their strange “local” income tax policy which could hardly be less local. Despite their rhetoric about bringing government closer to the people, the SNP is a centralist party. It wants to take powers away from other levels of government and concentrate them all in Holyrood.

The “problem” of having a party foisting unwanted policies in areas where those policies were rejected would hardly be solved by the SNP.

To the extent that the SNP’s current electoral popularity is due to pro-SNP (rather than anti-Labour) effects, it must be remembered that there is much more than independence at play. Does an SNP success in an election mean that Scotland has suddenly converted to the cause of independence? Of course not.

Firstly, support for independence is pretty low at the moment. According to the 2007 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (which I believe asks a question about independence every year), support for independence (PDF link) was lower than it had been since May 1997. Asked to choose between independence, devolution or getting rid of the Scottish Parliament altogether, just 23% plumped for independence.

The peak of support for independence was actually in September 1997 — ironically, also roughly when Labour were also at the height of their powers. Then, independence was favoured over devolution for, as far as I can tell, the only time in history. Over the preceding decade support for independence has flitted up and down but has been in a pronounced decline since 2005.

Another point to note is that this, the SNP’s most successful period ever, has come at a time when the SNP has played down its support for independence. Take the slogan it has used since last year’s election campaign. Instead of things like “Michty me, we’ll soon be free” and all that sort of thing, their slogan was: “It’s time.” Time for what? Time for bed? The SNP don’t say.

You have to admit, it is a fiendishly clever slogan. Classic dog whistle stuff. So SNP activists and hardened advocates for independence think it’s time for independence. Anti-Labour voters see it and think it’s time for a change, time to kick Labour out. In fact, it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

Crucially, the independence issue was not rammed down people’s throats by the SNP. Given the closeness of last year’s election, that could well have been what swung it for them.

You should also bear in mind that the SNP are very far away from being a single-issue party. A vote for the SNP is not necessarily a vote for independence, and often an SNP activist will be the first person to tell you this. For instance, Richard Leyton got this line from no less a person than Nicola Sturgeon.

Don’t want an independent Scotland? It doesn’t matter. The SNP have made it very clear that independence will only come after a referendum victory. In the meantime, there is a “national conversation” about independence where you can express your views if you so wish. In effect, the SNP have tried as hard as possible to divorce the independence issue from Scottish Parliament and Westminster elections. The debate over independence now runs separately.

So what explains the SNP’s success? It’s the policies stupid. It is conceivable that Fifers who voted for the SNP did so because they were enticed by their promise to abolish the bridge tolls. Students may have been attracted to their promise to “dump student debt”. And of course, the people who felt that there should be a change in government were always likely to vote SNP because they are the second largest party in Scotland, and the only party in a position to stand up to Labour.

It must also be said that Alex Salmond’s leadership has a lot to do with the SNP’s current success. Yes, he splits opinion. But like him or loathe him, you have to admit that he is a great politician. He is good orator and has the charisma and leadership qualities necessary. The only other Scottish leader that can compare to him in my book is Annabel Goldie, and even she is pretty colourless compared to Alex Salmond.

Particularly when you compare him to the likes of Nicol Stephen and Jack McConnell, who both look permanently nervous, Alex Salmond towers above everyone else in the Scottish Parliament. Wendy Alexander was no match for him either, particularly given the state of disarray Labour are in at the moment. With Alex Salmond at the helm, the SNP should expect an upswing in fortunes, especially since their leader at the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary election was the dull and ineffective John Swinney.

Back in Glasgow East, from what I gather, the issue of independence was not completely ignored, but it certainly did not form a major part of the campaign. Instead, it was presented as a contest where the electorate would pass judgement on the records of the Labour Government in Westminster and the SNP Government in Holyrood.

The SNP were also hugely advantaged by the fact that they were already in 2nd place in the constituency. If my theory about whichever party being in a position to beat Labour will win is correct, then it is no wonder the SNP did well while the Lib Dems tanked.

Most votes are wasted anyway, especially under the FPTP system. But a sure-fire way to waste your vote in Glasgow East was to vote for the Conservatives or the Lib Dems. Only hardened Tories and Lib Dems who despise Labour and the SNP equally will have voted for them (or, indeed, any of the other smaller parties).

In summary, I think that the SNP’s victory in Glasgow East means almost nothing for the union.

That is not to say that I think that the status quo will prevail. I think I am right when I say that all of the parties currently represented in the Scottish Parliament, and the largest parties that are not represented in the Scottish Parliament, all support some kind of increased devolution to varying degrees. That includes the Conservatives, who appear pretty open to the idea of the Scottish Parliament having some leverage over fiscal policy.

Even Labour, painted into a unionist corner by their opposition to the SNP, have toyed with the idea of fiscal autonomy. Mind you, that was under the leadership of Wendy Alexander, who seemed to be a bit of a loose cannon when it came to trying to tackle the issue of the constitution. Who knows what direction Labour will take under their new leader, but I suspect that they will find it difficult to maintain support unless the take the majority view that the Scottish Parliament should have a greater degree of fiscal autonomy.

All of this, though, is almost incidental to the success or otherwise of the SNP. Increased powers for the Scottish Parliament will not come about as a result of SNP success. It can come about as a result of the success of any party.

Thanks to a deal the Scottish Executive has made with Cosla, local authorities will now have to freeze Council Tax — or else.

The SNP’s long-term proposal is to get rid of Council Tax altogether and replace it with a Local Income Tax. Seems like a good idea. Except that the SNP version of Local Income Tax gives local authorities absolutely no power to set the rate. I still don’t understand what’s “local” about Local Income Tax version SNP. Local rates where the rates are set by the centre? Don’t get it. It seems to be “local” in name only.

For a party that is supposed to be in favour of removing power from the centre, the SNP seems awfy keen on reducing the autonomy of local authorities and putting the power all back to the centre. I guess as long as the centre is in Edinburgh rather than London, it must be okay.

When the SNP say so with their new £100,000 vanity project — to rename the Scottish Executive to The Scottish Government. A few have been noticing the creeping use of the phrase ‘Scottish Government’ over the past few months, but I did not foresee the full-scale name change (despite what SNP supporter Scottish Politics says).

Nationalists are dead chuffed. According to them, it is monumental. Not from my perspective. This is just the Executive deciding it wants a fancy new name just as arbitrarily as a ned gets a personalised number plate for his car.

I’m not sure what the point of the name change is (beyond making the SNP feel more important than they actually are). For a start, officially changing the name would require a change in the law in a reserved area. The change is cosmetic. Mind you, that is probably enough for nationalists. But beyond that, Alex Salmond’s justifications do not quite add up to me.

Normally supporters of independence line up to criticise unionists of claiming that Scots are too stupid and incapable of making an independent Scotland work. But today ask a nationalist and all of a sudden Scots are just too stupid to understand what “Scottish Executive” means. This is despite the fact that the phrase has been a part of everyday language for almost a decade.

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh. Maybe this “Scottish Executive” business is too taxing for those little voters. So what do they do to alleviate the confusion? They change the name. Because that won’t muddy the waters one bit!

It’s a tweak to the political lexicon that is not needed. Since the inception of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 there has been a need to differentiate between the bodies that govern us.

So the legislature in Holyrood is the Scottish Parliament (or sometimes just Parliament, if there is enough context to allow you to ditch the ‘Scottish’). There the Scottish Executive is formed and is led by the First Minister.

Meanwhile, the legislature in London is called Westminster (to differentiate it from the (Scottish) Parliament). That is where the government, led by the Prime Minister, does its business.

I didn’t think that was too confusing, but there you go. Obviously I, unlike Alex Salmond, am not in the sort of position to say when and when not Scottish voters are too stupid to know what’s what.

I was used to saying “Executive” for things that the Scottish Executive did and “government” for things that, er, the Government did. Now we have a homonym. So what do I say now? I suppose it will all be “Scottish Government” and “UK Government” from now on.

Except, that is, in bills. These will still contain the phrase “Scottish Executive” even though it was the Scottish Government that put forward the bill. The whole situation is crystal clear now. I really am glad that helpful Mr Salmond has cleared things up for us!

Of course, the Scottish Executive hasn’t given itself a new name because the voters are just too, too confused (although that is the SNP spin on it). Bellgrove Belle lets slip the real reason behind the name change:

[O]nce we are called a Government, act like a Government, people will begin to demand the powers of a Government.

So there you have it. Not only is this name change a piece of spin to the nth degree deliberately designed to make voters more likely to vote in favour of independence. But also the Executive is not a real government with “the powers of a Government”. It wasn’t me who said that; it was Bellgrove Belle.

So just what is the justification for the name change?

No doubt he will be tearing up his Labour membership card after reading this article: “Dennis Goldie, who is also known for his outspoken opposition to gay rights, is the frontrunner to become the Labour candidate in Falkirk West.” (Via)

This is the post about independence that I have been threatening to write for months.

I am seriously considering voting SNP at this year’s Scottish Parliament elections. But I will probably stand in the voting booth thinking long and hard about it, with my hand quivering. And it will definitely be only for the constituency vote — purely as an anti-Labour tactical vote. The SNP are in the second place in my constituency. I’ll see how the local campaign pans out, but for the time being, voting SNP is the only (slim) hope of booting Labour out of Kirkcaldy.

However, I normally wouldn’t vote SNP. Yes, they are probably in my eyes the second least-worst party, but that says more about the shoddy state of political parties than anything else.

There has been an awful lot of talk about independence in the past few months and I wouldn’t blame SNP supporters for getting carried away. I said a few weeks ago, though, that I thought there wasn’t really a proper debate on independence. For most people it has just been an issue that’s been there for decades. As such, it doesn’t get tackled properly by anybody on any side.

Take, for instance, the SNP’s astonishing reliance on oil. Unbelievably, this still sits at the heart of SNP ideology. It is an argument that might have been convincing in the 1970s. But it should have stayed in the 1970s.

Economic report after economic report rubbishes the SNP claims that oil would keep Scotland’s economy afloat. Surely even the most blinkered nationalist has to realise that the oil argument is in trouble when the SNP’s rebuttal to Professor Arthur Midwinter’s report is to cite the GERS report which said much the same thing!

I don’t know about you, but usually when two studies come to broadly similar conclusions — and conclusions that are supported by the majority of fiscal policy experts — I take that to usually mean that there might be something in those conclusions.

The joke normally goes that if you have two economists you get three different opinions. Here we have economist after economist lining up to give the same opinion — that the oil argument is a complete red herring.

The fact that the SNP are left pointing out differences in the size of estimated deficits is telling. The fact is that these estimates are both deficits. Whether it’s £11 billion or £4 billion, it’s a lot of money to be chucking down the chute.

Meanwhile, the reaction from the nationalist commenters on the website speaks volumes about how much the average independence supporter actually cares about economic arguments, with such incisive gems as:

I got as far as paragraph three….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Putting aside arguments over balancing the books, for an independent Scotland’s economy to rely almost solely on oil would be incredibly dangerous. I say “almost solely”, although I’m sure most nationalists would soon be able to pull all sorts of other things out of the air that provide “evidence” of how much Scotland’s economy is superior to the UK’s. But why do we never hear as much about these?

The SNP acts as though oil is a panacea to all of Scotland’s economic ills. But you have to be burying your entire body in the sand to believe that it actually would be. An economy that relies upon one single industry — one single natural resource, indeed — is a very unhealthy economy indeed. It’s called putting all your eggs in one basket.

So what happens when the oil runs out, which is bound to happen within a matter of decades? North Sea oil production has already halved in just the past eight years. Since Scotland will have lost its biggest argument in favour of independence within a matter of a few decades, I suppose it will be time to sign a second Act of Union in 2050?

You want more? Let’s leave the economy completely out of the equation. How about the environmental effects? The SNP touts itself as a green party. Yet at the very core of its ideology sits a love of consuming oil. Exactly how environmentally friendly is that? Ryanair would have a more convincing claim to be an environmental group.

Below I have written two lists. The first list is of things we know about oil for a fact. The second list is of things that we just don’t know about oil.

List 1:

  • Oil is a finite resource and is bound to run out sooner or later — we know this for a fact
  • Oil markets are highly unstable and prices fluctuate wildly — we know this for a fact
  • Oil extraction causes pollution and oil consumption is a major contributor to CO2 emissions — we know this for a fact

List 2:

  • Will North Sea oil be enough to plug an independent Scottish government’s budget deficit? — we just don’t know, although the evidence strongly suggests that it wouldn’t

I really don’t understand why the SNP isn’t picked up on this more often. This is a raging, gaping hole that sits at the very core of the SNP’s plans. Moreover, the fetishistic love of oil is at odds with the SNP’s desperation to present itself as environmentally-friendly. And here we sit considering the possibility that they might be in charge come May.

But oil is not my only beef with independence. The main reason why I don’t support nationalist movements of any form is that I just don’t believe that it matters where you are governed from. What matters is how you are governed.

I once read an SNP supporter say that a unionist criticising nationalism is a hypocrite because while a supporter of Scottish independence is a Scottish nationalist, unionists are British nationalists. But this is nonsense. I am not a nationalist of any sort. I don’t have to be “proud” of Britain to recognise that the Union works by and large.

I find it difficult to be proud of Scotland. Being proud of the country in which you are born is as bizarre to me as being proud of this week’s lottery numbers. I certainly have a love of and affinity with Scotland. But I recognise that this is only because I was born here and all of my memories are from here. If I was born in any other country I would love that country also. That is why I can’t be proud of my nationality.

Moreover, while there are many parts of my culture that are derived from Scotland, it is not difficult to find the influence of Britain. It is no inconsistency to say that I feel equal parts Scottish and British, and even European. I find the idea that I cannot be both, or that I somehow have to choose between them, offensive.

And I should make clear here that I am not in favour of London having all of the power. I am a federalist. I was in favour of devolution. To me, it makes common sense for national issues such as defence to be controlled at one level and for issues such as education and health to be controlled by a more local level, just as most people believe that the council is the right body to arrange rubbish collection.

I am also in favour of greater fiscal autonomy. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Scottish Parliament as things stand is that it does not have the responsibility to raise the tax money that it spends. I was struck by an article in The Economist which said:

Holyrood’s politicians… do not, however, suffer the discipline of having to raise their revenue themselves: they are like teenagers on an allowance. And they have no incentive to promote economic growth through taxation.

The Scottish Parliament has only a piddly power to vary tax levels by ±3%, and it is too scared to even use that. The Scottish Parliament needs to mature. Greater fiscal autonomy would allow this to happen.

But that does not mean that we should leave the United Kingdom. It is crazy that in an increasingly globalised world that we should consider building a barrier. And let’s face it, if drawing a boundary isn’t designed to build a barrier, what is the point?

By now some nationalists will be shrieking, saying things like, “Look at Ireland!”, or, “Imagine if Norway wasn’t independent!” Norway is a favourite example of everybody who wants to advocate a certain policy. I remember a few years back David Farrer praised the prosperity of Norway, suggesting that it might be because it was outside the EU. Though I doubt Farrer would be too quick to praise Norway’s generous welfare system.

Whatever the causes, Norway apparently does well for itself. Nationalists believe that this is because it is independent. The thing is though, we already live in an independent country. It’s called the UK. This brings me on to a point that I have never heard a supporter of independence adequately respond to:

The relevant question isn’t, “Why should Scotland be independent?” The relevant question is, “Why should Scotland be independent?”

What is so magical about Scotland that it should deserve to be independent? Scottish nationalists know full well that if Scotland were to become independent, that wouldn’t be the end of the debate. It would probably just mean that the Orcadian nationalist movement would stamp its feet more loudly.

Maybe Aberdonians would start an independence movement on the basis that “It’s Aberdeen’s oil”. And who would blame them? After all, surely even Newcastle has a stronger claim to North Sea oil than, say, Stranraer.

Latching on to words like independence and freedom tugs on people’s heartstrings and gets people heated. But it ignores one vital thing: we are not oppressed. And if we are oppressed, it isn’t because we are ruled from London.

And this brings be on to yet another bugbear of mine about the independence movement. Nationalists often make the claim that Westminster politics is corrupt and that the only solution to it is for Scotland to become independent. But we are talking about politicians here. It is every bit as conceivable that an Edinburgh-based administration would be just as bad (or good) as a London-based one. As I said before, what matters is not from where you are governed, but how well you are governed.

Just moving Scotland’s politicians from one building to another won’t make politics any rosier. And in case you need reminding, the shitbags that currently run Westminster enjoy their greatest concentration of support in Scotland. As we Scottish bloggers have been noting recently, that support is too unquestioningly loyal.

And while I believe that the claims that there is a “Scottish Raj” are overstated, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were both born in Scotland, and there are more Scottish cabinet ministers. It hardly fills me with a great amount of confidence that an independent Scotland would have inherently better politics.

I could actually go on, but for the good of my readership and my page load times I’m going to call it a day there. But to think that this is the party that I’m actually thinking of voting for. At the risk of sounding like Polly Toynbee (please, no!) I’ll have to get the nosepegs out.

Will Patterson was on Radio Scotland yesterday discussing the rather sorry state of Scottish political blogging. You can hear it here.

Don’t know how sorry a state it’s in? Well, Will P said that (along with the brilliant CuriousHamster), doctorvee is one of the “blogs that everyone’s reading”. I get the feeling that anybody coming here for any top Guido Fawkes-style political blogging will have been sorely disappointed at the list of sprawling rants about moderately disappointing music that I’ve been more likely to post in recent weeks.

I don’t really see this place as a political blog any more. A couple of years ago I really wanted to be a political blogger. Now I can’t really be bothered. I do have the Scottish Blogging Roundup, and I’ve found myself holding back all of my little thoughts about politics for those posts rather than anything I write here. That’s maybe not a good thing. Perhaps I should be more impartial in the Roundup!

Anyway, it’s all very apt because I was actually planning another post on the Roundup blog about this issue. Why is there no Scottish Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale or Tim Ireland? Stay tuned at the Roundup blog for the post on that to come on Sunday, in place of this week’s roundup.

The Radio Scotland report painted a rather more sorry picture than is genuinely the case. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that there are only a “few dozen” Scottish blogs! There might only be a few dozen well-known blogs, but you can bet that for each of them there are at least a dozen buried underneath waiting to be discovered. For instance, Technorati lists 220 ‘Scottish’ bloggers, and they are only the people who know how to tag their blogs for Technorati! Who knows what else is hidden.

That was part of the reason for starting the Scottish Blogging Roundup: to discover more Scottish blogs, and to find a greater variety of views. I think it has partially succeeded, but there is a long way to go before anybody north of the border gets taken as seriously as the big guns like Tim Worstall, Iain Dale et al.

As they say in the radio report, there is a huge opportunity here with the Holyrood election coming up in May. But I seem to remember that the last Scottish Parliament election didn’t get an awful lot of attention in the media (certainly compared to a General Election), and the whole thing went by pretty much unnoticed. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen this year. Maybe we bloggers can make something happen.

Incidentally, for what it’s worth, my favourite Scottish political bloggers are Will P and David Farrer.

Update: I forgot to link to this excellent post on the same radio report at Scottish Political News, a good new-ish blog.