Saturday, 13 February 2016

Why a delay in Indyref 2 may be unwise

Many people who wavered during the 2014 referendum and subsequently plumped for No did so on the basis of assurances and promises made by the British. The line of "safer and faster change" with a No vote was an effective one - it satiated the desire for change in Scotland's constitutional relationship with the British, whilst simultaneously avoiding the "risks" associated with sepurrayshun.

We were told that remaining in the union would save the steel industry (it's gone), the oil industry (it's been destroyed) and our place in the EU (we are heading for a knife-edge referendum in which Scotland will vote overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, but the British will wrench us out regardless). 

The promises of faster, safer extension of powers with a No vote has so far amounted to the power for the Scottish Parliament to design road signs, while the Tories - supported enthusiastically by Scottish Labour - slash Scotland's "pooled and shared" block grant and demand the Scottish government raises taxes on the poor to pay for British austerity.

"Faster and safer" change with a No vote echoed the 1979 promises made by British opposition leader Margaret Thatcher that a No vote would deliver "better" devolution. In the event, of course, we voted Yes, the British unilaterally overturned the result, and instead of "better devolution" we had 18 years of vicious Tory rule.

The "faster and safer" change that people fell for has, of course, been followed by devolution of the design of road signs as we enter the seventh year of a Conservative government we comprehensively rejected at the polls.

While the Scottish media - almost all of which is British-owned and operated and none of which is owned by Scots - are doubtless to blame by their abandonment of all journalistic ethics, unquestioningly and uncritically parroting every pronouncement and promise made by the British regime to Scots, another reason why so many fell for the empty promises of the British of their intentions following a No vote was the lack of a collective folk memory of the 1979 stab in the back.

The youngest possible person to have voted No based on British promises and media support in 1979 and witnesses the subsequent betrayal would have been 53 during the Independence referendum. The vast majority of those who experienced the betrayal of 79 will be dead now, and the majority of the Indyref electorate would not have been around in 1979. Many, indeed, would not have been aware.

The British, in the Good Friday Agreement, have conceded the principle that when one of its constituent nations holds a constitutional referendum and chooses to remain in the United Kingdom, the issue may be revisited after a gap of seven years. A political generation which will see at least one full Parliament and, depending on the point in the life of parliament in whcih the referendum was held, parts of three Parliaments. 

For instance, if one applies the 7-year rule to Scotland, the referendum would be held some time after September 2021. This means that since the first referendum, Scots would have experienced government by the 2010-2015 British parliament, the 2015-2020 British parliament, the 2020-2025 British parliament, and the IV, V and VI Scottish Parliaments.

This gives us more than enough time to ascertain for ourselves the good faithand intentioms of the British in relation to Scotland. A delay of more than three decades between the Devolution Referendum and the Independence Referendum robbed the electorate of the folk memory of British betrayal of promises.

We must not allow the same to happen again. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Parry Snotter and the Chamber of Goons

In May, there was a momentous occasion in Scottish politics. The Speaker of the Westminster parliament, John Bercow, chose to chide SNP MPs for the heinous crime of applauding briefly and respectfully at the conclusion of a colleague's speech.

On the BBC's Reporting Scotland that evening, Jackie Bird switched between delighted glee that the enemy had been told off, and ululating in spasms of fauxrage at the very idea that Ra Nats were in the British parliament at all.

Jackie Bird announcing some SNPs applauded
Every newspaper was predictably outraged. The Nats were branded pirates and terrorists. Labour denounced the SNP as "goons", " infantile",  and "stupid". 

There were rants in - this is not an exhaustive list - the Daily Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail (a five-page spread), The Scotsman, the Herald (cost of a Herald: £1,20; cost of the Herald: £40.000 in advertising), STV and the BBC. The tone of the coverage was hysterical. One might have thought by the fevered tone of the coverage that some SNP MPs had held a sobbing queen Elizabeth down on the floor of the Commons while Alex Salmond curled one out on her face. 

(Applause, incidentally, is a terrorist attack performed by fascist subhuman goons when the SNP do it, but a fitting, dignified tribute when it's done after Tony Blair's last speech to the British parliament, or indeed, in tribute to John Bercow).

I was struck by the difference in the tone - or lack thereof - of the reporting today when Labour MSP and former "leadership" hopeful Neil Findlay screamed  unparliamentary abuse across the chamber, shouting down the First Minister as she delivered a speech in Parliament today. As sniggering Labour MSPs sheltered Findlay from the presiding officer, the country - keenly aware of Kezia Dugdale's personal, and definitely-not political campaign against people being rude about Scottish Labour on the internet, stretching to writing columns for the Hitler-supporting Daily Mail and posing for photos in The Sun with Kezia Sad Face on - waited for the Labour "leader" to take action against rude behaviour in her own party.

It waited, dear reader, in vain.

It is odd that the Labour outrage over SNP MPs "disrespecting" the British parliament by applauding a colleague's speech was not replicated over Findlay disrespecting Parliament.

But it's not an isolated incident.

In December, James Kelly, a slack-jawed yokel who has, inexplicably, found himself an MSP, was thrown out of the chamber for refusing to accept the authority of its presiding officer (perhaps it is coincidence that this is another example of a male Scottish Labour MSP behaving in an offensive manner to a female counterpart; perhaps it's indicative of a male-dominated, bullying party of overgrown schoolboys).

The question arises: has Scottish Labour, always suspicious of devolution and now realising it will never govern the devolved institutions again, reacting to its loss of power and influence, its near-loss in the independence referendum, and its moribund status in the polls, by seeking to undermine the public approval of the devolved institutions by trying to present it as unworthy of respect; of a "pretendy parliament" peopled by second-class politicians, and to be considered far below the esteem enjoyed by the Westminster parliament?

A Scottish Parliament viewed as a laughing stock would suit no party better than Scottish Labour. Might this be behind their decision to continually offer a front-bench of talentless thugs, Edinburgh lawyers and intellectual pygmies?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Urgent reformation of List system is necessary

Brian Wilson is right. There's a sentence I didn't think I'd write ever.

Not about everything, of course, but about List MSPs. We live in a country in which Anne MacTaggart and Willie Rennie are considered parliamentarians. 

In 1999, with a nascent democracy and a desire not to confuse the public between MSPs and Westminster MPs, the dual system of List and Constituency MSPs worked. 

Seventeen years on, though, and it is clear that the List system is being abused. Abused by microparties like Rise, Ukip and Solidarity, which seek to exploit a system intended to top up Constituency MSPs to sneak into Parliament through the back door; and abused by Scottish Labour, which seeks to use the system to effectively veto the decision of the electorate.

The latter is a manifestation of the arrogance of Scottish Labour. Their struggling leader, Kezia Dugdale, has carefully chosen to stand in the Edinburgh Eastern constituency - a once-Labour seat with a retiring Nationalist MSP and thus no incumbency factor. Even with all these advantages, Dugdale looks unlikely to win. She is widely viewed as incompetent and thoroughly out of her depth.

But on the Friday morning, the electors of Edinburgh Eastern, having explicitly and personally rejected Dugdale as their MSP, will wake to find that Scottish Labour has, undeterred, imposed her upon them anyway. This, from the party which - howling in rage about a second referendum no minister has proposed - demands we "respect the result of the referendum" and accept that no means no, is nothing but the most unbridled, breathtaking hypocrisy.

The List system exists to preserve proportionality, not to save the careers of tired party apparatchiks who are unelectable in their own right.

If it is to survive, it must be reformed urgently lest the public view it with the same outrage as it views the Lords. 

My solution is a simple one. No List MSP ought to be eligible to serve more than one term on the List. Nor should anyone who is defeated in a constituency be eligible to be a List MSP. And finally, no List MSP should be eligible for a government job. There may also be a case for reducing by half the salary of List MSPs as, with no constituents, they do substantially less work.

Nobody should be able to make a career out of unelectability. And nobody who is unaccountable to constituents ought to be able to exercise power over them.

As they stand currently, List MSPs are a democratic outrage. They must reform or risk damaging the reputation of the entire institutions of our still-new democracy.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Irish general election (February 2016) preview

Yesterday, President Higgins (the first person not called Mary to win a presidential election since 1973) dissolved the 31st Dáil, on the advice of the taoiseach, Enda Kenny. 

With Ireland one of the victims of Eurausterity, it will be interesting to see if the electorate react in a similar fashion to those in Greece, Spain and Portugal, all of which handed power (or the balance thereof) to radical Left-wing parties.

The outgoing government is composed of Mr Kenny's Fine Gael party, propped up by the Labour party, led by the tánaiste and minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton. (FG and Labour were the largest and second largest parties in the Dáil respectively). The main Opposition party is Fianna Fáil, the once hegemonic ruler of Ireland for most of the 20th and 21st centuries, but which was Jim Murphyed in the 2011 general election, losing 50 of its 51 seats. Sinn Féin is the secondary Opposition party, with a decent caucus of radical Socialists being noisy, but ineffective, mainly because - with bewildering inevitability - they split.

There was some debate within the government as to the date of the election: FG reportedly wished it to be on Thursday, February 25th in order not to disenfranchise as many as 40.000 rugby fans (with a tendency to vote FG) heading to London for the Six Nations rugby match on the Saturday. Labour argued in favour of the Friday in order to accommodate students, and those who live in Dublin through the week but return to their home county for the weekends. The taoiseach seems to have accepted the advice of his tánaiste regarding the timing. 

Parties

Fine Gael - The United Ireland Party is expected to be the largest party returned to the 32nd Dáil. It is led by the taoiseach, Enda Kenny, a 64-year-old who has been Teachta Dála for Mayo since 1975. In addition to being taoiseach, he is also Father of the Dáil, the longest-serving TD. FG is riding high in the polls, and is receiving credit for being the architect of Ireland's economic recovery.

Labour, which won an historic high number of TDs in 2011, is looking at a dreadful result. Some polls have them returning a single figure of deputies to the Dáil. They are being punished by Left-wing voters for being perceived to have propped up a right-wing regime in power (this may seem eerily familiar to British readers who support the Liberal Democrats). Irish Portillo moments may be provided by several high-profile ministers including tánaiste Joan Burton, a 67-year-old Dublin West TD who fell in a river last month. In the mid-90s FG/Labour/Democratic Left government, Ms Burton was a minister, but lost her seat in the 1997 election to a Socialist. Many commentators predict that she may be about to repeat the unhappy experience. 

Fianna Fáil, The Republican Party went into the last election with Brian Cowen, somehow, as taoiseach, but not seeking re-election to the Dáil, and Cork TD and former foreign minister Micheál Martin leading the party. Mr Martin, with a wealth of experience in government, is very young for an Irish party leader at only 55 years old, and has been a TD since 1989. He was steadily, if unspectacularly, rebuilt FF, despite an internally controversial decision not to have an FF candidate contest the 2011 Presidential election. He has been adamant that he will neither go into coalition with FG nor Sinn Féin, nor will he participate in a government in which FF is not the largest party. With 79 TDs required for a majority, and FF only putting up 70 candidates, this would seem to leave him requiring the support of Labour (which historically goes into coalition with FG), and various independents.

Of which, more: the Independents are likely to have a massive influence in the new Dáil. Ireland has developed a taste for local Independent TDs, which secure local investment in return for supporting the government. There is an Independent Alliance, and various actual independents of varying degrees of colour. One, Mick Wallace, TD for Wexford, is notable for his appearance in the Dáil with long grey hair, a beard, denims, and pink t-shirts. Others, such as Michael Lowry (Tipperary) have been expelled from FG for corruption (a judge last month referred to him as "even worse than [former FF taoiseach Charles] Haughey]). It is my opinion that any government, given the collapse of Labour (for FG), and FF's painting itself into a corner, will be hugely important. 

Sinn Féin is the elephant in the room. Led by 67-year-old Louth TD Gerry Adams, to whom British readers will require little introduction, SF has positioned itself as the main progressive and anti-austerity party in the State. Reconciled to partition, yet still working towards reunification, the party has renounced the armed struggle and has attracted a new generation of young supporters, excited by its stance against water charges and privatisation. It looks likely that Mr Adams will stand down at some point in the next Dáil as SF president and hand over to the inspirational Dublin TD Mary-Lou McDonald. 2011 was the first election SF elected a number of TDs who could be grouped in something apart from "others", and whilst it's a long-shot that Mr Adams will emerge as taoiseach (even if SF lead the new government, it's likely he'd be unacceptable to other parties), it has a very strong chance of being the official opposition, putting modern republicanism and anti-austerity politics at the forefront of Irish politics. SF's support comes mainly from Armagh, Derry, Dublin, Fermanagh, Louth and Tyrone, of which only Dublin and Louth send TDs to the Dáil. 

The Anti Austerity Alliance - People Before Profit has Richard Boyd Barrett, a 49-year-old TD for Dun Laoghaire, as its public face. Its stance against Irish Water and the IMF bailout has catapulted it to popularity in the larger urban centres, particularly Dublin. 

The Social Democrats formed from three independent TDs in the previous Dáil. In a hung Dáil, they may be expected, having returned their three, to participate in the new government. They have a joint leadership, but Catherine Murphy (62, Kildare, former Workers Party, Democratic Left and Labour; TD since 2005) would be the most likely person to take a ministerial job. 

Smaller parties such as Renua (basically Ian Duncan Smith on steroids) will also be standing, and not getting any TDs. Their leader, Lucinda Creighton, may be familiar to Scottish readers as the Europe Minister who complained to the BBC after it lied about her comments regarding Scottish EU membership during the Referendum. 

There are three televised debates scheduled - RTÉ will broadcast a debate between an AAAPBB and SD candidate to be determined, Micheál Martin, Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Lucinda Creighton and Gerry Adams on February 15th; and the main debate between Martin, Kenny, Burton and Adams on the 23rd. These debates will be in the English language. TG4 will broadcast a debate between the main candidates (Martin, Kenny, Burton and Adams) at a date to be decided. 

This election is unpredictable - and is one to watch across Europe. If you jabbed me in the ribs and asked for a prediction, I'd first of all say "ouch", and then I'd lean towards Enda Kenny as taoiseach leading a minority government. But there is much to come between now and polling day.