Monday 20 January 2014

How big an offer to the undecided?

From today's Daily Record column

There just cannot be up to one million Scots out there who have not made their mind up on independence.

They are a fiery cross of hope for the Yes camp and a gnawing ringworm of doubt for the No side.

The high number of polling "undecideds" are astute voters waiting to be informed by an offer of what No means.

The No side looks like winning but can't just hang on, palms sweating, hoping to land on a safe ledge.

Everyone knows this battle is not settled with a near win. Like World War Z, some nationalists wouldn't know they were beaten. For the SNP a near loss is a staging post to a re-match hinged on the following elections.

Any Labour politician awaiting the disintegration of the SNP machine after a referendum defeat is deluding themselves.

Should the vote go No (looks likely) there are 11 Scottish Lib Dem seats going a begging in 2015. Some sitting ducks will survive, but if they topple the SNP is placed to gain.

There is no reason either why Labour's west of Scotland Westminster majorities should remain impregnable. Many are represented by SNP MSPs at Holyrood, well entrenched, looking for an electoral opportunity.

During the 2010 Coalition negotiations the only people talking to the SNP were security guards in an empty Palace of Westminster. Next time the numbers could be different, but SNP priorities won't be.

An emphatic referendum win is needed to head off this and several permutations of Labour's No nightmare.

Labour voters are the ones most likely to be drawn by the SNP bid. The question is how big a counter-offer can Labour make to its undecided supporters?

The majority of Scots are in favour of more Holyrood powers short of independence, if vague about what these powers should be.

The only one worth talking about is tax-raising power. Johann Lamont's  Devolution Commission was minded to devolve all income tax powers. It stalled and not because of London control-freakery, much as the SNP would love that.

The big asks by sceptical Labour MPs are that devolving tax should not leave Scotland worse off, affect the Barnett formula or diminish Scottish influence in the UK parliament.

Scottish Labour still has to persuade itself how bold it can be in offering a tax-raising alternative to nationalism. As Gordon Brown pointed out, an offer of no change will not do.

Labour better decide soon - there are one million people out there waiting for an offer.

Monday 6 January 2014

England Awakes

From today's Daily Record column

Is this the week that England awoke to the end of Britain?

While we were sipping drams and looking back on the year that was commentators in what we call the national newspapers, that is the London ones, began to realise that 2014 might be a big year.

Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph and biographer of Margaret Thatcher no less, wrote alarmingly that the United Kingdom "could be voted out of existence". Welcome to the party, Charles.

Philip Collins, Tony Blair's former speechwriter, noted thoughtfully that  the usual  case against independence is that Scotland will be damaged. "The real damage, though, will be done, though, to England."

Simon Jenkins, a hired girn of the Guardian, still reeling from the celebrations, urged the Tories to let Scotland go.

The response from petty nationalists, there are a few of them, is that this is a debate for the Scots alone. Except David Cameron, of course.  They'd like him to debate independence so that it can be framed as an Us versus The Tories battle. 

True, Scots alone - and resident Czechs, Catalans and exiled nats from as far away as San Francisco  who are on the electoral roll at their parent's Heilan' Hame for the year - are the ones who will vote.

But the English will be affected too and are beginning to voice concern. Moore detects a change in attitude, which I see for myself.

A few years ago the tolerant English would say if Scotland wanted to go alone then regretfully, so be it.

That changed to "are you Jocks still here?" as Salmond's policies of differentiation - and downright discrimination in the case of university fees for English students - began to engender resentment.

Now, there is an edge of incredulity when English friends ask what is happening in Scotland. "You're not going to, are you?" they ask. I don't know, I reply.

I do know that Carlisle doesn't see independence as the springboard to English devolution, with Scotland as a Scandic beacon of social justice in the British Isles, as the leftish newspaper chatterati naively wish for.

The Labour-voting north of England will feel abandoned and isolated, not empowered, if Scotland turns it's back on them.

The Welsh see the UK unravelling completely and Northern Ireland, where the problems of sectarianism are far from solved, look on nervously.

That is to say nothing of the 800,000 Scots in England who must wait for their nation to decide whether to make home a foreign country.

Scottish independence is not just about Scotland. The English are beginning to realise that, and beginning to care.