"The UK Scotland voted to stay in doesn't exist any more"

Taking a Fresh Look

4715064061-860x611Before we get too celebratory about women in Scottish politics – with our triumvirate of female political leaders – it’s worth reflecting on a few harsh truths. It’s true that Nicola Sturgeon has taken the SNP to new heights, that Ruth Davidson gets plaudits for not being as bad as her predecessor and that Kezia Dugdale is less awful than Jim Murphy. But all three face real – if very different – problems. Nicola Sturgeon may be leader of a political juggernaut but she is still surrounded by a hostile media and faces a different set of criteria for success than any of the others. She will be measured not just by her time in office but her ability to achieve epic constitutional change.

On the face of it, Ruth Davidson is doing well. In fact if the polls are right the Tories are now close to overtaking Labour as the main party of opposition at Holyrood. Davidson’s party has reached a record high of 17 per cent according to Panelbase, just four points behind Labour. But is this really because of her? What she has done to achieve this isn’t actually so clear. As Labour conduct an alien autopsy of it’s own, picking apart its electoral corpse, the reality may be less about Tory triumphs and more about Labour (and Liberal) catastrophe. With just 100 days to go till the Holyrood vote, Kezia has been in London to brief the Shadow Cabinet as indicators show that the party may lose every constituency seat in Scotland.

In this context Dugdale’s efforts to rebrand and salvage Scottish Labour from the referendum ignominy look spectacularly doomed. Some of this is outwith her control. Deborah Mattinson, the founder director of research and strategy consultancy BritainThinks, yesterday told the BBC that ‘Dame’ Margaret Becketts report on why Labour lost the general election was a “whitewash” and a “massive missed opportunity”.

Others are more scathing. Andrew Rawnsley charts the months ahead:

“All eyes are now beginning to focus on the first major electoral tests for Corbyn Labour, the May votes for the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly, London mayoralty and many English council seats. Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s leader in Scotland, will brief the shadow cabinet this week on the party’s prospects north of the border. If her account is honest, this will be grim listening for Labour’s top table. Very level-headed people think it is entirely plausible that Labour will lose every one of the constituency seats that it currently holds in the Scottish parliament. It is also feared that Labour will lose its majority in the assembly and suffer serious reversals in the English council contests…I suppose if that turns out badly as well, Dame Margaret Beckett is always on hand to compose another report explaining why it wasn’t really Labour’s fault.”

John McDonnell was good on George Osborne’s ‘sweetheart’ deal with Google – Scottish Labour are right to focus on our housing crisis – and Jeremy Corbyn  was right to go to Calais. But none of this matters when, as an unpublished report “Emerging from the Darkness” states today that “For Scottish voters Labour are indistinguishable from the Conservatives – just less competent.”

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If Labour’s crisis is clear, we shouldn’t get too over-excited about Ruth Davidson’s party either. She clearly has many fans in business and the media. As Cap X editor Iain Martin wrote in the Telegraph after a leaders debate: “What was most encouraging for anyone who thinks that modern Scotland is a tragedy in the making, with an economically illiterate political class suffering from a moral superiority complex, is that Davidson spoke up strongly and clearly for ideas that hardly ever get a hearing in left-wing Scotland. She talked about public spending restraint, enterprise, self-reliance and reforming public services.”

Rachel Cunliffe gushed (“Ruth Davidson is just what the Tories need”): “She’s a proud Scot from a working class background, representing her party in May’s election and promising to stand up for the wider electorate, not just “those who’ve already made it in life”. And she could be just what Scotland needs right now. No, I’m not talking about Nicola Sturgeon. I’m talking about Ruth Davidson.”

Chris Deerin even went so far as to call her “one of the two best politicians in Britain right now”.

Despite this, if truth be told, Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives are still a toxic brand propped up only by a marginal and declining demographic. Their cherubic leader is regularly lauded in the media, but her performance at Holyrood and her political strategy is a huge failure. As Alex Massie informs us: “As recently as 1992, the Tories won 25 per cent of the vote in Scotland. That amounted to 750,000 voters. Even when, five years later, they lost their last 11 Scottish seats, they still managed to take 17.5 per cent of the vote. At no election since, whether it be for Westminster or the Scottish parliament, have they done so well. Last year the average Tory candidate won 7,358 votes.”

With Iain Duncan Smith doing a good impersonation of Kylo Ren, the full implications of EVEL still to be recognised and the snarling Anglo British xenophobia of the No to Eu campaign yet to be unveiled, the Conservatives in Scotland are doomed, and may only be gaining some temporary gain from the electoral remnants of the right of the Liberal and Labour carcasses.

If we take this account, Davidson and Dugdale and Margaret Beckett look more like Trümmerfrauen for failed political projects than politicians capable of reclaiming or reframing their parties reputation.

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36 Comments

  • Darby O’Gill 6 months ago

    No wonder the poor man in the foreground is greetin' his eyes out. Just when he thought it safe to come out.

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    • james gourlay 6 months ago

      Excellent description of the photo. She doesn't look too pleased either!

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  • kinglet 6 months ago

    The horse riding premises of Pasir Pelangi also has a dining hall where visitors could take pleasure in a refreshing refreshment or loading meal.

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  • Gashty McGonnard 6 months ago

    By the way, was that bloody weapon bought with the taxes of the workers, and then leant free of charge for the PR of a political party?

    Can I borrow a tank and stick my logo on it? How much will it cost me? How much did Ruthie pay?

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    • Gashty McGonnard 6 months ago

      ... also, why does Ruthie smile like this :( and no this :) ? I'm confused.

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      • JohnG 6 months ago

        She isn't smiling. That's her "I'm a serious politician even though I have a tank gun between my legs" look.

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  • Baronesssamedi 6 months ago

    What are 'trummerfrauen'? Who is Kylo Ren?

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    • Bella Caledonia Editor 6 months ago

      Kylo Ren is the new baddie in Star Wars. Trümmerfrauen are the women who cleared the rubble of bombed German cities.

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  • Crubag 6 months ago

    The break with Salmond has allowed Sturgeon to redefine the SNP's objectives, and therefore, at least partly, what constitutes "success."

    My guess is she will shift the party to being the "Scotland" party , aiming for good governance within the UK settlement. Constitutional change will be put on hold, but with just enough of a hope to keep independence-first campaigners onside.

    If I'm right, the SNP 2016 manifesto will have no straightforward commitment to a second referendum.

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    • Matt 6 months ago

      Course it won't it will say that the SNP respects the result of the 2014 referendum but that material changes "could" lead to a second vote on the issue but that ultimately it will be up to the people. Loosely translated, it means they have to mention it but they know there's no point in a second Indyref right now because even the most optimistic poll has the Yes vote at only 48%. If that figure increases to around 52-55% and holds over several months the off we go again.

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      • Crubag 6 months ago

        Given the reputational standing of opinion polls, it'd be a brave politician who hazarded their future on even a run of them.

        The SNP are is a sweet spot at the moment. Independence supporters see them as their only vehicle, so will forgive them for almost every disppointment, like fracking or land reform.

        Pro-union voters are more flighty (going by polling, more wealthy, more rural, more British), but the SNP can concentrate their milder policy efforts on them, e.g. fracking, land reform. Plus the opposition is either self-destructing Labour or tone-deaf Conservative.

        Why change anything?

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        • Jim_McIntyre 6 months ago

          I think Labour have a 'they will switch back sooner or later' mentality. Maybe Kezia Dugdale might get lucky, you never know. Some indy bloggers like Tommy Ball thinks she'll bomb in he debates where you will see the movement. This will sound terrible but I find it hard to listen to Kezia Dugdale for long periods of time.

          I think Ruth Davidson is probably underperforming most considering the amount of favourable press coverage. I don't think you can underestimate the extent of bias she has. Even the BBC said "how bad would the Tories be doing if she wasn't in charge?". The answer, of course, is more-or-less the same as before +/- 2 percent. She was even on Have I Got News For You which does not look like it has done for her what it did for Boris. While Davidson may be the best of a bad bunch in the Scottish Tories, she is still a Tory and no amount of uncontroversial causes and monotone banter with her lads in the media will change that. She may well be the worst politician of all time if she cannot turn all this coverage into votes.

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  • duncan 6 months ago

    Mike, I don't know which pat of Europe, and I don't care to know, but it seems we inhabit two completely different ones. The EU has made it almost impossible for anyone to get a job contract in recent years, salaries are stagnant and workers rights have vanished. It makes me ask, Mike, have you ever worked, mate?
    A lot of people, in many of the countries,think Europe is a nightmare, a free market of cheap labour for business and a shadow of the banking system. But you say that people who might have an (No) opinion on this are xenophobic. This is not logical. You turn having an opinion on a political system into something which is some kind of mental illness - a phobia- and that any worker who has a problem with their job being auctioned off in Europe has this illness. This is the cheapest type of politics there is- name calling, ad homonem. Worse than that, it is witch burning, turning peoples opinions you dislike turning them into things they are not. Burn the witch, burn the witch! Come on mate, get out of there! And reread the Crucible.

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    • Crubag 6 months ago

      On Mike's reading, the Swiss, Norwegians and Icelanders are xenophobes too, having voted against membership of this particular Union.

      But I think the union in its current form is coming to an end. The euro system hasn't made the neccessary transition to a single European government budget. Germany's unilateral action on migrants will see a whiplash effect on other countries as they then panic when they realise they can't impose on other member states and close the German borders.

      Add to that the authoritarian trends in Poland and Hungary, and the 1990s idea of ever closer union falls away.

      I'd guess it will retreat to a north-west European core, similar to whrn France vetoed Britain's original application.

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      • Bella Caledonia Editor 6 months ago

        I was simply commenting on the tone and language we can expect from much of the right in England. I don't think that's remotely controversial. I'm not sure that the Norwegians and Icelandic folk suffer from the same motivations and political culture?

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        • Crubag 6 months ago

          That depends on what you think the motivations of Scottish, English, Norwegian or Swiss No voters are.

          Wanting to make their own laws and policies as they are best placed to work out what those should be?

          I doubt they are all xenophobes, unless you think the creation of a nation state is by definition xenophobia.

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    • Bella Caledonia Editor 6 months ago

      Hi Duncan - yes I've worked pretty much all my adult life. I think you've misunderstood me. There's a perfectly reasonable critique of the EU systems that I accept. I was simply commenting on the tone and nature of much of the political commentary from the right that will dominate the NO campaign. I think this has been pretty much documented over the last decade or so and I don't expect it to change.

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      • duncan 6 months ago

        i disagree with that, Mike. I think It is dangerous and malevolent rhetoric used to silence opposition, to vilify and censor. Throwing shit on people works and people know it. He's a conscientious objector, better give him a feather, he's a communist a fascist, an Anglophobe, an islamaphobe, a Europhobe. It does what it sets out to do- it destroys any opposition with with one broad stroke of the brush as discriminatory. It is thought crime.

        On the theme of Europe, I am one Scottish Nationalist who believes that breaking away from one union to remain in an even bigger one doesn't make any sense. What does that make me, a Unionaphobe?

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        • Anton 6 months ago

          Duncan - I think you make a very important point. I find it hard to reconcile the SNP's position that Westminster is (from Scotland's point of view) an unrepresentative and undemocratic institution which prioritises broad assessments over and above local conditions and opinions, with their enthusiasm for the EU, which seems to me to be guilty of the same charge.

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          • Jim_McIntyre 6 months ago

            I am still of the opinion that the EU is a much better safeguard of democracy than the UK. Also, the EU does not have the power to demolish the Scottish Parliament tomorrow if it so desired.

            There is aspects of the EU which are pretty shit but to equate Scotland-EU relations with Scotland-UK relations is unfair. We don't get Brussells based publications smearing the indy movement and declaring that we all love right-wing politicians we don't vote for.

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          • duncan 6 months ago

            Jim, the best safegaurd for democracy is to actually have one- a democracy. Not to have a super benefactor who grants you it. Why does everything have to be overseen? It's a straw man argument about better or worse relations with Europe and Westminster too. My point is for an Independent democratic Scotland to have excellent relationships with both Westminster and the EU. Now, that's a safeguard!

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  • Valerie 6 months ago

    The day I give a flying ### about what Chris Deerin or Iain Martin writes, is the day I throw in the towel. They are hard right, who take every opportunity to run Scotland down, with nothing to base it on, except their bile filled imagination.

    As for admiring Davidson because she speaks of 'self reliance', it shows how thick Martin's commentary is. Ironic much?

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  • Jake Gittes 6 months ago

    Tories already have as their core vote the well heeled suburbanites in stable well paid jobs plus the asset rich elderly happy to collect from the ATM each month. Ruth now appealing to Slab's working class Orange vote, uneasy with Corbyn, or at least uneasy with how some of his utterances are presented in the Sun. With this I feel the Tories are having some success.

    That I think pretty much constitutes the "Tory revival".

    For Slab it's all about damage limitation in May and how effectively they can mobilise their core vote of less well off Record reading pensioners to get out and vote, to limit the losses to less than 10. Might pull it off...if the weather is good in early May.

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  • Matt 6 months ago

    Ruth Davidson limped in 4th in the last election (with a miserable 1,854 votes) and as such, had to sneak in the side door as a list candidate. Even now she doesn't dare go near a Constituency seat in the full knowledge she'd be eviscerated. Yet she still feels she has a mandate to drive a tank round Scotland, telling us what the elected Government is doing wrong and that she should be in charge. She's got some brass neck, that's all I'll give her!

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  • Bill Low 6 months ago

    I cannot forget that the Tories provided vehement opposition to the introduction of the NHS, leading to Bevan's comment about lower than vermin. I am also aware of the comment by Oliver Lewin that after 5 years of Tort rule, there will be no NHS. I am also aware of Lewin's comments in the Eighties after the urban disturbances. Do remember that although she looks cute and assertive on the tank, Ruth Davidson is a member of that party and has more in common with them than any local people. She is the leader of the 'lower than vermin' in Scotland

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  • Redgauntlet 6 months ago

    Ruth, with something between her legs for once....hee hee..

    ...sorry, no offence, PC people just a joke...sorry...: (

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  • Wul 6 months ago

    I was surprised to hear at least two callers on today's "Call Kaye" programme on BBC Radio Scotland, say that whilst they were dead against independence, they would be voting SNP. They felt that the SNP is the best bet for getting a "good deal" for Scotland and putting Scotland first.

    One caller "warned" the SNP not to see his vote for them as a mandate for another referendum or as a vote supporting independence. I thought this was interesting.

    The other idle thought I had was that, for a supposedly socialist/left leaning country, we could potentially see "Tartan Tories" in government and real Tories as the biggest opposition party.

    ( OK, I know the "Tartan Tories" jibe is undeserved, crass & out of date but the SNP is not a radical, left party.)

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    • Crubag 6 months ago

      I depends on what you mean by "Tory", but Fergus Ewing or Richard Lochhead make decisions that I would say are centre-right.

      Other parts of the party are more centre left, which makes the party centrist overall. It's a popular place to be if you can sustain it. The Tories and Labour both did for a while before the grind of government took away the shine and people wanted a change.

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      • Jim_McIntyre 6 months ago

        If you can call an illegal war in Iraq and the collapse of the financial system caused by massive deregulation the 'grind' of government, I'd believe you. The SNP is much more left-wing than the Blairites, who brought in tuition fees and are still trying to argue that it is a left-wing policy.

        I think the main area where the SNP are not left-of-centre is when they do so for populist reasons. Their most right-wing policies is law and order (very similar to Labour), and is largely that the folk in poorer communities who vote think crime is a problem. I think to say left-wing parties don't cut tax is pretty silly. Hugo Chavez provided huge relief for Venezuelan consumers of oil and gas. I doubt the peasants were complaining that the "richest 10% will probably save £20 more than me a month at the pump, so this is clearly not in my interests".

        Painting the left has high tax, high spending by the right is probably what keeps them from power very often.

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        • Crubag 6 months ago

          These aren't normal countries, more like petrocracies, if there is such a word. Saudi Arabia has similarly low tax but I don't think you'd call it left-wing. Venezula has come unglued faster than SA, but all these bread and circus shows, built on a single commodity, will disintegrate in time.

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          • Jim_McIntyre 6 months ago

            Hugo Chavez was massively left-wing and democratically elected. Equating Venezuela to Saudi Arabia is silly.

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  • arthur thomson 6 months ago

    So the SNP is attracting the votes of some unionists. How strange. Why on earth would the SNP want to do this? If they aren't very careful they will end up having a majority at Holyrood.

    As an SNP member I approve of this situation. My odd idea is that a competent SNP government - and in 300+ years Scotland has never before experienced competent governance - will influence public opinion in favour of independence. The self-confidence of the Scottish electorate will continue to rise along with their capacity to recognise good governance and to dismiss the various political strands of project fear.

    I do understand that this must be disconcerting for those who, from a range of political perspectives, are surreptitiously ferreting away to undermine the independence movement. But as a genuine supporter of independence that isn't my problem.

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    • Crubag 6 months ago

      It flows both ways I think. The SNP has become popular - in part, Labour's serial underperformance is another element - by detaching itself from independence.

      A vote for the SNP is no longer taken as a vote for independence, that is a separate menu item, or even a chef's special, as it may or may not be offered every time.

      In my long-ago day, our strategy was simply to get a majority of Scottish MPs which would then lead to independence, as that was the platform. It never converted into very many seats.

      But by showing that better governance is possible within the union the party may now take away some of the force of its independence argument.

      The other issue is that in governing you have to take decisions, which over time box you in and limit your political appeal. It's unavoidable, but the SNP is in the process of becoming another political party along the UK spectrum, rather than a grassroots movement.

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  • arthur thomson 6 months ago

    The SNP's popularity has resulted from many things but not because it has detached itself from independence. There has been no such detachment, just a rational awareness. The achievement of independence will be aided by establishing a relationship of trust with those who are not yet convinced but are open minded enough to recognise the value of a party which has sound ethical values and always prioritises Scotland's interests. The contrast between the considered behaviour of the SNP and the hysterical behaviour of its opponents becomes clearer to the electorate as each month passes.

    The Labour Party in Scotland hasn't disintegrated just because of its diabolical track record. More importantly it operated unethically, as a mafia that intimidated people and its ability to intimidate was ultimately blown away by the experience of the referendum. Increasing numbers of people realised that they no longer had to fear the Slab old boys network and sent them packing.

    The notion that by providing good governance the SNP will undermine the case for independence is flawed. It is time some people took to lateral rather than linear thought on this. The Brits will provide plenty of examples of why being part of their system is a thoroughly bad idea to provide a stark contrast with the good governance of the SNP. Just look at the Brit media any day of the week.

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    • Crubag 6 months ago

      It might work, it might not, but it is a definite shift in approach. It is no longer the SNP who will campaign for independence but the people who will make the demand. I think it is a more sensible approach than the socialist dream of waiting for the final crisis of capitalism (the market economy will never die), but by making the current system wotk better you prolong its life.

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  • arthur thomson 6 months ago

    I am confident that support for full Scottish self-government will slowly but surely increase and that the demand to make it happen will increase with it. I can easily understand the impatience of some at this time but we must avoid the sucker punch at all costs and that is what an ill advised rush into a second referendum would be. It is clear that there are some who make out that they are pro independence who are trying to goad us into rash action. Fortunately the SNP isn't wet behind the ears. We have an ever increasing range of excellent MP's, MSP's, Councillors and activists who are developing their skills and being led by excellent leaders. We have no need to act rashly.

    Nor do we need to fear that support will evaporate with the passage of time. Anyone who has genuinely understood the necessity for Scottish independence understands that it is not a matter of opportunism based on some perceived short term advantage. They understand that it is the pre-requisite for achieving an enduring improvement in the life opportunities of those who live in Scotland and given that awareness, events around them will only reinforce that view.

    We have come so far in a very short space of time. It is truly painful to see the predators at Westminster deliberately undermine and exploit Scotland but we have to have the courage to ride the punches a while longer. We have to be confident that their lack of morality - killing people in the middle east, impoverishing and ignoring the plight of the vulnerable, feathering their own nests at the expense of the majority etc - in combination with their apparent belief that they are invulnerable, will ultimately lead to their demise.

    Tick, tock.

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