Let the People Decide?

Could this man be the next First Minister of Scotland?


This is in part a response to Jeff’s piece over at the brand new Better Nation (is there room for some kind of ‘Alasdair Gray inspires Scottish digital media’ thesis here?). He argues that the delay in a referendum is a) a mistake b) a disappointment and c) a missed opportunity (based on the idea that Labour are a shoe-in for Holyrood 2011.)

The debate is currently being framed by the Unionist press (examples too many to mention by I do always like it when Lorraine Davison, Labours hagiographer-in-chief, re-appears, she was leading the fray for The Times).

So let’s re-frame it. What chance is there for Scotland to transform itself under the Union? What are the competing visions?

The election in May will be decided on three issues: the SNP’s record in office, Labours record n office at a UK level, and their alternate plans in Scotland, and the Scottish electorates response to the Tory governments austerity measures, by then slashing public services across the UK. I think Salmond’s move is actually a bold one as he is effectively gambling his political career on the next 12 months. Political cowardice this is not.

The SNPs record in govt is one of quiet competence partly engineered but mostly just the reality of minority government. The achievements will be disputed but highlights for me are ceasing the sale of council houses, halting the further privatisation of hospitals, the Climate Change Bill, continuing the campaign against Trident and holding fast against new nuclear in Scotland. To this I’d add the attempts to deal with Scotland’s alcohol problem, despite the appalling political intransigence of the opposition. Disappointments are many, I’d include the minimum class sizes and food policy. Their failure to deliver the referendum is a matter for the opposition unionist coalition to answer, as they are awash with hypocrisy on this subject. None of this can fairly be disputed.

Labour’s time in office at a UK level may still come under scrutiny. Partly because of the civil war re-ignited by Blair’s effing Journey, and partly because of the gerrymandering of electoral timing they’ve created. If we vote on the same day we’ll vote on the same issues. On the plus side there’s the minimum wage. On the downside there’s the Iraq War costing three trillion dollars and the lives of between 97,000-110,000 civilians, the complete failure of constitutional reform, the abandonment of cabinet government, a deluge of sleaze, a wholesale assault on civil liberties and the privatisation of public services to an extent that Thatchers regime could only have dreamt of.

So what of Jackie Baillie and Ian Gray’s alternative manifesto? What is their vision for Scotland?
I looked here but couldn’t find any. Open to suggestions.
There’s Calman, which promises some measure of control over air-rifles by 2015, the promise of new nuclear and a renewed enthusiasm for Trident nuclear submarines. And the impact of the Tories austerity package? Perhaps hospital closures and cuts in public services will be deemed as ‘a price worth paying’ or Labour who landed us in this predicament and complete political failure allowed the Tories back in may be regaled as the peoples champions.

I suspect that even Gray’s charisma and rhetorical skills, backed by the wonders of the Scottish press will not be able to sell that in May.
The responsibility of the independence movement – and this goes beyond any one party – is to combine to make the positive case for a better alternative. Just as Calman with hand-me-down constitutional change is not the answer, neither is a passive outreached handout of a referendum.

The reality is that Labour have blocked a referendum somersaulting their position on the issue they are electoral contortionists resulting in the following exhanges:

28 September 2009
Q: So, which day do you want a referendum?
A: Iain Gray: “I’m saying to you there may well be a time, certainly not in the middle of a recession.

29 Sep 2009
Jim Murphy – A referendum on Scottish independence could be considered by Labour “at some point in the future.” Scots Secretary Jim Murphy said.
But now was not the time as a referendum in the middle of a recession would be “ludicrous”, he insisted.

4 Sept 2010
Scotland has officially emerged from recession, figures published yesterday revealed.

This is some time in the future and Scotland is certainly not in the middle of a recession. Every political party frames and times a vote for maximum benefit. This is the reality that really annoys the baying unionist mobs. They are not in control over the timing or wording of this event.

Salmond today made his position very clear stating:

The London parties have said that they will vote down the right of the people to decide, despite the ludicrous position of the Tories and Lib Dems in wanting a referendum on an AV voting system that no-one supports on Scottish polling day, and the Labour Party pursuing a referendum next spring on more powers for Wales, while denying a referendum for Scotland. The hypocrisy of all the London parties will be well and truly exposed, as will their lack of any coherent policy to generate new wealth to offset public spending cuts.

What is less clear is how this is going to be achieved. He continued: “It is clear from press reports today that we will now have to appeal over their heads of the unionist MSPs to the people of Scotland next May.” Over their heads – but how and through what media?

For these reasons a, b, and c are mistaken.

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  1. Scottish Labour’s “what we believe” section is a favourite of mine. They used to have four splendid documents there, which included the warning:

    “DRAFT – This is a discussion paper only. The content of this document does not necessarily reflect Scottish Labour Party policy.”

    What they will actually campaign for in 2011 has long been a bit of a mystery to me. You may remember in 2009, Iain Gray told the Scottish Labour Party conference that:

    “This conference is a milestone in the preparation of our manifesto for the 2011 Scottish election. I appointed Margaret Curran to enhance our policy forum process and ensure that our policies resonate with the people whose trust we seek to implement them. Each Policy Commission will work with a sounding board of experts from beyond the Labour Party to develop the most effective practical and deliverable policies commensurate with our values and vision.”

    Mere months later, in March of that year, Curran left her this Shadow cabinet position apparently coordinating the party’s “policy development”. As I noted at the time, the press hardly covered this presumably unwelcome abandonment of her party.



    Equally, in subsequent reshuffles in Labour’s ranks, John Park MSP was appointed to an “elections and campaign’s portfolio” – but old Margie Curran’s role as party policy tsarina remained and as far as I’m aware remains unfilled. I suppose it is old fashioned to assume that in order to campaign in an election, one ought to have policies. Of course, this may also be a sort of Jacobite conceit in Labour ranks, keeping her chair empty for the policy over the water, memorialised in that ancient and moving Scottish Labour lament “Will ye no’ come back again?”

  2. Dave Coull says:

    When there was a Lab/LibDem administration at Holyrood, I was active, along with others, in campaigning, on a non-party-political basis, for a straightforward, single-issue, referendum on independence for Scotland. We put a petition to the Scottish Parliament, we organised demonstrations, etc. Our position was that we considered it a matter of democratic self-determination that the people of Scotland, regardless of their party-political preferences, should be able to vote yes or no to independence. Although campaigning in the first instance for a referendum, if and when that referendum came, we would support a vote for independence. I personally was (and remain to this day) very confident of the outcome of a genuinely non-party-political referendum on the issue. When Alex Salmond took over from Jack McConnell, I continued to campaign. Some folk said this was silly, there was no need to continue to campaign, the SNP government would introduce legislation to hold a referendum long before this parliamentary term was out. Now, who was being silly, those of us who thought pressure should be kept up for a referendum without delay, or those who placed their trust in the politicians? They’re not even going to place the legislation before parliament. They could do so and challenge their opponents to vote it down if they dare, but have even backed out of that. I have just watched Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University on Newsnight, expressing astonishment at the SNP backing out of that. Curtice was basically saying, what the hell do they think they’re playing at. The SNP has abandoned the single most important pledge they gave in 2007. I remain in favour of holding a referendum on independence without delay, as I have been for quite a few years now. But I won’t be voting for the party which promised legislation for a referendum and then came up with one delay after another.

  3. burdzeyeview says:

    I think Dave’s comments indicate how sore a lot of independence supporters and even SNP members are feeling right now. I’m not sure I get it either, though the suggestions about the legal block seem to make sense. Though I’d still have been proposing a bill if only to show how Westminster ensured we’d never get a say.

    But I think we can all take heart from Mike’s comments and proposals for the independence movement to take responsibility here and to make the case. I for one am up for that. My blogpost says something similar about the SNP’s strategy, though not nearly as eloquently or succinctly.

    But I also think we are doing Labour a disservice. To be fair to them, which I won’t make a habit of, they have had a policymaking process in train. Consultations with party members and outside organisations have been going on since 2009. We may scoff at what their Commissions have come up with but they at least represented an attempt to bring some minds together on some issues that Ian Gray thinks are important. They have internal policy forums, both virtual and actual, allowing debate etc. Ultimately, they may come up with nowt of any worth but at least there has been a process that includes a large number of people and ideas. Has the SNP been engaged in something similar? I’d love to know…

  4. I’m with Dave Coull on this and am still of the opinon that the SNP have made a monumental mistake by not putting the bill before the SP.

    In my opinion they (SNP) are now very unlikely to get a majority next year and we will see Labour back in office, although I doubt Gray will be at the helm, I’ve had stronger tea.

    Rather than get publicity now and show the Unionists up as the undemocratic cowards they are the SNP will be buried under piles of Unionist rhetoric next year, the referendum will never make front page news next year because the UK media won’t let it.

    Did they not notice that their decision to drop the bill didn’t even make a BBC Scotland internet headline, it was confined to the sub-paragraphs and the Unionist parties got more TV coverage slating the decision than the SNP got defending it, in fact I didn’t even see the SNP talking about it on TV.

    This will come back to bite them next year, they’ll have lost votes over it, I’ve been voting SNP (in FPtP Westminster and SP elections) for a while now in order to try and help get them to this point, they’ve blown it and, again, like Dave Coull won’t they be getting my vote again. I suspect many others will feel the same.

    When does a team get to a cup final and then not take to the pitch?

  5. David McCann says:

    I too campaigned for a referendum and through the Scottish Independence Convention managed to collect over 11,000 signatures, but the reality is that the Unionist cabal at Holyrood are hell bent on voting it down. I think Salmond’s tactic is right. We go direct to the people over their heads.
    I fail to see how refusing to vote for the SNP in 2011 will help the cause of Scottish Independence- its much too subtle for me!

  6. Dave Coull says:

    In 2007, the SNP promised legislation leading to a referendum on independence “within the lifetime of this parliament”. They very narrowly won the 2007 election because some of us believed that promise. If they had presented such legislation early enough in the lifetime of the parliament, as some of us were urging all along that they should (and being ridiculed for doing so), then either (1) the legislation would have passed, and we would have had our referendum, or (2) the legislation would have been defeated, in which case they could have precipitated an election in which the issue was the refusal of other parties to allow the people a self-determination referendum. By their policy of delay, delay, and more delay, they have squandered a golden opportunity. Those who put party loyalty first will follow them no matter what. Those of us who think politicians should not be rewarded for breaking their promises will sit the 2011 Scottish Parliament musical chairs dance out.

  7. Superscot says:

    I am old enough to have vast experience of everything and I am amazed at the lack of apathy among the population at large. All independence will mean is that we will be ruled by a bunch of Edinburgh (ie anglicised) a***holes instead of a bunch of London a***holes. At least many of the London ones have Oxbridge degrees and so have a modicum of ability to analyse unlike the bizarre little products of our Scottish institutions who talk nonsense and know even less. Much as we would like to think so we are not oppressed and actually do rather well out of England. We have conned them for 300 years and the danger is they will at last realise this and boot us out. I am amazed they haven’t done so already but it just goes to show what a generally civilised bunch they are. I actually quite like them.

    1. The Young Ones says:

      Listen up, the baby trots are trying to, like, man, figure out how this government thing works, like, the capitalist SNP pigs have a majority yeah, we think, and they need to be like mobilising their dudes to win the vote, shout things at the rich, man! or its like wipeoutsville. Smash the system!!

  8. Superscot says:

    Will independence make any difference to us the ordinary people?
    I think not. Government is a con.

  9. David McCann says:

    “At least many of the London ones have Oxbridge degrees and so have a modicum of ability to analyse (sic) unlike the bizarre little products of our Scottish institutions who talk nonsense and know even less”
    Words fail me! Are you for real?
    A modicum of ability like Baroness Ruth Deech, and Douglas Murray who on Any Questions stated
    “the Scottish Parliament and the horrible charade politicians who inhabit it and who occasionally crawl out of the darkness and explain something to the rest of us, as if we’ve never thought of moral questions before.” He went on to describe Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond as “horrible grandstanding, Mickey Mouse politicians,” and mocked suggestions that the Scots were a compassionate people.

  10. Dave Coull says:

    Re “Superscot”, D. McCann wrote “Are you for real?” – no, David, he isn’t. There’s a genuine debate to be had, “Superscot” is just trying to disrupt that. Ignore him.

  11. Superscot says:

    David, in the light of events their (Deech, Murray) comments seem perfectly reasonable and are shared by many Scots. Honest to God, do you think that the Scots have a monopoly on compassion. You need to get out more. I can assure you there are many compassionate people in England and there are many lacking it in Scotland.

    Do a little research. Baroness Deech is Jewish. Megrahi, a Moslem, was involved in some way in the mass murder over Lockerbie. I think I read somewhere that Moslems don’t like Jews, in fact they want them all dead, so the Baroness might have been a little displeased that Megrahi was released after a whole 8 years. Isn’t there somewhere in the crevices of your mind the suspicion that there has been a little dirty work at the crossroads, a little collusion between Wee Eck and Westminster? You are naive if you think politicians, even SNP ones, have spotlessly clean hands. You are obviously one of the golden ones who dwell high above us mere mortals so let me inform you that quite a few people in Scotland think the Megrahi decision was wrong and your beloved SNP will pay the price.

    1. Observer says:

      ”Megrahi, a Moslem, was involved in some way in the mass murder over Lockerbie. I think I read somewhere that Moslems don’t like Jews, in fact they want them all dead”

      Oh dear.

      That really is a remarkably stupid comment.

      Quite in keeping with the rest of your posts in fact.

      1. Superscot says:

        Ah, so Megrahi wasn’t involved in any way at all and the Lockerbie bombing was actually a plot by Zionists. So silly of me not to realise. And Moslems think Jews are a great bunch of lads. What naive worlds you politicos inhabit.

  12. Dave Coull says:

    When some of us said “referendum now” in the early days of this SNP administration, there were plenty of folk seeing various reasons for delay and telling us we were being unrealistic. But consider the example set by the Labour Party in 1997. Not so much by Tony Blair, he was always doubtful about devolution, and has confirmed this again recently, although he was hemmed in by a promise made by his predecessor as Labour leader, the late John Smith so recently buried on Iona, regarding this “unfinished business”, a promise which others such as Donald Dewar intended to keep. The Labour Party introduced legislation for a referendum within 100 days of taking office, and that referendum was actually held within 5 months of them taking office. The SNP should have shown a similar sense of urgency re an independence referendum. Maybe legislation for this would have been defeated, or maybe not. The Labour Party has been all over the place on this (remember Wendy’s “bring it on”?), the Lib Dems had to send one of their MSPs on a fact-finding mission to outer mongolia so he wouldn’t vote with the SNP, and my guess is that a surprising number of unionist MSPs might have had sick notes from their doctor or their mum when it came to actually voting against a referendum. Their abstention was all that was necessary. We will never know now what would have happened when the referendum bill was put to the vote, because this was never done.

    But just suppose it had been done, and the pessimistic view that it was certain to be defeated turned out to be right. What then? Then, the SNP should have immediately resigned from government, and demanded an immediate Scottish general election, to be fought on the issue of the unionist refusal to allow the people of Scotland to vote in a single-issue, non-party-political, self-determination referendum. Never mind legalistic quibbles over whether they “could” demand an election or not, the fact is, politically speaking, of course they could. Refusal of a general election in such circumstances would have precipitated a constitutional crisis, and, indeed, an international scandal. What did the SNP have to lose?

    The answer is, of course, that what those few prominent members of the SNP who were actually in government had to lose was their comfortable new jobs. That turned out to be more important for them than the possibility of precipitating a constitutional crisis over holding a referendum.

    We were right to say “referendum now”. The SNP should have followed the example set by Donald Dewar and co and acted on a referendum at a very early stage of being in government. Those who found reasons why this was “unrealistic”, and who went along with one delay after another, were wrong.

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