Thursday, 31 May 2012

Scotland Declares Independence / Debate in Parliament

This afternoon, the national legislature of Scotland - a legislature which comprises Conservative, Green, Independent, Labour, Liberal and Nationalist deputies - declared that Scotland should become an independent state. 

The events today were reminiscent of the Dissolution of the Soviet Union.

After the Belavezha Accords, even the Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, conceded that as long as the population and the Parliament of a constituent Republic wished to secede from the multinational state, they had the right to do so. 

Today, Lewis MacDonald, a Labour deputy who sits in Parliament despite being thrown out by his constituents, showed his party to be even democratic than the Soviet Communist Party by his admission that the Labour Party would refuse to recognise independence even after Yes votes from both Parliament and in a referendum.

Today was important. I refer above to the Belavezha Accords which formally ended the Soviet Union - a multinational state formed without reference to its multiple nations, but which had a measure of internal devolution (sound familiar?) - but there have been many more European independence events in my lifetime. 

Between 1988 and 1994, Estonia, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine, Fyrom and Slovenia all had their devolved Parliaments declare independence, followed by a referendum. (Bosnia-Hercegovina did it the other way round). 

In the same timeframe, the devolved Parliaments of Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova declared independence, without a referendum, and recognised by both the former power, the USSR, and by most European states. 

In 2008, the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija seceded from Serbia as the Republic of Kosovo. There was no referendum: the election of a pro-independence devolved Parliament, followed by a declaration of that Parliament, was broadly accepted. 

The declaration, by Kosovo's devolved Parliament, and the widespread acceptance thereof, established a precedent. 

Eminent Eurojurists, including Czech President V√°clav Klaus and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, accept that a declaration of independence by a devolved Parliament sets a precedent. 

Kosovo's independence is recognised by Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Albania, France, Senegal, Turkey, the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Latvia, Germany, Estonia, Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg, Peru, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Sweden, Netherlands, Iceland, Slovenia, Finland, Japan, Canada, Monaco, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Liechtenstein, Korea, Norway, Marshall Islands, Burkina Faso, Nauru, Lithuania, San Marino, Czechia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Columbia, Belize, Malta, Samoa, Portugal, Montenegro, Macedonia, UAE, Malaysia, Micronesia, Panama, Maldives, Palau, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, Comoros, Bahrain, Jordan, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Malawi, Mauritania, Swaziland, Vanuatu, Djibouti, Somalia, Honduras, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Qatar, Guinea-Bissau, Oman, Andorra, Central African Republic, Guinea, Niger, Benin, St Lucia, Nigeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Uganda, Ghana, Haiti, Sao Tome and Principe, Brunei, Taiwan and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. 

Countries which recognise the Republic of Kosovo (green), Countries which don't (grey), Kosovo (red)
Knocked from the Wikipedia

If it bored you reading that list, I can assure you it was much more boring typing it! What you will note is that the United Kingdom - along with every European Union state with the exceptions of Cyprus, Greece *checks Greece is still in the EU*, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain *actually, goes to double-check the EU still exists*. 

That is to say, that the European Union, almost in its entireity, including the United Kingdom, accept the principle that a devolved Parliament can decide to secede from its parent nation.

That's a nice principle. Applying it to Scotland, I take the view that we are now an independent state, and we await only ratification of this declared principle by the people. 

Parliament, therefore, is now asking voters to confirm that Scotland should be an independent country. 

The debate itself had few highlights. 

Linda Fabiani (SNP - East Kilbride) spoke well, in calm and measured tones. She said that Scotland will be a counterfoil to British aggression and, in a reference to the British war crimes in Iraq, said that "we can say 'not in our name' and really mean it". 

Ruth Davidson (Unionist, Glasgow) gave a quite incredible performance which puts one in mind of a small child having a tantrum. In a rant which encompassed the British Navy, the British political police, and British military intelligence, she went on to say that she supported the amendment of Johann Lamont (Unionist, Pollok) which stated that - well, you know what it stated. It stated the usual half-baked pish. 

It was intriguing though, to see it finally confirmed. It doesn't matter if they're right wing, or centrist, or Liberal: one thing above all unites these diverse people - the Orange Order, the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the BNP and the Tories - and that is the maintenance of the Union between Scotland and Britain at all costs - even at the cost of damaging Scotland, as one Unionist deputy later admitted.

It was Davidson's rant which inspired Lewis Macdonald to admit that Labour would refuse to accept a Yes vote. It was eerily reminiscent of the fascist Orange Order's less veiled threat of violence a few years back that if the people of Scotland voted for independence, the violently anti-Catholic group would become a (more) paramilitary organisation. 

Serious questions must be asked about whether the two are linked, given the exposure of the close links between the Labour Party and Orange Order.

I find myself wondering whether deputy Macdonald has had discussions with the Orange Order or any other quasi-paramilitary organisation regarding their behaviour in the event of a Yes vote, and whether he is not himself a member of any such organisation. 

Mark McDonald (SNP - North East) spoke next. He slapped down Macdonald effortlessly, and when Macdonald asked him to yield, the Nationalist, not breaking stride, told him not to "be silly". Macdonald, shocked, pursed his lips in a fashion which reminded observers (well, me) of Kenneth Williams of Carry On fame. McDonald pointed out that only with independence could Scotland achieve social justice, and pointed out that the very first act of the Labour government in 1997 was to slash disability benefits. 

Drew Smith (Unionist - Glasgow) rose next, and gave a speech which should be listened to by every Unionist legislator. Not for the content, particularly (he referred to the Government "delaying" the referendum for three years when i) the referendum is on timetable as set out in the previous election campaign; and ii) the Unionists have had three centuries to hold a referendum on their terms. I confess I was partially mistaken in point ii) - as Drew Smith reminded me this evening, Labour under Wendy Alexander offered a referendum before withdrawing it). He admitted that Scotland would thrive outside the Union, and his tone was respectful and conciliatory. What a change from the usual spittle-flecked screeching neds that Labour, in particular, so often put up. 

He was followed by fellow Glasgow list deputy Humza Yousaf (SNP), whose speech concentrated mainly on the stain on Britain's reputation left by the illegal war of aggression in Iraq. He noted that whilst the UK was despised in the EU, and hated in the Middle East, Scotland was respected, and had one of the best lines of the day, echoing Gwynfor Evans when he said he was an "internationalist-nationalist".

Next up was Annabel Goldie (Unionist - West) who seemed relaxed now that the burden of party leadership had been lifted from her shoulders. She is generally amusing and likeable, and was no different this afternoon. She was right to call for clarification on the legal advice regarding Scotland's place in the European Union. She was right to call for clarification on the legal advice regarding Scotland's place on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. That this advice has not hitherto been published seems to me to be an indication that the advice does not benefit the Yes campaign. 

Whatever the truth, it needs sorted, and it needs sorted now before the Dependentists twist the truth to their advantage. 

Kenneth Gibson (SNP - Cunninghame North) succeeded Goldie, and used his time to decry the Unionist use of the word "separation" in place of "independence" - saying that Scots don't wish to separate - quite the opposite, we wish to play a full part among the nations of the world. After taking an intervention, he seemed to give up the idea of speaking calmly, and embarked on a quite gloriously furious speech, at one point saying "the Blairites should go and sit over [on the Tory benches] where they belong".

Gibson's time was followed by Willie Rennie (Unionist - Mid Scotland and Fife) who claimed to support Home Rule (he'll be voting No, weirdly, to Home Rule). He said that we should be content with devolution, and made the mistake of taking an interjection from McDonald, who asked precisely which powers Scotland is incapable of wielding, and why. He was unable to answer, mouth gaping and closing like a fish lifted from the sea, and mumbled something about "separation" before sitting back down to obscurity and his five-member party. 

Rennie also used interesting terminology. He spoke of Scotland "going independent" instead of "becoming independent". It seems to be very much a British viewpoint. Scotland "going away". It's little slips like that that give you someone's real feelings towards their country. For Rennie, his country isn't Scotland - it's Britain. It's not that he doesn't want to see his country secede: it's that he doesn't want to see a part of his country "going away". 

After Stewart Maxwell (Minister for Sport), who said that Scotland is a country which believes in fairness and social justice, and would never - indeed didn't - vote for a government which would cut benefits for the disabled, came Richard Baker (Unionist - North East). This privately-educated, cut-glass accented snob said nothing of import, and in short order was followed by Clare Adamson (SNP - West) who gave an impassioned speech in which she disclosed that she became a convert to the cause of independence after the Thatcherite government closed Ravenscraig, slinging ten thousand Scotsmen on the dole in order to meet EU quotas in England. She spoke movingly of her family and how this had affected her community. She was followed by her regional colleague Mary Fee (Unionist - West), who started off with the Unionist version of "I'm not racist but..." - "I'm a proud Scot, but...". It went downhill from there, with every Unionist cliche in the book. We would lose all of our big companies, who would never be able to replace British government contracts. We would be compelled to join the Euro (nobody else has been compelled. We are compelled to join the Euro once we meet the conditions, which include membership of ERM-II. We are not compelled to join ERM-II). Mary Fee later contacted me to clarify that she did not say that companies would leave, only that some contracts depend on the British government. I still see it as scaremongering by implication, but will accept her word that isn't what she intended. 

Patrick Harvie (Green - Glasgow) didn't have as much time as he should have, cut to two minutes. Recently, he has been making an excellent contribution to the independence debate, and has taken a particular interest in the mechanics of the process. In years to come, he may be viewed as one of the most important architects of independence. He has been calling for an Icelandic-style Constitutional Convention to iron out the kinks in the debate. He later explained that he believed the Convention would be initiated after a Yes vote in the referendum, and produce a written outcome before the transfer of powers from London to Glasgow. 

It was a pleasure to see Margo MacDonald (Independent -  Lothian) back in the Chamber. She is a massive asset both to Parliament and to the Yes campaign, and spoke with unbridled passion for the paltry two minutes she was awarded. Her two minutes were the most powerful in the whole debate, and highlighted the inequality of status between Scotland and England, which produces further and deeper poverty. Visibly angry, she asked "stronger together? While neglected old people live out their lives to sad, miserable ends?".

Given the strength of passion of her speech, it was all the more bewildering that she was cut off in mid-flow in order to give seven minutes to the blowhard buffoon Jackson Carlaw (Unionist - West). He produced little of note, advanced the debate not one iota, and generally acted the clown. He did, however, concede that Scotland is in a fine position to succeed as an independent state. He was followed by fellow Unionist Patricia Ferguson (Unionist - Maryhill), who also did the "I'm not racist, but..." opening. She was immediately clamped by John Mason (SNP - Shettleston), who explained the definition of patriotism, and asked her whether she put Scotland or the United Kingdom first. Tellingly, she refused to answer. 

Following her poor performance on Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon (Deputy First Minister) closed for the Government. In a thunderously good speech, she started by echoing my praise for Drew Smith and told the Unionists to learn from him. She said that far from the "too poor" argument advanced by many on the Dependentist side, the fact that poverty existed in resource-rich Scotland was a shining advert for independence. 

She went on to address some points made earlier: she pointed out that Labour were campaigning on the basis they preferred Tory government from London to Labour government from Holyrood, and shot down Davidson's soundbite that Scotland "shares the rewards of the United Kingdom....I think she means 'sharing the wars' of the United Kingdom", and closed by describing the differences between pre-democratic Scotland in 1996 and the devolution interregnum of today in "the only difference between then and now is that the arguments of Lord Michael Forsyth now come out of the mouth of Johann Lamont".

The vote was called, counted and won. And just over two hours ago, the Scottish Parliament, the settled will of the Scottish people, the national legislature of this nation, affirmed for the first time in more than three centuries that Scotland should be an independent country again. 

What a day to be alive. What a time to live in Scotland. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

BBC: The Big Debate

I was pleased to be invited back to Pacific Quay on Sunday for the BBC's Big Debate show. Billed as a panel of "distinguished guests in a debate on Scotland's constitutional future". The first thing the audience noticed was the pleasing composition of the panel. 

Whereas in previous such shows - although the BBC is less guilty than other outlets - there has been an amorphous mass of white, middle-aged men, generally three British Nationalists to one pro-independence panellist, this panel was politically, gender and racially balanced. 

Patrick Harvie and Nicola Sturgeon represented the YES Scotland campaign, while Anas Sarwar and Ruth Davidson represented the British Nationalist Parties. Johann Lamont, who claims to be the leader of something called the "Scottish Labour Party" didn't manage to make it on. 

On subsequent television viewing, it showed that the BBC's natural leanings hadn't changed. After an introduction from Isobel Fraser, of Newsnight Scotland, who had come dressed as the diffident biology teacher from Chewin' the Fat, the screen was completely filled by a giant British flag. 

1. "What [will] living in an independent Scotland do for me?" 

SNP depute leader Nicola Sturgeon rhymed off the old favourites of social justice, the elimination of Britain's disgusting weapons of mass destruction from our shores, and the simple fact that the people of Scotland would direct the running of Scotland. 

Anas Sarwar, speaking for the British Nationalist coalition of the Tories, Liberals, Orange Order, BNP and Labour, gave a typically trite and shallow response. It was telling that his first word was "history". 

Green co-convenor, Patrick Harvie, began in the impressive tone he was to carry through the whole debate by telling the questioner that he simply didn't know - but that we must break dependence on the right wing economic model followed by the British government. He called on the SNP to make much more information available before the referendum. 

Isobel Fraser then managed to lose control of the debate within the first few minutes. Calling on an audience member to ask a question, the chap began what can only be described as a mad anti-SNP rant, ranging from the Icelandic economy (no, me neither) to the position of London-regulated failed banks (no, me neither). He was eventually told to shut up by the moderator, Fraser, but was allowed to carry on shouting random words out at Sturgeon for another twenty seconds. 

A bemused Sturgeon recovered from the verbal assault to point out that the failed "Scottish" banks were overseen by the Bank of England, and that a Scottish Banking Regulator could hardly do much worse. 

Ruth Davidson, for the British Nationalist Parties, interjected, and soon wished she hadn't as it became apparent that she had completely misunderstood Harvie's point on banking reform.

Fraser then asked for a few more contributions from the audience. First up was Tim, Nice But Dim, from the Harry Enfield show. A middle-class stuffed shirt who was a clear British Nationalist Plant, he launched into another rant as the young lady who sat beside him rocked back and forth staring blankly, nodding, and applauding at various points in Little Lord Fauntleroy's spiel. The next (and first non-British Nationalist) guest was called - he pointed out that there's no shared prosperity in his home town of Inverclyde: three centuries of British rule have left it one of the poorest places in western Europen.

Another audience member was then called. Sitting next to an elderly tramp in a red checked shirt who had presumably found his way into the building to make a nest in the electrical wiring, he pointed out that we lived in a global economy: surely, he pointed out, we would be better off as part of a larger group of countries, with a strong, shared currency. 

Curiously, he later applauded wildly when Davidson went on to attack the Euro. Presumably the British Nationalists are only happy to be part of a strong union with a shared currency if none of those beastly foreign sorts are involved. 

2. Eilidh Clark - "Would an independent Scotland be financially better off?"

Harvie ended the debate as a contest here with his answer that it isn't exactly the first thing that people ought to be thinking of when they vote in autumn 2014 - the growing inequality under the British regime was spotlighted. Davidson responded by branding the people of Scotland as subsidy junkies on State benefits. 

Sturgeon pointed out that the success of a nation is down to how well it is governed, and that the only way to ensure the proper governance of Scotland would be by allowing the people of Scotland to elect a government with its interest at heart. Davidson then started shouting over the top of Sturgeon. Fraser had a chance now to set a respectful and polite tone for the debate, but failed to intervene. 

Sarwar, the product of an expensive private education, and the inhabitant of a Parliamentary seat bought for him by his father, admitted that Scotland would be a success as an independent country. 

An audience member brought up the question of DevoMax - Fraser sought a show of hands from the audience as to who wanted a second question. It was not a popular option. She perhaps ought to have developed this theme further - it is certainly a question which needs answering very early in this process. 

3. Nicholas Black - "Would an independent Scotland use the Pound or the Euro?"

Sturgeon reiterated SNP policy that Scotland is part of the Pound Sterling, that the Pound Sterling is our currency, and that like other independent countries, we would use the Pound Sterling. She pointed out that, like Alex Salmond, disgraced former British premier Tony Blair wanted to join the Euro. She claimed that Scotland would not be compelled to join the Euro, as we are not part of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. 

Sarwar claimed that although Blair wanted to join the Euro, he was over-ruled by his finance minister, Gordon Brown, who imposed a series of tests which would have to be passed before the British would join. He pointed out that an independent Scotland using the Pound Sterling would be subject to a Tory government imposing borrowing and spending limits and setting interest rates. 

As well as conceding the 2015 British general election, it appears to have escaped Sarwar's notice that they already do. 

Sturgeon countered Sarwar's belief that independent nations could not share a currency union without a fiscal and political union by noting that Scotland and Britain do not have the wildly divergent economies that, say, Germany and Greece have. 

Davidson, bless her, then got a wee shot of playing with the politicians. She unveiled a Portuguese accent which pleased her greatly, then brandished a letter which proved that the SNP had not been in contact with the European Commission for legal advice! Aha! How are you going to get out of that one, you dastardly Jock? Ah. Sturgeon patiently explained that the Government had been in contact with eminent European jurists. They concurred with the Government's position. Ruth looked crushed :(

Fraser then went back to the audience. One man bragged that he read the newspapers and on occasion watched the television news - and surely if there was a clear advantage to independence, he would KNOW it? Ha! We fooled you, silly man, we gave all the benefits to the radio shows! He was shot down in flames like a NATO war criminal pilot over Vietnam by a gentleman who confessed that he was sick of people's obsession with money: it can't buy happiness. 

The audience then discussed the matter amongst themselves for some time before Fraser remembered she was meant to be presenting it. 

As a tetchy Harvie waved a metaphorical finger at the rest of the panel for talking over each other, Sarwar then found himself admitting that the British regime intended to wage economic war against an independent Scotland as punishment for leaving the United Kingdom. Oops. Maybe Lamont can get on next time? Or maybe not.

We then had a tale of two audience members: one young lady making the point that the British are savagely hammering the poorest in society, followed by a young man who, waving his hands around like a raver on speed, screamed abuse at Sturgeon, calling her a liar. 

Another audience member then asked why Scotland would want to leave the United Kingdom for the European Union. Strange. Are we stronger together? Are we weaker apart? I think we should be told. 

It was intriguing, incidentally, that in this segment, the same gang of braying Davidson Youth members, sat next to each other in a row, were often called to speak. Plants? Certainly the moderator knew exactly where to go when she wanted a toff to make a sneering anti-Scottish point. 

4. Colin Campbell: "How will an independent Scotland replace the defence (sic) jobs which will be inevitably lost after independence?"

Davidson drawled that they'd be irreplacable. She called for the weapons of mass destruction to remain at Faslane. Sturgeon noted that Scotland was already haemorrhaging defence jobs under the British - but that we would be better off without Britain's WMDs.

An audience member proudly blurted that the British "defence" ministry has never given a contract for a ship to a foreign country. Sturgeon pointed out that Korea was recently awarded such a shipbuilding contract. 

Sarwar then noted that Scottish shipyards were absolutely shit, and that the British only give us scraps because we stay with them. He said that Labour were "internationalists, not nationalists". 

That's fair enough: Britain has a very much equal opportunities policy when it comes to sending their bloodthirsty legions of criminals out to kill. Genocide, the use of poison gas to systematically murder humans, the invention of the Concentration Camp, the illegal invasion of foreign countries for their own benefit. No, it's not Nazi Germany, but British foreign policy in India (seven million dead), Iraq (use of gas against civilians), South Africa (the internment and slaughter of the Boer civilian population) and poor old Iraq again (and pretty much every other country in Africa and the Middle East that had mineral wealth). 

Internationalists? Fuck off.

5. Alex Airlie: "Who pays for the removal of Trident?"

Harvie insisted that the vast majority of the population of Scotland is opposed to Weapons of Mass Destruction, and therefore there is no chance of a pro-Trident government being elected. He called for a constitutional ban on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Scotland, and lamented that so many people simply seemed to want a smaller version of the United Kingdom, with its own weapons of war and aggressive projection of power. 

Davidson went on to support NATO, give the traditional, mawkish trick of spouting the tired old rubbish of being proud of Our Heroes, and then made the startling admission that she was proud of the NATO action in Kosovo and Metohija, before making the dubious claim that they stopped ethnic cleansing! Ruthie will forgive me for pointing out that the quarter of a million ethnic Serbs and Roma who were forced out of Kosovo and Metohija by militias aided and abetted by NATO look a bit ethnically cleansed to me. 

A couple of audience members were called - one asked who an independent Scotland was going to nuke, another pointed out that we cannot uninvent nuclear weapons (South Africa seems to have done a pretty good job of it). 

The tramp from earlier then appeared. Through a haze of straggly facial hair, he revealed himself as hilariously failed "politician in waiting" George Laird! Laird, a notorious racist, despised and isolated by Glasgow SNP members, who received but a single vote in an SNP selection meeting, for which he has been bitter ever since; and who has been drummed out of branch after branch, has taken of late to indulging a bit of paranoia and jealousy. Stunned at his emphatic and abject rejection, this man has made it his mission in life to bring down the YES campaign. Although given he has less than a hundred Twitter followers, and an almost virginal comments section on his blog despite the dozens of spam messages he sends out every time he writes a new post, he won't do too much damage! The creepy weirdo ranted a bit about how he was pro-nukes, and pro-NATO. He clearly expected this announcement to produce gasps, or nods. He doesn't realise he is utterly insignificant in Nationalist politics. This is why only one person voted for him to be a council candidate. Sturgeon looked at him with pity. Not a single member of the panel bothered to address his point. Poor George. 

A more sane audience member was called - she mentioned that so many Scottish Labour politicians were in tune with the vast majority of the population in desiring the removal of Weapons of Mass Destruction from Scotland. Was it not the case that being part of the UK stops Labour itself from its natural pacifist tendencies?

This wasn't allowed to be discussed. 

The final audience member to be called made the excellent point that the Pound Sterling, the Euro, the Monarch - it didn't matter. All of these decisions are to be made by us: but we can only make them with independence. Let's get independence first and then we can decide - these are matters for a post-independence General Election.

6. Sandra Webster: "Can we be independent if we retain the monarchy?"

Harvie said yes - but he didn't want a monarchy. He pointed to the strong streak of Republicanism and egalitarianism in Scotland. 

Davidson wittered; Sarwar supports the monarchy (he would support the hereditary principle!) and Sturgeon tried to convince people she wanted the monarchy. 

My view on this is that yes, a country can be nominally independent and share a monarchy. Would anyone seriously argue that Australia is the same country as, say, Canada?

However, in a modern world, why would one desire a monarchy? In this country, it is a divisive symbol, a sectarian institution, and one which bears no resemblance to our ideals of hard work and egalitarianism. 

Furthermore, within living memory, the British queen used her powers as an unelected potentate to dissolve a democratically-elected socialist government in the Lower House and replace it with an extreme right-wing coalition government. If the monarch can do it once, the monarchy can do it again. 

I wish to break the links with the British Empire, it's legacy of hate, violence and war crimes. 

The monarchy is the most potent symbol of that evil empire: there is no place for it in a modern Scotland. 

To misquote a great Edinburgh socialist, James Connolly: If you remove the British tomorrow and hoist the Scottish flag over Edinburgh Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the socialist republic your efforts would be in vain. The British will still rule you. They will rule you through their capitalists, their landlords, their financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions they have planted in this country and watered with the tears of our unemployed and the blood of our poor. 

There is no point in having a Littler Britain. 

7. Some shite about Eurosong

Who won?

Isobel Fraser started badly, went downhill, and never recovered. We've tried Brian Taylor, we've tried Glenn Campbell, and we've tried Isobel. Gordon Brewer for the next one, surely? The BBC really could do with trying to poach someone with a bit of gravitas and authority - someone like John Mackay or Bernard Ponsonby from STV. 

Patrick Harvie was the clear winner in the debate. He appeared almost presidential, as though he was above the petty squabbling politics of the other three panellists. 

Anas Sarwar appeared sneering and supercilious, with a sense of entitlement. Unsurprising, I suppose, he's got every reason to have one. Bizarrely, he shook everyone's hand on the way out, thanking them for coming. It was meant to be a nice touch, but just came across as...paternalistic and a bit silly. Bit of a droner, but not as aurally offensive as other SLAB people. 

Nicola Sturgeon didn't have her best evening - she seemed to be a bit weathered by the behaviour of some of the plants in the audience, and the constant attacks on her. She was constantly shouted down by Ruth Davidson. 

Ruth Davidson came across as totally out of her depth and a very rude woman (at one point, she sneered that she "clearly moves in different social circles" from Pat Harvie), who felt it her right to talk over other panellists. 

All in all, it was a bit of a waste of time. We knew nothing at 8pm on Sunday night that we didn't know at 5pm. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Why Did The SNP Fail In Glasgow? Mainly Sectarianism

In Thursday's elections, the SNP was the clear and outright winner. In terms of bottom-line number of councillors, it won. In terms of increase in councillors (424 v 394 for Labour,  219 Others, 115 SCUP, 71 Liberals - now down to 70 already) it won. In terms of increase in councils controlled, it won. 

It outpolled Labour across the country, to become indisputably the only truly National Party in Scotland. The graphic below, from the SNP, shows that the Party is represented in almost every nook and cranny in Scotland. 

Wards represented by at least one councillor
Clockwise from top left - SNP, SLAB, Liberal, SCUP

The Labour party were left as a pathetic rump, a central belt party with a few pockets of support in the provinces. Massive swathes of Scotland is a Labour-free zone. Massive swathes are Tory-free zones. Pretty much the whole country doesn't have a Liberal councillor. 

Labour still haven't won a Scotland-wide election since 2003. 

But what they did do, almost unbelievably, was to take the glittering, shining prize of Glasgow City Chambers - retaining their majority. They also kept their majority on North Lanarkshire. They took control of Derek Mackay's Renfrewshire Council, as well as West Dunbartonshire. 

These places all have something in common: they are Western Scotland councils. 

There are three main reasons why the SNP did less well here than they did in the rest of the country. 

Perceived anti-Catholicism and anti-Irishness

It is in Western Scotland where the SNP have always struggled. In the historic General Election of 2011, which changed Scotland for all time, the SNP finally made elusive gains in the West. They took Labour bastion after Labour bastion, decimating the Labour Party and destroying forever its pernicious and malevolent control of the West. 

And immediately they did so, they took an apparent decision to alienate themselves from a huge, politically-active sector of the population which tends to vote en bloc. 

The Offensive Behaviour etc. Bill was ill-judged, and covered the SNP with an old taint: that of anti-Catholicism. It barely matters whether or not the Bill was conceived out of anti-Catholicism: the perception is what matters. 

To a huge swathe of the West of Scotland, the Catholics of Irish descent, who had months earlier voted overwhelmingly for the SNP for the first time, the old suspicion that the SNP did not have their interests at heart was hardened. 

The Community Safety Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, then made the breathtaking admission that she proposed to jail anyone who made the Sign of the Cross. This reinforced the perception. 

The Bill - seen as being aimed squarely at one section of the community and one alone - destroyed the SNP's reputation in one fell swoop. Mass protests emerged at soccer matches, and demonstrations against the SNP and its Bill took place. 

Celtic fans demonstrate against the SNP's Bill in Glasgow 

Just as soccer fans destroyed the authority of Thatcher's extremist government in Scotland in 1988, when Celtic and Dundee United fans in Hampden Park gave her such a vicious verbal kicking, the talk on the terracing was that the SNP had shown their "true face".

Thatcher never recovered from the Red Card in 1988

I don't believe that the SNP is anti-Catholic or anti-Irish. If it was, I would not have been a member of the party. If it was, it would not be publicly in favour of abolishing the Act of Settlement. 

But by the time the Bill had gone through, it mattered not. People believed that the whiff of anti-Catholicism which had hung around the SNP, carefully fostered by Labour lies and rumour, was too strong for them to ignore. 

This mattered. On Thursday, election day, as I walked up the Gallowgate to go to Celtic's Premier League match against St Johnstone, the lamp-posts were festooned - as they have been all season, with stickers. One particular sticker shows a cartoon boy in a Celtic shirt waving a huge Irish flag. A shadow falls over him. He looks up, to see a giant hand holding a rubber stamp ready to label him a bigot. The cuff of the shirt has the legend "SNP" on it. 

The implication is obvious. And the sticker itself ubiquitous. It is on every lamp-post on the walk from Glasgow Cross to Celtic Park. It is on support poles and walls inside the stadium. 

There will be very few Celtic supporters who will not have seen the sticker giving the clear message: "the SNP classes you as bigots and wishes to criminalise you - not because of what you do but because of what you are".

It is intensely damaging to the SNP - a hammer blow to its reputation amongst this community in Glasgow, and it is folly to ignore the impact of the anti-SNP campaign (particularly when the Committee convenor, Christine Grahame, faces undenied accusations of anti-Catholic motivation). 

The SNP cultivated the Irish Catholic vote in 2011. It was rewarded with unprecedented success in our Western Scotland heartland. 

For 2012, the SNP alienated the Irish Catholic vote. It was rewarded with fewer gains than anywhere else in Scotland, and the psychological disaster of increased Labour control.  

They must, must learn this lesson. They have just over two years to build bridges with our community - because if they continue to alienate the Catholic vote, they lose the referendum. 

The old "One Scotland, Many Cultures" slogan is now used bitterly as an example of how the Government seems happy to celebrate all cultures. Except one. 


The SNP leader in Glasgow is a first-class local Councillor, a woman who has already given so much to her community, and who has more to give. 

She is collegiate - ready and willing to listen to the advice of colleagues, and a popular figure within the local SNP. A retired teacher, she is active in the community and the party, where she has experience of being Nicola Sturgeon's election agent. 

Unlike Gordon Matheson, the Labour leader, she has the support of her Group on the Council. In order to give the SNP their best chance of winning popular support, their manifesto was written on a wiki basis, seeking contributions from citizens of all political hues and none throughout the City. It was a fantastic idea. 

She said that, although she was leading the SNP into the elections, she didn't know if she would lead the Party after the election. This showed honesty and humility - the SNP will choose their Group Leader after the election. 

These strengths and achievements were turned into negatives. The Herald was particularly vindictive in a manner which suggested a personal problem rather than a genuine critique of politics. She was treated as a doddering OAP who had lost her mind. The Herald displayed a sickening, disproportionate degree of ageism. There are plenty reasons why they could have argued Councillor Hunter wouldn't have made a good Council Leader. Her age simply isn't one of them. 

She was also targeted in a personal and bullying fashion by a jealous SNP member on his blog. He attended hustings after which he mocked her openly, and then suggested (seriously) that the SNP make him Group Leader. The fact that this mentally-ill former activist received only a single, solitary vote in his selection meeting, and that he was widely despised for his oddball, Walter Mitty behaviour and causal racism didn't seem to occur to him. 

So, undermined, inaccurately and unfairly, in the press as an old fool, and undermined by someone who should have supported her, Hunter lost out on the Council Leadership. She will surely resign as Group Leader, but shouldn't feel obliged to. She made gains - smaller than expected but still progress. 

The big problem with the leadership is that while Labour had big names, heavy hitters and people one could instantly recognise, the SNP didn't, really. Part of the problem was that so many strong councillors were elected to Parliament last May - people with massive personal support who could bring a personal vote with transfers (James Dornan, John Mason spring to mind). 

The SNP slate was often very young, and mainly with little experience of public service. It was quite a shallow pool, and at least one candidate had been a party member for only a matter of months. Ultimately, people often voted for the names they recognised - and they recognised Labour's names and a few Glasgow First names. I was impressed with the quality of the SNP's candidates, there are many unelected who should have been elected (in Govan, in particular, a huge tactical error in fielding three candidates saw only one elected. Two candidates would both have been elected). 

Naked Sectarianism from Labour Party

So, today the Red Flag flies over the City Chambers once again. In reality, it should be an Orange one. 

With opinion polls showing that the SNP were polling ahead of Labour, a panicked Gordon Matheson sought a meeting on the Monday before the election.

A SCUP candidate in Glasgow has confirmed the reports of Glasgow-based journalist Gerry Braiden that in that meeting, in the Evangelical Church, Matheson said he would allow the fascist bigots of the Orange Order free reign to march in Glasgow's streets in return for their recommendation to the slabbering, knuckle-scraping hordes of bigots that they vote Labour. 

Labour is the party of Orange fascism

Glasgow City Council policy is, and has been for some time, to reduce the number of fascist and sectarian parades which disrupt traffic, offend the sensibilities of the citiens, and attract drunken vermin to follow them, staggering through the streets of the city, and presenting the most appalling image of our city to visitors and locals alike. 

At the meeting on Monday, Matheson unilaterally declared to the bigoted, anti-Catholic Orange Order that he would change the policy in return for their votes. 

There we have it: Matheson throws all principle and any residual scrap of decency and tolerance out of the window for his political gain. This greasy apparatchik, who stands accused of ordering the bullying of vulnerable people, is happy to jump into bed with the shaven-headed, tattooed, swivel eyed thugs of the fascist Orange Order. 

Three Reasons

Three reasons why Labour held Glasgow. One which shames all right-thinking Labour members and reduces the Labour Party to thuggish collaborators. One which will often happen: journalists see a target and enjoy hammering it. And one which the SNP - if it truly aims to be a National Party for all of the people of Scotland - must sort. 

A perfect storm.