Saturday, 20 September 2014

What Next for Politics?

It's been a huge week, a profound week for British politics. What does it all mean for the parties and movements jostling for position in the referendum's aftermath?

As far as Westminster is concerned, a bullet has been dodged. There is a cloying desire for a return to business as usual, and just as many determined to carry on as if it has. Not least among them is our old pal Dan Hodges. With the referendum done he's turned in one of the worst, most complacent articles I've seen. On the basis of Dave hitting the TV cameras yesterday morning to announce he's tying further Scottish powers up with English votes on English laws, the election next year is all wrapped up. Slam dunk. Unfortunately for Dan, good speeches don't win elections. As confident as Dave appeared let's not pretend his position is anything but precarious. His panicky sojourns to Scotland exposed him - again - as weak. This is the Prime Minister reduced to saying "please, please, please, please, please vote no"; who referred to his own party as the 'effing Tories'. Is this behaviour of a man secure in both party and parliament? Is a leader bounced by backbench revolts into promising a two-speed Westminster someone in control? Dave and Crosby think hitching English votes to Scottish powers is a trap waiting for Labour, forcing them to renege on promises made, but most people will see it for what it is: a cynical wheeze to buy off restive MPs. Unlucky for him, the path to the new Scotland Act is not entirely in Dave's hands. The renegacy is all Dave's should he try and delay it.

The only good thing Dave did in this campaign was to concede the referendum in the first place. In true Tory fashion, the No campaign was outsourced to an alternative provider: the Labour Party. It was they who held the line in Scotland, provided the energy and activism, knocked on the doors and got out the vote. Dave absented himself from the field while Alistair Darling and a resurgent Gordon Brown made the case. Not only was Labour effectively alone on Scotland's streets defending the union, they were seen to be the only party batting for it too. That most stubborn of breeds, the Scottish Tory, saw their party vanish. Don't be surprised if a few of them punt on Labour next time. Similarly in England, centrist pro-union voters will have noted the same thing. And don't expect Ed Miliband to be too quiet about it. His One Nation scrapped with 'two-nationism' and the 'one state solution' emerged the winner. He'd be crackers not to try and capitalise on it over the coming months. Not all is rosy though. Many comrades who headed north were shocked by the decrepit state of Scottish Labour. Hardly surprising when you think positioning yourself to the right of the SNP's soft social democracy is the best thing a centre left party can do. Yet while the organisation isn't in the rudest of health, one shouldn't automatically suppose big Yes votes in Labour areas means its support has collapsed. According to Lord Ashcroft, 40% of Labour and LibDem voters supported Yes. Similarly, 14% of SNP voters said no. Are they going to suddenly switch? When it comes to May next year, I suspect too much is being read into Labour's "collapse".

I think everyone can agree how blissful it has been to have had a politics mostly free of Nigel Farage and his squalid little band. But now the referendum is done, they're determined to make the most of the constitutional opening. Yesterday he was out posting letters to Scottish MPs to ask them not to vote on "England-only" issues. Yet, for once, the media aren't entirely biting. Crosby and Dave we'll cheery toasting a few into thinking they've headed UKIP off at the pass - on this issue at least it's the Tory leadership who'll be doing the running. However, their clever clever silver lining comes with a big dark cloud. English votes for English laws is all about embedding Tory party influence in England. It has hijacked "fairness" to ensure its legacy in England cannot be repealed should they retain a majority here. Dave wants to log jam future governments in the belief Tories will benefit electorally from inevitable crises. What this silly man doesn't realise is it could end up helping his UKIP nemesis. In next year's tight election, the message is a clear "vote UKIP, get Labour". But the fixation on England betrays his thinking that this is safe Tory territory. The more Dave intimates that the Tories will get in in England, the more he undermines his line of attack against UKIP and the less likely Tory/UKIP switchers sympathetic to that message will break his way. It also emboldens those Tory MPs excited by the fantasy of a Tory-UKIP pact, if they think such a lash up would thwart Labour in perpetuity.

Last night's ugly scenes in George Square were depressing as they were predictable. Had Yes won out I have no doubt this repulsive mix of loyalists, assorted fascists and EDL/SDL/Britain First scum would have done the same to "remind" Scotland that they're staying put. But in terms of more significant political shifts in the bowels of Scottish society, it's what's going to happen to the Yes movement that could have greater repercussions. Much has been made of its class character, but noted here earlier in the week, the movement was under the SNP's thumb and as such would probably demobilise, leaving our movement, the workers' movement, no stronger. On cue Nicola Sturgeon has reported that the SNP recruited 4,000 people in 36 hours. A soft left nationalist movement led by a bourgeois nationalist party ends up strengthening that bourgeois nationalist party - didn't see that coming. Still, we can take comfort that Socialist Party Scotland signed someone up too. Okay, I am being a bit naughty. The strong relationships and weak ties forged between different camps will, I hope, feed into more left and socialist activism over the longer term. But it hasn't got off to the most encouraging of starts.

Twitter regulars will have seen thousands of Yes'ers rebadge themselves as 'the 45'. So named after the 45% who gave independence the thumbs up, you can understand the desire to hang onto the camaraderie forged in the heat of political struggle. Yet all this is achieving is identifying themselves with a large "enlightened" minority against the forelock-tugging drudges who filed into the polling booths to vote no. It's an internalisation of division, the logical culmination of a nationalist project. While some, a small minority it has to be said, are trying to move the emerging sentiment toward an internationalist perspective, they are outnumbered by those for whom the 55% were scabs and traitors. So much for Yes's sublimated class politics. Bugger the 99%.

After the referendum, what now? For Scotland, it's to make sure the promises made last week are delivered as per the promised timetable. For the rest of the UK, and England particularly, it's to ensure a new UK-wide constitutional settlement fires the imagination and engages masses of people. Yes to a democratic convention, no to the narrow nobbling of parliament.


asquith said...

The question now is over what kippers do and to what extent they exploit future waves of English nationalism. They will be the fulcrum of thw thing.

They claim to have supported a No vote, and certainly I do give credit where it's due (even to Brown, whose prime ministerial work I don't be forgiving or forgetting, but who was excellent in bringing much-needed passion to the debate) so I will also credit another hero of this show, David Coburn.

Although, in a personal capacity, I wouldn't give him the time of day, his election as an MEP for Scotland scotched (no pun) an argument that Salmond was dying to use. Kippers can be elected in Scotland and Wales, and aren't just an English party...

... but that's not what most of their voters and activists think. They are ever more likely to veer towards English nationalism, with the John Redwoods of this world performing their usual role as fellow travellers.

And it's likely that this will adopt a racist fringe and become much more closed and inward looking and hostile and fearful towards the world than Yessers ever were. It was precisely to stem off these people's control over rUK that I saw the need to save the union.

As a liberal I reiterate my opposition to nationalism, be it Scottish, English, or the "loyalism" (loyal to what?) of the Rangers fans or whoever these people were in George Square.

It is trade and peace that will enrich us all, not pointlessly raking over ancient hatreds and bigotries, and that is known to us all.

Anonymous said...

And it turns out all those last-minute promises were unnecessary - the YouGov poll was junk and the polls in general, with a couple of exceptions, overstated the likelihood of Yes.

Speedy said...

I was delighted to be wrong over a Yes victory - surely the interesting thing sociologically speaking is the collapse (in expectations at least) of Yes support in this field - their grass roots activists had supposedly mobilised a "missing" million strong army of first time voters but they did not materialise.

Personally, I was always opposed to devolution per se - it was typical of Labour's cultural and constitutional recklessness and a journey with only one destination. It would have been much better to keep the 75 MPs in Parliament, which gave them a larger say than they merited anyway.

But now this cat is out of the bag I don't think anyone who is a democrat can oppose English votes for English laws. It is an obscenity that Scottish MPs can put in to law policies that will not affect their own people (tuition feess for example). I have always believed this (but then i was always opposed to devolution).

Labour created this mess and they need to accept the consequences. It is clear to all they are only blocking this (or trying to kick it in to the long grass with a constitutional convention that will report "at the end of 2015" FFS!).

They need to embrace the inevitable (and it is inevitable because the Tories will simply introduce it by referendum next time they get in) and win the arguments on their own merits in England for England rather than continue to gerrymander the vote and expose the hypocrisy of the arrangement - Nats were fond of arguing well you don't have free prescriptions because you didn't vote for them: in fact Scottish MPs affected all English votes.

It is time England was allowed to speak for itself.

Nick Cohen had a good article on this in the Speccie.

Chris said...

Collapse of the Yes vote, is speedy taking us for fools?

It only makes sense if you live in speedy world where the No's were destined for victory and some late calamity stopped that happening.

For the sane among us the vote went pretty much as expected.

It will be interesting to see how the general election goes now, especially in Scotland. What will happen to the New Labour and SNP vote.

If I were a no voter in Glasgow for example I would never vote New Labour again, that's for sure.

One last note, the 99% is a flawed idea of class politics if you ask me. From a Marxist point of view it would surely be around 70%? Let's call the 45% the advanced section of the working class? I think re-branding to the 45% is a good move on their part, and it is hardly a small number. Given that many of the Yes voters were undoubtedly motivated by nothing but fear I would say it was more than a moral victory for the no side.

jimboo said...

Massive increase in membership in relation to the SNP, SSP_ and in particular the Scottish Greens over last three days.English Greens reporting an increase of applications although on a smaller scale. It would appear that people quite like this political engagement. 7 Glasgow Labour MP's will have to return to Westminster in the knowledge that the majority of their supporters voted to leave the UK. Unweighted polls spot on which shows polling companies will probably adapt their methodology in releation to referendums. After the initial despondency we can expect an invigorated YES movement to start to engage with the lost middleclasses. Another Referendum in 10 years with the demographics favouring YES.

asquith said...

The historical precedents of "45" have been noted. And it's a great irony that "Bonnie" Prince Charlie, he wasn't a Scottish nationalist but someone who wanted to turn Britain into a living hell subject to the 18th century's answer to sharia law.

And he and his mates were fought against and defeated by Scotsmen who may not have liked the House of Hanover or its ministers, but who liked the "alternative" even less.

I have in fact not made up my mind as to what constitutional settlement I want. By instinct I am suspicious of the Bernard Jenkins and John Redwoods of this world. But as to what is to be done, I have no idea. (I note with interest that the SNP already don't vote on matters that concern only England or England and Wales, based on the belief that rUK is as able to rule itself as they consider themselves able to be).

I don't, btw, grasp why Salmond felt the need to resign. He lost, but he needn't have considered himself a failure, and he (now Sturgeon) would have an important place in a settlement for tomorrow.

It was entirely rightful and proper that a ceremony of reconciliation be held. And despite my atheism and secularism, it was right to hold it in a church, just like that World War 1 ceremony at Stoke Minster, which I attended. And I can tell you that if I were a Scotsman I would have gone.

Not a Rangers or Celtic top in sight either, just a people whose future is by no means settled and of which Dave Webcameron is certainly not its master.

Phil said...

I see Dave has backpeddled on linking Scottish powers to English votes for English laws. So much for that grand trap the media have hyped all weekend. Let the backbench revolts commence!

Anonymous said...

SNP has announced 10000 new members, Greens an eztra 2000 and SSP another 1600.

Multiply by 11 or 12 to imagine the UK equivalent.