The SNP must prepare Scots for the ascent to reach the summit 

As we settle into 2016, Scotland could have been readying itself for independence in around 11 weeks’ time.

It’s quite a thought. You can almost hear the bells ring out and the sight of pint glasses in the air. George Square again filled with saltires and hope. The dreamers who dared to dream would be in their reality, the promised land.

 

John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon arrive at Downing Street this Christmas for talks on devolution. One day it could be for an independence settlement

If just 191,969 more Scots had placed an ‘x’ beside ‘Yes’ the country would have taken a step in that direction.

They didn’t, I’m afraid to remind you. What if they did though? What would have happened in the months between that famous night in September 2014 and the present?

Let’s dare to imagine, again.

While you read this two sets of negotiating teams would be resuming their talks after the New Year celebrations.

You can bet while the talks ceased and the two parties headed home sighs of relief were given all round. I dare propose one or two would have enjoyed some more wine than they should have over the break. The pressure of what is in store when they return is beginning to be too much. ‘This wasn’t what I was promised when Salmond phoned,’ they mumble over the claret.

Despite it being in rUK’s economic best interests to have a formal currency union with Scotland, the rUK government has removed it from the negotiating table.
There has been a groundswell of public opinion in England against the Jocks after the ‘Yes’ vote. Cries of no more ‘subsidies’ or helping hands are numerous on TV, radio and newspaper columns. It seems politically impossible for any rUK Prime Minister to do such a deal, to make his taxpayers the lender of last resort to Scotland.

Similarly when the Greek government demanded debt cancellation, on sound economic reasons, it was politically impossible for the German Chancellor to accept such a deal for her own political popularity domestically. It is impossible for rhetoric to reconcile with reality.

We see economic rational replaced by the realpolitik of the situation.
Right wing commentator after commentator derides even the suggestion of such currency arrangement.

Secretly, however, the rUK position is that they will allow a formal currency union but they need something significant in return. Something that they can go back to their constituencies with and show their voters that it made the unpopular deal worthwhile. That special something that they can face them in the eye with at the next election campaign and say, ‘I did what’s best for you, me, and our generations yet unborn’.

The Scottish Government are shocked by the  rUK  government’s counter proposal. Downing Street is demanding  that an independent Scotland commit to a long-term lease of the Faslane naval base, and the continued operation of the trident submarine programme from it, in return for a currency union between the two states.

The Scottish negotiators are now stuck between a rock and a naval base. They promised a currency union but they also promised to send trident south.
Edinburgh is suddenly finding out, to its horror, that rUK team aren’t here for a velvet divorce. They are here to get the best deal for their citizens – the people who elect them or throw them out of office.

While locked in the talks – dubbed the proposed Anglo-Scots Agreement – the Scottish negotiating hand has unexpectedly diminished. The oil price has collapsed from north of $100 to under $40 – the base level the IMF set forth in April, 2015 which the North Sea needs to survive.

The £6.8bn – £7.9bn of off shore receipts as budgeted for in White Paper have evaporated.

While this is going on, the Daily Mail are running a campaign demanding a second referendum to approve or disapprove of the Anglo-Scots Agreement. Opinion polls are showing that if the referendum had been now a majority would vote to stay in the union. The Mail and others are saying that the people of Scotland were lied to by the Scottish Government.

The howls of disapproval grow louder and the beads of sweat on the foreheads of the Scottish negotiators trickle more often.

What was outlined above wasn’t dystopian fantasy but the very real possibility that Scotland could have found itself in.

The events between September 2014 and the present illustrate how quickly the lie of the land can alter. When the second referendum comes, which it will, and if the ‘Yes’ campaign triumphs, which I believe it could, it needs to be prepared for such events.

It must be nimble footed, able to alter its plans as events eclipse ideological positions. Importantly, it has to be able to concede – which Yes Scotland and the SNP did not – that hard days may come a new Scotland’s way.

That concession is important. Very important.

With that on the record any First Minister will be able to limit, subdue and marshall dissent against any failings in the negotiation agreement away from themselves to rUK. This is how nationalist politicians become winners, this is how they become a nation’s founding fathers and mothers.

The SNP leader at the time of the next referendum has to be able to be confident and honest enough to say that hard times will be ahead. She or he should have the courage and conviction to set forth that though the ascent to the summit may be difficult the view from the top will be worth it.

If they do not prepare the nation for the journey properly, the fledgling nation may falter and not fly.

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Scottish Nationalism and Catholicism

I have decided to write this article on the back of comments made on Twitter by pro-independence activists supporting  the closing of Catholic schools and the wider discussion sparked by Common Space editor Angela Haggerty’s response to those comments.

The subject however is crying out for serious academic study.

Alex Salmond and Pope Benedict XVI in Edinburgh, 2010

There used to be a time in the not too distant past when being a Catholic and an SNP voter was quite unusual.

To my grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s generations Scottish nationalism was seen as a threat to Catholics. It was voted for by a small band of Protestants, led by a smaller band of Protestants and spoke of a Scottish national identity forged during the heat of the reformation.

Scotland was a country without a national parliament where the Church of Scotland’s annual General Assembly was as close to one as you could get. A country where putting your Catholic school on your CV was not a wise move, a country where the question in a job interview ‘so what school did you go to?’ had dark intentions.

Labour was the party of and for Scottish Catholics throughout the 20th century. It talked of emancipation for the industrial working class, where most Catholics were to be found. 

The marring of Catholicism and Socialism in Scotland falls largely to work of John Wheatley.  Born in Ireland and raised in Lanarkshire, the miner went on to found the Catholic Socialist Society in 1906. He would go on to become an MP. Not an ordinary thing for a Catholic immigrant miner. 

When Labour came to power in 1924 Wheatley was given a cabinet position and expanded council housing at an enormous rate which made him a tremendously popular figure amongst the industrial working class.

 
What then did nationalism have to offer to the people of Port Glasgow, Coatbridge and the Calton? Labour built them houses to live in, hospitals to care for them and industry to labour in. 

There used to be a perceived threat that once Scotland was independent the Protestant majority would close the Catholic schools, lock them out the good jobs at shipyards again and slide Catholics back down the economic ladder. Indeed the nickname of the SNP to many Catholic Scots was ‘SNP – Scottish No Popery”.

To our contemporary view this seems a ridiculous hypothesis. Decades ago however this was the view of a great many Scottish Catholics. 

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Scotland in 1982 was perhaps the most significant moment for Catholics in this country since emancipation. Hundreds of thousands welcomed the pontiff to Bellahouston Park and Murrayfield.

While Catholics held open air mass in the Glaswegian summer sunshine former SNP leader Billy Wolfe joined the Rev.Ian Paisley in opposition to the visit in a letter to the Church of Scotland’s magazine Life & Work. Wolfe also remarked in 1982 on the invasion of the Falklands that it would be a failure of democracy to allow a “cruel and ruthless fascist dictatorship of a Roman Catholic state” (Argentina) to take over the “mainly Protestant and democratically minded Falklanders, mostly descendants of Scots”.

On both occasions the SNP leadership distanced themselves from their former leader’s comments. The damage was done however. Catholic perceptions of the SNP weren’t changed they were cemented.

It was not until 2011 that more Catholics in Scotland voted SNP than Labour, 43% of them according to the 2011 Scottish Election Study. At the referendum it is believed that Catholics were the single most pro-independence religious group in Scotland  – 56% voted yes while only 40.9% of Church of Scotland members voted yes according to a 2015 study by Edinburgh University academics.

This revolution in voting behaviour wasn’t an accident. It was forged through the hard work of Salmond’s leadership of the SNP and his staff. We find the roots of it stemming from the ashes of the 1994 Monklands by-election.

In the Monklands (one of the few Scottish district councils whose population was a Catholic majority) it was alleged that the Labour run administration was purposely giving less funds to non-Catholic schools. Indeed all 17 of the Labour councillor group were Catholics, adding fuel to the sectarian fire. In addition to the allegations it was claimed that Coatbridge was receiving far more capital spending than its neighbouring town with a Protestant majority, Airdrie. 

The by-election was set during this sectarian scandal which the press christened, Monklandsgate.

The campaign was a brutal affair amidst these sectarian tensions. Labour won but with a much reduced majority against a 19% swing to the SNP. The new MP, Helen Liddel, accused the SNP in her victory speech of ‘playing the Orange card’. Her comments coming hours after she was spat on and called a ‘Fenian bastard’ by a voter.

Within weeks of the by-election Salmond met Thomas Winning, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Glasgow who would by the end of the year be a cardinal. He knew he had to act to repair the wounds.

Salmond found in Winning a political ally, to his surprise he was pro-independence. From this point onwards Salmond began to detoxify the SNP to Scotland’s Labour voting Catholics.

Later that year in his conference speech in Inverness the SNP leader lavished praised on Catholicism, ‘The Catholic view or social justice informs our attitude to inequality in Scotland’. Moreover he asserted his opposition to the ‘institutionalised religious discrimination’ of the UK’s Act of Settlement which bars Catholics from becoming head of state and that in an independent Scotland a bill of rights would enshrine Catholics as first class citizens in contrast to the UK.

Looking back on the disastrous by-election in 2009 Salmond noted its importance: “For me, this was a profoundly depressing experience, but one that in retrospect has turned out to be most helpful. It made the SNP look very closely at the whole issue of discrimination”.

The SNP did not win the hearts and minds of a majority of Catholics in 2014 and in May of this year by luck but by the visionary leadership of Alex Salmond decades ago. 

The constituency boundaries have changed and what was once Monklands is now Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. Not only did Coatbridge vote yes it delivered an SNP MP in May’s 2015 general election with 56.6% of the vote on a 36.3% swing. 

Yet today it seems the far-left pro-independence seem eager to close the gates of Catholic schools all in the name of dogma. They want the state to decide the ethos of schools, they want parents powerless and the religious life in Scotland weakened further. Those wrapped in the banner of ‘progressive politics’ won’t be satisfied until every church pew is empty. This is only one weapon in their arsenal which aims to elevate the state above all else. 

In doing so they line up with the bigots that only seek to rip up the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act to satisfy their own longing for a Scotland which does no longer exist. These outspoken education activists care not about any other education policy other than closing Catholic schools. One can look upon these single policy activists in a similar fashion to the ‘animal rights activists’ who only care about banning Halal meat. 

No serious political party will go into an election with a thirst to close popular schools all for the sake of dogma. I hope those in the SNP who have worked so hard over decades to reverse the perceptions of independence will speak loud and clear to the ‘progressive’ fringes of their movement.

In the SNP there’s a phrase comes up often to remind young activists and new members, ‘we stand on the shoulders of giants’. Some in the party ought to remind their members and other pro-independence groups of this.

 

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Corbynism in a Cold Climate

One of the promises of Jeremy Corbyn’s reign was the turning of the Nationalist tide in Scotland.

Leading Scottish Labour left winger Neil Findlay MSP prophesied that the SNP would “fear a Corbyn led Labour party” and would see “a party led by him as a real threat”.

A few months into his leadership and the prophesy lies in tatters. Opinion polls show that instead of the tide being reversed Scottish Labour are again drowning under a nationalist wave. Even more concerning a second front has opened; the Scottish Conservatives.


The latest Holyrood poll has Scottish Labour on a lowly 20% and 19% of the constituency and regional vote respectively. On these figures they would return to the Scottish Parliament in May with 25 MSPs, 12 fewer than their worst ever showing in 2011. The SNP would in contrast win 50% and 46% of votes earning them 72 MSPs.

Scottish Labour are currently heading for their worst ever result. The party’s share of the vote has decreased at Holyrood at every election since the high water mark of 38.1% at the inaugural elections.

The Scottish Conservatives on the other hand are aiming for their best showing at a devolved election. They have twice returned 18 MSPs, in 1999 and 2003. Many in the party believe 2016 can be the year to break through the 18 MSP barrier.

Following a rejuvenation after the referendum they are targeting a specific type of Scottish Labour voter; ardent Unionist, middle class and scared about tax raises from the new devolved powers. If the Essex Man was Thatcher’s target voter then Morningside Man is in Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s crosshairs.

On Monday Davidson sounded the starting gun on her party’s Holyrood campaign with 150 days to go. Her speech wasn’t directed at the party of government – who by the time of the election will have been in power for 9 years – but to Scottish Labour.

The often forgotten ‘unionist’ element of the party’s full name was emblazoned on the background in bold lettering. In both presentation and substance this speech was directed entirely to this aforementioned target voter.

 

Ruth Davidson at her campaign launch on Monday, 7 December 2015

Line after line was a dig at Scottish Labour, even the joint Corbyn-Dugdale proclamation of Scottish Labour’s autonomy came under attack, “I don’t need to go to London and have David Cameron do a photo-op signing a wee piece of paper to tell me that I’m in charge”.

A unionist stick which Davidson battered across Scottish Labour heads, and will do so repeatedly until polling day, is Kezia Dugdale’s decision to allow her MSPs to campaign for independence if they so desired. Davidson judged it “pathetic and weak” yesterday. Whatever it is, expect to hear more of it on doorsteps and TV studios.

While Scottish Labour has pledged to raise the top rate of income tax to 50% when the powers are transferred to Edinburgh, the Scottish Conservatives have pledged instead to “people should never be taxed more in Scotland than the rest of the UK”.

The last major party to go to a devolved Scottish Parliament election campaigning for tax raises was none other than the SNP in 1999. Two months from the election the SNP adopted the now infamous ‘Penny for Scotland’ campaign for Scots to pay a 1p in the pound higher rate than the rest of the UK to fund public services. Higher taxes of course were rejected by the voters and by 2002 the policy was cast quietly into the dustbin of Scottish political history.

 

‘Penny for Scotland’, 1999

Being soft on the Union and raising taxes is not an attractive pitch to middle class unionists who are now the backbone of Labour support in the bizarre world of Scottish politics.

If the party in Scotland is dragged to a Corbyn style policy platform in a vain attempt to win back SNP voters they will only achieve the loss of crutch of voters that give them continual relevance in Scotland.

The Labour Left has badly misjudged the Scottish electorate if they believe that all you have to do win here is to adopt a manifesto of 50 shades of Socialism. The key to the SNP’s success has been middle class subsidies not tax raids.

If higher taxes and a relaxed attitude to the constitution is what Corbynism is in Scotland then it will suffer, and suffer badly.

The tide is yet to turn. Scottish Labour have less than a 150 days to marshal the waves. At this point Corbynism looks set to sink in Scotland.

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SNP Minister’s Office Manager: WFI Are Bullies and Natalie McGarry Is Innocent

 

Shona McAlpine

In an extraordinary Facebook rant to her 2000 ‘friends’ Shona McAlpine has called Women For Independence (WFI) bullies and that embattled SNP MP Natalie McGarry is innocent.

McAlpine is office manager to prominent Scottish Government minister Humza Yousaf MSP.

Shona McAlpine

Questions are emerging from today’s news. When was SNP HQ  informed of the impending allegations of wrongdoing by one of their MPs,  7 SNP candidates and a SNP branch convener who all signed the statement?

The allegations centre on funds collected via a PayPal account linked to ‘crowdfunding’ initiatives.

Natalie McGarry MP says she is not guilty of any wrongdoing and has hired leading lawyer Aamer Anwar to represent her.

WFI National Committee in happier times, March 2014. Shona McAlpine and Natalie McGarry in attendance.

 

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The 20 Women For Independence Members That Called In Police Scotland

Leading today’s news agenda in Scotland is the unraveling tale of financial mismanagement at the pro-independence campaign Women For Independence (WFI).

The initial first grumblings of trouble were unearthed by the Daily Record’s David Clegg. Since then Clegg has uncovered that Natalie McGarry MP is at the centre of the story. Around £30,000 of donations, all raised from ordinary pro-independence individuals, is currently unaccounted for.

It is alleged that Ms.McGarry was responsible for WFI’s PayPal account, the main source of ‘crowdfunded’ payments to the group.

Out of the 23 members of the Woman For Independence national committee 20 signed a statement which includes the following:

“But what we can say is that following our first AGM in March and the adoption of our constitution and robust and appropriate systems, concerns emerged in late summer regarding financial probity. For several weeks now we have been examining the finances of the organisation for the last financial year, 2014/2015.

We have identified an apparent discrepancy between our donation income and the expenditure which we currently have evidence of.  We have exhausted all opportunities of obtaining adequate evidence or explanation to account for this discrepancy.

“Women for Independence has been, and is, supported by thousands of women and men who have donated to our work. We know that every one of them will share our profound disappointment that this situation has arisen.”

Natalie McGarry on the campaign trail

Natalie McGarry on the campaign trail

The three that did not sign was Natalie McGarry herself and two others who could not be contacted before the time of WFI’s publication. Of the 20, 7 are SNP candidates in the coming Scottish Parliament elections.

Calls for McGarry to be suspended are growing louder. 

The story itselfwill raise many headaches for SNP HQ but so too will the fact that SNP candidates were prepared to politically throw one of their existing MPs under a bus for the sake of an external organisation. Indeed even more worrying for the SNP leadership is how a leading member of a rival party, the Green’s Zara Kitson, could have a part to play in the potential downfall of one of their most well known MPs.

If you are wondering why the SNP attempted to centralise and control Yes Scotland then look no further than this £30,000 mess and Business for Scotland’s, now former SNP MP after the party whip was withdrawn, Michelle Thompson ongoing saga.

The full list is below:

Ashten Regan-Denham (SNP Edinburgh Eastern and Lothians list candidate)

Carolyn Leckie ( Scottish Socialist Pary MSP 2003 – 2007)

Gillian Martin ( SNP Aberdeen East candidate)

Jeane Freeman (SNP Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley candidate)

Julie Bell ( SNP Kirriemuir and Dean branch, WFI Angus)

Maggie Lennon (SNP Glasgow SNP list canddiate)

Maggie Mellon (British Association of Social Workers Vice-Chair)

Mairi Tulbure (2014/2015 Avondale SNP Convener)

Margaret Young

Marsha Scott (Chief Exec of Scottish Women’s Aid)

Michelle Rodger (SNP West of Scotland list candidate)

Rebecca Jones

Rosemary Hunter (SNP Mid Scotland and Fife list canddiate)

Sandra Mills

Selma Rahman

Sheila McCole

Sue Lyons

Suzanne McLaughlin ( SNP Glasgow list candidate)

Victoria Heaney

Zara Kitson (Green co-convenor candidate)

 

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Scottish Labour Declare Autonomy (Again)

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale proclaimed Monday marked a “new chapter in Scottish Labour’s history” on Twitter with the signing of a joint statement with Jeremy Corbyn on her party’s autonomy.

The statement failed to make a significant impact in the following day’s press. Indeed her tweet heralding the event failed to even garner more than a hundred retweets at the time of writing. If you can use Twitter interaction as somewhat of a guide to the importance of an event then this certainly lacks the gravitas of its billing.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that so many Scottish Labour grandees have proclaimed something along these lines before. Why would newspapers or their readers be interested in a story they have printed and read again and again?

John Reid, Scottish Secretary, 1999:

 “We require a degree of autonomy inside the Scottish Labour Party as in every institution”.

Henry McLeish, First Minister, 2000:

“Nobody has a monopoly of drive when it comes to greater autonomy.

“The Party has moved for greater autonomy in the last few years, and that will continue”.

Wendy Alexander’s leadership campaign manager Tom McCabe on her future premiership, 2007:

“It will mean more autonomy. Clearly we will be keeping strong links with colleagues in the rest of the UK.

“But we need a stronger, more focused Scottish Labour Party, with more control over policy”.

Henry McLeish, again, in 2007: 

“It [the Party] has to stop looking over its shoulder to Westminster. A Scottish Labour Party with far more autonomy, remaining loyal to UK Labour but recognising the need to be more Scottish and having the ability to develop new political and constitutional futures for Scotland without having to defer to Westminster, could help renew the party north of the Border”.

Ed Miliband during his 2010 leadership campaign:

“I think the policy in Scotland, for Scottish Labour, should be decided in Scotland.

“For me that’s not controversial. Under my leadership we would lighten up about difference because I think we gain from difference.

“The whole nature of the devolution settlement is accepting that within a United Kingdom we can learn from each other and there will be particular policies and ideas which would be appropriate to Scotland and that Scotland should be able to pursue”.

Johann Lamont on resigning as Scottish Labour leader, 2014:

“…the Labour Party must recognise that the Scottish party has to be autonomous and not just a branch office of a party based in London”.

How many more times must a senior Scottish Labour figure declare autonomy before being, well, autonomous?

If the SNP are obsessed with the British constitution then Labour has a somewhat similar addiction to amending their party’s constitution. 

Why is it that Scottish Labour wants or needs autonomy anyway? Perhaps they are embarrassed by Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, Dugdale remarked while Corbyn was an outsider in the leadership contest that his election would leave Labour “carping on the sidelines” for years.

This way, Kezia

This way, Kezia

As I have blogged on previously a large portion of the sub 25% of voters who vote Labour in Scotland today are now middle-income unionists. The type of voters the centrist Scottish Labour party won round from 1987 onward.

Lose them and you consign Scottish Labour not just to the opposition benches but as the third force in Scottish politics.

Distance from London from Corbyn and McDonnell is not what Scottish Labour need not to thrive, but to survive.

Though as we have seen previously, many Scottish Labour leaders soon find out London’s anchor is still attached when they decide to set forth on a new course.

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By-Election Autopsy: Scottish Tories On The Rise At Labour and the Liberals’ Expense

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