Saturday, 22 October 2016


Apparently the Nats want another Referendum. Which they are entitled in their own mind to have because of a rather vague statement in their 2016 Scottish Parliament Manifesto. An election at which they actually lost their absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament. I know.

The one good thing is that their White Paper last week conceded that, in order to have a Referendum, they would need constitutional authority from the UK Parliament, Scotland having voted to remain in the UK as recently as two years ago.

It would, nonetheless, we are told. be an "outrage" for this to be denied.

But clearly a denial, giving cause for yet more gripe and grievance, is precisely what they are hoping for. And I kind of get that. The "success" of the Easter Rising was a result of a British reaction in its aftermath. If the rebels had simply been sentenced to imprisonment for the duration of hostilities then one suspects subsequent history might have been very different.

Lessons thus have to be learned.

So what options are available to our "other" Government beyond straight denial?

Well, firstly there is the questions of mandate.

Had the SNP been up for another Referendum they could simply have stated in their 2016 Manifesto: "If re-elected we will hold another Independence Referendum".

Even I wouldn't deny that in such circumstance the UK Government would have to have conceded to this demand.

But of course they didn't.

So, perhaps, the opening position of the UK Government should be that if any Party (or combination of Parties) secures a Holyrood majority on such a platform then "of course" a Referendum could be held.

The procedure for this is quite simple. Nicola resigns on a point of principle, and assuming no-one else can secure a plurality of votes to become First Minister within 28 days, then a fresh Scottish Parliament Election would follow (s.46 of the 1998 Act). Alternatively a two thirds majority of the Scottish Parliament could simply vote for a dissolution to see if that is what the country wanted (s.3). Ruth would undoubtedly vote for such an election. So would the volunteer if she was told to.

So, Section 30 powers might be granted from Westminster, perhaps even in perpetuity, to any Holyrood First Minister elected on such a clear platform to hold an Independence Referendum. Within, obviously, a fixed period for the introduction of Referendum legislation after such a hypothetical election victory. Over to Nicola to see if she could secure it.

But there is another option. In 2014, Scotland voted by Local Authority area.

Now, had the flag eaters done 6% better in 2014, that would have given them victory. But it would still have left large parts of Scotland dragged out of the UK against their will. The Borders voted 67% No. Dumfries and Galloway 66%. East Lothian 62%. South Ayrshire 58%. Edinburgh 61%. Only when you get to South Lanarkshire 55% and Fife 55% would a 6% gain have given the Nats a narrow victory.

So, perhaps the price of a Section 30 should be that we vote again on this basis but with only those Local Authority districts voting to form an independent Scotland becoming part of it?

The Nats would surely have no problem with this? "Free" Scotland would surely immediately become a social democratic nirvana, with austerity abolished and the population hugely enhanced by the talents of the refugees welcome to flock there from all over the world? The Brains could sleep easy in their beds while the long term unemployed could stay in bed all day without worrying about their giros arriving as expected. At least until the money ran out. In time, the rest of the country would inevitably see the sense of this arrangement. Surely? The only problem meanwhile might be other Scots demanding entry to "Free" Scotland. But, following the example of the German Democratic Republic, walls could inevitably be built until other local referendums were held and the entire volk re-united in a spirit of amity.

Now, and this is he sad bit. In-between, the UK would really need to be contiguous. So the poor souls in the North East (Aberdeenshire 60% No: Aberdeen City 59%) might just have to suck it up. For on that 6% swing there is a Nationalist firewall around the Forth. Hard luck folks. If the worst came to the worst, maybe you'd perhaps have to consider joining Orkney and Shetland and fu.....going away to join Norway.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Empress has no clothes.

You may have noticed that I've not been doing much blogging lately. Partly it is simply that I've been very busy at my work but it's also that I've just been very depressed about the state of the world with no desire to depress myself further by putting why down on paper.

But the events of the past few days prompt me to say something about the state of Scotland's polity.

Much has been written about post truth politics but in Scotland it seems to me that we are drifting into post reality political reporting. It obviously suits political journalists to talk up the prospect of a second independence referendum, it's story, but that should not be at the expense of pointing out the absurdity of the proposition on offer.

That proposition is simply this. If the UK Government proceeds with a hard brexit then a second referendum will/may be called so that Scotland can remain in the EU. But no it can't. For simple reasons of timing.

Mrs May has indicated the intention to trigger Article 50 next Spring. Now, that might not happen then, I readily concede that*, but since the cause for this second referendum is apparently to be that triggering then, even if it is delayed, my observations as to what follows still stand but only at a later date. So let's take the Prime Minister and indeed the First Minister at their stated intent.

Article 50 is triggered and Nicola decides immediately and without waiting for the detail to go for a second poll. For the sake of the argument to follow, both of these things happen in March 2017, meaning the UK is to leave the EU in March 2019.

Well, first of all Nicola would have to get legal authority for a second vote in the form of a s.30 order passed at both Holyrood and Westminster. We know what this involves because we've been through the process as recently as 2012. The Scottish Government conceded the need for a s.30 on 25th January 2012. The UK Government had indicated a willingness to consider such a request earlier that same month. At the time there was a genuine desire on both sides to reach a deal but, nonetheless, it took until 15th October for the deed to be done. Crucially, it was done largely on the terms the nationalists wanted, chiefly I suspect because our side thought there was little real prospect of us losing and just wanted to get on with it. This time that deal will not nearly as readily be done as I suspect there will be real issues over the question and the franchise and the timing. To posit but a few, if Yes/No was inappropriate as the Brexit choice then would it still be acceptable in a future independence referendum? If the choice now involved a hard border (an inevitable consequence of a Scotland in/ UK (hard) out of the EU) then shouldn't Scots living in England get a vote, given that this would inevitably impact on their right to remain and work in the residual UK? Should EU citizens in Scotland still get a vote as they did in 2014?

I say this just to indicate that, even if the UK Government is willing, the s.30 process will not be a dawdle. But let's concede that it will take no longer than 2012, So that there is a section 30 by January 2018. Then we need an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The 2013 Act was introduced on 21st March 2013 and became law on 18th December 2013. Now, the delay in introduction might be shortened this time but the Parliamentary time is dictated by the Parliament's established procedures so it is difficult to see legislation before the the end of 2017. But in some ways that doesn't matter because this being Scotland, the vote would need to await the better weather (sic) anyway. So not before May 2018.

And then in the event the flag-eaters won? Well, Scotland would not become independent immediately but remain in the UK until the "details" had been sorted out The September 2014 vote anticipated "Independence day" being in March 2016, a timescale many even on the Yes side thought to be hopelessly optimistic, but let's just apply that same nineteen month period to a May 2018 vote. Independence in January 2020. Until when we'd still be part of the UK. And have left the EU nine months before.

So there is simply no timescale that allows Scotland to vote to remain in the EU. We could certainly vote in anticipation of (attempting) to join once independence was a reality but that is as good as it could possibly get.

Now, neither Nicola nor the people round about her are stupid. They know all of the above as readily as I do. They have nonetheless attempted a gigantic confidence trick both on their own rank and file and, more importantly, on the electorate.

My question is this however. Why have the press fallen for this? Why haven't they pointed out that the Empress Nicola has no clothes? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen.

Important postscript! I've just realised I've actually given the Nats an entire year! The earliest there could even be legislation is December 2018 and a referendum the Spring of  2019! By which time we'd already have left.

*For what it's worth I think the Courts will rule that the Government requires a parliamentary vote before triggering article 50.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

A journey

One of the best things about blogging is that you don't have to work to a deadline in the way that those who write for a living inevitably do.

If you are contracted to write a Thursday newspaper column then it is highly unlikely (!) that your editor would welcome an approach that "it is not quite finished, could it appear on Friday instead"? Similarly, writers of longer narratives, fictional or non fictional, still have deadlines to meet to satisfy the requirements of pre booked printers or seasonal publication.

And even among those of us who write professionally but only secondarily to another function, there are equal deadlines. In my trade, dates by which writs must be drafted,  warranted and served to avoid a statutory time limit. Dates thereafter by which documents: Defences; Lists of Witnesses; Notices to Admit must be lodged for fear of the client's case otherwise going by default.

Never mind the even tighter deadline of a profession, at the sharp end, still largely conducted orally. You can only ever ask a witness a question while they are actually in the witness box. Stories are legion of adverse judicial decisions premised on questions that witnesses ought, sometimes needed, to be asked but which the lawyer engaged thought of or re-remembered only too late. Or, worse still, which the lawyer only appreciated should have been asked when they got the judgement. The deadline had gone.

But that's my day job.

Blogging's only deadline is when you press the "Publish" button. Then it's too late to recant. But if the blog is never finished, if the Publish button is never pressed? Who ever knows what you might have been going to say? Unless it's Wikileaks, I suppose, but I don't think it's very likely they'll be remotely interested in hacking into my "drafts" folder.

However, because there is no deadline, there is a distinct advantage to blogging. So long as, by the time you finally finish, your topic is still.....topical, you can take as long as you like to write it. When it is finally published your audience will be none the wiser whether it was written over three hours or three months.

Unless you confess that yourself. Which I readily do here. For this is a blog which started off weeks past to reach one conclusion and in the end has reached more or less the complete opposite.

It's about Brexit.

A month or so ago, I started to write a blog, "this" blog I suppose, on that topic.. Focussed on the Greek Referendum of May 2015. You may recollect that event. The Greeks had elected a populist left wing Syriza Government on the completely false premise that they could expand Greece's already wholly unsustainable levels of public debt and yet remain in the Euro. The EU, essentially the Germans, had demurred and had said to the demagogues in the Greek Government that they couldn't have their cake and eat it. There was a deal that involved cutting public expenditure (and embracing much more economic reform that Syriza had been elected expressly vowing to oppose) while remaining in the Eurozone. Or there was a departure from the Eurozone. These were the only options.

But the Greek Government deluded, if not themselves then certainly their electorate, that they had a third option. They would have a referendum! Which they did. And in which, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Greeks voted for the Germans to pay their pensions.

You will recall this didn't end well. The Greek banks were immediately forced to close their doors. People couldn't get access to even their Greek Pensions, never mind the turbo charged German ones they had voted for. It was made clear that either the Greek Government capitulated or their cashline machines would re-open only with Drachmas coming out. At a grossly devalued value to the Euros originally deposited. Within a fortnight, the Greeks had been forced to sign up to a much worse deal than had been on offer before their "game changing" Referendum. Their Government had learned that this wasn't a game.

And when I started to write this blog three weeks ago I intended to reach the same conclusions about our own referendum June past. That people had been offered a false option of retaining the advantages of membership of the European Single Market while shrugging off the downside (as seen by many) of free movement of people. That in reality we had voted for an outcome that was no more on offer to us than, a year past in May, a different outcome had been on offer to the Greeks. And once the dust had settled our referendum vote would have been no more decisive than theirs

Except that in the interim three things have happened. Well, three have happened and a fourth has perhaps been realised by me.

The first is the polling that was done on public opinion post Brexit on the relative desirability of each option in a free movement/single market trade off. Here it is.

No surprise? Well, actually, it was not so much a surprise to me as a wake up call. And promoting perhaps a very grudging nod to, of all people, Nigel Farage. For Farage is probably entitled to the credit, if that's the right word, for realising that the road to victory for the Leavers was not through the esoteric subject of Westminster Legislative Supremacy or even through the Brussels waste and bureaucracy so beloved Boris Johnson in an earlier incarnation. Rather, Farage saw that success for his cause would lie through the way in which the existing EU impacted on the everyday lives of ordinary working class people; through unrestricted (essentially) East European immigration. Which they perceived as responsible for restricting employment opportunities, undercutting wages and overloading public services in education, health and, perhaps above all, social housing.

Now I can rehearse, indeed have advanced, all the counter arguments. I won't bore you with them again.

Except perhaps we weren't dealing just with appeals to the head. Appeals to the gut featured as well. In much the same way as it had been while arguing different nationalists to a standstill on economic realities in September 2014, there was always a fall back for them. In 2014 it was "I don't care, I just want my country to be 'normal', even if that involves living in a cave". In 2016 it was: "I don't care, I just don't want all these people who are not English/Welsh/Scottish living here."

(The numbers might be a bit smaller in Scotland but anybody denying the sentiment here as well is deluding themself.)

And, do you know, I kind of understood that argument in 2014, even if I didn't respect the willingness to lie to others to bring it about. If you think a flag is important then you think a flag is important. But,anyway, whether I understood it or not is not the issue. What I had to understand is that it was there. In the minds of an awful lot of people, even if not thankfully a majority. And thus you had either defeat it or accommodate it. In one referendum we defeated it. In the second we didn't. And, regrettably, we have to concede to the victor the spoils. At least for the moment.

The second thing that has happened is the Owen Smith campaign. What might, in a different reality, have been the post referendum line of "my" wing of the Labour Party. Smith started off thinking that his ace card was that Party members were overwhelmingly horrified at Brexit and that Corbyn's "lukewarm" support for Remain might thus give Smith a useful internal advantage. I'm not writing here about the Party leadership campaign in general, just about this aspect of the Smith campaign. He thus started off saying that Labour should seek a re-run of the referendum and/or, if we hadn't left the EU by the next General Election, campaign then on proposing to ignore the referendum result. The problem is that this wheeze simply did not compute when it encountered the wider electorate. They regarded it as an insult to their democratic vote just cast and indeed almost amounting to an attack on their intelligence. It became increasingly clear that it almost invited Labour Leavers to take their General Election vote elsewhere. Indeed that it was just as toxic to them as anything that might be proposed on the wilder fringes of Corbynism.

And the third thing that has happened is a single Commons exchange involving David Davis. Like everybody else on the losing side I have enjoyed the mocking question: "Yes, Brexit might mean Brexit but what exactly does Brexit mean?"

But when Davis was asked that very question in real life he answered simply: "It means Britain is going to leave the European Union."

And, at least for the moment, he is right. There is, at least for now, no buyer's remorse. There is no point in fantasies of "uniting the 48%". It is still a minority. And, anyway, who's  to say that such a development might not just impel the 52% to unite in their own way?

So, in summary, Labour strategy (no laughing up the back) must start by trying to get the best Brexit deal possible. If the British people want free trade without free movement then we must at least explore that possibility. I know, I know, that for the moment there are those at the highest level within the EU stating in black and white terms that there could never be such a deal but there are other voices too. And much the same, until recently, was being said to Switzerland but, very interestingly, it is not being said now.

For that leads me on to my realisation. Or perhaps more precisely, my recollection. Britain is not Greece. Britain is not even just any other member of the EU. It is its second largest Country both in terms of population and GDP. It is also the fifth largest economy in the world. Free trade between the EU and the UK is very much to the advantage of both. And any preferential treatment in the right to live and work here will always be a prize worth having. For while Britain will always need immigrants we do not need them necessarily from Europe. While it is no accident that free movement between the UK and central and eastern Europe has been almost entirely one way.

Equally, it is not as if the UK is a stranger to bespoke deals, even while within the EU. From the rebate to Schengen to, most noticeably of all, the Euro, the advantages of free trade with the UK has already trumped "ever closer union".

How this can/could be done already has its theorists. Recently both Professors  Tomkins  and Gallagher have weighed with contributions from differing sides of the left/right divide.

But, and here is another thought. The Scottish Referendum ended with an outcome not on the table when that process began. Might not the EU referendum have a similar outcome? For the main argument by the Remainers was never about free movement. For some, overwhelmingly white middle class people (like me), planning to retire abroad, it was an undoubted incidental benefit, but for many others it was no more than a price worth paying without having any great attachment to the principle itself.

However the main argument for the Leavers?  Here I come back to the "credit" I gave to Mr Farage earlier on. If free movement was really the key reason to leave and we might no longer have free movement? Then the arguments for retaining a top table seat where decisions are made and not simply coming to terms with their aftermath comes back into play. So, reach a deal on free movement and then, only then, there might be a case for a second referendum.

But be in no doubt, if Labour remains committed ideally to continuing membership of the EU then a deal on free movement is an essential starting point. Don't ask me, ask the electorate. Or just ask Owen Smith.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Legacy of History

While I was away I read Robert Tombs masterwork "The English and their History". It has a number of themes but one of them undoubtedly is that, whether by coincidence or otherwise, the Union between England and Scotland was shortly thereafter followed by an unprecedented growth of what was to become the largest empire the world has ever seen.

The British Empire (for it never was and never will be called anything else) like any other great historical event had both its good and bad elements. When it was bad, most notoriously in its role in the transatlantic slave trade, it could be very bad indeed but equally, when it was good, most noticeably in its ultimate elimination of that trade not just within its boundaries but across the world, its power could be employed for great and good purpose.

And any suggestion that this was not an enterprise in which the Scots were fully engaged is nonsense. It was, I think, the nationalist historian Michael Fry who tellingly observed that the English conquered an Empire but the Scots actually ran it. There is some truth in that but we did our fair share of fighting too. Through the long "Second Hundred Years War" against France (as Tombs borrows the description) from the Heights of Abraham to the Scots Greys at Waterloo, Scottish troops were in the front of the action. As they were through the long imperial adventure of the 19th Century and throughout the long 20th Century departures which followed. Right up to Mad Mitch and the Argyll's in Aden, "Scotland the Brave" was never far away on any battlefield.

But, of course, the Empire is now in the past, fought over only for its reputation among historians of differing modern political persuasions. It has left a worldwide cultural legacy but most obviously a legacy here on the island from which it sprang.

But it also, and this is important, has left a continuing legacy on the modern economy of the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is commonly understood to have four constituent parts: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. But in economic terms that's not actually true. In economic terms the country has five parts. The first three certainly, but more properly the final, largest, part should be divided into "Greater London" and "The rest of England".

I'm prompted to these thoughts not just by Professor Tombs' history but by a nagging unhappiness as to how last weeks GERS figures have been reported. It is certainly the case that Scotland's public spending is substantially subsidised by "elsewhere" and that an inevitable consequence of Independence would be a significant fall in living standards. But the economic reductionism of my own side's response has left me slightly uneasy. For there were two nationalist kickbacks to this. The first, the usual zoomer element who don't believe the figures published by their own nationalist government, can be treated with the contempt they deserve. But there was a second,more cerebral argument trying  to plant a tape worm in the gut of the Scottish polity. A worm we must be careful not to let flourish. "Alright, maybe we would be a bit worse off, but we would have the dignity of not living on handouts."

However, by that logic everywhere in the UK, not just us and the Welsh in the Northern Irish, but everywhere in England outwith London as well is "living on handouts".

For London, for all it is the Nation's capital, is in reality a thing apart from the nation. It is a world city, only truly rivalled in economic activity by New York and Hong Kong and boasting a cultural., architectural, historical and, yes, political legacy that puts even these other two contenders to shame. But this is not the only legacy that London enjoys. For although politically and militarily the British Empire is over, economically it still has a centre, a remaining imperial capital in a post imperial age. A centre that remains at the heart of commerce, trade, finance, simply influence, across a far wider reach than these small islands alone.  And it has a population to match, more than 50% born to at least one foreign born parent. It is a wonderful, vibrant, diverse place.

There are few people in the developed world who would not wish, given the opportunity, to visit it and many, many more, across the whole world, who have no higher ambition than but to actually live there.

But more importantly still, as that direct legacy of Empire, the post imperial capital generates wealth out of all proportion to even its substantial population. Much, much more than anywhere else in the country. And that wealth is then shared not just by those who live in London but across the country to which London itself belongs. For, and let this sink in, one pound in five earned in London, through the operation of taxation, is then spent elsewhere in the UK. But actually, that is as it should be. For, as I say, it is to the departed British Empire that London owes its modern pre-eminence.

Now, none of this is to say that this great wealth could not be more evenly distributed, across the UK or even within London itself. It certainly could and should be. Nor is it to say that such a concentration of wealth in one part of the country alone is a good thing. It certainly isn't, something recognised but never yet successfully overcome by government's of different political persuasions since at least the end of last war. Nor is it even, dare I say it, to say that, as GERS highlights, Scotland should continue, even within the UK, to be entitled to greater public spending than, frankly, more deprived parts of the country.

But it is to say this. It is not Londoners alone who are responsible for their great city's prosperity today. It is all of us. So the capital's great wealth being distributed across the Nation it belongs to is not on any view a subsidy. It is simply the benefit of being in a United Kingdom. And the legacy of history.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Winter is coming.

And so, I'm back. Umbria was, as always, Umbria. Great scenery, great food, great art, great time. Last Saturday I was once again in Orvieto, home of arguably Italy's greatest cathedral, Luca Signorelli's masterwork and, that aside, one of my most favourite restaurants.

But then? I flew home. That is done now.

Summer is over and the long echoes of the British Autumn are about to begin.

The Last Night of the Proms; the first night of Strictly; the September weekend; Halloween; Bonfire Night; Armistice Day. Each will come round with their usual inevitability as the leaves turn red, and then brown and then disappear altogether. And, in the west of Scotland at least, as the constant, four season, rain gets steadily colder until turning to sleet.

Until, equally inevitably, there will be Christmas and beyond that a new renewal.

And then plans for the new year.

But, in between, there will still be life.

And, in political terms, I suspect this will actually prove to be quite boring.

We have just had three years of politics unprecedented in my lifetime.

The Independence Referendum was, on any view, an event. As was not so much the General Election as the decision of the Labour Party to implode, perhaps abolish itself  entirely, in its aftermath. And then we had the Brexit vote. Let's be honest, not something anybody politically engaged, including most Brexiters, ever thought would ever actually happen.

But things can't carry on like this. A bit like Euro2016, watching two games every night, then at least one, then at least a few remaining high stakes contests......eventually there is the final. And it's over. No matter how much you might wish it could's over. Equally, mornings no longer will come with a Gold Rush from Rio but with the latest report on childhood obesity or on the problem of pension mis-selling. It's over.

And in the same way the last three years are over. Despite the obvious advantage to be gained, Mrs May seems resolved that my own Party's current travails will not be solved by her in the form of an early election. Despite all her huffing and puffing, Nicola is equally not inclined to the kamikaze mission that would be a second referendum. If Labour does split, which I still think improbable, it won't be this year. Brexit might mean Brexit but not quite yet.

So, politics are about to become boring. Normal. Tory.

Maybe, for a while, that is not a bad thing.

Sunday, 31 July 2016


Yesterday, up to 5000 people marched through Glasgow waving flags in support of Scottish Independence. Which is of course not about flags.

Still, no harm to them, what people get up to in their spare time is a matter for them. Personally, I had a barbecue.

And I am in no doubt that there are many other people who were more inclined to my own sort of Summer recreation who, nonetheless, asked the question again, would vote in a referendum for Independence. Very many more.

The problem is that even very many more still isn't enough.

I did actually think that the Brexit vote might shift Scottish public opinion a bit, at least for a time. At least until it became obvious what "Scotland in/England out" would mean in practice: a devalued "independent" currency and a hard border. Actually, I think that underlying opinion has moved a bit. Some europhile No voters have given Independence a second look. Equally however, some Nats motivated by hatred of the English appear (surprise, surprise) to be no more friendly to any other sort of "foreigner".  Indeed, faced with a binary choice in that regard they would apparently opt to keep the devil they know.

But despite that (wee) bit underlying moving about the baseline figure remains about the same as it has since September 2014. A significant and consistent majority for maintaining the British union.

Now, what hasn't perhaps been given enough thought is what this means for the future of Scottish politics.

It has become accepted wisdom that the SNP would not risk another referendum unless they thought they would win. What if that is never?

There is a kind of assumption that the Nats could nonetheless remain a "competent" government and continue to enjoy an electoral advantage from being both that and "Scotland's Party".

But, actually, "Scotland", at least without the prospect of Independence, is not a political philosophy.

So far the belief that that dream is not dead has managed to obscure this. It is that as much as any underlying objective that requires Nicola to flag up the possibility of another vote at every possible opportunity. But that strategy only has so much mileage. If, as it appears, the Nats hope that Brexit would be a gamechanger, or that Trident renewal would be a gamechanger, or at least that something would be a gamechanger proves to be illusory, what happens next?

Well, to paraphrase Harold McMillan, events will happen.

We were promised at the election that closing the attainment gap in education was to be the number one priority of Nicola's renewed (of sorts) mandate. The problem is that it is one thing to recognise change is needed, it is another altogether to actually decide what that change should be, let alone bring it about. At some point change requires somebody to be offended, for any status quo has its beneficiaries. And change in Education will require quite a lot of those with an interest in the status quo to suffer that offence: the teaching unions, Local Authorities, who knows possibly even some parents.

So far, since 2007, as they attempted to hold their fragile "Yes Coalition" together, the SNP have been anxious to avoid any offence to anybody. The price of that has been complete stasis in public policy making. You would genuinely struggle to think of any bold initiatives in any of the devolved areas of responsibility. And these devolved areas of responsibility are about to get much much wider.

I give but one current example, the rail strike. For the last month, members of the RMT have been engaged in industrial action over plans to remove guards from many commuter services. The travelling public are increasingly furious about the disruption to their daily lives while the unions are increasingly furious over management's unwillingness to negotiate. But this is not a nil sum game. If the unions win, fares will go up. If they lose then ultimately fewer people will work on the railways and, as they would have it at least, the travelling public will be less safe. So, what is the view of the Scottish Government? No idea. The silence from the transport minister has been deafening. For to express a view would offend somebody. Except that, slowly, that silence is actually beginning to offend everybody. Or at least everybody paying attention. As a lot more will be once the holiday season ends.

And that's the problem with current SNP strategy. It is not just nature that abhors a vacuum, so does politics. We have already seen this to a degree in the way that, in an attempt to install a proper opposition, May past, the electorate pushed Labour aside in favour of the Ruth Davidson Party.

At a certain point even those who might still wish for Independence will conclude that, if it's not, however regrettably, going to happen, Government has to be about more than just sitting about doing as little as possible in the hope that one day opinion on the National question might actually experience the hoped for gamechanger.

And yet if something, anything, is to be done by the SNP Government? Just consider the current SNP deputy leadership contest. Do the candidates agree with each other about just about anything other than independence? Yet each seems to have their own discreet group of supporters believing that the view of their candidate alone represent the "true" opinion of the SNP. It'll take more than the talents of, even, Nicola to maintain the unity of this heterogeneous group while driving it in in any particular policy direction. Don't hold your breath for the attainment gap to be closed any time soon.

And with that I'm off on holiday. Actually I am flying out from Prestwick. Currently, in an attempt to avoid another decision bound to give offence, my departure place is being subsidised by the Scottish Government to the extent of £17 million per annum. That's another area where a decision is going, one day, to be need to be made. Just so long as it's not before next Saturday. I would be offended.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

I will survive?

The weird thing about Corbyn's continued limpet like attachment to the Party leadership is that it is difficult to see where it sees itself going.

Bevan's maxim "Never underestimate the passion for unity" still has considerable traction, indeed it is effectively Owen Smith's entire campaign strategy. But, equally, we cannot expect that that passion to be shared by those Johnny come lately "conditional" members and supporters who Corbyn has undoubtedly already rallied to his tattered flag.

So Corbyn's survival is a very real possibility. But to what end?

There is no way back for the 172 resignees. They could not possibly remain collectively on the back benches and then face their local electorate come a General Election in the position of encouraging confidence in a candidate for Prime Minister despite having publicly declared no confidence in the same person's inability to be (even) Leader of the Opposition. That is of course assuming they hadn't been reselected in the meantime.

The Party would inevitably split. In a much more significant way than in 1981.

And that split would start with many more advantages than the "Gang of Four" had then. Not just in the number of Labour MPs it would take with it.

Tribal voting is much less of a factor thirty five years on. In 1979, as Labour lost, 36.9% of the electorate still voted Labour. In 2015 that figure was a mere 29%. But, just as significantly, in 2015, the Tories actually WON the election with a smaller proportion of the the electorate than that which had led Labour to defeat (by a margin) in 1979. There are a lot of unattached voters out there and Scotland shows that even life long loyalty can prove to be anything but given the right set of circumstance.

Money is also much less of an issue. Labour in 1981 retained a considerable advantage over any pretender to the title of, at least, principal opposition through the guaranteed income from the Trade Union link. Since then, not only has Trade Union money declined as Trade Unionism itself has declined but Party funding has also moved more generally on, not just in relation to the relative importance of "Short money" but also in the willingness of well to do individuals to intervene, for philanthropic motivation or otherwise, in the political process.

And there is even a "cause" in the way the SDP never really had a cause except by way of a general disgruntlement with the Labour Party. That cause is Europe and more broadly an embrace of, rather than a retreat from, the modern world. If not the EU precisely then certainly the EEA or, better still, the "special associate" status being discussed in some German quarters.

You can see such a project, embracing the Lib Dems, and dependent on the right surrounding circumstances and leadership, getting to 30%. Not enough to win but probably enough to finish off Labour.

But, oddly, that's not really my point.

For my point is, to go back to where I started, what would the prospects for RLabour (to borrow an adapted phraseology from the Scottish Independence campaign)?

We would still have assets. Firstly, and not unimportantly, the brand. The brand means quite a lot to some people, me included. It might be ridiculous, sentimental or whatever but I'd find it quite difficult but to vote anything but Labour. You can relatively easily see Tony Blair or Kezia Dugdale endorsing the new Party project I outline. As the former famously said, to his one time reassurance of the wider electorate, he wasn't born into this Party, he chose it. The latter, at best, only ever had it as a second choice. But Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and so many, many, less prominent others now serving as Party Officers, local Councillors or even (just) humble door knockers ? They were born into our Party. They would find it very difficult to belong to any other.

And secondly, it is undeniable that to a certain constituency: public sector trade unionists; that part of the very poor who are politically engaged at all; young people legitimately motivated by generational inequality, Corbynism has a genuine appeal. A Coalition of the Angry as I have previously described it. The 18% who expressed the preference for Corbyn over May as Prime Minister in the recent poll are presumably these people. Even stripping out those faced with having to make a binary choice and those who simply don't know that much about him, there is probably still a core Labour/Corbyn vote concentrated in what remains of our heartlands, South Wales, South Yorkshire, The North East, Lancashire, the industrial Midlands, Inner London. Assuming at least that UKIP don't point the anger of the coalition of the angry in an entirely different direction, as they undoubtedly partially did on 23rd June past.

But lets again return to where I started. Suppose Labour somehow scrapes vote to "victory" over any new initiative? So what?  We might have won the battle for the minor places but Mrs May's carefully centrally positioned Tories would still be holding up the Gold medal and belting out the National Anthem.

And eventually, if not after the 2020 General Election, then after the 2025 one, or at least the 2030 one, Labour would either finally die or realise that we need to track back towards the centre in order to win. And that no number of rallies or marches was sufficient consolation for failing to do so.

So I finish with the question I started with. What, even in his own terms, is the point of Corbyn surviving?