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How to stop Boris? Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and what the left must now do

The only way parties of the left can stop Boris Johnson is by coming together and ending their internecine tribalism.

Scotland’s growing influence on UK foreign policy

Kirsty Hughes talks to Scottish National Party and Scottish Green politicians on foreign policy, the EU and the tectonic shift in Scottish politics.

Britain's strange silence on the Democratic Unionist Party

The British political elite has relentlessly demanded the SNP be excluded from government after May 7. Why are they so quiet on the DUP?

The long march to Scotland’s independence referendum

The world of politics and history sometimes throws up by complete accident fascinating and revealing coincidences. So it proved on the 70th anniversary of Britain and France reluctantly declaring war on Nazi Germany after Hitler had taken the decision two days previously to unleash his war machine on Poland. On such a day laden with history the SNP administration fired the first official shots in the referendum on Scottish independence. Alex Salmond, First Minister, committed his administration to bring forward a bill to hold a referendum in the next year.

More than the date of September 3rd connects these two separate events for they tell us something profound about the nature of Britain, what it became, the state it is currently in and what fate awaits it in the near-future.

Fear and Loathing in Glenrothes

Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): What's a more motivating force, fear or hope? Across the pond Obama has inspired a generation, re-inspired another and put 9 million people on the electoral register. Here a halving of the Labour Partys majority has been represented as a historic victory. Here it was politics as usual, and bitter negative politics at that. Labour have successfuly played on peoples fears of economic collapse. But can Britain be held together by fear? Where is a credible positive agenda emerging from London? It's not going to be the Olympics or the sight of a UK football team emerging at Hampden comprising 11 Englishmen.

There is no doubt that Labour ran a very successful campaign, but that's not why they won. The SNP ran a great campaign but chose a candidate that made them the incumbent (Peter Grant is the Head of the SNP Council), but that's not why they lost.

There are three reasons why Labour won.

From Glenrothes to EWNI

Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): Last week's lost cause is this week's cause celebre. Mr Bean - virtually laughed out of office two weeks ago - is this week's giant of fiscal rectitude bestriding the world stage like a colossus of economic management. Inconvenient truths like the role New Labour played in the deregulation of goods and services, the 'liberation' of the Bank of England or support for the policy of basing your economy on spiralling housing prices, are swept aside in the glib wave of back-slapping that is sweeping the political commentariat.

The media is fickle, not feral.

Gleefully Jim Murphy the new Scottish Secretary mocks the SNP with reference to the 'arc of insolvency', a reference to the 'arc of prosperity' that the SNP have used to describe Iceland, Ireland and Norway. The problem with Labour's new found chutzpah is that they are treading on thin ice. The markets are faltering, the terrain unpredictable. Just as the SNP's original triumvirate of Ireland, Iceland and Norway was a too-convenient set, it equally fails as an example of why Scotland must be held to the Union. Norway is doing fine in the financial crisis, Iceland is not. The scale and impact of crisis has little or nothing to do with the size and constitutional make-up of the country involved.

Scottish Labour may back strikers

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Scottish Labour Party will have a new leader by this weekend. The Scotsman suggests that Wendy Alexander's successor could quickly find themselves at odds with Westminster:

In London, the government is trying to keep down wage inflation and will not provide any more money for public-sector wages.

In Scotland, the party is going through a leadership campaign where two of the candidates have been backed by unions involved in the strike action.

What this means is that, when Labour in Scotland does get its new leader this weekend, the party here will almost certainly be in favour of strike action while the party in England is not.

SNP offer to Lib Dems could end council tax

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Scotsman brings us news that the SNP is preparing to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats to abolish the council tax in Scotland.

As the SNP is running the Scottish Government as a minority administration, it needs the support of one of the other main parties to get its plans through. The Lib Dems support the principle of a local income tax, but are adamant that it must be set locally, by individual councils, rather than by the Scottish Government at 3p in the pound.

Should Scottish Labour bin the council tax?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): In today's Sunday Herald, former Labour Scottish Finance Minister Tom McCabe delivers a brutally frank assessment of Labour's diminished place in Scotland's political landscape, and one of the starkest calls yet for the Scottish Party to set its own agenda:

So how can Scottish Labour respond? First, with a leader who is seen to be in charge, taking responsibility and being prepared to say and do what is best for Scots, no matter who it might upset.

The final hurdle to Scottish independence?

Tom Griffin (London, OK):In the wake of the Glasgow East by-election, commentators such as Iain MacWhirter, Peter Oborne and Simon Jenkins, have been examining the prospect of Scottish independence with increasing seriousness.

The Constitution Unit's Professor Robert Hazell provides a useful counterpoint over at Comment is Free. He suggests that there are four major obstacles the SNP must overcome to achieve its goal.

  1. Winning a vote in the Scottish Parliament authorising a referendum.
  2. Winning a referendum to authorise independence negotiations.
  3. Negotiating terms with the British Government and with the European Union.
  4. Winning a second referendum on the agreed terms.

The final hurdle is Hazell's most distinctive contribution, as Guy Aitchison noted back in May, and may be the most contentious. Some might equate insisting on a second referendum with a eurocrat-style refusal to accept the result of the first.

Such tactics look increasingly unlikely to save the Lisbon Treaty, and they would not necessarily save the union.


Labour can no longer rely on Scotland to govern England

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Former Europe Minister Denis McShane made a particularly interesting contribution to the post-mortem on Glasgow East in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday:

"After Glasgow," he wrote, "Labour has to do more than debate its leadership and see off excited calls by union leaders for challenges to Gordon Brown. Instead the party has to confront an existential problem of its own making: the question of England."

SNP win in Glasgow East

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The SNP has tonight won the Glasgow East by-election by the narrowest of margins, 365 votes, following a recount.

Underlying the narrow victory, however, was a huge swing of 22.54 per cent, which according to to Professor John Curtice would leave Labour with only 1 MP if it were projected across Scotland. This is not unique in by-election terms, but what is unprecedented is that was achieved by a party that is itself an incumbent Government.

Curtice suggested that the result confirms the SNP's position as the major challenger to Labour in Scotland at the next general election.

Although the Conservatives took third place ahead of the Liberal Democrats, who continued their recent run of poor by-election results, the Tory share of the vote actually fell by one per cent.



Glasgow East - 'A tale of two Governments'

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon):Today is the final day of campaigning in the Glasgow East by-election. Initial speculation about a Labour meltdown that could spell the end for Gordon Brown has largely died away, but Alex Salmond has refused to back away from predictions that the vote would be a 'political earthquake'.

The stakes in Glasgow East

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): Labour finally selected its candidate for the Glasgow East by-election last night, former Holyrood Minister Margaret Curran

Conservatives should be hoping that Curran succeeds in holding off the SNP, according to former Telegraph leader writer Richard Ehrman. 

Is religion a factor in Glasgow East?

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): Back in March I asked whether Labour is losing support among Scottish Catholics, the same question that has been considering today in an interesting thread on the Glasgow East by-election.

Things Can Only Get Better

Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): Scottish Labour seem to have missed something pretty key: the SNP are now the Scottish Government. This level of denial and incompetence has led them to come up with a suicidal policy switch - and Wendy Alexander and co. are now backing a referendum on independence. But the Scottish Government will decide the term, timing and process of the now inevitable referendum vote, whatever Labour thinks.

Labour divided over Scottish referendum

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): At yesterday's PMQs, Gordon Brown distanced himself from Wendy Alexander's call for an early referendum on Scottish independence:

"The Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the Labour Party have joined together in setting up the Calman Review, the commission on devolution," he said. "I hope we can make progress in that commission, and we will review the progress before making any further decisions."

Jefferson would not have been Salmond's ally

Normal Mouth (Rhondda, blogger): Alex Salmond has been in the USA this week quoting Thomas Jefferson. Fortunately for English sensibilities he did not invoke the great man’s suggestion that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” but chose instead the rather more anodyne “we are a people capable of self-government, and worthy of it.”

Will Plaid get its referendum?

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): In a marked contrast to the political battle in Scotland, Labour and the nationalists are in Government together in Wales. Yet it seems the path to further devolution may not be running any smoother as a result.

Wales on Sunday challenged Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones on the issue at this weekend's party conference:

Is Labour losing Scotland's Catholics?

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon) The Telegraph's Damian Thompson has a theory about why Gordon Brown is considering ditching the Act of Settlement.

Reform or retrenchment? Wendy Alexander on the constitution

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander made a bold bid to take back the Scottish constitutional agenda on Sunday with the launch of her policy document, Change is What We Do:

Declining Britishness in England and Scotland?

OurKingdom: The National Centre for Social Research has just issued its new British Social Attitudes Report. This is taken from its 13 page pdf summary press release.

Only 13% of people born and living in England, and 3% of people born and living in Scotland, describe themselves as ‘only’ or ‘mainly’ British. Meanwhile, nearly half of those born and living in England say that they are ‘equally English and British’, and only one in five born and living in Scotland describe themselves as ‘equally Scottish and British’.

Scotland doesn't want independence

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): New research from the Scottish Centre for Social Research  has found that only 23 per cent of Scots are in favour of independence. The study asked almost 1,300 people their views on Scotland's constitutional future and is the most comprehensive study since the SNP's victory back in May.However, over 50 per cent of those questioned between May and August this year said that they wanted a more powers for Holyrood. Opposition politicians used the study to kick the new Scottish Government but it's more likely now that we'll see a ‘preferendum' on increase powers for Scotland later in the parliamentary term than a referendum on full independence.

Behind Foulkes’s assertion

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): Anthony Barnett’s post on George Foulkes and the resulting comments both interesting and quite personal to me. In Scotland, not many people have risen to His Lordship’s defence, the reaction from the SNP is ‘apologise or resign’ and even former First Minster Henry McLeish has waded into the debate against his Labour colleague.

Scotland for Foulkes...

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I didn't know that life peers could also be members of our various parliaments, but it turns out that 'Lord' George Foulkes is now also an MSP. He has just implicitly suggested that the leaders of the Scottish government are racist - by denying that he is saying this, while calling on them to exercise care with their language. You can hear the BBC interview for yourself. He wants SNP leaders to stop all sneering, anti-English antagonism as it could lead on to dangerous things. For examples of such remarks he refers to a comment sent into the the Scotsman. But at the same time it is the web itself that has opened the way for dangerous talk, permitting the SNP to "legitimise the cyber nats that come out in the middle of the night blogging onto the Scotsman website". Its a wonderful image, bloggers who dare not share their views except at night! A Scottish friend recalls the splendid slogan that swept over Ayrshire in a general election in the 1980s: "Vote Labour for Foulkes' Sake". I need to be careful with the date if not my language, can anyone confirm which election it was?

Independence debate will hinge on SNP's performance

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYmedia): As Neal Ascherson points out on OK, the first 80 days of the SNP administration has got off to a positive start. He also posts about the strong polling results that the party has achieved ahead of the independence white paper that its government is due to publish next week. This will have a series of options short of full independence in Europe. These will include bolstering the powers of Holyrood and starting to get responsibility at Holyrood for broadcasting, and other issues.

Skirmishes in Scotland

Guy Aitchison (Bristol, OK): More clashes between the SNP and Unionists north of the border. Individually these may seem superficial or largely symbolic, but as others have been pointing out on OK, together they amount to a sustained Executive strategy to move towards independence. One of the ongoing battles is over flags. The Scotsman today reports the latest row, which is over who has the authority to decide which flag flies highest over Edinburgh castle, the Union Jack or the Saltire. SNP MSP Christine Grahame claims it is the Executive, the Royal British Legion Scotland and the Scotland Office say it's the Queen. The Executive is perhaps wisely carrying out a review of guidelines on flag-flying policy.

Could a snap election derail the SNP at Westminster?

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): There has been much talk of Gordon Brown deciding that going to the country sooner rather than later is the way to go for the new PM. David Cameron is in trouble with his own party - and Brown will be more than aware of what happened to the fairly newly installed former PM Jim Callaghan who should have gone in Autumn 1978 only to lose to Margaret Thatcher in May 1979.The problem for the SNP (and the Scottish Tories)is they are not ready for a UK General Election. Candidates haven't been picked and the SNP put a great deal of work into winning the Scottish elections in May.

SNP veteran pushes for Scottish Speaker’s convention

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): Alex Neil the SNP MSP has had a busy weekend briefing his vision of a Speaker’s Convention to newspapers. The idea is for a constitutional convention based upon the Westminster model of the Speaker’s Conference aimed at examining gaining extra powers for Holyrood on a cross party basis. This would be short of full independence but could be less politically difficult to achieve considering the unionist majority at Holyrood. The current Presiding Officer, Alex Ferguson (a former conservative MSP that gave up his party allegiance on taking on the role of PO) has not ruled out chairing such a conference.

How the SNP sees it

Calum MacLeod - has made a long and interesting comment on why Scotland should lead the UK's fisheries negotiation in Brussels, in response to Gavin Yates's post on the SNP strategy. Calum says that independence is seen by its supporters not a cutting-off but a re-joining. Its worth reading the quote in full, as well as the whole comment (Moderator):

SNP use Europe talks as nationalist lever

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): A Salmond strategy is emerging, and quickly. The SNP leader, has used his debut overseas trip as First Minister to signal closer Scottish ties with Europe as, he hopes, a precursor to independence.

Salmond visited the European Commission to hold talks with Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and Fisheries Minister Joe Borg. Fishing is a totemic issue in Scotland. Salmond is keen to ensure that he can lead on the issue and at least appear to be making progress towards a better deal for the Scottish fleet.

SNP go from strength to strength

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYmedia): The parade to launch the third session of the Scottish parliament on Saturday was rather overshadowed by the fallout over Alex Salmond’s speech and the terrorist incident at Glasgow Airport later that afternoon.

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