May 6th, 2011
|06:02 pm - Election Night Special|
In Touching the Void the climber Simon Yates finds himself tied to his friend Joe Simpson, who has fallen over a cliff. Simpson is dragging them both down, and Yates can not haul him up. He cuts the rope and frees himself. This is a metaphor for the decision the Scottish voters have made. If I lived in Scotland I would make this decision too. The UK is falling, and I don't blame other people for not wanting to go over the cliff. Scotland can not single handedly save the UK, but perhaps it can save itself.
Wales and Northern England
Wales and Northern England do not have this choice. They are part of the body and must try to save the body, hard as that task might seem. For these parts of the UK an attempt to save the centre is the best, if desperate, chance.
I said almost a year ago that the Tory party will burn up the Lib Dems like a space craft burning up its outer covering on re-entry. I think the conflagration may be slightly ahead of schedule. There are still miles of atmosphere to plummet through, and the worst has not yet begun.
The AV vote
I recommend that pro-AV people read some of this Crooked Timber Thread which shows the problems I have had with their way or arguing. The pro-AV commenters are abusive and aggressive, and seem unable to comprehend that the people who disagree with them may be doing so from a considered position, or to have full mental faculties. It's a long thread, but I recommend you look at comment #10 (pro-AV) and responding comments #12, #14 and #20 (AV-sceptical). If these were not typical of countless exchanges I have read then I would not link to them. There are many more in that thread.
I hear what you're saying with the Touching the Void comparison. This is one of those areas where the Irish and English views are different, or at least from a different angle. Over here we see the fall of Labour as the opportunity for the resurgent SNP to present a referendum on independence. :) Mind you, I'm sure you're quite right about the 'average' voters' motivations.
What's happening to the Lib Dems is brutal, though. I kind of feel vaguely sorry for them, but they were the enablers of the Tory cutting machine, so it was kind of inevitable, I suppose.
I feel that Scottish voters are reacting against England, almost as if to a conjoined twin that is very sick, with a desire to separate to isolate the toxic effects. I am not sure whether they will want to make the final step though.
In Touching the Void the climber Simon Yates finds himself tied to his friend Joe Simpson, who has fallen over a cliff. Simpson is dragging them both down, and Yates can not haul him up. He cuts the rope and frees himself. This is a metaphor for the decision the Scottish voters have made.
It's a good deal more complicated than that.
The main story is the SNP's long and successful climb towards widespread political credibility. Alex Salmond has been their great asset here: he played his cards well running a minority government for the past four years, and has been rewarded by the electorate.
The other important story is the uselessness of Scottish Labour. They struggle to appeal to anyone outside their core vote, and if you'd had any experience of them you'd understand why. Thick, small-minded arseholes, and that's the ones who aren't crooks. Their leader, Iain Gray, has performed disastrously for years - but it's not as if there was an overabundance of alternative talent with which to replace him.
So, with the SNP and Labour as the two main parties, and with First Minister being a choice of Salmond or Gray, it's no surprise that the SNP have done well. Hell, I think Salmond's a sleazy, vain, slippery opportunist, but I'd still vote for him over Gray in a heartbeat.
What's happening down South is a second-order influence on the election here. Yes, the Conservatives always struggle in Scotland thanks to the legacy of the 80s, and the Lib Dems have certainly suffered here as a result of the coalition - but in truth the Lib Dems have been struggling here (as compared to England) ever since 2007 when the SNP had the great surge of success that first got them into government. There are (or were) a lot of Lib Dem / SNP swing voters.
Bear in mind that many of the coalition policies that raise ire south of the border don't apply here: health, education, tuition fees... the list goes on. The main thing that does affect us here is UK macroeconomic policy, and that issue is much less favourable to the nationalist agenda than you might think. Had Scotland been independent during the great financial crisis, we would have been utterly, utterly fucked. In 2007, Salmond was fond of painting a picture of Scotland joining an "arc of prosperity" with Iceland and Ireland. He's dropped that one now.
It is likely that the financial crisis has effectively killed off any prospect for Scottish independence in the forseeable future, and certainly independence was not an issue during this election. If Salmond is smart - which he is - he will offer a three-question referendum: independence, increased devolution, or the status quo. The second option would most likely win. Salmond can spin this as a victory, and in negotiations with London would be pushing at an open door insofar as increased devolution is already a coalition policy.
I am sure that an entire political landscape is more complex than two short metaphors which I have used. But I doubt that the entire Labour Party in your country are thick, or arseholes; it sounds to me like you are being partisan. Which is, you know, not a sin or anything, but it makes me sceptical.
I think that Salmond would lose a referendum on devolution, because the disgust with Westminster is visceral, like the fear of being tied to a corpse, but perhaps not deep, in the sense of robust against all considerations.
I doubt that the entire Labour Party in your country are thick, or arseholes
You evidently haven't met them.
Seriously, though, part of Scottish Labour's problem is that anyone with a smidgen of talent goes to Westminster to be a front-bencher. What they have at Holyrood is the dregs. And with the sheer depth of political tribalism and serious municipal corruption in Scottish Labour's heartlands, the dregs are deeper, darker and more bitter than most parts of the UK.
Not the entire party, no, but parts of Scotland had been a one party state for a very long time and in those places, some things were pretty awful. The Jim Devine case was enough to put me off voting Labour for a very long time.
The Labour party is also not fully committed to Holyrood in the sense that there isn't a separate Scottish party (which is unlike all the other cross border parties) and they spend a lot of time emphasising that the leader of the party wasn't their candidate for 1st Minister but Ed Milliband, who managed to come up here and suggest that this was just a dry run for the next Westminster election. I think many of Labour's Scottish MPs are very smart people and they see their Holyrood counterparts as very much second rate. The electorate can't be blamed for agreeing with them.
And actually, on reflection, I really don't agree that it's me being partisan, in the sense of letting my party politics bias my opinion of Scottish Labour. If anything, it's the other way round.
I developed my opinions of the Labour party in Scotland long before I ever came to identify with any political party. My views were based simply on growing up with them as the local political establishment. And what a shower of shits they were.
When I was arguably at my most partisan, when I was a councillor in Cambridge, fighting every day against the Cambridge Labour party's attempts to prevent me making Cambridge a better place to live, I actually thought most of my opponents were decent enough people trying to do their best for their community. There was only really one who was a grade-A shit, the rest were just people with whom I happened to disagree.
This made me rethink my previous attitudes. Had I been unfair to Scottish Labour politicians? Were they really well-meaning, hard-working folk who I had mischaracterised through ignorance or partiality?
Then I moved back up here. Nope, they were still awful.
Scottish Labour, particularly in the Central Belt, particularly in the west, is the choked sump of UK politics. By and large, people in England tend not to understand this. I dare say one could find places in England as politically wretched, but I'm not aware of where they would be.
Which is why it's a shame Tommy Sheridan made such an arse of his private life. Vain, arrogant and lecherous he may have been, but at least he actually stood up for the worst off people in his community rather than just pretending to, and bothered to do his homework on technical issues. In a polity dominated by Scottish Labour, these are truly revolutionary actions.
I don't think that's a convincing argument for the SNP victory because your picture is static - your political opponents are swine, and always have been. My argument is that some change has produced this effect - and the change is that the central government is taking us off a cliff.
The second point about dynamic change is that the SNP position only makes sense within an unstable system. Once the system reaches equilibrium - wherever that might be - then it becomes a more traditional style of party (or fragments into several). And I think there is every reason to believe that would be a left wing party.
So, I don't think you can reimagine the situation in any way that would end up with a right wing party (or coalition) dominating Scotland. So, from a lefty perspective like mine, it's all good.
So, from a lefty perspective like mine, it's all good.
But it's really bad for Labour's chances of winning a national election, no? So for lefties in the south it's not good at all.
Or do you think people in Scotland are going to vote SNP in the Scottish elections, but Labour in UK elections? That seems like a risky assumption. And it's easy to imagine the SNP and Tories agreeing to devolve much more power to the Scottish parliament, in exchange for much reduced power in Westminster (finally solving the hoary old West Lothian question). If that happened, even if Labour won the UK elections in Scotland it wouldn't do them much good.
Strange for me to be cast in the glass-half-full camp, but I am just emphasising the positive.
I think if the SNP formed an alliance with the Tories it would harm them, perhaps fatally, as it has harmed the Lib Dems.
And that's not a coincidence, I think that there is a bloc of left wing feeling in the population of the UK. I think political trickery to try to neutralise the body of opinion, to permanently exclude it from power, can only seem to work for a while. At worst, the Union will be destroyed by this, and the left in England will have a different kind of task. Too early to call that yet though.
I think political trickery to try to neutralise the body of opinion, to permanently exclude it from power, can only seem to work for a while.
Hmm, do you mean boundary changes, or first-past-the-post, or something else?
I know you're angry at the gerrymandering, but to me that's a red herring. On balance, equal-sized constituencies is actually more fair, that's just not saying a lot. FPTP is what's really been keeping us back, but we voted massively against even the tiniest tweak to the system.
I don't see what Labour are doing to unify that left-wing bloc. I definitely have the empty half of the glass here! But maybe they'll surprise me.
My political awareness starts with Thatcher, and my reading of the narrative is that she crushed the left (assisted by the system) for the whole of the 80s; in the 90s, Labour eventually fought back by moving right while mostly placating their core in the north; but now the Tories are back in without any meaningful concessions to the left, and Labour have lost touch with their core, perhaps permanently.
I don't mean anything in particular. I just mean that in general if a party thinks it can give itself a permanent mandate (except by winning everyone over, which is surely impossible) then - like a whack-a-mole - the energy they have suppressed will come back in other ways.
No, I am still being too narrow, I mean it more generally than any individual party - if the interests of the monied classes feel they can enthrone themselves forever, by some manipulation of any rules of any kind, the alternative interests will still exist, and if they do not have an electoral channel, then they will manifest themselves in other ways.
I think the purpose of democracy is to allow a society to function relatively peacefully, and if god help us people no longer had any hope, then people without hope are dangerous. And the first manifestation will be the relatively painless disintegration of the Union. That's the first creaking fracture, and it should be a warning.
Well, I used to vote in Wales and now vote in Scotland and I really don't think either Scots or Welsh, when they vote, are thinking about what's best for the UK, whatever that nebulous concept may mean, (and I reckon most of the time it means "England and the rest tacked on as an afterthought"). We are thinking of what's best for our part of the forest, as, for that matter, are the English. Labour lost in Scotland because they tried to turn it into a vote on what was happening at Westminster and the voters quite rightly were interested in what was happening at Edinburgh.
But I think a Welsh (or let us say Mancunian) person will think, rationally, that their own interest is bound up with the rest of the country. if the whole ship ghoes down they will go down with it. The Scottish person has a second option - leave the ship.
How? Politically they could cut loose; economically is another matter. I don't think they have much more choice than Wales, but what both do have is the chance to acquire more legislative powers which will hopefully protect them (ie us) somewhat from the Tory governments we shall have as a matter of course after they get done with fixing the boundaries.
I am with you on the boundary thing. Going on a slightly different tack, it seems like a clever trick by the Tories to fix the boundaries so that they build themselves permanently into government, but I think it is destabilising of democracy, and the Union.
It is odd that they cannot come up with a reasonable reason to oppose reform. Comment 12 is about the commentator and not the proposal, comment 14 is about the proposer and not the proposal, and comment 20 is both sceptical and factually incorrect. No wonder the pro-AV people were aggressive and frustrated.
I'm glad you looked at them. Comment 12 is about the mode of arguing, so I linked to it because it expresses the criticism I have of the approach they took.
But 14 and 20 make specific points against AV in my opinion: that a preference for one party over another is not equivalent to endorsement of that party's platform. That 'parties whose programmes are blandly moderate, cynically opportunistic or both are likely to be systematically over-represented'. That any gains from a change which nobody is quite happy with are uncertain, whereas the immediate political and economic benefits of a No vote are more predictable and desirable.
An additional factor was this sense of urgency: 'we will never get the chance again' so it was AV or nothing, ever. I think that might be over-pessimistic though.
Those people, like myself, mr_ea
& his family, who are deeply committed to electoral reform towards PR (& yes, I'm aware AV=/=PR) are feeling very deeply let down at the moment, and such a deep let down is coming out in ways that are more or less toxic. Mr EA is seriously talking about not voting in general elections until the electoral system is changed, and this is someone who in the past has dragged me out of bed and insisted that I vote (in an EU election, I think) on grounds it was my duty as a citizen.
If the kind of toxic comment I am talking about was being posted after the vote was lost it would be pretty understandable, but I have been seeing this for weeks. I think the way that the argument has been made was poor. I think in a different political context, and with a different way of arguing, the result could be very different.
Thanks for the links and also the earlier discussions you hosted here re AV. I think the campaigning has been dreadful, based on arrogant assumptions of stupidity, and I've very much disliked that from the Yes campaign towards those who have concerns about AV and its effects. (I'm saying that as someone who is in favour of electoral reform in the UK.) Videos of cats and beer/coffee analogies have not helped, because I don't think they address a lot of the expressed concerns. They've sounded to me like the stereotype of the English tourist who believes if they shout and speak slowly, everyone they meet is bound to understand.
Yes. I think there is an assumption that people who were unconvinced had not yet heard or comprehended the basic message, so a lot of effort was expended on that, which I think was not the issue.