Picking up the Pieces

So, was Thursday’s election really as bad as it looks for the SNP? The answer is yes.

The Labour party has just formed a new UK government having won 63% of the seats with just 34% of the votes. In a contest were two out of every five voters stayed at home. That’s first past the post for you. It exponentially distorts results when seats are in three- or four-way contention. And this is the most distorted result in history. A mandate a mile wide and an inch thin. But no-one is going to challenge it because no-one did any better.

Some might try to take comfort by saying that the electoral system also distorts Scotland’s results. Labour has won two thirds of the seats with just 36% of the votes in Scotland. And the SNP was less than six percent behind.

This is true. But anyone looking for salvation for the SNP in these figures is delusional. Percentages are only half the story. Less than half when turnout plummets. To understand how bad this is we need to look at actual votes cast. At the 2019 general election the SNP got 1,242,380 votes. This time 708,759. That is a drop of 43%. More than four out of every ten people who voted for us last time chose not to do so on Thursday. Is this sinking in yet?

The first step to recovery is to acceptance. Then we need to dry our eyes and think through a rational plan for recovery.

In the aftermath of Thursday, still picking through the electoral debris, it is far too soon to draw conclusions. We need to start by asking the right questions, to discuss what went wrong and what to do about it.

For starters let’s accept we lost. And just as winning elections means you have a mandate, losing them means you do not. There is no point arguing that we still have a mandate from 2021. Mandates only last as long as it takes for people to reconsider them. We tried to discharge the 2021 mandate by asking the UK government, and then the Supreme Court for permission to have another referendum. Both said no. This time we asked the people to back us in continuing the journey to independence anyway. The people said no.

That is not to say that we stop or tone down our arguments for independence. Far from it. Others may follow Groucho Marx’ doctrine “These are my principles, if you don’t like them, I have others”. But that is not an option for us. The only rationale for the SNP is to be the political wing of the national movement for autonomous self-government.

This result is undoubtedly a setback for the independence movement, but it can also be an opportunity to renew and refresh. So, first off let’s ask why people did not vote for us. It’s a complicated picture, as various groups of people withdrew support for different reasons, some contradictory. Broadly speaking there were positive and negative reasons.

The positive, and let’s face it, the measure is relative, was that people were seduced by the argument that whilst the SNP could oppose a Tory government, only Labour could replace it. It’s a strong argument. It doesn’t even depend on spelling out an alternative, any change is better than no change. It was a better argument than we had.

We mitigated that argument on the doorstep saying as England was voting Labour anyway, the choice was to add to their majority, or have someone who will push them to do more. But that simply means that had the result in England looked closer, even more might have switched in Scotland.

Undoubtedly many, probably most, who were floating between SNP and Labour and who eventually plumped for the latter, did so out of despair rather than enthusiasm. In my experience these people were more likely to be white collar liberally minded people who came to the independence cause over the last decade believing it offered a better route to social democratic reform. In this election they decided it didn’t.

What we do not yet know is whether this represents a definite change in outlook for this group, or whether Thursday’s decision was temporary and tactical. Many of them are probably not sure either. Whether that change sticks depends in part on how we respond, but also mainly on whether the Starmer government succeeds in making any worthwhile social or economic reforms.

And now to the negative reasons why people didn’t vote for us. There are many factors here, each one contributing a little bit, but accumulating into a significant slap. People were sending us a message and we need to hear it.

Top of the list is that a significant section of those who support Scotland being an independent country did not believe that we had any strategy for achieving it. They didn’t even see the point is voting for the idea, again. And in truth, they were right. We don’t have a strategy.

Then there were those who feel that everything is shit and they blame us for it. Most of these people never voted SNP, but some did. Underperformance in areas of government the SNP control definitely affects the trust and confidence some of our supporters have in the party. Labour’s attack on both governments worked well for them, making us take some of the flak for a profound discontent with governance in general.

Others cited policy reasons for withholding their support. At times we even got shot by both sides. I well remember canvasing in a stair near Waverley station and arguing with a woman who said she couldn’t vote for us because the party’s policy on making it easier for people to change gender undermined the rights of women. Five minutes later I was upstairs being told by her neighbours that they couldn’t vote for us because Kate Forbes was DFM and that clearly meant we didn’t care about trans people. To my mind neither of these things are true. But we need to understand why people believe them.

I lost several thousand green votes too. Our position on managing the decline of and transition from oil and gas was misrepresented. We didn’t counter with sufficient clarity and conviction.

And then there was the elephant in the room. Operation Branchform never mentioned, always there. Hard to fight an election with your former leaders awaiting charges, especially when many of the public perceive little distance between now and then. A perception not countered by the debacle over iPad expenses.

So what do we do?

As above, no easy conclusions or answers. But we need to start asking questions in five areas.

Firstly, we need to explain how Scotland could become an independent country. That starts with stopping pretending it is just around the corner and can be achieved at the next election. We never had a postmortem on the 2014 referendum. There was talk in the months after of a ten-to-fifteen-year strategy to win the next one. That got derailed by Brexit. Now ten years have passed. The Supreme Court ruled that the British constitution does not allow people in Scotland to sanction a review of the union without Westminster consent. That needs to be challenged intellectually and legally and we need a plan to do it.

Secondly, we need to argue the case for independence in the new context of a UK government that suggests it wants to achieve the same reforms that we seek from self-government. That task is made easier by the stated lack of ambition of Starmer’s government. 

We should set demands for the new UK government. I’d start with ten, but happily focus on fewer. So, just for illustration:  £16Bn for NHS, reschedule debt to fill the IFS 18Bn black hole, a statutory minimum wage of £13 per hour, recognise Palestine, abolition of Lords, proportional representation, review Rosebank license, 28Bn green transition, increased top rate of tax for millionaires, a public energy company to own and develop wind and marine. All things Labour voters would agree with. All things the Labour leadership doesn’t. And all things that if refused by the UK government make the case for Scotland having the powers to do them itself.

Thirdly, and especially as we approach the 2026 election, we need to explain better the limitations and constraints of devolution. The “two governments” mantra needs to be exposed for suggesting a false equivalence between what is essentially a provincial administration in a small part of the UK, and the fifth most powerful state in the world. We need to show the shackles of devolution, whether legal or financial, and have a synchronised approach between the Scottish government and our representatives in the union parliament to challenge them.

Fourthly, we need to have a laser like focus on service delivery in those areas where we do have control. Not having the money or power to do some things does not excuse bad performance in the areas we do control. The new Programme for Government provides an opportunity to reset and reprioritise in the new circumstances. We need a small number of achievable targets, and we need to achieve them in a year.

We should also be more confident and persuasive in talking about what has already been achieved. Our opponents do tell lies, and even when not lying they will put the worst possible interpretation on things. Our new party leadership rightly came out fighting on the government’s record. That is going to be more relevant in the next election than in the one we have just had.

Finally, we need a process of internal renewal. Most people join political parties to indicate passive support rather than get involved in them. But the proportion of our members who are active is abysmal. We need the will and the organisation to allow many more people to become engaged.

That ought to involve a fundamental rethink of the structures and governance of the party, with a new focus on grass roots organisation. It will also mean opening doors to the disillusioned and discontent elsewhere in the independence movement. British conservatives have just suffered their worst defeat in history, not because more people believed in Labour, but because they were divided. It’s a lesson we need to learn too.

Undecided voters should back the SNP

Fancy a flutter? Paddy Power has odds on Labour winning a majority at the next election. Fifty to one on. As any senior Tory aide knows, that means you have to bet fifty pounds to have the chance of winning one. At those prices it’s hardly worth the trip to the bookies. 

Even the Tories admit the game’s up. So, get used to it: Sir Keir Starmer will be the next British Prime Minister. Labour is so far ahead in England, and the right-wing vote so divided, that any other outcome would be the political upset of the century. 

This is what any undecided voter in Scotland should ponder over the next ten days. Sir Keir Starmer does not need your vote to win.  

In truth, despite fanciful rhetoric about the road to Number Ten running through Scotland, it never really has. The last time there was a Labour government, the party won three elections in a row. And in every case, it would still have been a Labour government even if they had lost every single seat in Scotland.  

I’m never sure why this surprises people. It is simply a consequence of this asymmetrical union. England’s population is after all eleven times bigger than ours.  

The question that undecided voters need to ask is: given there will be a Labour government, who will best represent them in the new parliament? Labour candidates up and down the country are claiming the answer to that is them. They say that if you are represented by a Labour member you will have a voice right at the heart of government. That’s quite a stretch.  

Let’s not kid ourselves, the parliamentary Labour party is not a body which tolerates dissent from its members. It is a transmission belt to deliver their votes behind the leadership. If you don’t agree with the position, tough. You’ll vote for it or lose your job. This is not of course unique to Labour. 

We have some limited evidence of how this will work from the real-life actions of Labour’s Scottish representatives in their parliamentary party over the last year. Admittedly there are only two of them so it’s a small sample. But at every turn where there appeared to be a difference of view, or even emphasis, between the views of Scottish Labour Party members and the UK leadership, the dynamic duo fell in behind their London masters.  

There is an alternative answer to the undecided voter’s question. Elect someone who will push Sir Keir Starmer to go further than he might want to. Ironically, to behave more like you might expect from a Labour Prime Minister. Elect someone who will constantly press the Labour government for more rather than put up with the paucity of ambition they currently are offering to the electorate. And in every battleground seat across Scotland which Labour is targeting, the way to do that is to vote SNP. 

The undecided voter who wants their representative to tell Starmer what to do should vote SNP. If they would rather their representative be told what to do by Starmer they can vote Labour. 

I think it would be true generally that someone independent of the governing party would have more ability and agility to criticise them and hold them to account. But in the current context the veracity of this proposition is turbocharged. 

We should remember that this Labour government will come to power at the hands of an exhausted electorate anxious for change, any change. Many of them will hold their noses and vote out of desperation not enthusiasm.  

I’ve never known such a disparity between the major opposition party’s prospectus and the views of the electorate it is asking to support them. They may have the word plastered on the side of their campaign bus but Labour is promising very little change at all. 

Labour promise to keep the Tory spending plans including a new and severe round of cuts in public service funding. Labour voters don’t want that. Labour promise not to increase taxes for the super-rich. Labour voters don’t want that. Labour won’t talk about Brexit. Labour voters wish they would.  

The UK has become the most unequal country in Europe. For anyone interested in challenging that about the best thing you could say about having a Labour government is that it ought to be easier to push in the right direction than the Tory tribunes of capital. It ought to be. But whether it can be very much depends on who will do the pushing and how many of them there are. 

In the context of a huge Labour majority, it won’t be easy but nor will it be impossible. The SNP will gladly ally with Greens, Liberals, Plaid and a growing number of Labour backbenchers who will not go meekly into a new round of Labour austerity. But we need to be there for that to happen. 

The SNP promised that independence would be front and centre of its manifesto for this election. And it is, in eighty-four-point type. But more than that the manifesto connects the power of independence to the action it would allow us to take. Many of these measures are from a tried and tested social democratic menu which has worked before and is working elsewhere today. 

Fair taxation, big increases in NHS and other spending, eliminating poverty through higher minimum wages and social tariffs, state intervention to fund a just transition to renewables, rapid social housing construction, morality in foreign policy starting with Palestine. 

As well as being a potential programme of government for a newly independent Scotland, these objectives will simultaneously be our immediate schedule of policy demands on a new Labour government. Some we will win. Some we will not. But every time the Labour government fails to do the right thing, the case for taking these powers into our own hands becomes more compelling. 

Most of all, because we want these changes for ever and not just when the Tory/Labour oscillation provides a possibility, we will prosecute the case for independence with renewed vigour. Every vote the SNP gets makes that case stronger. 

And if we win this election and secure a national mandate for Scotland to have a choice on an independent future then we will demand that the UK government begin discussions with the Scottish government about making that happen. The Labour manifesto sets its face against Scotland having that choice and if they win here, they will claim a mandate against it.

Indeed, in an astonishingly arrogant outburst on Friday the Labour leader said he would ignore Scotland altogether, no matter who we vote for. If ever there was a wake-up call for Indy supporters this was it – if you believe Scotland should even have a choice on becoming an independent country, don’t vote Labour.  

But if Labour loses in Scotland, no matter how big their majority in England, they will have to respect the opinions of the Scottish people. If they don’t, they will stand accused as democracy deniers every bit as bad as the Tories and the case for taking control of our own affairs will be strengthened still.  

So, it is important, this election. For Independence. I ask everyone who shares that aspiration, including those who feel bruised and battered by the disappointments of the last few years, to vote SNP on 4th July. Do not let your frustration metastasise into inaction. That is what our opponents are hoping for. 

VOTE TO MAKE SURE SCOTLAND’S VOICE IS HEARD

The Tories are finished. Everyone knows it.  

The big question is: will the new UK government make any difference? On tax, Brexit, spending plans, nuclear weapons, Gaza and so much else the two big parties are saying pretty much the same thing. So, it doesn’t look good. The answer is they’ll only make a difference if forced to.  

That’s why I want to be in the new parliament.  

I want to tell them that the Tory spending plans won’t work, no matter who is executing them. Why? Because the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us these plans mean massive cuts in public services. £18 billion. That means reducing budgets that are already overstretched. It means making it even harder for our NHS to deliver the health services people need. 

It will also mean more than £1.5 billion cut in the Scottish block grant creating a new financial nightmare for our public services here. 

Instead, we need more funding for our NHS. And we need to abandon talk of privatisation. That’s why SNP MPs will propose a new law to stop it.

We also need Labour to get serious about the transition to renewable energy. This cannot be left to the private sector. We need government funding to make sure thousands of families are not thrown on the scrap heap as oil and gas decline and renewable energy expands further. We need government that puts its money where its mouth is. 

Keir Starmer is so far ahead in England he is certain to win this election. He does not need Scotland’s votes to get into 10 Downing Street. But Scotland needs independent voices in the new parliament to fight for what people here need, and to make sure we are not ignored.  

The SNP only answers to the people of Scotland, no-one else. We will demand that your voice is heard. And we will fight for your right to choose Scotland’s future, as an independent country in the European Union. A choice Tory and Labour would deny. 

That is the choice in this election. Real change or more of the same.

That’s why I’m asking for your vote on 4th of July.

LABOUR AND THE TORIES AREN’T BEING STRAIGHT WITH VOTERS BUT THE SNP OFFERS REAL CHANGE

Might the 2024 election be shaping up to be the most dishonest in recent history? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean people wilfully telling lies about things, although some undoubtedly are. I mean the mendacity of omission. The real issues, and the real facts, at best obscured and at worst withheld from the UK electorate.

Let’s start with the economy. The two main Westminster parties have concocted this new reality where no aspiration or objective can possibly be legitimate unless it is “fully costed” and you can say how it will be paid for. In a two trillion-pound economy with a myriad of moving parts this is pretty puerile stuff. Thatcher started it with the couthy “you can’t spend more than you earn” mantra. It was bollocks then. It’s bollocks now.

This is why the economic debate between the two main parties is dominated by allegations that each side has got its sums wrong and is hiding the necessity for cuts or higher taxes. So, if the Tories say they would like to phase out national insurance, Labour say they are going to cut the value of it from public spending. Likewise, if Labour promise to do something, not that there’s much of that, the Tories immediately claim they’ll be borrowing billions to do it.

This is a phoney war. And it is distracting, perhaps deliberately so, people’s attention from the main problem with UK economic policy. We know the effect of tax and spending plans over the next three years. It’s not a secret. The government published the figures alongside their last budget. And the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies says that if these financial plans don’t change then a gap emerges in the amount of money available, to fund public spending. The IFS would be the first to admits this is not an exact science, but they estimate that gap at around £18-20 billion.

So, the backdrop for this UK election is treasury plans which means cuts, in some cases severe cuts, in public budgets which pretty much everyone admits are already under too much pressure. But the most astonishing thing is that this is not a topic of argument or disagreement between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour says that they will not change Tory spending plans. And that’s before we even think about additional demands that may arise from groups of public sector workers who have seen their living standards fall and (not unreasonably) might expect an incoming Labour government do something about it.

This is a deceit upon the public. It will reap a bitter harvest. Elections ought to be times when serious questions are asked about big economic matters. Does the national debt really need to be paid down on the Tory timescale? No, it doesn’t. Should we be borrowing to fund a rapid expansion in health spending? Yes, we should. Could Britain’s three million millionaires be paying a bit more into the common good? Of course they could. Instead, we have this faux argument about whether the latest tweak has been fully costed.

It’s no better with other stuff. Take Brexit. A deliberate policy of the Westminster government delivered on the flimsiest of mandates, and against the express wishes of people in Scotland. More economic damage than Covid. Truly, the worst case of collective self-harm in history.

But people aren’t stupid. They know they were fooled once, and they want to change their minds. And yet, no Westminster party, not even the allegedly pro-European Lib-Dems will talk about it. This conspiracy of silence is really quite remarkable. Only the SNP is arguing for a European future, and we know that can only happen by having the political agency that comes with independence to make these decisions.

It’s clear this week that we can now add defence to the list of areas where a cosy Westminster consensus closes down real public debate. Labour is back in love with the bomb big style. Keir Starmer seems determined to pump up his macho image by relishing the prospect of pushing the nuclear button. This will bring further disillusion to Labour supporters who yearn for their party to advocate for peace and disarmament. Meanwhile it is left to the SNP to point out the madness of basing a defence strategy on the need for the annihilation of our species, which is why most NATO members don’t do it.

More than stupid, the fetish with trident also means Britain’s (and Scotland’s) conventional defences are drained of money for the stuff that actually matters; kit, munitions and tech. This is not an unpopular argument, even with the English public where 37% oppose nuclear weapons, and yet it will not get a mention in the UK wide campaign.

Next up, constitutional reform. I’m not talking Scotland here but other proposals to overhaul the archaic UK constitution. Abolition of the House of Lords, for instance. A clear majority of the public think it is wrong to have an unelected second chamber. The Tories say tough, they’re keeping it. Labour have hinted at change but the chances of it making the cut in their manifesto are slim.

Or take proportional voting, favoured by twice as many people as support the corrupt first past the post system. The leaders of the two big Westminster parties have set themselves against reform, determined to protect a status quo which gives them an advantage over smaller parties and stifles minority viewpoints. And so, the system that turns people off democracy and breeds alienation and apathy will continue.

And finally, on a tour round the big policy debates where you’ll struggle to get a cigarette paper between Labour and Tory, we arrive at immigration. You sort of hope that Labour’s got to be a bit more humane than the Tories hostile environment. But the basic premises are the same. Both big parties act as if immigration is a major existential threat to the UK.

Neither will make a positive case for people coming to these shores whether it be for work, or seeking sanctuary whilst fleeing persecution from dangerous parts of the world. Neither will tell you that the idea that immigrants are a drain of the economy is an unfounded prejudice and that in fact history tells us that immigration is both a cause and consequence of an economy doing well.

And the biggest truth that they will not tell is that without immigration the population of the UK would already be in decline, more so in Scotland. The UK fertility rate has now dropped below 1.5 per woman which means that the number of people born here is plummeting. That empirical fact won’t matter to Farage who will run a campaign of bombast and bigotry designed to use immigration to set communities against each other and build support for the far right. But Farage is what you get when you fail to promote an alternative.

So, as I’ve said before, the choices at this election for most people are limited within narrow parameters. People in England will grudgingly change their rulers, but without ambition or enthusiasm, and probably with fewer taking part than ever.

Thankfully we have other options in Scotland. Here we can tell the biggest truth of all; that if we had the power to make our own decisions we could, and would, make different ones. That is the notion central to this election. It’s time to be true to ourselves.

WESTMINSTER’S BREXIT MAKING LIFE TOUGHER FOR SCOTS

VOTE SNP FOR SCOTLAND’S FUTURE IN THE EU

As voting opens across Europe for the European Parliament elections, the SNP has called on people in Scotland to use the upcoming Westminster election to secure a future in the EU.

Tommy Sheppard, the SNP candidate for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, has said the EU elections should serve a reminder that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union but is being forced to suffer cuts and damage as a result of Westminster’s Brexit. 

Mr Sheppard has said “Brexit has wiped billions from the Scottish economy” and the Westminster parties have all rejected any prospect of rejoining the EU – only the SNP offers voters a pro-EU prospectus at the Westminster election on 4th July.

SNP candidate for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh,Tommy Sheppard, said:

“At this election, only a vote for the SNP will elect MPs who will work to deliver a better future for Scotland in Europe. 

“Despite voting to remain in the European Union, Scotland has been forced to suffer the damage that has been caused by Brexit. 

“Brexit has made life tougher for people across Scotland – it has pushed up household costs, wiped billions from the Scottish economy, and led to detrimental staffing shortages in sectors the length and breadth of our country – including in our NHS and care sector.

“It is quite frankly shameful that the Westminster parties have rejected any prospect of rejoining the EU. Only SNP MPs in Westminster will stand up for our relationship with our European neighbours and offer Scotland a route back to Europe and the world’s largest single market.”

Labour Government will only enhance the case for indy

So, we’re off. 4th July it is. In democracies elections are meant to be instruments of choice and change. A turning point in history when one set of ideas about how things should be run gives way to an alternative view, based on the popular will of those living there.

But what happens when the choice between the main alternatives is so slight as to be almost imperceptible? That is pretty much the case in this British general election.

In the blue corner, the Tory government, looking dead on its feet and waiting for the electorate to put it out of its misery. A government that will leave office with average living standards worse now than when it came in. A government that has turbo-charged inequality giving the UK the dubious distinction of the most unequal country in Europe. A government weaponising immigration to set communities against each other, whose defence secretary talks openly of planning for war. No wonder there is a longing to be rid of them.

But in the other corner stands Keir Starmer’s Labour party, a hollowed-out shell of a once great social democratic party, bereft of principle and ambition. A would-be Labour chancellor who pledges to accept Tory spending plans lock, stock and barrel, including an estimated £20bn public service cuts already baked in. A would-be Labour health secretary who openly talks of a new role for the private sector in our NHS. A would-be Labour foreign secretary who cannot bring himself to condemn serial war crimes committed by the Israeli government in Palestine.

It’s a grim choice. Little wonder that in many Labour heartlands disillusion is rife. As this month’s English council results showed, Labour is failing to win in areas it ran a generation ago. No matter, say Labour strategists, they are winning in Tory areas, and that’s where it matters.

But Labour are winning Tory voters not by asking them to consider a different world view but by pandering to their prejudices and reassuring them that they can support the changed Labour party and still be Tory-minded.

It might be a recipe for short-term success but it will have a bitter and dangerous legacy. You cannot get bets on Labour winning at the bookies now, so convinced are people that they have in in the bag. And in England they probably have. But however wide the margin of Labour victory at the coming election, its depth will be shallow. The omens are not good for how this will work out. Disillusion and resentment will soon visit itself upon a Labour government unwilling and unable to change the social and economic ills it has interested.

And in England, waiting in the wings to take advantage of this situation are the far-right, better organised and resourced than at any time since the 1980s. It’s a depressing scenario south of the border. The good news is that in Scotland it doesn’t have to be this way.

The SNP should refuse to get dragged into this grubby uninspiring contest that the duopoly of despair in London are playing. Now is a time to look the people of Scotland in the eye, invite them to lift their gaze to the horizon, and imagine the type of country this could be.

A country where the envied and bountiful natural resources are truly used as a common treasury for all rather than being a means for the further enrichment of the global elite. A country where the scourge of poverty is banished for ever by tackling its root causes. Where we establish a tax and reward system which encourages hard work and innovation but locates individual endeavour in a public interest framework which allows everyone to meet their social obligation.

A country which rises to the climate emergency, accelerating the dawn of a zero-carbon future in a way that takes the current workforce with it. A country celebrating its diversity, encouraging people to come and live with us. A country with the agency to be a force for good in the world as it punches above its weight in helping to confront the global challenges facing our species.

These are not the idealistic ramblings of an ageing lefty, but actual public policy in already existing similar European countries.

It is not difficult to build a broad consensus around taking Scotland in this direction. The argument comes in how to get there. Scottish reformers have debated strategy for more than a century, oscillating between two central approaches. Either we play our part in a much larger British polity and seek to use the power of that state to make the changes everywhere. Or we take the power for ourselves by creating a new independent Scottish state with the agency to make these changes.

I once believed in the British approach, but decades of bitter experience led me to change my mind. I became convinced that it was more likely that we could change society in a left social democratic direction if we did so first in Scotland where a majority of the population could be persuaded to the merits of that change, than to remain part of a much larger state where there are substantial forces implacably opposed to that change. Pretty much everything Keir Starmer says convinces me I made the right decision.

Where Labour governments have made changes in the past, they have been reversed within a few short years when the next Tory government comes in – and in Britain most governments are Tory. Today it’s even worse – Labour is now so wary that it doesn’t promise any significant change in the first place.

The union, even if governed by Labour, does not offer Scotland a route to a progressive future. This is not because there are bad people in the Labour party, or because they don’t want to. It’s simply that the compromises required to achieve the tolerance of the rich and powerful in Britain are so great as to render change almost impossible.

So, that is why we must make this election about the vision of what an independent Scotland could be like. And we must illustrate by example. Yes, the Scottish government has done what it can to mitigate and protect our public services with one hand tied behind its back. But independence would free it up to deliver what is needed.

Some of these things might happen without independence and we will certainly demand them from a new Labour government. Improved rights at work, scrapping benefit caps for the poorest, a real living wage for everyone, more money for out health service not less, accelerating a just transition which protects jobs. The SNP will aim to force Labour to be different, and for many people that will be the most important choice. Do they give Keir Starmer a blank cheque, or do they elect a representative who will hold him to account?

But when Labour resist this pressure, as their leadership already say they will, the case for Scotland having these powers will be enhanced.

We will demand that decisions on whether, when and how to consult people on their constitutional future must be made in Scotland by its elected representatives. This election will be of crucial importance to the movement for Scottish autonomy. If the SNP wins, the journey to an independent future is boosted. It the SNP lose, it isn’t. Every independence supporter should think long and hard about this choice.

The City should shape the future of Summerhall

The news that Summerhall is up for sale was greeted by shock and dismay by many. The maze of buildings in the former city veterinary school has won the affection of local people.

Maybe you’ve been to a performance in one of the quirky rooms that have been repurposed for the arts. Maybe you’ve been to celebration there. Or maybe you just remember a relaxing summer evening in the courtyard.

Over the last 13 years Summerhall has become a thriving hub of more than a hundred businesses. A unique arts complex. An asset for Edinburgh. Now all that could be under threat. But threat also offers opportunity.

The complicated patchwork of current leases are being sold with the buildings – a lot of going concerns. That means that wholesale redevelopment isn’t going to happen overnight. But in the hands of someone thinking of money, these leases could be run down one by one with current tenants sent packing and parts of the site redeveloped or sold off.

This salami style approach could see Summerhall dismantled step by step over the years to come. The possibility of that has been heralded by those marketing the site who talk about boutique hotels and student accommodation. This has done little to allay public fears.

Summerhall has been built on a shoestring. The shabby chic experience of walking through the venue belies the fact that it could be better if somebody spent a few bob on it.

So, could a sale be an opportunity to get much-needed investment into the complex? Maybe. But to help that happen we, the city, should take control of the situation.

That’s why I’ve written to the council calling on them to take a pro-active approach on developing a 25-year masterplan for the site. Working with existing occupants, through public consultation, plans could be drawn up to protect what we already have and build upon it.

We’re not powerless. Using planning and other powers, we can deter any unscrupulous or uncaring prospective buyers who are eyeing up the chance of making a mint at our city’s expense.

*You can read my letter to the Council Leader here

The John Swinney era will see us reposition the case for independence

They found it hard to get the words out; the unionist leaders in our national parliament. Protocol and common decency dictated that they congratulate John Swinney on his election as the parliament’s choice for First Minister. But after a few words dutifully acknowledging the result, the SNP bad homilies poured out of them.

With all the grace of bar room bullies and even less goodwill, Douglas, Anas and Alex tried to pretend simultaneously that no real change had taken place, yet it was outrageous that so much had changed without either the SNP or the electorate getting a vote. That paradox seemed lost on its proponents.

I called for a general election when Liz Truss became Prime Minister of the UK. So did many in my party. Why? Because on that occasion her appointment represented – by her own admission – a fundamental change in the government’s policy direction. This was not about implementing the mandate Johnson obtained in December 2019, but going far beyond. And that, rightly, ought not to happen with the public being consulted.

The handbrake turn Truss applied to the UK economy left it in a ditch. I’m not claiming it would have worked better had it been the choice of the electorate, but maybe they would have felt slightly less cheated about paying the consequences in higher prices and mortgages.

John Swinney, by contrast, is standing to lead a fixed term parliament and deliver the mandate his party was given May 2021. He will, of course, have a distinct focus and put his stamp on government, but the general social-democratic programme of the SNP government is unchanged.

There was no internal election for one reason and one reason only – the members did not want it. Several factors played into that outcome. The imminence of the UK general election; a view that there were better ways to spend £70k; the bruising leadership election just over a year ago which left many feeling once bitten, twice shy.

All of this was wrapped up in an overwhelming desire to get back on course, to achieve, and to win back those in the electorate who clearly are upset and angry at the party’s lack of focus in recent times. And when someone of the calibre of John Swinney was persuaded to put himself forward our members grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It was, as they say, a no-brainer.  

It worked. This week the party is as united, driven and focused as I have ever seen.

The unionist parties gave it about ninety seconds before going on the attack. If you are to believe them everything in Scotland is disastrous, crime is rife, our schools are failing, the NHS is in crisis, the country is falling apart. They hope through repeated assertion to create an avalanche of despair that will metastasise into anger and resentment of the SNP.

Their problem is that people are not daft. They are not fooled by statistics presented without context or comparison. Of course there are many problems in Scotland, some could be laid at the door of the SNP government, but most are the result of squeeze and constraint by Westminster.

We have avoided strikes in our health service resulting in better pay and higher morale. Challenges exist but people, particularly those who are in contact with friends and family in England, know things are better in Scotland. More young people from poorer backgrounds are going to higher education than ever before. There are fewer children in poverty due to the pioneering Scottish Child Payment. Free buses and cheaper rail fares are making public transport more attractive.

Our opponents try to present John Swinney as the continuity candidate, proclaiming nothing will change. They wish. It’s a bit rich to call someone a continuity candidate when he led the party before his recent successors held the office of First Minister.

Humza Yousaf is a warm, passionate, and thoughtful politician. Given a fair wind he could have had a longer and more productive term. But few were content to be fair. He was consumed in a vortex of SNP bad finding it hard and in the end impossible to escape. The closeness of his election undoubtedly didn’t help. It takes time to build and develop a mandate in office when the route to getting there was divided. And he was not helped by constant criticism both from within the partnership government and without.

Already, circumstances are different, have been made different, for the new First Minister. John Swinney already has the gravitas and respect that others in his position could only aspire to over time. He has a united party behind him. He is free from the obligations of a formal coalition agreement and is able to make alliances of the willing where he can. Undoubtedly, they will try, but our unionist detractors will find it much harder to make the dirt stick this time.

And so to independence.

This is what worries our opponents most. Their attack is two pronged. First, insist that independence is an abstract constitutional fixation removed from real public policy matters. Second, deny the government have a mandate to pursue the debate on how we are governed.

It is clearly an intellectual nonsense to pretend that how we are governed, and the output of that governance are unconnected. Maybe some of the fault is our own. Maybe the focus on how independence happens rather than why has allowed this false narrative to take root.

But is looks as if the hallmark of the Swinney era will be to reset and reposition the case for independence within the ambition for social and economic change that so many of our citizens desire. This is welcome. It brings together a strategy of maxing out the existing devolved powers of the parliament with an argument for more. It is at the point where the ability of the Scottish parliament is exhausted that the case for national autonomy is compelling.

A focus on child poverty is good place to start. Real improvements can be made by current Scottish government action – the Scottish Child Payment does just that. But this is mitigation, not elimination.

Children are poor because their parents are poor. One reason for this is because they have insecure and badly paid jobs.

To tackle this we need improved rights at work. We need a higher statutory minimum wage. The Scottish government has the power to do neither. In demanding such powers right now we make the case for independence.

So, we should be clear going forward. Political independence for our country is not about identity, but agency. About having the ability to change Scotland for the better. Not decades in the future but right now.

As we connect the argument for independence with the power to change, we must also insist on the democratic right of the people of Scotland to choose how they are governed. The people voted three years ago for a majority in the Scottish parliament pledged to offer that right to choose by pursuing another referendum. The Tories and Labour have denied them that right. They still do so.

It will soon be time to renew that mandate and pursue it with increased purpose and vigour. Which is why as we seek the transfer of legislative powers to Scotland, the one that matters most will be the right of the elected parliament here to decide how and when the people are consulted on their future governance.

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Rwanda plan is all about creating scapegoats and politicising misery

She was just seven years old. Her whole life ahead of her. And now she’s dead, drowned in the English Channel on Tuesday when an inflatable boat overcrowded with desperate people capsized.

Four others perished too. This is the third fatal incident involving people trying the cross the channel in small boats this year. It’s a deadly business.

Hours earlier the UK parliament passed the Tory government’s Rwanda bill after more than four months of wrangling. This bill purports to stop the dangerous channel crossings by deterring people with the threat of deportation to Rwanda should they try to do so. It will do nothing of the kind.

It is a horrific piece of legislation which should shame all those who voted for it and which will be a stain on the UK’s reputation as a liberal democratic country. Already the United Nations has said it is incompatible with the Refugee Convention and asked for it to be reviewed.

Central to the bill is the declaration that Rwanda is a safe country. This is in response to the Supreme Court’s judgment last year that it was not, and that therefore people seeking protection and asylum should not be sent there.

The Tories’ position is that Rwanda is safe because they say it is. In much the same way last year’s immigration act made it illegal to cross the channel in a small boat, even though it had been perfectly legal up to then. And then they said that because people had reached the UK illegally, they no longer had any rights to claim asylum.

This is in contravention of international law, but no matter according to the Tories. They are legislating to change reality, to say black is white, bad is good. They are creating a twisted parallel existence which is far away from the international humanitarian law that the countries of the world adopted in the aftermath of the second world war.

In the weeks ahead the number of small boat crossings will go up as the weather improves. But it will still be very dangerous. So, ask yourself this: why would the parents of that seven-year-old girl take the risk they did? Why will others? Why will they give every penny they have to smugglers and squeeze into dangerously overcrowded dinghies to risk death to get here?

The answer is simple. The terror that lies ahead of them is much less than the terror behind. These people are fleeing persecution from places where the basic rights we enjoy do not exist. Where women are locked up for dressing as they please, where gay men are thrown off the top of high buildings, where holding an alternative view or criticising the government gets you tortured and detained.

The people in those small boats are trying to find a better life for themselves and their children. They are escaping tyranny and asking for our help. In response we have declared them criminals.

If the threat of death is not going to act as a deterrent, why on earth would anyone think that the threat of being deported to Rwanda will be one? That is the central stupidity of this proposed scheme which involves the possible deportation of just a few hundred people. Having struggled across a continent, faced down every adversity, made it this far, it is ridiculous to think that anyone would not go the final twenty miles because of a five to ten percent chance they might be sent to Rwanda.

The government voted down every attempt to add some compassion into its proposals. Resisting for instance the notion that Afghans who had served alongside British forces and were now fleeing the Taliban might be exempted.

The Tories are determined to weaponise immigration as a means to distract people from their abysmal failures as the election looms. It is a desperate and sordid attempt to demonise some of the world’s most vulnerable people for their own political ends. They need to be challenged.

There never used to be small boat crossings. In 2018 fewer than 300 crossed for the whole year. So, what happened? Are more people trying to claim asylum in the UK?  Are we really facing some sort of dramatic rise in migration that might provide evidence for the wild Tory claims of invasion and swamping? No, we are not.

The only reason why we have people trying to come here in small boats, in a fashion now officially illegal, is that the government has closed down almost every legal means of people claiming asylum in the UK. The government claims it wants to disrupt the organised criminal gangs behind the people smuggling. Really? The truth is it was this government who created the business model for these gangs, who gave them the opportunity. Without the Tories’ policies the gangs would be nowhere.

We must also demand a sense of perspective against the claims that the number of migrants trying the get here represent some sort of existential threat to the survival of the country. We’ve all heard the sort of rubbish, “Britain is full up”, “any more will put the country under”.

What nonsense. Last year just under 30,000 made the journey, about 82 people a day. That’s 82 people arriving on a big island where close to sixty-eight million people live. About two thirds of those claiming asylum the UK were granted protection. At this rate we would need small boat crossings at the current level to continue for 50 years in order for numbers to reach a million people.

Immigration is a good thing. Throughout history the inward migration of people has been a positive benefit to those countries they call home. Today’s migrants in the main are young, fit, educated, and motivated, many with skills that would be of enormous advantage to us. Far from being a drain on our economy they would be a positive addition to it.

We can only hope that a new government will roll back on the right-wing xenophobia which now underpins immigration policy. Certainly, that is what the SNP will be pressing it to do. And as we promote our prospectus for an independent Scotland, we will ensure it encourages people to make our country their new home.

We live in a dangerous world. War, famine, climate catastrophe and political repression are drivers for more people to move for a better life than ever before. And unlike a generation ago everyone can now access information on their smart phone.

If we are to create a stable and sustainable world and ensure the survival of our species these problems will need to be tackled at source.

But in the meantime, the UK has a moral and legal responsibility to play its part in providing sanctuary and support for the most vulnerable people on the earth. Trying to get out of that responsibility by offloading it to Rwanda is reprehensible.

We must re-establish safe and legal routes by which people can apply for asylum. We must deal with their claims efficiently. This could be easily done by switching the millions spent on detaining people with pending applications to provide new trained staff to deal with their cases. And in the meantime, let applicants work, earn, and pay tax whilst they are waiting.

Doing that would save money, treat people fairly and create a greater degree of social cohesion in our communities and internationally. It wouldn’t of course allow the Tories to scapegoat immigrants and mobilise prejudice for political advantage.