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.

This illustrates how crazy our election voting system is

THE clocks have changed. It’ll be brighter tonight. The year moves inexorably forward towards the coming General Election.

Elections ought to be moments of change. A point in history where power transfers from one group to another, where ideas are won and the direction of a country changes. Exciting even.

But looking south across the Border to the contest between the main Westminster parties, it seems anything but exciting. It is almost impossible for Labour not to win in England. Yet you would be hard-placed to find too many citizens animated or enthusiastic about it.

In part, this is down to a deliberate ploy by the Labour leadership to promise nothing and say less. The main opposition party are seeking election precisely on the basis of not changing the incumbent Tory Party’s overall economic framework. That can only mean that the people who are being excluded and denied by the current system will continue to lose out.

For them, the election will change nothing. Indeed, that will be the case for most of us. It is hard to detect any serious difference between the two main parties.

Now, many people – and I probably include myself – believe through instinct or hope that Labour have to be better than the Tories. But in truth ,when you compare the stated policies of the parties, it is hard to make that claim. In areas such as pensions, the Tories even appear to be rather more committed to the welfare state than their opposition.

This grubby, uninspiring contest we have to look forward to is the product of wilful actions by political leaders, but their approach is enabled – even perhaps necessitated – by a ridiculous electoral system designed to ignore rather than resolve political differences.

First-past-the-post might be okay where a binary choice is to be made, but in any other context is simply not fit for purpose. It is deliberately designed to ensure that those elected are required neither to have majority support nor to represent a plurality of opinion. In the great majority of parliamentary seats, the winner represents only a minority of the voters who cast their vote.

When these results are aggregated to a state level, the distortion exaggerates. The first dislocation of results from the electorate allows political parties to form majority governments with the support of much less than half of the electorate – or at least those in the electorate who can be bothered voting.

In 2015, David Cameron won a majority of seats in the House of Commons with just under 37% of the vote. On that basis, he gave us Brexit. Shocking? Undemocratic? For sure, but nothing new.

Ten years previously, one Tony Blair got an even bigger majority with close to 35% of the votes cast.

Perhaps the most grotesque distortion of first-past-the-post is in what happens when third or fourth parties do well. Far from seeing smaller parties get some minimal increase in their representation, the system just inflicts lethal damage on the party they have taken support from. This is because the winner doesn’t need a majority; just more than the person who comes second.

The are various websites where you can play til your heart’s content by predicting the outcome of the election assuming varying levels of support for each party. You plop in the vote share and press a button.

I try not to spend too much time on this but for the current purposes and to illustrate how crazy the system is, I ran this little exercise (It’s just for England and Wales).

Let’s assume Labour can get about 43% of the votes cast at the next election, the Tories 10 points behind on 33%, LibDems on just under 10% and Reform and Greens on five each.

That’s assuming a much smaller gap between Labour and Tory than has been the case for over two years now. But it sounds sort of plausible, I think. That split would produce a Labour government with an 120-seat majority.

Now, what happens if Labour support stays exactly as it is, but some Tories switch to Reform UK – which they are currently telling pollsters they will do in their legions? If 5% switch and the Reform UK vote goes up to 10%, the Labour majority rises to 188. If a further 5% switch, then the Labour majority goes up to 274 and the Tories are left with 100 seats.

There’s a point at which the changes become almost exponential, and seats start changing hands in droves without the winning party having to do anything at all. This is the sort of thing that gives democracy a bad name.

But if the distorted results weren’t already sufficient corruption of the electorate’s will, the first past-the-post-system conspires in other ways to undermine the expression and resolution of political differences. By its nature, the system requires the winner not to have majority support but to be the biggest minority.

That means it requires parties to form broad alliances of opinion to get levels of support above a third. In itself, this means that differences are resolved within parties rather than being matters for the general citizenry. Sometimes this leaves a party completely at odds with its own supporters, never mind the electorate as a whole.

Such is the case with Labour and Brexit where the party will not even contemplate returning to Europe even though this is the expressed wish of the overwhelming majority of their own supporters.

It cannot be healthy for democracy that not a single major UK party will commit to reviewing and reversing Brexit when this is what half of the population wants.

The toxicity of first-past-the-post for democracy intensifies as parties rooted in the centre-right or centre-left fight for the support of the same bunch of voters in the middle.

By definition, these voters will be paid more attention than those whose support is already in the bag, and by definition, this group of voters will desire a lesser degree of change than the rest.

he result is a set of less than inspiring polices and a whole lot of people well upset about that but unable to do anything about it. It’s little wonder many people will tell you: “They’re all the same.”

This frustration, the feeling of being unrepresented, festers and is destroying what passes for democracy. In England, Labour will win the next election, I’m sure. But it will be won by promising Tories they are in safe hands, by seriously alienating many traditional Labour voters, and with a huge level of frustrated abstainers.

It’s a weak base for governing and could end in disaster in a very small number of years.

Now, of course, we should note that the Labour Party at their last two conferences made commitments – by very big margins – to change the current electorate system.

But as if to illustrate exactly the problem, no sooner had these votes been called than Sir Keir and his entourage were insisting there would be no change.

The SNP support a proportional voting system where the results reflect the votes cast by the people. Given a chance, that’s what we will vote for, but in truth, the condition of parliamentary democracy in England is hardly our bailiwick and nothing is going to change until Labour say so.

Sadly, I can’t see that happening any time soon.

And in this – as in so much else – the aspirations of people who live here will be better served by Scotland becoming a new independent state with a proper functioning democracy enshrined in a written constitution.

Don’t write off SNP’s election chances

Last week I was chosen by local members of Edinburgh East and Musselburgh SNP to be their candidate in next year’s general election. It’s a great honour. For me, that election cannot come soon enough.

But I am under no illusions that it will be easy to keep the job I’ve been doing for the last eight and a half years. The coming election will be the biggest challenge the SNP has faced in a long time. It will be a hard fight. But one I am determined to win.

As I write this the votes are yet to be counted in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. You’ll know the result now. And I would be astonished if Labour did not win. It used to be one of their safest seats. The incumbent MP, elected under the SNP banner, disgraced herself and was effectively sacked by her own constituents. If Labour couldn’t win in these circumstances, they really ought to give up.

But don’t be too quick to write off the SNP in places like this. I know from having spoken to over 150 people in Rutherglen that there is still strong support for the party. Of course, some are fed up and disillusioned. They read of the resignations and enquiries. They see a party arguing with itself and they question whether it can achieve the change it seeks.

In part this is the consequence of the refusal of the Tories to respect the wishes of the Scottish electorate. Not one, but three mandates have been ignored as the Tories just say no. It wears people down. It saps their confidence. It destroys their self-belief. That’s what it is intended to do.

In some ways we have brought these problems upon ourselves – or at least made them worse. But we are rebuilding now. We have a new leader, a new CEO, and this month’s conference will allow us to refresh our message as we agree our strategy for the election.

Despite all the political turmoil the arguments for Scotland becoming an independent country have never been more compelling. Over the last few years many more people have realised that the powers that come with independence are exactly what we need to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and the climate emergency.

Now more than ever we will need to press that case and demonstrate that this is not some abstract debate about the constitution but a matter of real changes here and now.

This country is blessed with abundant natural resources yet too many of our citizens live and die in poverty. Lives unfulfilled. Potential wasted. Only by taking control of our own affairs can we ensure our wealth is marshalled for the common good and not global corporations.

Across the UK voters are being offered a choice between two sad and uninspiring options. The sickening right-wing populism of the Tories on the one hand and the pathetic lack of ambition of Sir Keir Starmer’s hollowed out Labour Party on the other.

Thankfully, Scotland and Edinburgh have an alternative. We can be better. We can demand more from a new UK government than Labour wants to give us. And we can maintain our journey to self-government. That is why this election is so important.
Bring it on.

How to advance Scottish independence at the next election.

SNP activists head to Dundee today battered and bruised by the turmoil of the last few months. We need to regroup, reset. We need to engage and involve our membership, talk to supporters beyond our ranks, devise a strategy to advance our cause at the coming election and work out a way to win. That’ll take more than one day. But let’s make a start.

Support for independence appears remarkably resilient, despite our party’s problems and the fragmentation of our movement. But let’s not get carried away. Given the palpable chaos at Westminster, who wouldn’t consider an alternative. We don’t know how deep or how shallow that support is. And we don’t know whether people who tell pollsters they support independence will vote for it at the next election.

We need to be frank. The police investigation is having an effect. It will need to conclude, and we will need to deal with the consequences. Our activist base is smaller and tired. Our party is still Scotland’s most popular, but political representation of the movement has splintered. There’s caution and uncertainty in the population, and not enough confidence in our ranks. This can change. But we need to be honest and realistic. We need a strategy which isn’t chasing the dream like it should happen yesterday.

The SNP only exists because people want independence. So, we need to ensure that at the next election, we are the political expression of that ambition. Who governs Scotland, and who decides who governs Scotland must be central to our campaign.

But this cannot be the final decision on becoming an independent country. At some stage we will need an eyes-wide-open specific vote on whether people want to do that. The next election is not it. For starters, that means the debate about Yes candidates and Yes alliances is for another day.

First, we need to make independence more relevant than ever. Rising bills. Crippling mortgages. Overstretched public services. Immigration. Brexit. Unionists pretend that independence is an abstract constitutional concern, disconnected from these real-life problems.

This is a lie. Always has been. Independence means the power to change lives. We need to spell out the direct connection. The power to raise minimum wages, improve benefits, regulate energy. To mobilise the capital we need to become a renewable powerhouse. To be part of Europe and allow people to migrate here.

Secondly, we need to show how it can happen. The Supreme Court says that the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal authority to organise a referendum on independence. We must demand that authority. We should seek a mandate to change the British constitution to permanently transfer power to Holyrood to consult and represent the people who live here on how they are governed.

We are beyond asking permission through a section 30 order. This is demanding and asserting a right. The right to decide for ourselves how we are governed. This change would put into legislation the 1989 Claim of Right for Scotland, endorsed at the time not only by the SNP but Labour and Liberal Democrats too.

This is the mandate we should take into the new Westminster Parliament after the election. A clear expression of desire to become independent and a specific mechanism to give people that choice. What happens next will depend on the outcome of that election. If SNP votes are needed for Labour to govern, then we will extract a price for that cooperation.

But what if Labour has a big enough majority to ignore us? This takes us into virgin political territory. Never in history has there been a Labour Government in the UK without a mandate in Scotland.

Of course, there’s a chance that Labour could be every bit as intransigent and dismissive of Scottish opinion as the Tories. But maybe not. It’s not a good look for a new Government wishing to present as an alternative. And after all, we will be pursuing something that they once signed up to. Something resonating with their backbench MPs keen on constitutional reform more generally.

But if we are met with contempt then we still have 2026. If the British state continues to refuse to let people in Scotland have a say, we can re-purpose that Scottish Parliament election to allow that to happen. There are many advantages in doing this then rather than now. We will have given the British state every opportunity to review – including changing its Parliament. The entire focus in 2026 will be about who runs Scotland, not who runs the UK. And of course, the franchise is bigger and the system fairer.

But first things first. We have an election probably within a year. If we don’t win, none of the above happens. Since 1967 the SNP vote has been a barometer of support for self-Government. When that vote rises, the state makes concessions. The reverse is also true.

We must make our electorate aware of this simple truth. If the SNP lose the next election, independence goes off the table. At least until the election after that.

So, we must win. And we must win in an election where many people will be desperate to get rid of the Tories above all else. Some independence supporters will be seduced by Labour’s argument that only they can do that, and independence can be left for another day.

This is not true. SNP MPs will never support the Tories in Westminster. To win, Labour doesn’t need to defeat us in Scotland, it needs to defeat Tories in England. Labour can, most probably will, do that. So voting Labour here isn’t necessary to rid ourselves of the Tories.

Moreover, given the chance would anyone really want to give Starmer a blank cheque? Mostly the SNP wants stronger, faster action to tackle poverty and inequality. Given the choice, we will keep Labour honest.

Voting SNP means getting rid of a Tory Government we didn’t vote for this time, and the choice to lock them out of Scotland forever. That’s a compelling message and if we can’t sell it to our countrymen and women desperate for change, maybe we shouldn’t be in politics.

How each election can be a vote on independence and the right to choose

The best way to demonstrate majority support for Scottish independence is a referendum. But in the wake of the Supreme Court judgement and with Westminster’s continued denial of Scottish democracy, that ain’t happening any time soon. So, with support for independence rising, how can we allow people to express their view?

Much has been said recently about the pros and cons of using an election as a de-facto referendum. Some have argued that the next Westminster election should be a vote on independence. Others have argued that a Holyrood election would be the better option. But why don’t we use both?

For too long we’ve been chasing the next election, hoping it would be the vote which delivers independence. We need a longer-term plan which uses each and every democratic event as a stepping-stone towards independence.  

Of course, the next Westminster election should be about independence. More precisely, it should be about how Scotland becomes independent and what that looks like.

Scottish independence requires two things. One, majority support in Scotland. Two, a negotiated settlement with the British State. Until we can demonstrate the first, we won’t get the second.

The Supreme Court has exposed a gap in the British constitution. There is no way for people in Scotland to consent to staying in or leaving the union without the sanction of Westminster. To be clear, the Court did not say we shouldn’t be able to choose, simply that the current statutes do not allow for it.

Front and centre of our next election manifesto should be a demand to fix the broken British constitution by updating the current devolution settlement. The Scottish Parliament now needs the very powers the Supreme Court ruled it does not have to determine Scottish opinion and a mechanism for negotiating change with the UK.

This is a different proposition from a section 30 Order. It is not about asking permission on a one-off basis to determine public opinion, but about enshrining the right to choose within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. It would in effect give legal expression to the Claim of Right for Scotland.

Making this the central focus of our campaign would present our argument as one of democracy, as well as self-determination. It would demonstrate a determination to exhaust every opportunity to allow the British state to respect democratic norms, and assist in garnering international support.

Clearly, the outcome of the next Westminster election is unknown, but it is probable that the Conservatives will lose. This opens up the prospect of change, and we need to be agile enough to take advantage of new opportunities that may come our way.

It’s possible we can build support amongst other parties for a proposal to give the Scottish Parliament this power. It is entirely consistent with the principles of devolution which other parties say they are committed to. And the parliamentary arithmetic may afford us more leverage at Westminster than ever before, despite our previous electoral success in Scotland.

If we achieve this reform, we could then go forward and exercise this new power at the earliest opportunity. If we are thwarted in our objective, at least we will have been seen to have exhausted every last possible mechanism to gain our independence by consent.

This would then tee up the next Holyrood election, scheduled for May 2026, as an opportunity to mobilise people in support of a vote for independence. We could re-purpose that election as an effective referendum. The franchise is more inclusive, the voting system is fairer and, most of all, the focus is all about how Scotland, rather than the UK, is governed.

In the meantime, we still have an argument to win. This is the year where we should consolidate majority support for independence, maintaining polling levels above 50% and nudging support towards 60% to bolster the case.  But support cannot be fuelled by indignation alone. We need to complete our prospectus for what independence looks like. We need a rational and compelling narrative, completely related to the social and economic crises of 2023.     

Our opponents will continue to attempt to undermine support for independence by pointing to problems with devolved services. Sometimes criticism will be valid, but often they will lie. And, of course, always pretending there are no constraints on what we can do.

Where we already have the power, we’ve used it to make far better, fairer decisions. If we can do this with one hand tied behind our back, imagine what we could do if the Westminster straitjacket was undone. We need to explain, perhaps more than ever, that independence is essential to tackling the biggest challenges we face. In doing so we will need to be bold and ambitious, offering a vision of a new Scotland that will inspire and mobilise its citizens.