Friday 29 January 2010

Actually, what if the Tories win?

This is less of a "what if" than my previous post on Labour winning, but there's some questions I'd like to put in the (likely) event of David Cameron becoming Prime Minister this year.

Now, if the Tories take power, it will likely be on the back of a majority in England. Despite their European revival in Wales, the likelihood of them winning more than the three constituencies they currently hold is minimal. And in Scotland, where the party has been good - if unspectacular - in the Scottish Parliament (which they originally opposed) the FPTP electoral system makes it unlikely that they will return too many Scottish MPs. The party are targeting 11, I give them a shot at 5 or 6 on around 20% of the Scottish vote - but that is well short of having anything like a mandate from the Scottish people.

Not that that matters in a UK electoral context. The party will still govern the whole of the UK - the House of Commons is constituted of 600+ seats and majority of seats is all you require to govern. However, let me look a wee bit further at the difficulty facing the Tories in Scotland.

For a start, they have only 1 MP at the moment in David Mundell, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. That role has been given to him largely on account of his being their only MP for a Scottish constituency (but not their only Scottish MP - I'll come back to that). I don't think it is outwith the realm of possibilities that the Tories win a couple more Scottish seats - perhaps Peter Duncan will return in Dumfries & Galloway and John Lamont MSP will have a decent shot at Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk while there are a few other seats (Edinburgh South, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Argyll & Bute, Stirling, Ochil & South Perthshire) where they may spring an upset. That said, even with 6 MPs representing Scottish constituencies, the party may face a problem: who to make Secretary of State for Scotland.

Now, David Mundell should be favourite (given his current status as shadow Sec State) but he holds that position only because he is the sole Tory MP north of the border. He is not perceived as a strong candidate. Similarly, while Peter Duncan has been shadow SSS previously, he was in the same position. John Lamont - if elected - would be a brave choice, given his youth and relative inexperience. But the mark against him would be he'd still be an MSP and combining 3 jobs a la Alex Salmond won't cut it. He may be a better bet for under-secretary (again, if he is elected). Alex Johnstone would be in a similar boat, but he hasn't made too many waves at Holyrood (and he's been there a good while) and indeed, is perhaps unlikely to win the seat. Any of the other newly-elected Tory MPs would be just that - newly-elected and inexperienced, hardly the commanding figure the party would want going up against Salmond.

Which leaves them in a quandary. Already facing the perception that they don't have a mandate in Scotland - a democratic deficit if you will - they now don't appear to have any MPs in Scotland fit to fill the Secretary of State's role. Which leaves them 2 - not particularly attractive - options. The first is to appoint an MP for an English constituency as Sec State. An English MP as Scottish Secretary? You can imagine how that would go down in the Scottish Parliament. But there are a couple of MPs with links to Scotland. Liam Fox would be an example, or Malcolm Rifkind - who does have experience of the role. However, the latter lost his Scottish seat in 1997 and the Scottish media are unlikely to let him forget that.

Which leaves a second option - one which Labour have availed themselves of recently, subconsciously indicating a dearth of talent on their benches. Appoint someone - with experience, gravitas, a heavyweight - to the House of Lords. Someone, perhaps, who is leading their campaign in Scotland.  Lord McLetchie of the Taxis? Perhaps not. But presumably it is an idea circulating in Tory HQ. 

Of course this move leaves them with several difficulties - not least the democratic deficit of having a Sec State for Scotland who cannot be questioned in the Commons. Equally, would he continue to sit in the Scottish Parliament? His Pentlands seat is one the Tories fought hard to win back (and he ousted Iain Gray in the process) and winning the seat without McLetchie's considerable personal vote may not prove easy in a by-election. Or could he keep his seat - and sit quietly while Annabel Goldie questions Alex Salmond at FMQs, who, presumably, would fire everything back at him as Sec State - and he'd be unable to respond.

It's an implausible situation.  How bad would it make the Secretary of State look?  How powerless?  And for Annabel Goldie, overshadowed by her predecessor - and superior in the UK party?  Would it signal her demise as leader - a position she was reluctant to take in the first place?  Of course, there might be the comedic value of a party leader asking when the FM will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland, to which Salmond could look to McLetchie and say something like "garden lobby, five minutes time?".  The press, the public, the MSPs themselves would have a field day mocking McLetchie - it'd be worse than the taxi stuff.

So yes, while some questions may be answered if the Tories win (the likelihood of Gordon Brown staying on as Labour leader is minimal) many more remain.


Wednesday 27 January 2010

What if Labour win?

Recent conjecture surrounding the upcoming General Election has centred upon two possible outcomes: A Conservative victory large enough to allow them to govern fairly comfortably or a Hung Parliament. But there is a third possible outcome, however unlikely it may seem:

A Labour win.

Think about that for a second. Speculation regarding the end of the recession, the end of Brown, the SNP in the Scottish Government and their referendum - everything making the news at the moment - all that is predicated on the expected outcome, a Conservative victory and David Cameron as Prime Minister. But what if - IF - Labour can squeeze out a win?

Would Gordon stay on? What about the doubters & plotters? Would Harriet make her move? What about the Miliband of brothers (D-edward to some)? Would they continue to back Brown's leadership? And how long would a fourth term in office last for Labour? A few months or a full term?

Think of the knock-on effect though. Brown's plan to fight the recession would have to be enacted. The Calman proposals too, would have to be worked out. Jim Murphy (assuming he retained his seat) would probably remain as Scottish Secretary, strengthening his position (and weakening Iain Gray's). The SNP - well, they probably don't care either way. A weak Labour government with a small majority would be just as good for their ends as a strong Conservative government with no mandate in Scotland. Would a referendum pass? Who knows.

The big question for me though is how Labour would react to returning to power. All signs at the moment point to the party preparing for a defeat - and if they don't get trounced that would be a victory in itself. But should they confound expectations - with an unpopular leader - would the poisonous plotting disappear or come to the fore?

Many questions, with no real answer at the moment. The coming election should provide a few answers, and perhaps a few more questions. Whenever it is held.


Tuesday 26 January 2010

A hypothetical vote

Hypothetical situation (on which someone with experience of tactical voting may wish to shed some light).

You live in constituency S. There are 5 candidates in upcoming general election (candidates AA, BB, CC, DD & EE). They represent parties V, W, X, Y & Z.

The constituency you live in is currently represented by AA (of party V) whose party are currently the governing party but who look like they are going to lose the coming election. While AA is a member of the governing party, they have shown themselves to be somewhat independent-minded and occasionally voted with their conscience. You don't have a problem with them at all, but don't particularly like the party they represent.

Candidate BB's party W were 2nd in the constituency last time out, and have constantly told you that "only they can win here", despite the last 2 elections in the constituency pushing the party's vote down in the area. You are not keen on these kind of games, don't like that tactic and are generally underwhelmed by the party.

Candidate CC's party X finished 4th here in the last UK election but have proved stronger across Scotland. They have performed creditably in government and look like a party on the up. You strongly support the party's goals but have a particular dislike for their chosen candidate.

Candidate DD's Y party look likely to be the next UK government, but remain a way off winning this seat. While you recognise the strength of some of their arguments (and the charisma of their leader) you are loathe to support them and a local candidate who also rubs you up the wrong way.

Finally, candidate EE's party Z look like facing a struggle to return their deposit, though they showed fairly strongly in the previous (European) election in the area. You appreciate the party's intentions - and have voted for them in the past - but you recognise the difficulties facing them in what is not a PR election and feel that voting for them this time may be a wasted vote.

So, here's your choice reader. Do you:

A) Appreciate the work of your current MP (of party V) and, in your concern that the constituency may be represented by the wishy-washy party (W), lend your support to the incumbent.

B) Vote for the wishy-washy (W) party in the hope that your vote is enough to win the seat for them over the incumbent.

C) Go with the party you strongly support (X) and ignore your feelings about their candidate (increasing their share of the national vote by a minor percentage).

D) Recognise that there is a bigger picture, become a glory-hunter and vote for party Y who won't win this seat but will probably win the election - giving you the opportunity of telling people that yes, you voted in the government.

E) Ignore the fact that your second choice party (Z) have little chance of winning the seat and try to help them secure their deposit.

F) Stay at home on election day.

So there you are reader. The choice, as they say, is yours. Answers on a postcard (or in the comments).


Monday 25 January 2010

Caledonian Mercury

If you haven't already seen this elsewhere, then I heartily recommend to you Scotland's newest online source of news.

The Caledonian Mercury was established on Friday as a new venture, aiming to embrace the internet in journalism rather than fear it. They've some good journalists on board too. In four days it has, in my opinion, already surpassed the quality (and balance) on display in Scotland's other noteworthy press and, as such, has found its way quickly into my bookmarks.

So, dear reader, another recommendation for you. I feel like I've become a reviewer... I wonder if there's a job in that for me? Normal service or rambling thoughts will resume shortly, I fear.


Friday 22 January 2010

Recommended: Planet Politics

As a follow up to my piece last week on Nigel Farage's views on the burka and British society, I'd recommend this excellent piece by Stuart Winton where he contrasts the wearing of the burka with the Naked Rambler's ongoing battle with the law over his "right" to walk naked around the country.

A rather strange conflation of two divergent examples and yet the point he makes is interesting - the relationship between individual freedom, toleration and cultural norms and values. Well worth a read.


Wednesday 20 January 2010

The Audacity of asking people to Hope

Barack Obama has been President of the United States of America for a whole year now. 365 days.

Remember this time last year? The inaugural address. The inspired scenes. Massive crowds. Words warm enough to break the chill of a Washington January day. That last one is perhaps poetic licence, but work with me here - President Obama's inauguration was a big deal. His election was "change you can believe in". Whenever he asked if he could do something the response was "Yes we can".

So, one year and one Nobel peace prize later, what has President Obama actually achieved?

  • He set a deadline for the closure of Guantanamo Bay (Jan 2010) then admits that it won't close then.
  • The US are still fighting wars in Iraq (despite Obama formally announcing a withdrawal) and increasing troops in Afghanistan... and still losing support.
  • He has passed some healthcare reform through Congress... but the two bills in the House and Senate respectively are vastly different and may not find common enough ground to make the difference Obama's healthcare package was supposed to. Especially in the Senate.
  • He has presided over an economy that saw a 9 month rise in unemployment in the US from 7.6% to 9.8% (Jan-Sept 2009).
  • He promised (again) to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the US military, but sets no timeline or deadline.
  • He's lost a Senate race in Massachusetts (well, he didn't, his party did) costing an opportunity to pass healthcare reform.

Of course I'm maybe being slightly harsh here. He has also reversed the Bush decision on stem-cell research, signed a stimulus package, helped out banks and car industry and, erm, got a dog for his kids. I'm sure there is more. Actually, I'm not sure... but there must be. Any Americans I've pissed off with this post should feel free to give me a list of achievements...

Maybe I'm just a born cynic, but I don't think its unfair to have expected more from the first year of his presidency. Or was the "change you can believe in" merely a symbolic change?

A change is gonna come, but it might be a long time coming...


Tuesday 19 January 2010

Clegg's moment of realisation

"Cannae dae that any mare, there's nae money."

So says Lib Dem leader (for how much longer?) Nick Clegg. According to Clegg, an extension of free childcare, rolling out free personal care for the elderly across England, a citizen's pension and cutting tuition fees are all too expensive while there is a recession on.

Is it just me, or does that beg the question as to what the Lib Dems are actually for? I mean, before Clegg's realisation (apparently a year after Vince Cable predicted it) that we're too skint to do anything, I probably couldn't have told you many Lib Dem policies, but I could have told you that they were for cutting tuition fees and... erm... um... yes, changing the electoral system to PR. But now what do they stand for? I can see their new slogan now:

"Vote for us 'coz we're, um... not as red as Labour. And not as blue as the Tories. And we're more yellow than the Nats!"

Maybe Howard (Russell, not Michael) was right...

(Incidentally, I meant to write this last week when I first realised Nick Clegg had just realised there was a recession on - looks like my timing is just as off as his).


Monday 18 January 2010

Nigel Farage's Britain

I see Nigel Farage is doing his hopes of taking John Bercow's House of Commons seat no favours with his calls for banning the wearing of the burka and other face-covering veils by Muslim women. He reckons it is a symbol of "an increasingly divided Britain." Critics, including Schools Secretary Ed Balls, have said it is "not British" to tell people what to wear.

For me, I think Farage is wrong. I also think Balls is wrong - quite how something can be "not British" when you can't actually define what "British" means is beyond me - but that is a different debate. I don't think ANY government should intervene in personal religious choice (with exceptions in obvious cases of harm etc). Again, I guess that raises questions over whether wearing a burka is a choice and not forced. But again, that is another debate.

The question I really want to ask is this: how far must those who move to a country - any country - conform to that particular country's culture?

That question is at the heart of Farage's comments - and at the heart of this debate. In essence, Farage's comments suggest you should leave your religious/political and social baggage at the airport on your arrival in the UK. Multiculturalism is unacceptable to the former UKIP leader. Instead, immigrants should be forced to assimilate to the dominant culture within the UK - I guess just as soon as we work out what that is.

Now, I may be slightly exaggerating Farage's position - but that really is the end point of what he is suggesting. He makes a fair point about "divided society" (incidentally, a point Cameron's Conservatives have been making for several years) and offers his own solution, a solution which the liberal UK isn't quite ready for. Especially a liberal UK that is already fighting fascism in the face of the BNP.

I return to the question though. How much conformity are we looking for? Look at the US, a veritable salad-bowl (Standard Grade Modern Studies terminology) of cultures, immigrants retaining their own sense of identity and distinctive culture but becoming part of something larger. Look also at the levels of violence in the US, the cross-cultural trouble, gangland warfare and racial tension.

A multicultural ideal is just that - an ideal. A laudable aim. But the notion that all cultures can peacefully co-exist, without any cross-cultural tension is as wrong as it is naive. And that naivety is perhaps what Balls is looking for when he is defining what it means to be British.


Thursday 14 January 2010

Opening gambits

The New Year diet has barely started but Jeff is already getting stuck into the Scottish budget stuff. Which is probably still more than some at the Scottish Government are doing.

Remember last year? The Scottish Government thinking the thing was locked down, the late negotiations with the Greens - and the resultant collapse of the process on the deciding vote of the Presiding Officer.

So, in the midst of a continuing economic recession and with a General Election anything from 3 to 6 months away, what price the same happening again? Opposition parties in Scotland bringing down the Scottish Government over their budget. Likely? Not in my book.

Jeff has already done the number crunching - and estimates that the Tories and the Greens will provide enough support for the SNP to get their budget through. I suspect he may be right. But maybe it isn't the final result that is interesting this time - its how we might get there.

I can't see Labour lending their support - not with their position on GARL. But they may enter into negotiations, which is more than they have in the past. The Tories, on the other hand, may play a slightly bolder hand than they have in the past - try to get more value for their vote on the basis that their position is likely to be strengthened in negotiations next year by being the UK Government. I'm with Jeff on the Lib Dems - ask Mystic Meg what she thinks they'll do, because there's really no predicting it (but I'll come back to that). Which leaves the Greens.

Now, I have some sympathy for the way they were shafted in last year's negotiations (not that I showed it at the time - a year is a long time in politics after all) but I reckon they will have learned much from it. They are, if nothing else, a year older and a year smarter. Which means 2 things: 1) if they don't get what they want, they don't vote for it (take note Mr Swinney) and 2) it is important not to bank on their vote without first offering something they want. However, with their sister party in England and Wales primed to win their first (ever) Westminster seat at the next election, any perception that Green parliamentarians are immature or reckless may harm those chances. This may play a part in how they approach negotiations.

The Green position, curious though it is, leaves the door open for the Lib Dems. If the Swinney/ Salmond combo can get the Greens on board, then they can ignore Tavish Scott (which is what they thought they'd done last year). If they can't, they'll have to persuade someone who really doesn't like them (and that, I think, is an understatement) that they can do something for them.

Ah, partisan politics. Let the games begin.


Wednesday 13 January 2010

Return of the Malc

Couldn't resist the title...

Anyway, having had an extended (2 month) break from blogging, I felt the time was right to return. I'm struggling writing my thesis, there are just over 7 weeks until my wedding and I have no more time than I did before - but the time is right!

Actually, the main reason for returning to blogging is my inability to write fluently for my thesis. I am hopeful that returning to a more lighthearted writing style may in some way aid that. So, I'm back to blog on an ongoing recession, an upcoming election and, inevitably, some daft Lib Dem ideas. So here goes...



Feel free to get in touch with me if you have an issue with something you've read here... or if you simply want to debate some more! You can email me at:

baldy_malc - AT - hotmail - DOT - com
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