31 May 2015

The long Scottish Parliament, and the short

Speaking of seemingly technical but politically pregnant choices, we need to talk about the Fixed Term Parliament Act. The 2011 legislation has fallen out of the headlines after the election of the Cameron majority, but its echo will continue to be felt in Scottish politics for years to come. Why? It all comes down to an ... er ... timetable. Bear with me. The Act fixed Westminster's parliamentary terms at five years, in contrast with the four afforded to Holyrood under the Scotland Act, with UK general elections scheduled for 2015, 2020, 2025 -- and so on. 

All things being equal, all unforeseen catastrophes being avoided, Holyrood's electoral cycle ought to spin through 2011, 2015, 2019, 2024. But in order to avoid an unseemly clash this May, the Fixed Term Parliament Act extended Nicola Sturgeon's spell in office for an extra year, re-scheduling the next Holyrood election for 2016. But as the observant amongst you will have noticed, this is a clash deferred, not a clash resolved in the longer term. If we toddle on on the current electoral timetable, 2020 will bring with it yet another collision between the Holyrood and UK general elections. Not to mention European and local government polls. It is all a bit of a mess.

In the longer run, MSPs may decide to use the powers of the new Scotland Bill to extend the ordinary spell of a Scottish Parliament to five years, matching London and pulling us permanently out of sync. But in the short term, with another Holyrood election pending, what to do? There are only two real options here. The next Scottish Parliament, to be elected in 2016, could serve for either a three or another five year term. Under the three year plan, this would schedule future Holyrood elections for 2016, 2019, 2023 and 2027. Under the five year plan, 2016, 2021, 2025 and 2029.  Remember, UK general elections are now on a five year cycle: 2015, 2020, 2025, 2030.

The implications of the choice between these alternatives are not immediately obvious, but they are politically important and the option chosen will tell us a good deal about Nicola Sturgeon's approach to leadership.  As this decision will have to be taken before the Scottish Parliament is dissolved neat year, the SNP majority's view will be decisive. But nor are the balance of interest and calculations obvious for Scotland's main opposition leaders.

So which alternative to go for? Decimated in the general election, hollowed out in human and financial resources, with internal rows brewing, lurching on under Jim Murphy's zombie leadership, and anticipating a leadership battle, Scottish Labour is not looking fighting fit -- to put it mildly.  There is little time for introspection, but introspection appears unavoidable and necessary. And another half decade of "renewal and reform" may come to seem more attractive than the gruesome prospect of taking the fight to the SNP in 2016, with only three more years to get seriously back in contention for 2019. 

Of course, Kezia Dugdale or Ken Macintosh may well lead their troops down in defeat in 2021 too. But I imagine that either of these candidates would feel more confident of their chances after five years rather than three. Sorting out their internal difficulties, making good candidate picks, hoping to run the long-serving SNP administration to rags on its record.  

In the Times recently, Kenny Farquharson suggested that Dugdale needs five years' grace if she takes up the party reins. With respect to Kenny, he may have got his timings wrong. If 2016 produces a three year parliament, Dugdale may require at least seven years grace before she fronts a winnable election campaign. If, that is, Strugeon throws caution to the wind, endorses the three year plan and puts her main opponents in an awkward spot.

Moreover, the choice will give Scottish Parliament campaigns distinctive political backdrops for at least a decade. With the three year plan, Holyrood elections for the foreseeable future would take place against the tail - or fag - end of Westminster governments. Embattled, uncertain, out of ideas, exhausted. There are political opportunities there. By contrast, the five year plan would always set Scottish Parliament against the backdrop of developments in London. And that too is a gamble and projection with chances and risks for Labour and the SNP.  Another Tory government returned? A resurgent Labour Prime Minister elected? 

For a more cautious SNP leader, there are more obvious advantages in the five year plan. An extra year in office more or less guaranteed, barring disaster and disgrace, it would line up the next Holyrood battle for 2021, in the wake of another general election which -- at least at the moment -- Labour look unlikely to win. And that before the Tory majority rejigs the constituency boundaries in their favour. As we have seen, Tory wins can be leveraged north of the border.

And then there is the inevitable referendum dynamic. Whether we consider the three or the five year plan, barring an unforseeable "material change in circumstances", an independence referendum should not be in the party's manifesto for the next Holyrood election.  A three year suspension in these ambitions may be more palatable to those parts of the party who believe we should go full steam ahead for a second referendum as soon as possible. Those five years may feel long.

But realistically, I'm not convinced that we should even consider a second poll before the second half of the parliament which will be re-elected in 2019 or 2021. And that very much depending on the state of public opinion. If Sturgeon did decide to restore an indyref policy to the SNP manifesto in these circumstances, a decent period of time would have passed.  If you felt confident about Scottish opinion on the constitutional question turning speedily in a more positive direction, the three year plan has its charms. It burns through the years quickly. Two elections are likely to make it feel and seem as if significant time has passed since 2014.

On the other hand, going for five years means the calculating Nat retains flexibility to factor UK election results into account more actively. After 2020, Scots may have just seen a second Labour leader in as many years going down in defeat to an increasingly cynical, unionist-lite UK Tory party. Going for a three year Holyrood parliament, and another 2019 election, means that the SNP would be making big manifesto choices blind about the overall balance in UK politics. Wary Nationalist data gannets may blanch at that prospect.

It is a finely balanced judgement, and not merely a technical question of parliamentary timetabling. But one thing is clear. MSPs' choice between the long Scottish Parliament and the short will paint the political scenery against which Scottish elections and referendums are triggered, understood, analysed and fought -- perhaps for the next decade or more.

30 May 2015

Justice in small places, close to home...

This week has seen the publication of the UK government's nigh-impenetrable Scotland Bill. I have a lot of sympathy with Stuart Campbell's diagnosis that the proposals are opaque, and extremely difficult for even the informed reader of reasonable intelligence to follow. Even as someone with some experience of analysing statutes, it taxes the synapses to keep the 1998 Scotland Act, the 2012 changes, and these fragmented and technical reform proposals in your mind simultaneously. It is tough.

With my legal hat on, I recognise that legislation must be to some extent a technical, careful business. But that's no excuse for the UK government's remarkable failure to present its plans to the public in an accessible, intelligible way. David Mundell's PR has been dire. The Smith Commission PR was dire. If I was a unionist, concerned that the enhanced devolution proposals should be presented in the clearest, best light, I'd be bald as a coot with the frustration.  The promise of more devolution may or may not have secured the majority against independence, but to present your Big Plan with so little energy seems bananas. And yet another Scotland Bill falls stillborn from the parliamentary press.

In a small attempt to cut through the legal thicket, I took a look at the proposals in yesterday's National, trying to offer an even-handed, pro-indy look at what Cameron's majority is and is not proposing. An excerpt:

"IF THE Bedroom Tax debacle taught us nothing else, it is that injustice often begins in small places, close to home. Injustice is felt in individual lives, blighted; in potential, squandered; in nights and winters spent light-less, heat-less, cold. “Your application has been denied.” “You have been appraised as fit to work.” “Sanctions will now be imposed.” The tools by which these injustices are achieved are not glamorous. Nor are they overtly wicked. They are technical, abstract and bureaucratic. Regulations and policy papers, ministerial statements and working committees, statutory instruments and legislative details. They are dispassionate, dominating. The hand that signed the paper has no tears to let flow.  But the same is true of justice. You won’t find it in soaring speeches, in inspiring rallies and bold, vague statements of principle. Scotland has already seen and heard too much, far too much, of that. If justice is to mean anything substantial, anything real, it must mean justice in small places close to home."

Read the whole thing here.

25 May 2015

Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill RIP

On Wednesday afternoon, Holyrood will debate the general principles of the late Margo MacDonald's Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, probably for the last time. If MSPs endorse the Bill's general principles, it will speed on through the processes of parliamentary amendment and scrutiny. If they knock the proposals back, that will be the end of the matter. The Health and Sport Committee produced a critical but patchy Stage One report on the draft being shepherded through parliament by Patrick Harvie, but declined to make a recommendation on how MSPs should vote on Wednesday. Once again, this one is between individual parliamentarians and their consciences. 

It seems very likely that the majority will exercise these to assist the Bill to an early end, disgareeing to its general principles, which would introduce a procedure and safeguards to allow individuals to be assisted to kill themselves if certain conditions are met. The debate in the last session, rejecting Margo's first Bill, was considered, personal, and did the parliament and its members credit. We can only hope that the discussion this week reflects those values and principles. But for campaigners, supporting this Bill, the outcome is likely to represent another disappointment. 

In the ferment of the referendum and general election campaigns, the reforms being proposed and the arguments for and against introducing them have flown under the radar, somewhat.  Attention has, understandably, been elsewhere. But in rejecting this Bill, parliament is not closing the issue -- merely deferring difficult questions. 

The Lord Advocate believes the law on assisting suicides in Scotland is crystal clear and that prosecutors and the police know a crime when they see one. I disagree. As do a number of other weightier scholars and commentators on our criminal laws. Profound uncertainty continues to characterise basic questions about what kinds of assistance are and are not criminal under Scots law.  

Would I be at risk of prosecution if I prepared a fatal dose of drugs for a sick friend to administer to themselves? Might I face a homicide conviction and life imprisonment for ordering tickets to bear a terminally ill relative to Switzerland? At least these questions have forced their way onto the agenda in the discussion of this Bill, but essentially, we have been left none the wiser about how the Crown Office understands and analyses these scenarios. As have the families and friends of people for whom these are not abstract questions of legal principle, but real, flesh and bone decisions to be taken in the midst of great suffering and trauma. That can't be right.

The polling evidence suggests, and has suggested for some time, that our parliamentarians may be out of step with public attitudes. According to research published in the Sunday Herald yesterday, 73% of folk polled sympathised with the general principle of the Bill, though this fell significantly after the commissioners of the poll -- Christian Action Research and Education -- put a series of increasingly gruesome and ghoulish claims and scenarios to people about the alleged impact of introducing the legislation.  For opponents of assisted suicide, this is vindication. When the punters hear the evidence and the arguments, their support for the idea bleeds away, they argue.

Be that as it may, the underlying conclusions of this poll echo what we have seen in many others. Their MSPs may be overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of legalising assisting suicides, but the people are more sympathetic -- or at least more open-minded -- to the idea of legislating in this way. Some of the opposition to this Bill is down to implacable, principled objections. To ethics, religion, concern about how, as a society, we choose to make the lives of some people intolerable, worries that dealing death would corrupt the vocation of healthcare professionals, and fears about the various slippery slopes which opponents of assisting suicide fear the nation may skid down.  I wouldn't want to underestimate the force of these arguments or the sincerity of individuals, in voting against assisted suicide on their account.

But there is a sneaking suspicion that some MSPs will oppose the legislation for an easier life politically. Anxious to avoid responsibility. Anxious to avoid being caught in the headlights of a well organised, well funded and vocal interest group with another Holyrood election pending. Social conservatives must hate Patrick Harvie anyway. He has nothing to lose. But the same cannot be said for many of his colleagues whose fingers will be hovering over their voting buttons on Wednesday. This isn't exactly an admirable basis to oppose the legislation, but the impulse is an understandable one for all that.

But assuming the Care not Killing talleymen have called it right, and that between two thirds and three quarters of MSPs will reject this Bill, it is back to the drawing board once again for proponents of this legislation. Perhaps a change of strategy is in order? A succession of attempts to guide these proposals and cognate ideas through parliament have foundered on both sides of the border. The objections have frequently been fair, often technical, but ultimately -- these Bills have failed because the simple underlying proposition failed to convince the parliamentary majority. Complaints about the lack of clarity or problems with the safeguards are, and have always been, only pretexts to dump the Bills.

Do campaigners keep plugging away at the idea until its time has come, in the hope and expectation that the majority in the legislature will eventually shift? Or is it time to give up trying to persuade MSPs of the merits of the proposals, and instead, to persuade them that the people should be given a say, via a referendum on the general principle? Perhaps there are neglected litigation strategies -- parallels to the English case-law in Pretty and Nicklinson -- which could be exploited in Scots courts to put pressure on the Crown and to keep the issue on the political agenda?

But with three defeats in as many parliaments, deprived of their most forceful and charismatic advocate in Margo MacDonald, and little progress being made, these questions of strategy and future tactics can't be avoided.

24 May 2015

Why Alistair Carmichael can't be recalled

They must have sneaked the legislation through at a midnight sitting. Westminster passed the Recall of MPs Act 2015 at the scrag end of the last session, without hullabaloo and without much being made of the scheme in the media. 

Under the new rules, MPs will be vulnerable to recall petitions if they (a) get banged up for a criminal offence (b) the Commons suspend the member for more than ten sitting days after a Committee on Standards report or (c) if the member is convicted of fiddling their expenses under the Parliamentary Standards Act of 2009.  If any of these three conditions are met, the returning officer in the MPs constituency must open up a petition for six weeks, allowing electors to demand the MPs exclusion from the Commons. If at least 10% of the electoral roll put their names to the petition, the seat is vacated and a by-election follows. 

In the Carmichael affair, nostrils in the press corps are twitching. Both the Observer and the Independent have gone in great guns this morning, writing of the Liberal Democrats' fears of a byelection in Orkney and Shetland under the recall legislation. The Indy suggest that:

"If the standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, conducts a follow-up investigation and finds Mr Carmichael guilty, and exercises a punishment of a lengthy suspension from the House of Commons, a by-election could be triggered under the Recall of MPs Act 2015. This was the brainchild of Mr Clegg: if an MP is suspended for just 10 sitting days, then only 10 per cent of an MP’s constituents would need to sign a petition demanding a by-election."

The Observer take the same line, concluding:

"If MPs were to vote to suspend Carmichael for 10 days or more, this would then automatically trigger a new process under the Recall of MPs Act (championed by Nick Clegg): if at least 10% of Carmichael’s constituents sign a petition calling for a byelection, then one must be held. Carmichael could stand again but would face a huge struggle to see off the rampant SNP."

The problem with this? It's guff. Guff predicated on a simple but absolutely fundamental error. What the Observer and Independent hacks failed to do is to check whether the Recall Act has come into force. And what do you know? It hasn't. Right at the bottom of legislation, all legislation, you will usually find the "commencement" section. Many and most Acts of Parliament do not come into force automatically as soon as the monarch grants royal assent -- as soon as the Bill is passed. Often, it is left to ministers to bring new offences and regulations and rules into effect by order. 

There are sound reasons for this. Delaying commencement smooths bumpy transitions between new and old legal regimes. It gives public bodies opportunities to prepare for new obligations and new working practices. So what does the Recall Act say about all this? While bits and pieces of the recall legislation are scheduled to come into force automatically -- the meat of the recall rules will only "come into force on such day as the Minister may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint." 

And if you go searching for such a statutory instrument -- you won't find one. The key provisions of the Recall of MPs Act currently have no legal effect whatever. They categorically cannot be used to pry Alistair Carmichael loose from his seat, even if the Commons suspended him from parliament for ten days or twenty. Not unless and until the law is brought fully into force. The papers are peddling nonsense and would have realised they were peddling nonsense if they'd done their homework properly.

A slapdash day at the Observer and Independent offices.

23 May 2015

Is Carmichael vulnerable to an election petition?

Under the Representation of the People Act 1983, electors or disappointed candidates can question the result of a parliamentary elections if a candidate or their agents engage in "corrupt or illegal practices". These practices vary from simple bribery, to paying canvassers, treating your electorate to ale and mutton, and the exercise of undue influence.  If the election court is satisfied that the elected candidate or their agents are implicated in "corrupt and illegal" practices during the campaign, the consequences are potentially severe.  If judges find that the new MP is personally guilty of any corrupt or illegal practices, their election is void.

In recent years, judges kicked Phil Woolas out of his Oldham East seat after the 2010 general election for circulating lies about the personal character of his Liberal Democratic opponent. More recently, the election of the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, was avoided by Richard Mawrey QC for a dizzying array of infractions. In the light of the findings of yesterday's Cabinet Office's enquiry, which unmasked former Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael, as the man behind the Sturgeon memo leaked to the Telegraph -- is there any case to question Mr Carmichael's recent election to the Commons? My immediate response was -- not on your nelly. But taking a more careful look at the legislation, I'm now not so sure.

Under s.106 of the 1983 Act, a person who "makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true." These false statements must have been made (a) "before or during the election" and (b) "for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election." This provision allows robust political debate on questions of ideology and policy, but if the winning candidate secures election by blackguarding their opponents, it allows the courts to intervene. This is what happened with Phil Woolas in Oldham. 

But read the text of the statute carefully. There is nothing in it suggesting that the rules are limited to making false statements about the personal character or conduct of other candidates. I can't find any historical examples of the law being used to challenge the election of a candidate based on false statements about themselves and their conduct. But in principle, surely fibs about your own behaviour and character are just as capable of misleading the electors and stealing the election than lies and calumnies heaped on your opponents.

Which brings us to the sticky case of Alistair Carmichael, and the memo he instructed his special advisor to leak to Simon Johnson of the Telegraph. In itself, I would suggest, this behaviour doesn't engage the 1983 Act at all. Its target was not Carmichael's SNP opponent in Orkney and Shetland, but Nicola Sturgeon. He may have hoped to destabilise the SNP campaign more generally, to his own benefit. Carmichael now accepts that the contents of the memo did not accurately reflect the First Minister's views -- but the paper itself was clearly authentic, if mistaken. Publishing it did not represent any "false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct."

But can the same be said of Carmichael's decision to take to the airwaves and to lie through his teeth about the scope of his own involvement in the document finding its way from the Scotland Office to the public domain? To lie, in short, about his own conduct and character as he sought to persuade his electors to return him to parliament?

When questioned by Channel 4 News, the Liberal Democrat MP claimed that he hadn't heard tell of the document till his phone rang after the Telegraph ran with the story.  He told the media that the responsible person was a civil servant -- a half truth which misrepresented his own agency. He said "these things happen". These are clearly lies by commission and omission. Lies he had the opportunity to correct at any time before the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood concluded that he was the man behind the curtain. And lies about his own conduct which the voters of Orkney and Shetland may well have found relevant in deciding whether or not to send him back to Westminster on their behalf.

These were, in the language of the 1983 Act, arguably false statements made "for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election." This looks dangerously close to an "illegal practice" under the 1983 Act which could justify voiding Carmichael's election.

For those hoping to pry him loose, timing is tight. The Representation of the People Act gives electors and disappointed candidates just 21 days to lodge an election petition at the Court of Session, questioning the result of a parliamentary election. Time is a'wasting. Moreover, any petitioners would have to be prepared to foot the bill and take the risk of substantial legal costs on themselves. Legal aid is not available. But if one of Carmichael's opponents, or some of his constituents, wanted to go to law -- it may be worth a punt.

21 May 2015

Two bereavements

Towards the end of the film Conspiracy (2001), Kenneth Branagh's character - Reinhard Heydrich - relates the following story.  Sceptical Doctor Kritzinger had been strong-armed into backing the Obergruppenführer's "final solution" at the Wannsee Conference, but he leaves the SS officer with this cautionary tale.

"He told me a story about a man he had known all his life, a boyhood friend. This man hated his father. Loved his mother fiercely. His mother was devoted to him, but his father used to beat him, demeaned him, disinherited him. Anyway, this friend grew to manhood and was still in his thirties when the mother died. The mother, who had nurtured and protected him, died. The man stood at her grave as they lowered the coffin and tried to cry, but no tears came. The man’s father lived to a very extended old age and withered away and died when the son was in his fifties. At the father’s funeral, much to the son’s surprise, he could not control his tears. Wailing, sobbing… he was apparently inconsolable. Utterly lost. That was the story Kritzinger told me."

The scene came back to me this morning, as I reflected on this remarkable half decade in Scottish politics.  Devolution has, somehow, killed Scottish Labour stone dead. The autopsies of the last two weeks have seen innumerable diagnoses of the party's predicaments exchanged by friends and foes of the People's Party. Amputation, anaesthetic stupefaction, and other kill-or-cure remedies are all being offered. 

The five stages of grief have all been in evidence, from outright denial and anger, to bargaining, depression and some signs of acceptance. In the immediate aftermath of the result, even the much diminished John Reid had a catch in the voice, and a wetness in the eye. Ian Davidson took immediately to the warpath. The affable Tom Harris was a picture of sod-it resignation. Margaret Curran and Jim Murphy shook with hysterical bonhomie. Ann McKechin slumped forlornly against the drapes. Ashen faced or bilious, despair was general, devastation and bewilderment. The old gods are finally dead -- and they have been a long time in the dying. 

To the unsympathetic observer, this looks like nemesis finally catching up with unpardonable hubris, But the stunned aftermath spoke of more than just sorrow for the collapse of a party, of grief for lost jobs, foiled ambitions, fallen comrades, and wasted hours of activism ending in disappointment -- May the 7th represented the final collapse of a long-eroded world-view. Of an identity, and a sure sense of political touch, lost. 

The Better Together campaign ran on the basis that Labour "understood" Scotland. That confidence has proven remarkably misplaced. It is no accident that many Labour sorts now seem thunderstruck, seeking easy explanations which insulate their party and movement and leadership from serious introspection or self-analysis. It is only human, after all. Not admirable, perhaps, but understandable. 

"Scotland has gone mad." "The electorate has become irrational." "The rise of nationalism." "It's just a battle of the flags with you lot." "People just wouldn't listen" -- all of these now familiar diagnoses mask a more basic cri de coeur. "I haven't the foggiest clue what is going on. The immortal magic has faded. How the hell could this happen? How could the Scotland of Daisley's grandfather desert us?"

So much, so familiar. But what folk perhaps haven't fully reckoned with is that the post-election dawn brought with it a second bereavement. It represented not only the death of Scottish Labour's conceit of itself -- of Labour Scotland -- but an end to the political world and assumptions which SNP activists have operated within and against for decades. 

My father was active in the SNP in Stirling during the doldrum days of the early 1980s, when the city was a carve up between Darth Michael Forsyth, his apprentices and Jack McConnell and the recently defenestrated Labour MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, Michael Connarty.  They were unhappy, hopeless times to be a Nat. The disaster of 1979 was still in the air. The local campaigns were generally unpleasant -- and above all unsuccessful. 

The idea that the party would or could go on to take the town in Holyrood and now Westminster would have seemed beyond fanciful. Thatcher sat in Downing Street. Scottish Labour were planted firmly in opposition. We were nowhere. No devolved parliament. No hope of devolution. No hope of casting off Tory rule. Nowt. It was pretty gruesome. It is all too easy to support the SNP these days. Back then, it meant lost jobs, seemingly rewardless struggle, looks askance, grief and failure.

It is no accident that even very senior Nationalists with access to good data couldn't bring themselves to believe that a 56 of 59 wipe out was possible. If Labour parliamentarians drank down this stuff, deluding themselves, Nationalist activists have long imbibed many of the same assumptions. The post-indyref newbies bring a different set of experiences with them, but the old hands will know what I mean. 

The heavy certainties and the anticipated disappointments: Nothing changes. Dyed in the wool. The siege wall around Fortress Glasgow and Lanarkshire is unbreachable. And now the old laws are dust. For Scottish Labour supporters and activists, the election result must have been devastating. But for the SNP too, it is also a bringer of change, of opportunities, but also a death of generational certainties and assumptions about how Scottish politics operates. It made John Reid croak. In me, it generates a sense both of opportunity and trepidation.

When the Tories finally ditched Ted Heath in 1975, Harold Wilson's first reaction was glee at having finally seen off his old opponent.  But his sense of triumph was blunted almost instantly by a rising sense of apprehension, as he confided in advisor Bernard Donoughue. I know this man. I've spent a decade watching him, opposing him, debating with him. I know his mind, how he thinks. I think I can anticipate how he will react. But what's coming next? What now? The defensive impulse is to cling on to the flotsam and jetsam --  to continue to read the riot act to the stricken Labour Party about its failures, its mediocrity and arrogance, and neglect. 

But eventually, even these old maps give out. The familiar boundaries and landmarks recede. And the canvas is blank. Strange times. 

17 May 2015

WANTED: Scottish Nationalism with a head as well as a heart

The 2014 referendum was a premature confrontation between Scottish Nationalism and its ambitions. In a long campaign, Yes Scotland managed to achieve something remarkable. The Yes campaign was defeated and defeated handily, but support for Scottish independence roared into the mainstream of political opinion. Even victors are by victories undone. Short term advantage is sometimes bought at the expense of a disaster tomorrow. The Better Together campaign is a case study in the perils of short term thinking. 

Last Friday, we observed the aftermath of a stricken Scottish Labour Party, sinking beneath the waves, demasted in the crosswinds of political opinion, hull bust, lifeboats swept away, leaving a sole survivor in Ian Murray. Now the ship's skipper has finally done the decent - and probably necessary - thing, leaving the battered boat directorless and directionless heading into the long campaign for Holyrood in 2016. For the partisan SNP supporter, a squirming feeling of schadenfreude may attach to Labour's immediate challenges, but we must continue to take a longer view as the People's Party are gripped by their own internecine conflicts and disputes. 

The brutal fact remains -- if we held another independence referendum today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year -- we would still be defeated.  Scotland is not awash with people feeling buyer's remorse. The poll wasn't fixed. The anxieties which delivered a No majority on the 19th of September have not been answered. The doubts of the folk outside the enclaves that supported independence by a majority - Clackmannanshire, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, the Highlands - have by no means been allayed.  

Any indisciplined rush into a second referendum can lead only to disaster.  Exuberance in the wake of an exciting General Election campaign, I can understand -- but it must be checked and scrutinised cold-bloodedly. I would suggest that that scrutiny urges only one conclusion: the fundamentals are still agin us. Vital, it may have been, stimulating and new. But we must be honest with yourselves: on too many issues, the intellectual case for Scottish independence was never won in the long referendum campaign of 2013 and 2014.

One of my long lasting anxieties about the 1998 devolution settlement has been the kind of politicians it would produce. As a party which has rooted and grown in Holyrood since the turn of the century, the SNP has historically been particularly exposed to the limits of devolved thinking. A national parliament with an important range of powers, but one shorn of responsibility for economic affairs, for monetary and international affairs, defence and welfare.  For the unionist majority in the Smith Commission, the problem with this set-up is the lack of "responsibility", connecting decisions on spending with decisions on taxation. But for an independence-supporter trying to take a longer view, the issues are different. 

Devolution risks producing politicians with attitudes towards a great swathe of state policy which is at best intellectually underdeveloped and at worst empty oppositionalism and sloganising. These "big things" become someone else's problem. This attitude may cut the mustard in the forgetful ordinary run of politics. In the compressed formats of telly and radio, your spokesmen will find things to say, outraged soundbites to coin, but a slogan is not a policy. 

Slogans may work day to day, but they are bound to be seriously shown up in something as fundamental as a long referendum campaign. By no means am I suggesting that the SNP is the vacuous party of empty protest its opponents sometimes suggest -- but these reserved areas have often been our weakest suit. There is no shame, and no downside, in being frank with ourselves about that.

Take one example. You can understand the thinking behind the White Paper's currency policy. Folk wanted to keep the pound. The focus groups urged it. So the Scottish Government decided to back it. But in practice, the policy amounted to giving your deadliest enemy a loaded revolver and saying, "please don't shoot me with this". The rest is history. Osborne pulled the trigger. Salmond foundered in the first debate with Darling. Credibility was never demonstrated or gained. We lost. I could go on.

The election of the 56 is no mandate for independence, or even another referendum, but it is a remarkable opportunity to begin working quietly on these tricky fundamentals and to resist the narrow field of policy vision which devolution sometimes encourages. The Short Money is flowing in, up from a modest £187,000 to £1,200,000 a year, excluding any additional party levies on the new MPs' salaries. That is a formidable war chest which the SNP must put to work in pursuit of its short and longer term aims.

The intellectual, technical case for Scottish independence must be strengthened in the longer run if it is ever to be won. The target is moving. The issues are not static. But if -- when -- a second referendum comes along, we now have no cause and no excuse to run a campaign which is vulnerable on critical questions of reserved policy. Tough choices will, inevitably, have to be made and policy battlefields selected. But for the first time in its history, the party now has a formidable Westminster machinery and staff, scrutinising the reserved issues, with resources to think fundamentally about its approach to central issues in the economy, and choices in monetary policy and regulation, defence, welfare, international affairs.  That's an opportunity which cannot be squandered.

10 May 2015

Scotland and Human Rights Act abolition...

With tidings this morning that David Cameron has charged Michael Gove with abolishing "Labour's Human Rights Act", there is a good deal of confusion and misinformation doing the rounds online about the Scottish angle.  

Isn't the Human Rights Act written into the Scotland Act? Can Holyrood resist Tory moves to repeal the law? What about the devolved parliaments in Wales and Northern Ireland? Will Europe wear it?

The answers to these questions is a wee bit complicated. Back at the end of 2014, I took a critical look at these concerns. Professor Aileen McHarg of the University of Strathclyde has also written this more comprehensive treatment.  The short version? The Human Rights Act is not written into the Scotland Act. This is misleading, and increasingly unhelpful, shorthand. Under the devolution legislation, Acts of the Scottish Parliament and decisions of Scottish ministers must comply with European Convention rights. 

If they do not, you can take your case to the Court of Session, inviting judges to strike the offending laws or decisions down. The powers of both the legislature and executive are checked. But the Human Rights Act goes further, requiring all public authorities in the United Kingdom - prisons, police officers, councils - to respect your rights to free expression, privacy, property, liberty, and so on. We have two distinct human rights regimes in this country, and if the HRA is repealed, it will require only Holyrood and the Scottish Ministers to take these fundamental rights into account.

But there is another important technicality here. Human rights aren't reserved matters under the Scotland Act. The Human Rights Act is a protected enactment under Schedule 4 of the devolution legislation -- meaning that Holyrood cannot repeal or amend it -- but human rights are devolved. Several stormy legal and political consequences flow from these facts, more fully explored in my 2014 blog.  

So, big questions for Mr Gove: will your government attempt to eliminate the ECHR rights enshrined in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Acts? What if Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast reject the idea? Will you crack on anyway? What if the majorities in the devolved legislatures do not approve of your British Bill of Rights? Will you respect and recognise their democratic mandates, or employ Westminster sovereignty to ram the replacement through? As human rights are not a reserved matter, will you seek the legislative consent of Holyrood to repeal devolved aspects of the Human Rights Act, and if this is not forthcoming, how will you respond?

Thus far, the Tories have had bugger all to say about the detailed devolved implications of their abolition plan -- but they are politically explosive. Thus far, by focussing on the court politics of tactics and slogans, the media have singularly failed to take Conservative ministers to task on their woolly human rights thinking. Like Cameron's pledge to "renegotiate" the European Union treaties without any real or realisable demands, abolition of the Human Rights Act is a slogan -- not a worked out policy.

9 May 2015

Jim Murphy: Labour's rubber chicken fix

Poor Jim. A victim of circumstances. Talented. Did his best. A plucky, energetic campaign. Formidable politician. Couldn't hold back the tide. A long crisis in Scottish Labour. Not his fault.

As the UK Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and even sorry old UKIP are sitting around telling sad stories of the death of kings, Jim Murphy hopes to hold on, unsalaried, seatless, representing nowhere, as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Murphy's friends and sympathisers in the party and in the media are busily attempting to erect a firewall around the unseated leader, insulating him from any responsibility for Thursday's calamity. 

Jim wasn't erratic, implausible, unfocussed -- he was vigorous, impressive, but stymied by Labour's structural deficiencies. Give him time, the logic runs, a second shot at it, and his undoubted talents will reshape the people's party into a fighting force once again. That's the story, anyway.

But wouldn't this all be rather more plausible if Mr Murphy -- and his crack squad of Better Together spinners -- hadn't run such a dreadful, purely tactical, unstrategic, incoherent gattling gun campaign? Jim Murphy may be forgiven for failing to work miracles -- but will his party colleagues really forgive him his many missteps and misjudgments in what was -- let's remember -- a thoroughly devolved Scottish Labour campaign. 
Let's consider the evidence against him. Late in April, he told the Sunday Times that his party had "fallen asleep" after the referendum. It is worth remembering that Murphy won the internal leadership contest in the middle of December last year. His appointment was met with a splendid and sympathetic press ("a formidable campaigner: he has turned his once Tory seat into a seat for life") 

But little in Murphy's subsequent choices suggested that he thought that Scottish Labour had anything more than a crisis of leadership. From the get go, the relentless focus of the Scottish Labour campaign was on his own character. He was the key spokesman for the party throughout the campaign, despite consistently ambivalent personal ratings. Like his chief of staff, complacent Murphy seemed think that all Scottish Labour needed was "a striker", and he was only too happy to pull on the boots.

Ponder this question. In the critical early days of his leadership, when the party needed to nourish its roots, jury rig its organisation, and forge ahead with a judicious focus on the critical issues -- what were Murphy's priorities? How did he forge on to reclaim the territory Labour had lost? Ah, yes. The football. Football kits. Football matches. Liquor at football. Running along the Clyde in a football shirt. To what end? Headline grabbing sideshows, the fundamentals, sidelined.

But if Murphy knew full well that the Labour Party were under the cosh in the wake of the referendum, and expecting a little local difficulties across the country, why the devil did he tell the media in December that his party wouldn't lose a single seat? If Jim fully apprehended the weakness of his organisation, why was he boasting to Buzzfeed as recently as January that his main opponents were flat footed, off pace easily outwitted? 

A measure of bullshit peddling is to be forgiven -- morale must be sustained, after all -- but these are unforced errors that reeked of hubris rather than the plucky confidence of the underdog. To risk a Bourbon strategy, evoking the very worst of a party who seems to have learned nothing and forgiven nothing since 2007, was bananas.

And then there was the referendum. Unseated Labour MP, Ian Davidson, put the central incoherence clearly on election night. Murphy chose to begin this campaign by emphasising a gentle, wooing appeal to those who voted Yes in September.  Having appointed a slate of SNP hating ultras to his private office, he disavowed a unionist approach, pledging to focus on issues of social justice and what a Labour government in London might achieve.

But cheek by jowl with polling day, democratic socialist, un-unionist Jim was launching scary poster campaigns, which were only likely to appeal to frit Tory unionists, who wanted to keep the Nats out.  This desperate last gambit only helped to entrench the referendum fight as a dividing line in this election, to Labour's obvious disadvantage. A Scottish Labour Party cannot survive on the votes of Alex Massie and Chris Deerin alone. This much should have been self evident. But Jim decided otherwise, in yet another change of tack.

He thought he had secured a wicked debating point over Nicola Sturgeon on the costs of fiscal autonomy. This is a complex issue. The merits and demerits and depth of the SNP thinking on this are for another day. But as a matter of political strategy? It looked good on paper. It appealed to the most embedded of Labour prejudices against the Nats -- "The SNP are committed to more austerity than Labour. Telt ye. Tartan Tories, etc" -- but it was wonky, technical, and relied on convincing folk that something which we know appeals to Scots at a low information level -- more powers -- would really have their shirt. Yet Murphy kept plugging away at this unpromising line for weeks. Another good call.

This was an erratic, negative campaign by trial and error, which obscured elements of Labour's more compelling policy platform by focussing on a succession of hopeless canards. You can see Jim, sitting down with Blair McDougall in front of a plain piece of paper, brainstorming, listing ideas, trying each strategy in turn, and scoring them off when they don't work, without any eye to their internal or systematic coherence or anxiety that the public may have been paying attention, and have noticed the contradictions.

Murphy is clearly a formidable political operator within the now stricken Scottish Labour party. But if the 2011 campaign is anything to go by, he is old guard, deeply implicated in the party's current malaise, and a rubber chicken when it comes to broader strategy. He reposed faith in the judgement of the wrong people and, left to his own devices, pursued the wrong priorities, pushing his comrades and allies to ruin. This is not the legacy of a man who just got unlucky, whatever Jim's remaining adherents might insist.

Like his political mentor Tony Blair, Jim Murphy was "the future once", in David Cameron's barbed phrase. And now, the lost leader, the man of straw, is trying to bounce his colleagues into permitting him to stay, saved only by the logic that there is no viable alternative in Ian Murray or in his Holyrood colleagues. They must be fuming.

Murphy may have had only five months to screw up the Scottish Labour Party, but he's made a grand fist of it. It always looked like a tough campaign, but I can't believe that the party's near wipe-out yesterday was inevitable. No busy SNP activist I met during the campaign ever thought it was inevitable. And make no mistake, accept no spin: Murphy's hands are dipped in the blood.

5 May 2015

Constructing legitimacy

The masked activists, the pickpockets, pocket-dwellers, pipers, puppet masters -- the explicit content of the Tory general election campaign has been rabidly anti-Nat, but it has been clear for some time that it's real target was always Ed Miliband and his Labour colleagues.  In a narrow sense, the ploy has been understood as a tactical opportunity for the Tories to slap UKIP back in an electoral vice, reclaiming votes in embattled marginals.

This Tory campaign has been widely derided. Those Antipodean (and North American) electoral whizzes are, unsurprisingly, not worth their hire. But in this respect at least, the Conservatives have shown cunning, initiative, and an awareness that you have got to get your retaliation in first in politics. The Independent's leader, endorsing the coalition, puts this now central point of the campaign discourse clearly. 

“For all his talk of no deals with the SNP, Miliband is bound to rely on that party to get his legislative programme through. This would be a disaster for the country, unleashing justified fury in England at the decisive influence of MPs who – unlike this title – do not wish the Union to exist. If that were to be the case while Labour were the second biggest party either in terms of vote share, or seats – or both – how could Labour govern with authority? They could not. Any partnership between Labour and the SNP will harm Britain’s fragile democracy. For all its faults, another Lib-Con Coalition would both prolong recovery and give our kingdom a better chance of continued existence.”
At the risk of labouring the bleeding obvious, political legitimacy doesn't just exist out there, in the ether. That's pure superstition. Legitimacy isn't like an Act of Parliament, an authority to be appealed to, chapter and verse, section and clause. That is pure superstition. It is worked at, argued for, sometimes hard won and sometimes given away for a farthing. And if this Tory campaign has achieved one thing, it has carpet bombed the legitimacy Labour's best and surest way back into power extremely effectively. It helps to have the reactionary press on your side, I grant you. You get a finer, clearer echo from the Mail, Sun, Express and Telegraph.

The Conservatives' future may still hang by a shoogly electoral peg, deprived of sure friends, unable to secure a necessary majority for themselves, but as Alex Massie observes with characteristic clear-sightedness, they've bound and gagged Ed between the Scylla of the SNP north of the border and the Charybdis of the increasingly crotchety plain people of England, who've heard quite enough about frigging Scotland, thank you kindly.

What is remarkable, however, is that the Labour Party has, at every turn, colluded in the undermining of its own position, conceding the Tory logic and competing with their own Nat blasting. A more long-sighted politician would have recognised that allowing your opponent to truss you up like a kipper may afford some temporary respite, a bubble of breathing space in a tough campaign, but is only deferring your troubles. A more courageous politician might try to lead and shape public opinion, rather than biddably taking their opponent's bait, line and sinker. The worm isn't worth the hook.

But like a flailing man at sea, pulled beneath the suds, Ed Miliband has scorned the lifebelt and is seeking to bargain with the very waves drowning him.

3 May 2015

Nicola's Assumption

Is the SNP campaign of 2015 the mirror image of the campaign Scottish Labour wanted - and thought it was running - in 2011? Unconvinced? Appalled at the apparent illogicality of the proposition? Understandable, on the evidence -- but please bear with me. 

Over the last few days, I have been struck by the unexpected similarities in the logic of the two campaigns. The one a calamity - the other a seeming success - but both effectively rely on mobilising similar feelings and logics in the electorate. Where Scottish Labour crashed and burned, the SNP look likely to net a healthy share of Westminster constituencies. Certainly more than the six we managed to secure in 2010. 

By 2011, Scottish Labour had admittedly shed two leaders and acquired a third. This was unedifying, messy, and characterised by its awkward marches and countermarches of policy. But the polls were initially friendly. In 2010, from Gordon Brown's bloodied and defensive crouch, the electorate had handed Labour a stonking victory. The Nationalists were confounded. Our ghastly "More Nats less Cuts" slogan had all the ferocity of a butterknife. The "local champions" riff -- a dud. The punters weren't listening, and backed Broon in the face of David Cameron, and his allies in the reactionary media. 

It was a cruel misdirection on our part, appealing to the lizard brained part of the People's Party, which told them that their current predicament in Holyrood was like an April shower -- soon melted, evanescent. The sturdy old oxen logic of tribalism, loyalty, and dogged adherence to the cause would soon revive. The people would repent of their error, and return. They would, as Margaret Curran said at the time, "come home to Labour", sheepishly, prodigal, but forgiven their trespasses. The old benedictions - interrupted but not forgotten. 

In my experience, the best way to lie to people is to tell them something which they desperately want to be true. And Scottish Labour seemed only too delighted not to collapse into any self-reflection, and to tell itself these gentle, convenient stories about the predicament which Jack McConnell had blundered into. 

After the narrow forty-seven to forty-six face off with the SNP in 2007, Iain Gray led his party into the Holyrood election on a platform of minimal difference. If the SNP wanted to freeze council tax? So do we (only slightly less so). The abolition of tuition fees? That too is here to stay. We're on students' side. Extra polis? A national boon. We won't reduce the numbers. But just think -- just think -- how much you would prefer to hear these policies from a Labour minister for finance, under a Labour first minister? 

Your deid grandpappy would be proud. His grave would have no occasion to birl. The natural order of things would be restored. Labour's policy distinctiveness in 2007 came down to an uncosted, illiberal, irresponsible plan to introduce mandatory prison sentences for everyone caught in possession of knives. But at its core -- it was an SNP manifesto, reframed in a Labour voice. This is not interesting in itself -- but it is telling about how Labour strategists thought about the electorate they thought they were appealing to. They recognised the allure of a number of "big ticket" items in the Scottish Government's first budget, but assumed that, given a contest, people would prefer hearing these policies from a Labour First Minister, cabinet, and Scottish executive. 

The assumption was that -- by borrowing the SNP's clothes, with an admixture of old Labour tribalism and loyalty -- the electors would come flocking back to the People's Party, remember the old hymns, and vote as Donald Dewar once intended. They judged folk wanted to back them. The unholy aberration of 2007 would be upended. The hated, temporary regime would be consigned to oblivion, and the old order would be restored. Difficult questions need not be asked. Fundamental change in the organisation was unnecessary. It was a quirk of the numbers and, as Euan McColm recalls in today's Scotland on Sunday, a few iffy, wet ballots from Arran. 

It's always tempting to compare Scottish Labour to the Bourbon monarchs of France, and their ideological hangers on and adherents. As the old snake Talleyrand once said, after their decapitation and dethronement, "they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing". There is something strangely of the west of Scotland, Labour municipal cooncillor or parliamentarian about the portly, self-assured and slightly glaikit figure of King Louis XVIII.

As is so often the case, it is our unquestioned assumptions which eventually get us crucified -- and the central assumption of  Gray's 2011 campaign proved faulty. There was the sandwich shop, of course, Gray's own limitations, and a shaky statistical basis for the knife policy -- but it was the assumed allegiance and the assumed preference for a Labour government in Holyrood which proved devastating. It turned out that the Scottish electorate of 2011 had learned to disregard their fealty to the ancien régime. They looked at Gray, and at Salmond and Sturgeon, and found they preferred the SNP incumbents they had only very modestly backed in 2007. Like his campaign, Gray's assumptions imploded.

Scottish Labour's 2007 manifesto was defined by their opponents. 2015's SNP manifesto could only have been published after Labour's 2015 proposals. It calculates, with caveats, that the SNP is now regarded as better placed, and better trusted, to realise and extend these aspirations than the UK Labour party. The 2015 SNP campaign effectively reverses and pursues Iain Gray's 2011 logic. 

Of course, the parallels are not exact. The context is different. One some very big ticket items - public spending, the constitution, and Trident - the SNP is seriously at odds with Labour. The referendum has also helped to create a different, broader constituency for Nicola's message and a constituency which is justly vexed with Labour, its performance in office before 2010, and its often cautious and uninspiring performance in opposition since. But at bottom, the First Minister is now exploiting a logic of minimal different with her main opponents in precisely the same way in which Iain Gray hoped, in 2011, to lead Scottish Labour back into Bute House.  

Only Thursday night and Friday morning will tell us whether Nicola's judgement -- that the Scottish people would now prefer to take this old social democratic medicine from her lips -- will be vindicated.  


That Scottish Labour slogan in short: "Vote for us to avoid an illegal referendum which nobody is proposing which we would shoot down immediately." #WinningHere.

Work for you?

On Andrew Neil's Sunday Politics sofa, senior Labour MP and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie, just told the BBC that his party would block any further independence referendum in the next parliament. Neil suggested to him that #indyrefs remain "reserved matters" under the Scotland Act. "Absolutely," Leslie responded, "there is not a way that we would want to see a repetitious repeating of something that has been decided for a generation." 

A couple of days ago, I asked Scottish Labour leader a fairly simple question: does he or does he not believe that Holyrood has the legal authority to hold another independence referendum? Answer came there none. But Leslie's comments this morning confirm what Mr Murphy would not: the UK Labour Party clearly still believe and maintain that the Scottish Parliament currently does not have the power to hold a second referendum, that Westminster consent is necessary, and that Westminster consent would not be forthcoming in the next five years. No minority Labour government, no majority Labour government, no Tory and no coalition government would currently be prepared to put its name to another section 30 order, along the lines of the text adopted after the Edinburgh Agreement, paving the way for a second poll.

But here's big Jim, still galloping around the country, giving it his "24 hours to save the Union" routine.  “You only have 24 hours to stop a second referendum. The clock is ticking,” a leaked leaflet yelped. "Only Labour can STOP ANOTHER REFERENDUM." Caps lock is,  clearly, cruise control for TERROR.

As his helpful colleague just made clear to Andrew Neil, however, Murphy's threats are all empty. And he knows they are empty. His colleagues south of the border know they are empty. The wisp, the spectre, he hopes to frighten the electorate with has no substance. None of this ought to be news. It echoes Miliband's earlier statements that he would not accept another referendum any time soon.  But if there is zero prospect of a second referendum in this Westminster parliament, how the devil can you make that the central plank of your campaign against the SNP in the last two weeks of the campaign? If you maintain that the Scotland Act - here since 1998 - blocks an independence poll, why on earth do we need Scottish Labour MPs to "stop" it?

Several consequences logically flow from Leslie's comments, none of which seem particularly helpful for the Labour Party.  If you dp want a second referendum at some point in the future, I doubt you'll much appreciate this high-handed talk of "blocking" and permission refused. But then again, January's big plan to "reach out to" those who disagreed with the Labour leadership on the referendum seems to have gone the way of all things already. Instead, democratic socialists are despatching epistles to Tories in their constituencies, while Jim "I have never been a unionist" Murphy hopes to survive in East Renfrewhshire by attracting unionist votes

Alternatively, if you are swithering about voting for the Nats because of concerns that a second referendum might result - despite Nicola's repeated denials - you can heed these comments and rest easy. Whether or not you vote for the Labour Party, the Tories, the Liberals or for the SNP, no second referendum will result in this parliament. An SNP vote is risk-free on that score. Even if you disbelieve the First Minister, and sense that plots for a second plebiscite are brewing - Leslie reassures you - the unionist majority in Westminster can and doubtless will ensure that the question cannot be put.  The Union doesn't need the People's Party to save it once again. Constitutional law as already done the trick. Spectre, exorcised. 

If you didn't know better, you'd think that the left hand of the Labour party doesn't know what the right hand us up to. (Or, as one reader just suggested, that left and right hands are busy, fighting each other...)

1 May 2015

Murphy's unanswered question...

"Mr Murphy, you have raised the prospect of a second independence referendum on several occasions now during this campaign. This week, you have launched a desperate end of days poster campaign, based on this claim. But can you tell us now, do you believe that Holyrood currently has the legislative competence - the legal right - to call a second independence referendum?" 

It is a question which none of the press pack seem to have put to the Scottish Labour leader, but as I blogged about here last week -- it is becoming a central question in the party's ailing general election campaign which Murphy will not and cannot afford to give an honest answer to. 

Why not? Because on Jim's own analysis of the Scotland Act, supported by his former Westminster colleagues, and his Better Together allies, even if the SNP sweep to power in the Scottish Parliament in 2016 or 2020 or 2024 with a political mandate for a further referendum, unless the Scotland Act is amended, Holyrood doesn't have the legal power to hold the poll. This analysis remains debatable as a matter of constitutional law -- but during 2011 and 2012, Murphy, David Cameron and his Liberal Democratic allies maintained a united front and spoke with one voice: no consent from Westminster, no referendum.  (The same analysis can be applied to the spectre of full fiscal autonomy, which could only happen, if a Westminster majority voted to endorse it. The SNP cannot - even if they wished to - realise and deliver this policy alone).

On Jim's own legal analysis, Westminster had - and still retains - a veto.  Which, to put it another way, is to say that Jim believes that an SNP majority, of whatever scale in Westminster or in Holyrood, cannot force another referendum through. Which, to put it another way, is to say that Jim is being economical with the actualité in his frantic and dishonest efforts to suggest that another referendum is pending - whatever Nicola or any other senior member of the SNP maintains about their political intentions. Which, to put it another way, is to say that the central plank of Scottish Labour's election campaign in its dying days is predicated on a falsehood, a fiction, a fib.

It might be nice if one of the tribunes of the press took him to task on it.