Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Tuesday 5 May 2015

The Independent, the Union and utter nonsense

I made the mistake of reading the UK newspaper The Independent’s leader endorsing the current coalition last night. It included this:

“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.”

I’ve read a lot of nonsense during this election, but I do not think I have seen anything quite so idiotic as this.

It seems likely that around half of Scottish voters will vote SNP in this election. They might be voting SNP because they want independence, but they may also be voting SNP because they like their policies for how the UK should be governed. Perhaps voters think the SNP will better stand up for Scottish interests. But whatever their reason, they are being told that if they vote this way, they will be effectively disenfranchised. The Independent agrees with both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that SNP MPs must at all costs have no influence, however slight, on the government of the United Kingdom.

I fully understand why the Conservatives are taking this view. They hope that by playing the English nationalist card, which they have done since the morning after the independence vote, they can attract more votes in England. Nick Clegg has gone along with the idea because he wants excuses to avoid a coalition with Labour. Of course the right wing press have been shouting about the ‘threat’ posed by the SNP, not because it makes any sense, but because their role is to maximise the Conservative vote. But I did not think that anyone who was supposed to be independent took any of this nonsense seriously. Apparently I was wrong.

The Independent believes that because the SNP want independence, they must have no influence on the government of the UK. What terrible things would any SNP influence lead to? How exactly could 50 odd SNP MPs force the 600 remainder to do unspeakable things to this country? The Independent does not say, but it does say that there would be justified fury in England at the prospect. Why justified fury? Again no hint. It is just asserted that any partnership between Labour and the SNP will harm Britain’s fragile democracy.

Now it seems to me blindingly obvious that one way to harm a democracy is to tell a group of people that their votes can only count as long as they do not vote for a particular party. It does not matter how many people in Scotland vote for the SNP, it seems we have to ensure that the SNP plays no role in the government of the UK. Which means your vote cannot count. The logic of this argument is that the SNP, because it advocates independence, should not be allowed to put up MPs for election. That would be ridiculous and profoundly undemocratic. So instead we will allow the Scottish people to vote for the SNP, but then ensure their elected MPs can have no influence. That seems even more undemocratic!

Now if I was a SNP voter, I would be furious at being disenfranchised in this way. I would think to myself, am I only allowed to take part in UK elections as long as the people who I vote for play no part in government? What kind of United Kingdom is that? If I was one of the 55% who voted against independence, I might wonder if I had made the wrong decision. Even if I did not vote for the SNP, I would be very concerned that my choices were being limited in this way.

And then there is the idea that the Union is somehow safer in the coalition’s hands. What the Union needed from its Prime Minister the morning after the vote was a statesman like speech about the healing of divisions and the importance of working together. What we got from Cameron was an attempt to placate some of those in his own party by talking about English votes for English laws. Whatever the merits of the argument, it was the wrong time and place if you were serious about preserving the Union. Cameron has continued to play the English nationalist card in this election: not because he wants to end the Union, but because he wants more votes. He has no concern about how this goes down north of the border, because his party have so few votes there. But if the Union ends, it will be through Scottish votes and not voters in England.

So how exactly does electing a government whose main party has no interest in Scotland, and which therefore is happy to stoke up English resentment against Scotland, supposed to be better for the continuing existence of the United Kingdom? How is denying certain Scottish MPs any role in UK government suppose to encourage Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom? Now maybe the leader writers at the Independent were looking around for arguments to support the coalition, and given how difficult that is, this was the best they could do. Perhaps their heart was not in it. But to argue that to encourage Scotland to remain part of the Union we should disenfranchise a good proportion of Scottish voters, and that this will be good for democracy, is truly Orwellian.


  1. gastro george5 May 2015 at 08:52

    One of the best analyses I've seen of this issue.

    1. gastro george5 May 2015 at 08:54

      And, as an extension, an observation that nobody has ever accused the Lib Dems of holding the country to ransom while in coalition - except perhaps some recalcitrant Tories.

  2. I have to disagree to an extent. Certainly not because I support the coalition - I am a Labour voter - but because I can't really see how we can expect the SNP to act in good faith in Westminster. As a Question Time Panelist a while back put it: "Putting the SNP in charge over the UK makes no more sense than putting UKIP in charge in the EU".

    I think Labour have handled this well, in that they have recognised that the SNP, in ruling out working with the Conservatives, have a very weak hand when it comes to negotiations, and called their bluff. SNP MPs can't credibly demand anything for their support, unless they were to use their Big Red Button of voting down a Labour Queen's speech, which would be a very risky move.

    1. No one has explained how exactly the SNP can 'act in bad faith' at Westminster. They have a set of policies like everyone else. How exactly can 600 MPs be tricked into doing something that will damage the Union. Its not like putting UKIP in charge of the EU at all! No one is putting the SNP in charge of anything. Of course if Miliband is PM he will talk to the SNP just like he will talk to everyone else.

    2. Maybe 'in charge' is a bit strong, but they'll certainly be in a position of influence if the polls are right. I just think that, given the choice between honestly participating in government for the good of the whole country (the UK, that is) and the chance to sow resentment and instability, they'll go for the latter; especially led by Salmond (as they will be in the commons if he is elected). Consider that it is not in the long-term interests of their cause to show that working with Labour can work, or that Westminster can be made to work for Scottish interests.

      We've had this situation before with Charles Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party.

    3. If the SNP take all or close to all the Scottish seats at 50% of the vote then that leaves half the electorate without representation of their Scottish interest, whatever that may be. Down in London, there will be large groups unrepresented because Labour might clean up there. In swathes of the country there are large groups who have long had little or no representation because of the first past the post electoral system. This system has always had a disaster in waiting and now it may have arrived.

    4. Stadius: "given the choice between honestly participating in government for the good of the whole country (the UK, that is) and the chance to sow resentment and instability, they'll go for the latter;"

      The error in this logic is the assumption that this is a zero sum game. The assumption that what is good for Scotland must be bad for the rest of the UK. The assumption that what is good for the SNP must be bad for all the other parties.

      The SNP could lead a change in economic policy which is good for the whole of the UK. Everybody would gain, except the current plutocrats. This would of course make the SNP, and their preference for independence, become more popular. But the obvious response is for the Westminster parties to remember that they are supposed to represent the people also and to "out-progressive" the SNP.

    5. Excellent riposte Aaron!

    6. Demetrius: I agree about the need for electoral reform.

      Aaron McDaid: Of course it's not a zero-sum game, but for the SNP, there are three relevant considerations in every decision:

      (1) The interests of the cause of Scottish independence.
      (2) The interests of the Scottish people
      (3) The interests of the rest of the UK

      Clearly, 1 and 2 do not always coincide. As I mentioned, it is not in 1 to make Westminster work too well and thus undermine 2. 1 and 3 also clash for obvious reasons, both because rest-of-UK opinion and sentiment is against independence, and because the resentment caused by harming 3 can cause resentment south of the border, which furthers 1. Therefore we should by no means assume that the SNP will act in either 3 (especially when 2 and 3 diverge), or even 2 in some cases.

    7. *Should read "it is not in 1 to make Westminster work too well, even if this is in 2"

    8. Twaddle, Stadius, Let us take reality instead of propaganda influenced perception. The Establishment at Westminster is nominally, "The Parliament of the United KINGDOM", and the title, "United KINGDOM", correctly describes itself as, "A KINGDOM". A, Kingdom is defined as a Royal Realm. It is not a country. That United Kingdom is a bipartite agreement and not a quadratic union of countries. Thus Westminster has become a fraudulent concept designed to delude the natives.

      Devolution created a quadratic government of countries, (which may have been acceptable), except for the reality that by devolving powers unequally to only three of the countries, retaining the title as the UK Parliament, and having no parliament of England, the nominal UK parliament has become the ,unelected as such, de facto parliament of England with 533, not elected as such, English parliament Members who are also UK MPs. They now campaign to prevent other country's MPs, properly elected as UK members, from voting upon what they designate England only matters.

      What we have now is what Mundell quoted from a UK funded study paper as, "The Treaty of Union extinguished the Kingdom of Scotland and renamed the Kingdom of England as The United Kingdom".

      There, Stadius, is the reality.

    9. SWL, "acting in bad faith" would be to pretend that "the vow" promised something other than "extensive new powers", nothing else. They've dishonestly suggested that since the referendum by using quotes from Gordon Brown, a backbench MP, about "near-federalism", "home rule" (which means devolution, as in Irish devolution), and "devo max". Scottish Labour have not defended themselves over this. No nat has read the vow. Look on social media. Thus the SNP can force a showdown over the Smith Commission legislation and falsely claim to be getting a "promise" kept.

      Labour's manifesto, which again no nat has read and nor has any English journalist, is to the left of the SNP's. Where they differ, the SNP have left out a ban on employment tribunal fees, media ownership controls (because they are friends of Murdoch and the Scottish Sun so he can get a majority stake in Sky), 2 new High Street banks for increased competition, and they only want 100 000 houses a year to Labour's 200 000.

      Nats think they are going to "kick these Red Tories into touch" but they are inferior in policy terms to a stable, more left-wing Labour majority government.

  3. "Now it seems to me blindingly obvious that one way to harm a democracy is to tell a group of people that their votes can only count as long as they do not vote for a particular party."

    That is to completely mischaracterise the argument. Nobody is saying that SNP MPs are illegitimate or do not get a vote. Nobody is being 'disenfranchised', that is ridiculous. What they are saying is that they do not want a situation where the government is dependent upon the votes of the SNP.

    If (hypothetically) a region of the country returned a group of far right fascist MPs, would it be ok to criticise another party for doing deals with them? Would it be ok to regret a situation where such fascists held the balance of power? Would such arguments amount to a claim that these people did not constitute MPs with votes like any other?

    Would other parties who refused to deal with these (hypothetical) fascists be disenfranchising the voters for the fascists? Would such other parties be doing a good, or a bad thing?

    Is it ok for SNP MPs to cast the decisive votes in legislative matters impacting the rest of the UK only, when the issue in question is devolved to Holyrood? Perfectly valid legally, but is there nothing objectionable about that? Is there no problem with the asymmetry of SNP MPs having the decisive say in rest of the UK legislation on matters which the rest of UK MPs have no say in Scotland in relation to?

    The asymmetry involved in devolution has been less acute than it is about to be because
    (a) The SNP historically abstained in Westminster in relation to matters that are devolved to Scotland. Salmond announced that this was to change last year.
    (b) Scottish Labour MPs voted in the UK national interest. The SNP's constitution (clause 1) is that it acts in Scotland's interest. Is it ok for rest of UK law, that impacts Scotland only in the same indirect way that it impacts the Republic of Ireland, to be passed using SNP votes?

    The judgment of Martin Wolf is far sounder.

    The key question is whether the SNP will in reality have any such power? In particular, will they have the power to stop a Budget getting through if they object to part of it. I have tried to answer that, but I'd be lying if I said it is an easy question.

    It is deeply to be regretted if MPs split into regional blocks, with each block voting in the interests of its region rather than in the interests of the nation as a whole. It is perfectly valid to argue that other parties should not deal with parties elected solely to represent sectional interests, and that any potential government dependent upon them is much to be regretted.

    These are not, of course, the only reasons in play, but they are perfectly valid and good reasons.

    1. I think you are mischaracterising the argument. The Independent is not saying the SNP should have no influence because their policies are bad. They are saying they should have no influence on anything because they support independence. Your analogy with fascist MPs is therefore completely false.

    2. The point about the fascists was to show how utterly ridiculous claims that those who take the view that other parties should not enter into agreements with SNP MPs are somehow 'disenfranchising' SNP voters. It was a response to your argument.

      Why having a government dependent upon the votes of separatist MPs is regrettable, especially in relation to matters that are devolved, is a separate matter. That was the Independent's argument. Making it doesn't involve disenfranchising anyone.

      It isn't, I repeat, the only reason in play.

      Don't vote SNP, I think we can agree.

    3. The Independent's only argument is that - because the SNP supports independence - it should have no influence. Suppose, say, that Scottish voters elected SNP MPs because they wanted less austerity. Suppose the SNP could influence the Labour party to propose a budget with slightly less austerity - not what the SNP wanted, but just a tilt in that direction. What is wrong with that - it is democracy. But the Independent is saying that is wrong - because the SNP supports independence. That is disenfranchising those Scottish voters who voted for the SNP for that reason.

    4. The position you are adopting is,in my view, obviously wrong.

      To be 'disenfranchised' is to be stripped of the power to vote. You vote for MPs. Nobody at all is saying SNP MPs cannot sit in the Commons and vote as they like. Nobody at all is being disenfranchised, and it is dangerous Separatist fueling rubbish to suggest otherwise.

      If you deeply object to a particular party, and don't want there to be a government dependent upon it, that is a perfectly good reason for not wanting that government. Now there may, of course, be other countervailing reasons (eg less austerity) but so what? Voting always involves weighing up a number of competing reasons and forming a judgment.

      The point is that it is perfectly legitimate to say "I don't really want a government that is dependent upon the votes of [fascists]. I'll vote to stop that, and criticise those parties who deal with [fascists]". Saying that is not objecting to democracy, and it is certainly not to disenfranchise fascist voters

    5. Nobody is saying that SNP MPs cannot vote - just that they cannot have any influence on decisions! People are not stupid.

      The Independent is saying that we cannot have a government dependent on the SNP, because the SNP wants independence. But the House does not vote on independence. If it said that we cannot have a government dependent on the SNP because it has the wrong policies on things the House does vote for, that would be fine. But that is not what The Independent says.

      If you were a Scottish voter, who did not want independence but was voting for the SNP because you liked their policies, how would you feel about the MP you had voted for being shut out of having any influence? (but they can still vote!) And how would that make you feel about the Union? Yet The Independent is saying it is taking this stance to protect the Union!

    6. 1. The word 'disenfranchised' has a meaning.

      The voters of Bradford West elected George Galloway to represent them. No other party will deal with him because of what he and his party, Respect, represent. Does that mean they are 'disenfranchised'?

      If you elect an MP does that entitle you to
      (a) a share in the government,
      (b) that other parties agree to deal with your MP (however much they disapprove of him and his policies)
      (c) neither?

      If your use of 'disenfranchised' were just a sloppy rhetotrical flourish it could just be ignored. Unfortunately it plays into the unjustified Nationalist sense of grievance.

      2. "The Independent is saying that we cannot have a government dependent on the SNP"

      That is wrong. The Indepedent is saying we could have that, and that it would be better if we didn't. It is (rightly) saying that is a good reason to cast a vote.

      For me this reason is outweighed by other countervailing reasons, but they are right to posit it as a reason for voting one way.

      3. No doubt the Respect party has a policy on austerity as ferociously opposed as even you could wish for, Does that mean we should just welcome Repect, however abhorrent it is in other areas?

      4. If I were that Scottish voter, and rational, I'd feel much like the Bradford West voter who voted for Galloway. I'd realise that I was voting for an MP, and that entitled him to an equal vote with all the other MPs. He and I are entitled to nothing more. If I find that a large number of other MPs refuse to deal with my MP, and criticise those who do, I'd hope I'd have enough sense to realise why that was.

    7. You keep avoiding the point. Why, because an MP advocates independence, should they be shut out of government while Scotland is not independent?

    8. Once we have accepted that there is no objection to not wanting a government dependent upon a particular objectionable party, urging people to vote in such a way as to prevent that result, and criticising those who deal with that party, and that it is ridiculous to describe the voters for such a party as being 'disenfranchised' , the issue becomes what is objectionable with the SNP as a party in particular?

      Clearly the SNP are not fascists, nor do they have some of the unpleasant characteristics of Respect. So why would anyone object to a government dependent upon their votes?

      Well, I refer you back to my original post.

      The SNP are separatists. Their constitution requires them to act not in the best interests of the United Kingdom, but of Scotland. This, alone, would be enough not to wish for a government of the United Kingdom dependent upon their votes.

      What makes it worse is that we have had a lopsided devolution. If a government is dependent upon SNP votes for getting through measures in the rest of the United Kingdom which, in Scotland, are devolved that is not ok. As all parties have promised Devo-More following the referendum that is now going to mean most domestic issues.

      A separatist party, acting explicitly in the interests of one geographical region, being relied upon to get through measures that only apply in the other geographical regions.

      That is not ok.

      If I didn't know better, I might suspect that your monomania about fiscal policy at the zero level bound was blinding you to the problem with such a situation.

      And why it is perfectly rational for a newspaper to urge its readers to vote in such a way as to avoid it.

    9. gastro george5 May 2015 at 14:27

      "Their constitution requires them to act not in the best interests of the United Kingdom, but of Scotland."

      This is "constitutionalist" nonsense. The Tory party is called, if you didn't know, the Conservative and Unionist Party. I can't be arsed to read its constitution, but I would be surprised if there were not words that commanded it to act in the best interest of the union. Do you really think that affects the day-to-day policies of the Tory party? It's certainly not noticeable.

      "What makes it worse is that we have had a lopsided devolution."

      This is an argument for a new constitutional convention, not an argument against the legitimacy of the SNP in a UK parliament. We have the laws that we have.

    10. Yes, it is nonsense. Political parties have always pushed the interests of some groups and not others. This is not a valid reason for singling out the SNP for special treatment. If the SNP positioned themselves to the right of Labour, and the Conservatives needed their votes, you would not be hearing any of this rubbish.

      But north of the border, it sounds rather more serious than political opportunism. As you said yourself: it plays into the unjustified Nationalist sense of grievance. Which is why the line that this strategy would help the Union survive is such tosh.

    11. If UKIP were heading for 50 MPs and the Conservatives needed their votes, you might hear exactly the same argument from a pro-EU newspaper.

    12. "not an argument against the legitimacy of the SNP in a UK parliament"

      For the avoidance of doubt, again, the argument is NOT that the SNP is somehow illegitimate.

      It is NOT an argument that a government that is formed reliant on the votes of the SNP is illegitimate.

      You are setting up strawmen arguments, attributing them to the Independent (and me) and then saying how unreasonable that position is.

      It IS an argument that says that it is rational to think that a government dependent upon SNP support would not be a good thing, and provides a reason to vote to avoid that outcome.

      No doubt a million and one countervailing reasons can be given, from nursery school places, through Brexit, to worries that not letting the SNP have their own way would annoy the Scots even more can be given.

      None of that is relevant either to the initial claim that the Scots are being disenfranchised, nor does it show that the Independent's concern has no weight.

      The SNP are different from other parties. We may reasonably disagree whether Labour, Tories, and Lib Dems are proposing policies that will in fact favour one group over another, but they do at least purport to act in the interests of all and not in the interests of 8% of us.

      Nor is it ok to say that the unfortunate result created by our lopsided devolution of the SNP having decisive control over matters in the rest of the United Kingdom can be sorted out by a constitutional convention. We know that Devo More will happen, and we also know that the prospect for any constitutional convention resolving the problem is precisely zero.

    13. gastro george5 May 2015 at 16:15

      "The SNP are different from other parties."

      I instinctively distrust exceptionalism, as it leads into dangerous waters, but do I think you might be able to argue that the BNP or EDL are different. On the other hand, in reality, nationalism is little different from sectionalism.

      "... they do at least purport to act in the interests of all and not in the interests of 8% of us."

      "Purport" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. It would be quite easy to argue that the Tories actually act in the interest of "The 1%".

    14. SpinningHugo, I usually agree with your comments on this blog. However, as a Scot who lives in England and supports the union, I don’t agree with this one. Four points.

      First, it is offensive to compare the SNP with far right fascists or other extremists. The SNP is fighting this election on anti-austerity policies. Its economic policies seem more in line with SWL’s mainstream Keynesian views than those of any other party. Indeed, the SNP’s likely success is the main counter-argument to SWL’s view of mediamacro. The most popular party leader in this election is the one who is arguing most persuasively against austerity.

      Second, you seem to suggest that we should not let a minority dictate policy to the rest of us. However, most UK elections are won by a party with a minority of the vote. It is likely that the ‘winning’ party in this election will have little more than a third of the vote. If you include non-voters then only about 25% of the population will have voted for the ‘winners’. Why should the rest of us be held to ransom by this minority? Why is a geographically constituted minority less valid than a minority based on a specific class view or policy view? Do you think that it is wrong for the UK government to stand up for the UK’s rights in international bodies because it represents a geographical minority within those bodies? The SNP supports proportional representation despite the fact that it will get more seats this year via the first past the post system. That seems like a very healthy influence to me.

      Third, you appear to blame the SNP for the constitutional arrangements that allow Scottish MPs to vote on English matters. However, it was a Labour government which designed these arrangements. It is also the Labour party which drags its heels in resolving the ‘English votes for English laws’ issue. It is transparently obvious that they do this for purely party political reasons. Cameron was crass in his statement the morning after the referendum but that is par for the course. However, the Labour party is no better. I doubt that there are many (any?) people in the SNP who would object to comparable devolution of powers to English regions, and the SNP appears to support devolution to Wales more than the Welsh people do.

      Fourth, like others in this debate you frame your argument in terms of the SNP. However, it is the Scottish people who will rightly have a bigger influence through voting SNP. A minority Labour government would quickly realise (if Labour has not already realised) that its ability to form a majority UK government in future will be severely limited if a) Scotland leaves the union or b) Labour cannot win back Scottish voters from the SNP. Hence, irrespective of the SNP influence, a minority Labour government would almost certainly be keen to offer a good deal to Scotland. If it didn’t then Labour would be wiped out completely in future elections in Scotland, starting with the 2016 elections for the Scottish parliament.

    15. 1) Of course the SNP are not fascists (or anything like it). I was trying to illustrate how it is not a problem to object to having a group of MPs on whose votes a government is dependent (see also Galloway). It was the claim of disenfranchisement I was attacking.

      2) I think I have addressed that above.

      3) Not at all. The SNP position is that independence would be better. Lopsided devolution is not their fault at all.

      On devolution you need to differentiate devolution of administration and devolution of law-making. It is the latter which matters. We aren't going to have devolution of law-making to the English regions.

      4) A perfectly valid reason for a Scottish voter to act upon. There are many reasons that have to be balanced.

    16. Do you think that it is wrong for the UK government to stand up for the UK’s rights in international bodies because it represents a geographical minority within those bodies?

      Imagine how the Germans would feel if the UK acquired a veto over Eurozone policy.

    17. It would be absurd to shut out the SNP - it is just cheap politics. The Telegraph argues that success for the SNP might be good for the Union. I don't think anyone knows at this point.

      It might be true if the Tories repudiated these tactics, but if the SNP has success as expected, those tactics will create divisions that need not exist

      Cameron sees no downside in attacking the Scots because he has no prospects there and thinks it will scare up Tory votes elsewhere. I say Scots, not SNP, because his comments will likely be perceived that way and because it questions in advance the legitimacy of the voting in Scotland.

      That won't be helped by those who "explain" in such detail how a Scottish vote results should be repudiated.

      Political opportunism sometimes has serious consequences.

    18. This is absolutely hilarious!
      SpinningHugo5 May 2015 at 04:48

      1. The word 'disenfranchised' has a meaning.

      Aye! spinningHugho, and so have such terms as, "United", Kingdom", "Country", Treaty, Sovereignty and Establishment.
      Pity you either have no concept of their meaning or are attempting to fool others.

      The United Kingdom is a royal realm and the Westminster Establishment is, "The Parliament of that United Kingdom", but the Royal Realm is a bipartite agreement as the former Kingdom of England had annexed the realm of the Prince of Wales in 1284 and king of Ireland in 1542. So the Westminster Establishment is legally a bipartite Union. There is no democracy in that parliament since, from 1 May 1707, the concept that each, roughly equal, constituency representative was equal. They not only ignored the concept of a United Kingdom by the larger number of members voting as English members but then forming political parties.

      Westminster's parliament is no more democratic than the local primary school playground where the bullies insure the principle of, "Might is right", and if you don't believe it, "I'll kick yer head in".

      533 English MPs elected as UK members, and 117 other UK members that the 533 want to prevent voting in the UK Parliament on English only matters, decided as which by the 533 English MP and the UK parliament being the de facto parliament of England.

      Yet the English are now squealing like stuck pigs with their snouts being surgically removed from the Englander feeding trough.

      Until the Parliament of England is removed from that of the United Kingdom and all four countries having equal per capita funding there is no actual United Kingdom, (except as a royal realm), it is not a country, it is not now a UK parliament and it is certainly not a democracy.

      I fear that if it does not soon become a real federal democracy there will be insurrection with bloodshed and violence the likes of which always results when the rich more than double their wealth while telling the poor they must suffer austerity.

    19. "As you said yourself: it plays into the unjustified Nationalist sense of grievance. |

      There is totally justified grievance. But here Scotland shares something with the regions. The Union, particularly since the deindustrialisation of Britain, has worked for the benefit of London where power and money is concentrated. Geographical inequality is another form of social inequality. This is another example why you need to study other schools of thought and social sciences. The tendencies towards inequality in capitalism and concentrations of power are not well handled in neo-classical theory and the ideology was never properly set up to foresee it.

  4. You could argue that the best way to drive the Scots away from the UK is to isolate their MPs, take away their power, and ignore them. The best way to save the union is to bind them into a coalition where they can feel part of the whole UK.

    1. The best way of preserving the union, and maybe the only way in the long term, would be a federation with parliaments in each of the English regions. A federation with England having ten times that population, and a even higher proportion of the GDP, than the other three nations put together is never going to be stable.

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  6. Remember that Mr Lebedev, owner of the Independent, is a Russian oligarch. Firstly, Russians have a horror of separatism. Secondly, the Russian kleptocracy has big money in the City, and strong links to the Tory Party. Simples?

    1. That was what I was alluding to when I talked about the leader writers hearts not being in it at the end of my post. But unfortunately, this argument for not voting Labour has gained a much wider currency. Indeed, it may be used - if the votes go that way - of denying the legitimacy of a minority Labour government.

    2. I personally feel that a Labour-SNP pact could actually save the Union - if it's savable - by putting some backbone into a progressive minority Labour government, and diminishing the power of the rump of Blairites. I'm not optimistic, but the Pasokification of the Labour Party in Scotland might be the best hope for an impetus to renew the party nationally.

  7. What is it about the top-rate-tax-rising, non-dom-abolishing, mansion-taxing Labour Party that the Independent doesn’t like? Yet another newspaper writing at the behest of its owner/s. Even with the rise of social media. that continues to pose a real threat to an educated democracy

  8. I see the Independent has published the letter that you, David Blanchflower, Mark Blyth and others wrote yesterday, but it is not available via their website as far as I can see. Would you consider publishing the letter on your blog so it could be shared online? Claire Jackson-Prior @lizzieebeth on Twitter (I can't seem to sign in on this thing. Sorry)

  9. I see the Independent has published the letter that you, David Blanchflower, Mark Blyth and others wrote yesterday, but it is not available via their website as far as I can see. Would you consider publishing the letter on your blog so it could be shared online? (I've managed to sign in now.)

    1. You can read it here:

  10. I did, but when I tried to share it, it ended up just going to the pressreader Independent front page. I'll try again. Thanks.

    1. I did a screenshot which works on Facebook.

  11. I do wish people would step back and look at these things from a wider perspective. It seems few people have cottoned on to Cameron's trick here. SW-L has mentioned before how macromedia follows a half-truth and then bases all discussion on the basis of that being wholly true. Again in this case, people are taking for granted the half truth and then seriously discussing the consequences!

    Take a look back at the facts from 5 years ago. The LibDems gained roughly the same number of seats the SNP are expected to have. Have the LibDems controlled Government? No. At best they prevented the worst excesses. Cameron made sure to concentrate his first few weeks in power utterly destroying their credibility. If you doubt this, just remember their most highly publicised policy commitment, Tuition Fees. The LibDems didn't get a sniff of this, yet it was probably the one thing that they most needed politically to have obtained.

    Switch to the idea the Labour Party would be controlled by the SNP, remember the LibDem Tuition Fee debacle, and then see the huge lie of SNP influence that people are actually debating seriously, as if it could actually happen! Even intelligent people can be fooled.

    Whatever education produces today, one thing it is not doing is creating minds that first of all analyse given assumptions for validity; instead we have a bunch of argumentative debaters who jump straight over the assumptions into the argument and so are easily led towards whatever conclusion the author of the half truth wants them to believe.

    Because they 'got there themselves' using their own logic, the conclusion is something they 'know' and they don't have to research it any further. Psychologically they believe they have already gone through that process.

    Hypnosis places ideas in peoples' minds by distracting the conscious mind while sending the real message via the subconscious, which filters nothing. It all goes in. Even if people ignore the news pages in their haste to read celebrity nonsense or the sport pages, they take in and believe the headlines, and that is where the power of mediamacro comes from. The ideas of course are fed to mediamacro from the politicians the same way. It's just that the Tories seem far better at this than either Clegg or Milliband.

  12. Between 1993 and 2011, most Québec seats in the Canadian Parliament were held by the Bloc Québécois. From 93 to 97 , they even were the official opposition. They often called the best behaving party in the House and their leader, especially Gilles Duceppe, usually chosenbest parliamentarian by Hill newspaper. Eveything went well. Why would it be different with the SNP?

    1. Totally agree, Jacques. See my comment below.

  13. If those of a Unionist persuasion were smart, they would point at an SNP Bloc, and say, "Look, the Union works". Instead, we get hysteria, which viewed from North of Hadrian's Wall, (which for the benefit of Mr Farage, is in England), is simply turning the reluctant Nos into Hell Yessers.

    The SNP surge, is as much about a hollowed out Scottish Labour party collapsing in on itself, as it is about a an energised SNP capitalising on a good ( if losing) referendum campaign.

    How much longer the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland will continue to exist, depends very much on how those who claim to be Unionists choose to behave in the next few months.

  14. People who are opposing a Labour-SNP Coalition partnership because it would revive the issue of Scottish independence and put the Union under fresh strain, could learn a lesson from Canada. The Bloc Québécois is a federal political party in Canada devoted to the protection of Quebec’s interests in the House of Commons of Canada, and the promotion of Quebec sovereignty.

    In the 1993 federal election, the Bloc Québécois won 54 seats (out of 75) in Quebec, sweeping nearly all of the francophone ridings.

    The Bloc won four seats in the 2011 federal election, fewer than the 12 required for official party status in the House of Commons, and by August 2014 had been reduced to two seats due to resignations and expulsions. It remains a registered political party, but is currently tied with the two-seat Green Party and the Forces et Démocratie as the smallest party in the House of Commons of Canada.

    My point is that the election of the Bloc Québécois in Canada did not result in the breakup of my country, and Quebec ultimately gained more powers within confederation. The fear-mongering surrounding a possible Labour-SNP Coalition partnership may not be justified.

    Moreover, the British media has it wrong. There is a greater threat of 'Devo Max' failing and of Scotland separating from the Union if the Cameron Tories are elected. Westminster will most certainly rebuff Nicola Sturgeon because plunging oil prices harms the case for Scottish home rule, and because she wants a massive increase in spending to end austerity.

    Full disclosure: Since January 2012, I have been reporting voluntarily to the UN’s human rights office, in Geneva, on the welfare crisis for Britain’s sick and disabled. [Fellow Canadian Leilani Farha (@leilanifarha) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing; see You can tweet her on UK housing issues or e-mail her at the UN’s human rights office:; she does follow my Twitter account.]

    I'm a lifelong resident of Quebec and have voted in two sovereignty referendums.

    1. The oil has NEVER been central to Scottish Independence. That is a figment of your foul press' imagination. Without oil Scottish GDP is within half a percentage point of the rUK. But regardless have you seen the latest surge in prices? You are supposed to reason your way to a conclusion. Not come to a conclusion then fit the story to it. Or at least that is the logical way to do it!

    2. Oil certainly influences what an independent Scottish government could afford. This is just maths, not media invention. There has recently been a minor recovery in prices after a major fall - just look at the data!

    3. Sam Miller, Sturgeon has succeeded in convincing people she wants a "massive increase in spending" but her manifesto says she wants an increase of 0.5%! That's what, 0.2% of GDP or so? Not massive by the standards of economic stimuli.

    4. Simon, on what indy Scotland can afford check out Frances Coppola's article "Smith, Barnett and the Wily Salmond" and Kevin Hague's chokka blog. Oil is central, not a 'bonus', and even when oil tax revenues are included iScotland would consistently have a budget deficit higher than rUK's, even in 11 of the last 15 years. Without the oil, the hole would be bigger still. Solution? Slash spending permanently? Raise taxes 14-odd percent? Just borrow more? (If keeping sterling, what if iScotland cannot earn enough sterling to cover its borrowing?)

  15. You are right, thanks for the common sense. The Independent's argument is utter nonsense. And an affront to democracy. But we have seen a lot of this since the Scottish referendum. A lot of scaremongering about people who do not like it when people stand up to the elite establishment. Jobs, high rates of immigration undermining local communities and making it unaffordable to live where jobs are, waits at doctor's surgeries, these are issues that concern people, but the elite come up with classic neo-classical arguments that somehow the magic market will sort it out and the government and their advisers with their models know better than they do what is good for them. Apparently if the Scots don't know their place and bow to Westminster and the City they are doomed.

    I hope the Scots go for SNP, this is healthy democracy.

  16. I'd like Nicola Sturgeon to be PM of the Union. The only one talking sense about the economy.

  17. I think the SNP should be a good lesson for macro-economists with an interest in policy about how they do their business. It is a big contrast to the New Labour/Porter et al way of doing things. The SNP is much closer to the grassroots. They listen to what people want and then make the policy position. They do not have an idea based on theory about what is best, implement it in a top-down fashion and after the fact tell people why it is good for them. You might not think that the Conservatives position is theoretically sound, but it fits in very well with much pre-Keynesian classical theory and post 1970s macro theory. Macro should be about implementing an elected government's economic agenda. It should not be about implementing a social optimal position as dictated by (dubious) micro theory that includes artificially imposed constraints and emphasises incentives. It is up to governments and the plebiscite to decide what is socially optimal.

    1. Or you could say the lesson from the SNP is to make up numbers to advance your cause:

      The SNP pushing an anti-austerity line is welcome, but I'm not sure you can draw the conclusions you do from it.


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