Some things are worth fighting for

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Nov 172015

La Marseillaise is, as Ian Smart points out more than the French national anthem: it’s a battle hymn for the values of the revolution. I have some views about what the response to the attacks in Paris should be, largely informed by my interventionist instincts and hardened by the hazy and contradictory reports from Hanover, but I’m not sure about them just now. I do think that that Russia’s growing involvement, the pace of the Vienna process and the escalation of ISIS actions in Sinai, Beirut and Paris have probably changed the context from 2 years ago.

Instead I want to talk about defending the revolution in less physical terms but from threats which are just serious. I say “the revolution” because the French revolution is still playing itself out in Europe and (without wishing to sound like Nicholas Parsons) around the world. If Zhou Enlai actually did say that it was too soon to tell what effect it would have he must surely have meant overall, because it’s defined European and world history in a way rivalled only by the concurrent industrial revolution1.

The motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” sums up the aims of the side of the Enlightenment. It has inspired revolutions and counter revolutions for two centuries and has found it’s ultimate expression in the European Union. Within the EU we see those values enacted at a scale which has never been known before. Five hundred million people free to travel and work and live and love without having to worry about which part of it they happened to be born in. Five hundred million people able to take part in the second biggest democratic elections ever. Five hundred million people who guarantee each others rights, hold their governments to a standard of democracy and build ever stronger links between each other.

There has never been a greater expression of the highest ideals of the Enlightenment and the Revolution than the European Union and it has never been under greater threat. The threats have never been greater either: terrorism and Russian expansionism, institutional paralysis in the face of refugee crisis, the Greek financial crisis, the wider Eurozone crisis and falling democratic standards in certain member states.

The EU, and Britain’s position within it, is worth fighting for. Not for narrow, transactional, contingent reasons, but because the EU represents the highest ideals in Western political philosophy: a world without borders, equality and justice for all. It represents the sort of future I want to live in, and it represents our last best chance of coordinating effective and equitable action with the USA, Russia, China and developing nations to tackle climate change. More than that, we need to be active, enthusiastic, thoughtful and full throated participants to make it work.

1. Hobsbawm argues that these are best understood as linked, sometimes complimentary sometimes conflicting twin revolutions in The Age Of Revolution is well worth reading if you like your Marxist history

 Posted by at 22:25

Going through the motions

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Oct 072015

It’s pretty exciting that Scottish Labour is now accepting conference motions that can go onto party policy for 2016, so I had a go.

I’ve never written a conference motion before, so if you have suggestions on how to improve the wording I’d be really grateful:

That conference notes with sadness the recent deaths from the “legal highs”, is concerned that people buy unregulated drugs which exposes them to unnecessary risks from both the consumption and purchase of drugs. Further, this market involves significant criminality, violence and exploitation of vulnerable people including significant levels of slavery in Scotland. Informed by evidence produced by David Nutt at the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the Independent Scientific Comittee on Drugs and the experience of Colorado, California, British Columbia, the Netherlands and others conference proposes decriminalising production of Cannabis for personal use or for sale to state owned retailers similar to the Swedish systembolaget off licence. Conference believes this would undermine criminal networks, reduce the harm caused to society by unregulated drug use, improve safety and provide government additional revenue which could be invested in policing, harm reduction, drug education and other programs.

Obviously the 1971 misuse of drugs act is a reserved issue so this would require a section 30 order for Holyrood to achieve but given the effect this might have on the rest of the UK that seems reasonable. It’s refusal, without very good reason, would not.

 Posted by at 19:31

Still Labour

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Sep 192015

I joined the Labour party in 2006, 12 years after I wrote a modern studies project on the abandonment of True Labour Values by Tony Blair. You do a lot of growing up between 14 and 25. But despite learning to drink sensibly (ish), going to and dropping out of university, getting married (and separated) and experiencing a Labour government for the first time in my life with all the great things it had done I was still conflicted about it.

It wasn’t the changes to Clause IV and it wasn’t just Iraq that made me hesitant or even the way that Blair slightly reminded me of Will Carling’s highly punchable face. Partly it was the deeply authoritarian attitude of the Labour government and it’s increasingly reactionary and unthoughtful attitude towards domestic and international terrorism. Partly, I think, it was a lingering frustration that the Green approach to politics and the SNP’s conception of Scottish independence were (and are) objectively unhelpful to achieving the kind of changes I want to see in the world.

In retrospect I guess it was Charles Kennedy’s ugly defenestration by the Liberal Democracts which pushed me into the Labour party.

So being in the Labour party is a big compromise for me. It’s the least worst of available options. I didn’t join it because I was enamoured with one person, one policy or one moment.  I joined despite the leader, despite a large part of the policy platform and absolutely despite the zeitgeist. Joining the Labour party in 2006 was not a fashionable thing to do amongst my social group. Hard to believe now but, back then, joining any political party wasn’t a fashionable thing to do1.

I did it anyway, and I had a terrible experience as a new member. I got some stuff in the post and, a few months later, went along to a meeting in a cold room on a dark wet night which was sparsely attended by people who conformed to (and confirmed my) the worst prejudices I held about the Glasgow Labour party.

But I stayed for the same reasons I joined: I think the Labour party is the best electoral vehicle for the changes I want to see in the world. I thought that when Tony Blair was leader, I thought that when he was succeeded by Gordon Brown and I definitely thought that when Ed Miliband was elected leader. I still think that now Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded him.

I’d still think that if Liz Kendall had won.

The leader of the party is important, they have a lot (too much?) power and set the tone. But they aren’t the party. The party is much broader than that. It’s people who have been in it for longer than I’ve been alive, people who joined because their parents and grandparents were and people who joined because they got drunk with the right people at freshers week three days ago.

The party consists of a broad range of trade unionists, communists (the CPGB being one of the other parties along with the Coop that you can be in and still be in the Labour party), Guardian readers, feminists and a panoply of other really interesting people. The thing that we all have in common is a belief that, as someone who I can’t quite remember put it, we achieve more together than we do alone.

We all believe that there is such a thing as society and that society can be shaped through the power of the state to make life better for everyone. We disagree on the details of this in lots of ways: on the balance between individual rights and collective responsibility; where to draw the line between liberty and security; how to deliver public services efficiently. Some of us disagree on whether Scotland should be an independent country.

That’s ok.

That’s a healthy part of being a political party. We can probably do better about working through those disagreements and making sure we get better policy at the end of it. It will definitely mean that sometimes the party gets it wrong. Correcting that means the party is occasionally inconsistent. That doesn’t mean we’re unprincipled.

I’m not in the Labour party because of 1 leader, and I’m not leaving it because of 1 leader. I haven’t agreed with everything the party does and I don’t expect to. Sometimes the party position will be wrong. Sometimes my position will be wrong. Sometimes both I and the party will be wrong about the same thing at the same time.

I support the party regardless not because I’m blinded by tribal loyalty into thinking that whatever the party position is must be ok but because I know the party is (at it’s best) an ongoing discussion between smart, committed, caring, informed people. People who I can learn from. People who can challenge my world view and my prejudices. People who I can disagree profoundly with on some topics while cheerfully bounding up flights of tenement stairs soaked in rain because we want a better world and think this is one way to get it.

[1] This has obviously changed a bit although I must admit I find being accused of unprincipled inconsistency by people who recently joined 1 party having voted for 2 or more others over last 5 years a little hard to take.

 Posted by at 09:00

Unwinding Quantitative Easing Through Nationalisation

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Aug 082015

Nationalisation of the railways and energy sectors are being discussed by both Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn, which is good: I think doing both would solve more issues than they would create and allow for both long term planning and more efficient operations. We would need to be careful to avoid the organisational issues Network Rail has but that shouldn’t be beyond us.

What surprised me at the energy sector nationalisation however was just how cheap it was. In financial terms because the gilt rate is so low it barely makes sense for the government not to invest in taking over the energy companies. EDF has a dividend yield of around 5% which is double the interest on newly issued debt. Net assets would remain the same as the new bonds are balanced by the company shares but we’d gain an income stream. This would essentially be the same model as leveraged private equity investments taking over e.g. Boots which were popular a few years ago without some of the short term issues about subsequently loading the company with debt.

That’s just accounting though, it was the relatively small £185bn price tag attached to the shares. This is coincdentally the same amount that was lent to banks in a few months by the Bank of England during the financial crisis and around half of the total stock of gilt bought by the Bank of England as part of quantitative easing.

Which brings me to the point: we could tell the Bank of England to sell it’s bonds and use the money to buy the energy companies and hold the shares without even changing the size of the government balance sheet and still have another £185bn to buy something else with.

Anybody want a new train set?

 Posted by at 12:21

Compromise without alternatives

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Jul 072015

Greece is not in a good place. Mistakes that have cost lives have been made by (in no particular order) Syriza, PASOK, New Democracy, the IMF, the ECB, the EC, the EU member states, the individual politicians involved and by people who have stood on the sidelines and not brokered a deal. The one thing there is plenty of to go around is blame.

None of which matters.

The previous packages of reforms from the IMF, EU and ECB that Greece signed up to were badly designed, doomed to failure and even the IMF now admits were counter productive. The anger felt by the Greeks at what basically amounted to medieval quackery is as understandable as the anger felt by Germans at paying for unsustainable pensions that can’t or won’t be reformed.

None of which matters.

The poisonous personal rhetoric between Yannis Varoufakis and Wolfgang Schäuble undermined what little effort was being put into building trust but was only part of a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship where successive Greek governments promise things they have neither intention or ability to deliver and the EU makes them promise more because it avoids properly confronting the reality of the false accounting which Greece used to get into the Eurozone and which the Eurozone tolerated because it was advantageous to do so.

None of which matters. Now.

What matters now is doing a sustainable deal. The only sustainable deal which has ever been on the table:

  • Debt relief in the form of a relatively long (5 years?) repayment pause with suspension of interest which includes privately held bonds (effectively a haircut)
  • Investment through the European Structural Fund
  • Bringing the Greek economy more fully into the tax system, potentially by retaining low ATM limits and forcing business into electronic transactions which are harder to keep off the books
  • Pension reforms

Without cover from debt relief & investment to implement reforms at a sensible pace the incentives on individuals and companies to maximise their income in an increasingly dysfunctional system by avoiding tax will prevail in a classic tragedy of the commons exacerbating the fundamental dysfunction of the Greek economy. Without effective economic reforms the Greek economy will remain stagnant, dependent on state mediation of a small proportion of the economy through regressive taxes from those who don’t have much to themselves while the better off bribe their way around individual failures and we end up back where we started. 

No, there isn’t a lot of good will going about. There’s less trust. The only thing that seems to be left is rather shabby attempts by everyone involved to not end up carrying the blame for the alternative which is both horrific and pointless: the Greek debt burden needs to come down, it needs investment from outside, it has to develop an effective tax collection system and the pension system has to change. If any of those aren’t done then we’ll end up back here in 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years.

There simply isn’t a choice. The deal I outlined can be done now, just as it could have been in June. Or January. Or last year. Or 2011. Or 2008. If it’s not done it’s the same deal that will need doing next year. The only difference is that until it’s done the more expensive it will be both for the creditor nations in terms of cash and for Greece in terms of lives lost, businesses destroyed and opportunities missed.

There is only one choice. Both sides need to do that deal and do it now. Both sides need to be the adults in the room.

 Posted by at 22:21

Blairs Legacy

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May 182015

This is a post about Tony Blair. There are many like it, including this one. This is another “what do we do about Blairs legacy to the Labour Party” navel gazing one.

It’s necessary because we’ve never really deal with what Blair did in government. But first, a little personal history to provide context.

I grew up in rural Midlothian in the 1980s. Looking back I became interested in politics because my school never had any after school activities (because of the EIS strike) and there were pitched battles in the nearest town (because of the miners strike). I saw first hand the effect the AIDS crisis had on people. Politics was real, visceral and vital. One parent teacher night at the school I forced the other bored kids to watch Geoffrey Howes resignation speech and Red Dwarf. My friend and I made cardboard tombstones for Thatcher when she left office.

In the 1990s I developed a thrawn teenage Marxist outlook that didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t adopt full communism now. I understood Karl and Ian Curtis in ways no teenager had ever stood them before. I was in techy drawing when Asif burst in with a portable radio bearing the news John Smith had died suddenly.

With all that, I was fairly strongly predisposed to hate Tony Blair. His transformation from Bambi to Bane Of Clause 4 And All True Socialists didn’t take me by surprise but did make my standard grade modern studies project both easier and more polemic. A few years later, as I was about to leave school, he was elected for the first time with a huge majority that won me a prize for guessing the closest to the overall total (I’d guessed 1 higher than the next person. I was a dick as a teenager).

A few weeks after that I went on my 2nd Pride march. Some men dressed as nuns did my make up in the LGBT centre on Broughton St. I got abused on the march. Some folk were spat at. I ran into a recently-former teacher at a stall in the meadows which was a bit awkward for both of us.

That’s all changed now and in a large part that’s due to the last Labour government. Legal steps like equalising the age of consent and bringing in civil partnerships were only part of that. Society shifted.

It still goes on, but it’s no longer socially acceptable to be homophobic, racist, sexist or ableist. People who hold and act on those attitudes still have too much power and still cause huge amounts of physical and psychological harm but they are the minority now. There’s a lot of work still to do, particularly for those of us with disabilities, but it’s a world away from April 1997.

That’s what the modern Labour party has never dealt with. 20 years on and we’ve acknowledged the folly of the Iraq war, apologised for the horrific mistakes and bad government that led there and tried to learn the lessons from that. The banking crash led to the (rather obvious) conclusion that we need to constrain financial capital, regulate other markets more rigorously and deal with the underlying issues the tax credit program addressed at a superficial level.

What we haven’t dealt with is the fact that the rest of society, and our political competitors, have caught up with us on this aspect of social liberalism. It is no longer a differentiating factor for a party to not be overtly racist, homophobic or sexist. Even the Conservatives and the SNP don’t tolerate it anymore, despite a sketchy recent past. It’s part of the price of entry to civilised politics, and for that I’m grateful.

 Posted by at 19:46


 General  Comments Off on Marginalia
May 162015

There are an awful lot of people who, in Scotland and the North East of England, have been only voting Labour for a long time without any great enthusiasm. There were a lot of them, so the seats themselves weren’t marginal in the conventional sense however the votes themselves should have been considered marginal ones.

It’s now clear that, having been considered safe in the mid 1990s as there was (famously) “nowhere else for them to go” they decided in large numbers to head for nationalism, albeit of different flavours.

The Labour party in both Scotland and the rest of the UK found itself caught between two competing nationalisms. In Scotland our strategy was to try and compete with the SNP’s “stronger for Scotland” by being more Scottish, more visibly and with more vigour. It was as convincing as it was successful.

In the North of England and the Midlands we didn’t do as badly as we did in Scotland but still lost large numbers of voters to UKIP as a result of taking the electorate for granted for many years. This was also true of the places that the No campaign lost in Scotland.

Winning again in those places is going to require a change of tactics. It’s no good having an efficient and effective Get Out The
Vote operation if The Vote isn’t there to be to Got Out. Grinding away a council election win with an extra 2% or 3% on a 30% turnout is great but doesn’t help generally in general elections.

In order to have enough doors on the WARP sheets1 to knock on on polling day we need to have convinced people to vote for us and we won’t do that by knocking on their door every day for the next 5 years and asking them how they’ll be voting. Most of them won’t have thought about it.

We need to listen to people, learn who they are and what they care about and then be able to talk with them about how Labour will work for them, what we’re doing and will do to make their lives and the lives of the people they care about better.

In short, when you’re knocking on a door, be a decent human being interested in the person answering. Don’t bark the 3 questions at them and bound down the staircase leaving a bewildered and potentially irritated voter in your wake.

That’s the easy bit out the way.

The hard part is going to be showing how the Labour party matters to them and is relevant to their lives in the time between now and the next election. It’s no longer a case of picking the right place on the Left-Right idealogical spectrum, if that ever was the case.

The fact we lost so badly to the SNP who had, after all, directly lifted all their policies from our manifesto and were running on essentially the same platform but with a constitutional tweak (FFA) that had been bombed with facts from being the central plank of their campaign in January to an easily denied footnote and allegations from senior SNP members that mentioning it was part of a “phoney war” is proof of that. Facts, evidence and policy coherence don’t matter in elections nearly as much as they should do.

We won’t change that, but what we can change is how willing people are to listen to us. One of the problems fighting the SNP, UKIP and (previously anyway) Respect has been the “you’re all the same, sod the lot of you” attitude that invalidates almost everything we say.

Fixing that is going to mean getting involved in local campaigns, building small victories and working with people who are either not involved in party politics or horror are in other parties.

Labour has always been on the side of the vast majority of people, even when the majority of people haven’t been on our side. The party has work to do to catch up to changes in society, particularly the changes in work patterns and trade union membership, so that we are both addressing and representing those interests accurately.

We also have to work on better ways of communicating that to people, knitting together individual policy proposals into a coherent whole that people understand and relate to. That has to start with addressing the reality that there are many people who vote Labour who do so without much great enthusiasm and who now have other choices. I don’t think it’s safe to assume that they all voted SNP or UKIP last week.

[1] Or “Fucking WARP sheets”, to give them their full treasury tag blighted full name

 Posted by at 16:49

Strategy vs Tactics

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May 102015

The 2015 election is a bruising, brutal result which those of us who share the Labour analysis of the world. That working together is the best way to rebalance power from those that have too much to those who have too little. We’ve lost to two nationalist parties who have little else in common, badly so in England and catastrophically in Scotland.

The latter I was prepared for. The polls had been clear for some months and we hadn’t managed to turn them around. While the sheer scale of movement in our canvas returns and high quantity of don’t knows in both the doorstep conversations and opinion polls gave some hope it was always likely to be a very bad night in Scotland.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the result in England. I believed in Ed Miliband, in his analysis of the problems facing the UK and in the solutions we were proposing. I was a bit worried we hadn’t knitted a strong set of individual policies into a coherent whole that could be explained easily. I don’t know if that’s what undermined us so badly, it’s too early to tell really.

What I think is clear now is that a reflexive reversion to the tactics of the late 1990s and early 2000s would be a mistake. Yes, we need to be the party of the many, not the few. We need to be the the party that enables people to achieve their aspirations. Above all we need to be the party that wins elections and does so convincingly. If I wanted to feel good about myself while achieving little other options are available.

That means recognising that things have changed immensely in the last 20 years. We’re living in a very different political and economic age than then and we need different answers. We can’t just aim to distribute the proceeds of an ever growing pie in a more equitable manner. The 21st century questions around the changing nature of work, family life, care and the impending environmental catastrophe are very different to what we faced in 1997.

The tactics need to change, but the strategy shouldn’t. We need to identify real solutions to the problems we face and communicate those in a way which convinces people. That’s the key part of the New Labour program that the SNP and UKIP have been doing better than us. It’s also the only part we should take wholesale. Everything else must change with the times.

 Posted by at 19:54


 General  Comments Off on #meh2av
Apr 252011

I’ve had it with the AV campaign. The claims of the no camp are, largely, spurious inventions – it won’t lead to more coalitions than First Past The Post, benefit the BNP, kill babies and soldiers or mean some people get more than one vote. The claims of the Yes camp are also, largely, spurious inventions – it won’t abolish safe seats (just move them around), MPs by and large aren’t lazy lackadaisical scum who need to be whipped like recalcitrant mules and it won’t mean a more collegiate, intellectual politics.

AV has some admitted advantages over First Past The Post – preference voting is simply a better way of expressing nuanced political choices. “I’d like this person, but if not then this person, that person and this other person and, quite frankly, the local independent crack pot to a Tory” is a good thing to have in a country where around a 3rd of voters don’t vote for one of the two main parties. It also has disadvantages – electoral landslides are likely to be bigger under AV than they would under FPTP for instance and 2nd parties are likely to be further under represented when overall opposition size remains the same.

First Past The Post isn’t great, but it suffices. AV is only marginally better than FPTP on most criteria. Yes or No, we will have largely the same results of largely the same campaigns. The one major change this referendum has had is to block any move towards PR for a decade or more.

If No wins, then there’s a tacit endorsement of FPTP. If Yes wins, we’ll have just changed the system. The Great British Public would, quite rightly, ask “but weren’t you saying just a few years ago AV was what we should move to?”. The constitution is not something to be trifled with lightly. We can’t put ourselves in a situation where we alter the voting system again after it’s only been used a handful of times.

The only hope for PR, therefore, is to call the legitimacy of the referendum itself into question. I had hoped that the threshold amendment would pass, and there’d be a majority for Yes but not enough of one to force a change. That way there’d be a case to be made that we  should have a more open referendum, one run on AV which offered a number of options – STV, AV+, List PR, AV and FPTP. Sadly, that was knocked down by the Tories with Lib Dem help, as was Caroline Lucas’ motion to just add STV as an option.

I can’t bring myself to vote No – on the question asked, I’m in favour of AV. But it’s not what I want. So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to spoil my ballot. I’m going to add an STV option and rank that 1. I’ll rank AV 2. If sufficient people do this to make the noticeable, and AV loses like it looks likely to, maybe we can call the legitimacy of the referendum into question.

There’s precedent for looking at spoilt ballots in detail, after the 2007 Scottish election the Gould inquiry did this. It’s a bit gesture politics, but AV is only a gesture towards meaningful reform and, even if the spoilt ballots would have swung it in favour of AV otherwise, its loss on that basis is not a great hardship. Reform for reforms sake is meaningless, it won’t provide momentum for PR and is perhaps likely to delay any move to PR.

Positively Labour

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Apr 172011

After last weeks self-indulgent Nat-bashing Tory scaremongering post, the Scotland on Sunday published a poll putting the SNP a few points ahead on both the constituency and regional votes and a likely SNP-Tory deal on the basis that people “voted for Alex Salmond for First Minister” (they won’t have, unless they’re MSPs). Jeff can hardly contain his glee over at Better Nation and Kenny Farquharson makes the point that the SNP are doing the “hopey changey thing” quite well.

Labours stubborn negativity about Thatcherite bogeyman doesn’t seem to be working, and is a bloody hard sell. It’s also not necessary. The Labour manifesto has plenty of positive things we should be out talking about. Things like:

  • Scottish Living Wage
  • Apprenticeships and work placements to fight youth unempoyment
  • Leaving Scottish Enterpise the hell alone and letting it get on with its job
  • Serious investment in the infrastructure necessary to support microgeneration of renewables and in charging points for electric vehicles which would help address one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions.
  • Co-ops, community enterprises and similar non-traditional business models could be a genuinely transformational change in the way we do business, how people relate to their work and how we manage and utilise our environmental and educational resources.
  • Speaking of which, we’re going to look at public ownership for Scotrail when it comes up for renewal. Without crippling Treasury “private sector” bonus multipliers that should be a non-brainer ranationalisation. Imagine that, a Labour government nationalising the railways.
  • Big focus on early years support for children which has been shown to be incredibly affective at improving outcomes for children from the less well off and on literacy, science, technology, engineering and maths. Precisely the sort of skills Scotland needs in the future so we can take advantage of the future.
  • The National Care Service is a distinctively Labour solution which, if we do it, could help deliver a properly integrated, holistic, patient centered health system. That would be good for the patients, good for their families, good their staff and probably a lot cheaper in the medium term too. There’s similarly good stuff on Mental and Public Health.
  • Equalty’s another strong area, we’ll look at genuine equality for same-sex marriage and on clearing people who were prosecuted for consensual sex under now-scrapped homophobic laws.

There’s some not-so-great things in the manifesto too (I’m.. unconvinced.. about the council tax freeze and minimum sentencing for carrying a knife) and our alcohol and drug policy remains somewhat unenlightened – we should be supporting minimum pricing and treating drug use primarily as a health problem, not a criminal one. But that’s the nature of political parties, there’s a certain amount of rubbing along that’s required. A certain amount of rubbing along is also required between parties. The SNP aren’t evil crypto-Tories (though they are quite likely to end up in power with them if they win) , the Greens are surprisingly clear headed on things like the Land Value Tax which I’d hope we’d adopt in coalition with them and the Scottish Lib Dem rump is unlikely to be irredeemable. The Tories are wrong headed on many things, but have at least grasped the idea of consensual politics pretty well.

So, there’s a positive case to be made for voting Labour. I think we have a qualitatively better set of ideas and policies than the opposition as a whole and I want to see Labour win, and win on our many merits. We can and should be energising our voters and getting them out to vote Labour because they want a Labour government.

 Posted by at 15:44

Tartan Tories?

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Apr 112011

There was a bit of a debate on twitter last night about whether the Tories were more likely to vote with the SNP. So I whipped up a python script to parse the data and do some quick and dirty analysis.

2011 is missing from this analysis as is kaput presumed in need of love.

Methodology: Count all the votes. If more than 10 government MSPs and 10 Tory MSPS and less than 5 of the main opposition MSPs voted the same way, count it as Tory collusion. This eliminates motherhood and rhubarb pie votes where everyone agrees and times when an MSPs finger pressed the wrong button or something.


1999 Tories voted with govt 23 times of 103 or 22%
2000 Tories voted with govt 88 times of 277 or 31%
2001 Tories voted with govt 74 times of 329 or 22%
2002 Tories voted with govt 117 times of 369 or 31%
2003 Tories voted with govt 67 times of 374 or 17%
2004 Tories voted with govt 115 times of 383 or 30%
2005 Tories voted with govt 68 times of 334 or 20%
2006 Tories voted with govt 110 times of 379 or 29%
2007 Tories voted with govt 77 times of 256 or 30%
2008 Tories voted with govt 84 times of 217 or 38%
2009 Tories voted with govt 77 times of 212 or 36%
2010 Tories voted with govt 28 times of 71 or 39%
As a quick and dirty metric, I think this shows that the Tories have found much more common ground with this SNP government than they did with either of the previous two Labour-LibDem governments.
ETA: this is just a bit of fun, the SNP these days are a centre-left social democratic party, though they have been dragged to the right a bit by the necessity of working with the Tories. Life in Scotland would be a lot better if my tribe and their tribe could put aside their differences after May and work constructively together against the vicious Tory-LibDem government in Westminster.

[1] You can find the source code and all the data for this at patches welcome

Why Glaswegian Labour voters should tactically 2nd vote Green in May

 Politics  Comments Off on Why Glaswegian Labour voters should tactically 2nd vote Green in May
Mar 172011

Labour generally does extremely well in Glasgow region constituencies – it took all of them in 1999 and 2003, and lost only one to the SNP in 2007 by a few hundred votes. It also does very well in the number of 2nd preferences, 23,000 ahead of the SNP in 2007 and polling nearly double the SNP in the first two elections.

Because of the way that the list seats are awarded in Scotland Labour is unlikely to get a list seat here. It would need to lose both Kelvin and Cathcart and gain another 10,000 or so list votes to qualify for a list seat.

However, Labours avowed Scottish rivals the SNP and our über-rivals the Tories pick up quite a few. The Liberal Democrats also tend to pick up 1 though given that somebody suggested they be hung an extremely unusual part of their anatomy at Mark Steel’s gig last night I suspect they may find that difficult.

If Labour is going to regain power at the election the best course is too elect as many Labour MSPs as possible. The flip side, of course, is to make sure that as few SNP MSPs get elected as possible – ideally by transferring their seats to a party we could conceivably form a coalition with. Working the SNP or the Tories is right out, and while I wouldn’t rule out working with the Lib Dems – it worked pretty well for the first two parliaments – I do think it would be quite difficult to do so this time round. The Socialists and Solidarity are still dealing with the fall out from their split and are unlikely to get any MSPs. The Greens are also likely to pull a Labour government in a more radical, progressive left direction – something I think a lot of Labour voters would like to see.

Patrick Harvie has done some good work in Holyrood, particularly on transport and climate change but also recently on the wider Tory-LibDem-SNP lead cuts agenda with constructive, costed counter proposals. If a reasonable fraction of Labour voters used their list votes this way then the Greens could conceivably take a seat off the SNP, something which if it had happened in 2007 would have left both parties level and possibly keeping the SNP in opposition. So there’s both high politics and low politics reasons for suggesting this, although I will admit to a certain amount of self-interest in this.

On a related note, the Greens are currently going to be excluded from the TV debates – something which esteemed Nat blogger Lallands Peat Worrier wrote about recently – and there’s a petition to right this injustice.

Addendum, 2011-04-27: The poll situation has changed somewhat, as has the d’hondt calculation as described in this Better Nation post. Tactically voting Green to deprive the SNP of a seat doesn’t make sense anymore.

Improving Our Democracy? (or why I’m #no2av despite hating FPTP)

 General, Politics  Comments Off on Improving Our Democracy? (or why I’m #no2av despite hating FPTP)
Feb 162011

The last parliament ended in scandal, dishonor and disillusionment. The Liberal Democrats, long time champions of electoral reform, achieved a degree of power after the election and their leader got the Electoral Reform brief.

The proposals, however, will make Parliament weaker and likely to be less representative than the existing system. They’ll increase the power of the executive and make it even easier for vanguard cliques (eg. New Labour, the Notting Hill set, the Orange Bookers) to use patronage to force through agendas unpopular with the wider party, let alone the country.

There’s two parts to the bill, the first is the reduction in the number of MPs, but not a reduction in the number of ministers, parliamentary private secretaries etc. which who are obliged to vote with the leadership or face losing their paid government jobs (the “payroll vote”). That’s a pretty clear strengthening of the power of government. Backbenchers get less power, the government gets more.

The second part is the Alternative Vote. While I’m convinced First Past The Post (the current system for elections to Westminster) is unrepresentative, unfair and unfit for the 20th century – let alone the 21st – the Alternative Vote will increase 3rd party representation beyond it’s current low levels at the expense of the already-under-represented second party.

First Past The Post can lead to the “wrong” result such as the 1951 UK general election where the Conservatives won a majority with fewer votes than the Labour party, I’ve yet to come across a more egregious election result than the 1948 Alberta General Election where one party one 51 of 57 seats on 55% of first preferences, up from the 51 of 57 on 50.46% of first preferences. The 2004 Queensland state elections provide a more recent, if slightly less extreme, example where the Australian Labor Party took 63 of 89 seats on 47% of first preferences.

This is because “AV will tend to exaggerate landslides even more than FPTP because a strong tide towards a party reflected in first preferences will tend (at least according to a reasonable hypothesis) to also affect second preferences – basically, a party that is popular will tend to move up in voters’ esteem across the board”, according to a report produced for the Electoral Reform Society.

That was also the conclusion reached by the Jenkins report in 1998, and by Professor John Curtice when he modelled past Britsh election results with 2nd preference distribution based on actual polling data.

It’s pretty easy to see why that might be the case, given a three party system with A polling 42% nationally, B polling 35% and C 23% for first prefrences on the following distribution which roughly matches what happens in the UK:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 50 30 20
2 50 30 20
3 40 35 25
4 40 35 25
5 40 36 24
6 36 34 30
7 36 34 30
8 36 40 24
9 25 45 30
10 25 35 40
First Prefs 37.8 35.4 26.8
Seats 7 2 1

Under AV, assuming that each party split its second preferences 50/50 then the following would happen:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 60 40 Eliminated
2 60 40 Eliminated
3 55 45 Eliminated
4 55 45 Eliminated
5 52 48 Eliminated
6 51 49 Eliminated
7 51 49 Eliminated
8 48 52 Eliminated
9 Eliminated 57.5 42.5
10 Eliminated 47.5 52.5
Seats 7 2 1

AV wouldn’t result in a net change.

If, however, the voters from Party C showed a slight preference in line with the rest of the country and split 60/40 for party A then the result would be as follows:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 62 38 Eliminated
2 62 38 Eliminated
3 58 42 Eliminated
4 58 42 Eliminated
5 54.4 45.6 Eliminated
6 54 46 Eliminated
7 54 46 Eliminated
8 50.4 49.6 Eliminated
9 Eliminated 55 45
10 Eliminated 45 55
Seats 8 1 1

With an increased landslide for Party A.

If Party C split contrary to the “national mood” 60/40 in favour of Party B then it would result in a hung parliament:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 58 42 Eliminated
2 58 42 Eliminated
3 52 48 Eliminated
4 52 48 Eliminated
5 49.6 50.4 Eliminated
6 48 52 Eliminated
7 48 52 Eliminated
8 45.6 54.4 Eliminated
9 Eliminated 45 55
10 Eliminated 35 65
Seats 4 4 2

Which more accurately reflects the first preference results for A and B but is probably unlikely – what polling has been done on 2nd preferences for centrist 3rd parties seems to indicate they go with the “national mood”.

Supporters of the Alternative Vote will argue that this is ok because “each MP would have the support of half their constituents”. This is true, however it means that a party which could get roughly close to 50% of first preferences evenly spread across all constituencies and then pick up a minimal number of transfers could achieve massive majorities. I don’t think that’s fair, fairer than our current system or even acceptable. I’m more inclined to think that it’s potentially disastrous.

The “A wizard did it” approach to policy making.

 Politics  Comments Off on The “A wizard did it” approach to policy making.
Jan 212011

Currently I’m listening to Andrew Lansley talking about the ill conceived top reorganisation the Tory government promised it wouldn’t do (but will anyway, despite it not being in their manifesto and them not winning a majority). His answer to just about any question, as Ben Goldacre points out , is “GPs know their patients”. Which may or may not be true, depending on the GP and the patients in question, but is a bit like saying it’ll all be fine because you have bought a lottery ticket and you’ve got a good feeling.

George Osborne (and Danny Alexander, when he’s allowed to answer questions and not just take punches) answer just about any question about Tory government economic policy is “there will be record private sector job creation”. This is more like saying it’ll all be fine because you’ve got a good feeling you’ll find a winning lottery ticket in the street.

There’s quite a lot that could be done in terms of NHS reform, and making health care more holistic (NPRs Fresh Air was talking about a different approach in New Jersey this week) but assuming that a wizard will come along and wave their wand it’ll all be fine is not sensible. Unless your goal is to allow private companies an opportunity to profit. Not that I’m saying that it is. Obviously. Because then rocks would fall and everybody would die.

The state of our education system

 General, Politics  Comments Off on The state of our education system
Dec 112010

I am becoming increasingly concerned at the level of teaching at our great universities. Charlie Gilmour is studying history at Cambridge but “did not realise it was the Cenotaph”. I could understand the young whipper snapper not knowing about Michael Foot but, well, I’ve been there. It’s pretty bloody obvious. It’s a big granite thing with the words “the glorious dead” on it. Still, he’s only in 2nd year, maybe they’ll teach that bit later on.

More worryingly, our Chancellor also studied history (at Oxford). There they seem to have failed to teach the history of the Great Depression in the UK entirely. Which is odd, for a course in Modern History. I mean, I know he only got a 2:1 but still. You’d have thought some of it would have stuck.

No wonder the Tory – Lib Dem government feel the need to ensure the future of our education system by properly funding it. Oh, wait, the fees are just replacing the complete withdrawl of all funding for wishy-washy hand wringing useless courses like Modern History. Or Economics. Or Social Work. I guess they’re betting on nobody being able to remember who ruined the country because nobody’s teaching it and we’re too busy making sure our disabled friends can get out the house now and then to watch BBC4 (assuming it’s still going).

On this evidence, they’re probably right.

Conduit to LJ

 Hacking  Comments Off on Conduit to LJ
May 302007

Since I’ve no longer been working at Novell I’ve been occasionally hacking on Conduit which is pretty damn sweet to work on. I’ve mostly been working on exporting to from F-spot. Patch against SVN available here. It uses tags for the gallery names.

Could use a litte work to avoid uploading the same image each sync, but it works. :)

 Posted by at 02:13

Turkmenistan gets gift of brutal dictators death in office

 Politics  Comments Off on Turkmenistan gets gift of brutal dictators death in office
Dec 212006

Saparmurat Niyazov dies in office. This is worth celebrating, hopefully it will give the people of Turkmenistan a chance to move towards a form of goverment not involving insane personality cults, giant gold statues and talking books. Probably the best Holiday present they could get.

 Posted by at 13:46

 Permalink  Cooking  Comments Off on
Dec 162006

For the first time in ages I’m cooking kievs, and the question I have is: how the hell do you stop the garlic butter leaking from the bloody thing and not ending up in a burnt clump on the baking tray? Has anybody mastered this? Is it just my poor culinary skills coming to the fore?

 Posted by at 20:31


 General  Comments Off on Picktchors!
Dec 122006

I finally got around to installing Gallery on this machine, which is viewable with the link at the top of the page thanks to the rather wonderful wpg2 plugin. Together with f-spot I’m finally caught up with this whole ‘sharing’ pictures thing, and it’s all clicky and nice too. I’ve uploaded pictures from my trips to Amsterdam and Wales from the spring. I’ll add ones from January’s Boston fun and Aprils trip to London tommorrow. I’ve also got a few from the start of the Great Ximian Exodus 2006 and Whitby 13.5 to upload, as soon as I find the bloody cable for the camera. Doh!

Oh, and cause Siani keeps accusing my blog of being geeky, here’s a link to wpg2 packaged for Ubuntu.

 Posted by at 07:12

#324234325 ways to waste time.

 General  Comments Off on #324234325 ways to waste time.
Dec 082006

1. Upgrade your Linode to the latest Ubuntu release. The hard way. Involving dist-upgrade and chroot.
2. Retrieve your wordpress password, install a new theme and generally mess about it with it. The new akismet plugin is pretty damn sweet.

In other news, my OpenSUSE brethren have release a rather fine 10.2 which, by all accounts, rocks the free world. Or sommit.

Now it is time for gin!

 Posted by at 04:14