Saturday, 28 June 2014

Yes Voters Waiting to Happen?

I was part of a small but perfectly formed group out canvassing this morning for 'Yes' votes. I've been 'off duty' for a couple of weeks due to a wedding over in Islay and a flooded house which greeted us on our return. It was good to be back to normality for a Saturday morning.

We had the usual mix of 'yes', 'no', 'don't know', 'I don't vote' and even someone who claimed not to know there was a referendum in September, which is kind of scary. However, towards the end I had a house where the following exchange took place:

Householder 1: Hello?

RT: Hello. Sorry to bother you, but I'm out this morning on behalf of 'Yes Scotland' regarding the referendum in September. I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of very quick questions?
HH1: Ok then.

RT: Great. Firstly, I've got a scale here running from one to ten, where one is completely against an independent Scotland and ten is completely in favour. Right now, where would you say tha...

HH1: I'm voting no.

RT: That's fine, thanks. Would you mind if I asked you why you're voting no? You don't have to tell me - I'm just being nosey.

HH1: It's because I don't want independence.

RT: Sure. But there must be a reason you don't want it?

HH1: I don't think we should be independent.

RT: OK, but there must be a reason why you think that?

HH1: I don't think we're ready for it.

At this, I knew I was in with a shout. This was no longer a 'No' voter, but someone who probably wanted to vote 'Yes'. Was I right? Time to find out...

RT: That's really interesting, because what you seem to be saying - if I've got you right - is that you actually do want independence and that if someone could persuade you that Scotland was ready to be independent, you'd probably vote 'Yes'. Would that be fair?

HH1: I suppose it would be, yes.

Before I had time to think 'Jackpot!', a different voice then came from a room just off the hallway, which offered a series of observations about lack of certainty and unanswered questions, and expressed the view that until someone could offer him absolute certainty about absolutely everything, he'd be voting 'No' too. Protestations that this was an impossible standard to set for anything in life, that there was already plenty information out there for those prepared to look for it and that I'd be willing to answer any questions which he had there and then fell on deaf ears, so I returned my attentions to HH1.

RT: Look, there's genuine uncertainty in life, and then there's the manufactured uncertainty that the UK government is throwing up in the referendum debate. I don't mean to sound glib, but I can't guarantee that I won't get squashed by a 38 tonne lorry on my way home once I've done here. That doesn't mean I'm not going to start my journey home, though.

HH1: That's a fair point when you put it like that.

Before saying goodbye and letting them get on with their morning, I left a contact card and invited them again to put any questions to me which they liked. I don't know if they will, but at least they can't now say they didn't have the opportunity.

It kind of begs the question: how many more 'No' voters out there are actually 'Yes' voters waiting to happen and without the white noise of the Better Together campaign, probably already would be? More importantly, it just shows the importance of getting people to talk about their reasons for voting as they do. Sometimes, the results are quite surprising...

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Smoking the ‘kippers

The most colourful take I’ve seen so far on the Euro Election results has come - oddly enough - from a blogger of a Lib Dem persuasion. Reflecting on UKIP’s Euro Election gains, she offered the view that the “people who think that all politicians are corrupt, lazy, lying b******s have voted for the most corrupt, lazy, lying b******s of them all because at least they are honest about being corrupt, lazy, lying b******s."

Maybe she has a point, but my sympathy for the Lib Dems - scant at the best of times - is this time absent entirely. Nick Clegg alone is the architect of his current misfortunes, but his decision to challenge Nigel Farage to televised public debates simply piled misery upon misery for his party.

 Arguably, Clegg needed the debates more than did Farage, but in taking part he also needed to win or otherwise secure some advantage in the country at large. He didn’t, and in the process only helped to further burnish his opponent’s entirely undeserved reputation as some kind of anti-establishment rebel.

The lurid details of the antics and outrages of certain fruitcake UKIP figures revealed ahead of polling day failed completely to dent the party’s advance. If anything, the bad publicity just seemed to attract even more voters to the noisy Faragist insurgency, which had ranged itself against the bogeys of ‘mass’ immigration, wind turbines, ‘meddling Brussels bureaucrats’ and, of course, ‘political correctness gone mad’.

In his victory speech, the UKIP leader launched a sustained criticism of his party’s treatment by the media and the level of scrutiny to which it had been subjected. In that, he may or may not have had a point. Nevertheless, the hostility exhibited towards his party by the print media has to be seen against a backdrop of general press support for his party’s views on immigration and ‘Europe’.

While Farage likes nothing more than to launch into attacks on the ‘London media elite’, he has little reason to do so. It is this general support and its insidious drip effect over time which, more than anything, has created the conditions which allow his ramshackle party to advance.

It’s a challenge which neither David Cameron nor Ed Milliband look equal to meeting. Both are anxious not to antagonise a voter base already agitated by years of misleading propaganda about the EU and the impact of immigration. Can you seriously imagine either man, as Alex Salmond did during the BBC results programme, calling out Farage over his rancid comments about Romanians, instead of simply triangulating to it?

To their shame, instead of making the case for an open, tolerant society and EU membership, elements within the Conservative Party instead talk of possible Westminster ‘pacts’, while Labour sit on their hands in the hope that a UKIP surge will make it easier for Ed Milliband to enter Downing St. Neither is any longer in control of the debate, making it all the more likely that the UK could head out the EU exit door by default.

In Scotland, the SNP securing two rather than the hoped-for three seats has been manna for the unionist ‘fans with typewriters’ in the press. Never mind that the SNP won the Scottish contest with a vote share which exceeded that of UKIP UK-wide, or that Farage’s party trailed in fourth place and only narrowly secured a seat. This, we are invited to believe, shows that Scotland is no different in its politics from the rest of the UK.

Firstly, lets deal with the maths. To win a third seat the SNP needed to outpoll the party trailing the Conservatives by a factor of 3:1. With UKIP polling only 10%, just over a thousand extra SNP votes in each of Scotland’s 32 local authority area would have been enough to send a third SNP representative to Brussels.

Now, the politics. If you ask questions about social attitudes on major issues, it’s true that Scotland and the rest of the UK generally aren’t that far apart. However, it’s equally true that the Scots and the Germans wouldn’t be too far apart either. While Scots are likely to be as Eurosceptic as any English voter, our relationship with Europe simply doesn’t result in the same level of existential angst - probably because the most overbearing governance in our lives has historically come from Westminster rather than Brussels.

What matters is how those attitudes are expressed at the polls. Given how differently we vote to our friends in the south, Independence is less about nationalism per se than about straightforward democracy and accountability.

We see the strength of that argument in the fact that we have a coalition government in Westminster which lacks any kind of Scottish mandate. Similarly, if we don’t vote ‘Yes’ to independence and thereby secure our future in the EU, there’s every chance that we could find ourselves dragged out the EU exit door whether we like it or not.

Last month’s Euro elections gave us a glimpse of the future which awaits us if Scots decide that we really are Better Together with Farage and his mob. If we want to secure Scotland's future as a progressive, tolerant, welcoming and prosperous nation, then we know what we need to do between now and 18 September.