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Scottish election

labour6aDouglas Alexander, the most senior Scot in the shadow cabinet, has today delivered a devastating critique on his own Scottish party in a latest bout of bloodletting to follow the party’s woeful election result this year.

Mr Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, berated the Scottish Labour leadership for the party’s successive election defeats to the SNP in 2007 and 2011.

Mr Alexander accused Scottish Labour of failing to embrace “New Labour”, of being stuck in the past, of adopting the wrong slogans and sticking by tired old tactics that were never going to work.

Alex Salmond’s successive election victories, culminating in his humiliating defeat of Labour in this year’s Scottish parliament elections when the SNP secured the first majority in Holyrood history at Labour’s expense, were the result of Labour’s own failings, Mr Alexander said.

And while the Paisley and Renfewshire South MP did not name his sister Wendy Alexander, she will have to take at least a share of his criticism because she led the party directly after its defeat of 2007.

Mr Alexander’s criticisms are also more clearly directed at Jack McConnell, the first minister from 2001 to 2007, who was in charge when Labour lost to the SNP for the first time – and at Iain Gray, who took over from Ms Alexander in 2008, leading the party to its ignominious defeat this year.

Mr Alexander’s remarks represent an escalation in a war or words within the Scottish Labour Party which started as soon as the scale of Labour’s disastrous election defeat in May this year became clear.

Even though Mr Gray announced his intention to resign as Scottish Labour leader soon after the election, senior figures in the party have been looking for others to blame ever since – with Westminster and Holyrood politicians accusing each other for of being responsible for the party’s position.

Mr Alexander clearly believes that his Holyrood colleagues are to blame.

He said that Labour stuck with the same anti-SNP “divorce is an expensive business” campaign all the way through from 1999 to 2011 – despite the fact that it was never going to work more than once.

“I said after the 1999 election that it was the last time I thought we could run such a campaign,” Mr Alexander said, “and yet it is surely now clear that in the decade that followed, too little was done by my party to tell a different story of possibility about Scotland.”

And he added: “In 1999 we identified what would have been the wrong path for Scotland, but thereafter we didn’t do enough to describe the right path by which to achieve a better nation.”

Mr Alexander criticised the party for not modernising in the way the London-based Labour Party did under Tony Blair, and that left the party vulnerable when the SNP started to do well.

In a thinly veiled criticism of Mr Gray’s ill-fated campaign theme this year, which was designed to scare voters with warnings about the Tories, Mr Alexander derided his colleagues for continuing to warn of the risks of Thatcherism.

And he argued that Labour complained about the SNP’s failure to deliver on its promises without coming up with enough examples to justify these attacks.

“Labour, in opposition, was seen as too often concerned only with opposition for its own sake,” he said. “Too many Scots judged us to have complained in unspecified ways about the SNP’s failure to deliver, without articulating a clear enough alternative story and account of Scotland’s possibilities.”

Mr Alexander also criticised the Scottish Labour Party for opposing minimum pricing for alcohol when voters wanted something done to tackle binge drinking.

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<em>Picture: Peter-Ashley Jackson</em>

Picture: Peter-Ashley Jackson

I can see where Michael Moore is coming from with his suggestion that a Scottish independence referendum would need to be ratified by a second one, organised by Westminster.

The Scottish secretary has clearly looked at the situation in a calm, considered manner. He has come to the quite reasonable conclusion that, as the Liberal Democrats got an average of 6.5 per cent of the vote in the Scottish election, democracy has failed them and they should abandon the whole irritating concept.

Why bother with abiding by the people’s decision when there’s the more attractive option of “extra time until Rangers score”? I await the Viceroy’s next pronouncement, that the peasants north of the Border are not yet educated enough to vote.

Moore’s argument is that all the knobs and whistles of independence can’t be laid out in one referendum. His wizard wheeze is that we need a second to sort out all the fiddly bits.

Well, Mickey boy, I’ve got news for you: a dozen referenda couldn’t cover all the details, because that’s not what referenda do.

The referendum will establish the view of the Scottish people on the principle of independence. Golly gosh and gee whizz, if only there was some kind of democratically elected institution in Scotland to sort out the policy detail once the Scottish people have made their judgment. Oh, hudonaminnit…

I quite understand why Moore has overlooked the existence of Holyrood, as his party has only a trace presence there. He must be discomfited that the Scottish people gave 72 of our parliament’s 129 seats to pro-independence MSPs. I’m surprised Moore has not annulled that inconvenient election and declared “best out of three”.

There’s been a lot of tosh from “constitutional experts” about this. As the UK constitution does not exist, I’m not quite sure what these people are experts in. But, never one to miss a trick, I’ve decided to set myself up as a constitutional authority. I base my judgments on having studied metaphysics (the philosophical study of stuff that doesn’t exist) at uni. Also, family tradition has it that my great great aunt had the second sight.

Using those talents, I have undertaken a study of the issue every bit as rational and authoratitive as Moore’s decision-making process. And the tea leaves tell me that once the Scottish people have spoken, that’s it. (Also, the Scottish Lib Dems are going on a long journey with an intriguing stranger.)

If the Scottish people say Yes in a referendum, there’s no need to ask them to repeat themselves. If they say No, I doubt Moore and chums will be pushing for a second referendum just to make sure.

All this is nonsense. To my mind, it’s an attempt to bounce the Scottish government into putting more options into the independence referendum in an attempt to preclude the perceived need for a second one. This should be resisted at all costs. The referendum should be a straight choice: Yes or No. As I’ve pointed out before, the Lib Dems et al had the chance to have a multi-option referendum in the last parliament. They decided against it then and should not get it now.

Meanwhile, Scottish Liberalism dies a little more as the Westminster denizens pursue their crusade to become political pariahs.

How far the party of proportional representation has fallen. It’s quite a journey from demanding a fairer voting system to denying the right of self-determination. The Liberal Democrats recently reiterated this particular right for the Falkland Islands. Apart from viewers in Scotland, eh folks?

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Scottish constituency map after 5 May 2011 <em>Picture: Barryob</em>

Scottish constituency map after 5 May 2011 Picture: Barryob

If there is a consensus among Labour figures in Scotland, it is that their party will be out of power for at least two more terms – and maybe more.

One former Labour MSP admitted privately last week that she believed her party would lose the next election and possibly even the one after that.

Another Labour figure, one of the many candidates to fail this year, gave a similar prognosis to me today. The next election has already been lost, according to them, and the one after that may also come too early for the party.

Realism or pessimism?

Interestingly, both gave similar reasons for Labour’s likely failure to make headway: “We haven’t anybody who can take on Salmond,” said one.

“There is nobody in the Labour Party who can appeal to the country as a potential leader of Scotland,” said the other.

But it isn’t just the Salmond factor. They both agreed that, if Alex Salmond were to stand down today, Nicola Sturgeon, his deputy, would lead the Nationalists to another election success, such is the paucity of options and ideas coming out of Labour north of the border.

The key to this, according to senior figures in the party, is independence: or, rather, Labour’s lack of an alternative to the SNP’s independence message.

“We haven’t come up with a coherent response and we haven’t got anybody to articulate it, even if we did,” said the failed candidate.

So what does Labour have to do?

It has to reinvent itself, completely and utterly. There is – at last – a general acceptance within Labour that the party has to learn the lessons of its defeat in the 2007 election. This includes an acknowledgement that the party failed to do so after 2007. Then, there was a general feeling that the SNP “had got lucky” by scraping home by one seat – and that tiny advantage (less than one per cent of the vote) would be overturned in 2011, when normal service would be resumed.

When that failed to happen in such spectacular style this year, the lesson did, eventually, hit home.

The party needs a new leader and it will get one: probably with Jackie Baillie.

Ms Baillie is a good, competent, experienced Holyrood stalwart. She will do well to start the change process that Labour needs – but, if the general assessment that Labour will be out of power for at least two terms is correct, she will not be the one to lead the party back to power.

It may depress her to admit it, but she may have to be the “Kinnock” for Scottish Labour, the person who initiates difficult reforms and paves the way for the Blair who will actually win.

Who that winner is, though, is hard to spot. To give the new intake their due, they haven’t yet had the chance to shine in parliament and someone may emerge as a potential leader in waiting – but there does seem to be a dearth of quality in Labour ranks.

John Park was being tipped by many as a future leader as soon as he entered parliament. He is well liked inside and outside the Labour movement – but, by masterminding Labour’s disastrous election campaign this year, he will find it difficult to recover.

There has been talk of parachuting in a heavyweight from Westminster, such as Alistair Darling, but that would only be a short-term fix. Labour needs to nurture and develop its leaders of tomorrow and it needs to start doing it now, otherwise it will find itself behind the SNP for the foreseeable future.

But the question of independence is also key.

Labour has to find a way of articulating its opposition to independence in a populist and popular way: something it has been unable to do up to now. That means making a positive case for the Union, not just banging on about an “expensive divorce”.

Mr Salmond was right when he told The Caledonian Mercury that a positive campaign would beat a negative campaign every time. That will be the way the SNP will fight the referendum campaign. It will be positive, it will be forward-looking and it will paint a picture of Scotland forging a new path in the world.

Labour have to find a way of combating that with an equally positive message for staying in the Union. If not, then it won’t matter who the leader is because, by the time Labour gets the chance to run the Scottish government again, it will be in an independent country.

The party will be helped, along the way, by Westminster elections and the tendency of many voters to back Labour for Westminster and the SNP for Holyrood, but it can’t rely on that to resurrect its fortunes.

Labour is in a mess – but, to its (limited) advantage, it has been is similar messes before: notably in 1979. It reformed, changed, became modern and, crucially, stood on a positive message.

Labour in Scotland has to do all these things and more if it is to recover.

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poll10By Stuart Crawford
All politics is about compromise in the end. So, notwithstanding their landslide victory on 5 May, the SNP is not so subtly abandoning the primary principle behind its raison d’être in favour of the pragmatism of the art of the possible.

Faced with mounting evidence that a vote in the Holyrood elections for the SNP is not, per se, a vote for Scottish independence, party apparatchiks are now watering down its independence message to make it more widely palatable, electorally speaking.

At least we are now beginning to get somewhere near what many of us have been asking over the past few years – namely how exactly the SNP defines the word “independence”, which has been etched deep in its collective psyche for the near-century of the party’s existence.

There are many schools of thought within the party, and the old divide between fundamentalists and gradualists still gapes cavernously, a political fault-line across the body of the kirk which has yet to be closed.

There has been much thinking out loud and policy on the hoof, but what seems to be emerging is a loose consensus amongst some on a concept inevitably labelled “independence-lite”. Although there doesn’t appear to be a formal policy statement on this – yet – most people think it describes an arrangement whereby Scotland would raise all its own finances (full fiscal autonomy) and then “buy” what it needs in terms of defence and foreign policy – and possibly other things such as macroeconomic policy – from the rest of the UK.

In terms of a future Scottish defence policy under this arrangement, senior SNP members have even suggested that Scotland would wish to be able to “choose” which operations “its” defence forces participated in. A little knowledge is clearly a dangerous thing, and we can only hope that wiser heads will point out the difficulties with such a proposition, not least of which is in terms of the party’s current position on NATO.

Be that as it may, independence-lite is an interesting idea, and worth further discussion in a more intellectually coherent manner in due course. What I find difficult at the moment, and perhaps others do too, is how the concept differs fundamentally from “devolution-max”, or indeed any of the other models of enhanced devolution which have been mooted from time to time.

Because, to the layman at least, independence-lite and devolution-max look almost indistinguishable. And given that the opposition parties in the Scottish parliament are more or less all signed up to some form of enhanced devolution, is this a sudden outbreak of consensus?

To quote the admirable leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Annabelle Goldie, “You can no more be independent lite than you can be pregnant lite. You are either one or the other. You either are or you are not.” So the concept is damned from two points of view. One, because it is more or less the same as every other party is advocating, and two because it is neither fish nor fowl. It is, in fact, a bit of a dog’s breakfast if the truth be told.

Personally, I have always favoured the other end of the independence spectrum, independence-max or full sovereignty. A Scotland which is responsible for everything – defence, foreign policy, social security, macroeconomics – the whole lot, not just the easy bits. Some have said that sovereignty is an old-fashioned concept in the modern world and has been invalidated by globalisation and modern communications. Well, maybes aye and maybes naw, as Kenny Dalglish might put it. From a negotiating point of view, I would rather have a full hand and then give away the cards I wanted, than start with a short hand and try to buy in the extras.

Easy? No, but no more difficult conceptually than independence-lite. Where there’s a political will there’s a way. But whatever path Scotland takes towards the future, the SNP government will have to address some of the more untenable of its current policy positions before any of the options make sense. Negotiating our way out of NATO, for example, because it is “nuclear-led”, borders on hysterical nonsense. Neither can we just demand that the Trident fleet leaves Scottish waters forthwith without any sort of suggestion on when and where it might go.

And the current pathological fascination with all things green and renewable needs to be tempered by more incisive and practical consideration. Scotland’s current focus on the renewable sector may be admirable in many ways, but the wild claims by various political figures of jobs that will be created and electricity that will be generated must be taken with a large pinch of salt. Recent research shows that renewables will be, at best, jobs-neutral for Scotland – and if anyone truly believes that we will be producing 100 per cent of our domestic electricity needs by 2020 from renewables, then I fear the men in white coats will be at the door already.

Be all that as it may, though, I’m for independence – and the full-fat version at that, please. Heaven forfend that I should say this, but I agree with Annabel. We either are or we’re not. Let’s keep the flame of independence burning brightly.

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Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa <em>Picture: Katsushika Hokusai, 1760–1849</em>

Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa Picture: Katsushika Hokusai, 1760–1849

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Most of the usual linguistic suspects – campaign, manifesto and so on – duly made an appearance at the recent Scottish election, but there was one new kid on the block, tsunami. It was reported that a great political tsunami had swept across Scotland and that a tsunami of votes had been cast for the SNP.

Tsunami was, of course, not a new word to us, although new in this particular context. Pronounced soo-na-mi with the emphasis on the na, tsunami is derived from Japanese words meaning harbour wave. When used literally, it describes a large destructive ocean wave caused by an underwater earthquake or another movement of the earth’s surface.

We had encountered the word before the Scottish election, principally on 26 December 2004 when the world’s media reported a severe earthquake in the Indian Ocean which triggered an extensive, powerful and incredibly destructive tsunami.

We were to encounter the word again in March 2011, when Japan’s most powerful earthquake since records began struck the north-east coast of the country, triggering a massive and devastating tsunami.

Many words, like tsunami, move on from their literal meaning to acquire a figurative use. We often follow America when it comes to language development, and they certainly seem to have extended the meaning of tsunami before we did. Politically, it has been in use there for some time: in the mid-term elections of November 2010 the Republican Mark Kirk, who won President Obama’s former US Senate seat in Illinois, referred to a tsunami hitting the heartland.

Tsunami has been extensively used with reference to health problems as well as to exceptional political success. In February 2011, an article in the Lancet referred to a global tsunami of cardiovascular disease, and connections between tsunami and serious chronic disease had been made several years before that. Connections have also been made with obesity – a tsunami of obesity sweeping the world being one of the major causes of serious chronic disease.

Tsunami has also forged connections with the elderly. In America the so-called baby boomers, some of whom will reach the age of 65 and retirement in 2011, have been accused of creating an ageing-population tsunami, both in terms of declining health and demands on the economy.

Tsunami is physically associated with great volume and also with great destruction. When used in a political context, it is the volume that is being stressed – although if you voted for one of the unsuccessful parties you might see signs of destruction as well. However, in a health or demographic context it is the destruction element as well as the volume element that is being emphasised. Thus, the ageing-population tsunami is regarded as being a threat to society.

It is hardly flattering to older members of the population to be called a tsunami. Sometimes it is known as a silver tsunami, with a reference to the hair colour that nature intended for the elderly. The phrase may sound better, but does it sugar the pill? Almost certainly not!

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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poll14By John Knox

Now that Alex Salmond’s government is under way and the excitement of the election campaign is behind us, it’s time for the losers to think again about their future.

Looking back on it, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives failed to offer two important things on 5 May: hope and defiance. The SNP, by contrast, offered both in abundance – hope that the spending cuts could be avoided and defiance that, if they did come from London, they would be fought on the beaches, in the fields and in the streets.

The Scots are in denial about the cuts, like the Irish, the Icelanders, the Greeks and the Spanish. And quite rightly. Why should ordinary people pay for the banking collapse? In answer to that, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems said, in effect, “Because you have to. The national debt is costing us all £120 million a day in interest and your mortgage payments will soar unless we bring that debt down.”

Labour had a slightly less cruel answer: “We can pay off the debt more slowly, but we still need to go ahead with two-thirds of the cuts.”

Only the SNP offered the Scots the prospect of “growing” our way out of the recession and the debt crisis. Never mind that it may turn out to be a false prospectus. It depends on the performance of the private sector – which, so far, does not look encouraging.

The point is that people wanted to believe the SNP. They wanted their promises to be true… that they could stimulate the economy, keep public services going without compulsory redundancies, and still afford free higher education, free personal care, free bus travel for the over-60s, free prescriptions and no increases in the council tax for five years.

The election result was a refusal to accept the received wisdom of the elite that the crisis could only be overcome by the sacrifices of the ordinary citizen and the poor. The unions tried to suggest an alternative, that £120 billion a year could be raised in uncollected taxes. Others suggested we could go the American way and run an even larger government deficit until the recession is over. Still others suggested the banks should be left to collapse and their bonus culture could rot in hell with them.

Perhaps this was grasping at straws, but people wanted their government to find a better way out of the hole the bankers had dropped us into. It’s worth remembering at this point that the turnout in the election was only 51 per cent – so nearly half the population were puzzled as to what to do next, and/or they did not trust the politicians to be able to do anything about our predicament.

So Alex Salmond is left with the task of living up to that hope and that defiance. He may be able to turn those expectations into support for independence, we shall see. I think it more likely he will muddle through with the help of a pay cut in the public sector. But meanwhile, the opposition parties have to offer some hope of their own.

Labour have the choice of going back to the class war or marching on into the brave new world of New Labour, socialism for the middle classes. It means further public service reforms and cutting the welfare bill. The Scottish Conservatives have to hope the private sector will respond to the mighty challenge it has been posed – to invest in new manufacturing, energy production, public services etc and create a quarter of a million new jobs. Their social agenda depends entirely on this.

And, as for the Liberal Democrats, they have to do something really radical to avoid oblivion. The first thing they must do is pull of out the coalition, preferably in a row over bank bonuses. But they need to do much more than that. They need to re-interpret liberalism for the modern age. That is, they have to spell out what “decentralisation” means in a world of global economy and free information. And they have to redefine “individualism” when there are six billion people on the planet and finite natural resources. They need to go local and go green.

For instance, does decentralisation mean more power for local authorities or not? The Liberal Democrats were unsure about this during the election campaign. Does individualism mean that every citizen has the right to pollute the environment with their motor car if they want to, or live in a remote, traditionally Liberal Democrat constituency?

As the campaign unfolded, it became clear that none of the opposition parties had done this fundamental thinking. They were all about tactics – mimicking the SNP on council tax and the NHS, police numbers, class sizes, spending on green energy and various gimmicks for tackling alcohol abuse and crime. None of the differences were substantial. And none of the opposition parties was able to use those differences as illustrations of their overall message, as the SNP were for their message of hope.

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<em>Picture: Andrew Macdonell</em>

Picture: Andrew Macdonell

By Andrew Macdonell in South Africa

Expatriate Scots everywhere will have followed the dramatic victory of the SNP at the recent Holyrood polls with interest. And they will not have been alone. I suspect that party political strategists from every corner of the globe will have looked to learn from the success of the nationalists.

Here in South Africa, for example, the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has recently made electoral gains in Cape Town and the Western Cape that, in many ways, have mirrored the growth of the SNP in Scotland.

Many in the SNP and the DA will probably object to the comparison, as they occupy very different political and ideological spaces. Nonetheless, they have used similar strategies in ascending to power. Both parties got their first taste of government at the head of minority administrations and both exploited the resulting credibility boost to take overall majorities at their respective recent elections.

At the 2006 municipal elections, the DA won the most votes in Cape Town – but, like the SNP in 2007, fell short of a majority. It was enough, however, for the DA’s mayoral candidate (and now party leader) Helen Zille to wrest control of the council from the incumbent African National Congress (ANC).

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A minority administration was formed with the support of several smaller parties. Five years of largely effective civic government followed, which were recognised in 2008 when Zille won the World Mayor of the Year award.

Like the SNP, the DA’s first term in office in Cape Town ended in May this year, when their record was put before the electorate as part of nationwide mid-term council elections.

Capetonians clearly liked what they had seen, because the DA was returned with an impressive 61 per cent of the vote and was able to take absolute control of the city for the first time.

Outside Cape Town and the Western Cape, the national results of the 18 May elections may suggest that little has changed. As expected, the ANC swept the board in terms of the national vote with over 63 per cent support and has retained overall control of the vast majority of councils. However, dig a little deeper and the results indicate that the old voting patterns may be starting to change.

The DA has consolidated its position as the single nationally competitive opposition party. With one in four voters nationwide, it is now challenging strongly in many areas and has largely obliterated or absorbed the remaining opposition parties. Most significantly, for the first time it is attracting measurable – if still small – numbers of black voters and is even now winning wards with largely black electorates.

Nonetheless, these gains must still be put into the perspective. Like Old Labour in the Scotland of yesteryear, the South African political landscape remains completely dominated by the ANC. The old adage that Labour used to “weigh rather than count” their votes in Glasgow may no longer apply, but it certainly holds true in large parts of South Africa, where the ANC piles up majorities that would make even Robert Mugabe blush.

When it kicks into gear, the ANC has one of the most effective electoral machines on the continent and one of the world’s strongest political brands. Its core strengths have always been its unmatched “struggle history”, the power and patronage that it can deploy – and, if all else fails, the option to play the “race card” in mobilising its support.

This final “strength” is made possible by to the uncomfortable reality that South African political allegiances remain inextricably linked with identity and race. Whatever their misgivings, black South Africans invariably vote ANC, while white South Africans generally vote for one of the opposition parties. The result is that an election here has traditionally been little more than a racial census.

However, indications from the 2011 election are that this pattern may be weakening – and this has got the ANC leadership worried. The ANC’s traditional strengths of history, power and racial solidarity may, over time, emerge as the movement’s Achilles’ heel.

By its nature, history is always receding into the past. The allegiances forged in the struggle against apartheid will remain forever with the older generation, yet mean less and less to first-time voters. Senior ANC politicians have continued to remind people “not to forget your history”, but these calls are increasingly falling on deaf ears.

Patronage has always a very effective glue to bind together a party of government. The ANC has always been a very broad church of competing interests and factions, so it needs strong glue. Given that it lacks a consistent, unifying ideology and that a lack of policy clarity has been one of the defining characteristics of the Zuma administration, the use of patronage is essential keep the “troops” in line.

This generally works, but the problem comes where power is lost. In constituencies where the ANC has lost control, such as in the Western Cape, the local structures often disintegrate in a bout of faction fighting and recrimination. The ANC has found to its cost that once it loses power, it rarely gets it back.

Finally, if reluctantly, the ANC has always been able resort to the race card. However, this sits very uncomfortably with the ANC’s non-racial ethos and in any case may be increasingly ineffective. A major reason why minorities, including Indians, Coloureds and Asians, joined whites in deserting the ANC on 18 May was the racially loaded and even offensive comments about minorities made by such as Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, and Jimmy Manyi, the government spokesperson.

Given this reality of a dominant ruling party (albeit one with inherent weaknesses), the DA had to come up with a strategy to shed its “white party” image and expand its base beyond its core liberal, white constituency.

Taking a leaf out of the SNP’s book, the DA decided to run with an unashamedly positive and upbeat campaign that highlighted its track record of competent service delivery in local government. In Zille, the DA has an energetic, feisty campaigner with a sharp intellect and something of the Anne Robinson about her. She dived into a whirlwind tour of township rallies and was rarely seen on camera without a group of black DA supporters around her.

Unlike in previous elections, the DA resisted the temptation to respond to the goading and provocation of ANC supporters and always kept “on message” about competent service delivery.

Like Labour in the Scottish elections – who couldn’t decide whether to target the Nationalists at Holyrood or the Conservatives at Westminster – the ANC was wrong-footed by this strategy and didn’t know how to respond. They were torn between going defensive on their record or attacking the DA’s record, and in the process rarely presented a positive vision of an ANC future.

The DA also made maximum use of new technology in reaching its potential supporters. Facebook, Twitter and text messaging were used to the full – and, when not addressing crowds, Zille seemed to be perpetually Tweeting.

In contrast, Zuma did eventually get round to sending a Tweet, but even this was widely suspected to have come from an aide. This turned out to be symptomatic of an ANC campaign that was slow to start and that, for much of the time, appeared directionless. The result was that, while the ANC may have won the election, the general consensus is that they lost the campaign and certainly failed to set the agenda.

Yet in the final analysis, it was still an ANC victory – and, for all its slick campaigning, the DA was only able to “do a Salmond” in Cape Town and a number of Western Cape municipalities.

Going forward, both the DA in South Africa and the SNP in Scotland face a number of challenges. The first is to make good on all those election promises. This is a challenge for all administrations, but both the SNP and the DA appear well placed in this regard.

Obtaining an absolute majority does give parties the freedom to push through legislation and set the agenda without needing to compromise. In addition, given that both parties are not in power in the top tier of government, they are generally not held accountable for macro issues such as unemployment, the economy and international relations. This is a considerable advantage as they can get the credit for prudent government without carrying any of the downside risk from “events”.

The challenge for both parties is to sustain a record of good governance in their respective second terms, so that voters feel confident in entrusting them with greater power and responsibility. In the SNP’s case, this additional trust could come in the form of some greater independence, while for the DA it could include further gains at the next South African national elections in 2014.

The second major challenge is to balance the aspirations of both party activists and their newly acquired supporters. This is perhaps the most subtle and tricky exercise and it is the job that party strategists are paid to grapple with.

Ryan Coetzee, the DA’s principal strategist, has said that the DA must be in tune with the real concerns of voters, not just party activists, if it is to grow. “One good way of assessing where a party’s heart really lies,” Coetzee said, “is to ask the question: What makes the people in this party angry?

“I submit that the DA’s anger attaches to things like crime, corruption, discrimination against minorities and name changes, but not to racism against blacks, the state of education, unemployment or poverty. If that division provides some insight into what we care about, then what does it say about who we care about?

“If we are going to become a party that is attractive to South Africans of all races, then we need to find a way to do two things: first, care as deeply about the ‘delivery issues’ that affect black South Africans as we do about those that affect whites; second, find a way to bridge the racial divide on ‘identity issues’.”

Voters can easily spot a fraud, so the challenge for the DA is to change not just the message of its leadership, but the priorities that they hold in their hearts. It is a fundamental shift.

This assessment of the DA’s prioritisation problem in South Africa could equally be modified for the SNP in Scotland. The independence issue has always been at the very heart of the SNP, but the impression (albeit from this distance) is that it is not a high priority for most of the new SNP voters. So the challenge for the SNP is to move the independence debate forward without alienating the huge support that it gained in 2011.

It is apparent that SNP strategists are already grappling with this conundrum and punting a more palatable form of partnership as distinct from complete separation.

Only time will tell whether the SNP or the DA are able to achieve their ultimate objectives. For now though, they are certainly setting the agenda and that has got to be a good start.

Arthur’s Seat and Table Mountain are maybe not that far apart, after all.

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<em>Picture: Andrew Macdonell</em>

Picture: Andrew Macdonell

By Andrew Macdonell in South Africa

Expatriate Scots everywhere will have followed the dramatic victory of the SNP at the recent Holyrood polls with interest. And they will not have been alone. I suspect that party political strategists from every corner of the globe will have looked to learn from the success of the nationalists.

Here in South Africa, for example, the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has recently made electoral gains in Cape Town and the Western Cape that, in many ways, have mirrored the growth of the SNP in Scotland.

Many in the SNP and the DA will probably object to the comparison, as they occupy very different political and ideological spaces. Nonetheless, they have used similar strategies in ascending to power. Both parties got their first taste of government at the head of minority administrations and both exploited the resulting credibility boost to take overall majorities at their respective recent elections.

At the 2006 municipal elections, the DA won the most votes in Cape Town – but, like the SNP in 2007, fell short of a majority. It was enough, however, for the DA’s mayoral candidate (and now party leader) Helen Zille to wrest control of the council from the incumbent African National Congress (ANC).

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A minority administration was formed with the support of several smaller parties. Five years of largely effective civic government followed, which were recognised in 2008 when Zille won the World Mayor of the Year award.

Like the SNP, the DA’s first term in office in Cape Town ended in May this year, when their record was put before the electorate as part of nationwide mid-term council elections.

Capetonians clearly liked what they had seen, because the DA was returned with an impressive 61 per cent of the vote and was able to take absolute control of the city for the first time.

Outside Cape Town and the Western Cape, the national results of the 18 May elections may suggest that little has changed. As expected, the ANC swept the board in terms of the national vote with over 63 per cent support and has retained overall control of the vast majority of councils. However, dig a little deeper and the results indicate that the old voting patterns may be starting to change.

The DA has consolidated its position as the single nationally competitive opposition party. With one in four voters nationwide, it is now challenging strongly in many areas and has largely obliterated or absorbed the remaining opposition parties. Most significantly, for the first time it is attracting measurable – if still small – numbers of black voters and is even now winning wards with largely black electorates.

Nonetheless, these gains must still be put into the perspective. Like Old Labour in the Scotland of yesteryear, the South African political landscape remains completely dominated by the ANC. The old adage that Labour used to “weigh rather than count” their votes in Glasgow may no longer apply, but it certainly holds true in large parts of South Africa, where the ANC piles up majorities that would make even Robert Mugabe blush.

When it kicks into gear, the ANC has one of the most effective electoral machines on the continent and one of the world’s strongest political brands. Its core strengths have always been its unmatched “struggle history”, the power and patronage that it can deploy – and, if all else fails, the option to play the “race card” in mobilising its support.

This final “strength” is made possible by to the uncomfortable reality that South African political allegiances remain inextricably linked with identity and race. Whatever their misgivings, black South Africans invariably vote ANC, while white South Africans generally vote for one of the opposition parties. The result is that an election here has traditionally been little more than a racial census.

However, indications from the 2011 election are that this pattern may be weakening – and this has got the ANC leadership worried. The ANC’s traditional strengths of history, power and racial solidarity may, over time, emerge as the movement’s Achilles’ heel.

By its nature, history is always receding into the past. The allegiances forged in the struggle against apartheid will remain forever with the older generation, yet mean less and less to first-time voters. Senior ANC politicians have continued to remind people “not to forget your history”, but these calls are increasingly falling on deaf ears.

Patronage has always a very effective glue to bind together a party of government. The ANC has always been a very broad church of competing interests and factions, so it needs strong glue. Given that it lacks a consistent, unifying ideology and that a lack of policy clarity has been one of the defining characteristics of the Zuma administration, the use of patronage is essential keep the “troops” in line.

This generally works, but the problem comes where power is lost. In constituencies where the ANC has lost control, such as in the Western Cape, the local structures often disintegrate in a bout of faction fighting and recrimination. The ANC has found to its cost that once it loses power, it rarely gets it back.

Finally, if reluctantly, the ANC has always been able resort to the race card. However, this sits very uncomfortably with the ANC’s non-racial ethos and in any case may be increasingly ineffective. A major reason why minorities, including Indians, Coloureds and Asians, joined whites in deserting the ANC on 18 May was the racially loaded and even offensive comments about minorities made by such as Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, and Jimmy Manyi, the government spokesperson.

Given this reality of a dominant ruling party (albeit one with inherent weaknesses), the DA had to come up with a strategy to shed its “white party” image and expand its base beyond its core liberal, white constituency.

Taking a leaf out of the SNP’s book, the DA decided to run with an unashamedly positive and upbeat campaign that highlighted its track record of competent service delivery in local government. In Zille, the DA has an energetic, feisty campaigner with a sharp intellect and something of the Anne Robinson about her. She dived into a whirlwind tour of township rallies and was rarely seen on camera without a group of black DA supporters around her.

Unlike in previous elections, the DA resisted the temptation to respond to the goading and provocation of ANC supporters and always kept “on message” about competent service delivery.

Like Labour in the Scottish elections – who couldn’t decide whether to target the Nationalists at Holyrood or the Conservatives at Westminster – the ANC was wrong-footed by this strategy and didn’t know how to respond. They were torn between going defensive on their record or attacking the DA’s record, and in the process rarely presented a positive vision of an ANC future.

The DA also made maximum use of new technology in reaching its potential supporters. Facebook, Twitter and text messaging were used to the full – and, when not addressing crowds, Zille seemed to be perpetually Tweeting.

In contrast, Zuma did eventually get round to sending a Tweet, but even this was widely suspected to have come from an aide. This turned out to be symptomatic of an ANC campaign that was slow to start and that, for much of the time, appeared directionless. The result was that, while the ANC may have won the election, the general consensus is that they lost the campaign and certainly failed to set the agenda.

Yet in the final analysis, it was still an ANC victory – and, for all its slick campaigning, the DA was only able to “do a Salmond” in Cape Town and a number of Western Cape municipalities.

Going forward, both the DA in South Africa and the SNP in Scotland face a number of challenges. The first is to make good on all those election promises. This is a challenge for all administrations, but both the SNP and the DA appear well placed in this regard.

Obtaining an absolute majority does give parties the freedom to push through legislation and set the agenda without needing to compromise. In addition, given that both parties are not in power in the top tier of government, they are generally not held accountable for macro issues such as unemployment, the economy and international relations. This is a considerable advantage as they can get the credit for prudent government without carrying any of the downside risk from “events”.

The challenge for both parties is to sustain a record of good governance in their respective second terms, so that voters feel confident in entrusting them with greater power and responsibility. In the SNP’s case, this additional trust could come in the form of some greater independence, while for the DA it could include further gains at the next South African national elections in 2014.

The second major challenge is to balance the aspirations of both party activists and their newly acquired supporters. This is perhaps the most subtle and tricky exercise and it is the job that party strategists are paid to grapple with.

Ryan Coetzee, the DA’s principal strategist, has said that the DA must be in tune with the real concerns of voters, not just party activists, if it is to grow. “One good way of assessing where a party’s heart really lies,” Coetzee said, “is to ask the question: What makes the people in this party angry?

“I submit that the DA’s anger attaches to things like crime, corruption, discrimination against minorities and name changes, but not to racism against blacks, the state of education, unemployment or poverty. If that division provides some insight into what we care about, then what does it say about who we care about?

“If we are going to become a party that is attractive to South Africans of all races, then we need to find a way to do two things: first, care as deeply about the ‘delivery issues’ that affect black South Africans as we do about those that affect whites; second, find a way to bridge the racial divide on ‘identity issues’.”

Voters can easily spot a fraud, so the challenge for the DA is to change not just the message of its leadership, but the priorities that they hold in their hearts. It is a fundamental shift.

This assessment of the DA’s prioritisation problem in South Africa could equally be modified for the SNP in Scotland. The independence issue has always been at the very heart of the SNP, but the impression (albeit from this distance) is that it is not a high priority for most of the new SNP voters. So the challenge for the SNP is to move the independence debate forward without alienating the huge support that it gained in 2011.

It is apparent that SNP strategists are already grappling with this conundrum and punting a more palatable form of partnership as distinct from complete separation.

Only time will tell whether the SNP or the DA are able to achieve their ultimate objectives. For now though, they are certainly setting the agenda and that has got to be a good start.

Arthur’s Seat and Table Mountain are maybe not that far apart, after all.

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John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908–2006 <em>Picture: Anandtr2006</em>

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908–2006 Picture: Anandtr2006

The big speeches have been delivered, the seats are being generously warmed, the gears of Scottish government crank back into action. The second SNP administration, having democratically secured a working majority in political system designed for rule-by-coalition or minority government, finds itself in a unique position.

In the campaign for office, many winning political parties find themselves almost instantly lacking in credibility. Manifesto promises that claim to be tightly connected to governmental levers can loosen and unravel, as the black (and evenly mildly grey) swans of economic turbulence swim into view.

Yet the SNP government has a unprecedented political mandate to seek extra levers of economic and resource power in Scotland – and it seems that the British state is rattled enough to concede at least some of those. So the SNP resoundingly win the electoral game of policy ambition in Scotland – and then get the chance to change the rules of the game, so they can increase economic revenue and reliably answer those ambitions.

Short of their magical majority, trapped in a minimally reformed devolution, how quickly would they have run into a hailstorm of broken promises and manifesto retrenchment? Alex Salmond is a noted gambler, but this is brand new territory: on 5 May he didn’t just win the bet, he got the option to change the lease on the betting shop at the same time. As a spectacle of political achievement in a media-and-marketing age, as I wrote here last week, the SNP victory will be a sophisticated case-study for ambitious parties throughout the world.

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But as I also mentioned last week, it was too much of a spectacle also – a political majority resting on around a quarter of the total possible electorate, in a plebiscite where just under half of those able to vote (49.8 per cent) could be bothered to do so.

In the mid-90s, under James Boyle‘s dynamic era at BBC Radio Scotland (ochone, ochone), I was sent to Harvard to interview the great Scots-Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, about his 1992 book The Culture of Contentment. Galbraith’s rumbling anxiety was that levels of political participation in US politics were worryingly correlated with class benefit. Those who did vote were responding to appeals to their evident economic self-interest – low taxes, strong on law and order, protectionism for US industry.

Those who didn’t were either literally disenfranchised (due to the US’s appalling rules on criminality and voter registration, which Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign determinedly overcame). Or, if they were franchised, people were disgusted with the whole institution of politics, their civic will corroded by the general downpour of stories about political corruption and scandal – and so chose not to exercise their democratic right.

I hope that people vastly better equipped in political science than me (and in less of a freelance hurry) are planning to examine the mindset and attitudes of this 50 per cent of non-participants in the Scottish Spring. What is the balance between Scots unregistered to vote, and Scots registered but choosing not to? I’m guessing we don’t have US-style barriers to registration in Scotland, but I’d still like to know the rates.

And as for the rest of this slight-but-silent majority, which of them gaze upon the operations of the Scottish parliament (hardly free from scandal politics over the years) with the same general jaundice and cynicism as, say, the residents of Detroit or Cleveland?

I’ve only one family anecdote to bring to this doubtless empirical question: the despair of a relative who was delivering (and urging the completion of) census forms around his Lanarkshire neighbourhood. “So many of them were angry at you,” he said, “chasing you from the door. Or they were just so totally out of it with drugs or depression that they simply couldn’t get it together to fill it in. I had no idea so many people in this area were so basically incapable of functioning.”

In my dispute with Jim Sillars in the Scotsman last week about his concept of “independence-lite” – where we decide, in advance of any constitutional vote on independence, to agree certain shared powers with the UK government – I objected to his notion that “social security” would be one of those “cross-border” functions we would be happy to cede.

Are we really so happy to fall in with two decades of neo-liberal or Third Way workfare policies? Do we want to continue to compel the armies of surplus labour in Scottish society to take low-paid service jobs in a retail-led, hyper-consumerised economy – hundreds of thousands of Scots acutely aware of their low social status, in an already very unequal society? As we now know from studies such as The Spirit Level, self-perception of low social status literally degrades the minds, bodies and health of the poor.

Might it also unravel their willingness to be involved in a once-every-five-years plebiscite, of any kind?

Any forward movement in Scottish society has to deal with poverty, its distortions of the human spirit. And that’s why the Galbraith thesis doesn’t quite work for the 50 per cent who did vote – and, to be honest, the vast majority of those who generally voted (between SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens) for a broadly left-of-centre, Nordic-model platform of manifestos. Cross-party commitments to free education, free health and renewable energy are light years away from Galbraith’s US affluent middle-classes actively using their vote to preserve their privatised privileges in each of those areas.

As I wrote last week, the SNP won their majority of votes by layering a psychologically-literate politics of hope and aspiration, in an authentically Scottish register, on top of this broad social-democratic consensus. But as Kenneth Roy’s necessary article reminded us a few days after the election, the mandate is based overall on some gey few turnouts. Glasgow shows alarming figures of participation, almost exactly correlated to poorer areas – only 43 per cent for Nicola Sturgeon in Southside, 38 per cent in the SNP gain of Shettleston, 35 per cent in Provan, Even Salmond’s own seat had 48 per cent staying at home.

When Obama unlocked Galbraith’s iron cage of contentment, he did so in a way that clearly gave a campaign template to the SNP – a hopeful and socially-repairing message of national renewal. But he also constructed a huge program of voter registration, and then motivated those voters – meaning significant rises in black/minority, youth and working-class participation in the overall plebiscite, most of these rises going to Obama.

And in a nation often described as a deeply malfunctioning democracy (a “moronic inferno”, in Martin Amis’s famous words), note that voter turnout was over 10 per cent higher than ours – 61.7 per cent in the 2008 US election. The only Scottish constituency that cleared 60 per cent participation in May was the Tory-turned-Labour Eastwood – replete, let us say, with enough socio-economic ease that voters might enthusiastically consider their political options.

What does the electoral underbelly of the SNP victory mean for an independence referendum? Duncan Hamilton at the weekend restated the gradualist position for Nationalists: this was a vote for “more good government”, with the extension of demands for more powers for devolution continuing that display of forward-looking competence. And a referendum on independence will be won, he suggested, “if the proposals emphasise a sense of national unity and consensus.”

How much of the nation will be involved, though? And is that a consensus only among the “unco guid” of can-be-bothered, civically conscious voters?

The post-Scottish-election debates about the exact definition of independence have been generated by many factors. But for me, it’s all been about the need to ensure that a Scottish parliament has as many effective governmental powers as possible, in order to reduce the shaming inequality of life-chances in Scottish society.

Yes, full fiscal autonomy will support a jobs-creating business environment in Scotland – and, as we hope, jobs as part of a green industrial and infrastructural renaissance. My greatest hope is that there will be a renewed demand for the craft and technical skills that constituted the identity of the Scottish working class 30 years ago – but under brand new sustainable values of efficiency, ingenuity and useabilty, where workers have a much less alienated, much more intrinsic investment in the work they do. Not so much a work ethic, but a social-productive ethic – the construction needed for a better-founded society.

We need the entrepreneurs and business-growers who are riding this wave to also think about the quality of employment they’re providing for the Scottish people – and where that employment can do most good. Local and national government, in its role as procurer and regulator of services, has much power here to shape green development – and make sure that it brings agency, dignity and resources to all those currently disconnected from the Scottish future.

So would a clear plausible link between the powers of independence, and a new vision of the labouring and productive life in Scotland, reach out to those un-citizens who stayed out of the polling both on 5 May? That link, yes, and perhaps many others in addition to our existing social-democratic menu – around housing, the quality of public space, local provisioning of food, greater voice and input into our mediaspace (ie, don’t just sneeringly point cameras at the “cast list” of The Scheme, but give them the cameras, and the skills, to render their own lives as an empowering narrative).

And for me, one reason to ensure a “full independence” that has control over armed forces is to begin the demilitarisation of Scottish public life. We must reduce the position of the army as sometimes the only substantial career option available to young men and women in poorer communities, historically and currently. Not forgetting the foul waste of expertise and resources expended on Britain’s military-industrial complex. Out of all the songs that we might sing to celebrate a free and fully sovereign Scotland, let’s not forget Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come-All-Ye.

To make the most of an independence referendum, we need to start to build an independence society – what Gerry Hassan calls “self-determination at every level”. Further notes on that anon. But half a country not bothering to decide its own future, even on a classically rainy day, is a warning bell that we must not ignore.

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