This post is going to concentrate on three issues in turn: national identity, constitutional affairs and party politics.
As some of you may know, my dear departed mother was from Blantyre, South Lanarkshire. When the SNP won its majority in 2011, I thought I would seek some advice from beyond the grave. I asked my three older brothers, Elliott, Miguel and Barry, what they thought mum’s views would be on Scottish independence. One thought she would support it, another thought she would oppose it and the other thought she would want to know more. No clear-cut answer there, then.
Primarily, I am a Londoner – a London autonomist / nationalist / separatist. I believe London has a shared culture and history that predates and is stronger than the UK’s or any of its four constituent parts’. This is because of (and not despite) London’s longstanding position as a ‘melting pot’.
Secondarily, I am Scottish and Dutch, because this is where my late parents were from and they imbued some of the culture of these places in me.
Finally, I am Queer, European and British. I feel a sense of nationalist-esque solidarity with LGBTQ people across the world, not least as we have a shared experience of oppression (although I am grateful, of course, that this is nowhere near as brutal in Western Europe as it is in some other places). I am European because the Enlightenment largely originated in Europe and my support for liberal democracy and my opposition to cultural relativism are strong enough to make me proud of this. I am British not only as a statement of legal fact and because I recognise the same TV shows and popstars as other Britons; because the UK is made up of four constituent parts, Britishness lends itself especially well to multiple identities.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people of colour living in England are more likely to identify as British rather than as English. It is worth bearing in mind that the same is true of BAME people living in Scotland: they are more likely to consider themselves British than Scottish. As a ‘mixed race’ person (my paternal grandfather was Arab-Algerian) who does not consider himself English, I suppose I fit this trend.
A unified Scotland and/or a unified England haven’t been around that much longer than a unified Britain. Moreover, the number of towns and regions that have swapped which side of the border they are on over the last millennium demonstrate the point Rory Stewart makes about parts of the south of Scotland and the north of England having more in common with each other than they do with the Highlands or the South Downs respectively. It is odd this decision will crystallise the 2014 border, but I suppose that is how these things work.
I also think the question being posed is a bit behind the times. The nation state is dying, in favour of a revival of cities. These are better, more organic ways of grouping together humans. City regions are how trade is really conducted. People are less resentful to pay taxes to improve infrastructure and help poorer neighbours who are closer to home. I’m sure the complaints people make about London elites will just be replaced by complaints about Edinburgh elites. I think people in Glasgow and Manchester have more in common with each other than they do with someone from a rural Scottish or English backwater.
So, on the one hand, if people living in Scotland feel they have more in common with each other than they do with people living across the UK – go for it: I know I’d be pounding the pavements for a Yes vote in an Independence for London referendum. On the other hand, I am uneasy and saddened at the prospect of an rUK even more dominated by an England to which I feel little if any national affinity.
After the referendum will be a constitutionally exciting time.
For Scotland: a Yes vote would mean sovereignty and it could mostly figure out its own constitutional set-up as it went along (would the Scottish Parliament remain unicameral, what concessions could it win during its EU reapplication, would it become a republic in our lifetime and so on). A No vote would result in yet more devolution (which, contrary to recent articles, has been offered all along and is not a last-ditch panic by the unionists). What about rUK?
There has been a proliferation of possible solutions to the West Lothian question in the media recently (how to solve non-England MPs voting on issues only affecting England).
An English Grand Committee or an additional reading stage within the UK Parliament would be relatively cost-effective, but is hideously inelegant. A separate English Parliament in a more federal system I would also oppose – partially because its size in terms of population, money and power would rival the UK Parliament in a way unseen in other federal systems and would ostensibly be unworkable, and partially because it would stand in the way of my ultimate aim: regional assemblies in a federal system – a Greater London Authority with devo-max.
I am a little anxious that rUK mightn’t be able to retain things like its permanent position on the UN Security Council, but there are larger developed nations with bigger economies that haven’t muscled out the UK thus far, so I am not convinced rUK would lose this seat.
Without Scotland, rUK would be more likely to leave the EU in a referendum. I will be one of the first in the queue to claim my Scottish/EU passport, not least in case this happens.
Although these things will be debated in the coming months whatever the outcome, I think they will be debated with greater intensity in the result of a Yes vote. Having said as much, most of the powers the Yes campaign says it wants it either already has or could have with devo-max within the UK.
Rumours of a permanent Tory majority in rUK in the event of Scottish independence are greatly exaggerated. Two elections (four at an absolute push) would have resulted in a different result since 1945. Nevertheless, it will make a Tory majority easier in rUK, which is a good thing.
In Scotland, the Tories are too associated with posh southerners and with Margaret Thatcher. This and FPTP helps to explain why 16.7% of Scottish people voted Conservative in 2010, but managed to win only 1.7% of Scotland’s seats.
With the Barnett formula removed, it will be interesting to see how long Scotland’s welfarist policies last. Will the residents and businesses of Scotland really be happy to put up with punitively high taxes to support such a system, even if it makes the country less economically competitive? That is what most of the left-wing Yes campaigners will have us believe. I am of the view that the debate about these trade-offs, combined with severed links with England, will see a resurrection of the centre-right within Scotland, which is also a good thing.
There are reputable think tanks that believe Scotland’s economy will improve a bit and others who believe it will decline a bit. Trade isn’t really an issue, as once any resentment has cooled down we will have free trade either through the EU or bilaterally. I have read and listened to experts on currency, sports, various arts, science and research and all sorts of things in both the Yes and No camps over the last year or so. If people who are much cleverer and more knowledgeable than I am about these issues can’t seem to agree, then I shan’t try to reach any conclusions. This illustrates that those who want to vote with their heart in this referendum have it easier; those who want to vote with their head have a harder time.
Talking of defections: In 1999, then-Tory Shaun Woodward was sacked from the role of shadow London minister for supporting Labour’s decision to scrap Section 28. He famously crossed the floor to Labour.
In 2001, he was rewarded with the safe Labour seat St Helen’s South in Merseyside. He replaced the outgoing Labour incumbent of that seat, Gerry Bermingham, who had been one of the MPs who refused to lower the age of consent for gay men to sixteen or eighteen during Edwina Currie’s 1994 vote.
In the seat he had held as a Tory, Witney in Oxfordshire, the Conservatives selected as their candidate David Cameron, who would one day lead and modernise the party and be prime minister in a Conservative-led government that introduced equal marriage.
As the reigning Queen of Europe, Conchita Wurst, once said: “You know who you are. We are unity and we are unstoppable!”
I want to write a bit about the European Conservatives & Reformists. I should stay from the start that, although I am opposed to European federalism (and supportive of EU reform) – and although I am a Tory and would like to see my party do very well in the UK’s European Parliamentary elections, – I would not be sad to see the ECR fall apart after this May’s elections.
The story so far
The current make-up of the ECR is as follows:
UK Cons 26
UK UUP 1
CZ ODS 9
PL PiS 7
PL Ind 1
NL CU 1
LT AWPL 1
LV TB/LLNK 1
IT FI 1
IT CSR 1
HU MoMa 1
DK Ind 1
HR HSP-AS 1
BE LDD 1
So the ECR has 53 MEPs from 11 member states. Well above the 25 MEPs from 7 states needed to make an official group within the European Parliament and benefit from all of the funding, patronage and other perks that come from being in a group.
A bit of background information: the Conservative Party used to be part of the European Democrats grouping of non-eurofederalist centre-right parties. For numerical reasons, they allied with the European People’s Party, the somewhat more EU-enthusiastic centre-right parties. Together they formed the EPP-ED. The ED, not least as it was promised by David Cameron, decided this was not a eurosceptic enough set-up and mostly broke away to ally instead with some other misfits and become the ECR.
As was well covered in the press at the time, these misfit parties included pride-banning and climate change-denying national presidents. Much to my ire, rather than say ‘some of our new allies do not match our values or British values on various topics’ the line was ‘no, no, they’re not homophobic – and besides, other EP groups have weirdoes in too!’
Prospects for existing ECR parties
I hope to write a bit about the Conservative Party’s prospects in another post along with the other UK parties’ prospects, so I shall just say that PollWatch2014 currently predicts 17 MEPs for the Conservatives and 1 MEP for their UUP allies out of 73.
In the Czech Republic, the Civic Democratic Platform (ODS) is expected to be almost entirely wiped out, down to 1 MEP out of 21. A loss of 8 seats. The homophobic climate change-denying president who founded the party has since left and become an independent. A number of the party’s national MPs voted in favour of civil partnerships. Other than that, I don’t know too much about them.
Unpleasantly, the Law and Justice (PiS) party of Poland looks set to gain 12 seats, bringing its total number up to 19 MEPs out of 51. This is a party whose president and mayor have banned Pride marches, opposed abortion and still has MPs who call gays ‘socially useless’. Regardless of the good work they may have done to bring down communism – who would want to be friends with these guys? It also seems like they might be larger than the UK Tories in the group that David Cameron founded, weakening the Conservatives within their own group. No, thank you!
The Netherlands gets a bit more complicated. The ChristianUnion (CU) runs on a joint list with the Reformed Political Party (SGP). Both are more eurosceptic than the more successful Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), which is still in the EPP. Despite the reactionary stances of some of the people in the ECR, the SGP was too antediluvian for even the ECR to stomach! Last I heard, they’re so evangelical they don’t even allow women to be full members of their party. The CU-SGP are running together again in 2014. It looks like they’ll hold onto both of their EP seats. I suspect their MEPs will then part ways again, with the SGP continuing to sit with UKIP and similar MEPs, and the CU contributing 1 MEP out of 26 to the ECR.
Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom/LLNK (TB/LLNK) and Lithuania’s Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWLP) look set to hold their 1 MEP out of 8 and 1 MEP out of 11 respectively. The former has formed national electoral alliances with a far right party. The latter is theocratically Catholic insofar as it wants to ban abortion.
The independents from Poland and Denmark look set to lose their seats. The Libertarian, Democratic, Direct (LDD) party of Belgium, Croatia’s Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP AS), Hungary’s Modern Hungarian Movement (MoMa) and – I suspect – the MEP from Italy’s Forza Italia who decided to join the ECR, will also probably all lose their seats and contribute 0 MEPs to the group.
This would bring the number of ECR MEPs to 42 from 6 member states. Just short of the 7 member states needed to form a group! Ah, but things aren’t so simple…
Potential applications from other parties
Apparently Slovakia’s Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) is set to win 1 MEP out of 13 and wants to join the ECR. I don’t know much about the party, including whether it is as populist as its name suggests.
Belgium’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) was courted by David Cameron back in 2011, much to the annoyance of Walloons. It’s currently allied in the EP with greens and regionalists like the SNP and Plaid Cymru, rather than the more unsavoury types of nationalist. It looks set to gain 2 seats, bringing it up to a total of 3 MEPs and is also, apparently, interested in joining the ECR.
Finally, and most controversially, is what’s going down in Germany. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a centre-right anti-eurofederalist party. Its members and supporters are unhappy with Germany’s role in bailing out failing EU economies, unhappy with the fact that the euro hasn’t served Germany as well as the deutschmark did and, consequently, unhappy with Angela Merkel’s CDU. They are also a bit more small-c conservative than Germany’s Christian Democrats. This party looks set to gain its first 6 MEPs in these elections. The ECR would, I concede, make a natural home for them. If the Conservatives do not veto any application AfD makes to join the ECR, Angela Merkel will not be happy. David Cameron will be dead to her. Any attempt to renegotiate and repatriate powers from Brussels to Westminster will fail. A ‘stay’ vote in an EU membership referendum will be a much harder sell.
PL PiS 19
UK Cons 18
UK UUP 1
DE AfD 6
BE N-VA 3
CZ ODS 1
NL CU 1
LT AWPL 1
LV TB/LLNK 1
SK OĽaNO 1
Although ECR fans may be happy that it looks like the group may have 51 MEPs from 9 member states and may even be the fourth biggest group, I do not share this happiness.
Did you know this is the first European Parliamentary election where the European Parliament gets to elect the President of the European Commission? The ECR, on ‘anti-federalist’ grounds, is neither putting forward a candidate nor backing one! Such ridiculous UKIP-style throwing one’s toys out of the pram.
I concede there are weirdo misfits in all EP groups, but there is a much higher concentration of them in the ECR and it makes my party look bad by association, regardless of how much soft euroscepticism we may or may not have in common. Although I hope the Conservatives get as many votes and MEPs on May 22nd as possible, I would be pleased if some of ECR parties didn’t make it over the hurdle and the numbers didn’t work out. Then we could re-band together with some sensibly centrist non-eurofederalist chums back into the European Democrats and go back to the EPP with our tail between our legs.
As there are elections happening in London this May, Votebook is back. Given the reason I have revived this blog, it may seem odd that the first thing I’m sharing is related to the European Parliamentary (EP) elections happening in Ireland.
Rory Costello’s article on LSE British Politics and Policy blog makes a number of observations based on the fact that Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for its EP elections, making them more focused on individuals than on parties.
Relative to other proportional representation (PR) systems, under STV voters can reward or punish individual incumbents and candidates, rather than have the parties choose the order in which they should be elected (as with closed list PR - even under open list PR, as they have in the Dutch lower house elections, voters have a tough time succeeding in rearranging party list orders). Not only that, but - as Costello points out - it means that Eurovision Song Contest winners can win an EP seat an independent!
More focus has been put on EP constituency changes in Ireland than on policies, Costello says: “This reflects a view that EP elections are about selecting delegates to defend local interests, as opposed to a mechanism for channelling citizens’ preferences on EU affairs.”
I remember seeing empirical evidence that showed pre-PR UK MEPs were better than their PR-elected colleagues from elsewhere in the EU at defending local interests (through EU funding bids and so on).
I suspect if, post-PR, this is no longer the case then this is because we have a chosen a party-centric rather than a candidate-centric version of PR. After all, unlike most of the EU, both Ireland and the UK have sub-national EP constituents. Although having more than one local MEP means that voters have a tougher time naming their local MEPs, surely candidate-centric STV is a good middle way.
Then Londoners - if they saw fit - would be able to choose candidates who defended London’s interests in Brussels, rather than for a party whose candidates are elected based on the order in which they have defended their parties’ interests.
(Perhaps I’m just bitter that Marina Yannakoudakis, the candidate whom I gave my first preference in my own party’s [incumbent-biased] EP candidate selection, ended up third on our list.)
Click here for a link to a video from The Economist explaining the Electoral College used to choose the US President, its effects in recent elections, and a hint at what recent population changes have done to the prospects of the Democrats and Republicans in November’s Obama versus Romney line-up.
Boris Johnson has been re-elected as Mayor of London.
Boris Johnson (Conservative) 971,931 (+1.53%)
Ken Livingston (Labour) 889,918 (+3.92%)
Jenny Jones (Green) 98,913 (+1.33%)
Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrat) 91,774 (-5.47%)
Siobhan Benita (Independent) 83,914 (n/a)
Lawrence Webb (UKIP) 43,274 (+1.05%)
Carlos Cortiglia (BNP) 28,751 (-1.54%)
Boris and Ken got 44.01% and 40.3% respectively, so a second round was needed. All of the other candidates were eliminated. 53.44% of those who had voted for one of the eliminated candidates put Boris or Ken as their second preference. Of those who did 82,880 picked Boris and 102,355 picked Ken.
Boris Johnson (Conservative) 1,054,811 (-1.64%)
Ken Livingston (Labour) 992,273 (+1.65%)
In terms of the first round: everyone except Boris and Ken lost their £10,000 deposit.
The Greens overtook the Liberal Democrats for the first time (which was mirrored in the London-wide Assembly vote). Siobhan Benita did laudably for an independent, but many of those who fell for the bookies touting her as the third favourite to win may be kicking themselves. UKIP did okay considering it didn’t actually say UKIP next to their candidate on the ballot paper (see previous post). The BNP were trounced into last place - they were the only party other than the Liberal Democrats which saw their first round share of the vote fall: perhaps, as I expected, by picking a natively Uruguayan candidate they didn’t fool anyone into thinking they’re not racists and instead just annoyed many of their existing supporters.
Labour gained two constituency seats on the London Assembly (Barnet & Camden and Ealing & Hillingdon). After applying the modified d’Hondt formula and awarding London-wide seats the make-up of the London Assembly is as follows—
Labour 12 (+4)
Conservative 9 (-2)
Green 2 (±0)
Liberal Democrat 2 (-1)
UKIP 0 (±0)
BNP 0 (-1)
UKIP would have regained London Assembly representation, for the first time since the 2004 election, (at the expense of the Liberal Democrats!) had they not fallen just short of the 5% threshold, perhaps due to an error in which put their tagline but not their party name on ballot papers.
The BNP were thrashed; the Assembly would need to be nearly twice as big for their vote share to have warranted a seat. The Christian Peoples Alliance - whose ballot paper tagline was explicitly opposed to marriage equality - got even fewer votes. The National Front came second to last; they were outpolled by an independent candidate.
There are only sixteen non-Conservative Assembly Members. This falls just short of the two-thirds needed to amend Mayoral budgets.
(Graphic from the BBC)
Outside London there were eleven referenda on, and two elections for, directly elected Mayors.
I know it’s Liverpool, and Labour had a very good Thursday, but Joe Anderson should be chuffed with his 59.33% majority, and first round victory, in an election with twelve candidates. The Labour candidate also won in Salford.
Doncaster voted to keep its Mayor by 62% to 38%.
Of the ten cities deciding whether or not to change to having a directly elected Mayor these were the results—
Bristol 53.3% Yes
Manchester 53.2% No
Bradford 55.1% No
Nottingham 55.7% No
Birmingham 55.8% No
Newcastle 61.9% No
Wakefield 62.2% No
Leeds 63.3% No
Coventry 63.6% No
Sheffield 65% No
So not much approval for directly elected Mayors, then. That’s a shame. I do support directly elected Mayors.
Having said that these cities are run by one local authority, rather than the thirty-three with whom the Greater London Authority shares power. They’d probably have constitutionally ended up with more power than the London Mayoralty. I don’t think I’d like that so much.
This was the wording of these Mayoral referenda—
"How would you like ______ council to be run? By a Leader who is an elected councillor chosen by the other elected councillors. This is how the council is run now or by a Mayor who is elected by voters. This would be a change from how the Council is run now.”
That’s not a yes / no question! What were the Electoral Commission thinking? There are schoolchildren who could have come up with a more appropriate referendum wording.
I take it back. Sorry, Electoral Commission! I have now, very belatedly, actually seen a ballot from the Mayoral referenda and the question wasn’t posed as a yes / no question:
Outside London it was a uniformly good night for Labour. Professors Rallings and Thrasher estimated a gain of 700 Councillors for Labour and a loss of 250 to 350 Councillors each for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Professor Travers predicted 700 to 800 gains for Labour, 500 to 600 losses for the Conservatives and 100 to 200 losses for the Liberal Democrats.
Of the seats that were up for grabs the results for the three main parties were—
Labour 2158 (+823)
Conservatives 1005 (-405)
Liberal Democrats 431 (-336)
Plaid Cymru lost forty-one seats and control of Gwynedd Council. The SNP didn’t do as well as many had predicted, but did make fifty-seven gains and now have control of two Councils; talk about the SNP governing Glasgow Council turned out to be hype, as Labour gained it from no overall control.
UKIP increased its vote share, but their number of Councillors is frozen at nine. The English Democrats lost both of their seats. The Greens made eleven gains, which gave them forty Councillors. Respect went from zero Councillors to five, all in Bradford. The BNP were wiped out, losing all six of the seats they were defending. The Liberals (not the Liberal Democrats, mind you) lost six Councillors and now have only four; I wonder whether some voters mistook them for Nick Clegg’s Party.
Dr Richard Taylor’s I’m an Independent and I’m Concerned About Health, the Community, Kidderminster Hospital and Things Party had a resurgence, its three gains mean it now has five Councillors. Congratulations to James Butcher, President of Sussex TorySoc, who now has seats on Lancing and Sompting Parish Councils after topping both of the polls in which he ran.
Of those which were contested there are now 75 Labour-controlled Councils (+32), 42 Conservative-controlled Councils (-12), 6 Liberal Democrat-controlled Councils (-1) and 51 Councils with no overall control (-18).
In this picture there’s lots of white: these Councils weren’t contested. The grey represents those Councils with no overall control (particularly prevalent in Scotland due to their use of the single transferable vote).
Please check out the BBC Vote 2012 pages for more details.
(Graphic from the BBC)