The Budget Drinking Game. Or, ‘How to get through George Osborne’s speech’

As muggers go, Chancellors of the Exchequer are a conscientious bunch.

Your average bag-grabber just lunges at you in the street, snatches away your valuables and makes off, possibly shoving you to the ground in the process.

No style, no class.

Not Her Majesty’s Second Lord of the Treasury. He politely lists in advance what he’s going to pilfer from your pocketbook while his colleagues cheer him on for good measure.

On Wednesday, George Osborne delivers his latest Budget. Early indications suggest it will be another slash-and-burn affair, as public services take a kicking in the fiscal nether regions.

So to help you get through the Chancellor’s speech, we bring you The 2016 Budget Drinking Game.

(Obviously you should play the game with soft drinks and not alcohol. Unless you live the kind of sybaritic lifestyle that allows you to neck Martinis at lunchtime. And if you do, we can only salute you.)

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Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © James Palinsad by Creative Commons 2.0.

What five hours in A&E taught me about politics and life

I have nothing for you on the SNP conference.

I missed Nicola Sturgeon’s speech entirely. I heard John Swinney’s rallying of the troops first thing on Saturday then Mhairi Black planting a steel toecap in the gonads of Iain Duncan Smith’s pension reforms.

Soon after, I took ill and ten minutes later found myself in Accident & Emergency at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Spoiler alert: I’m fine… ish. That’s not what this is about.

Nor is it about the hospital but bear with me, I’m setting the scene.

The new Queen Liz, the old Southern General, the Death Star – this being Scotland, we can’t even agree on what to call a hospital – is a spectacle of design and engineering. It is vast and bright and abuzz with activity; less a hospital than a city-state of modern medicine. It feels very far from Holyrood and debates about names and targets and ministerial competence.

I had expected to spend Saturday ensconced in the media room at the SECC, dashing out copy about pledges of investment, bashing of Westminster, denunciations of Labour. I was looking forward to it. This is my life; it’s what I do – and I love it. Instead I passed the afternoon peering into the world from a bay in A&E major.

This is what I saw and heard.

I traced the clinical hues of cerulean, cornflower, and teal Jackson Pollocked around the doctors’ station, with flecks of burgundy from consultants, those occasional visitors from Olympus. I interrogated the subcontinental lilts – India? Bangladesh? – of what the Home Office grudgingly calls “skilled migrants” but what are in fact the muscle that pumps the blood around the arteries of the NHS.

This is not a panegyric to NHS staff. “They should be paid more and given better hours…” Of course they should. We ought to have more rigorous performance metrics too. But back to the ward.

Around me the metallic humming and monotonous beeping, the reassuring tinnitus of life-saving technology. The sights and sounds of society on the edge. Love and hate and the love-hate alloy of frustration. Warm hugs and sharp words; domestic discord and bitter rows momentarily forgotten. Alcohol. Drugs. Women struggling with English – but that’s not why they won’t speak about the marks on their arms. People at the end of their natural lives and desperate souls determined on an early exit. All of life there to be witnessed in furtive glimpses past half-drawn acrylic.

This is no polemic about investment levels or the harmful, sometimes fatal, gaps between health and social care. If you are reading this, you are already versed in these debates.

What this is about is the people who are not reading this. And that – no false modesty – is the overwhelming majority of the country. It is about the distance between the SNP conference at the SECC and the Queen Liz Hospital, not a crisp three miles as Google Maps tells you but the difference almost between two worlds.

“A political journalist?” Smiling Nurse No. 1 chirped. “You must get sick of all these referendums.”

Smiling Nurse No. 2 didn’t realise there was an election in May. “Another one?”

Sick of them? Referendums are my idea of fun. I count down the days till an election the way others await the coming of the cup final or the opening of phone lines in the TV talent contest finale.

Politicians and commentators once lamented the public’s declining interest in government and now we fear an upturn in interest as large sections of public opinion across the West embrace populists and demagogues. But the greater threat to democratic cohesion is not to be found in citizens’ apathy or contempt but in the distance between those who live politics and those for whom it rarely intrudes on their lives.

Those of us who work in politics or write about it for a living are more detached from the general public than we realise. We are not the ones who inhabit a bubble; it’s they who go about their lives happily insulated from our strange obsessions. They don’t run a scorecard on First Minister’s Questions. It doesn’t matter if Willie Rennie got in a great line last week because if they watched (and they don’t) they would likely as not have no earthly idea who he is. That ministerial gaffe on Scotland 2016 that we gasped or hooted at may as well not have happened; the latest A&E waiting times, should they filter down, will do so only vaguely and without much context. (Incidentally, I have no complaints about the Queen Liz; I was in triage within ten minutes.)

The bubble is huge. It’s where life happens. We are the outsiders and arrogant exiles at that since we seldom deign to peer in. That is not to say that politicians and journalists don’t have lives and family crises and mortgages niggling at the backs of their minds. But we define ourselves against the public at large – as better informed, better read, more civic-minded.

We reckon we see the joints, the places where public policy and the political process connect to people’s lives. That the punters profess boredom or disgust with politics is their fault. They do not see the joints. It doesn’t occur to us that the joints may be defective.

The draw of the Sturgeons and the Trumps, the Corbyns and the Tsiprases is that they offer a connection. They recognise the gap between politicians and the public and claim to represent A Different Kind of Politics. Authenticity is probably irrelevant; deep down, cynical voters must know that a different kind of politician is still a politician. What appeals to them, as far as I can tell, is the informality, the puckish grin and knowing wink of a performer sending up the absurdity of their stuffy and rarefied profession.

So have I gone sap-headed? No. I’m unashamed of my addiction to process, my enjoyment of “political dirty talk” (© Paul Keating) is not going to diminish any time soon. But I think I learned more about politics as it relates to people’s lives in that A&E ward than I would have at the SNP conference.

What I learned is this: We are too far away from people. We need to get inside the bubble. That’s where politics can come to life, where the power to do more than tinker around the margins will be found. To be relevant again, politics has to be in the very roots of communities, where people can see its value and its impact.

Devolve more power from Westminster and Holyrood to localities. Break up supersized councils into smaller units that fit towns and villages. Norway, with a population of five million, is divided into more than 400 municipalities. Scotland, slightly more populous, is stretched between 32 local authorities. A system where you might bump into the politician responsible for your children’s school while out walking the dog has to be more trusted and respected than what we have now. And so on up the echelons of government.

The political centre is a difficult beast to love, prone to smugness and self-assurance. Long disdainful of the fringes, it has only latterly come to realise that it is now on the margins and the extremists and “anti-establishment” chancers at the heart of political life. There is no more important task today, for the democratic well-being of the West and the preservation of liberal values, than setting that trend in reverse. First, we have to close the gap.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © George Allison by Creative Commons 4.0.

Quiz: Are you Dundonian enough to be in a BBC Question Time audience?

So Question Time was in Dundee on Thursday night.

The popular BBC One current affairs programme tours the country every week and allows members of the public to put questions to politicians and commentators.

The panel included Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, SNP deputy first minister John Swinney, Labour MSP Jenny Marra and Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie. Rounding off the line-up were Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, and dapper political pundit Tim Stanley.

It was a landmark political broadcast from Scotland in so far as David Torrance wasn’t on it.

So far, so good. But since this was Scotland, and the eyes of the UK were on us, we just had to give ourselves a right showing up.

Some inhabitants of Scottish Twitter were disturbed to hear certain accents in the audience. Accents from, you know, People Not From Around Here.

 

And this, which is outstanding on many, many levels:

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To prevent this happening again, we’ve devised a helpful quiz to gauge whether you are Dundonian enough to appear in a Question Time audience.

1. Which famous Dundonian does this statue commemorate?

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a) Desperate Dan

b) Brian Cox

c) Crocodile Dundee

d) That nice Radio 4 PM chap is never from Dundee!

2. Who is this?

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© Douglas Nelson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

a) Oor Wullie

b) Our William

c) Muriel Gray

d) Rupert the Bear

3. What is this?

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a) Peh

b) Pie

c) Pastry-flavoured cholesterol

d) Melton Mowbray

4. When ordering No 3. in a bakery, which phrase naturally follows?

a) “Aningininanaw”

b) “An onion one, too”

c) “Does this contain monosodium glutamate?”

d) “Please”

5. If you bumped into Granpaw Broon in the street, what is he likely to say?

a) “Jings, crivens and help ma boab!”

b) “Goodness, gracious and help my Robert!”

c) “Do you know the Bairn’s real name?”

d) I’m not sure but he wasn’t a very good prime minister

6. Who is this?

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a) Kieran Andrews, political editor of the Courier

b) David Clegg, political editor of the Norn Irn Daily Record

c) Matt LeBlanc fallen on hard times

d) Ralph Macchio after The Karate Kid Part III tanked at the box office

7. Where is Broughty Ferry?

a) Dundee

b) Not Dundee

c) Wheesht, I’ve got my house price to think of

d) Oh, we know people in Broughton. Don’t we, Clive? Annabel and… thingy. Hector. Did we send them a Christmas card? Sorry, what was the question?

8. Have you ever played Grand Theft Auto?

a) Yes

b) No

c) No, and it’s a shameful glorification of wanton violence and misogyny

d) GTA? Really? I thought you lot just manufactured shortbread and Newsnight presenters

9. Is Lorraine Kelly Dundonian?

a) Yes

b) No

c) It’s complicated

d) I know she’s Scottish. Do I get a half-point?

10. Do you understand what these people are saying?

a) Of course

b) No

c) I can’t believe BBC Scotland televised people having a stroke

d) Why are they all called Ken?

Your result

Mostly a)s

You are a true Dundonian. You can wolf down a peh and aningininanaw in under a minute. Not only can you name every one of the Broons, you’re actually related to them. You are even more Dundonian than Lorraine Kelly. Who is very Dundonian. Sort of.

Mostly b)s

You’re a wee bit Dundonian but just too refined. Whereabouts in Broughty Ferry do you live?

Mostly c)s

You appear to be from Edinburgh. Please resubmit your application to Gardeners’ Question Time.

Mostly d)s

Oh. You’re Engl- I mean… Westminster! That’s it… Westminster. Right… Well, you know, that’s okay. How about that cricket, eh? *awkwardly Morris dances while humming Jerusalem*

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © StaraBlazkova from cs by Creative Commons 3.0.

The SNP’s case for independence is starting to look like a con trick

The SNP’s independence White Paper was not a document of half measures.

Scotland’s Future, as it was grandly titled, was a comprehensive blueprint for a separate Scotland. It covered everything from tax and welfare to the health service and immigration. There was even a section titled: “Regulation of Outer Space Activity in an Independent Scotland”.

Well, the truth is out there now and it’s not good news.

On Wednesday, the GERS figures were published. Not the profits and losses of Rangers Football Club but Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland, the annual audit of the national accounts.

What’s the damage? Let’s just say we might have to pay off the Visa card before we start shopping for a new sofa.

Scotland’s budget deficit, the gap between the revenue that comes in and what we spend, sits at £13.7bn, or 9.8% of GDP. When a geographic share of oil and gas receipts is assigned to the coffers, this reduces but only slightly to 7.8%. This stands in contrast to the UK’s deficit – just 3.3% of Britain’s national output.

Fiscal balance, which factors in capital investment expenditure, makes even more painful reading. By that measure, our deficit is £14.9bn – 9.7% of GDP even with North Sea revenue taken into account. On this basis, Scotland is in the red almost twice as much as the UK as a whole.

So what happened? The oil crisis has taken the Scottish economy out back and given it an almighty kicking. During the independence referendum, the Nationalists told voters to expect an oil price of $113 a barrel and revenues of £7.9bn by 2016/17. Today, Brent Crude pumps in at $40 per unit and 2014/15 recorded North Sea tax receipts totalling £2.3bn.

The bottom line: Scotland’s credit card balance is minus £14.9bn. Minus £14.9bn.

These statistics, it should be stressed, do not come from the UK Government or a shadowy Labour think tank in That London. They are numbers compiled, calculated, and published by the SNP-run Scottish Government.

It is this that makes the GERS report all the more damning. These are figures from the same Scottish Government that less than two years ago was promising us untold wealth if only we voted to break away from the UK.

Recall the lofty pledges of the White Paper:

“Scotland has all the wealth it needs to be a fairer country. We are one of the richest nations on the planet and could choose to use that wealth in a different way from Westminster.” (page 27)

“Independence will provide the opportunity to safeguard Scotland’s financial sustainability more effectively and ensure that our public finances are managed to reflect the needs of Scotland’s economy.” (page 71)

“As we move to independence, our strong public finances will provide the foundations for policy decisions on taxation, growth and welfare.” (page 72)

It would be comedic if the stakes weren’t so high. If Scotland had voted Yes in the referendum, we would be 15 days away from formal independence. Instead of a social democratic Shangri-La, it seems we would have been greeted by a choice of swingeing tax hikes or radical cuts to public spending.

After today, it will be harder to indulge the White Paper as the product of ill-placed optimism. Now it looks more like a piece of creative accounting, a 649-page confidence trick.

The SNP has swaggered around the ethical high ground since their defeat in the referendum. They were moral victors, they tell themselves; “cheated not defeated” their supporters declare. Victimhood soothes a guilty conscience and a refusal to confront the flaws in their assumptions and assertions is hardly surprising in a political party. When under attack, head for the bunker. The cogency of the movement trumps the cogency of the argument.

Statistics are usually a dry affair but today’s are different. They mark a turning point. To go on holding up the dubious contents of the White Paper, to continue lending the credibility of the First Minister or finance minister to its sunny pretences, is no longer mere politics. It is downright dishonesty.

For true believers, none of this matters. Our Nicola, who art infallible, hallowed be thy unsubstantiated assertions. Independence saves. The SNP redeems. Now and forever, Amen.

For those who want to believe but need some reassurance, The Party has issued a fresh catechism. It contains gems like this: “GERS tells us about the status quo and very little about the opportunities of independence. Scotland is rich in human talent and natural resources. But what we lack are the economic levers to maximise growth in our economy, and invest according to our own priorities.”

Paragraphs like that are why self-help books sell so well.

The rest of the country isn’t as sap-headed. For the heathens in the reality-based community, facts matter more than flags and the SNP will have to account for the gap between its assertions and the black and white of the GERS figures.

Of course, I would say all this because, like every journalist, I am a shill for the lying Yoon MSM conspiracy. #SNPbad. But my argument is not against independence, which I reckon Scotland could pull off with the right mix of fiscal restraint, innovation, and economic growth. In fact, it is supporters of independence who should be raising their voices and demanding the SNP redo its sums, and show the working this time.

The No campaign’s victory in the referendum was not as decisive as it needed to be. The constitutional question remains open and polling shows the nationalists in a slightly stronger position for a second referendum. Should the plebiscite on EU membership result in Brexit against the will of a majority of Scotland-based voters, the Scottish Government would have a strong case for #indyref2.

Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t seem particularly enthused about such a scenario, I suspect not simply because her instincts are pro-European. She knows what the GERS report confirms: The economics of independence are challenging for a party which favours low taxes and high spending. No alternative economic arguments have been forthcoming because they would involve hard choices and populist parties do not do hard choices.

And maybe there’s another reason.

The SNP thinks tax cuts are the answer for the oil industry, the whisky industry, and the airline industry. Spending cuts are the answer for council budgets and further education.

Scrap the council tax. Freeze the council tax. Keep the council tax.

No to a rise in income tax to protect services but ramp up council tax bands to give more money to schools.

For a welfare cap, then against Tory welfare reform.

Land reform: Radical or modest?

Frack. Don’t frack. Let’s think about it again in a wee while.

This is a party that does not know what it believes.

It’s time they made up their minds. There is a case for independence out there, just waiting for the SNP to make it.

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © Berardo62 by Creative Commons 2.0.

Antonin Scalia was a giant of the intellectual right

Antonin Scalia, the cheery antithesis of Atticus Finch, was an unlikely radical.

The US Supreme Court justice, who died over the weekend aged 79, was a graduate of Harvard Law School who interrupted his academic career with a five-year stint working for Richard Nixon, the squarest of squares, and later Gerald Ford.

But a radical he was, storming the barricades of the judiciary and the legal establishment with an idea his opponents deemed dangerous, if not fanatic, but which Scalia regarded as a return to an earlier orthodoxy.

In the vulgar rhetoric of US judicial politics, he was a “conservative” but while his private views were undoubtedly reactionary, his legal philosophy was more complex. Scalia was an originalist, a school of thought which sprung up in opposition to the “judicial activism” of the Warren Court. Originalists argued that the Constitution and federal statutes should be interpreted by discerning their “original meaning”, what each provision had meant when it was passed into law.

In that sense, he was a restorative revolutionary, dragging constitutional interpretation back to what he believed was its proper mode before the interference of political ideology and judicial arrogance.

This sometimes led him to conclusions that sat ill-at-ease with his personal politics. Writing for the majority in Kyllo v. United States, he determined that law enforcement could not use thermal imaging to detect marijuana farms in private homes without a warrant. The narcotics trade got another boost in 2012, when he authored the US v. Jones decision declaring the use of GPS to track a suspected drug trafficker an unconstitutional search.

In Brown v. EMA, he struck down a California statute restricting the sale of ultra-violent video games to minors on the grounds they represented protected First Amendment speech. The state could no sooner limit access to Postal 2, he reasoned, than it could keep grisly literature out of children’s hands. “Some of the Grimms’ fairy tales are quite grim, to tell you the truth,” he quipped during oral argument.

Why then did he attract such contempt from the political left and many in the legal profession? To understand, we must appreciate the highly politicised nature of the federal judiciary in the United States. Lord Neuberger and Lady Hale can retire to their chambers of an afternoon and, blessedly, not be serenaded by a shrill chorus of pro-choice and pro-life protestors. Washington DC’s 1 First Street, however, is the rallying point for all sides of every social issue under the sun, from guns and gays to school prayer and the death penalty. The Court’s interventions in hot-button issues over the years — birth, death and gay marriage — mean every seat on the bench counts and appointments are fought over with a righteous rage otherwise reserved for Armageddon.

Scalia sparked a resplendent fury in his enemies — they were no mere opponents — as he giddily throttled one liberal dogma after another. The Constitution, he pointed out, had nothing to say about abortion or same-sex rights and as such those questions were for the people or their elected representatives to answer. Worse, he resisted efforts towards what he saw as “rewriting” the document. The death penalty could not be unconstitutional since the Bill of Rights explicitly references it and affirmative action was surely forbidden by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In declining to “take sides in the culture war”, he was taking the side that most infuriated his critics: That of the “dead” over the “living” constitution, with its “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”.

When schoolchildren visited the Court and recited the line taught to them by their teachers, that “the Constitution is a living document”, Scalia would delight in telling them: “It isn’t a living document. It’s dead. Dead, dead, dead.”

Antonin Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1936, the only child of Italian immigrants. His father Salvatore was an academic and Scalia excelled at school, graduating top of his class from Xavier High School, a military academy run by the Jesuits (a truly terrifying concept to anyone who has experienced either of those two educational systems). He was in that fine tradition of uppity immigrant offspring who excel with largely invisible effort and in doing so offend the dull progeny of the WASP elite. He took an undergraduate degree in history from Georgetown and his JD from Harvard and began practising law in Cleveland, Ohio before accepting a professorship at the University of Virginia. In 1971, he went to work for the Nixon White House as legal counsel in a number of executive agencies, where his uncommon passion for administrative law came in handy.

A return to academia after the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 saw Scalia take a post at the University of Chicago law school until 1982, when Ronald Reagan appointed him to the DC Circuit, known in legal circles as the waiting room for the Supreme Court. When Chief Justice Warren Burger retired in 1986, the President nominated Associate Justice William Rehnquist to the position and named Scalia to fill the latter’s seat.

It was an inspired gambit by Reagan, the lightning rod Rehnquist attracting all the heat while Democrat senators were forced to back Scalia or be pilloried by their own base for rejecting the first Italian-American appointee to the Court. The Left had been hoist by its own identity politics petard and Scalia’s would be the last nomination to be conducted as a political process rather than a form of unarmed warfare. He merrily puffed his way through the Senate hearings on a handsome briar pipe, a canny prop to intimate professorial pensiveness, but he was a bulldog straining at the leash. In the end, he was confirmed by the Senate 98 votes to nil. (Two Republican senators, the highly conservative Barry Goldwater and Jake Garn, were absent. When a Justice Department staffer called Scalia to tell him the result, the judge quipped: “You mean we lost Goldwater and Garn?!”)

If the White House feared he would “go bad” like so many previous Republican appointees, Scalia quickly allayed any worries, unloading his originalist philosophy with the rapid fire of a Chicago Typewriter. He dismissed the Court’s death penalty jurisprudence as “a show of hands on the current Justices’ current personal views about penology” (Roper v. Simmons) and, dissenting from his colleagues’ invalidation of a Texas anti-sodomy statute, accused the majority of having “taken sides in the culture war” and “largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda” (Lawrence v. Texas). He heaped scorn on “the unfettered wisdom of a majority of this Court, revealed to an obedient people on a case-by-case basis” in Morrison v. Olson and in other dissents lamented the “sheer applesauce” (Zuni Public School District v. Department of Education) and “legalistic argle-bargle” (US v. Windsor) of the majority’s ruling.

Breaking from the majority in landmark abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Court quietly terminated Roe v. Wade‘s trimester system and invented an “undue burden” test in its place, Scalia vented his contempt for unchecked judicial power: “No government official is ‘tempted’ to place restraints upon his own freedom of action, which is why Lord Acton did not say ‘Power tends to purify’.” His critics mused that Scalia showed no likewise concern about the corrupting influence of executive power, which he defended lustily.

Humour was a frequently deployed weapon in his armoury. In PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, which considered whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applied to professional golfing tournaments, Scalia dissented from the majority’s ruling as well-intentioned but not compelled by law. He snarked: “It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government’s power ‘[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,’ to decide What Is Golf.”

Despite their sharply contrasting views, he enjoyed a personal friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Their families holidayed together (a picture exists of Scalia and Ginsburg atop an elephant in India) and the two jurists often accompanied each other to the opera. (The odd couple of the federal bench even inspired a comic opera, Scalia/Ginsburg, which premiered last summer.) When right-wingers assailed Barack Obama’s 2010 Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s lack of judicial experience, Scalia made a rare public comment dismissing their concerns. When she eventually joined the Court the two grew close and, to the bewilderment of Kagan’s left-wing boosters, even became hunting buddies.

In one sense, Scalia’s time on the Court was a failure in that it did not wholly turn the tide against evolutionism and purposivism. He was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas in 1989 but subsequent Republican picks — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito — were in the Rehnquistian mould of mere textual restraint. That unseemly politicking over his replacement began before the body was even cold underscores the endurance of the politicised judiciary he sought to eradicate. Such are the stakes when the highest court in the land evolves into a super-parliament of nine, legislating from the bench on matters too difficult for politicians to handle. For all his protestations to the contrary, he was not above politics himself, letting slip in hisWabaunsee County v. Umbehr dissent: “The Court must be living in another world. Day by day, case by case, it is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize.”

He was severely criticised for his dissent in 2012’s Arizona v. US, which contained an undisguised broadside against the Obama administration.

If he did not manage to kill the living constitution, Scalia had many successes to his name. Almost single-handedly, he restored much of the original meaning of the confrontation clause, in cases such as Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (the right of defendants to cross-examine expert lab analysts) and Crawford v. Washington (hearsay statements only admissible if subject to cross-examination). He authored the majority opinion in DC v. Heller, finding that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to keep and bear arms independent of participation in “a well regulated Militia”.

And his mere presence on the bench forced law schools, those institutions tangentially involved in legal education, to recruit originalists to their faculties. Whether this will produce another Scalia remains to be seen but it means students educated in the new orthodoxy will at least be aware of the old one.

Since his death from a heart attack at a Texan hunting ranch on Saturday night, Scalia’s detractors have sought to discredit him and his judicial philosophy with accusations of prejudice, in particular that of homophobia. Though adhering to the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality (pending any revisions by the eager Pope Francis), Scalia was not a bigot but a democrat and a constitutionalist. His objection was not to homosexuals but to what he asserted was the invention of constitutional rights — to gay marriage, to abortion — without the consent of the governed.

He expressed his grievance most lucidly in dissenting from US v. Windsor, one of the last slides down the slippery slope to Obergefell v. Hodges and a constitutional right to same-sex marriage:

In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated. It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today’s Court can handle. Too bad. A reminder that disagreement over something so fundamental as marriage can still be politically legitimate would have been a fit task for what in earlier times was called the judicial temperament. We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide.

But that the majority will not do. Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent.

Antonin Gregory Scalia was born in New Jersey on March 11, 1936 and died in Texas on February 13, 2016. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, and nine children.

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © Stephen Masker by Creative Commons 2.0.

Westminster beware, Scotland won’t get fooled again

“If polls in Scotland don’t change revise the saying ‘you can’t fool all the people all of the time’ as almost all are appearing to be fooled.”

So tweeted George Foulkes — Comrade Baron Foulkes of Cumnock, to give him his full socialist honours — over the weekend.

Casting the voters as fools is a novel electoral strategy but Scottish Labour has thrown everything else at the SNP, so it’s at least worth a try.

The noble lord’s frequent pronouncements — Foulkes wisdom, if you will — add much to the gaiety of the nation. He once tried to have the video game Space Invaders proscribed for causing youngsters to “become crazed, with eyes glazed, oblivious to everything around them”.

But his tweet, revealing of Labour’s continuing bewilderment at what has happened in Scotland and cluelessness over what to do about it, also contains a kernel of truth.

The voters do seem oddly credulous, loudly distrustful of established institutions and political parties but unquestioning of their populist challengers. They don’t want a radically different relationship with elites so much as a good vent at the current crop of bastards in charge.

Donald Trump, a twice-divorced New York moneybags, is wowing poor evangelical Christians in America’s red states. To bring up the Republican presidential candidate’s long history of liberal positions — formerly a registered Democrat, Trump was once pro-choice, in favour of universal healthcare, donated $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and invited Hillary to one of his three weddings — is simply proof that you are a shill for The Establishment. Trump need not be authentic as long as the anger he taps into is.

So too the Scottish Nationalists, who can hardly believe their luck. Their economic case for independence has had more holes shot in it than Che Guevara and yet support for the SNP, and for a breakaway from the UK, continues to rise. It seems not to matter that an independent Scotland would have faced cuts to make John Swinney’s current “reprofilings” look like socialist profligacy. Westminster Bad, SNP Good.

Still, gullibility has a limited shelf life and, when abused, calcifies into cynicism. We are fast approaching that stage in Scotland’s relationship with Westminster. Deploying Gordon Brown as guarantor in the last desperate days of the referendum, the UK Government ratted on his promise of “nothing less than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule”.

Now it seeks to bounce the Scottish Government into a bad deal on the fiscal framework. The Smith Commission agreed a “no detriment” principle that neither government’s pocketbook would be picked as a result of additional powers being devolved to Holyrood. But the Tories refuse to recognise the crucial issue of population growth, forecast to be slower north of the border than in England. The SNP, quite reasonably, wants a mechanism to correct this imbalance and proposes per capita indexed deduction. Professor Anton Muscatelli warns that the alternative could be a £3.5bn hit to Scotland’s cashflow over ten years.

Strong-arming the Nats into a shoddy settlement might seem like a jolly wheeze in the corridors of Whitehall. A brutal regime of SNP-imposed cuts would finally bring Scotland round to its senses. Yes, that’s it. Let them fall flat on their faces. That’ll put a stop to all this separatism nonsense.

Maybe so, but it would validate the Nationalist spiel that the UK is not a union of equals; that Scotland is a mere possession of Westminster, its prosperity to be toyed with for callous political advantage. It would confirm the necessity of independence in the minds of some and fortify its logic for others.

As Ardrossan-based misogynist and Twitter sensation Brian Spanner says, the referendum was a matter of “one opportunity, many opportunists”. That’s true but by no means were they all on the nationalist side. The SNP is out to stoke up resentment towards “Westminster” right up until Scotland finally snaps and votes to put everyone out of their misery. In its knavish manoeuvring the UK Government is coming to the aid of that enterprise. It’s not grievance politics when you have a genuine grievance.

Perhaps the Tories want a second referendum and to be rid of Scotland for good. If they don’t, they are playing a dangerous game indeed. David Cameron and George Osborne may face little opposition in the House of Commons but it’s not Jeremy Corbyn they’re dealing with now. Nicola Sturgeon is twice the political strategist either of them is and if she gets sandbagged around the negotiating table she will have her revenge at the ballot box.

Westminster should tread carefully in its dealings with Scotland. We won’t get fooled again.

Gender offender

Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who died over the weekend, once lamented the lack of critical thinking on university campuses. “They believe in diversity of everything except ideas,” he quipped.

Now Peter Tatchell finds himself accused of “transphobia” and racism by some dreary student representative, who has refused to share a platform with the human rights champion on those grounds. As allegations go, it’s certainly imaginative — a bit like accusing Elaine C Smith of being a Rhodes scholar.

It would be unfair to expect the bastard children of Judith Butler and Herbert Marcuse to appreciate the sweat (and often blood) Tatchell has put into the gay rights and anti-racism movements over the years. Back then, activism involved more than tweeting a glum-looking selfie and #everydaysexism. Tatchell was beaten, harassed, arrested, spat upon, and denounced by “respectable” society. Today he is shunned once again, another victim of the regressive left and its intolerance of all dissent.

The spread of this virus of anti-thought poisons the intellectual bloodstream of our universities. There are a number of possible antidotes but here is one to pilot before any other: Remove the cap on tuition fees. Not only would it bring a much-needed cash injection into higher education, it would make banning “TERFs” and penning footnoted mash letters to Anita Sarkeesian a very expensive four years.

Boycotting the boycotters

It’s been a bad weekend for people who monitor film credits for names ending in “berg” and “stein”.

The UK Government announced its intention to ban public bodies from participating in boycott, divestment and sanctions activity against Israel. BDS, a form of economic warfare waged by campaigners dismayed at the stubborn refusal of the Jews to be thrown into the sea, is the fashionable cause du jour. That it pushes Israelis into the arms of the hardliners, deprives Palestinians of desperately needed jobs, and darkly echoes historical boycotts of Jews and Jewish-produced goods seems not to trouble supporters of BDS.

In response to such insidious activities, pro-Israel campaigners have pioneered “buycotting” — purchasing Israeli products as an act of solidarity. The Jerusalem Post reports that a Netherlands store has begun to label settlement goods, following regulations adopted by the European Commission to differentiate items from the West Bank, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem. The twist: The Dutch retailers are Israel-supporting Christians and not labelling their fare for the Commission’s objective of stigmatising the products and those who manufacture them — but so good Zionists can show their support for the communities across the green line.

When I read the two stories, I raised a glass of Judean red in celebration.

Salmond v Farage

Nigel Farage has accepted Alex Salmond’s challenge to debate Britain’s membership of the European Union. This is just what the EU referendum needs: A slanging match between a megalomaniac who wants to break away from a successful union — and Nigel Farage. Then again, the moderator could cause an outbreak of consensus by asking the two men their view on Vladimir Putin.

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © Superikonoskop by Creative Commons 3.0.

Can the Scottish Greens make a breakthrough at Holyrood?

Left-of-centre? Care about social justice? Want to see an independent Scotland?

It’s obvious who you should vote for in May, right?

Well, not as obvious as you might think.

The Scottish Greens are hoping to challenge the SNP’s dominance at Holyrood and offer a radical alternative to the centre-hugging timidity of the other parties.

On paper the Greens are in a stronger position than ever before. Membership stands at 9,011 and polling shows co-convenor Patrick Harvie is relatively popular. They have a campaign war chest of £350,000, three times their spend on any previous vote, and a team of 16 strategists, policy wonks and spin doctors. Party chiefs say they are campaigning in communities where the Greens have never even been a factor before – and getting an encouraging response.

But can they convince Nationalists to lend them their second vote? The SNP and its cyber shills have been banging the #BothVotesSNP drum, with the less scrupulous punting the line that a list vote for the Greens will help Unionist parties. Still, the Greens are an attractive proposition for the SNP core vote. They are pro-independence, though they want to find better alternatives to the SNP’s rejected currency plan. While Nicola Sturgeon wants to see 60% of Scots consistently backing separation over a sustained period before she considers calling for a follow-up referendum, the Greens will allow voters to decide the timing through a citizens’ initiative.

They are also more authentically radical on economics, social policy, land reform, and fracking. The Greens do not advocate increasing income tax to prevent council cuts in the coming year, as Scottish Labour has called for, preferring to wait until the new Smith Commission tax powers have been devolved. In the mean time, they are pushing a locally-administered tax on derelict land, which number crunchers estimated could generate more than £300m in revenue. This way, the thinking goes, the tax system can address wealth and not just income inequality.

Patrick Harvie reckons there is an opportunity to take a chunk of second votes from the Nats. He says: “A great many SNP voters, frankly even some of their activists and campaigners, know that a regional vote for the SNP may not be worth very much.”

He also believes left-of-centre voters want someone to keep the Scottish Government on the right track. The Green approach will be to “challenge where we need to, be constructive where we can”. And while the Greens can out-left the SNP, Harvie isn’t overly concerned about challenges to his party. “Without a hint of hostility to RISE, I don’t think they’re going to make life difficult for us,” he insists.

When it comes to numbers, activists are confident they can take a seat in every region. But with hard work, the right campaign, and a good dose of luck their MSP tally could hit double figures. They are unlikely to take any constituency seats but all eyes will be on Glasgow Kelvin, where Harvie is up against the SNP’s gaffe-prone Sandra White.

The Scottish Greens are talking a better game than they have in years but is there anything to it?

They have money, they have some quality candidates, and they have ideas. The party is hoping to learn from the success of the Australian Greens, who regularly hold the balance of power in the Senate and who were key backers of Julia Gillard’s minority Labor government after the 2010 election ended in a tie. One of Harvie’s staffers campaigned for the Greens in Melbourne, where Adam Bandt secured the party’s first federal seat in 2010.

Greens are also learning to put their non-environmental policies front and centre. The key themes for May will be bread-and-butter fare like homes, jobs, and young people as well as “power in a bolder Scotland”. This is a bold statement that they are not just a single-issue pressure group but a rounded political party with a comprehensive agenda. And they have the advantage of standing out from the crowd, ideologically positioned some distance from their opponents.

It remains to be seen whether the simple effectiveness of #BothVotesSNP squeezes them out in key areas. Elections are tests for political parties but they also put the voters under the microscope. What kind of country do we want? Are we relaxed about replacing Labour’s one-party dominance with an elective one-party state under the SNP? Do we want radical policy alternatives?

Or is Scotland not that different from the rest of the UK after all?

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © NUS Scotland by Creative Commons 2.0.

Kezia Dugdale gets bold with risky pre-election tax move

Anyone longing for Kezia Dugdale to take the fight to the SNP just got their wish.

Call it a Penny for Fairness. The Scottish Labour leader has pledged to hike Scots’ income tax by one per cent should her party win the Holyrood election in May. (Itself contingent on lightning striking the same flying pig twice and the Pope converting to Rastafari on Easter Sunday.)

It would mean those forking over 20% and 40% of their income to the state would have to stump up 21% and 41% respectively instead. Labour tells us someone on a £30,000 salary would pay under £4 a week extra compared to Nicola Sturgeon on £144,687 a year (cute, real cute) who would have to find an additional £28 a week. The party adds that one in four Scottish workers would see their taxes stay the same while a further one in five would pay less thanks to a new, locally-administered tax rebate scheme.

The tax grab is designed to offset the SNP’s £350m cuts to council budgets, which has brought the Scottish Government and local government umbrella body COSLA to a stalemate. It comes after the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ similarly progressive Penny for Education was unveiled last week.

According to the Scottish Daily Mail, Dugdale’s announcement “will raise fears the SNP leadership could also lurch to the Left and further hammer middle-class families”. It is telling that the authentic voice of Middle Scotland is unnerved by the prospect of Labour pushing the Nationalists to the Left. Contrary to the gushings of day-tripper liberal columnists up from London for a look-see during last year’s general election, the SNP is not a radical outfit but a cautious, fiscally conservative one.

It has won two devolved elections and governed from the centre ground, during which time middle income families have been protected at the expense of the poor and the struggling. No one can blame the Daily Mail for sticking up for its readers’ interests but self-styled “progressive” Nationalists might want to pause and ask why a newspaper they vituperatively define themselves against is so keen to maintain the SNP status quo.

The Scottish Tories are blunter than the Mail. “Labour,” they blare, “has lost the plot”. And to be fair, it has. Led at UK level by a nukes-surrendering Marxist who buddies up with terrorists and seeks an “accommodation” with the Argentinians over the Falklands, Labour does seem to have set itself up for a lengthy sojourn in the funny farm.

But Dugdale’s Penny for Fairness is hardly full communism now. It is bold and progressive and could compel Nicola Sturgeon to do something she has largely avoided during her year of living timidly: Take a decision. Is she for or against progressive taxation?

The First Minister has one of two options. She can tough it out, keep faith with the wisdom that has always guided the smartest minds in Scottish Labour and the SNP: Scots want to be told they are Norwegians but they want to be taxed like Nebraskans. Or she could repeat the ruthless gambit that saw her pinch wholesale Labour’s progressive tax policies ahead of the 2015 general election. The difference is: Her party will win this election and win it outright; she will have to deliver the policies she puts forward or be judged accordingly.

Is Scotland willing to pay more tax for better services? Even if we aren’t, there is strategic value to Dugdale’s policy. Labour cannot win in May – it cannot even deprive the Nationalists of a majority – but it can nail them down once and for all. Labour has nothing left to lose so why not go down swinging, left-hooking the SNP again and again. Define them as the dead-centre triangulators they are; cause some unease in their ranks; force a few internal ructions and a misstep here and there.

There is a nobler concern at stake. The self-delusion that we can fund social democracy on Thatcherite tax levels is no longer a mere political curiosity but a very real threat to quality public services. For proof look no further than the SNP’s nine-year council tax freeze. A vote-winner for the Nats but a grim reaper for local services, especially those relied upon by the poor and socially excluded. New Labour cleverly deployed stealth taxes and redistributed on the QT but political and economic minds like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown come along once in a generation, if that.

The choice facing voters, in Scotland as elsewhere, is whether they are prepared to pay modestly higher taxes or whether they can live with workmanlike public services. I suspect most would respond the former and vote the latter but for the sake of a mature debate on public policy the question has to be put. Scottish Labour knows it is going down to defeat on the political argument; why not have a stab at winning the intellectual argument.

Of course, that’s not what political parties are for. They’re here to win elections. These days in Scotland that’s the SNP’s job, not Labour’s, but they’ve had a very easy ride for a very long time. Kezia Dugdale’s Penny for Fairness could put an end to that.

The Red Tories are dead. Long live the Yellow Tories?

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © Roman Oleinik by Creative Commons 3.0.

We must mark the Holocaust but it is only part of the Jewish story

Yisrael Kristal is 112. Yisrael Kristal is a candidate for the title of World’s Oldest Man. Yisrael Kristal is an Israeli Jew and Holocaust survivor.

Born in Poland in 1903, he worked as a confectioner until the Nazis came. They killed his two children in the ghetto and murdered his wife in Auschwitz. He left the death camp weighing 81 pounds but made it to Israel two years after the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty and settled in Haifa. Yisrael is religious and his family reports that he lays tefillin every day to pray. Guinness World Records is working to confirm if he is indeed the oldest living man.

The audacity of Yisrael’s story is astonishing. His is a life lived in defiance of the 20th century. He is not meant to be who he is, where he is, for as long as he has. And yet he is here, a living miracle.

It seems fitting that news of Yisrael’s actuarial achievement should have reached the world in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day. Commemorated internationally every January 27, it is an opportunity for Europe to atone. Politicians reach for the superlatives. Religious leaders unite in sincere prayer. On TV news, the twisted wire, the railway track and the wrought iron arbeit macht frei are looped into the viewers’ minds. We confront a genocide of our making, a homicidal plot devised, implemented, aided, ignored, supported, lamented, and only latterly brought to an end by inhabitants of our enlightened continent. We hear the words we keep locked away the rest of the year and feel revulsion at their grisly cadences, taste their caustic horror on our tongues. Gas chamber. Concentration camp. Extermination. That anyone could have been so wicked, so inhumane, we reproach the past, then add silently: There but for the grace of God and 70 years.

This is as it should be. No society that fails to bear witness to the evils of anti-Semitism can be considered truly civilised. Memory is penance.

Holocaust Memorial Day is also typically an occasion for fretting about The Future of European Jewry. And, yes, there are threats to both the physical and spiritual integrity of Jews in Europe. Anti-Semitism, once considered a relic of Christian chauvinism and racial pseudo-science, is on the rise again, reworked as ‘anti-imperialism’ and ‘anti-Zionism’. (Jew-hatred is the progressive prejudice.) European Jews are targets for terrorism, synagogues must be alert to vandals and arsonists, and in some parts of some cities outward displays of Jewishness are risky. Any connection to Israel can function as a bullseye for bigots and boycotters. Shechita is questioned and brit milahwill be soon enough.

Yes, things are bad in Europe. But hear the French prime minister, Manuel Valls: ‘Without France’s Jews, France would no longer be France… When the Jews of France are attacked, France is attacked and the universal conscience is attacked.’

Political leaders condemn anti-Semitism more often and more vocally, and are becoming less reluctant to tackle the sinister motives behind those who dedicate themselves to delegitimising Israel. The centre-left in Britain has been forced to confront the wages of fellow-travelling after the Labour Party chose Jeremy Corbyn for its leader, attracting scrutiny to his long career of disturbing, and often indefensible, associations.

Europe is slowly awakening to the abomination of anti-Semitism in its inner cities and on its college campuses just seven decades on from the Shoah. It will take time but after the initial shock will come more tangible efforts to push back. The lamps still flicker all across Europe.

Ruth Wisse makes a strong case that anti-Semitism isn’t about Jews so much as anti-Semites but the same is not true of resistance to anti-Semitism. That is mostly about Jews, as the remarkable Yisrael Kristal shows us.

Judaism is ‘the life of obedient love’ but it is also a life of rebellion. Against all odds, against all enemies, the Jewish people have not only survived but prospered. They have been driven to the hills of Masada and the gates of Auschwitz but still they endure. Their enemies are gone and yet the Jews live. Not Haman nor Hitler, Amalek nor Arafat has outlasted them.

Nothing captures this quite as vividly as the words of Vehi Sheamda: ‘And this is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and God saves us from their hands.’

The non-religious may quibble about divine intervention — though even the most secular, trayf-chomping, Saturday-kettle-boiling Jew must have their doubts at times — but the grammar of Jewish persecution and survival will be familiar to all. As the old saw goes, every Jewish holiday can be summed up in ten words: ‘They tried to kill us. They failed. Now let’s eat.’

What is the secret of this longevity? Ingenuity? Yes. Stubbornness? Perhaps. Faith? To be sure. Still, there is something else: Jews have a homeland, first yearned for then realised.

The Jewish experience is indivisible from Zionism because the existence of the State of Israel allows Jews to be Jewish, even those who think of Israel with contempt or shame or who never think of it at all. Israel is more than a narrow slice of territory in a hellish neighbourhood; it is a state of mind, a cue to ‘remember the crown/ The crown of pride and challenge’.

Three years out of the camps, Israel returned to Zion. There in the ancient Jewish home Herzl’s dream is willed into being every day. A Jew can grow to supercentenarianism in Haifa, Herzliya, or, the Israeli defence minister permitting, Hebron. France wouldn’t be France without its Jews but Jews can only leave because they have somewhere to go.

In 2003, the Israeli Air Force performed a flyover in the skies above Auschwitz. It was a display heavy with symbolism: The world could promise ‘never again’ all it wanted; the Jewish people and their state would make sure ‘never again’ meant never again. That is why the highest priority for anti-Semites is cleaving Jews from Israel. In exile, Jerusalem was the unifier of the Diaspora; now returned, Jerusalem is the guarantor and enforcer of Emil Fackenheim’s 614th mitzvah: ‘Thou shalt not hand Hitler posthumous victories.’

Europe should mark Holocaust Memorial Day. It should repent and erect monuments and educate its children about what their forefathers did and failed to do. But just as our sins should not define the Jewish experience, nor should our memorials alone record them. The most potent monument to the Holocaust, and to the abject failure of anti-Semitism, will not be found in London or Paris or Berlin but in the home of an elderly man in Haifa. As his daughter told reporters: ‘The Holocaust did not affect his beliefs. My father is someone who is always happy. He is optimistic, wise, and he values what he has.’

Yisrael Kristal lives. Am Yisrael chai.

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © Powhusku by Creative Commons 2.0.

RISE and fall of ‘Yes Alliance’ a predictable affair

The nativists are getting restless.

Not content with their war on Tunnock’s tea cakes and the rest of the vast Unionist conspiracy, the cybernats have turned on former comrades in the campaign for independence.

The dissenters, mostly left-wingers not affiliated to the SNP, had the temerity to suggest voting for a party other than the Nationalists at the Holyrood election in May.

Angela Haggerty, one of the bright young things to emerge from the Yes movement, edits CommonSpace, a left-leaning news and comment site that refuses to toe any party line.

She has warned that an “extreme minority” of SNP supporters are undermining the case for independence by shouting down even those who agree with them on the constitution. Writing in a newspaper, she contends: “Questioning the party of government, which happens to be the SNP, is no longer tolerable for this extreme minority: Wheesht for indy, we can always ask questions later.”

She adds: “The independence movement on social media is descending into bickering between those who still want the debate and those who want to shut it down in favour of soundbites about evil journalists, Unionists, and Saint Nicola Sturgeon.”

The casus belli for this uncivil war is the emergence of a new party to the SNP’s left.

RISE – Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism – is not a breakfast cereal but an electoral coalition bringing together the Scottish Socialist Party and various other Trots and sods from the Yes campaign. The SSP alone couldn’t be the vehicle for the Left because some teenagers discovered politics during the referendum and we have to pretend they have something new and interesting to say.

So far, so far-left. But RISE poses a problem for an SNP that has scaled the heights of Scottish politics by demonising its opponents as Tories and traitors. This schtick doesn’t work with RISE, which is authentically radical on public policy and the constitution. After stirring the disaffected during the referendum with airy promises of untold national wealth and social utopia, the Nationalists find themselves having to govern in prose again. Unavoidable cuts, a funding crisis in local government, and failing health targets are just some of the bumps on the road ahead.

A socialist challenger makes life uncomfortable for the SNP, which talks left but walks centre. Until now, warm words about land reform, fracking, and public sector procurement have appeased the grassroots but a new party with a bolder agenda would pose awkward questions.

SNP loyalists don’t quite know how to handle RISE so have gone with their strengths and lashed out. (Upon hearing that there were other parties, GA Ponsonby wept that he had not yet denounced them.) Lending your second vote to one of the smaller parties, they warn darkly, will only help more Unionists escape the justice of the Scottish people. Crucially for a political strategy devised by and for furious middle aged men who spend their evenings in their Y-fronts typing “BIAS!!!!” under every Herald article, it has a hashtag. #BothVotesSNP is where frustrated extremism meets low-level neddery. It’s as if residents of The Scheme joined ISIS but stuck to handing out leaflets down the precinct on Saturday afternoons instead of flying out to Raqqa.

The backlash against RISE has shocked broad-church Yes activists and yet was entirely predictable. The SNP was always going to rat on the much-vaunted “Yes Alliance”. Orwell diagnosed nationalism as “power-hunger tempered by self-deception” but not so Scottish nationalism. The SNP knows what it is; what it excels at is taking in everyone else. Tories in Tayside, Bolshies in Baillieston but the cause remains the same.

Scotland’s national movement is not uniform. There are two distinct strains of nationalism that were forced together in a hasty shotgun wedding during the referendum. With apologies to Isaiah Berlin, these are positive nationalism, which seeks independence as a means to another end (e.g. a just socio-economic system), and negative nationalism, which is more concerned with sovereignty and national pride.

Derek Bateman, a former BBC broadcaster turned cyber pied piper to the paranoid and the aggrieved, is commendably honest about this division in motivation. In response to the #BothVotesSNP schism, he writes: “For me as, I admit, an old style Nationalist, the attainment of national sovereignty is the ultimate prize. It isn’t just an ambition that would be fine to claim, it is an all-consuming passion to see our country break free from restriction and diktat by others to join the family of nations. I desire independence (almost) no matter what kind of country results.”

Many Nationalist hearts will warm to hear Bateman’s paean to “the reinstatement of the Scots’ ancient rights – the fulfilment of national destiny”, though they have been taught to be ashamed of such feelings. In truth, there is a dignity to “negative nationalism” but only if you are honest enough to admit what you really believe.

And it is a nationalism that can win and go on winning whether or not a few sociology lecturers take a handful of votes on a regional list. Despite its modest record in government, the SNP is the only viable party to lead the country at the moment. Nicola Sturgeon stands unchallenged; a European leader of European leader quality.

Scottish Labour is a wake without decent whisky, a desperately sad affair of glum glances exchanged and consoling pats on the shoulder. Kezia Dugdale is sincere and hard-working but most voters couldn’t pick her out of a one-woman line-up. The Conservatives have Ruth Davidson but unfortunately for Ruth Davidson she has the Conservatives. If they cannot gain ground in these circumstances, the party really is over and Davidson should be allowed to go to Westminster where she belongs.

Whatever the merits of RISE and its platform, the notion that a vote for them hurts the independence cause is risible. In fact, a phalanx of radical-left MSPs could help keep Nicola Sturgeon’s party honest. But no political party wants to be kept honest; they want to hold power and hold it exclusively.

The pro-independence Left has spent so long gloating over the ill-conceived Better Together that they haven’t noticed their own alliance largely benefited the Nationalists. The Scottish Greens, having emerged from their referendum sojourn as the Meadows/Morningside branch office of the SNP, are in a strong position but much of that is down to a clearly defined policy profile on non-constitutional issues.

The Left must break out of the mindset that considers the SNP “one of us”, a radical party that hides its red hues in a shade of yellow to win independence. Yes, it opposes Trident but if your definition of socialism begins and ends at the gates of Faslane Naval Base, you’ve got lost somewhere along the way. The SNP is a ruthless election-smashing machine that lives and dies on the centre ground; it’s not Syriza with a dod of tartan. When the Left looks at the SNP it sees comrades but when the SNP looks at the Left it sees useful idiots.

#BothVotesSNP is an electoral strategy and an argument. It contends that the Nationalists are the sole parliamentary vehicle for achieving independence. You have to vote SNP. It’s too risky to back another party. You’ll just let the Unionists in by the back door.

Doesn’t this all sound terribly familiar? The Scottish Labour Party didn’t die, it was just reborn in a new body.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © subberculture by Creative Commons 2.0.