None of the Above, All of Us Below
The results of Scotland’s latest election are in and no-one got what they wanted. Same as last time. And the time before that. Scotland’s local elections have yet again been used as a consumer poll on our nation’s continued occupation and exploitation by England’s Conservative establishment in London. This benefits no-one in need of better local services during the cost of living crisis, delivering no scrutiny of failing council executives (some of whom are on salaries several times that of the First Minister), nor the ability to challenge post-electoral pacts between parties with very different manifesto pledges and so on.
Next up: the UK General Election, which some whisper, may come around as soon as autumn this year, depending on whether the Tories attempt a coup against the Bloviator-in-Chief. As before, we will be expected to turn out and vote SNP, simply because standing just one candidate can cost many tens of thousands of pounds each, smaller parties will struggle to put together a cohesive national campaign able to win votes. This limits the options for ISP, Alba and the Greens to present an alternative vision of the role our Scottish MPs may play in England’s parliament. Yes, I hear it’s supposed to be Britain’s parliament but evidence shows that even when all the representatives of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stand together, they are unable to overturn the Tory majority delivered by England’s voters, even with the help of Labour. This is why, for instance, Scotland’s NHS is so badly impacted by cuts forced through by Tories in search of privatisation by the back door, despite the supposedly mitigating impact of devolution.
Much as we may laud the efforts of Neale Hanvey, Joanna Cherry and others, enthusiastically sharing on social media clips of speeches made that the BBC yet again failed to broadcast, it’s long past time we asked why these MPs and their colleagues are there. At every whipped vote, the Tories deliver do more damage to us because there’s a majority too large to be overcome unless Conservative rebels themselves say ‘enough’. An example of this would be Roger Mullin’s attempt to have an amendment added to the Finance Bill in 2017 seeking to finally address the problems inherent in Scotland’s Limited Liability Partnerships, completely undone by majority Tory votes. How different would the UK’s ability to close down oligarch wealth in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine in February have been had Roger’s amendment been passed?
We do know from corresponding with MPs that constituency business can be done at a distance. You don’t even need to be an MP to get informed legal and statutory advice from the Westminster Library, so if attendance at Westminster is not about the votes and it’s not about being close to the heart of empire, why are MPs travelling south to make an oath to a foreign monarchy that most would wave goodbye to without so much as a backward glance (at least, once the Duchess of Balmoral is gone)?
Bright and as renowned for our ingenuity as we Scots have been, you’d have thought we’d have figured out a way out of this electoral trap by now but options are limited in Scotland: either we hold our noses and keep voting for a party of devolution posing as our national party or, we commit to a path of violence that no-one wants to walk.
But this doesn’t excuse us from trying to find alternatives. Be water, as activists in Hong Kong taught us against more challenging odds. If we look first, at a little recent history from France and then, a little further back to Ireland during the reign of Victoria, we can potentially see a way forward that is completely within our power.
It was notable in France’s recent presidential elections how much attention was paid to abstentions. When the second-round choice is between candidates for the centre-right and the far-right, where do those who value good social and economic policy focused on alleviating poverty go? It’s worth remembering that Macron will serve a second-term as president having secured just 38% of the electorate, with many of those votes reluctantly cast only to stop the other candidate.
The incidence of abstentionism in France was noted to be highest among those earning the least and with fewest opportunity to advance their social position. It seems so obvious it shouldn’t need pointing out but an economy simply couldn’t function if we were all managers on the salary to match: someone has to empty the bedpans and bins, pick the crops we eat, give comfort to those alone and the ill, and these essential workers shouldn’t only be celebrated when we’re stuck at home on Zoom meetings. If the majority of us are in poorly-paid work, our labour so poorly-rewarded that we cannot pay both utility bills and food, then elections should afford an opportunity to express this frustration clearly but in France, as in the UK, there is no opportunity to say ‘None of the Above’ and so compel candidates and parties alike to come back with a better offer.
A recent study by IPPR, found that only 6% of voters in Britain believe their views are the main driver of government policy, and 55% of 18- to 24-year-old voters actually believe democracy serves them badly. This is perhaps because any party with big money behind them will attempt to triangulate the best position to adopt in the run-up to elections by use of polls, discussion groups and surveys, which produces a bland beige spectrum of policies with little to differentiate between policy promises (which are likely to never be delivered anyway).
In Scotland, we live in an electoral limbo where one-half of the population wants to have our laws made here by the people who live in and work in our nation, while the other half of the population willingly kneel before their imperial masters, reciting dull supplications every July to Dutch lordlings three centuries dead, voting against their own interests because they believe that alone among all the nations of the world, a resource-rich Scotland is uniquely unable to create her own currency, banks and stock market.
But Scotland is not alone being stuck in a system that demands obeisance. Wales and Northern Ireland are stuck in Downton aspic too.
In the UK, “The reality is that the first-past-the-post voting system means 71% of votes are wasted to the benefit of the Tories. Remember, it takes only 38,000 votes to elect each Tory MP but 50,000 for Labour, 250,000 for the Liberal Democrats and 850,000 for the Greens. First past the post underpins our tribal, adversarial, winner-takes-all politics. The big fraud is an electoral system that shuts out millions of voices, to the Tories’ delight, and locks in a nasty and arrogant political behaviour.” Neal Lawson, director of the cross-party campaign organisation Compass, didn’t give figures for the SNP in his recent article, ‘The Tories are terrified of a Labour-Lib Dem pact – and they’re right to be’ (The Guardian, Monday 2 May 2022) but we’d be daft if we bet that someone, somewhere hadn’t made that calculation, given the potential impact of a hung parliament after the next UK General Election.
So now we look to Ireland for the lessons learned in the late nineteenth century because it wasn’t until Irish MPs REFUSED to take the seats in Westminster that they’d won at election that independence became more than something talked about. In dominating Irish politics from the 1880s onward, the Irish Parliamentary Party had become complacent, no less a part of Westminster’s benches than the Tories and Liberals. Having won six by-elections 1917-18, Sinn Féan won a landslide that swept aside the delayers and devolutionists.
For too long, Scots have looked events that followed in Ireland, and recoiled from the idea that Scottish candidates winning election to Westminster should refuse to take their seats but the world is a different place. An independent Ireland is part of an EU that will be observing electoral outcomes closely and attempts by Unionists to inflame violence as a response to a free and fair election will simply not be tolerated, especially if in parallel, the Irish are headed toward a poll on re-unification.
it is patently absurd that our future, and that of our children, is dependent on a single decision made by the Council of Estates in 1688. If royal blood is by tradition a cure for all ills, how come the men-folk are not only bald as billiard balls but are so lacking in self-awareness?
ISP is the only political party to maintain that monarchy has no place in Scotland at all. No party serious about independence can simultaneously maintain that a poll on monarchy should be conducted after full powers of government have been returned to Edinburgh, if they’re also trying to create a written constitution that has equality before the law at its heart.
Its obvious that an end to unelected heads of state is interwoven into what we expect from a fully-democratic government but time, human mortality and current events are going to bring us to the point where we must contemplate our future soon enough. Every elected representative will be expected to renew vows to what will be a new king and with support for monarchy so poor in Scotland that no Platinum Jubilee street parties appear officially registered at the time of writing, we can only ask on whose behalf MSPs and more importantly, MPs, will be making these vows if not their own expense accounts and desire to enter an unelected chamber of peers.
Ordinary members of the public can consult the legal and political expertise of the Westminster Library. Constitutional matters are surely dealt with more efficiently from the constituency itself. It’s not for the votes that Scottish MPs turn out: Tories out-number the entire collective opposition by 80 seats (and more, if the DUP side with them) and ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer will inevitably feel it his duty to promise that Labour will not into coalition with the SNP once the Tory rags start their usual attacks.
The simple fact is that we would be doing the social democratic (and trade union) movement, in fact, civic society as a whole in England a huge favour by removing the prospect of coalition between Labour and the SNP entirely from the Tory armoury by advocating that no Scottish MP should take their seat and oath in Westminster after election. It would, for instance, put the opportunity for informal electoral pacts between Labour, the LibDems and the Greens to the forefront, easily able to overcome the gerrymandering of constituency boundaries in favour of sitting Tory MPs, particularly in England’s south-east. In Scotland, more importantly, the challenge of how to draw the independence movement together behind one set of candidates, that is, those who pledge to refuse taking their oath at Westminster, would be overcome.
For a score of 50-plus MPs returned from Scotland on a manifesto of delivering independence, the budget for paying their usual MP salaries would be less than £7 million. It sounds a lot but in the context of money that Finance Minister Kate Forbes has had to find for other projects in the short-term, it’s cheap at the price for a ‘senate’ of experienced campaigners dedicated to a singular purpose: an independent Scotland. Double the budget would provide for offices and staff in buildings already set-up for government function, in Edinburgh or one of Scotland’s other cities.
What is lacking is the will.
In the coming days, weeks, months, we need to do more as an independence movement than simply repeat calls for a referendum that will, despite the best effort of Martin Keatings, be shown to be a route to constitutional change whose levers remain in the control of England’s Tories but instead, challenge candidates to state whether they’d refuse to sit. Candidates, particularly from the SNP, must be given stern notice that they either move now or face rejection at the ballot box, their votes being given to candidates who have taken the pledge of refusal.
The opportunity is there for greater coordination among the wider democratic movement in Scotland to field candidates who refuse to bend their knees and bow their heads. Inevitably, the initiative falls very firmly into the laps of Alba’s two MPs to show their commitment to this idea first but Angus MacNeil has also shown an appetite for finding an alternative path to independence.
What say you all?