Monday, 15 December 2014


Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale make a phenomenal leadership team for Scottish Labour.

It's what most folk in Scottish Labour had been hoping for throughout the leadership campaign, and what most folk in Scottish Labour voted for in the end. A fresh start, with a clear focus on a future Labour government delivering social and economic justice for all Scots.

Today's announcement of a "Clause Four moment", as the leadership asks the membership to endorse a constitutional renewal, is the clearest demonstration yet that business as usual is over. Scottish Labour will be revitalised, re-energised, and relentlessly focused on fair pay, fair tax and fair work.

It is time we moved on from the arguments of the referendum. That issue has been settled, and the Smith Commission process is delivering powers that mean the Scottish Parliament can reshape spending and policy to suit Scotland's needs. The question now is how we use those powers, and as I re-read Jim's speech from Saturday I find it hard to see how anyone could disagree:
"If we are honest, Scotland is one country but two nations. Divided not by how we voted in the referendum, but by circumstances. One, the majority: fulfilled, doing well, getting by or getting on. The other, a minority: falling behind, denied opportunity, struggling to escape the hardship of their upbringing. This inequality is wrong. And Scottish Labour’s mission is to end it."
I was on Good Morning Scotland this morning, debating with a member of Radical Independence about what Jim's election means for Labour's relationship with the trade unions. I fear it was largely a dialogue of the deaf. No heed was paid to the fact that Jim won 40% of the union vote despite 90% of union leaders backing other candidates. No acknowledgement was made of the fact that, for all the spin and bluster, all three candidates were actually backing the same core Labour principles - fair pay, equality and fair taxation. The arguments against Jim were arguments against a caricature, a straw man. What Jim is actually standing for was being ignored.

For too many people, the politics of division has taken such deep root that we are struggling to set it aside even when we find common cause. But there is great common cause here: between those who voted No and those who voted Yes; between the trade union movement and the Labour movement; between all parts of Scotland.

It's about building a fairer Scotland. Jim and Kez have got it. For the first time in a while, the cause of social justice is on the front foot. I'm excited, and ready. Let's go.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Guest post from Andy Maciver: "I'll not be signing the pledge"

A rare guest post today. Andy Maciver asked to respond to my Pledge to end all-male panels. Here's what he has to say:

A couple of weeks ago, I was challenged by Kezia Dugdale to refuse to participate in all-male panels on political TV shows following the opening of a pledge by Duncan Hothersall. I am by no means a prolific commentator, but every month or so I’ll pop up on Scotland Tonight or Scotland 2014 to throw in my tuppenceworth. Indeed, I’m doing so tonight.

Most of the TV appearances I have made have been alongside women, as tonight’s will be, and I generally find that those segments provide a better viewer experience than an all-male or indeed all-female panel.

But I’ll not be signing the pledge.

Now, I think that politics and political commentary would benefit hugely from more female involvement. Back in the days of Newsnight Scotland, the tedious, old, male commentariat was relatively unchanging throughout the first decade of this century. It was, in truth, fairly boring; partly because they were all men, and partly because they had no new ideas.

STV’s Scotland Tonight took a different approach, and the BBC’s Scotland 2014, as well as having a better set-up and production, appears to me to have a significantly better gender balance, and a better age balance, amongst its commentators than its predecessor.

I don’t bow to anyone in how much I want the make-up of Scottish politics and the Scottish commentariat to change, with a big part of that change being the increasing influence of women. But I think change is happening already in the media (to a degree) and especially in politics.

Kezia is an outstanding talent. She was the best Unionist performer in the referendum, closely followed by Ruth Davidson. On the other side, Nicola Sturgeon outshone all others. If Labour has any sense left they’ll make Kezia their Deputy Leader, and with Ruth and Nicola as Leaders the three main parties will have women at or near the top. But these individuals are not outstanding because they are women. They are outstanding because they are outstanding.

And, fundamentally, I would consider it condescending and chauvinistic of me if I ‘gave up’ my slot for a woman. Many women I know would be horrified to think that they needed this sort of help from a man to get on TV.

I fully understand that type change will be too slow and too organic for some, and furthermore I know that the ‘merit’ argument does not find universal favour.

But they are not the only reasons I won’t sign the pledge.

Most of the panels I sit on consist of only two people plus a presenter (usually a woman - Sarah Smith - on Scotland 2014 and a woman - Rona Dougall - half the time on Scotland Tonight). A two-person panel, in theory, provides an obvious gender-balance opportunity, but behind the scenes there is often more to it than meets the eye.

Firstly, the broadcasters do not always get their first choice people to appear as commentators. Both shows tend to finalise their agenda late in the afternoon, then find commentators to fill the slots. Last week, Scotland Tonight faced criticism on Twitter because of its all-male panel (John McTernan and Iain Macwhirter) discussing Ed Miliband’s woes. It retorted that it had tried to get a woman commentator but was unsuccessful. What would we have them do? Pull the segment? If John McTernan or Iain Macwhirter had signed the pledge, they may very well have had to do so. It’s unfair on our broadcasters to tie their hands in this way.

Secondly, I have no problem accepting that in some circumstances single-gender panels are acceptable and indeed appropriate. I am aware that the pledge was changed to accommodate this, but I foresee problems in justifying the justification, so to speak. Fundamentally, I would not support shoehorning a man into an all-female panel if he wasn’t able to make as insightful a contribution, so I see little merit in supporting the reverse.

Thirdly, I do have a concern at why we are singling out gender. I don’t see a campaign for ideological balance on panels. Similarly, we do not demand geographical balance, or class balance. We do not demand balance between heterosexuals and homosexuals, nor between whites and ethnic minorities or between Protestants and Catholics. What is so different about men and women?

For what it’s worth, I think debates over this issue are healthy. I think they help to raise the profile of the issue, and for that reason I’m glad that Duncan and others are pushing this. The broadcasters, I’m quite sure, will be aware of it and it will inevitably have an impact on the way they put together their shows.

But I think we are already seeing more female commentators, and women of major political influence, and I think that’s largely happening organically. I prefer organic change to enforced change. So I’m afraid this pledge is not for me. Sorry about that.

You can follow the story of the pledge, from the initial attempt, to the discussion of how to make it more workable, through to the current pledge, which is still open to signatories until the end of the year. Even if Andy isn't going to be one of them. ;-)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Wanted: 20 like-minded men for a serious commitment

I'm pledging to take action against all-male political panels in Scotland. Will you join me?

The updated wording in the pledge above takes into account the very helpful feedback after I posted my initial pledge last month. I hope the new wording and explanation means it can be more widely adopted.

For background, please see previous blogs here and here. Thanks!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ending all-male panels - version two


New Pledgebank pledge now live. Please consider signing if you can.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about ending all-male TV panels.

As part of it, I set up a PledgeBank pledge to try to gain support for collective action. Huge thanks to Paul Cairney, Malcolm Harvey, Gerry Hassan and James Mackenzie for quickly signing up.

However, I also had some constructive conversations with other folk who, while sharing the aim, felt unable to sign the pledge as written for a number of different reasons.
  1. Broadcasters often change the line-up at the last minute, so meeting the pledge may simply be beyond an individual's control.
  2. The definition of a "TV panel" is not immediately obvious.
  3. Restricting the pledge to the TV isn't really necessary.
  4. Even if representation were truly equal, there is a reasonable likelihood that occasionally all-male panels would occur, so they shouldn't be stopped from happening.
I'm going to dismiss the fourth argument. The point of this sort of exercise is to redress the balance and end the status quo. So our aim here is to stop all-male panels from happening until the status quo is fair.

The first three arguments do seem fair. So here's a proposal to deal with them. The pledge becomes:
  • I will refuse to participate in all-male political discussion panels, and make that clear to organisers up-front when asked.
  • If last-minute changes mean I end up on an all-male panel, I will call attention to that fact during the discussion, and make reference to this pledge.
  • A political discussion panel is defined as two or more people plus an interviewer/chair discussing politics or current affairs at a public meeting or on a broadcast network. 
  • The all-male test applies to those participants there to express opinions, not to an interviewer/chair who is not contributing opinion.
That final point is designed to make clear that two men being interviewed by a woman is still an all-male panel.

So, your feedback is requested. Let's try to tweak this into a proposal more men can agree to. Once we've done that, I'll set up a new pledgebank pledge with the new construction, and we'll see if we can make this a reality.

Comments below please, or find me on Twitter at @dhothersall to give your thoughts. Thanks very much.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ending all-male TV panels


It happened again.

Last night I was on Scotland Tonight as part of a panel discussion and everyone involved in the conversation was male.

Men make up a minority of the Scottish population, but a majority of the talking heads we see on TV. And too often that majority is 100%.

Friends of mine rightly challenged this, and while I explained that I didn't know who was going to be on the panel beforehand, that doesn't help solve this problem. There are things that can.

At the 2013 Lib Dem conference, Mark Pack and Mark Thompson cooked up an idea for a simple pledge for their party colleagues. At 2013 Labour conference, Kirstin Hay called for a boycott of all-male fringe events. And earlier this year, Caron Lindsay called for Scottish political commentators to refuse to participate in all-male TV panels. Some folk, including Gerry Hassan, did so.

I think this can help, but it isn't the whole picture. We need a strategy that includes signing folk up to a pledge, but goes further.
  • Parties need to encourage and support women to participate, and if possible help to maintain lists of women participants so that those who are refusing a request are able to suggest an alternative.
  • Broadcasters need to find a way to balance their absolute right to choose their preferred person for the job with the undeniable fact that unless they do improve women's representation they are failing a majority of their audience.
But at this point there is something I can do, and I should have done it already. So I'm doing it now.

"I will refuse to participate in all-male TV panels but only if 20 other Scottish political pundits will do the same."

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Three things

Johann Lamont deserves the gratitude of the whole of the Labour Party for her work as leader in Scotland since 2011. She will be missed.

Her attempt in 2012 to ignite a debate around how limited funds can best be spent to focus on those who need the most help was the right thing to do. Our subsequent collective failure to follow through on that lead with concrete action turned it from an opportunity for us into an opportunity for our opponents. It is clear that we have significant work to do to overhaul our policy and communications functions.

I'd like to see three things happen now.

  • First, the Scottish Executive Committee of the Labour Party, meeting this afternoon, should define and run the process which will select a new leadership team for Scottish Labour. Such a process should be open to all parts of the party, with MPs and MSPs equally able to make their case to be part of the party's leadership. Should she decide to run, I would strongly support Kezia Dugdale MSP as Deputy Leader.
  • Second, we need to radically overhaul our party's central campaigning and communication function. It needs to start afresh, be based where our Parliament sits in Edinburgh, and be under the complete control of the Scottish leadership.
  • Third, we need to rapidly move to a relentless focus on policy. There is no party better placed to deliver what we know the Scottish people want - social and economic justice within the strength of the United Kingdom. Let the SNP get mired in attempts to re-run the referendum. We have the right policy platform, from fair pay, to fair energy prices, to fair taxation. Let's deliver it.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Seriously, the referendum was about independence

There are many fault lines running through Scottish politics in the aftermath of the independence referendum debate. There is still a great deal of anger, mistrust and dogmatic assertion flying around. It is perhaps still too early to make sense of much of it.

But one theme keeps recurring, and it is the notion that the referendum was about a lot more than independence. And I think this betrays a genuine misunderstanding, indeed schism, between those on the left of Scottish politics, half of whom supported independence as a method of delivering social justice, and half of whom supported remaining part of the UK as a method of delivering social justice.

Here's the thing: the referendum vote was only about independence.

Of course both campaigns predicted different outcomes from their preferred votes. Of course the No campaign believed that the economic problems a Yes would have caused would have damaged the most vulnerable. Of course the Yes campaign believed the economic opportunities a Yes would have offered would have improved life for the poorest. And of course these were factors in people's decision-making when it came to the vote.

But the vote was still an answer to the single question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" And that was all it was.

This isn't me misunderstanding the fact that the Yes campaign galvanised a coalition of people who were and are genuinely working to improve lives. It's me pointing out that the No campaign wasn't against those outcomes. It was against independence. That is all.

I have a feeling that some people won't be able to move on from demanding more and more referenda until they have understood this. The No campaign was against independence. So, it turns out, were the majority of Scottish voters.

We still can, and must, make and win the argument that government policies should deliver for those who most need help. But if we're going to do that together we need to recognise where we disagreed. It was about independence.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Remarks to Glasgow Skeptics 22 September

Last night I spoke at a well-attended meeting organised by Glasgow Skeptics. Parts of the crowd were, as Alex Salmond might say, a bit "joyous". Which is to say they tried to shout down any point they disagreed with. 

I was struck by two things: that there has been created here, and I suspect not least through the influence of Wings Over Scotland, an angry brigade of the pale, male and stale; and that the Yes speakers not only ignored it completely, but spoke in gushing praise of the joy of a people's campaign. 

You can watch a recording of the event here. The speech I tried to deliver is set out below.

Thanks to everyone who’s turned out for this evening. When I agreed to do this the concept of “after the referendum” was a tricky one to grapple with. It seems for some of our leaders it remains a tough concept to accept. Nonetheless here we are.

We have spent 3 years staring down the barrel of a binary choice, and assigning every issue in our lives to one or other of the options. It’s been exhausting and, as a way of agreeing on what’s best for Scotland, it’s been totally dysfunctional. It’s time now, I think, to embrace a bit of participative democracy - to talk through the pros and cons of the issues that matter, and find shared solutions rather than exchanging binary ultimatums.

So my simple answer to “what now?” is that we must work to find a unity of purpose to deliver social and economic justice within the devolution settlement which is now unquestionably the settled will of the Scottish people.

What that doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean “revenge” against parties or individuals who voted differently from us. Harnessing the Yes cause to “wipe out” No parties, or harnessing the No coalition to target Yes parties, just embeds division.

It doesn’t mean boycotts of companies which took views during the debate that you didn’t like. Jim Sillars’ “day of reckoning” would be utterly self-defeating. The same goes for boycotts of, and demos against, media figures and organisations. The media did a good job. They gave platforms to diverse views. They also delivered brutal analysis, much of which was directed at the No side. They should be applauded, not condemned.

And it doesn’t mean insisting that independence is still the answer. Scots voters said no. If we are democrats, we must accept that. And please don’t suggest that those who voted No were duped, tricked or conned. Respect the voters’ decisions. They want a devolved parliament within a United Kingdom.

What it does mean:

It means we should see and celebrate what we achieved as a whole - mass political re-engagement. Engage with it. And remember lots of first time voters voted No, let’s not pretend our record registrations and high turnout was all galvanised by a desire for independence.

Let’s recognise that it’s been demonstrated that we the people have the power when we actually turn out to vote. Let’s those of us involved in political parties ensure that we give the people something to vote for in 2015, and 2016, and beyond.

And let’s work for honesty in politics. If someone promises to cut child poverty while also cutting taxes in a period of global recession, look hard at that proposition, because it’s probably a lie.

What to fight for:

Real democracy. Not the false idea that dividing the UK would have solved the problem when in fact it would just have changed a devolved government into a sovereign one. The real route to improving democracy is to reverse the trend of centralisation in Scotland - something of which Lab and SNP have both been guilty - and devolve real powers to communities. Recognise that what our current councils do is regional administration. We need community power. Cities, towns and rural communities with democratically elected government, with real cash to spend, because cash means power.

Early years and childcare. This should never have been a referendum football. It’s too important. The Scottish Parliament has the powers now to make a real difference. Research shows us time and again that investment in the early years is by far the most efficient use of public money to improve life chances. And I would say this: if it comes down to a budgetary choice between free university tuition and investment in early years, I will fight for early years every time. Politics should be about benefiting the many not the few.

Simply speaking, we need to fight for good policies at elections. We’ve fought a proxy war in the referendum over childcare and Trident and welfare and education. It was a proxy war because a Yes or No vote didn’t actually address these challenges. Policies at elections will. So don’t be tempted into using your vote as revenge next May. Use it to choose a representative whose policies are closest to what you want to happen.

The last thing we should be doing right now is re-fighting any aspect of the last three years. That debate has been settled. We have a massive opportunity to harness the political energy created across Scotland. Let’s seize it together.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Finding social justice

We all aspire to make things better.

I first got involved in political campaigning because I was motivated by my experience growing up gay in a straight world. I joined the gay rights movement with a single purpose: to help ensure that the next generation didn't have to go through what I had done. Just as those who came before had done for me.

When we set up Pride Scotland in 1994, it was because we knew the greatest threat to LGBT equality was invisibility. That gay kids were growing up isolated in villages and towns across the country, thinking they were alone. Section 28 was stopping even their teachers helping them.

I remember hearing years later from someone who was just 16 in 1995, living in a small Fife fishing village. He told me how seeing pictures on the TV and in the paper of thousands of smiling people marching through Edinburgh gave him that all-important realisation that he was not alone, and there was hope. I got to know this young man rather well later in our lives. Reader, I married him.

I took the step into political activism the way many people do – an issue came up, and no existing groups seemed able or willing to fight, so we got some friends together and had a go. That was in 1997, and thus was born the Equality Network. 

One of the first major campaigns we were involved in was the repeal of Section 28. I blogged a couple of years back about some personal recollections of it. It was a dreadful time, a time when people lived in fear of lies being posted through their doors, and were afraid to put posters in windows or wear badges because of the hate being whipped up around them by a well-funded campaign backed by Brian Souter. But we won, and young people across Scotland had better lives as a result, and none of the scare stories came true.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I truly understand what it means to find a just cause, and to commit to it absolutely. I have the greatest admiration for everyone who does so. And I know that many people on both sides of the current independence debate are committed to social justice and see their vote as furthering that aim.

My old friend Patrick Harvie is a shining example of such a person. A hero of equality campaigning in this country. A man with whom I have always been, and will always be, proud to stand. He is also someone for whom, I think, the question of independence is a pragmatic best-outcome one, rather than an emotional lifetime ambition one. In that, we are also alike, except that we have come to different pragmatic conclusions. And we are, of course, in different parties.

Some people think that political parties encourage tribal behaviour. Some say that people like me place party loyalty above all else, and in doing so are blinded to what is the right thing to do. I won’t try to speak for anyone else, but for me this could not be further from the truth. 

I spent my formative political years outside party politics, bringing together people from different parties in support of LGBT rights. My loyalty always was, and always will be, to the cause not the brand.

But I eventually joined the Labour Party because I found in it a community which shared my values. Labour didn't go looking for me; I went looking for it. And I knew I had found my place when I sat in a cramped room full of bright, engaged people talking about changing the world one street at a time. Cynics will tell you Labour is all back room deals and compromised principles. I can tell you that in the four years since I joined I have been listened to, empowered, encouraged and supported, and I have found good people everywhere, helping to improve others’ lives every day.

This is the politics I know, this is the Labour Party I know, and this is the Scotland I know – full of good people trying to make a difference. 

As the independence vote approaches, we've seen a different Scotland arising. One in which grudge and grievance is taking all the air time and, more worryingly, one in which messages of hope and opportunity are only judged acceptable if linked to one side of the debate.

We are at a point that mentioning the genuine, evidence-based concerns that many have over currency and monetary policy means being met with a glib “It’s our pound and we’re keeping it” rather than rational concern at the challenges involved in the different possible outcomes of negotiations. 

We are at a point that bringing up the additional costs of government or oil price fluctuations endangering the delivery of social justice in an independent Scotland means being met with cries of fearmongering rather than honest engagement. 

And we are at a point that posing questions over the real prospects for the NHS, or pensions, or childcare in a context where investors are already taking capital out of the country means being met with “Westminster is against us” rather than any serious acknowledgement of the downside of independence.

A lifelong commitment to social justice is not an excuse to duck reality. You can’t deliver social justice without a functioning economy and you can’t support big government without taxes or borrowing or both. And, you know, it needs to be okay to say that without being called a traitor to Scotland.

Ironically it is the right wing supporters of independence who are being most honest at the moment. They see an opportunity to create from scratch an ideological small state in a new small country. They see the genuine challenges in the currency problem as an opportunity to make big government impossible. They back Sterlingisation as it would put the market in charge. To me it is a horrific prospect, but it is at least an honest prospectus.

The most dishonest, I fear, are those comfortable middle class left-wingers promoting independence as a way to fulfil a political wet dream. 

They will sing the praises of renewables while planning to spend the oil bounty, that alluring, polluting solve-all, ten times over, on childcare, on ending poverty, on a sovereign wealth fund and on a stabilisation fund. 

They will proudly assert that their priority is the needy, but then they’ll promise that free university education, free prescriptions, free travel, free care are all perpetual if we vote yes. They’ll even tell you this bonanza will be written into the constitution, alongside every aspiration for guaranteed rights you have ever dreamed of. 

And those caught in the middle, as ever, are the people who need real political solutions, not pipe dreams. The people who are being told they they will get a living wage, full employment and a generous and effective welfare safety net. Those who have perhaps registered to vote for the very first time because they have been told a single X in the right box can fix everything.

Even a cursory glance across this promise of a progressive haven tells you it is built on wishful thinking, but don't dare make any suggestion that you can see the emperor has no clothes or you will be damned as negative, lacking in ambition, and an opponent of progress. Or much worse.

An incident recently really drove this home to me. I was helping out at a stall on Princes Street, handing out stickers and badges, encouraged by the smiles of support, though concerned by the very many declaring support but declining a window poster because they were “too scared”.

A young man approached and started shouting. This is not a rare occurrence in itself, so initially I tried to ignore him. They usually get fed up and go away. But there was a tone in his voice which was impossible to ignore. A visceral anger which punctuated his diatribe with swallowed tears. He was calling us murderers. He was telling us that we were killing disabled people. 

This is where you have brought us to, Yes people. By associating the No campaign with every evil you can think of, pretending solidarity doesn't come into it and ignoring that many of us prize social justice as highly as you do, this is where you have brought us to. By holding up a Yes vote as the answer to all these problems, this is where you have brought us to.

Yes, we all want social justice. We demand that food banks are rendered unnecessary and poverty pay is made a thing of the past. We stand together to save the NHS and the welfare state. But you must stop claiming a Yes vote will deliver these things. In the real world, it will simply reduce our economic, social and co-operative capacity to tackle them. 

I am desperately sad, and desperately worried, to find myself once again in a Scotland in which decent people are scared to put up posters and wear badges. I'm at the point that if I saw posters of Cameron with his fingers in his ears, echoing those of Wendy Alexander in 2000, I wouldn't be surprised. It’s the same person’s money paying for them, after all. The politics of fear and hate is back in my Scotland and it is profoundly, profoundly disturbing.

We who care for social justice have a responsibility to get the best outcome for the most people. Some of my friends have convinced themselves that the answer lies in dividing people rather than bringing them together. They have decided that walking away from the rest of the UK is an acceptable piece of collateral damage on the way to delivering social justice for people in Scotland. They have persuaded themselves that something must be done, that this is something, and that therefore it must be done.

Not me. I stand with the many, not the few. I know that we beat Brian Souter by bringing people together, not pushing them apart. I know that every single piece of social justice campaigning I've been involved in has succeeded by uniting people, not dividing them.

I aspire to make things better. That’s why I'm voting No.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

#indyref: The cost of Trident and the sad capitulation of Scottish CND

Tomorrow the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) is due to publish a paper analysing the future of the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent. In it, it is expected to claim that the true cost of relocating the base at Faslane to an alternative site in England or Wales would be a fraction of the previously suggested "eye-wateringly high" £30 billion figure provided by an MOD spokesperson in 2013.

RUSI suggests that the provision of a new base would add between £2.5 and £3.5 billion to existing costs. It also suggests that in the event of a Yes vote, negotiations between the Scottish and rUK governments would be likely to result in an agreement for Scotland to continue to host the nuclear deterrent until such time as rUK had completed its replacement base.

Readers with long memories might recall that this likely outcome is what I described in a blog post a year ago, in which I argued that "Vote Yes to disarm Trident" was not only a dishonest campaign, but also the opposite of what would likely happen.

For a long-time supporter of nuclear disarmament like myself, the separatist position adopted by Scottish CND in 2012 has long been both a disappointment and evidence of a self-defeating loss of focus. Instead of continuing its long and admirable fight for disarmament, in 2012 Scottish CND became a campaign for a nuclear-free Scotland, no longer caring about the existence of nuclear weapons, merely their location.

Scottish CND relied heavily on the MOD's "eye-wateringly high" cost of relocation to argue that delivering a nuclear-free Scotland by voting Yes would perforce result in unilateral nuclear disarmament by the rUK. The RUSI analysis holes this argument below the waterline.

It's not too late for Scottish CND to rescue its reputation. It can, and should, reverse its policy on independence and acknowledge that we need to retain our political influence over the UK's nuclear deterrent, not wash our hands of it and walk away.

Trident renewal would be a mistake. If, like me, you want to retain your democratic influence over the UK government to try to stop this mistake from happening, I urge you to vote No on 18th September.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Is the Electoral Commission working for #indyref?

The Electoral Commission (EC) is responsible for ensuring that September's independence referendum is conducted fairly, and that participants adhere to the rules on funding and conduct as set out in the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. Penalties for breaking these rules are harsh - individuals can be imprisoned for a significant period if convicted of some of the offences defined.

But there is a fundamental problem with prevention. Assessment of whether rules have been broken is largely post-hoc. Little or no action is taken during the campaign. There is no apparent prevention activity; merely the threat that after the vote everything will be checked and if things don't add up you'll need a good lawyer. Is such deterrence enough? Is it working?

For normal elections, this is arguably a workable model. The participants are political parties who generally have existed for a long time and plan to exist well into the future. Reputational risk is serious and genuinely feared, and most parties have developed robust internal systems to prevent contraventions. Individuals standing for election have a powerful disincentive to breaking the rules - they could have their electoral victory taken from them. The EC has little need to police during a campaign; it can merely tot everything up afterwards and mete out any justice required.

But in this independence referendum, things seem to me to be very different. The key participants, Yes Scotland and Better Together, have both been set up specifically for this event, and will almost certainly cease to exist shortly after. Many of the other registered participants - Wings Over Scotland, Vote No Borders and so on - are of a similarly disposable nature. Only the political parties have reputational risk, and it's clear that parties' existing systems are rolling into action as usual.

Individuals within the "disposable" campaigns will remain culpable, of course; but we need to look carefully at how that culpability might play out. Nobody here is in the position of an individual standing for election. And critically nobody is risking having any victory taken off them personally if they have done a bit of creative accounting. And if there is the risk of jail time - well, there are certainly participants in this debate who would thoroughly welcome martyrdom for their cause, and who could muster plenty of loud voices to paint any conviction as such.

Because here's the rub. If one or two of the campaign groups were discovered, post-September, to have mis-reported a bit of funding here, or co-ordinated where they shouldn't have there, the chance of that resulting in a re-run of the referendum are vanishingly small. There would be massive resistance on all sides to a re-run - for quite justifiable reasons. It would require evidence of major fraud for it to be even contemplated. Far more likely is that individuals would be given their punishments but the result would stand.

And so the issue of prevention is far more critical for this referendum than it is for a normal election. And yet there is very little evidence that the Electoral Commission is even slightly interested in it. They appear to be running this as a business-as-usual electoral campaign.

Does anyone care?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Ed is on the bus

I have a few minutes to spare before heading out to speak to voters today, so I thought I'd jot down a few words about yesterday's visit from Ed Miliband, and his question and answer session at Newtongrange.

It was great to get the chance to talk to Ed about how the referendum campaign is going, as we travelled from Edinburgh to Midlothian with Anas Sarwar on Labour's referendum battle bus. He was clearly well-briefed, but keen to hear our impressions and concerns. As ever when I've spoken to him, he is far removed from the media caricature of wonkish awkwardness. He's smart, insightful and takes a long view.

We arrived with a lot of time to spare, and as Ed was doing media interviews and meet-and-greets, it was good to catch up with friends from across the Lothians Labour movement. Newtongrange is a fantastic resource, and I realise it must have been a long time since I was last there - lots of new facilities and improvements. Well worth a visit.

It's a striking setting for a talk, with light streaming in through massive windows, beyond which the preserved mine workings stand as a reminder of the industrial heritage this area has lost. Anas opened proceedings with a talk no less powerful for its familiarity, reminding us that the great achievements of the Labour movement have been the result of working together across the UK.

My online pal Margaret Curran stood up next to introduce the wonderful Davie Hamilton, and the affection in the room for him was palpable - here is a man who embodies Labour values and is rooted in the community he represents. No wonder the people of Midlothian don't want to vote Yes to lose his voice in our UK parliament. Both Margaret and Davie reminded us that Labour is in good heart and good voice in this campaign. We are united around a clear message, and it's a message the people of Scotland appreciate.

And then Ed stood up and, after speaking briefly about Davie, the campaign and the plans for 2015, opened the floor to questions. And this is where he shone. Everyone who raised their hand got a chance to speak, and we covered a wide range of areas from Trident to redistribution of wealth, to local devolution, plans for business growth and employment, and the sheer breadth of opportunity we have following a No vote to change Scotland for the better within the strength of the UK.

As we gradually left, there was a feeling from everyone I spoke to that this had been an uplifting, galvanising and positive contribution. Not everyone had expected it to be. But Ed came to listen and understand, and demonstrated to us all that he has the plan and the strength of character to deliver.

I got a lift home on the big red bus, and five minutes after walking in my husband said it had clearly been a good night, given the animated way I was describing it to him. It had. Sometimes this debate can be a hard slog of online fights and endless doorsteps. Sometimes we need a reminder of why we're doing it and who is standing alongside us. Last night gave me that, and looking out over Arthur's Seat at sunset I was very, very glad I went.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A conversation with Yes Scotland about job-creating powers

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The anatomy of an impossible conversation

So, this happened.

Handily, each tweet is numbered, which makes cross-reference easy. So:

  1. No it doesn't. Queer politics seeks to liberate queers from heteronormativity. I agree that women are indeed allowed to object to anything they want. Everyone is.
  2. Since the hypothesis in 1 is false, this conclusion is false. That's not to say there aren't people trying to gloss over sexism and misogyny. It's just not, generally, the people you try to blame in 1 and not, specifically, the people you blame by implication in 1.
  3. I asked you to stop referring to a female person as 'he'. Whatever she has said to you. Replying that you will continue to do so isn't so much an argument as a playground tantrum.
  4. Every instance of identity denial does damage, just as every instance of sexism and misogyny does damage. If you didn't think you were having an impact you wouldn't say anything.
  5. I didn't tell you what to do. I asserted that your behaviour was damaging, and I asked you to stop.
  6. The validity or otherwise of my opinion is not related to my gender. Thanks for the cartoon. The likeness is uncanny.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Scottish exports

This morning, the Yes campaign tweeted thusly:
I have no issue with their second sentence. I'm not one to make the "too poor, too wee, too stupid" argument. Indeed, it is only ever independence supporters who do.

But the first sentence gave me pause, because £73.6 billion is more than a quarter of total UK exports. I know Scotland punches above its weight as a benefit of the union, but this struck me as unlikely. So I went and found the Scottish Government's figures. Here we are:
"The total value of international exports from Scotland in 2012 (excluding oil and gas) is estimated at £26.0 billion, of which £15.4 billion was from the manufacturing sector and £8.7 billion from the services sector."
(Scottish Government website)
Okay, so what's going on here? Aah:
The total value of exports from Scotland to the rest of UK in 2012 (excluding oil and gas) is estimated at £47.6 billion, of which £25.3 billion was from the services sector and £12.7 billion from the manufacturing sector.
(Scottish Government website)
So the Yes campaign has added these two figures together to reach their £73.6 billion. Well that seems fair, doesn't it? Maybe? Perhaps?

UPDATE: Actually, no it doesn't. As a couple of people have pointed out since I wrote this, there's a well-documented phenomenon in international trade known as the "border effect" which says trade is inhibited by borders for a variety of reasons, and a pair of regions within a country tends to trade 10 to 20 times as much as an otherwise identical pair of regions in two different countries. So not only is this figure unreliable, there are also good reasons to think it will fall dramatically simply because a border is created.  You can read more here.

Let's have a look at where the data comes from first. It's derived from the Global Connections Survey (GCS), an annual exercise which asks companies to classify their own trade. Around 5,000 companies with operations in Scotland are sampled, and the government says around 2,000 respond, "including nil responses". So, fewer than 2,000 data points then, but we don't know by how much. They are asked to fill in a form which has precisely one question tracking Scotland versus rest of UK sales, and the fourth most common complaint by companies is that they can't separate out their "rest of UK trade" from their "Scottish trade". [page 8]

One can appreciate their difficulty. If the Tomatin distillery company (try their 30-year-old, it's a cracker) was estimating the percentage of its whisky sold into the rest of the UK, how would it classify its sales to Asda (head office Leeds)? How does Tunnocks divvy up its deliveries to Morrisons? What does a company supplying call centre services to Sky write down in the percentage box? Moreover, what motivation have they to take the time and effort to make this accurate? What's the easiest way of filling out the form?

Is this level of evidence a good basis on which to decide the future of our country? Does it make any sense whatsoever to pretend that companies doing business entirely within the UK, with goods often crossing the Scottish border more than once, are somehow involved in "export"? Do these companies even think of themselves as "exporters" as they operate in their home market? Does the "Rest of UK" figure have any meaning at all?

To be fair, the GCS does deliver a bit more detail. It tells us [page 10] that the largest industry sector by far in the "Rest of UK exports" is financial services, accounting for nearly £10 billion - more than 20% of the total. Indeed, according to Scottish Financial Enterprise that's 90% of the Scottish financial services industry's customers.

Unfortunately here's where the wheels really start to fall off.

The only reason many Scotland-based financial services companies can successfully sell into the rest of the UK at all, is that both supplier and customer are in the same country. This would of course stop being the case if Scotland became independent. What we're actually adding up here is the value of financial services business that Scotland stands to lose should we vote to separate from the UK.

ICAS has said that proposed transitional arrangements to resolve cross-border pension problems are "wholly insufficient"; that EU rules preclude regulatory sharing meaning that separate systems and therefore separate markets are an inevitable result of independence; and that the White Paper's assertion of a shared workplace pension protection fund is pretty much pie in the sky.

It's fair to say that classifying as an "export" the supply of a service that could not actually be supplied across a national border is a very considerable stretching of the truth.

I'm not an economist, and I'm open to the likelihood that I might have mis-stepped in this layman's analysis, but it seems to me that explicitly basing a call for a Yes vote on a set of figures which are at best a hurried guess - and at worst a dishonest representation of the potential for Scottish exports to the rest of UK should independence come - is pretty slippery.

And another thought creeps inexorably around my head. Most people aren't going to look this closely at the things the Yes campaign says. When it says a Yes vote will end child poverty, for example, a good number of people are going to take it at its word. And when someone like me takes issue with such assertions, I will be dismissed as a scaremongering tribalist/careerist/BritNat/whatever.

So perhaps this blog is just another straw in the wind. Perhaps the relentless battering of those expressing doubts over independence will sideline these questions just as it has sidelined others. Perhaps the key Yes argument - that everything will be fine just because we want it to be - will win out in the end.

It's a hell of a basis for dividing our country in two.

Friday, 6 June 2014

A doorstep tale

I knocked on a door the other day, with a pile of Better Together leaflets in my hand and a badge on my lapel. It was a sunny morning. A man answered the door. He looked to be in his sixties or seventies, and he was bare-chested. "Sorry for disturbing you" I said, thinking he was in the middle of getting dressed; then I saw the sunglasses perched on his head and realised he'd been sunbathing.

He looked at me, smiled, and said "I've been waiting for one of you lot to come round". Experience suggests that this isn't always the precursor to a friendly chat.

"I'm SNP." Here we go, I thought. "Aye, I've voted for them the last few times. But see this independence? I think that Salmond has overreached. I'm against it. And I'll tell you why."

"When we fought the 1914-1918 war, and when we fought the 1939-1945 war, we didn't do it as Scotland, and we didn't do it as England, or Wales, or Northern Ireland. We did it together, as Britain. And that's how we won. You ask any of the old yins, they'll tell you. And that's what I've been waiting to tell one of you. 'Better Together' is spot on. It's spot on. We are."

"And let me tell you something else. It's wise to stick together. Wise. Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England. You see? W-I-S-E. You can have that, son. Use that."

He smiled again. "So, aye, that's what I wanted to say. And I've said it. Best of luck, son. I'm voting no."

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Embracing negativity

I'm voting No on September 18th.

I'm saying No to the empty promises of the independence campaign. I'm saying No to the idea that independence is a magic solution to the scourge of child poverty. I'm saying No to the deliberately misleading argument that independence means we all always get the government we vote for. I'm saying No to the utterly disingenuous suggestion that independence means fairness and prosperity for all. I'm saying No to the flannel and the bluster and the dogged insistence that everything will be better despite a complete lack of evidence.

I'm voting No and then I'm voting Scottish Labour in 2015 and 2016. Because that's how we can really get back to the never-ending fight for fairness for everyone.

Monday, 2 June 2014

It's okay to disagree

Rhetoric is a powerful, persuasive thing, but we mustn't let it get in the way of friendship.

One of my best friends posted on Facebook about the independence referendum earlier, urging that Scots should "do the right thing". He's a Yes voter so for him the right thing is independence. He regularly posts blogs from Wings Over Scotland too.

Last week a conversation with other old friends saw one describing Scottish independence as "a step towards a positive inclusive future for all of Scotland's people", another telling me my view was that "the Scottish people can't be trusted", and a third saying that Scots had been "subjugated" by the English.

These are people I've known and loved for decades, and it can sometimes be painful to hear this sort of stuff from them. But it struck me later that my reaction wasn't really to do with their position on independence at all. I've never had particular problems maintaining relationships where there exist political disagreements. The world would be a boring place if we all only chose friends we agreed with.

No, the problem I have, I think, is with the rhetoric, not the opinion. And I say rhetoric rather than argument quite deliberately. "A step towards a positive inclusive future" isn't an argument. It's a conceit. And it's straight from the Scottish Government's PR handbook. "Things are bad; here is a change; we assert that it will be for the better." And if you point out it could easily be for the worse, you are dismissed as negative and fear-mongering.

The idea that Scots are "subjugated", that No voters don't think Scots can be "trusted", or indeed that there is a simple "right thing" to do in September - this is all rhetoric. And it is designed to sting - to jolt those on the receiving end into a change of view.

And that's politics, I guess; and we all do it, I guess.

But the main reason I felt the need to write this today was to make a promise, to myself more than to anyone else. I'm not going to lose any friendships over this referendum. I refuse to. I will see the rhetoric for what it is, and I will argue my case as best I can, but I won't risk something as important as friendship over something as unimportant as politics.

I love my friends, even the ones who are dead wrong. :-)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Shock as CBI backs No campaign

Okay, so my title is a little tongue-in-cheek. No-one can actually be surprised that the CBI is backing Better Together - at least no-one who's ever listened to them.

What is getting folk worked up into a lather today, though, is what this means for CBI members who are publicly funded and who therefore cannot endorse a political stance. Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland resigned almost immediately. The Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh followed suit today. Others will surely follow.

The Yes campaign doesn't know whether to clap with excitement or shake its head in sorrow. 'Business For Scotland', one of the many Yes campaign organisations whose funding and backing is as murky as the haar that hit Edinburgh yesterday, claimed the CBI move as "a victory" on Sunday. Others in Yes say the move was ill-considered and is unneeded. Even smarter ones worry about the divisions this campaign is opening up in civic society, and whether they can be healed.

One thing seems now to be widely accepted, though. If the CBI adopts a political position, publicly funded organisations cannot remain members.


Oh, erm, maybe not.

Here they are endorsing Labour immigration policy:
"Labour’s proposal to move away from a one-size-fits-all net migration target is a positive step."
CBI, 10 April 2014.

Here they are condemning a Conservative budget announcement:
"We do not think capping fees at this level is wise"
CBI, 27 March 2014.

Here's an explicit demand for reform of EU trade regulations:
"Companies called for a number of EU reforms"
CBI, 21 March 2014.

And those examples are just from the last month. Look further back and you'll see arguments for cutting government regulations in 2012demands for lower taxes for oil and gas companies in 2011, and attacks on Scottish Government finance policy in 2010.

In fact the CBI has been actively campaigning across a whole range of political spheres for as long as it has existed. The idea that it has only now taken a position which is incompatible with publicly funded or impartial bodies being members is arrant nonsense.

So the real question isn't why the CBI has taken a view on Scottish independence. It's why Scottish independence is the first issue that publicly funded and impartial bodies have felt the need to object to.

And there are plenty of theories there. After all, the Scottish Government pays their wages. Who'd want to bite the hand that feeds?

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

It's time

I look in the mirror and am surprised at the grey-haired, tired face looking back at me. Especially on days like this. Inside I'm the 19-year-old taking on the world, over-achieving to compensate for my internalised homophobia, meeting "We can't" with "Well do you mind getting out of the way while we do?". My mindset was formed years ago, and it says government stands in the way and each day is an opportunity to fight, to bring people together against the common enemy of inequality, and to try to take away these hard barriers for the generations to come.

When I was born, gay sex was still criminalised in Scotland. When I grew up, the discriminatory age of consent was 21, and discussion of same-sex relationships was banned in schools. Over the span of no more than 35 years, the statutory barriers to LGB equality have, one by one, been broken down, and in more recent years, many but not all legal blocks on transgender equality have also been defeated.

Today, in the Scottish Parliament, our MSPs have the opportunity to take the final step for LGB equality, and remove the ban on same sex couples being allowed to marry. It is, I freely confess, not a moment I thought I would see in my lifetime. And my inner 19-year-old is struggling. Thanks to the efforts of so many people, the last barrier is about to fall. And a political outlook defined by our relationship to those barriers now has no way-markings. We have fought institutionalised homophobia, but we have always been at risk of being institutionalised ourselves by that fight.

Of course there are still barriers to rail against - religious discrimination, social prejudice - the fight for equality is far from over. So perhaps we will just all shift our focus to those enemies and find our place again. But the reality is that shifting attitudes needs a very different approach to changing laws. It is still about persuasion, and winning hearts and minds, but it is also about accepting difference, and offering hope and leadership.

It is, in short, about winning the peace after winning the war. And perhaps it is a role more suited to those who I hope I don't patronise by calling the fortunate generation: those who, by and large, have grown up in a culture which says same sex couples are just another normal part of life; who may still suffer from internalised, peer and familial homophobia but know at least the law is on their side, and can see positive role models all around them.

We stand on the shoulders of giants today. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the Minorities Research Group, the Gay Liberation Front, the Scottish Minorities Group (later Outright Scotland), Stonewall, LGBT Youth Scotland, the Equality Network and many, many other individuals and groups in the LGBT community have fought, and lost, and fought again, and won. And just as importantly, allies outwith the LGBT community, especially including trades unions but also religious, political and social groups, and elected representatives, have fought alongside and made the difference on many occasions.

Today I'm very proud of all of them. I thank them from the bottom of my heart, because together we have made lives better, and there is no better thing to look back on than that. This evening I think a tear may be shed. Because, you see, it's time.