» scotland ¦ What You Can Get Away With

For those in peril on the sea – “This is where British politics is right now. It’s not a departure from the EU that should be worrying, but their trajectory out of humanity.”
The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened – The 1982 war game exercise that was the basis for Threads.
Brands of Nonsense – Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin on the history of branding, and the current trend for turning universities into brands.
The fall and rise of the TV critic – The history of TV criticism in the mainstream press (FT, may require registration)
“Oor Broken Politics” – Flying Rodent wonders if this is the moment at which Scottish politics turns from the mundane into the partisan.

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***BESTPIX*** Labour Launches Scottish Independence Referendum CampaignAs the Scottish Labour Party breaks from tradition to form the circular firing squad before the election and find itself without a leader, speculation has begun on who could replace Johann Lamont as the holder of one of British politics most coveted poisoned chalices.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Scottish politics, so I’m not going to comment on the potential of all the candidates but one name that’s been floated has caught my attention: Gordon Brown. At least one MP is pressing the former Prime Minister to stand, and his role in the referendum campaign would make him a strong contender for the role.

However, if he were to do it, Brown would be unique amongst former British Prime Ministers in choosing to get involved at another level of politics after leaving Downing Street. of course, this is mainly due to their not being many other meaningful levels of politics in Britain that former Prime Ministers could get involved in prior to 1997, but even if we look internationally to countries with more federal systems there’s are very few similar examples.

Indeed, the only example that readily comes to mind is that of Jacques Chirac, who served as French Prime Minister from 1974-6, then became Mayor of Paris in 1977. However, the French Prime Minister is very much subordinate to the President, and the mayoralty of Paris was a newly created/restored role in 1977, making it a perfect position for someone like Chirac to stand for to keep his political prominence high.

After that, the best examples I could find were Richard Nixon, running for Governor of California after being Vice-President of the United States, and (thanks to Richard) Eduard Shevardnadze, going from Foreign Minister of the USSR to President of Georgia (though that was after the dissolution of the USSR). Even in countries with strongly federal systems, the direction of travel for politicians appears to be relentlessly upwards and towards the centre. Once one has reached the peak, there’s no stepping back to a lower role. (Another British exception, in a slightly different way is Alec Douglas-Home returning to his previous role as Foreign Secretary in Edward Heath’s government)

Of course, one major explanation for this is the question of age. Leaders tend to leave their roles at a time when most people are retiring, and they’re probably not to blame for, in the most part, deciding that a period of lecturing, memoir-writing and well-paid advising is a much better way of spending their time than getting involved in a completely different politics. However, as leaders become younger and leave office at a younger age while health improves and being 65 isn’t an end to everything, isn’t there a temptation to continue on in politics in some form if possible? In a system that now tends to throw leaders out after they’ve lost one election, rather than let them try to return to power, isn’t seeking another arena a logical choice?

All that said, I’m still not convinced that Brown becoming leader of Scottish Labour is much more than a very late silly season story, but someone has to be the first to do something, so why not let it be him?

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Scotland saw a huge turnout, but we should be sceptical of direct democracy’s ability to engage voters at the level of local politics – How the evidence shows that elected mayors and direct democracy don’t provide more engagement in local politics.
Ayn Rand’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer – “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Another dimension means an entirely different set of markets, an entirely different economic playing field. The chance to make and win our fortune in strange and exotic trading floors.”
The upas tree: the over-development of London and the under-development of Britain – A brilliant explanation of the failings of regional policy in Britain and why we need a new solution.
The Wire creator David Simon: why American politics no longer works – David Simon’s always worth reading and listening to, and his new series sounds interesting to.
In Farageland – James Meek in Thanet.

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Screen-Shot-2013-09-18-at-12.16.19As if as a rejoinder to my post yesterday about the declining importance of political parties, there’s been a surge in membership for the pro-independence parties in Scotland since the referendum. The SNP are on course to become the third largest party in the UK in terms of members and according to one comment I saw the Scottish Greens have doubled their membership since Thursday.

As I said, the general trend in membership in UK parties is downward, and previous large surges (Labour when Blair became leader, the Tories when Cameron became leader) have been minor upward bubbles that disappeared soon after, leaving the trend as it was before. It’s way too early to say if this is the case with the current Scottish surge, but what’s most fascinating is the scale of it.

The SNP’s membership before this surge was around 25,000 which is approximately 0.5% of the population of Scotland. The interesting thing is that this was anomalous in the UK as a whole, where the largest membership was 0.3% for the Labour Party. Now, the SNP is on course to have 1% or more of the population of Scotland as members. As comparison, the last time a UK-wide party had a membership on this level was the Tories in the late 80s (Labour haven’t reached that level since the late 70s). It’s a return to an era of mass party membership, which could herald an interesting time in Scottish politics.

Of course, the question is whether this sudden surge in party membership will last. It’s obviously been driven by the after-effects of the referendum, but will this remain as a salient and motivating factor next year? The presence of the Westminster election next year and the Holyrood election the year in 2016 may help in cementing the loyalty of the new members by giving them something to focus on.

What’s also interesting to wonder is what effect this will have on the Scottish political system and the SNP itself. Can they use these motivated new members to win seats in 2015, and how will people who’ve cut their activist teeth in a referendum campaign deal with an electoral one? Also (and as has been pointed out, it’s a good problem to have), how will the party’s structures cope with the new membership? It’s not intentional entryism, but having a large number of people who’ve joined for one reason is surely going to lead to some interesting issues. The SNP is already relatively large by the current standards of UK political parties, and making it bigger makes things very interesting.

There aren’t any conclusions to this at the moment, as we’re right in the middle of the event, but it’s definitely something of interest and worthy of note. Growth on this scale, in this short a time, is possibly unique in UK politics (previous surges didn’t have the internet – particularly social media – to facilitate them as much) and the long-term effects of it are going to be worth keeping a close eye on, as though we weren’t all paying attention to Scottish politics anyway.

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Libertarian ‘Utopia’ Styled After Ayn Rand Book Spectacularly Falls Apart Almost Immediately – Almost too good to be true, but it turns out that libertarians are really easy to con with utopian scams.
The real Olive Garden scandal: Why greedy hedge funders suddenly care so much about breadsticks – Humorous internet presentation appears to have been a ploy by asset-strippers.
Yah all right? – The plural of anecdote is not data, but was there really that much of a ground campaign from either side in the Scottish referendum.
Independence, devolution and power – Alex Marsh’s good summary of the post-referendum situation.
‘Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken’ – The realities of living on the poverty line.

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While I’ve been talking about the Scottish independence referendum online over the last few weeks, I’ve been careful to try not to talk about how I would have voted, or to tell the people of Scotland how to vote. If you want to understand why there are such resentments at the way the UK is governed, the tendency of many English people to assume that no one can make a decision before they’ve weighed in and given their opinion is a good place to start looking.

So, I’ve scheduled this post for a little after 10pm, when voting should have stopped and the only chance of me lecturing Scottish voters is if someone’s very bored stuck in a long queue to vote as the polls close. If you are that person, I hope you’re wait’s not too long, but be happy at the fact there’s a good chance you’ll appear in background footage on the news.

The main problem for me in thinking about how I would have voted is that a lot of the discussion has centred around two competing nationalisms – Scottish and British – and if there’s anything guaranteed to exclude me from a debate, it’s a question of which imagined community you think you belong to most. Both sides have been equally obnoxious in their proclamations that their nationalism is the best, though the hyperbole prize is surely won by Fraser Nelson’s claim that the UK is “the greatest force for good that the world has ever known.”

That leaves it to a decision based on practicalities, and I’m almost persuaded by the arguments of people like Charles Stross that an independent Scotland could be something new and different, a chance to start again in the early days of a better nation. (Though ‘break up the Westphalian system’ does sound like the slogan of the world’s most obscure Marxist fraction) However, the more I look, the more I see there’s nothing there behind the vision, and it’s far from the only vision of what an independent Scotland could be like. When Alex Salmond spends his time meeting regularly with Rupert Murdoch, admiring Vladimir Putin and getting massive donations from people like Brian Souter, I can’t help but wonder what the people with the power to shape it imagine an independent Scotland being like. For me, it’s not just the questions about the currency, but everything else about the new Scotland that hasn’t been answered that makes a Yes vote a jump into the dark, so my vote would have been a reluctant No.

But, I’m glad I didn’t get a vote, because this is Scotland’s decision not mine. Hearing people who don’t live there demand their right to a say scares me in some way because it makes me wonder about their understanding and regard for consent in other situations. It’s only a massive sense of English privilege that gives people the feeling that someone else shouldn’t be making a decision without their input, and that they should somehow have a veto over someone else’s decision. The idea that people somehow defined as Scottish but not living in Scotland should have a vote seems odd to me as well, for where do you draw the line? Should I have had a say because my grandfather was born in Scotland (it’d be enough for FIFA, I believe)? Should it just be limited to people within the UK or could people like David McAllister have a say too? The governance and government of a country should be a civic matter, not an ethnic one, and once you start complicating things with nationalism, everything gets a lot more complex.

Tonight, I’m going to sit back and watch the results come in and know whatever happens, it’s the people of Scotland who’ve decided. Quite what they’ve decided, we won’t know for a while – I think a Yes vote will lead to lots of negotiations and calls for another vote on the actual deal, while a No will lead to some people suddenly finding things much more important than devo max to talk about. Whatever the result, there’s a window of opportunity to talk about making a different and better government for a different and better UK, and we need to make sure they don’t close it.

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The Real Reason Pot Is Still Illegal – I’m shocked – shocked! – to discover that pharmaceutical companies are blocking drug law reform.
The future of Scotland – “Might SNP leader Alex Salmond bring in a swingeing castle tax?” The fears of Scotland’s aristocracy, brought to you in an article by someone with the surname Money-Coutts. We can close down satire now, reality has beaten it.
Orange and red – Jamie K of Blood and Treasure wonders how you’d explain the Orange Order to a Chinese visitor.
Are school vouchers good public policy? – Dan Carr looks at the question I raised in this post.
Present and future conditional – Alex Marsh on the spread of conditionality in public services and benefits.

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