» scotland ¦ What You Can Get Away With

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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A couple of tweets I’ve seen recently on my Twitter timeline:


That’s just the most recent two, but ‘the rest of the UK should have a say about Scottish independence’ is something I’ve seen in many forms over the past few years, and will probably get said a lot more times over the next eleven days.

So, let’s pose a couple of thought experiments. In 1991, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia held referendums on whether they should declare independence and leave the USSR. All delivered clear majorities for independence, yet I suspect if the rest of the USSR had been able to vote (especially the Russian Federation) they would have said ‘let’s stay together’. Who was in the right there?

Alternatively, let’s imagine that there is a referendum in 2017 on British membership of the EU. Should that be just Britain’s decision or should the rest of the EU get to decide on if they want their Union to be broken up?

There’s plenty of discussion to be had about the role of the British government in the referendum, especially the way ‘Devo Max’ was kept off the ballot, but to start insisting that others have the power to veto someone else’s vote if they don’t like the way it’s going is to stroll down a dangerous path, and perhaps to help others prove their arguments.

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None of these links were placed here by small grey aliens from Zeta Reticuli. That must be true, the Men In Black told me so.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen – Flying Rodent imagines an Orwellian version of the Scottish Premier League.
Facebook Social Readers Are All Collapsing – Oh, please let them go away. Clicking on an interesting-looking link only to discover a screen demanding you sign up to share your reading habits before you’re allowed to read it is bloody annoying.
Walking is political – An extract from Will Self’s inaugural lecture as Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University.
How Germany’s Pirate Party is hacking politics – Some silly errors in this (seemingly thinking the 15 seats won in Berlin were elected by FPTP, not list seats under AMS) but still interesting, and a good explanation of the Liquid Feedback system, which interests me (and I may blog about in more detail later).
Do normal people go into politics anymore? – Another interesting post from Jason O’Mahony on the difference between the political classes and the rest of the world.

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