Saturday, 16 August 2014

It’s the SNP's attitude to democracy that worries me most

Back in 2011 something massively unexpected happened. The SNP won an overall majority in the Scottish parliament. This was unexpected not least because even Labour at the height of their popularity could not win an overall majority at Holyrood. They always had to govern in coalition. Indeed the Holyrood voting system was designed so that it would be nearly impossible for one party to rule on its own. But lots of Scots who would not normally vote SNP decided to give them a chance. Lots of Labour supporters were sick of Labour back then. The SNP campaigned well, Mr Salmond was popular and many Scots thought why not give them a chance. Independence wasn’t mentioned much during the campaign and anyway voting SNP seemed safe enough even for those of us who supported the union. They couldn’t possibly gain an overall majority could they? But they did.

The SNP knew full well that their victory was something of a fluke.  It surprised even them. They also knew that they had not won overall power because the majority of Scots wanted independence. But it immediately became clear that they were going to use their power to try to achieve that end. Well fair enough. Everyone knows that the SNP is the party of independence.  Why shouldn’t they try to achieve their long term goal? Why not indeed? There are however, ways of ruling that are an abuse of power and which go against the traditions of Scottish and UK democracy.

The fact that you win an overall majority does not mean that you can do just anything. It would clearly be an abuse of power to win an election and then abolish all other parties and all future elections. But it’s also an abuse of power not to take into account the views of the minority and to govern without consensus. It’s this above all that the SNP have done. As soon as they gained their majority in Holyrood, they began to abuse it. It would have been a gesture that they intended to govern with consensus, if the SNP government had picked a presiding officer from one of the other parties. But no she had to come from the SNP. It would have been a gesture towards consensus if the SNP had allowed their MSPs to sometimes vote with the opposition. This is a useful way in which a party with an overall majority can be held in check. But there has been no dissent, no rebellions and the SNP members vote as if they were members of the Supreme Soviet rather than the Scottish parliament.

The Scottish parliament lacks a revising chamber to act as a check and balance on the government. The intention was that committees would be the equivalent of a revising chamber, telling the government when it had made mistakes or when it needed to think again. But the SNP immediately started to undermine this system by establishing absolute majorities in each committee and ruling out any dissent. Again this is counter to the traditions of Scottish and UK democracy.

One of the most important features of democracy is to have an independent, impartial civil service. These are the people that provide continuity between governments and also act as a check and balance on governments, preventing abuses of power. There is a tradition in Scotland and the UK that there is a distinction between party and government. You cannot for instance use general taxation to fund party activities or election activities. The reason for this is that the state is much larger than any opposition party. In countries like Russia where the distinction between Mr Putin’s party Edinai︠a︡ Rossii︠a︡ [United Russia] and the state has been abolished, no other party has a chance for the whole civil service works in Mr Putin’s party’s interest. It is for this reason that a fully independent civil service is so vital for a functioning democracy.

But the SNP have used the Scottish civil service to produce propaganda and party political manifestos. Civil servants as well as state employees like academics have been threatened that it is not in their interests to say anything contrary to the SNP’s policies. The White Paper “Scotland’s future” does not even attempt to be objective. It is an election manifesto in all but name. State funds have been used to fund the SNP’s campaign for independence. Websites and other government literature is blatantly party political. When I mention this to SNP supporters, their response is always we won an overall majority so lump it. But Mr Putin also won an overall majority and now the Russians must lump him forever.

If the SNP win the independence referendum, they will be in charge of the divorce negotiations. No doubt others would be involved also, but we’ve seen by how they run Holyrood, that these others would not be able to outvote Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon.  It would be a Scottish parliament with an SNP overall majority right up until Independence Day that would vote on these negotiations and which would be able to put SNP policies into any Scottish constitution.  They could put in what they like. Who could stop them? They have an absolute majority and we’ve already seen how they use it.

What happens if the SNP lose the referendum? Here we really see their attitude to democracy. I don’t know a single No voter who would not accept the result of the referendum as decisive. If Yes wins, we all accept that Scotland will become independent. But I hardly know a single independence supporter who will cease to campaign for independence after a No vote. Some of them are planning to wait as little as five years.  Oddly they think it is democratic that if No loses the result is decisive, but if Yes loses it isn’t.


The independence referendum is the SNP’s policy from first to last. It is a direct consequence of Scots voting for them in 2011 and would not be happening otherwise. The best guide to how an independent Scotland would be is how the Scottish Independence Party behaves now. They complain about a non-existent democratic deficit. The real democratic deficit is how they rule Scotland. Lots of Scots must be wishing they hadn’t voted for them in 2011. Don’t make the same mistake in 2014. 

13 comments:

  1. Very well said; but we must get the No vote, and then come 2016 work hard to ensure SNP is totally defeated. However I am not a Labour voter and will point finger at them, as the 2011 vote was a vote against them, not for AS and his people. Labour were complacent and look what trouble that has brought to us all.

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    1. Thanks Aline. I think we'll get out the vote on the 18th. Everyone is well aware of the dangers of complacency. Until the end of the referendum I'm Lib Lab Con and indifferent to party politics. After that I'll look at each party's ideas and see what seems most sensible. I can usually see some good ideas in all of them and also some foolish ideas.

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  2. Very good piece. I don't pay much attention to Scottish politics as a rule but since the referendum got moving I have been, and have been very alarmed at the authoritarianism I've seen. Centralising the police force and then arming them is one, and a state appointed guardian for every child is another.

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  3. Thanks. Could also add that SNP have a poor record on issues like freedom of speech. Once you start banning songs, however unpleasant, that people have sung for generations, it's a short step to banning something the rest of us do on a day to day basis. SNP would like to have a minimum price for alcohol, next they'll want a minimum price for junk food. This isn't the Scotland I grew up in. It's rapidly becoming a Scotland I barely recognise.

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  4. Thank You for your excellent and well thought out piece.

    My Granddad from Dumfries (long gone) had nothing but contempt for the SNP. Way back in the early '60s whilst living in Irvine where dear Nicola Sturgeon hails from, he once complained bitterly to me that the SNP's political tactics were confined to waving flags and balloons but not their policies.

    At that time when door stepped by SNP canvassers he'd ask them to state which side of the political spectrum the SNP stood on. The responses were to have a quick shufty over his shoulder to try see what his lobby looked like and a glance along the street before replying with Tory or Labour depending on what they judged appropriate.

    All things to all people.

    5 decades on nothing has changed in their tactics. They still attempt to pull the wool over Scottish peoples eyes as to where their true dark heart resides. Sadly they were able to capitalise on the assistance they lent Margaret Thatcher to bring down the Callahan government back in 1979, consequently hijacking the socialist agenda and exploiting the understandably huge swellings of social discontent during that era.

    This sleight of hand helped them loose their Tartan Tory label and too mislead and seduce many genuine socially progressive leaning people well up the garden path.

    So here we are now mired with a vicious campaign to save Scotland, Britain and our children's future.

    And that self same SNP from 50 years back are still pedalling the same old 'All things to all people' tripe by guaranteeing mega corporations like Amazon huge Tax breaks at the same time promising voters that taxes will go down and their pensions and health and social services will all be secure and paid for by a SECRET oil field in the back of god knows where that has more reserves than we could ever hope to use. And never a food bank to be seen across the land ever again.

    YOU COULDN"T MAKE IT UP!

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  5. Hi, Effie,

    Another excellent article, as always. We've gotta hold our breath for the plunge on this one as the weeks draw us ever closer to our destiny...

    But I have a lot of hope. I believe in the British people, and I am praying constantly for God's will to be done in this. May it be that they stand united.

    I would be most appreciative if you would email me with regards to the Union Jack Chat project. I would be honored to interview you (under your alias) if you would be so kind as to allow me to do so. It would be a great boost to the project.

    Blessings,
    Pearl of Tyburn

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  6. I don't understand the premise of this article.

    First of all the question of the referendum is geo-political not party political. We are not being asked to vote for or against the SNP, Alex Salmond or any other Scottish political figure. We are being asked to decide whether or not we want to take control of our own affairs.

    In fact in my opinion if you really want to get rid of the SNP the best chance you have to do that is a Yes vote. I've been an SNP voter for many years but I won't vote for them again in an Independent Scotland. They did what they needed to do to get us to this point. They have no raisin d'être beyond that. Conversely a No vote will bolster their cause by pulling the Yes voting non-SNP supporters into their fold as the 'good fight' goes on.

    The one interesting point raised is that of who controls the transition. Who writes the constitution. This is a good question. I'd be Interested if you or anyone else can point to evidence of what that transition plan is and if the plan of record really is a one party affair. It should be a nationwide consultative affair, since this would be our opportunity to define a fair system that is not broken from the start. I don't know what that plan is. A link to a document substantiating your assertion would be good here.

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    1. The premise of the article can be found in:

      http://effiedeans.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/a-vote-for-independence-is-vote-for-snp.html

      I think we already know how the transition would be managed. The argument is from inference. Predicting future behaviour from past behaviour. There would be some sort of Front organisation and an attempt to make the whole thing appear as if there was a bringing together of all sides. But the power behind it would be the Scottish government or rather the SNP. They want to put their parties policies into the constitution and given their overall majority no doubt they would succeed.

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  7. So, let me check that I understand your position in the previous article. You are stating that the SNP is a single issue party, and that single issue is independence, therefore anyone that votes for for independence is effectively voting for the SNP. Is that correct?

    If so , if you want to reduce the debate to flawed logic and semantics then go right ahead, but IMO the fundamentals of this position are simply invalid.

    As mentioned in my previous comment, this is the referendum question is geo-political in nature, not party political. What you are arguing (as I understand it) is that we must vote no because the SNP will use its power to skew the future constitution to bias it in favour of maintaining its own position at the expense of democracy in whatever form of government that we put together post-referendum. This position is based on ‘past behaviour’.

    That’s an even more torturously warped argument than anything the Better Together folks have come up with, (and they’ve come up with a few crackers)

    Furthermore, you have not offered any evidence whatsoever to substantiate either :

    (a) That the SNP government will be control of the process (As asked for previously) or , that independent process will be set up to manage that process

    (b) That the current party in power would bias the future totalitarian system of government if they were in a position to do so at the expense of democracy

    In my opinion the referendum is an opportunity to define our own success. We should be debating whether or not we can be successful managing our own affairs as an independent country.

    Are we capable of success as a small country?

    Can we be more prosperous/compassionate/European/Non-European/ than we are in the current UK setup?

    To conflate this question with petty party politics is misleading Lets try and discuss referendum issues in the referendum debate

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    1. Mr. Oates,

      You're either being naive or disingenuous.

      The evidence that the SNP government will be in control of the process has come from the SNP themselves.

      (a) They published a white paper. The moderator in the debate between Darling and Salmond said that the SNP would say that a yes vote would give them a mandate to implement the white paper. Salmond didn't bother to refute this, and I've never, ever heard an SNP official refute such a position. In the event of a Yes, the SNP will be holding up the white paper on the same night and saying that it got more votes than any party manifesto, and thus it's clear that the sovereign will of the people is that it be implemented - they're already saying this about the Currency Union! If you don't believe this, I can't help you.

      (b) They published a draft constitution. See (a) for how they'll say it's also the sovereign will of the people.

      (c) They talk about a 'Team Scotland' negotiating independence. As Effie so convincingly describes above, there may be token 'other parties' in the negotiating team, but the SNP will insist, as a majority in parliament, and also as the authors of the white paper that was so thoroughly endorsed, that the majority of 'Team Scotland' come from their ranks.

      Again, naive or disingenuous. If you disagree, please explain why it's so important that independence is declared before the next Scottish election?

      As to your other argument (b), history is littered with politicians sacrificing democracy for 'the good of the people'. It's happening in Egypt right now, for example. Sure, you may say, there's lots of differences, but shouldn't we be very wary of any politician asking for more power (as the SNP are doing with their latest independence-saves-the-NHS argument)?

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    2. Thank you.I find it rather futile and a waste of energy to continue to argue with someone who is clearly not going to change their mind. I generally respond once and then think it best to live and let live. I doubt anyway that I could have commented better than you just did, so you have saved me the trouble.

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    3. Unknown,

      Thanks for replying and having the courtesy to address me by name. It’s a pity you chose not to give me the opportunity to reciprocate

      Leaving your ad hominem comments to one side, I am also not a great fan of what the SNP have done since coming to office. In particular:

      * The cynical lowering of the voting age for the referendum
      * Why did they call the referendum without calling a general election? This is an excellent question you raise that I have never considered until now. Another cynical move.
      * The attempted abolition of corroboration in criminal courts
      * The Offensive Behavour at Football act is ,well… offensive and a badly formed attack on personal freedom


      I also learned from your post that the SNP published a draft constitution. I’m not sure how I missed this when it came out in June. I found it here:

      http://constitutionalcommission.org/production/byre/images/assets/file/Resources%20Folder/CC_Draft_Constitution.pdf

      Tonight I did the unthinkable: I read it.

      Most of it is pretty dull. Article 6 made me laugh: The Voting Age will be 18 . Ha! What a brass neck he’s got.

      Article 91 is a strange one: It seems to give some form of privilege or exemption to the Church of Scotland based on some historic UK Act of Parliament.

      But I thought you might be most interested in Article 113. It states “This Constitution shall come into force after having been approved by the people of Scotland in a referendum”

      (I’m assuming they don’t mean this upcoming one)

      But honestly, I couldn’t give a monkeys about any of that stuff because it is secondary to the referendum question. Focussing attention on bashing the SNP is simply deflecting from the referendum issues. The referendum question is: Can we manage our own affairs and make a success of our country? Nothing else.

      If this blog is indeed about the Scottish Independence Referendum issues like it says at the top of this page, then I’d like to see and debate the real questions with ‘No’ voters and find out if they have valid points of view, so I become better informed on the real issues.

      What the SNP have done, or will do if they remain in power is irrelevant UNLESS of course, your suspicions are correct and President-Elect Salmond is leading us into a totalitarian state devoid of democracy similar to what Germany did in the 30s.

      In my naive and/or disingenuous heart of hearts I don’t believe that is the case whomever is in power immediately after the referendum vote. I do believe this is an opportunity to make a long-term success of our country though.

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  8. It’s the SNP's attitude to democracy that worries you most?

    Och! You'll get over it when Scotland is democratically independent causing mangy Sassenach sheep to scurry and crofters to return. Lol

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