Tag Archives: Labour

Thanks Kez

…and how quickly things can change.


This will not be the first Scottish Leadership Election I have written about. When I looked back on Johann Lamont’s leadership I said that there were two things that the Scottish Labour Party had to face up to and change if we were to improve and succeed with going forward: We must be Scottish Labour and we must be Scottish Labour. Under Kez Dugdale, we have done both.

When Kez stood for leadership way back in…2015, Labour was in dire straights. Less than a year ago we had won the Referendum on Scottish Independence – but soon after had been labeled a branch office by our outgoing leader and suffered a polling slump. Their successor, Jim Murphy, had a very different style of leadership to them – and was bound to be a divisive figure from the start. The “get out in the streets and see if anyone punches me” Campaign of #GE2015 will lead to many great political memoirs in 10-20 years. But it was, ultimately, an unsuccessful attempt at staving off the SNP menace, with only Ian Murray being returned to Westminster as a Labour MP – not even the leader himself saving his seat.

And so, to Kez. Kez who started out as Leader of a Scottish Party alongside a UK Leadership election which was nasty and personal. Kez who started out with all and sundry telling her she had assumed the most unwanted job in Scottish politics. Kez who was in charge of the ‘Branch Office’.Kez who inherited a party that was assumed to be in terminal decline.

And yet – here we are now – almost 2 years later.

Not dead.

We became a more distinctly Scottish Labour Party. Under Kezia, we became braver in asserting our own distinct position in certain issues, and became slightly more comfortable in our Scottishness. Albeit, this is easier when the Scottish PLP is pretty self-determining and the UK Party isn’t relying on Scottish representatives to succeed. But, nonetheless, Scottish Labour embraced its national identity without aping nationalism. Kezia fought – and won – a Scottish Party seat on the UK Labour NEC despite fierce opposition from factions in the party. The 2016 Scottish Parliament Manifesto was miles to the left of the 2017 General Election one – and was not afraid to take it’s own approach in devolved areas, even when it did not mirror UK policy stances.

But also, we became more Scottish Labour. It is glib to say that, after Jim Murphy, that wasn’t hard – but in certain ways, it is right. Jim Murphy was and is a Labour man through and through, but he did not run a Labour Campaign in 2015. Some of the policies were Labour – but they seemed more policies of convenience of conviction. When Kez took over, the policy process went back to basics. The values of Solidarity, Socialism and Equality were firmly embedded in the policy process and, I think, were reflected in the tax and economic platform in the 2016 Manifesto – and in policies it was intended to fund. But policies, it must always be remembered, lost elections. Three Elections.

Despite what I have said, Scottish Labour lost badly 3 times during Kez’s tenure as leader. So badly, in fact, we lost to the Tories! Even in 2015 – things weren’t that bad. But a major factor in that is the constitutional tumult in which Scotland is still caught. With a pious Pro-Indy position from the SNP and a staunch Unionist military mantra coming from the Tories, an unclear and (at times) mixed-message from Labour won us few friends in constitutional terms. Where we gained votes (and we did gain votes) in 2017, it was on the Health Service, Education, public spending and the sense that we need to start thinking about those things again.

And that will be the legacy of Kez’s Leadership – that she has ushered in the beginning of the end of Scotland’s constitutional conversation. When literacy and numeracy standards were falling in Scotland’s schools and the SNP’s response was to withdraw from the international tests that highlighted this – Kez made sure it was front page news. When Nurses are facing a pay freeze and patients face longer waiting times – Kez made sure their voices were heard. And people heard. And people got angry. And they didn’t vote SNP because of it.

But we still lost.

So, if Kez has decided to leave, what do we do now? The next leader has to continue to make the Labour case for Scottish problems and cannot afford to be sucked back into a new constitutional debate on Tory terms. They also cannot run away from the UK party’s direction of travel either, because – and I will accept that I was wrong on this before – it resonates with people more than could have been imagined. But most importantly, they must be able to speak to people.

Kez re-normalised the Labour Party in Scotland. During 2015 people hated us on the doorstep. In 2016, the didn’t really like us. But in 2017, people were listening to us – and in some cases actually agreeing! Along with re-normalising politics she helped re-normalise us.

And for that, Kez, thank you.

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Immediate Thoughts on #IndyRef2

Shortly after The EU Referendum I was with a few like minded Labour friends discussing where we go from here. We had all been part of the No campaigns in the #IndyRef in 2014 and all bore the scars of that 18 month long campaign. We remembered the long days,the abuse we faced, the lack of sleep, the 20+ hour polling day – but also the celebrations afterwards.

In spite of this, we all agreed that, if there was another independence referendum was called, after the 2015 Election; after the Scottish Elections just past; after Brexit; after Theresa May…we’d  vote Yes.

We were angry. We were angry with Brexit that Scotland opposed, but the UK accepted. We were angry with the Tories exploiting the situation during the election and presenting themselves as the only opposition voice in Scotland. We were angry with the UK leadership casually flirting with the SNP as part of a ‘progressive alliance’. We were angry and ready to give up.

But, in time, we all went back to No. The moment was over before it had begun. After the Summer passed so did our brief flirtation with independence. Our heads regained control of our hearts – and our hearts remembered what they really loved.

There is no doubting, I think, that Brexit has changed things. The dynamics in place in 2014 no longer apply in 2017, and won’t in 2018/2019. Something ‘feels’ different. I’m still not convinced a second referendum is needed – or, indeed, wanted – but it has been clear for some time that it was coming. Not because the country was crying out for it; not because Nicola Sturgeon particularly thinks she can win it; but because there is only so long you can promise to lead the faithful to the promised land before they leave you alone in the desert. It had to come – sooner or later, for better or worse.

But then, when you think about it, what does Brexit change, exactly? If notification under Article 50 is given by the end of March 2017 – we will be out of the EU by April 2019. So, unless Sturgeon is suggesting that we can go from referendum to independence within 7 months, Scotland will be leaving the EU. It won’t be ‘negotiating from the inside’ or seeking a ‘continued membership’ (as was dubiously argued by Yes in 2014), we would be on the outside looking to get back in. This has already been confirmed by EU (and NATO) spokespeople. This is now a fact no longer up for debate.

So – if we are outside we will, presumably be looking to get back in. This isn’t a given since remaining something is not the same proposition as becoming something – but if we didn’t re-apply for EU membership, what would Independence be for? So, when we apply we will have to meet the convergence criteria to join the EU – which include joining the ERM and agreeing to eventually join the Euro. At least that solves on of the 2014 #IndyRef’s biggest issues for the Yes Campaign – except the first 2 (at least) years where we won’t be allowed to use the Euro until we show we can meet the convergence criteria. So we still need to decide what we want to do for that time.

And then we have to actually go about meeting the convergence criteria which include a limit on the Deficit to GDP ratio of no more than 3% – Scotland’s is currently estimated to be about 9%. So we either have to increase tax or cut spending. Given that the current Scottish government have shown no inclination for the former (despite now having the power to do so – which they campaigned for during the 2014 referendum), one can only assume they would pursue the latter.

If that were the case, then how would their social policy, or investment in public services be any different to that currently being pursued by the UK Government? You can argue that the current party of government won’t necessarily be the first party of an independent Scotland’s government – but any government would face the same choices. We would need to get our deficit down if EU Membership was the end goal.

And it may not even be a choice to cut spending – it would almost certianly be required out of economic necessity. The most recent GERS figures show that Scotland has a larger than expected deficit. This taken with the fact that the Barnett Formula gives Scotland c. £1,400 per head means that some policy decision will have to be taken by necessity – whether or not EU Membership is the goal.

All this while we have to deal with the problems of current Scotland. Scotland where education is underfunded and under-resourced to such an extent that parents are having to take on classroom based roles. A Scotland where the NHS is facing budget cuts and in Glasgow had to cut £60million in one year to stay within budget, with the job cuts and reduction in service delivery that involved and when it’s newest shiniest hospital has faced issue after issue with no long term answers in sight. A Scotland where the Police Force is underfunded, the Crown office overworked, courts being closed, the already poorly paying Legal Aid budget shrinking in real terms year-on-year and cases take longer and longer to reach trial. A Scotland where Local Authority budgets have been cut – in Glasgow by over £300million in 10 years – and cuts of £58million this year alone leading to under-investment in roads, schools, breakfast clubs, bin collection and social care where a 15 minute care visit becomes the goal, not the baseline.

And that’s why, after a few weeks, me and my Labour Party friends returned to where we began – agreeing Scotland is stronger when part of the United Kingdom.

Because as ‘engaging’ as the first Independence Referendum was in 2014 – it was easy to forget that children still needed to go to school, people still got sick and people still needed to travel to work every day. Politics isn’t just the grand ideas – it’s getting on with life. A life that we share with our friends, neighbours, and strangers south of the border too. The same struggles of austerity and underfunded health care that people in Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Newcastle and Stoke face just as the people of Glasgow, Perth, Inverness, Dundee and Kincardine do. It’s this desire to fight these problems, together, that got me really involved in politics in the first place. That’s why I joined the Labour Party – part of a movement of like minded people up and down the UK aiming for a better Britain.

And – when we have been given the chance – Labour has created a better Britain. The creation of the NHS; Founding the Open University; de-criminalising homosexuality; Civil Partnerships; The National Minimum Wage; increasing Child benefit; Independence for the Bank of England; Devolution for Scotland and Wales; Peace in Northern Ireland; lifting 600,000 children out of poverty over the 10 years of the last Labour government; Health and Safety at Work; Human Rights. All achievements of Labour in Britain – only achievable and sustainable because of the UK coming together and using its strength to make positive change, because we believe that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.

But this, as well as Brexit, present another break from 2014 and a challeneg to those who want Scotland to Remain in the UK. Back then The SNP and Labour were virtually neck-and neck in Holyrood polls and Labour still 20/30 points ahead in Westminster polling. With a General Election just around the corner it seems possible, nae likely, that Ed Miliband could be Prime Minister and a Labour Government would always be better than a Tory one. Maybe, just maybe, it was worth giving the UK a final shot to convince us it would be that revolutionary reforming country once again. Now, just over 2 years and a 19-point Tory lead later – is it possible to see a possible future Labour government, in any form, to put our faith in again?

Head in the Game…

…or Heart on the sleeve.


“Tony Blair (and Gordon Brown) were the most important left-wing politicians in the UK since the 70’s. Discuss”.

Over my lifetime, I have experienced, in a very real sense two different kinds of UK government. Both have affected real social change across the country, but only one has done it in a way I like. But for some, this wasn’t enough. This is what is at the heart of the Labour Leadership election.

My brother has recently become politicised (thanks to the #IndyRef of all things – he was very strongly Pro-Union) and has taken a great interest in American Politics – mostly, I think, thanks to tumblr. He has recently told us that he supports Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination because he has the best policies. I agreed with him, but told him that I wanted Hillary Clinton to win instead. He asked why and I replied, simply, that he wouldn’t stand a chance of winning, but Hillary would. He complained, as many people new to politics do, that I should stick to principles and should vote for who I thought was best, even if it would be harder for them to win.
In some ways, I feel sympathy for this view. Bernie Sanders would be a revolutionary in American terms (if he could get ANYTHING in his platform through a Republican Congress), provided that after winning the nomination, he won the Presidency. Although the disaster hairea that is Donald Trump (who once compared off-shore wind-farms to the Lockerbie Disaster) is leading the Republican field, when faced with a choice between a leftie and oblivion, I’m not convinced that the US would vote to survive.

Which brings us back to the question I’ve set myself. Since the 1970’s the Labour Party has had 6 Leaders that have faced an election: Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Miliband. Of that list, spanning 50 years, only 1 won a General Election. And out of that list, he is the one spoken of least fondly. Despite leading Labour to its first (and second and third) election victories after years in the wilderness of opposition, should he ever appear, he is hated and questioned. Why?
Iraq aside, which is a millstone around Labour’s collective neck, what did Tony Blair’s (and, let’s be honest, Gordon Brown’s and Co-PM-In-All-But-Name) Labour Party do that marked them out as right-wing. They funded the NHS and cut waiting times. They spent money on schools that was badly needed. They introduced the National Minimum Wage, which so improved the pay of so many people. They created Tax Credits which, while an IT-Nightmare, supported so many people and helped them out of shoestring budgets. All this while devolving to the nations, reforming the Lords – and the minor achievement of brining peace to Northern Ireland.
What he did, it seems, is what he didn’t do. They didn’t fund the NHS enough and dared rely on private investment to build hospitals sooner. They improved schools, but dare experiment with ‘Academies’, which the Tories bastardised to create ‘free-schools’ . They introduced the Minimum Wage, but looking back, it wasn’t that much – despite the opposition (and lack of support from some) at the time. And tax credits were good – but there were still kids that were poor in Drumchapel, even though Child Poverty was at its lowest point ever. And they didn’t devolve enough, and the Lords still exists and the fact there still is a Northern Ireland for peace to be brought to shows the real imperialist intentions. If they were really a Labour party, they would have been much more radical. In short, they bottled it.
But, and the important thing I think, was that they were in power. Tony Blair realised something – that a centre-left Labour government can do more than a far-left Labour opposition. No matter how amazingly redistributive and socially-reforming a Labour Party Manifesto is, it doesn’t matter one bit if we’re not in government at the end of it. We’ve only just had a reminder of this.

When I look at the story of the Labour Leadership contest so far, I worry that we have already forgotten this, and just how terribly frustrating opposition is. As I write, Brian Eno (that committed Labour supporter who voted Lib Dem in 2010) is speaking at a Jeremy Corbyn rally stating that “electability isn’t the most important thing“. What matters is wanting to do good things, not actually getting the chance to do them…apparently. So long as you are ideologically pure, you are fine; but should you temper (not change!) your principles for the niggling purpose of “getting into government” – then you do not belong in the the Labour Movement. If this is our outlook, then I may never see another Labour Government. We shouldn’t give up our goals and aims and principles, but we must convince the voters that they should be put into practice. Not forget who we are in the pursuit of power; but gain power by getting people to look at us.
The halls that Corbyn has packed out; the supporters he has encouraged; the members he has brought; the people he has swayed – how many weren’t already Labour people? How many has he pulled, even from left of the party (the Greens, the various socialists)? The answer, I give with 100% certainty, is not enough.
Cooper, Burnham and Kendall are all members of the Labour Party for exactly the same reason I am, and the same reason Corbyn is: they want to help the poorest and create a fairer, more equal, more socially just Britain. They want a strong NHS, a great education system, and a welfare state that supports the poorest in society. The difference is that they all accept that the public, generally, at large are not socialist. Not in Wales, not in Scotland and definitely not Middle-England. If they cannot support Miliband, they cannot, in the space of 5 years, elect Corbyn. And, quite frankly, I want a Labour government. A Labour Government is not a Tory-lite government. It might not do all you want, but would Brown’s “Red Tory” government have done all the Coalition government did? Would Miliband’s government have done all what the Tories are planning now. If you say yes, you are either lying, disingenuous or a cybernat.

If Corbyn is my Leader come the end of next month – then I will support him to the hilt. I will try and convince people up and down my nation and my country that they should vote Labour in 2020 and make him PM. And will love that campaign because our manifesto will be all I want it to be (and possibly more). It might help us a bit in Scotland (but not as much as people think it would), and I will be able to sleep easy with my conscience clear – but if I wanted to do that I’d have joined the Greens. I will sleep easy, but I will be up all night at the count on 7th May 2020 with a heavy heart as we once again fail to bring the country with us. We return to the opposition benches, once again leaderless, and once again wondering if we just weren’t Labour enough.

I would rather be in power doing some of the things we want, than be in opposition wanting to do something. And that is why Tony Blair (and Gordon Brown) were the most important left-wing politicians in the UK since the 70’s. They did it.


This post has been a long time coming, but was typed today thanks to my reading Stephen Daisley’s Open Letter to Labour. I think Kendall may have the gone too far in the principle/electability trade-off, but it’s an important read. I have not yet decided how I will vote.

Why I’m Labour

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I am voting Labour in this General Election. But I want to talk about why.

I’m voting Labour because I believe, fundamentally, that the Labour Party is a force for good. Every government of change in this country has been a Labour government; and every Labour government has fundamentally changed this country for the better.

In the 1920’s, it was a Labour Government that created affordable local housing for people.
In the 1940’s, it was a Labour Government that created the Welfare State as we know it today, and created the NHS that brought us into he world and we now all rely on.
In the 1960’s, it was a Labour Government that decriminalised homosexuality in the UK, which was the first big step towards the equality this country now enjoys.
In the 1990’s, it was a Labour Government that introduced the National Minimum wage, that protects so many workers of all ages and kinds.
It will only be a Labour Government that will provide the change that this country once again desperately needs.

It is only a Labour Government that will ban exploitative 0-hours contracts across the UK, protecting the rights of working people across the UK. Working people, people who are relying on working income to feed their families and heat their homes, should be able to rely on regular work and decent income, without having to wait on a text to see if they should bother to go in that morning, and whether they’ll be paid at the end of the day. It is the only part that has constantly and consistently supported the Living Wage in public procurement and in private business.
It is only a Labour Government that has pledged to tax the richest and support the poorest. It has will re-introduce the 50p tax-rate, ending the Tories tax-cut for millionaires; and will lower taxes for the least well off in society. It will introduce a Mansion Tax on homes worth over £2million, and use that money to properly provide our public services which have been under-funded both north and south of the border. It will end once and for all the scandalous Bedroom Tax.
And it is only a Labour Government that has a real plan to help real people and stand up for the powerless against the powerful. It will take on the energy companies by freezing energy prices for 2 years and give the regulator to make sure prices are fair. It will stand up to Murdoch and his media empire, by creating proper regulation of the press to stop them hacking phones and going after the family of 17-year old girls who don’t support their point of view. It will tackle tax-avoidance and not turn a blind eye to it as has been done before, and end the archaic position of non-doms who escape their fair share of tax. No more!

This is a Labour Party that will stand up for people across the country and across our nations. And that means letting the nations standing up themselves. A stronger Scottish Parliament than the one it created in 1999, and one prepared for new responsibilities as it approaches its 20th birthday. An end to the House of Lords and a new elected Senate of the Nations and Regions to ensure that all regional voices are heard and shape the future of the country. And a conversation about how we continue in the future, with a real examination of how our country works.

I am voting Labour because I believe in Labour’s fundamental tenant: that by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we can achieve alone”. It is this that encapsulates the Labour Party in Scotland, Labour across the UK and the entire international Labour Movement of which I am proud to be a part. The SNP have claimed that they can keep Labour honest, and make us true to our word. As much as I appreciate their support of Labour’s policies (many of which they have voted against in the past – tax rises for the richest, rent-caps & the Living Wage condition in public procurement among others), there is, I think, too wide a gap between the two. Labour is a Democratic Socialist Party; the SNP is a Nationalist one. The first requires solidarity; the second demands separation.
I believe the Union (for all its faults) is a fundamentally good thing and Scotland benefits from it. Only be coming together and sharing what we have will we be able to help those who need it most. What illustrates this fr me is the Mansion Tax, a Labour Policy with SNP support. 95% of all the money it raises will come from the South-East of England and only 1/3 of 1% will be raised in Scotland – yet that money will benefit people all across the UK, with c.10% coming to Scotland. The same with a bankers’ bonus tax (affecting the richest in London). These policies only help the poorest in a UK context. If we cut Scotland off from this pooling and sharing of money, we do Scotland a disservice. Full Fiscal Autonomy, which Nicola Sturgeon has committed SNP MPs to supporting, would deprive Scotland of so much.
Not only would it mean a £7.6bn funding gap this year alone (rising to £10bn in the next 5 years) it would cut Scotland off from so much more. Money that could fund 1000 new nurses and 500 new GPs. Money that, would not only reverse the some 140,000 college places lost over the last 8 years, but actually help the poorest Scottish University students as well. Fee-Free tuition is great, but it alone does nothing and helps only the middle and upper class. Labour’s plan to increase bursaries for the poorest students by £1000, is what will help us get working class Scots into University – something that Fee-paying England is currently doing far better than us. Money that would let us provide £1,600 for every 18 and 19 year-old not in further or higher education, and not in training, to get ahead. And money that can guarantee a job for every single 18 to 14 year old that out of work for more than a year.
Labour offer pooled money for progressive, radical policies – I don’t want to walk away from that.

The Labour Party has not, is not and can never be ‘perfect’. It can never offer a socialist paradigm because it knows it can never implement it. It was, let us not forget, Atlee’s government, idealised by so many in Scotland, who introduced the UK’s first nuclear weapon – but I hope that, along with the rest of the world, it will be a Labour Government that gets rid of them, not just the UK, but the planet. But The Labour Party, in particular this Labour Party, and only the Labour Party, is offering a radical vision for so many people.

It is once again only the Labour party that can be the government for real, effective, lasting change for working people – based not on where they come from or what they’ve done, but what they need.

It is that government that I will be voting for.

Elections, Prime Ministers and their Causes – Part 3

The 2015 General Election is one of uncertainties. Who will be the largest Party? Who will work with whom? Who will be Prime Minister? Will anyone be able to get enough support to pass that magic number of 326 (half the seat in the House of Commons +1) and form a Government? What does it mean if they can’t?
With all this uncertainty, the possibility of a SECOND General Election this year has been mooted.

This week, I want to look at these questions in a bit of detail, combining the Legal Framework with the Political Reality of #GE15. Over the course of three posts this week, I will examine “What causes a General Election”, “What ends a Prime Minister” and “What Creates a new one”, all through a #GE15 lens.

In part 2 we reached a situation where David Cameron could no longer stay Prime Minister, but now we have to face a governmental vacuum. So, “What Creates a New Prime Minister”?


Who, then, could replace Cameron once he resigns? The country cannot be left Prime Minister-less. The Queen (for it is at her pleasure the PM serves) would have to invite someone else to fill the role. According to the definitive guide to such things, the Cabinet Office Manual, that person would be the person “best placed” to command the confidence of the House of Commons. That person, in the current election, is Ed Miliband.
It is important to note that it is not incumbent on Miliband to prove he can command the confidence of the House, merely that he is best placed to do so. In practice, this will be tested when Prime Minister Miliband presents his Queen’s Speech. If that fails to pass (which is a possibility), it will then be clear than he doesn’t command the confidence of the House of Commons and the duty then falls on him to resign as Prime Minister. Who would replace him…it’s hard to tell. It would, theoretically be the (new) leader of the Conservatives – whose Queen’s speech would fail and would have to resign to be replaced by the (new) leader of the Labour party – whose Queen’s Speech would fail…and so on.

All of this is going on without another general election happening, since while the Queen’s Speech is a test of the Prime Minister’s ability to command the Confidence of the House of Commons, as we discussed in Part 1 it is not one of the statutorily defined triggers set-out in the FTPA2011. It then becomes a political calculation for the smaller parties (since the 2 main parties will never support the government of another in peace-time), to decide which side of the fence they come down on.
It would take an MP to table one of the motions quoted above to cause an election and see if the mess sorts itself out – or the House could vote to repeal/amend the FTPA 2011 and we go back Prime Ministers being able to call an election at a time of their choice (though even whether that would happen is a controversial legal proposition).

Bringing all this Together

Attempting to tie all this together then, it is entirely possible that we are in for a confusing and rocky few months after this election. Unlike in 2010, its clear going into the election who’s most likely to side with whom, so when the results come in, the blocs should be easier to make up.
If there are more ‘Anti-Tory’ MP’s (LAB+SNP+GRN+SDLP+RESPECT) on May 8th than ‘Coalition Friendly MPs’ (CON+LD+DUP/UUP) then Cameron’s days as Prime Minister are numbered, and Ed Miliband will eventually be invited to replace him.
However, that could well prove to be the simplest part of the process. Ed would then need to demonstrate that he commanded the confidence of the House of Commons by passing his first Queen’s Speech. He doesn’t need MP’s to just be ‘Anti-Tory’ – he needs them to be ‘Pro-Labour’ as-well. It’s possible that LAB+SNP alone will have enough votes to get Ed into Number 10 – but if the SNP abstain from voting in the Queen’s Speech (which is entirely possible), then it could still fail, meaning Ed might not have enough confidence after all. The SNP’s line that they will “lock out the Tories” isn’t enough in the longer-term; they need to be willing to keep Miliband in for there not to be another General Election.
If they don’t  though, we wouldn’t be bracing ourselves for #GE15.2 quite yet, because there are only 2 ways to hold an early General Election under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2011:

  • 434 MP’s vote to hold one.
  • 1/2 of MP’s voting support the motion, “That this House has no confidence in her Majesty’s Government.” and that MP’s do not pass the motion, “That this House has confidence in her Majesty’s Government.” within 14 days of doing so.

Analysing the SNP’s position in all this then, the following is entirely possible:

  • they count AGAINST David Cameron, and therefore would lead to his resignation as PM.
  • ABSTAIN from Miliband’s Queen’s Speech (not wanting to vote against it because of the perception; but not wanting to vote for it because they haven’t got any concessions – which is what Miliband seemed to signal in the TV Debates last week).

They would then have to decide whether to support an election-causing confidence motion. Do they Support the motion, bringing down a Labour government and creating echos of 1979, which they have tried to escape? Do they oppose it, rendering their opposition to the Queen’s Speech a little weaker, and making them look a little uncertain of what they actually want? Or, do they abstain, and risk being made to look missing in action – and risk abetting the collapse of a Labour government, if not abetting it?
The Lib Dems would also have to look at the lay of the land, depending on their numbers. I’ve talked about them being ‘Tory-friendly’, but it’s more the current leadership than the party itself. Whether Nick Clegg is still an MP after May (let alone Lib Dem leader) is still up for discussion – so it’s entirely possible the party my shift to be more pro-Labour, and that may well be enough to see Miliband securely in No.10 until 2020. But even then, that depend on a Lib Dem MP who is sympathetic to Labour – many of whom are unlikely to survive this election – becoming the new leader.

The only thing that’s certain is that the 2015 General Election will not finish when voting does.


See Part 1, “What Causes a General Election”;
And Part 2, “What Ends a Prime Minister”.

Lessons from Kirkcaldy…

…or why no-one can be completely happy.


At any other time, Labour wouldn’t have to worry. A by-election in Kirkcaldy East (deepest Brown territory) cause by the resignation of an SNP councillor because of interesting business dealings in Austria. In 2012, the result was clear: Labour Candidates got just shy of 50% of the vote compared to the SNP’s 36.4%. Labour had half the electorate behind them. Easy, right:

Kirkcady East By-Election results

In the end it was the SNP who were victorious – bagging 47.3% of the vote and Labour falling back to the 35% mark. This should leave SNP folk buoyant, they’ve just won a seat that they should have really lost. That’s true, but in the longer term, there are other considerations that might not make it quite so joyous.

Firstly let’s quickly look at the state of the ‘other’ parties:

  • The Tories: Slight increase in %age support, but nothing big. It’s most likely down to the traditional low by-election turnout.
  • The Lib Dems: Disaster. The Lib Dems have lost yet another by-election deposit and only lost a whole 2/3’s of their 2012 support. They also managed to get only a 1/3rd of the votes UKIP did. That itself is a terrible result.
  • The Greens and UKIPBoth of the “minor” parties didn’t stand in 2012, so any support they got would be a gain for them. Both also lost their deposit but the greens narrowly (by 9 votes) pipped UKIP – based on polls, it should have been the other way around.

—–

So having dealt with the minor parties,  the swing here is important. For the SNP to win there had to be a LAB>SNP swing of 7%. They managed to bash straight through that got a swing of c.12.8%. Even on the low turnout – that’s a pretty good result. But, it possibly should have been better.
The most recent polling is placing the SNP lead somewhere around 20-25%. In 2010, LAB’s vote lead was 22% – meaning there has been a c.20% swing since the last General Election. Yet, in the by-election, the swing was only 13%. And this difference is significant. Come May, the SNP need a swing form Labour of 15% to really do substantial damage to Labour. 15% would see them take 20 seats from Labour. 13% would only give them 11 gains…which is not what the SNP are preparing themselves for. So while Thursday’s by-election sin was a good result on the night, more needs to be done if the SNP tidal wave is to strike in May.

Obviously, there are lots of caveats that must be made. It was a by-election last Thursday, which always suffer from decreased turnouts. A council election is not a Westminster election, so different factors can be at play. But, as a friend on twitter put it, this by-election can serve as a “straw in the wind” to give the general direction of travel, if not a precise landing point.
There are still 3 months to go until The General Election, and lots more is bound to happen that will change people’s minds…but as things stand, neither the SNP nor Labour can be truly happy with how things are.

The Electoral P(o)ints

This is the second of two posts looking at Al Murray’s ‘Pub Landlord’ standing in Thanet South constituency in the 2015 General Election. This post looks at what effect he could have on the election itself; while the other post looks at why he’s standing in the first place.


So, the question must be asked – how will the Pub Landlord’s candidacy effect the election in South Thanet? Ladbrokes have him at 66/1 to win which is pretty low (but not as low as the 100/1-shot Lib Dems). But, lets be honest, much like Eurovision – winning isn’t the point here. It’s to make a point about UKIP, but by just standing Murray is going to win votes – an those votes have got to come from somewhere…but where, and what effect will it have?

Firstly, those most likely to vote for a fictional character are the apathetic voters. Those who, for whatever reason, just don’t care about the outcome. The are most likely to be non-voters (so there’s no -ve effect for other parties there), or those who would consciously spoil there ballot anyway (again, no -ve effect for UKIP, CON, and LAB). But these voters alone wouldn’t allow Murry to win.
But it’s not just the apathisers that he will need to attract. People who would have voted for other parties could now consciously vote for the Pub Landlord. Foremost among these are those who would have voted for an actual pub landlord who is already standing against Farage. Nigel Askew is standing as Bez’s (of Happy Mondays fame) ‘The Reality Party’ candidate. There is also an Independent standing in South Thanet. The latest Ashcroft poll (Nov 2014) has support for these ‘others’ at 1% – but this was taken before Bez’s Reality Party news broke – which may increase that figure, albeit only slightly. Most of these people’s support will come from “Screw everyone else” sector – so are likely to switch to Murray at election time.
Greens too (the majorest of the minor parties for the time being), being honest, do not stand a chance of winning. Green votes are, in this case, mostly protest votes, as they will be in c.640odd seats in May. There is a possible issue the Murray’s manifesto is diametrically opposed to Green policies and values – but somehow I reckon that Murray’s not going to stick to rigidly to it if he gets elected (he won’t). And hey, if you’re going to protest – why not vote for someone that will have a wider base and could cause more of an upset?

But what about the major parties? Labour, The Concervatives, Lib Dems and UKIP are all in unusual situations here. The Lib Dems firstly, similarly to the GRN, don’t stand a chance. This isn’t a “you’re in bed with the Tories” thing, it’s just a fact of Thanet South. They got 15% of the vote in 2010, while LAB and CON got 31% and 48% respectively. They were never in the race, and their support is now only at 7% That means that there are now 8% of 2010-LDs looking for a home. They left because of the Tories (you can presume), and could go to Labour, but if that offering isn’t to impressive, why not vote for Murray?
Now consider Labour’s unusual position. Thanet South is officially a CON-LAB marginal, but that is misleading. It is a LAB-1997 seat, won in extraordinary times in extraordinary circumstances (the Tory MP and 1997 candidate was Johnothan Aitken). Before 1997, Labour had NEVER won the seat before, nor any of its past versions (Thant East, Thanet West of the Isle of Thantet). The fact both parties were neck and neck last July was a wonder in itself. So, there are two options for the Labour voter:

  1. Stay with Labour – there is a chance that they could win, it’s happened before and Murray won’t get the support; or
  2. Vote for Murray – Labour probably won’t win and if enough support musters around Murray, he could stop both UKIP and the Tories.

Where would the other support come from? That’s a difficult question. The Tories want to win this seat. Tory voters in Thanet South know that there is a good chance of them to win the seat, but UKIP do present a threat to their vote. They know that if not enough Tory voters vote Tory then UKIP could over take them or, even worse, Labour could come up the middle of a split CON-UKIP vote. Of all the parties, I’d imagine that the Tories will stay the most solid and see the least (but still some) leakage. Those voting Tory just to keep UKIP out may swithc, but again, it’d have to bee seen that Murray could actually win – which is not likely to happen.
But then comes UKIP. Farage knows that Murray is their focus, and so will most UKIP voters. I say ‘most’ quite deliberately, because of the Steven Colbert issue – some people think Al Murray is ‘The Pub Landlord’ so will vote for him in good faith. Murray may succeed where all other parties fail – he might actually out-UKIP UKIP! If this is the case, the UKIP deficit will only grow, potentially improving Tory chances. But also, c.20% of UKIPs 2015 support (6% of voters) comes from 201-LAB voters. Might Murray’s satirer prove effective in highlighting UKIPs potential deficiencies and moving those people back to Labour? Or maybe they left Labour in search of a new home and found UKIP – might Murray be there man?

It’s unclear what will happen as a result of Murray’s Pub Landlord standing in Thanet South. The only thing we can be sure of is that he won’t win. Even with half of 2015-Planned-Non-Voters deciding to vote for Murray (which won’t happen) & ALL the insignificant party support (IND and Reality Party) & ALL the GRN support & HALF the LD support came under too, there he would still be a good 8% behind Labour, 10% behind UKIP and 13% off the Tories..
However, he might garner just enough support, to chance the outcome. If Murray would have to take more support from the Tories than he does from UKIP to increase Farage’s chances of winning the seat. Given the solidity of the Tory vote in Thanets past, and the softness of the UKIP periphary vote – this is unlikely to happen. He has scuppered UKIP chances just by standing. But, and this is a big but, if Murray can take just 1/10th of the Tory vote away, and scare 1/10th of UKIP voters back to Labour – which is a distinct possibility thanks to that very same soft-UKIP periphery – Murray could actually switch the seat from Blue to Red and cause a reasonably sized boost for Miliband.

Don’t you just love FPTP?


I have done the sums for the scenario in the last paragraph. According to the Ashcroft polls, about 70% of people in Thanet South are likely to vote in May 2015.
On that basis, if Murray got the backing of:

  • All the OTH [1.4%] + GRN [2.1%]
  • Half the LDs [2.4%] + Half of otherwise NVs [14.7%]; support would be c.20.7% [4th]

But, if, at any turnout, 1/10 of 2010-CONs leave and go anywhere and 1/10 2015-UKIP voters got to LAB, Labour will win by less than 1%.

Free is not Cheaper…

…or why I want the Scottish Government to burden me with Student Debt.


As Nicola Sturgeon took over the reins of the SNP at the weekend, she declared that now they, and not the Labour Party, were the party of social justice in Scotland. In support of this, the abolition of tuition fees for Scottish Students in Scotland. The Labour Party opposed this, and so showed their true colours. They wanted students to pay their own fees, and so seemingly barred the poorest from enjoying Higher Education.

The logic of no Higher Education fees are obvious. No debt looming over them for the rest of their life. This in turn, would encourage more people from families with no University history (such as mine) into Higher Education, and so broaden their horizons. These people are then more likely to be able to fight their way out of poverty, driving up living standards. Everybody wins!
Or so it would seem , except that fees are just one aspect of the cost of university living. There are many other costs that must be paid to go to Uni. There’s travel expenses, for example, which can be expensive – but no support is specifically available for them. The same with rent, books and study materials (which if you are a law student can run into the £100s of pounds a semester) and other living expenses as they appear. The only support available to meet these for most students is a student loan of between £4,750 – £7,500 a year, depending on household income. For a student living away from home this is not a lot to go on, and for the poorest student – with perhaps little support available – this could be a greater disincentive than tuition fees.
What’s key to remember is that after a student graduates, debt is debt. Whether it comes from tuition fees or living expenses; is owed to the government or the bank; debt it debt. So a promise of “Free Tuition” is only good and useful for students from low-income backgrounds if it can be backed up with support for living costs – which it clearly does not.
What it does do, however, is offer an extraordinary level of support to those from wealthy households. Indeed, a February 2014 report by the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity stated that:

There is only one significant group for which it is clearly accurate to describe the Scottish system as the best in the UK, which is the most well off, provided they study in-country. [p.57]

This is a damning claim against the truism that Scotland’s University funding system is the “fairest” in the UK. But when you think about how are system works, it makes sense. By focusing on providing free tuition, everyone – low, medium and high income students get a £3,000 debt relief. But by abolishing grants and limiting the availability of bursaries, the free support once available to low-income students is reduced, leading to a reliance on loans – and thereby pushing up total debt levels upon graduation. The same report estimates that a low-income students will leave with c.£20,000 total debt; higher-income students having no debt at all. The system we have does not work.
Not only does it not work, but it doesn’t work at great cost. Since 2011 Scottish colleges have faced unprecedented cuts, with over 100,000 students disappearing, along with 7,000 staff. Colleges are another route to extended education, most often used by those from low-income backgrounds or with no family history of higher education. Therefore, the Scottish Government have been funding £0-debt-graduations for rich students by cutting services most often used by lower-income families. Not progressive at all.
Similarly, postgraduate students have also suffered. Turning to what I know, the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (a compulsory qualification for solicitors) used to be funded. But now, where grants once stood, student loans for only half of the cost have appeared. This means that any aspiring lawyer of tomorrow has to find c.£3,000 to fund their Diploma from other means. And, to put it bluntly, it’s more likely that the daughter of a lawyer will be able to ask their parents for the money than the son of a shop-worker. The effect this is having on those from “less privileged backgrounds” entering into the profession is already being noticed, and it is not a small one. The same issues apply to almost all aspects of postgraduate education i.e. the only method of funding is a loan, which does nothing to remove the overall debt burden at the end of Uni life. If social mobility is the aim, it is a long way off being achieved. In the end, the tuition fees of rich student’s undergraduate degree are being paid by the grants funding once given to postgraduate students from low-income backgrounds. The system is simultaneously on and off its head.

So, how do we solve this? One way would be to make that ever popular political decision that we should raise taxes. This would mitigate the effects of cuts to college places as much as is possible, and with new tax powers coming to Holyrood next year, it’s a possibility. However, it’s unlikely the ‘progressive’ SNP would raise taxes, especially given the 9 year long Council Tax freeze Scotland will have experienced by the time of the 2016 election.
The only other option is to accept that rocks will have to melt in the sun and some level of tuition fee is introduced in Scotland. This initially seems unattractive, but considering the case above, it is clear that the “no tuition fees for anyone” approach is not working. Introducing fees (that aren’t paid up-front) would allow money currently funding richer students’ undergraduate degrees to support more students from lower-income backgrounds, in the form of bursaries and grants that will actually reduce the overall debt level upon graduation. Support can be kept in place to meet tuition fee costs for less-privileged students, but by having those that can support themselves do so, we would be able to offer even more funding to those who don’t have that luxury, ensuring that they have a genuinely improved access to higher and further education. And, even better, it would tackle final levels of graduate debt, by replacing loans with grants.
Free Higher Education is a admirable aim. But it requires funding, and this isn’t in place – and doesn’t seem that it will any time soon. So we need to look at the reality of the situation, and while “Free Higher Education” is a brilliant headline, it masks that reality. It masks the cuts to further education that have been made to fund the policy. It hides the reduction in postgraduate support that has occurred, while undergraduate tuition fees are still paid for all. And, most importantly, it ignores the fact the grants once available for living costs and travel expenses are now replaced by loans, meaning that lower-income students are now getting in to debt just studying for their “free degree”, while their richer friends can rely on their parents helping them out. So, what I’m really saying here is, Nicola Sturgeon, GIVE ME MORE DEBT because I currently live at home and while my family are by no means rich, we’re not poor. All going well – I’ll be able to repay you in 20/30 years time. Others aren’t like me and we should be doing more for them. That’s what “progressive” is all about.

Goodbye and Thank You Johann…

…or why Scottish Labour must be both ‘Scottish’ and ‘Labour’.


This weekend, Johann Lamont announced she will be standing down as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland. Before I say anything else, as a member I want the thank Johann for everything she did while leading the party. She held the party together after what was a (well-deserved) routing in 2011 and then led the party through the 2012 local election, holding Glasgow, and then (since everyone seems to have forgotten) WON a referendum on Scottish Independence. There were moments I cringed, and moments when speeches could have been better phrased. Yet, week after week, she consistently held her own against Alex Salmond at FMQs.

For what you did, I thank you.

But looking to the future, there are two major challenge Scottish Labour faces. The first is that is can not longer be afraid to be Scottish Labour. The second is that it must be allowed to be Scottish Labour.
It seems to me that recently, at both UK and Scottish levels, the Labour Party has been afraid to shout about what we stand for as a party, and instead watered it down to what we think people want to hear. At a UK level, our recent attempts to “tackle immigration” are a great example of this. A Labour government shouldn’t seek to tackle immigration, it should welcome the social, economic and poltical advantages immigration brings. but we don’t because we are concered about those who have “concerns about immigration”. These people fall into 2 categories.
The first are people who are genuinely concerned about the strain additional demand will place on out schools, hospitals and infrastructure. The Labour answer to these concerns is to say we will invest more in public services, and show how immigration is still a net positive to the country. The second are people who’s problem is with immigrants. We can’t help them, but still act as if we can see their point…I have to admit I can’t. We have to be brave and honest enough to say so.
The same issue exists in Scotland too. Whoever is elected leader in December cannot be afraid to challenge the assumptions we have allowed the SNP to establish. We are right to oppose unfunded universal free-prescriptions. Prescriptions for those most in need (the poorest, the oldest, the youngest, the chronicly ill, the disabled, the unemployed) were free before the SNP decided to make them free for the middle class and the rich. But we forget to say that’s because it costs the NHS c.£60million a year that could be spent on medical treatments and staff. Without that last bit we sound like cost-cutters and not a party that wants proper funding of public services.

And to do this, Scottish Labour must be given room to be SCOTTISH Labour. We may have won the IndyRef, but Scottish politics has changed forever. For the next leader to address this dynamic, they need to be able to make decisions (1) for the whole party in Scotland – I’m looking at you MPs; and (2) without the fear of a UK Labour veto.
I don’t think this means we need an “Independent Labour Party”, but we do need to mimic the current state of devolution within it. Policy making is near-enough separate, but leadership are still a matter of the UK party. That’s why the Scottish General Secrety can be sacked without the Scottish Leader being told: the UK level still controls structures. This clearly can’t go on.
In that brief time Wendy Alexander was leader, she famously challenged Alex Salmond to “bring it on” and hold the referendum before 2011.  Slowly but surely, this stance drifted backwards, and I would not be surprised if it was a UK ‘suggestion’ to drift. If rumours about Bedroom-Tax related orders are true, it only confirms that we need to be trusted to make the right call for Scotland, even if it makes the UK-Wide party a bit more uncomfortable. Part of this, of course, is that the leader of Scottish Labour has to be – in practice and not just name – the leader of the WHOLE of Scottish Labour (again, looking at you MPs).

Lamont’s leadership of Scottish Labour was successful one. In a time where we didn’t have a constitutional argument in the way, I am sure that would have been electorally successful too. But alas, circumstances, and it seems ‘comrades’, conspired against a woman who is committed to improving the lives  of the people she represents. I hope our next leader, whoever it is, is just as committed to those people, and much more ready to shout from the rooftops and soapboxes that we are Scottish Labour.


This post also appears on Labour Hame, a grass-roots run and organised Scottish Labour site. With thanks to Andy Todd for letting me use his lovely ‘graph’ in the banner.

Other people who have commented on Johann’s resignation and replacement include:
Duncan Hothersall:- Three things
 – 
Ian Smart:- Desperate Days
 – Jackson Carlaw MSP:- Send for Murphy

Debating the Point…

…or why ‘Prime Ministerial Debates’ cause nothing but trouble and unnecessary judicial challenges.


No sooner are we finished with one glorious democratic process, than the countdown to the next one starts. The BBC, ITV and Sky revealed their proposals for the 2015 UK General Election TV Debates today and, like last time, there is a bit of a stooshie over who should appear how many times. As things stand, the debates will be:

SKY – April 2nd: David Cameron (Con); Ed Miliband (Lab) 
BBC – April 16th: David Cameron (Con); Ed Miliband (Lab); Nick Clegg (LD)
ITV – April 30th: David Cameron (Con); Ed Miliband (Lab); Nick Clegg (LD); Nigel Farage (UKIP)

Just about everyone seems to disagree with these proposals in one way or another. The primary issue is that UKIP has been invited to take part despite only having their 1 MP sworn in this morning – while the Greens (whose lone MP Caroline Lucas was elected at the last general election) have not been asked. Nor have the SNP or Plaid Cymru, who you can argue are just as influential in the current UK political landscape.

So, Tory and Labour parties aside (their right to 3 appearances is universally accepted), what have parties should be represented in the debates – and why?

The Lib Dems
As obvious/contentious (delete to suit) a statement as this may be to make, the Lib Dems are a major force in UK politics. They are the minorest major party, but they are still a major party. They are the junior partner in the current coalition government and have the 3rd most MP’s in the Parliament. But, most importantly there is a theoretical chance that they could form an outright government in 2015. [ENOUGH LAUGHING IN THE BACK!]
I mean it. Mathematically, should there be a massive national change of heart, the Lib Dems are standing enough candidates that they could be elected to form a Lib-Dem only government. It’s unlikely, but it is a possibility. Surely then, the Lib Dems should play a part in all 3 debates, since, like the Tories and Labour, they could form a government and already have substantial representation and clout in parliament?
If you accept that this is theoretically possible, but politicly unlikely (read “wouldn’t happen in a million years”), and so the Lib Dems should only be at the 2 debates,  isn’t the point of having the debates to inform the political argument, not the other way around? The Lib Dems received the most tangible benefit from the 2010 debates, arguably due to the fact they weren’t just a punchline, but on an equal footing to the two parties that had dominated government for the last 90 years. Because of that, they are now in government (albeit not leading it) for the first time since Lloyd George. You need a very good reason not to include the Deputy Prime Minister in an election debate – and I can’t see it.

The Greens and UKIP
So…UKIP. It is a party that had no representation in Westminster whatsoever until last week when it won it’s first ever by-election. The Greens, meanwhile, have had its 1 MP (the impressive Caroline Lucas) since 2010. The argument is that if UKIP are being invited on the back of Carswell’s election, the Greens should to. I fear, however, that this isn’t taking an holistic view of things.
While I’d imagine UKIP will have limited (if any) electoral success, their UK-wide support orbits the 17/18% mark, while the Greens can normally manage 5% on a good day. So far UKIP have announced 240 candidates for constituencies in all parts of Great Britain. The Greens, meanwhile have announced candidates in just 81. While UKIP haven’t hit that magic number of 326 yet (i.e. 50% of Westminster Seats + 1) it is not inconceivable that, like the Lib Dems, they will by the time next April rolls around and the registration deadline closes. In 2010 they stood in 558 seats, and in 2005 they tried in 496. The Greens, meanwhile, stood in just 182 seats in 2005 and still only 310 in 2010, leaving it 16 short from being able to achieve a governing majority, even on a perfect night. So UKIP and The Greens are two different beasts in the 2015 election as things stand. The former will field enough candidates that it could form its own government; the latter, if past trends are anything to go by, will not. Unless it does, the claim that it is a party similar in character to UKIP will be difficult to substantiate. If they do, however, inviting one but not the other will be nigh-on-impossible to justify.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru
So having dealt with UK-wide parties…what about the nation-specific parties in Great Britain: The SNP and Plaid Cymru? Dealing with The SNP first – the prima facie case for including them in the debates is plain. They are, and have been for the last 4 (arguably 5) years the biggest party in Scotland. They form the Scottish Government by majority, have have 6 MP’s already in Westminster and have, thanks to the post-#IndyRef surge in membership, are now have the 3rd largest membership figure in the UK. Excluding them from the debate, then would mean that the UK-establishment are neglecting a massive Scottish Voice…right?
Maybe – but let’s apply the test we’ve developed. Could the SNP mathematically form a UK government on a perfect night? The answer is most definitely no, since the SNP (quite fairly) only field candidates in the 59 Scottish seats. There is no way in which an SNP MP could become Prime Minster (save a disastrous night for the 2/3/4 main parties and there is a Rainbow coalition of the ‘Others’ with the SNP at its head). Why then should the SNP field somebody in what is a Prime Ministerial debate? Who that somebody would be is another issue that would need resolved. Nicola Sturgeon would seem the obvious choice, being the party’s leader and all. But unless she was intending to stand as an MP, the case for her getting involved in a Westminster TV debate is a difficult one to make. It may be more appropriate then for the SNP Leader at Westminster (Angus Robertson MP) to be the face of the SNP – but this might not have the electoral impact the SNP would be hoping for.
Plaid Cymru’s argument for inclusion is weaker still. It has all the regionalist-weakness of the SNP, fielding candidates in only the 40 Welsh seat in the past two elections, and none of the strength in numbers nor governmental advantage. It shoudl be said, though, it does have 3 times as many MP’s as either the Greens or UKIP. Even as the ‘nationalist bloc’ that is sometimes formed between the two, only 100 candidates would be fielded across the UK – well short of the number needed to govern. Add to this the fact that the Court of Session knocked back the SNP’s attempt to appear on the BBC’s 2010 debate. That’s not stopping them launching another challenge this year, but I can’t say I fancy their chances.
The broadcasters have said that there will be additional debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where representatives of “one-nation-only” parties can make the case to the electorate to which they intend to present themselves. This seems a sensible suggestion, though it does mean that Labour, Tories and Lib Dems will have an extra bit of the cherry too, which presents its own problems.

It was suggested to me on twitter that the best way to solve the “who gets to appear and how many times” issue is to have the leaders of all the parties with at least 1 MP in, and everybody else out. There are currently 12 parties (and 1 independent) represented at Westminster so this option is clearly not workable. It also raises the question of whether the Northern Irish parties should be included in the debate given the unique characteristics of its electoral system.
The best way to avoid these pointless arguments and party-political one-upmanship is, of course, to recognise the fact the in the UK we don’t vote for a Prime Minister, we vote for MPs. The Prime Minister is simply the person who is able to “command the confidence” of the majority of those MPs sitting in the House of Commons. Sure, the leaders of the parties undoubtedly have an effect on that party’s image, but they don’t need the debates to make their mark. Most of them manage it pretty well already.