An Anthem for the Nation


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Can't sing, won't sing
#NationalAnthem #PeoplesAnthem
Sign the Petition 

The one thing going for God Save the Queen is that it is, in a way, peculiarly British – a song trying to tell God what to do, dull as dishwater, plodding along with a lacklustre overture sung without passion by the vast majority of those who actually sing it. It bears all the British hallmarks of a dreary Thursday afternoon stood outside in a queue in light drizzle. Best endured, but just imagine if we didn’t have to?

It is not an Anthem for a Nation and says nothing of Britain today. Indeed, the whole idea that one individual should syphon off the Countries happiness and glory and get the choicest gifts is fundamentally unchristian never mind lacking egalitarian principles. The anachronism of crushing rebellious Scots hardly an anthem worthy of a Union between England and Scotland which only just renewed its vows.

God Save the Queen, or King as first sung, may have been seditious when batting off the Jacobite’s or willing long life to George III in the hope his son wouldn’t take the throne too soon but it is not a people’s anthem, sung by convention not by acclaim. Its purpose, its message and its relevance are all archaic. The country should choose a new National Anthem.

Great Britain needs an anthem which speaks of the nation not an individual. There is so much more to our country than the crowned prince. We need a melody which can be sung with gusto, because it excites. Words which speak to our desires as a people. An anthem in which we can express the bonds of fellowship that binds the four nations together. An anthem chosen by the people, a people’s anthem, one which derives it’s legitimacy through popular passion rather than establishment happenstance.

I propose using that Great British tradition, a democratic vote, to choose a new anthem. A referendum to choose between a numbers of anthems. There are many options, I would personally plump for I vow to thee my country; a song adapted from Sir Cecil Spring Rice’s patriotic poem and set to a melody adapted from Gustav Holst’s Jupiter, bringer of Joy, a song of individual vow. It celebrates Britain, the sacrifice of her people and the hope of national renewal and betterment. Benson and Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory would be an option which would extol the very pomp and circumstance from which the song is derived and the country is famed.

Jerusalem has a space in the hearts of many of our fellow citizens, although a change in words from England to Britain might be in order to elevate it from the de-facto English anthem to that of the country as a whole. There is always Rule, Britannia! Which celebrates our countries great naval tradition and independence.

Any of those songs and no doubt many others would excite the passions, sing to our nations fortitude and our common spirt in a way that God Save the Queen simply never could and possess an invigorating range which leaves the current anthem shivering in the cold wet rain by comparison.

Nor is it treasonous to think that we should choose another National Anthem to celebrate our country. Generations of Britons have fought for our freedom to choose, and yes, that extends to someone’s right to choose whether or not to sing the Anthem. God Save the Queen doesn’t speak to many anymore and whilst some might take pride from the Monarchy many more would rather take pride in our nation, with all of its beauty and passion, the industrialism of its people, its history, convoluted and epic in scope, its prospect of an ever better, more prosperous and fair future.

A People’s Anthem, chosen by the people to represent our nations and our outlook on the world, an anthem in which democratic republican and proponents of a crowned republic can both take pride. An anthem which glorifies not one person but each and every person lucky enough to be born British. I would call on us to vote to decide, to choose a new anthem, or perhaps, democratically legitimise the current. There is no shame in expressing our freedom to choose.

You can sign the petition to the Government here: calling on Parliament to debate the merits of a referendum to decide upon the National Anthem of the United Kingdom. It’s time the people choose their own Anthem.

Abstention Politics



The big news today is that Labour are in a mess. This is really odd considering that the news should be that the Governments Welfare Bill cleared second reading last night and the bill is awful, so awful that even the DUP voted against it.

I mean it truly is a dreadful piece of legislation, even judging by the Governments own impact study – 330,000 children from low income families will be hit according to the DWP. We don’t need to worry about the impact on child poverty, however, whilst a leak suggests 40,000 more children will slip into child poverty, the Child Poverty Act 2010 is to be renamed the Life Chances Act in this bill. So those poor kids will instead only suffer a hit to their life chances.

That’s not to speak of the four year freeze on working age support, the lower welfare cap essentially making anyone subject to it homeless in London or the South East or the fact that the impact assessment says the bill disproportionately hits single mothers, the young and ethnic minorities.

Instead of focusing on how awful the bill truly is, the media and the opposition are instead talking about the state – and I mean that in a post thirteen pint bender way – the Labour party has found itself in.

By moving a whip to abstain, Labour made sure that the Tories – majority or no majority – would have no difficulty in making sure these proposals move to Committee stage. After five years of Coalition, with the Labour party accusing the Lib Dems of being Tory enablers that sort of hypocrisy sticks in the craw.

And yes, it matters that Labour abstained. The Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid, SDLP, Greens and DUP all voted against the bill, that’s 79 MPs in all. Had all 232 Labour MPs joined the opposition 311 MPs would have been available to oppose the second reading; taking into account deputy speakers and tellers that would have meant 308 MPs voting against.  In the event 307 Tory and 1 UKIP MP’s voted for it – 308.

Yes, it is true that 20 Tory MP’s were absent during this vote – I don’t know if pairing was in operation – although I fail to see why the Tories would feel the need to pair off votes when Labour were abstaining anyway – but even if it had been in operation we don’t know how many Tory MP’s might feel uneasy about backing a bill that increases Child Poverty, sorry, reduces life chances, newspeak is in fashion this month.

How many Tory MPs voiced concerns to their whips and were excused from the vote? How many if forced to turn up would have abstained or voted against? How many voted for it at second reading to keep their powder dry in hope it will be amended at committee and might oppose it later but would have preferred to see it scrapped? Yes, the Tories have a majority in Parliament. It’s a working majority over all other Parties of eight. If those eight Tory MP’s rebel they lose their majority and have to rely on UKIP, or the Ulster Unionist MPs (most of whom voted against the bill)

It’s perfectly possible that had Labour voted against and all Tory MPs dutifully voted with the whip the outcome might have been 327 vs 308. Even if that were to have occurred it would have meant Labour kept Tory feet to the fire and it would have forced Tory MPs who might be uncomfortable with these proposals to vote. It would also have meant the Tory Majority was 19 – not 184 and put the focus on how slim the Tory majority is and the measures in the welfare bill instead of Labour’s disarray.

By the same token it’s also perfectly possible that, with a chance of defeating these proposals, some Tory MPs might have voted no and that concerns voiced in private might have aired themselves publically. Of the 20 Tory no shows last night, we’ll now never know if 10 of them might have gone through the no lobby to see this motion defeated. Instead the fire is directed at Labour.

Harriet Harman, acting Labour leader, justifies her decision to move a whip of abstention on the basis that Labour can’t do blanket opposition, because she doesn’t want to let the Tories attack Labour on welfare reform and because they’ll oppose it at Committee stage and Third reading.

It concerns me that Child poverty doesn’t fit under Harman’s blanket, that Labour would rather swallow any old Tory proposal rather than test it or that Labour’s opposition to something starts weeks after everyone else.

And if the reason is a fear of Tory billboards accusing Labour of being the party for benefits – she should see the posters the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens have mocked up.

There was an easy line to take on this bill – Labour moved an amendment last night which they knew would fall – they should have used that amendment to criticise the most draconian Tory Cuts, propose alternative savings and made the case that whilst they support reform of welfare these are the wrong reforms.

Instead, they decided not to have a view. You can accuse the Lib Dems of not being strong enough to stop the Tories all of the time in Coalition but there is a reason why these welfare cuts, that will hit the working poor and children so hard, are being proposed in 2015 and not 2010.

If Labour MP’s aren’t up for fighting the Governments majority they should make way for MP’s who will. That Labour make it easy for the Tories is perhaps the saddest comment I could end on.



*Oh, and for the benefit of Stephen Bush of the New Statesman my proudest moment in Politics to date was leading the opposition against tuition fees as chair of the Lib Dem Youth Party – had some fire been put on Tories backbench waverers instead of just the Lib Dems that bill might not have passed either

Liberals must rebuild

To say last night was tough is impossibly underestimating the scale of the defeat in this election. A majority for any party was thought ridiculous, let alone a Tory one. That Labour have lost seats overall is astonishing. That the Lib Dems have only 8 seats, none of them held by women, is unthinkable.

Each Lib Dem MP who has lost their seat means that an excellent local community campaigner won’t be able to answer casework enquires this morning, every lost MP means that hardworking, dedicated and diligent staff are now staring into the face of redundancy. Phone calls from constituents are ringing out, MP’s will be winding down their offices and the Liberal voice in the country is diminished.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with some of the most dedicated MP’s, researchers and caseworks who have worked a hard slog for their communities for years with passion and a belief in helping people with no expectation of recognition or reward. They are the best of our party and they did not deserve this result.

The decision to enter Coalition was right then and it is right now. Because of Liberals the economy did not crash, because of Liberals millions of lower paid people were taken out of income tax, because of Liberals millions of under privileged kids get more funding at school, because of Liberals those kids get free school meals, because of Liberals there are 2 million more jobs, millions of apprentice places, a green investment bank, funding for renewable energy.

Because of Liberals we have equal marriage, action on FGM. Because of Liberals pensions are now linked to earnings. Because of Liberals there was a net increase in social housing. Liberals brought in shared parental leave, scrapped ID cards, stopped the detention of child asylum seekers and cut the period of detention without trial.

That is a record to be proud of. That we were unable to get that across, that people stopped listening, is the key thing we need to address as a party, the Tories have taken credit for the work Liberals sacrificed and fought for.

Britain now has a wafer thin Tory Majority Government making concessions not to Liberals but their rabid right wing. It seems strange that people were so against a ‘Tory led’ government that they would wipe out the Lib Dems and give the Tories a majority, but for every voter satisfied that the Lib Dems have been punished there is another waking up to the grim reality of the Tories off the leash.

There was value in the Lib Dems being in government, it protected the weak from the worst excesses of austerity. That protection no longer exists. The Lib Dems need to rebuild and every time a Tory Minister announces swinging cuts, draconian laws or regressive policies they will hand us a weapon to use:

“We would have stopped this.”

The people of Britain will yet see what exactly it was the Lib Dems did for them. If you have any liberal inclination whatsoever, if you have any desire to see a fairer Britain, if in the coming days you rage against a Tory Government ravaging all that is decent and fair, remember the Coalition, and help us rebuild.

Join us.

The Breakdown of British Politics


Tony Blair was the last Prime Minister to win a majority. He did so eschewing the narrative which had played itself out for a near century – The worker versus the rest – and reached out to make Labour more appealing to more people – more cosmopolitan, economically Liberal, distanced from the unions – unencumbered by the nationalisation ethos of the past – so that people who had never considered voting Labour found the party chiming with their values.

New Labour wasn’t just a marketing technique – Blair realised before most that the received wisdom was dying on it’s feet. People were becoming less tribal – more socially and geographically mobile. Technology helped to empower people to take action for themselves and old style political parties seemed stuffy and boring.

Cameron too saw this lesson with his ‘modernisation’ of the Tory party but too late. By the time he started it looked cynical, a poor copy of the New Labour original.

But inevitably changing your parties core message only reaps dividends for a limited period of time – Blair knew in 1994 that the left and the working class had nowhere to go and he could make the case that a wider tent meant an end to Tory Rule – but it couldn’t last – the Greens and the SNP of today are draining Labour’s core vote precisely because of New Labour, alternatives didn’t exist in 1994 – they do 20 years later.

The same can be said of UKIP and the Tories – shifting ground means that people you once considered your core start to look for alternatives and Thatcherite libertarians are anything but collective.

Why the history lesson? Because we are now in a general election where no party will win a majority, where no one will rule alone and it seems voters aren’t willing to compromise. Parties have tried to game the electoral system and voters have responded by becoming even more fractious, fractural and demanding of choice.

And they shall have that choice – the 7 way debate on Thursday will remind everyone that it exists.

It is possible that Labour will win the most votes, that the Tories will win the most seats, that the SNP will win 50 seats with less than 5% of the vote but the Greens and UKIP will win less than a dozen with 20% of the vote between them.

The Lib Dems will cling on. The party has never run a national campaign in the traditional sense and has learnt in a system which has given it a quarter of the vote but only a tenth of the seats, to ruthlessly target it’s vote. Where it has MP’s, controls councils or has a mayor its MPs will be murder to unseat no matter how low the polls go.

And the result will be chaotic. Newsnight last night released modelling suggesting that a Conservative-UKIP-Lib Dem grouping would have 319 seats and that a Labour – Green – SNP – Plaid – SDLP alliance would also have 319 seats. It becomes near impossible to command a majority for any period of time.

In such circumstances no Government can work – the Conservatives talk of Labour ‘Chaos’ if Ed Miliband makes it to Number 10 – I think the term applies more to the rag tag five party coalition that would emerge than the man himself.

This way lies madness and a second election. If a truly hung Parliament were to emerge with no stable government both major parties would want to pitch to the electorate for the tools – and MP’s – to do the job alone. But the public are in no mood to reward politicians or an electoral system which no longer adequately represents voter’s views.

And if politicians are in no mood to work together or change the system? Well, something has to give way but it won’t be the society that’s changed when her Politics has lagged behind.

The next election could get weird, Lib Dem gains weird.

Yes. I know. Work with me here….


I’ve said on that twitter that, thanks to the wonders of our electoral system, the Lib Dems could be seeing net gains at the next election.

(In fact what I actually said was “UKIP on 25% means about 80 seats for the Lib Dems and 10 seats for UKIP”)

This has been met with consternation from some quarters. I have been drinking (One Gin and one Beer as it happens) and that sounds quite odd, probably so– I am Lib Dem core vote strange as it might seem and weren’t many of us to start out with – but this is not some weird theory – it’s a reading of the poll numbers – where UKIP support is coming from and, in a utterly seat predication model crushing scenario where UKIP do achieve 25% of the popular vote more or less across the board what the actual impact on individual seats is.

Keep your UNS at home

There’s a few things to get out the way here. The Universal Swing is dead. It hasn’t been very good at anything other than Labour to or from Tory swing since its inception and it’s become increasingly meaningless – especially where Lib Dem seats are involved.

If it was a valid model then the near million extra votes the Lib Dems achieved in 2010 would not have resulted in 5 losses.

The second thing to get out the way is that First Past the Post is not a fair system and has zero correlation with seats won. David Cameron won a minority of seats with a higher vote share in 2010 than Tony Blair achieved in 2005 when he won a handsome majority. The Lib Dems won 23% of the popular vote in 2010 and 9% of the available seats. Cry me a river.

FPTP is an arse – as UKIP are soon to find out.

Now back to the claim. On the assumption that UKIP win 25% of the Vote and the Lib Dems recover to around 10% of the vote, two things will likely happen.

UKIP will likely get lucky in the 5-10 of the 10 or so seats they are planning to target and rack up huge numbers of votes in all other seats resulting in good third and second places.

The Lib Dems will find it much easier to win and defend seats.

This counts for both Lib Dem defences and targets, and helps them disproportionally against the Tories.

This means a seat by seat analysis – which I will get onto – but first I want you to take a look at where UKIP’s 2015 votes are coming from – consider these polling info-graphs from You Gov: (First from Feb 2014 second from October 2014) and keep them in mind when discussing the seat by seat business.PK UKIP-01


UKIPlike me2The thing to remember about UKIP is that they are at heart an anti EU, Anti-Immigration and predominantly right wing party. This is a poor fit for that 30% of the population who vote or would consider voting Lib Dem, whereas that platform appeals to a great mass of Tory voters, and to a lesser but by no means insignificant extent, working class voters who usually vote Labour.

The one subset of 2010 Lib Dem voters UKIP does appeal to are those disaffected by politics and voted for the party because it was seen as representing a change from the establishment or as a protest. These voters were lost to the Lib Dems the moment they agreed to Coalition. They represent 10-20% of the parties 2010 support in general terms but, and it is worth saying – they are breaking to UKIP more so than Labour in opposition which is much better for the party than them going to Labour or the Tories.

Seat by Seat: Defence

So, the Lib Dems are hopeful they can retain at least 30 of the 56 seats they currently hold – I think, based on Lib Dem strength when defending seats due to incumbency factors, like relative local strength of the parties, more emphasis on the individual MP, casework and street campaigning, they can be hopeful of retaining 40. Perhaps this is just expectations management.

Where the Party does have a concern is in Labour facing seats – basically anywhere north of Watford – Birmingham Yardley, Redcar, Manchester Withington, Leeds North West, most of London, Brent, Hornsey and Wood Green, Southwark and basically anywhere in Scotland not represented by Ming Cambell, Alistair Carmichael or Charles Kennedy.

That’s not to say all hope is lost – all those seats are represented by MP’s who are popular locally and well regarded by their constituents – but if the Lib Dems make big losses it will be in these seats.

It does help that the chunk of their vote in these seats which is anti-establishment is not transferring directly to Labour, the Lib Dems can count themselves lucky that Labour’s leadership has been inept, that UKIP is stealing populist support is an added bonus as, thanks to a lack of transfer, these are likely to minimise any Labour gain from a reduced Lib Dem vote and drain some of the Labour vote from the Labour total, meaning that these seats can be retained even on lower vote shares.

This latter consequence of UKIP support has a magnified effect in Lib Dem defences against the Conservatives – Solihull becomes much easier to retain when you consider that Tory voters are switching to UKIP in droves and Lib Dem defectors are going to UKIP and the Greens by a much lesser extent – this seat will essentially come down to whoever between the Tories and Lorely Burt can more effectively stem the tide of seepage to the minor parties but that’s a much easier fight for the Lib Dems than a straight up fight with the Tories.

Seat by seat: Offence

Here’s where things get interesting – If I said to you the Lib Dems could make gains at the next election, if you were someone who vehemently hates the party your head might explode and if you merely were resigned to a very poor night for the party you might think I’d been drinking more than I have.

The problem is, it’s not at all impossible – and – if UKIP are going to do well enough to win more than a fifth of the vote – mostly at Tory expense – all you need to do is take a look at the following seats. (Kindly Stolen from

1. Camborne & Redruth Majority 66 (0%)
3. Oxford West & Abingdon Majority 176 (0%)
7. Truro & Falmouth Majority 435 (1%)
8. Newton Abbot Majority 523 (1%)
14. Harrogate & Knaresborough Majority 1039 (2%)
15. Watford Majority 1425 (3%)
16. Montgomeryshire Majority 1184 (4%)
18. St Albans Majority 2305 (4%)
21. Weston-Super-Mare Majority 2691 (5%)
22. Hereford & South Herefordshire Majority 2481 (5%)
23. West Devon and Torridge Majority 2957 (5%)
24. Winchester Majority 3048 (5%)
25. Northampton North Majority 1936 (5%)
26. South East Cornwall Majority 3220 (6%)
27. Bristol North West Majority 3274 (7%)
29. West Dorset Majority 3923 (7%)
30. Richmond Park Majority 4091 (7%)
31. York Outer Majority 3688 (7%)
37. Warrington South Majority 1553 (3%)*
39. Romsey & Southampton North Majority 4156 (8%)
40. Colne Valley Majority 4837 (9%)
42. Bosworth Majority 5032 (9%)
43. Chelmsford Majority 5110 (9%)
44. Plymouth Sutton & Devonport Majority 1149 (3%)*
47. Totnes Majority 4927 (10%)
48. South East Cambridgeshire Majority 5946 (10%)
49. Ealing Central & Acton Majority 3716 (8%)*

Those are the top 27 LD/Conservative Marginals in the country.

Now, look again at You Gov’s Data and bear in mind that UKIP are much more likely, by almost 3 to 1 to gain Tory Voters than Lib Dem. Bear in mind also that the Lib Dem vote will most likely keep up in seats where it is a strong challenger and has a strong local party and candidate, then do me a favour and look at Hereford & South HerefordshireWest Dorset and Romsey & Southampton North and tell me how, if UKIP poll 20% in those seats and three Tories vote UKIP to every Lib Dem, the Lib Dems fail to pick up these seats?

That’s 22, 29 and 39 on the most winnable Lib Dem seats.

It also makes seats like Watford – where the Lib Dems hold the mayor and it remains a very competitive three way seat – even more competitive if the Tories get knocked out this way.

There’s even a few Labour seats where things get too close to call – defying all logic. If UKIP are, as Labour fear, picking up working class voters dissatisfied with Ed Milibands leadership and want to give them a good kicking as well, Hull North could become one of about 5 ‘dark horse’ Labour/Lib Dem battleground seats where, if the Lib Dems can hold up their local vote and UKIP hit Labour’s working class support, Labour could be dropping seats to the Lib Dems.

I’m not the first to notice how UKIP could hurt Labour  – but Conor Pope does fail to look at any impact on Lib Dem/Labour target seats – perhaps he might tell me what he thinks could happen in Kingston upon Hull NorthSwansea WestAshfield, and Chesterfield if there is a strong Lib Dem local party in place putting a heavy squeeze on the Tories and any voters Labour gain from the Lib Dems being at least equally lost to UKIP?

I’d also like to know what he might think of Edinburgh South if you swap UKIP for the SNP…

Is it possible?

This isn’t, by the way, on the assumption that the Lib Dems will increase their share of the vote – everywhere where the Lib Dems have no real presence they can expect to halve their support if they are lucky – there is a precedent for this – the Lib Dems dropped 5% vote share in 1992 nationally resulting in only 2 losses. Vote share dropped a further 1% resulting in a gain of 26 MPs in 1997. It’s not about how many votes you win – it’s about where you win them and how you target your resources in this crazy First Past the Post World.

Nor am I saying this is a likely outcome. The game can change in all kinds of ways yet – can UKIP sustain their surge? What if there is a Labour defector to UKIP? Does Labour Change leader or tack to the right on immigration putting off any potential Lib Dem switchers? Is there a pact? What if Lib Dem and Tory vote share drops at more equal rates in marginal seats? What if the Lib Dem’s aren’t as good on the ground in the face of a hostile electorate as we all expect and opposition ground game is?

It’s possible I have too much faith in Lib Dem ability to hold on to what it has, or the parties resources to maintain fights in 30 marginal seats at once and in the face of a repetitive narrative of doom and wipe-out this seems hard to fathom. I know all this – but consider this scenario:

UKIP win the next couple of by-elections – a few more Tory and one or two Labour MP’s defect, Labour and the Tories go right to compensate putting off a great swathe or centre ground voters and still losing small ‘c’ conservative voters to UKIP. The Lib Dems with a small bounce in support and facing split opposition hold on to 50 seats and take 25 more on reduced shares of the vote.

UKIP Win 10 Seats, Lib Dems win 75-80, the SNP take 15 from Labour in Scotland and the Tories and Labour make net losses.

I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m not saying it’s just. I’m not saying this is what I think will happen (I’ve been saying 40 Lib Dem seats since 2012) I’m not saying there won’t be outcry that, on half the vote share from last time the Lib Dems have a stronger strangle hold in a hung parliament but I would ask you – is it entirely impossible?

Don’t blame me – I campaigned to get rid of First Past the Post. Silly system if you ask me…

British ‘Sub Human’ – Cameron

Rights will be crushed within this fist

Rights will be crushed within this fist

Yesterday the Prime Minister of the not quite United Kingdom announced to the Conservative Boris Johnson fan club that he was abolishing Human Rights.

“The British don’t need human rights! I look out of my gold tinted limo windows every morning and all I see are sub human zombies wandering around and squat, pale, things blinking in the sunlight as they emerge from tube stations. These ‘people’ don’t need human rights!”

“This is the country which wrote Magna Carta! The fact that esteemed British Lawyer, Judge and Conservative MP David Maxwell-Fyfe, 1st Earl of Kilmuir basically wrote the European Convention on Human Rights is undermined by the fact he loved the French.”

“Winston Churchill spent more time bombing Europeans than giving them rights”

William Hague, a bluff lager drinking Yorkshireman with a 35 year sufferance of Stockholm Syndrome  chipped in “who needs the right to free speech or thought? I’ve not had that since my first conference speech as a wee lad, and what good is the right to a family life? It only ends in tears on Corrie and Eastenders”

Theresa May, In a brief break from snooping on everyones emails said. “the right to free religion is only ever used by Muslim terrorists and Irish Catholics. You’re not in the IRA are you?”

A British Bill of rights, abolishing hated rights such as right to life, fair trial, liberty, privacy, marriage and freedom from slavery & discrimination, is rumoured to contain the right to Chips and Gravy, the right to be offensive toward people with funny accents, the right to make jokes about the Welsh and the right for the English to invade Scotland every 15 years to keep them in line.

A protest was put down outside the Conference by policemen with truncheon-sabre swords after the right to free association and assembly was scrapped. 72 non humans were pronounced terminated.

Before being slapped into silence by his landowner a random bedraggled serf said. “Tory welfare policy is already in breach of my human right not to be tortured so they might as well stop pretending”

What happens if Scotland does go?


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A union flag, with the Green of Wales instead of the Blue of Scotland?

With the referendum too close to call, here’s a few thoughts on what needs to happen next if Scotland does vote to leave the UK

We should part as friends

The referendum has been heated and ill tempered – anti-English sentiment – as wrong headed as I believe that to be – has played a huge part in this but the last 307 years have seen
Scotland and the rest of the UK work together in partnership and achieve great things for a tiny rainy Island to the North West of Europe.

Scotland can stand on its own two feet and what remains of the United Kingdom should always try to be friends with Scotland as it does with Ireland. We may become separate, we may be foreigners to each other but that doesn’t mean civility has to go – but this works both ways.

That doesn’t mean we owe the Scots anything

Scotland and England as it was entered into Union on equal terms despite the disparity of power and wealth between the two Kingdoms – this was a rare act of self-enlightenment after centuries of bloodshed and war but that doesn’t mean Britian owes Scotland anything.

Alex Salmond makes great play about what the rest of the UK will have to do to accomadate Scotland after a Yes Vote. Bluntly, we don’t have to do anything. If Scotland decides it needs to look after it’s own and casts solidarity on these Isles aside then so should we.

Negotiations will be tough, but the British should approach them with firmness about whats best for the people of Britian, not what the people of Scotland need.


None of this please

We should be proud to continue to call ourselves British 

You’ll note I’ve not referred to the English in this piece – what happens to the rest of the UK, her flag, her anthem, her name, is a matter for debate if Scotland goes, but our instance on calling ourselves British should remain.

The residual country will be made up of territories in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the peoples of each of these Home Nations are so intermarried, mixed and jumbled that it makes little sense to pretend anything other than the truth – we are one people with many traditions and cultures.

We should avoid the Nationalism some Scots seem to hang on to – Britain is better because we are welcoming of other creeds, faiths and peoples. A resurgence in English Nationalism would be tragic in the wake of a Yes vote, a re-focus on what it means to be British, with our proud heritage and rejection of nationalist dogma, is something to nurture, not abandon.

If Scotland goes Britain should remain.


Another late night…

A recall of Parliament is vital. So is an extension of this Parliament. 

We will need to get on the front foot immediately. A recall on the Monday, despite the opening of Labour Party Conference I’m afraid, is necessary to show Westminster is seen to be responding to this and to address the constitutional crisis which would be immediate and pressing.

The general election in 2015 should also be cancelled, a Government of National Unity involving all residual UK MPs set up and a rump Parliament operated until May 2016 when Scotland is due to leave.

There is no sense having an election for 1 year of the last year of Union. If a Governing Party or Coalition was in place with the support of Scottish MP’s this would cause a constitutional crisis in the rest of Britain – decisions made for England, Wales and Northern Ireland by newly elected members of a soon to be foreign country would be untenable. A continuation of the current coalition post a general election would be untenable if it relied on Scot’s Lib Dem and Tory MPs as much as a Labour Government reliant on Scottish MPs.

It would also be necessary to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on matters relating to the Breakup of the UK – the Scottish Parliament should be the sole vehicle and voice of the people of Scotland in these circumstances.

The Prime Minister should resign as leader of the Conservative Party – but not as Prime Minister – in this eventuality as long as he can command the support of British MPs in the House of Commons so that he can form a nonpartisan government of Conservatives, Liberals, Labour, Green, DUP, Alliance, SDLP and Plaid and lead negotiations.

No Currency Union and Scottish access to assets is dependent on Scottish acceptance of debts

I said earlier that Britain should be firm with its new northern border. Salmond may wish a currency union in the event of a Yes vote but this is manifestly not in the interest of Britain. British Taxpayers should not act as lender of last resort to a foreign government when it has no control over tax and spend or policy. Independence means just that and neither Scotland nor the British can be independent of one another if Scotland must bend to British interests or vice versa.

Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain are in currency union with the Euro – the European central bank puts political demands on these countries for fiscal support and they have no control over money supply or fiscal policy to suit their needs – this is part of the reason why they are still in crisis and the UK is not.

Britain should not bail out a Scottish bank if it fails, it should not increase or decrease interest rates to suit Scotland’s needs alone. Our economies are entwined but The Bank of England should look out for British needs and the Scots should look to set up their own central bank and currency.

The SNP have also threatened not to take their share of debt without currency union. Let them. Any share of the UK’s assets must be dependent on Scotland taking on her liabilities as well. No share of embassies or property abroad, no share of military equipment, no share of government gold and holdings.

As sad as I would be to see the effects of a Scottish Default on Scotland’s cost of borrowing, domestic interest rates, higher taxes, lower growth and fewer jobs, it would have little impact on Britain’s credit rating and as long as assets are kept in Britain it could afford to take on the extra debt.

A new British Constitutional Settlement needs to be reached

Actually this applies whether Scotland stays or goes – our political system is simply not fit for today’s politics. The voting system means the Conservatives can poll 410,000 votes in Scotland, the SNP 490,000 votes and the Tories get 1 seat and the SNP 6. The Lib Dems won 11 seats in Scotland with 465,000 votes. It makes zero sense.

As does the lack of an English Parliament or assembly. The Great mistake with devolution was that it was piecemeal and unequal – if Scotland votes No today it will get more powers to her Parliament. Powers the North of England and Midlands would love to have, powers far outstripping the Welsh or Northern Irish Assemblies. This is untenable.

We will need a constitutional settlement in the round – does an unelected Lords larger than the commons make sense in a modern democracy? Is a first past the post system which causes disengagement and undemocratic results really in our democracies best interests? Does a system of funding the regions and nations need urgent reform? Would Britain work better as a federation? This needs to be the focus.

Britain will be richer for it

Blunt but true. Both London and British Banks benefit from a Scotland which is more risky and has higher borrowing costs. Banking sector Jobs and money will move south.

British Military manufacturing, particularly shipbuilding will move south, Portsmouth and Plymouth will benefit, perhaps in time Cardiff, Liverpool and Hull, it will make no sense for the British to build warships on the Clyde or in Rosyth – the type 26 Frigates will be built in England instead and the local economy will benefit at the cost of Scottish Jobs.

Oil might make up the shortfall in Scottish social spending in the short term but in a decade it will have declined massively as a share of Scottish GDP unless major new fields are found (and if Shetland leaves Scotland much of that oil is no longer Scotland’s to have) In the rest of the UK Shale will be coming online soon and renewables are a key growth industry and we always have clean coal to fall back on if necessary – in 50 years’ time Britain will be energy rich and diverse and Scotland reliant solely on wind and hydro. In a United Kingdom this prosperity would be shared.

I hope none of this happens aerial+view+hirst+flag+for+olympic+closing+ceremonies+iihih2

Breaking up the UK is, to my mind, petty, insular and short-sighted. The UK, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together have done great things and made this tiny corner of the world prosperous, envied, feared and respected. It makes no sense to me to break this partnership up when we’ve done so much bringing people together.

Scotland can govern its own affairs – although it will neither be the Celtic tiger nor the socialist utopia Yes supporters think it automatically must be and Britain can work well without her  – but we would be diminished in so many ways and for the first time in 300 years, less than the sum of our parts.

Separation means lost growth, lost jobs, uncertainty and market upheaval. It could mean passports at the border – it could mean Scotland loses access to the EU and it would accelerate British withdrawal from it as well and we would become a truly second rate power – Scotland not even that. We would be smaller, not just literally in terms of geography but in terms of international prestige, our economy our clout – as well as feel a little shorter in this world.

But it is a credit to our democracy that we can have this debate and we can manage a divorce in a respectful way. If we stay together we could sort out the problems we think we face, if we don’t we can remain respectful friends – if acting in self interest, nor our interests as a whole.

If you’re Scottish and you’re reading this. All I ask is that you vote today, whichever way you see fit. Whatever happens, don’t realise in hindsight you were a passenger on this journey.

The UK needs fundamental change whether Scotland stays or goes


There is a fallacy, peddled mainly by modern day Scottish Nationalists that Scotland was merely one of the first Colonies of England – that somehow the Scots were unwilling victims of English colonial zeal.

The truth couldn’t be further away from that. The Scottish Parliament passed the act of Union willingly. It had been almost 100 years since Scottish Kings had first sat on the English throne – James I was James VI – King of Scots – when he succeeded Elizabeth I. The First Formal English Colony – we weren’t yet British in 1607 – was of course Jamestown, in Virginia in honour of the new, Scottish, King.

Indeed the Plantation of Ulster under James I/VI is the base reason Northern Ireland exists as a majority Protestant entity today; those who think it’s a term used for crops might reflect that it was the term used by the English and Scottish Kingdoms for the state sponsored immigration of both Scottish and English Protestants to Ireland.

No. Scotland wasn’t tricked, fooled, coerced or colonised by the English. Scotland entered into Union willingly, it participated in founding the British Empire enthusiastically, Scottish Regiments fought for the British State from South Africa to America, Germany to China, Egypt to Palestine. There were Scots who ran India, Scot’s who colonised Africa, Scots who helped found Australia and New Zealand.

There are more Scots around the world as a result of the empire they helped found than there are Scots in Scotland.

We founded the modern world together in partnership, from the economic Theories of Adam Smith to the great engineering projects of Brunel. We established democratic governments in our wake, opened the modern sea lanes, modernised and mechanised every corner of the planet, pushing the boundaries of discovery to the very end of the world.

After all When Scott died in a freezing tent having led an expedition to the South Pole, Henry Robertson Bowers, a Scot, walked and died alongside him, not as a foreigner, but as a fellow Briton.

Scots and English, Welsh and Irish under a British flag fought and died defending the world from barbarism and Nazism and they stood together in the face of terrorism and the treat of nuclear annihilation.

However as time has gone on, as our interests abroad fall away, as our commonwealth and Empire has opted for rule from home, not London and as our courage fades – as it has in addressing the threat of a resurgent Russia and fundamentalist jihadists, our agreement inked on paper 300 years ago has descended back into the petty rivalries stretching back nine hundred years focused on within, back to the border skirmishes, the nationalist hate. Scotland for the Scottish, England for the English.

We’ve forgotten the pains we had before and swapped our broad view of the world for the narrow view of self interest.

Ever changing social, economic and political factors have, for some time now, led to a sense that to be ‘British’ is to be out-dated, the term is a forged if soothing confluence that the English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Cornish and everything between are one people with regional differences created by the Acts of union in 1707 and 1801.

Think of the United Kingdom as an immense railway line stretching across the British Isles, forged together by Irish Labour, in English Factories built by Scottish Engineers and fired by Welsh Coal. The steel nails which hold it together have corroded in time, the different political bodies set up along its path squabble over who should pay to maintain it, it’s domestic fuel is drying up, it’s engines are no longer manufactured at home and many of its destinations are either closed or no longer traversed. Where it once linked London to Delhi, Johannesburg, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ottawa we now fly to Europe and Washington instead, failing to uphold our heritage even as we widen ties elsewhere.

Where the Monarchy was a focal point of governance and nation its proponents now point to its power as a brand to draw tourists. Devolution, a more prosperous working class, a richer ethnic heritage, ever greater democracy and the saga of Ireland, home rule and republic and the marginalisation of the Lords has changed the Political, economic and social makeup of the country beyond recognition for the better, but the institutions have failed to keep up

Patchwork constitutional changes here and there like so many railway engineering works has left a creaking, unfit political settlement which satisfies no-one. A Parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland, nothing for England, an unequal rough cut which has chipped away at the very definition of what it means to be British to be treated as friends and equals.

Scotland votes this week. Whilst I would lament the loss of our partnership whether it votes yes or no to independence is largely mute – the United Kingdom is neither united in name nor in purpose. It hasn’t actually been a United ‘Kingdom’ since Ireland declared independence in 1922 – before the act of Union 1801 the country was merely the Kingdom of Great Britain.

The decision to pretend the British Isles were still united was an egotistical procrastination then, much the same as the piecemeal changes to the way we have been governed over the last four decades have not dealt with the matters at hand either.

The fact that a founder member of what remains of this country could come within a whisker of breaking it up because of the impossibly utopian and conflicting promises of some Nationalist populists only extends the charade. The Union has been a boon for the Home Nations but no one believes that anymore, even as it is true.

Is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland better together? I would say so, and I would include the republic of Ireland in that as well – we share bonds of fellowship which are unique in this world, our turbulent history put aside and prosperity found once we stopped aiming the Muskets, Longbows, Claymores and during the troubles – bombs – at each other and worked toward a common goal. There is more that unites us than divides.

There was hope, once, that the British people, working together, could survive assailment from all the world in arms and prosper. Of Couse, Scotland could be its own nation, but a divided Scotland from the rest of Britain would result in a loss of charitable feeling and co-operation which would impoverish us all. Still a united country needs fundamental change if it is to mean something meaningful to the peoples of these isles.

If there is a no vote, if the country remains in union, we need to be able to look forward to the next 300 years with the same sense of adventure and motivation which drove us for the last 300 but it is clear that is lacking today.

What we do to reshape Britain is something we will all have to search our beings for, but it is clear that our broken political system – unrepresentative as it is – must face fundamental change. A written constitution? a Republic? Federalisation of the home nations? The west Lothian question and the Barnett formula? A voting system which properly represents the will of the people?

When the polls close on Friday, either way that debate must begin and it is long overdue.

The ‘Bedroom Tax’: The case for reform

Bedroom tax stock photoThe Lib Dems are today proposing reforms to the Spare Room Subsidy – more commonly known on the street and in the tabloids as the ‘Bedroom Tax’. It might be a good sound bite but in reality we’re talking about a reduction in Housing Benefit, not a levy.

But that argument aside, let’s discuss what the Lib Dems are and are not proposing:

What the party is not proposing is scrapping the policy as some early media outlets erroneously claimed.

What the Lib Dems are proposing are two very simple reforms.

First. That no disabled person with a genuine medical need will see a reduction in Housing Benefit if they have a spare room – this group of people will be exempt.

Second. Whilst new social tenants will still be subject to the current rules on spare bedrooms as soon as they take up the contract. Existing Social tenants should, the party believes, be offered the choice of a suitable alternative before any reduction in Housing Benefit occurs.

The Government should not pay for spare bedrooms to remain empty, as Labour want, nor should the damaging implementation of the policy remain unreformed as Tories desire.

You might not have seen in the midst of the Reshuffle and the Data Retention bill that the first report on the impact of this policy dropped earlier this week and it doesn’t make great reading. More than half a million tenants are now in arrears despite the increase from the Government in Discretionary Housing Allowance and only 5% have been able to downsize to avoid paying for the spare room.

The policy objective, to ensure every room is used or paid for, is sound, the damage poor implementation of that policy has caused cannot now be ignored in light of that review.

Social Tenants in existing contracts should never have been asked to take a hit in Housing Benefit without also first being offered a suitable smaller choice and that is what the Lib Dems will now demand of its Coalition partner, the status quo is simply socially unjust.

No, when there is a housing shortage, when young people can’t afford to buy and struggle to make the rent and when hundreds of thousands of Families are in cramped and overcrowded homes the Government should not pay to keep spare bedrooms spare.

Labour are, let’s not forget, the party which changed the rules for those getting Housing Benefit in the Private sector in 2008 so that they could not claim for spare bedrooms. Before we hear shouts of hypocrisy from them let them first answer if the ‘Bedroom tax’ is not, in principal simply levelling the playing field for private and social tenants.

Labour also need to answer if they think the taxpayer should pay to keep vacant rooms empty. Why should home owners & private renters pay for spare bedrooms for social tenants they can’t themselves afford nor claim for?

Then there is a moral question. When there is a shortage of housing for people to move to is it right to reduce housing benefit without helping people find an alternative which avoids that first?

This is where the Lib Dems and the Tories now divide. The Conservatives were keen that this should be an immediate cost saving measure. Liberal Democrats have always been uneasy about that and are right to be so – there are nearly one million spare bedrooms which need to be filled, not paid for. This should never have been about cost savings.

People will point out there is a shortage of housing to move to. This is true, but there are plenty of people in overcrowded properties who could make use of those empty spare bedrooms which would then free up smaller properties and we cannot continue to ignore the pressing need to build more houses.

It is safe to expect to hear more from the Liberal Democrats about that in the near future.

It is nothing short of a scandal that we have allowed a social housing regime which lacks capacity yet allows spare bedrooms to go fallow as overcrowded families sleep 4 to a room.

It cannot be socially just to pay for rooms to be empty nor is it fair to fail to put in the effort to match families and individuals to suitable accommodation in swaps or fail to do what we can to promote new builds.

The Lib Dem proposals announced today will ensure that the Government spends taxpayers money wisely whilst offering people the choice to stay and pay or make way for those more in need of more room.

Frankly it’s long overdue.

Its our communication, not the leader, which has to change

TV_CameraLet’s not pretend the Lib Dems aren’t in troubled waters. Over the Coalition the party has lost activists, councillors and voters as it has struggled to deal with the twin terrors of the fall out of the greatest economic depression since the war and the 6 fold larger Conservative Party suffocating its appeal and message.

Yet the Liberal Democrats had little choice but to enter Coalition, there was no majority for a Lib-Lab pact and a minority Tory Government would have fallen at the first budget bringing economic ruin for which the Lib Dems would inevitably foot the blame.

Four years of stoicism later the party is widely credited with two things; having the courage to enter government despite the immense difficulties and dangers and being disciplined enough to stick together in the face of those pressures where lesser Parties would have been crushed.

Sadly, this latter credit was discharged this week with the demise and duplicitous behaviour of Lord Oakeshott.

Oakeshott’s remedy to tackle the parties increasing electoral challenges, however is simply wrong. Eleven months out from a general election no party of Government has the time or political capital to knife their leader, spend months bickering about who should take the reins whilst failing to govern and then spend the few months left before polls open rejigging policy and introducing the leader to a sceptical press and an apathetic public.

Nick Clegg may be painted by his opponents as a shrinking man being bullied by Tory Cabinet ministers or even the devil himself for his supposed betrayals but he is the man who took Liberals into Government for the first time in 90 years, righted the economy, created jobs and fought 300 Tories for more school funding, a cut in income tax which directly benefits 24 million of the lower paid and restoring the link between pensions and earnings.

He’s also the man who stopped those same Tories from allowing workers to be fired at will, schools to make profits, weakening the equalities act or cutting the ‘Green Crap’ which will provide jobs and clean energy for future generations.

There is a story the party can tell but they are doing a poor job of doing it so far. If the Lib Dems have to change something it’s how they communicate that story to the public.

When you talk to members of the public about the party you hear the same sort of detractions. “You sold out your principles for power” says someone who doesn’t understand the rock and hard place the party found itself in. “You gave a tax cut to millionaires” says someone who has neither heard that the top rate of tax is higher now than under Labour or that the Party has taken 3 million basic rate payers out of income tax.

“You’re not standing up to the Tories” Says someone who doesn’t know of repeated Tory frustration at Lib Dem roadblocks to their damaging policies. “You break your promises!” says someone angry that the Lib Dems broke one major commitment to ensure deliverance of many others.

The party needs a communications strategy that cuts through to voters to help them understand why it went into government, what good it’s done in government, and what bad policy it’s stopped from happening without getting drowned out by Labour spin and Magpie Tory Policy theft.

I don’t know if that’s a question of resources or messaging but it is the single biggest thing killing the party and the one thing the leadership should address to help the Liberal Democrats recover.

A new leader might get a honeymoon, although I suspect the problem is the brand not the messenger, but only the current leader can explain the journey from opposition, to government, to Liberals having, for the first time in generations, a raft of policies they’ve actually implemented which has strengthened the economy and helped millions of people ,because he’s the one who walked it.

Never waste a good crisis and if this mini one has just one positive impact it has to be a good hard look at how the Liberal Democrats are selling their time in government. A failure to do so will mean it will be the history books, not election returns, which will credit the party’s stint in power.


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