Posts Tagged ‘referendum’

Its Labour’s fault there’s no-one as good as Salmond

24/04/2014, 10:08:10 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Alastair Darling has many qualities. He was an effective minister, a mainstay throughout Labour’s years in power and as Chancellor, he steered the economy through the worst recession since the 1930s, leaving behind a growing economy in 2010. He is widely respected and admired. But as a campaigner, he makes David Moyes look like Jose Mourinho.

He is so ill-suited to leading the cross-party campaign to galvanise Scots behind the simple proposition that they are “Better Together” with their kith and kin in the rest of the union that the No campaign against Scottish independence looks set to snatch defeat from the jaws of what should, on paper, be an easy victory.

Yet a vote for independence is now a real possibility – with a poll last weekend putting the Yes campaign just three per cent behind the No campaign, a once unthinkable prospect. (To put this in context, a poll last November had the No camp leading by a margin of 29 per cent).

This is a calamitous situation with the polling numbers now starting to reflect what is all too evident to anyone watching this referendum battle unfold: The Westminster class has badly underestimated Alex Salmond.

Frankly, it has paid too little attention to Caledonian affairs in general in recent years, wrongly assuming the devolution settlement of 1998 was the end of the line as far as Scottish nationhood goes. This has left opponents of independence with a strategic problem. There is simply no equivalent Scottish figure now able to make the case for retaining the Union with the same panache Salmond displays in trying to break it up.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the most swivel-eyed pro-Union party in British politics, can barely open his mouth on the subject without sending undecided voters flocking towards the independence camp.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, southern English and middle-class are clearly deemed surplus to requirements and have the good sense to stay out of it. Labour’s Scottish Leader, Johann Lamont, is tough and said to get under Salmond’s skin, but she is a provincial figure in comparison.


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Farage might have won the live debate but Clegg triumphed in the news packages. And more people watch the news

03/04/2014, 10:08:03 AM

by Atul Hatwal

A thumping victory for Farage. That was the consensus following last night’s big debate. The pundits said it, the polls said it; there was little doubt.

But for people like me, who didn’t see the debate, and whose only sight of the combatants was on the evening news, the result was very different.

In the contest of the clips, Clegg was the winner.

This doesn’t mean that the verdict of those who saw the live debate was wrong. Just that, as so often is the case, the highlights reel told a different story.

The BBC News at Ten package, which would have had the most viewers, focused on four passages in the debate: the clash over Putin, immigration, past Lib Dem promises of a referendum and the closing statements.

Nick Robinson’s report can be seen here.

While Farage had the upper hand in the latter two exchanges, the first two were the most resonant.

On Putin, the key moment was when David Dimbleby intervened to contradict Nigel Farage’s assertion that he had never said he “admired Putin.”

Although most viewers are likely to have minimal interest in Nigel Farage’s position on Vladimir Putin, it’s always extremely powerful when the neutral debate moderator intervenes against one of the participants.

Quite apart from the topic under discussion, it sends a clear message to the viewing public that this politician isn’t being straight with the audience.


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Ed’s new policy on Europe gives us the leadership we need

14/03/2014, 04:58:25 PM

by Alan Donnelly

Pro-Europe Labourites have been waiting for leadership on Europe and now we have it. The dilemma for the party was always this: unable to be unabashedly pro-Europe because of Eurosceptic polling, unable to refuse a referendum because of some in the party, yet secretly eager to build a positive reform agenda for the EU.

There was a period of time last year in which every PMQs was dominated by the referendum question, with Cameron urging Ed to say yes or no, and claiming he was the big man for giving the people a say.

He no longer has that card to play. Ed has set out Labour’s position clearly: only if there are further transfers of power will Labour hold a referendum. He has also been clear that on that basis he thinks there will not be one.

Cameron now has little to go on, and will be exposed as being in a weak position on Europe, pushed this way and that by his backbenchers.

Instead of attacking the reasons for the policy, Tories are claiming it is unclear. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Do we offer a referendum come what may? No. Do we want a referendum? No. Why? Because it’s counterproductive to reform, it’s unnecessary, and in the end will not “put the issue to bed” at all.


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There is going to be a referendum in the UK, but not the one Cameron is thinking about today

15/01/2013, 03:55:07 PM

by Jim Murphy

The politics of a referendum is centre stage in parliament today. No, not as you may think. It’s not David Cameron’s continuing journey beyond Major’s euro-weakness and Mrs Thatcher’s Euroscepticism. Rather, it’s a Section 30 Order which, despite its anodyne-sounding title, will have a profound effect on our politics.

Section 30 relates to Scotland but could affect everyone in the UK. It focuses on the rules of the game for Scotland’s referendum on independence. Today the House of Commons will give a different parliament powers over the UK government regarding the 2014 vote. And because the SNP controls the Scottish parliament in a way that Cameron could only dream of in Westminster, we are transferring the powers to a political party as much as a parliament.

So what’s it all about? In short, Section 30 gives the Scottish parliament powers over how much can be spent by both sides, who gets to vote, what the question is and much more.  This is part of the compromise agreed by the government – the Scottish government accepted the vote would take place by the end of 2014 and there would be a single question in return for which the Section 30 order was granted.

This has come at a terrible time for the SNP. Labour’s new team north of the border and the Scottish public have pursued the Nats’ unanswered questions on an independent Scotland’s economy and role in the world and any other subject you care to mention. But the Nats also share the blame for their current predicament. Opposition to independence increased from 50% in January to 55% in June then 58% in the latest poll. At the moment, the nearer we get to the vote the further away the SNP look like winning it.


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Preview: Tony Blair’s speech on Europe

28/11/2012, 07:00:03 AM

by Jonathan Todd

While Andrew Rawnsley reports that Ed Miliband’s speech to the CBI on the EU “leant heavily against a referendum”, Peter Mandelson recently wrote in the Financial Times that a referendum is “inevitable”. Today Tony Blair will deliver a speech in which he will argue for Britain “to be at the heart of the EU”.

For decades Labour has been pro-EU, while being vague on the role of the EU in securing our goals. Imprecision is increasingly inadequate in a fast moving debate.

Is Miliband ducking a fight that Mandelson thinks is inevitable? Will Blair’s intervention encourage Miliband to be bolder? But what exactly does he mean by “the heart of the EU”? In the Euro and the EU banking union or just leaving the door open to British membership at some stage?

It has been clear from early in this parliament that Europe would be more central to it than throughout the Blair/Brown government. But many unanswered questions remain for Labour. As they do for the Conservatives.

Michael Fabricant, dashing vice chair of the Conservative party, has given Nigel Farage an enhanced platform, much as the leadership debates in the last election brought Nick Clegg to a wider audience, by floating the idea of an electoral pact between his party and their “brothers” in UKIP.

Being a more sensible politician than Fabricant, Farage is holding out for as much as possible. He was on the Daily Politics on Monday; fully twelve hours after Fabricant went public with his cunning plan. He wanted an apology from the prime minister for his comments on UKIP following the Rotherham fostering farrago – a strong showing from UKIP in the Rotherham by-election will help Farage and the fostering issue plays into his hands. He was also pushing Tory troublemakers in the direction of Michael Gove, the member of the cabinet seemingly most sanguine about the UK leaving the EU.


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Can Ed find prime ministerial credibility in selling the case for Europe?

20/11/2012, 12:16:37 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Making a new case for an old ideal. In a nutshell that’s the job of all Labour leaders down the years. But Ed Miliband also thinks it’s the challenge for those who still see Europe as the solution to our national problems rather than the cause of them.

In his speech to the CBI yesterday he warned that fellow EU countries are “deeply concerned” because they sense Britain is “heading to the departure lounge”. A febrile mood on the Tory backbenches reflects the latent hostility among the British public with latest polls showing 56 per cent of Brits would vote to pull out if a referendum is held on the issue.

To his credit Ed stood firm against these siren calls saying he would not let Britain “sleepwalk toward exit from the European Union”. This is as strong an assertion of the importance of the EU as we have heard from any frontline political leader for some time. But even he only managed faint praise.

For he too recognises the EU’s focus is on the past not the future. It is still committed to propping up an insular, agriculturalist ancien regime rather than equipping Europe with the ability to withstand the challenges of the new century.

As he pointed out, farming subsidies still eat up 40 per cent of the EU budget while contributing just 1.5 per cent to economic output.  The focus should instead be on “public goods” for the EU economy like infrastructure, innovation and energy.

In a prescient section of his speech, he conceded that for the post-war generation, including his Jewish parents, “Europe was a murderous continent”. For them European unity was “a noble ideal” with the countries of Europe “seeking to put peace and prosperity in place of war and destruction through economic and political co-operation” (or in former SDLP Leader John Hume’s phrase, the EU is “the longest running peace process in the world”).


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No to PR, Yes to AV

04/05/2011, 08:07:14 PM

by Tom Watson

When Roy Jenkins recommended a change in the electoral system twelve years ago I helped lead the campaign to defeat it and preserve the first past the post system. I was dead against any form of proportional representation then and I still am now. But whilst I remain as firmly opposed to proportional representation as ever, I have become convinced that our current first past the post system is in need of reform and upgrading. That is why I am supporting the campaign to introduce the alternative vote and will be voting Yes in tomorrow’s referendum.

The main objections I have to proportional representation do not apply to the alternative vote system. One of my main concerns has always been that PR would give the BNP a greater chance of gaining representation at Westminster. But that is even less likely with AV than FPTP. That is why the BNP have come out to say they will be supporting a No vote in the referendum. AV is the anti-extremist system. With AV, no-one can get elected unless most people back them. Therefore the risk of extremist parties being elected by the back door is eliminated.

Another of my traditional objections to PR was that it will lead to unstable government. But hung parliaments are no more likely with AV than with first past the post. As the recent election showed, first past the post has not given Britain any special immunity to hung parliaments. The result at the last election was not an exception. It is the result of long-term changes in our voting patterns here in the UK which means the current voting system can no longer be relied upon to deliver a clear-cut result with a strong and stable single-party system previously the strongest argument for preserving first past the post.

The last of my major objections to PR, and to the hybrid system Roy Jenkins put forward, was that it was too complicated and alien to the way we have always voted. But AV, in contrast, couldn’t be more straightforward. It simply allows you to choose your candidates in order of your preference. It is literally as easy as 1,2,3. For voters, it simply means swapping an X on your ballot paper for a 1,2,3. And if you still want to vote for only one candidate you can.

So the alternative vote doesn’t have the disadvantages I have always associated with PR. But it does offer advantages that I believe will help change the way we do our politics for the better. (more…)

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Put aside the Cleggphobia and then vote No to AV

19/04/2011, 08:07:12 AM

by Jim Murphy

I have stayed out of the debate about the AV referendum until now. I have surprised myself because instinctively I usually know where I stand on all the big issues, but on this I have found it easy to sit it out. There are so many other more pressing issues – a view that I know those involved in both campaigns share. I have waited in the expectation that the pro-AV campaign would make a convincing new argument.  They haven’t, so when the referendum comes on May 5th I have decided to vote No.

There are many people I know who are voting No simply to spite Nick Clegg, but I’m not one of them. This was a really important point that Ed Miliband rightly raised yesterday. To vote against AV to get back at Nick Clegg is a churlish way to conduct politics. A change in the electoral system could be permanent, but say whatever you want about Nick Clegg one thing for sure is that he is certainly temporary – this is probably his last job in frontline British politics. If last year’s post-election political gamble of switching to the Tories’ macro-economic policies turns out to be as bad economics as it is bad politics then it’s questionable whether he’ll even lead his Party into the next election.

So let’s put all the Cleggphobia to one side. My decision is based on the merits of the case. The main reason I have decided to vote ‘No’ is that the supporters of changing the system haven’t made a convincing enough case that this is the right kind of change. They have struggled to make a persuasive argument about why the country’s politics would be better with AV. It may seem unfair, but in all these constitutional debates most of the burden of persuasion falls upon those advocating change – that is certainly my experience with devolution. (more…)

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The drawing-room Jihadists of the “fairer votes” campaign have won

22/02/2011, 12:00:05 PM

by Dan Hodges

Stop all the clocks. Put away the ballot boxes. Shutter the polling stations.

The great AV debate, which has raged across the land for the last couple of months, is over. The gods have spoken. Thou shall vote yes.

It was fun while it lasted. Actually, it wasn’t. I’ve fought Tories, and wrestled power from their cold dead hand. Been head to head with Liberal Democrats who know more dirty tricks than a Watergate burglar. I’ve even gone up against fascists; real honest to goodness, “Adolf, ‘gord bless ‘im, great lad, little misunderstood”, fascists.

But I’ve never witnessed such a wave of self-righteous, intolerant, self-obsessed,  moral indignation as that cascading from supporters of the Yes to Fair Votes campaign. In fact, Yes to Fair Votes isn’t a campaign. It is a constitutional Jihad.

Leader of the crusade is a man called Jonathan Bartley. He has been prosecuting it with a messianic  fervour. In December, he kicked off by writing the following:

“Once in a while, the church gets a chance to atone for its sins. The referendum on the alternative vote (AV) for Westminster elections is a golden opportunity to demonstrate that, unlike the church of 100 years ago, which opposed the suffragettes, it will back the campaign for a fairer electoral system. The episcopal purple should not be of a notably different hue from that worn either by today’s campaigners, or the women pioneers of the early 20th century. There is a strong theological and ethical rationale for voting for reform”.

Many thought the referendum on AV would be about whether or not we need a new way of counting votes. Nothing so prosaic. According to Yes, whether we put a single preference by an electoral candidate, or rank them in order, is a decision of the same moral magnitude as the emancipation of women. (more…)

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The real battle for the future of the English regions is just beginning

04/11/2010, 03:00:36 PM

by Kevin Meagher

THIS time of year, as the bonfires blaze and the fireworks bang, many keen regional devolutionists will commemorate waking up to find a different political revolution (albeit one with more modest aims) had bitten the dust. Tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of the ill-fated referendum on an elected regional assembly for the north-east of England.

As you may recall, back in 2004, Labour promised referendums would be held in the north-east, north-west and Yorkshire and Humber regions about whether each should have an elected assembly.

The powers on offer were not vast. At that stage, frankly, neither should they have been. This was never a call for mini-parliaments. Or regional prime ministers. Or declarations of UDI. It was about creating small, strategic bodies to democratise decisions taken by unaccountable public officials and act as all purpose galvanisers, instigators and cajolers for northern interests.

In the end, just the north-east, long thought to be the likeliest harbinger of regional devolution, was given the go-ahead. The government had got cold feet, fearing the message about “creating another tier of bureaucracy” was too potent. So it cancelled the other two votes.  The entreaties of campaigners in those regions counted for little. For a government hooked on winning things, the prospect of a triple whammy defeat was too much to bear, so they sought to minimise the political fallout. (more…)

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