SNP WIN:WHAT WOULD PM DO?

DÉJÀ VU ELECTIONS.

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to look at the big round of national and local elections coming on May 6th. After three General Elections and a major referendum in under five years, people were fed up with voting. The virus has caused a 17-month break in democracy, so it will be interesting to see if much has changed since the Tories swept to an 80-seat victory at Christmas 2019.

I suspect little has altered. The Tories are riding on a vaccination bounce, Labour is finding it difficult to grasp the voters’ attention in a pandemic and the Lib Dems remain sadly irrelevant. North of the border the unchanging pattern is the same with the Scottish National Party way ahead of the Tory and Labour parties scrapping to be in second place.

Next week I’ll preview the northern local council elections and the week before polling it will be the turn of the mayors and police and crime commissioners.

INDYREF IN ALL BUT NAME.

The elections to the Scottish Parliament will effectively be an independence referendum in all but name. Despite big problems with crime and education, the SNP have kept voters’ sole attention on gaining independence. So, we have the SNP, the Scottish Greens and Alex Salmond’s Alba Party lined up against the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems, and All for Unity (George Galloway), favouring the union.

The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is seen to have handled the pandemic well and has left Alex Salmond looking like an old man bearing a grievance.

The Scottish Tories, although well behind in the polls, are in relatively good nick. The loss of Ruth Davidson as leader is a big blow but her successor, Douglas Ross, has made a good start making it clear he is no cypher for Boris Johnson whose Etonian manner makes him deeply unpopular in Scotland.

Labour have had 9 leaders since the Scottish Parliament was set up, all increasingly ineffective since the giant Donald Dewar left the stage. At last Anas Sarwar seems to hold out the possibility that they can regain second place in Scottish politics, although there is a mountain to climb to convince voters to leave independence behind and see Labour, in their historic role as the party to deal with poverty, health and education.

Labour have been out of power in Scotland since 2007 and that’s not going to change this time.

Willie Rennie is a good leader of the small group of Lib Dems and accompanying Alex Salmond in the room for elderly men who just cannot let go is gorgeous George Galloway, now on to his fourth political party with All for Unity.

THE BIG FINANCIAL QUESTION FOR THE SNP.

The SNP should be closely questioned on this before people vote on May 6th.

North Sea oil revenues originally drove the SNP grievance. That is a rapidly diminishing asset. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reckon that the Scottish budget deficit could hit 28% of GDP. An independent Scotland with its own currency and bank would be unable to call on the UK for support nor the EU. Scottish membership of the EU would be likely blocked by the Spanish over Catalonian independence fears.

JUST SAY NO.

People can vote to be poor and free, so what if that is the message from Scotland on May 6th. Boris Johnson could just say no, which could be risky. He only has to look to the consequences of his reckless Brexit policy in Northern Ireland.

He could offer more devolution, but that has only stoked the independence appetite so far.

He could offer talks on a confederation of the nations of the UK and Northern Ireland.

Probably the best solution would be a two-stage referendum. One to trigger detailed talks where the full implications of independence could be spelt out and then another referendum to finally decide.

LABOUR IN TROUBLE IN WALES.

The Scottish poll will overshadow the vote in Wales where things aren’t looking great for Labour in another nation it used to dominate. The latest poll indicates they will be the largest party but with the Tories not far behind. Plaid may pick up seats too, but the appetite for independence remains weak. Indeed, representatives calling for the abolition of the existing Senedd may get elected.

COVID PASSPORTS ARE RIGHT.

TOUGH CHOICES FOR OPPONENTS.

The government is right to consider the limited use of Covid passports.

The hospitality industry, the cultural sector, sport, and airlines have been decimated by the virus and are entitled to as much support as possible, even if it offends some liberal consciences. Workers in pubs, restaurants, festivals, and sports arenas should know that they are operating in a safe working environment.

In the case of care workers, where the current vaccination rate is alarmingly low at 76%, the need for proof of vaccination is vital.

For over a year we have faced restrictions on our basic way of life. People are weary of it and patience is running thin. Even with the latest caveat about blood clots, the vaccination programme has provided a way out of this nightmare that we may well not have had.

The general population cannot be held to ransom by opponents of vaccination. Health documentation has been required for diseases like yellow fever for years. Accommodation must be made for people with genuine issues. Nobody would be barred from public transport, public services along with essential shops.

Pregnant women and people with some medical conditions would have that indicated on the app or document they would present. It is argued they could be infectious, opening a loophole in the passport programme. Nothing is perfect but the numbers would be very small.

I’m afraid people with religious objections, people who don’t trust authorities and particularly people peddling anti vax nonsense are going to have to pay for their beliefs by being excluded from the pleasures of normal life. I know this sounds harsh but, in an age, when minority rights are being acknowledged more and more, this is an issue when the majority must prevail.

The government need to make it clear that a vaccine passport requirement would be kept under constant review with the aim of ending it once the virus is reduced to a manageable minimum worldwide.

WELCOME BACK LOUISE.

It is reported that the former Liverpool Riverside MP and leader of Lancashire County Council, Louise Ellman is considering re-joining the Labour Party.

She resigned in 2019 at the height of the row over anti-Semitism when Jeremy Corbyn was leader. Ellman is cautious, urging Sir Keir Starmer to do more, but her instinct seems to be to re-join. This would provide Labour some good news as it faces a difficult round of local elections for the party.

What is required to win back its natural base is to better represent the concerns of ordinary people instead of a kneejerk reaction to support every minority cause.

I have in mind the withdrawal of an election leaflet by the Warrington North MP Charlotte Nicholls. She had pledged to campaign against traveller incursions into her constituency. Following accusations of racism, she apologised. Why? Most councils have official traveller sites but still people suffer from “travellers” invading open spaces leaving a trail of rubbish and disruption behind them.

This has nothing to do with disrespecting the genuine gypsy community and everything to do with recognising people’s right to a quiet life. Labour should be on their side, not the woke side.

AWKWARD TIME TO BE PRO EU.

NO CLOSER TO A UNION.

Those of you who are kind enough to read my blogs, will know how opposed I was to us leaving the European Union. My belief in an ever-closer union, with the UK in it remains, but the chances of that happening have gone from remote to almost impossible following the Covid crisis.

The EU believes in doing things together and wanted to avoid vaccine nationalism within the bloc when effective jabs became available. The problem with action in solidarity is that it can take time to come up with solutions. An exception should have been made in this case. The political leaders should have told the Commission to act at speed to secure vaccine supplies.

Instead, they were slow, then complained when AstraZeneca honoured a contract placed first by the UK, then cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccine and are now facing fresh total shutdowns as Covid 19 spreads once again.

The thing that has angered me most is the criticism of AstraZeneca. Some argue that the pharmaceutical industry should be nationalised because of its importance to health. I fear the long term, and often frustrating search for new drugs, would not pair happily with politicians unable to look beyond the next election. Anyway, AstraZeneca was a private company that pulled out all the stops and lost millions of pounds in potential profits to meet the emergency. Of course, they were morally obliged to act in the face of a global pandemic, but they don’t deserve EU politician’s criticism. It has been reported that some people in the leading drug companies are saying “never again”. I hope that is not true, but it is understandable.

Anti-EU politicians in Britain must be allowed their hour of gloating over the bloc’s discomfiture, but the government’s brilliant success with our vaccination programme, shouldn’t be used to widen the gap with Europe. We still need a measure of goodwill to iron out the many trade issues that remain unresolved after Brexit.

DEVOLUTION ANYONE?

Where are we on English devolution? If you watch the Downtown Den, you will have heard different views from our recent guests.

Steve Broomhead is the Chief Executive of Warrington Council. He’s been waiting for years while Whitehall dithers over plans to create a Combined Authority (with or without an elected mayor) for the town and Cheshire.

He told us that centralisation has returned. He cited how local authorities were bypassed over track and trace and claimed the “tyranny of bidding” had returned with the Towns Fund. He means by that, that rather than decisions being made locally, councils must elbow each other out of the way to impress ministers in London to give them cash.

Tom Bloxham, the boss of Urban Splash, on the other hand believes devolution is still on course. His evidence was the moving of government jobs to the north and the success of elected mayors.

We must hope for more progress on devolution after the local elections. Meanwhile have a cracking Easter.

SADNESS FOR A GREAT CITY.

THE CALLER REPORT.

The Liverpool of today has changed out of all recognition from the derelict hopelessness of the 1980s. The infrastructure has been transformed, the private sector is seen as a friend not an enemy and the legacy of Capital of Culture has been strong.

However, the damning Caller Report on the council has revealed a major thing that has not changed, the political culture. As a reporter on the city’s politics for many years, I have enjoyed the “robust” nature of its politics. People in Liverpool are interested in current affairs and have strong opinions. But there was, and is, a dark side to all that. Bullying and intimidation can replace reasoned debate, a disregard for rules and procedures. Crucially Caller reveals a breakdown in the relationship between officers and members on the council.

Officers and politicians have completely different roles on well run authorities. Council staff must be allowed to proffer their advice and administer the services free from fear. It is one of the most disturbing revelations that Caller has not been able to list the people who have contributed their views, as is his usual practice, because people were afraid to be identified.

So, the sadness is that the report will allow some to claim that nothing much has changed in turbulent Liverpool. But they would be wrong…

THE SOLUTION.

Business will need to be reassured following this report. Firms want to deal with a council that handles planning and other issues fairly and transparently.

There are bright signs in this respect. Major developments are underway. The £1bn Paddington Village Project to boost the health, life science and technology jobs of the future is just one of these. Approval is awaited on the Everton Stadium project and the city won praise for its handling of the pandemic.

Crucially business has the reassuring presence of the Chief Executive, Tony Reeves. The government clearly see him having a pivotal role working with the Commissioners on problems he has himself identified in the planning, highways, regeneration, and property departments.

POLITICAL HARD NUT.

Finally, we come to the politics. There is to be a major shake up in the way the council is elected. There will be all out elections once every four years from single member wards with the number of councillors reduced. Some, including our MD Frank McKenna, would like to see proportional representation introduced to prevent the one-party dominance (first Lib Dem then Labour) that we have seen recently.

The mayoral election will go ahead this May but will the referendum on abolishing the post take place in 2023?

The official Labour Party line has been to accept the report and the imposition of commissioners, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the General Secretary’s review takes place.

Amongst some MPs, councillors, and party members in the city there is still support for the policies of former leader Jeremy Corbyn. Will party chiefs be met with claims that they are selling out to the Tory government? Will there be a move to impose moderate candidates? Will current Labour officials have the same courage that was required in the eighties to root out Militant? Because without that you can reform the election structure all you like, but the same people will be back.