Friday 13 March 2015

An outbreak of reality

There is, of course, still enough time before the election in May for the SNP surge to falter, or for the Tories to benefit from the ‘traditional’ recovery of government parties in the final period of a campaign.  But as poll after poll shows little or no movement, it is looking increasingly unlikely.  As things stand, the likeliest outcome is a very close result between Labour and the Tories, a large block of SNP MPs (with a few friends from Plaid and the Green Party) and a rump of Lib Dems licking their wounds.
In those circumstances, the SNP-led bloc has a choice of strategies which it can follow; the two most obvious being that it an either take a principled and uncompromising stand in favour of a radical alternative or else it can try to influence government policy in exchange for support in a few key votes.  There are pros and cons to both – neither is entirely without its problems.
Until this week, though, it has sometimes seemed that they were trying to do both.  The idea that a group of 50-odd MPs could ‘force’ a Labour government to abandon Trident was always just plain unrealistic.  On any foreseeable election result, there will be 500+ MPs committed to retaining Trident.  Making it a ‘red line’ issue would simply exclude the SNP-led bloc from any influence over the next government.  I very much wish that it were otherwise, but with Labour as committed to nuclear weapons as the Tories, it was never going to happen.  We’re stuck with overwhelming parliamentary support for Trident; our best hope for scrapping Trident at the moment is the second independence referendum in Scotland.
So the announcements this week by Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood that Trident would not be a red line issue for their parties in negotiating with Labour is nothing more than an acceptance of the sad reality.  And it shows that both parties have now come down firmly on the side of seeking to negotiate the best deal possible rather than taking an uncompromising stance after the election.
Whether it’s the ‘right’ decision is another question.  There are certainly those in the Green Party who are publicly questioning it.  And I suspect that there will be those inside both Plaid and the SNP who will be having less public doubts as well.  Personally, I believe that the influence that the parties will have on the policies of any future Labour government is rather less than they are claiming, and a good deal less than many of us might like.  And at the risk of repeating myself, the decision to negotiate with only one party is itself likely to reduce the extent to which that party feels the need to make concessions.
Given the very limited nature of what’s likely to be achievable, I’m more concerned about whether they’re asking for the ‘right’ things.  The agenda is inevitably being set by events in Scotland, and whilst I wish the SNP every success, I can’t help feeling that the needs of Wales are very much a secondary consideration.  Indeed, at times it seems as though changing economic policy at UK level is being given a higher priority than progressing the national project in Wales.
The SNP-led bloc is no more likely to ‘stop’ austerity than it was to stop Trident; all it can achieve is to add a little water to dilute the mix ever so slightly.  The test of ‘success’ from a Welsh perspective in those circumstances is about the more long term changes which are put in place.  And at the moment, it’s not at all clear to me that there’s a thought-out position on that.


Anonymous said...

Plaid's position should be four points:

devolving policing
devolving judiciary
devolving broadcasting
fair funding

Maybe exempting NHS from TTIP.

Anything less than that is a waste of time. I can't see them getting any more either.

Bored of Labour said...

I suspect the SNP are playing the long game, but don’t underestimate the British establishment’s inability to understand and react to countries wanting to the Union, like the empire before it.

The SNP can basically have the best of both worlds, Nicola Sturgeon will get concessions but if they aren’t enough to satisfy and a Labour or Tory government continues to ignore the 50 odd SNP MP's it plays into the SNP hands, further strengthens their support in Scotland and will eventually lead to calls for a new independence referendum. With opinion polls showing the YES side in the lead albeit a small one even before they’ve the election they can afford to be picky over the support they give any UK government.

As for Plaid Cymru’s demands, Leanne Wood seems to have made is pretty clear, a package of powers along the lines of what the Scottish Parliament has now and sorting out the Barnett Formula so Wales isn’t under funded, whether she’ll get any of that is another matter.

Anonymous said...

You may be right John in your assessment that even if the predicted 50 plus group of SNP and Plaid MPs had - along with any Green MPs elected - tried to scupper Trident's renewal they would have been unsuccessful, but we will never know now of course. And this is perhaps what has been most disappointing about the apparent abandonement of trident as a 'red line' issue by both Nicola and Leanne.

Surely there was no pressing need for them to do this? Surely it was worth testing Ed Miliband's resolve on this is - what did they have to lose?

In truth of course this was dead in the water as a red line issue the moment the SNP dropped it, as it's the SNP who have the numbers which will matter after the general election. Maybe not trying to block Trident's renewal fits in with their policy of an independent Scotland staying in Nato? We will know in time.

But what is for sure now is that Trident is going to be renewed whatever the outcome of the general election, and the once in a political lifetime chance to stop it in its tracks is gone. We can only wonder how much good could have been done with the vast sums that will now be squandered on this pointless weapons system.

As to what significant concessions the two respective parties might now get from a minority labour government? Well the first thing to be said is that the labour negotiating team wont exactly be quaking in their boots at the prospect of locking horns with two political parties whove abandoned their strongest bargaining chip before the general election campaign has even begun.

But it's difficult to see the SNP getting the one thing they probably prize the most - another referendum on scottish independence. While plaid might get some agreement over welsh funding and a promise to review barnett, but it looks like they will still have to fight the referendum they dont want, and it now seems pledged not to support - on income tax varying powers for wales.

Hardly worth throwing away the chance of scuppering trident.

Bill Chapman said...

I'm confident that we'll hear discussions of the Barnett formula and the West Lothian question for generations to come. I'm also confident that Labour and the SNP will work well together if Labour does not get an overall majority.

John Dixon said...

Green Dragon,

If you seriously believe that thee was ever any chance that Ed Miliband would be prepared to scrap Trident in return for a five year term in office, then of course it's a missed opportunity. But that's a very big 'if'. Personally, I don't believe that there was ever the slightest chance of him doing so, in which case making it a red line issue simply excludes the SNP/Plaid/Green bloc from having any influence at all.

Now, that might not have been a bad thing in itself; it could certainly be argued that taking and maintaining a principled stand on such an important issue is more important than having any influence on shorter term government policies. That's an entirely valid stance to take. But any parties taking that stance would need to accept that they would be making a political statement, not changing government policy.

The "once in a political lifetime chance" to stop Trident evaporated on 19th September, when the Scottish votes were counted. Still, there'll be another chance shortly...

...because I disagree with "But it's difficult to see the SNP getting the one thing they probably prize the most - another referendum on Scottish independence." For sure, that second referendum will not come out of any 'confidence and supply' agreement with the Labour Party. It will come if and when opinion in Scotland clearly demands a re-run. That in turn will depend on the electoral performance of the SNP; more so in 2016 than in 2015. It will come if and when the people want it, not as a result of any deal in London.

John Dixon said...

Several of the comments list points which are entirely valid demands for Plaid to make. However, the effect of being a (small) part of a negotiating bloc dominated by the SNP, and which also needs to accommodate the Englandandwales Green Party, is that most of those demands seem destined not even to be placed on the table in any negotiations with Labour. And that was part of the point of the original post - combining with two other parties to negotiate increases the bargaining strength but reduces the scope of what can be jointly argued for. Whilst I wish the SNP every success, the idea that Wales will receive much attention in the projected scenario is a little fanciful.

Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, very wrong, but I find it difficult to believe that the SNP will 'abandon' Plaid during the negotiation process, in order to secure 1 or 2 extra things for Scotland at Wales's expense (though I accept that it is inevitable that Labour will try to play them off against each other). There are very deep and long-lasting links between the parties, and the feelings of solidarity between them are genuine and heartfelt. Many of the individuals who will be involved in the process (Salmond and Wigley for example) have stood at each other's shoulders during very dark times indeed over the last 40 years, and no one in the SNP will forget the coach-loads of Plaid activists who went north and campaigned alongside them on the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh in September.

I genuinely don't think it's in the SNP's DNA to betray Plaid in that way. Furthermore, whilst working from a stronger base, the SNP's political position is always strengthened by having a parallel process taking place in Wales. It's simply not in their self-interest to stymie that process or damage the reputation of Plaid. They'd have to be offered a very big short-term prize indeed to off-set their longer-term interest. And that's not going to happen.

If Plaid's demands are reasonable and realistic (Silk II + justice + funding for example), the SNP will back them to the hilt.

Don't forget, important sections of Welsh Labour back Silk II and Carwyn is only reluctant on justice because of the 'assumed' cost. It's only Smith and the recusants holding them back. On a lot of the issues, Plaid will be pushing on a half-open door...

Phil Davies

Anonymous said...


Do not underestimate how important it is for (English) Labour to get back into (English) government in May, and to be able to govern effectively for 5 years. The UK economy is likely to go through much better times in the next 5 to 10 years, and if they are not in government now, they will spend 10 years in opposition, and that will mean the creation of a Tory, neo-liberal, mini-America, and the effective end of Labour history. There will be no turning back.

The stakes are high for them too.

Phil Davies

Anonymous said...

"If you seriously believe that thee was ever any chance that Ed Miliband would be prepared to scrap Trident in return for a five year term in office, then of course it's a missed opportunity. Personally, I don't believe that there was ever the slightest chance of him doing so" writes John. Worth pointing out Ed Miliband and Labour were persuaded to vote against war with Syria, when it had been widely assumed he'd follow the Blair-ite line of doing whatever hawks in the US wanted.

John Dixon said...


I wasn't suggesting that the SNP would 'abandon' Plaid, merely that there's a difference between what parties individually propose in their manifestos and what three parties together can agree on as joint demands in any formal negotiations.

On the former, all three parties are arguing for a range of different policies, depending on their own situation and the political situation where they are standing. But on the latter, as things currently stand, my understanding is that the joint demand amounts to "a little bit less austerity, please"; and perhaps that's as good as it gets.

Welsh not British said...

To suggest the SNP want to keep Trident (in order to remain in NATO) shows ignorance of both NATO and the SNP.

Most NATO members are nuke free and the SNP wants Scotland to be nuke free and would expect any other nation to respect that and not enter it's territorial waters if they had nukes on board.

Anonymous said...

We're very acquainted with Nato WnB, and the SNPs previous decades long opposition to it. Nato is an aggresive nuclear alliance with a first strike nuclear policy and the organisation was created as an instrument of US foreign policy in europe.(though this hasnt stopped its forces engaging in military assaults further afield - the illegal invasion of iraq and the destruction of Libya's infrastructure in 2011 being examples.)

To his enormous credit alex salmond was the first political leader of note to speak out against Nato forces bombing in yugoslavia in 1999, a military assault which shamefully included the RAF dropping cluster bombs on serbia.

So the SNP'S decision a couply of years ago that it would support scottish membership of Nato was both puzzling and disappointing in the extreme. And evidently we are not the only ones to think so judging by the high profile resignations from the SNP which resulted from this decision

Given the contribution we in wales have made to the international peace movement we sincerely hope WnB isnt advocating that a self governing Wales should seek membership of Nato.

Spirit of BME said...

Mr Dixon, Ah – how well do I remember Plaid Conferences of yesteryear when unilateral nuclear disarmament was an article of faith? The CND flag few high and all spoke in its favour ,apart from myself, Gwyn Wigley Evans and one other and much to the annoyance of “friends of the USSSR” within the Blaid who demanded total obedience on the subject. Again, Mr Wigley in the 80`s rejoiced in that “Wales was nuclear free”.
So, after the Ynys Mon climb down on nuclear issue, where is Plaid now in regards to this article of faith? On the very outside chance of them getting access to the top table after the election we have has seen these cherished positions disappear as sure as ice does in the desert sun, or is this further confirmation that part of the current leadership are Red Tories?

John Dixon said...


I don't think that Plaid have actually changed their position on nuclear weapons at all. And I'm pleased that they haven't. But faced with a choice of sticking to an entirely principled position with no influence in post-election discussions, and taking a more pragmatic position in the hope of having some influence, they've chosen the latter.

One can argue about whether that's right or wrong - I can see arguments both ways - but what they couldn't do is continue to pretend that they were doing both. The parallel that I'd draw isn't with the conferences of the past - where you and I were usually on opposing sides - but with the question which Dr Phil regularly posed about whether Plaid was a party of revolutionary change or modest reform. The words always said revolutionary change, but the actions always said reform. The latest action is simply another confirmation of the essentially reformist nature of the party.

Those who want revolutionary change need to look elsewhere.