Steve Bell’s If ? 13.11.2014 Illustration: Copyright Steve Bell 2014
By Dale Street
1) When Michelle Thomson MP (SNP whip resigned) twice bought properties in 2010 and sold them to her husband later the same day, by how much did their price increase between purchase and re-sale?
2) When Michelle Thomson MP (SNP whip resigned) paid her business partner £95,000 for a property he had bought for £64,000 from a 77-year-old cancer-sufferer earlier the same day, how much did she receive as a “cashback” from her partner as part of the deal?
3) During the 2014 referendum campaign, who was the director of the pro-independence “Business for Scotland” organisation (“The business network with a conscience. We will promote the values that can build a more equal and fairer Scotland.”)?
a) John Paul Getty III
b) Nelson Rockefeller Jnr.
c) Michelle Thomson
4) What happened in 2014 to the solicitor who had represented MP Michelle Thomson (SNP whip resigned) and/or her husband and/or her business partner in 13 different property deals?
a) He was named Solicitor of the Year by the Law Society of Scotland.
b) He was appointed as a judge in the Inner House of the Court of Session.
c) He was struck off by a Law Society Discipline Tribunal for 13 counts of professional misconduct.
5) Who was SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon referring to in the 2015 general election campaign when she said “Michelle knows what’s she’s doing, knows her area and knows about fairness, equality and prosperity. I say: Bring it on, Michelle!”?
a) Michelle Pfeiffer
b) Michelle Obama
c) Michelle Thomson
6) What is the current value of the seven properties in SNP MP Lisa Cameron’s property portfolio?
7) What is the difference between the monthly rent charged for one of five former council flats owned by SNP MP Lisa Cameron and the monthly rent charged by the council for a council flat in the same area?
a) Higher by £140 a month.
b) Higher by £150 a month.
c) Higher by £160 a month.
8) Last September SNP MP Phil Boswell tabled a Parliamentary Question calling for a crackdown on tax avoidance. How much was the interest-free loan which Boswell himself received as part of a tax-avoidance scheme when working for a US energy company?
9) SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has condemned tax avoidance as “obscene, immoral and despicable.” What did she say on learning of SNP MP Phil Boswell’s involvement in a tax-avoidance scheme?
a) This is obscene, immoral and despicable.
b) This is what happens when Scotland is governed by Westminster.
10) Including the discount secured for the venue (Stirling Castle’s Great Hall), how much did the SNP Holyrood government donate to the launch event of the Scottish Asian Women’s Association (founder: Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, now an SNP MP) in 2012?
11) At its launch event, attended by 160 guests including Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh’s Scottish Asian Women’s Association spent £4,500 on canapes and £400 on flowers. Over the next three years how much did the charity donate to worthy causes?
12) In the run-up to the 2014 Euro-elections the Facebook page of which organisation appealed to its readers: “Remember to vote SNP on Thursday to get Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh elected and keep UKIP out of Scotland”?
a) A political party: the SNP.
b) An anti-racist campaign: Hope Not Hate.
c) A registered charity: the Scottish Asian Women’s Association.
13) Natalie McGarry MP (SNP whip resigned) is currently under police investigation for the unaccounted disappearance of how much money from donations made to Women for Independence?
14) Who reported the disappearance of the £30,000 to the police, resulting in the investigation into Natalie McGarry MP (SNP whip resigned)?
a) Red Tories who always talk Scotland down.
b) Real Tories who always talk Scotland down.
c) 20 members of the Women for Independence National Committee, including seven SNP Holyrood candidates, one SNP branch convenor, the vice-chair of the British Association of Social Workers, and the Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid.
15) Who did Natalie McGarry MP (SNP whip resigned) recently accuse of tweeting in support of “a misogynist and abusive Twitter troll”?
a) Tommy Sheridan
b) Comrade Delta
c) J.K. Rowling
16) Which song has Natalie McGarry MP (SNP whip resigned) described as “banter”?
a) Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
b) Bohemian Rhapsody.
c) The Famine Song.
17) In the 2015 general election campaign the SNP told voters: “The only way to lock the Tories out of 10 Downing Street is to vote SNP.” The SNP won 56 out of Scotland’s 59 seats. What was the result?
a) The Tories were locked out of 10 Downing Street.
b) The Tories returned to 10 Downing Street in a coalition with the Lib-Dems.
c) The Tories won an absolute majority of seats.
18) Which party did the SNP not call for a vote for anywhere in the UK in the 2015 general election campaign, while simultaneously listing what it would demand of it as the next Westminster government?
a) Green Party
b) Plaid Cymru
c) Labour Party
19) Which organisation adopted the following rule at its 2015 annual conference: “That no member shall within, or outwith, the Parliament publicly criticise a Group decision, policy, or another member of the Group”?
a) The Mafia (as an extension of the code of Omerta).
b) The Vatican (as an extension of the Bull of Papal Infallibility).
c) The SNP (because it’s the SNP).
20) 20 SNP branches have submitted motions to the party’s 2016 annual conference calling for a ban on fracking. What is likely to happen to the motions at the conference?
a) They will be passed.
b) They will not be passed.
c) Nothing – because they have all been ruled out of order and will not appear on the agenda.
21) What did the then SNP First Minister Alex Salmond prophesy in March of 2013?
a) The end of the world.
b) The second coming of Christ.
c) A second oil boom, beginning that year, which would generate tax revenues three times higher than official estimates.
22) What did the then SNP First Minister Alex Salmond, speaking in September of 2013, say was the value of North Sea oil and gas reserves?
a) Peanuts – it’s just something we dip into now and again when there’s a glut of shortbread on the world market.
b) Make up your own figure, provided that it has a lot of zeros at the end.
c) 1.5 trillions – twelve times higher than official estimates – “worth £300,000 for every man woman and child” in an independent Scotland.
23) What did SNP MP Alex Salmond have to say about the North Sea oil industry two years later?
a) The second oil boom is underway!
b) Hold out your hands for the first tranche of your £300,000!
c) The industry is suffering from tough low-oil-price conditions and needs every single market it can get.
24) Which piece of writing prophesised that the average price of a barrel of oil in the period 2014 to 2019 would be at least $113?
a) The Predictions of Nostradamus.
b) Mystic Meg’s horoscope for Leo in the “Sun” last week.
c) The SNP’s 2013 White Paper on Independence, “Scotland’s Future”.
25) What was the price of a barrel of oil in mid-January of 2016?
c) $27 (i.e. less than the cost of the barrel containing it).
26) According to “Scotland’s Future”, in the financial year 2015/16 North Sea oil revenues would amount to £8.3 billions. What is current estimate of North Sea oil revenues for 2015/16?
a) £8.3 billions
b) £16.6 billions
c) £130 millions
27) In January of this year SNP MP Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) said: “There is no crisis in the … … industry. We have just extracted more … than ever before. The industry is booming.” What industry was he talking about?
b) Brain tumour surgery.
c) The North Sea oil industry.
28) How many jobs dependent on the North Sea oil industry had been lost in the twelve months prior to SNP MP Dennis Robertson’s statement?
29) How did the daily rate of oil and gas extraction from the North Sea in the twelve months prior to SNP MP Dennis Robertson’s statement (“… just extracted more oil than ever before …”) compare with the daily rate of extraction in 1999?
a) Down by 2.5 million barrels a day.
b) Down by 3 million barrels a day.
c) Down by 3.5 million barrels a day.
30) In the 2014 referendum campaign which of the following did the SNP promise would always be lower in an independent Scotland than in England?
a) Levels of poverty.
b) Levels of social inequality.
c) Corporation tax.
31) What do the following have in common?
a) Air Passenger Duty.
b) Corporation Tax.
c) Taxation of the oil and gas industry.
32) Which of the following has SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised will never be cut?
a) Holyrood’s funding for Glasgow City Council.
b) Holyrood’s funding for maintenance of the Forth Road Bridge.
c) Holyrood’s annual contribution to the Sovereign Grant paid to the Queen.
33) When the SNP Holyrood government cut spending on its “non-profit distributing programme” from £353 millions to £20 millions in the financial year 2013/14, how did the then SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon describe the cut?
a) A savage cut.
b) An unacceptably savage cut.
34) When the SNP Holyrood government cut spending on its green energy budget in the financial year 2014/15, how did the SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney describe the cut?
a) A savage cut.
b) An unacceptably savage cut.
35) When the SNP Holyrood government announced a cut of over £350 millions in funding for local authorities for the financial year 2016/17, at a cost of 15,000 jobs, how did SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon describe the cut?
a) A savage cut.
b) An unacceptably savage cut.
36) SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that it was “absolutely” not true that maintenance budget cuts led to the closure of the Forth Road Bridge last December. When the former Chief Engineer subsequently gave evidence to MSPs, what did he blame for the closure?
a) The San Andreas Fault.
b) Mars being in conjunction with Saturn.
c) A 58% cut in the bridge’s maintenance budget by the SNP government in 2011.
37) Between the financial years 2010/11 and 2014/15, by how much did the SNP Holyrood government cut spending on pre-school education places, primary school pupils, and secondary school pupils?
a) 7%, 10% and 3% respectively.
b) 8%, 11% and 4% respectively.
c) 9%, 12% and 5% respectively.
38) By how much did the SNP Holyrood government cut Further Education funding in real terms between 2010 and 2015?
39) What was the fall in the number of students at Further Education colleges in Scotland between 2010 and 2013?
40) What was the fall in the number of teaching staff in Further Education colleges in Scotland over the same period?
41) The poorest 20% of youth in England are 2.5 times less likely than the wealthiest 20% to go to university. What is the figure for the poorest 20% of youth in Scotland, compared to the wealthiest 20% of youth in Scotland?
a) 3 times less likely to go to university.
b) 3.5 times less likely to go to university.
c) 4 times less likely to go to university.
42) In England the proportion of university students from non-professional backgrounds is 33%. What is the equivalent figure for Scotland?
43) How much have owners of band ‘G’ and ‘H’ properties ‘saved’ in the period 2008-2016 as a result of the SNP’s council tax freeze?
a) £250 millions.
b) £300 millions.
c) £350 millions.
44) On average, a low-paid worker living in a Band ‘A’ property ‘saves’ £60 a year (0.3% of income) as a result of the SNP’s council tax freeze. On average, how much does someone living in a Band ‘H’ property ‘save’ each year as a result of the freeze?
a) £324 (0.7% of income).
b) £370 (0.8% of income).
c) £394 (0.9% of income).
45) What did SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh say on her return from a visit to Iran as part of an official SNP delegation last December?
a) A reactionary, homophobic, misogynist regime.
b) So that’s John Mason’s vision for Shettleston!
c) While Iran clearly has a distance to travel on gender equality, so too does Holyrood Westminster.
46) Which one of the following is not boycotted by all true Scots?
47) And which one of the following is not boycotted by all true Scots either?
a) Tunnock’s Teacakes
c) North Korea
48) With which of the following countries does SNP MP Alex Salmond look forward to Scotland developing a “productive and enduring relationship”?
49) After 30 years of opposition, what did the SNP annual conference in 2012 vote in favour of membership of?
a) The United Kingdom.
b) The Russian Federation.
50) The Facebook page of the Scottish Resistance carries a video clip of one of their members wielding a sledgehammer. What is he doing with the sledgehammer?
a) Repairing the Forth Road Bridge.
b) Laying the foundations of an independent Scotland.
c) Crushing a pack of Tunnock’s teacakes, with the words “This is a wee message to every c**t who is still a f***king secret teacake eater. F**k Tunnock’s.”
51) Which books did North Lanarkshire SNP councillor Rosa Zambonini tweet that she would ban her children from reading?
a) Books containing lots of violence.
b) Books containing lots of sex.
c) Books by J.K. Rowling.
52) Dundee SNP councillor Craig Melville was suspended from the SNP for having allegedly tweeted which of the following messages to a female Muslim SNP member?
a) Scottish nationalism is different from all other nationalisms – it’s a civic nationalism.
b) That Man to Man the warld o’er shall brithers be for a’ that.
c) It’s not personal, I just f****** hate your religion and I’ll do all in my life do defeat your filth. We live in an uneducated loopy left-wing society which is more interested in claiming benefits. … Horrible murdering Islamic c***s.
53) Which of the following has North Airdrie SNP councillor and Central Scotland SNP list candidate Sophia Coyle said should be banned from fostering and adopting children?
a) Members of ISIS.
b) Members of al Qaeda.
c) Gay couples.
54) According to cybernat Shelley Detlefsen, what was the cause of the cancer which killed David Bowie?
b) Poor diet.
c) Supporting a ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum.
55) The Tories have recently promised to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the SNP. But “stand shoulder to shoulder” with them doing what?
a) Repairing the Forth Road Bridge.
c) Opposing Labour’s proposal for a 1% income tax rise.
56) On 28th January this year SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “I’m standing up for a fair deal for Scotland – Labour should try it some time, instead of always backing the Tories.” What happened six days later, when Labour proposed a 1p increase in income tax?
a) Labour voted with the Tories.
b) Labour voted with the SNP.
c) The SNP voted with the Tories.
57) What did the SNP support in 1999 but oppose in 2016?
a) Membership of NATO.
b) Membership of the European Union.
c) Increasing income tax in Scotland by 1p.
58) According to SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, nurses would be hit harder by Labour’s proposal for a 1% income tax increase than she herself would be. What is the explanation for this claim?
a) Nurses in Scotland are paid over £136,000 a year.
b) Nicola Sturgeon is paid her salary through a tax haven.
c) Nicola Sturgeon can’t count.
59) Which of the following politicians is the highest paid?
a) The President of France.
b) The Prime Minister of Spain.
c) SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
60) What did the by then former SNP First Minister Alex Salmond cancel after the referendum of September 2014?
a) His coronation as Supreme Leader and Great Helmsman.
b) Renaming the Royal Mile the Alex Salmond Mile.
c) His television licence.
d) All of the above.
Answers on a postcard to:
Nicola Sturgeon, Bute House (absent a commercial transaction with Michelle Thomson and her husband in the meantime), 6 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, EH2 4DR.
How many questions do you think you answered correctly?
0-20: You should join the SNP. Because they all say “But we never knew about that!” as well.
21-40: You should join RISE. Because you have some (modest) criticisms of the SNP, but not so many that you can’t approach SNP supporters to beg for their list vote in May.
41-60: You are an anti-Scottish Red-Tory traitor who is always talking Scotland down.
Opposition to Putin and his ultra-reactionary regime ought to be second nature for self-proclaimed leftists. Unfortunately, it isn’t: the Morning Star and former Guardian columnist (now a senior adviser to Corbyn) Seumas Milne, for instance, have a long record of defending and justifying Putin, especially (but not only) with regard to Russian imperialism in Ukraine.
So it was a welcome development when Guardian columnist Owen Jones recently admonished certain (unnamed) sections of the left for remaining silent about the reactionary nature of Putin’s regime. Even so, Jones’s piece was hedged about with embarrassed apologetics designed to appease the pro-Putin “left” and to excuse in advance his own half-hearted apostasy:
“Yes, there is something rather absurd about the baiting of the anti-war left for not protesting against, say, Putin or North Korea. The baiters are always free to organise their own demonstration (I would be happy to join), and protest movements can only realistically aspire to put pressure on governments at home, whether it be on domestic policies or alliances with human rights abusers abroad (whether that be, say, the head-chopping Saudi exporters of extremism, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine). In democracies, protests that echo the official line of governments are rare. If the west was actively cheering Putin on and arming him to the teeth, we might expect more vociferous opposition.”
Anne Field, writing in the present issue of Solidarity, is more straightforward:
Putin: a model of reactionary politics
The report of Britain’s official Owen Inquiry into the 2006 murder of former Russian security service agent Alexander Litvinenko was published on 21 January. It attributed responsibility for the murder to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Putin ruled Russia as its President from 2000 to 2008. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third successive term of office, Putin was nominally Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012. In reality, he remained the ultimate source of authority in Russia. Amid widespread allegations of ballot-rigging, Putin was re-elected President for six years in 2012. (The presidential term of office had been increased from four to six years while Putin was Prime Minister). He is already on record as saying that he will seek re-election in 2018.
From the outset Putin’s rule has been based on “siloviki” (strongmen): former KGB agents and serving agents of the police and the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB), and former and serving military commanders. According to a survey carried out by Olga Kryshtanovskaya in 2004, “siloviki” constituted around 25% of Russia’s political elite, and over 50% of Putin’s inner circle. Their influence has continued to grow since then. Putin himself is a former KGB agent. But, as Kryshtanovskaya wrote: “Putin brought ‘siloviki’ with him. But that’s not enough to understand the situation. The whole political class wished them to come. There was a need of a strong arm, capable from point of view of the elite to establish order in the country.”
One of Putin’s first acts was to incorporate Russia’s 89 regions into seven new federal districts. The districts are run by appointees personally selected by Putin as his representatives. They have control over the armed forces, the budgets and activities of the regional governors in their districts.
Five of the first seven appointees were “siloviki”. At the same time Putin weakened the powers of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament with representation from the country’s different regions. Putin also scrapped the election of regional governors (they too were to be personally appointed by Putin) and empowered local legislatures (dominated in practice by Putin’s supporters) to sack popularly elected mayors. Over the past decade and a half potential sources of opposition to Putin’s rule in civil society have been attacked, one after another. The media empires run by the oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky were both effectively taken over by Putin and their owners forced to flee Russia. Dissident journalists have been sacked, programmes critical of Putin have been taken off the air, and attempts to create independent television channels blocked by the government. The only surviving independent channel is now run from an apartment in Moscow.
Under a law signed off by Putin in 2014, international organisations, foreigners and Russians with dual citizenship will be banned from owning mass media outlets by the end of 2016. Its main target is Vedomosti, jointly published by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The internet in Russia is controlled by the government agency Roskomnadzor, created in 2012. Russian bloggers with 3,000 or more visitors a day have to register with Roskomnadzor, reveal their identities, and verify the accuracy of their blogs. Roskomnadzor can also block websites which “refuse to follow Russian laws”, which carry “extremist” political content, or which “encourage illegal activities and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.” Foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), described by Putin as “jackals” and “Judases”, have been singled out for repressive legislation. They are required to register as “foreign agents”, submit quarterly reports on their funds and resources, and submit six-monthly reports on their personnel and activities. They are also subject to mandatory audits and can be fined for publishing anything not described as having been published by “a foreign agent”.
In the spring of 2013 alone, 2,000 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were raided by government authorities. After a wave of protests at Putin’s decision to seek re-election as President in 2012, he increased fines for taking part in unauthorised protests to 300,000 rubles, and fines for organising such protests to a million rubles. In 2014 Putin ramped up the penalties yet again. Repeated participation in unauthorised protests now attracts a penalty of up to a million rubles and up to five years of forced labour or prison. A law passed in 2013 banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors”. Breaches of the law could result in fines or imprisonment. The following year another law banned all swearwords in films, on television and in theatre performances. And last year new rules for licencing the showing of films were introduced, banning films which “defile the national culture, pose a threat to national unity, and undermine the foundations of the constitutional order.”
Other laws have obstructed the registration of “non-indigenous religions” and prevented them from acquiring land and building permits. This has benefited the religious monopoly enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church, described by Putin as one of the two “pillars” of national and state security. The other “pillar” is nuclear deterrence. Reflecting Putin’s own views on Stalin (“his legacy cannot be judged in black and white”), Russia adopted Stalin’s national anthem (with different lyrics) in 2000, and Russian textbooks now explain that while the Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR was not a democracy, it was “an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.” Putin has also regularly contrasted his authoritarian conservatism with western “decadence”, denouncing the west as “genderless and infertile” and guilty of “the destruction of traditional values from the top.”
This has provided a basis for political alliances between Putin and parties of the European far right: the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Bulgarian Attack, the Slovak People’s Party, and various far-right parties in Germany. Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for US president last month was only a logical development of his support for political reaction at an international level. Putin’s record since 2000 has not been one of a failed attempt to establish a functioning democracy after the chaos and corruption of the 1990s. It is a record of success in establishing an authoritarian regime which has promoted itself as a model for far-right movements and regimes round the world. And it is a record regularly punctuated by the physical elimination of Putin’s critics and opponents: the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the anti-corruption campaigner Sergei Magnitsky, and the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, as well as Litvinenko.
Johnathan Freedland’s always excellent Radio 4 programme The Long View, today compared the loathsome Donald Trump with three previous “outsider”/”celebrity” populists who, at various times, seemed to be potential contenders for the US presidency: William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. All were extreme reactionaries, anti-semites (though there is some evidence that Hearst belatedly changed his attitude towards Jews), and islationists. At various times, all three expressed admiration for Hitler.
In fact, only Lindbergh got anywhere near to being a serious political force, and in his brilliant book The Plot Against America Philip Roth creates a convincing alternative history in which Lindbergh won the Republican nomination in 1940 and went on to defeat Roosevelt in that year’s election.
Freedland reminded listeners that a recording of Lindbergh’s September 11 1941 Des Moines anti-war speech can still be heard. A terrifying forewarning of what Trump now parades before the American people and the real threat he poses to the whole world:
Just listen to what she has to say. Trump and his people are certainly racists … and pretty damn close to fascism:
Let’s just hope that this woman’s evident decency and generosity of spirit bursts Trump’s bubble.
As Cameron pursues his preposterous exercise in gesture politics – the demand that EU migrants be denied in-work benefits for four years, Corbyn has adopted a sensible and principled stance: he told the Party of European Socialists, meeting in Brussels on Thursday, that “If someone is working, paying taxes like anyone else, he should have access to the same benefits as everyone else.”
In contrast to Corbyn’s position, an outfit called Trade Unionists Against the EU offer their support to Cameron’s call for a discriminatory restriction on benefits to foreigners, in this letter published in the Guardian:
Zoe Williams misses the point about Cameron’s negotiations with EU member states (There is no master plan. On the EU, Cameron is flailing, 14 December). Restricting benefits to EU migrants may or may not be a sensible, legal or logical way to meet the concerns of people, be they “Ukip-minded” or not. But once our PM had to ask permission to do so, the issue was completely transformed. It is no longer one of EU migrants’ access to benefits, but the far more fundamental question of who decides how British taxpayers’ money is spent. It became a question of national sovereignty. That’s why organisations such Trade Unionists Against the EU are not awaiting the outcome of “negotiations” and are campaigning to get the UK out. The issue is as simple as it is clear: if the British people take a democratic decision to do something – in this case change the benefit system – they should be able to do so without having the prime minister scuttering around Europe asking permission. This will continue to be the case while the UK remains a member of the EU.
Trade Unionists Against the EU
Extraordinarily, the people behind his xenophobic rant claim to be “left wing.” In fact, Trade Unionists against the EU is chaired by a Stalinist, Doug Nicholls, and involves prominent CP’er and self-proclaimed “little Englander” Brian Denny and regular Morning Star contributor John Boyd.
These Stalinists claim that their campaign is completely independent from the right wing Tories and Ukip, who dominate the main anti-EU campaigns. But that letter to the Guardian makes it clear that when the fake-left bullshit (“exit left“, etc) is stripped away, their stance is identical to Ukip’s.
Not only that, but Leave.EU (presently battling it out with Vote Leave, for recognition as the official anti-EU campaign), set up by wealthy Ukip backer Arron Banks and little more than a front organisation for Ukip, is now sharing a website with this Stalinist front organisation: these utterly reactionary little-Englanders are, in truth, natural bedfellows.
Out blogging friend and expert on French politics, Coatesy, provides the following analysis:
The BBC reports,
The FN actually increased its votes in the second round to more than 6.8 million, from 6.02 million on 6 December as more people voted, according to the ministry of the interior (In French). But the FN share of the vote went down slightly from 27.73% to 27.36%. The Republicans increased their share from 26.65% to 40.63% and the Socialists from 23.12% to 29.14%. The overall turnout increased from 22.6 million on 6 December to 26.2 million on Sunday. Sunday’s figures are based on a count of 98% of votes so far.
Despite leading in the first round of regional elections last week, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front party (FN) failed to gain a single region in the second round of voting in France on Sunday.
The head of the FN, Marine Le Pen had hoped to make history on Sunday night by gaining control of a region for the first time. But after winning 28 percent of the nationwide vote in the first round of elections, the FN was pushed back in the second round as voters rallied behind the conservative Les Républicains party and President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS).
The FN had been riding high, exploiting an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe. The party came out on top in six of France’s 13 newly drawn regions in the first-round vote a week ago. But that initial success failed to translate into any second-round victories.
The FN was defeated in three key regions where it had come in first place last week: Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur and Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. The Socialists had pulled their candidates out of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur races to defeat the FN and it appears that many of their voters cast ballots for conservative candidates.
Le Pen won around 42 percent of the vote in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, while rival conservative Xavier Bertrand took around 58 percent.
Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, won about 45 percent in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region against conservative Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who received around 54 percent.
In Alsace Champagne-Ardenne Lorraine, the Socialist candidate, Jean-Pierre Masseret, had refused to pull out of the race, even after trailing in the first round of elections. Despite that refusal to follow the Socialist Party’s orders, the FN candidate in the region, Florian Philippot, was defeated by Les Républicains candidate Philippe Richert, earning 36 percent of the vote against his 48 percent.
After her defeat Sunday night, Marine Le Pen insisted that the National Front was the first party of France. She said the election results would not discourage the “inexorable rise, election after election, of a national movement” behind her party.
Pause for breath – there is worse to come:
“Nothing can stop us now,” Le Pen said after polls closed. “By tripling our number of councillors, we will be the main opposition force in most of the regions of France.”
Equally defiant, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who ran in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, urged supporters not to be disappointed. “We will redouble our efforts,” she said. “There are some victories that shame the winners.”
The National Front has racked up political victories in local elections in recent years, but winning the most seats in an entire regional council would have been a substantial success.
The election was seen as an important measure of support for Le Pen ahead of 2017 presidential elections.
Tactical voting boosts Sarkozy’s Les Républicains
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party won seven of mainland France’s 13 regions, giving them the largest share. However, it’s almost certain Les Républicains would not have been as successful without the tactical support of the ruling PS.
Conservative candidate Xavier Bertrand acknowledged as much in a speech after his victory against Marine Le Pen in Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie.
“I thank the voters for protecting our beautiful region,” said Bertrand. “I also want to thank the voters of the left who clearly voted to create a rampart (against the FN).”
On the left there is not much relief.
Une nouvelle fois, le sursaut républicain a bloqué l’avancée du FN. Mais ignorer l’avertissement serait dévastateur pour les partis traditionnels. Comments Libération.
The Republican ‘surge’ has blocked the FN’s progress. But the traditional parties ignore the warning at their own peril.
L’Humanité notes, “La mobilisation d’une proportion assez importante des abstentionnistes a fait la différence.” But deep difficulties remain: the left has to mobilise amongst the people to fight the far-right’s ideas.
We also observe that the Corsican nationalists now control the regional council in Corsica (le Monde).
- The Front National has failed to take over some of the levers of the established French political structure. This is a victory for their opponents. Regional councils, it has been observed, are a relativity cost-free platform for the display of administrative stagecraft. Control of their budgets gives an opportunity to show off policies, reward patrons, and attract attention. Control of one of them would not have tested the FN’s national policies. It would have given the far-right party momentum. They do not have this.
- The cost of the “sursaut républicain” is not to be underestimated. Despite reports that the FN is now attracting members from highly educated and .experienced French administrative sectors (traditional sources of political cadres) the party continues to claim that it stands alone against the other parties, the political elite, the equivalent of the Spanish ‘casta’. With the Parti Socialiste calling its supporters to vote for Sarkozy’s Les Républicains in the regions where they were alone capable of beating Marine Le Pen’s party, the claim will continue to appeal to their electorate.
- The FN still headed the results. Indications that they performed well in the first round amongst young people (34% amongst the 18-24 year olds), the unemployed, workers (43%) , self-employed, farmers and agricultural workers (35%), white collar public sector workers (30%) and indeed all social categories. While the party is most supported amongst the young and the “popular classes” the results suggest a party with a broader national appeal than any other French political force. (Elections régionales : qui a voté FN ?)
- From a rate of 57% in the first round, to 50% in the second, abstention marked these elections. That workers, the out-of-work, and above all the young, are amongst the biggest groups of abstentionists, is thin against the above evidence of their far-right voting. (le Front national, premier parti chez les jeunes… qui votent.Le Monde. 7.12.15.)
- Claims that there is a “left wing’, ‘national’ socialist (protectionist and working class) strain in the far-right’s language in the formerly left North, and a more traditional hard right (xenophobic and morally reactionary) line in the South East, have been eroded in this election. They were always doubtful – given the homogenising effects of modern politics. ( Les trois visages du vote FN Joël Gombin Le Monde Diplomatique November 2015.) But both the protectionist, and above all the xenophobic themes in the FN’s policies have had a nation wide impact.
- The results have produced a crisis on the French right and left. On the right there are growing voices to oppose Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempt to run again for the Presidency. . The former is a serious political project, led by Sarkozy’s long-term more emollient and apparently more ‘moderate’ rival, Alain Juppé after what is widely seen as a personal set-back for Nicolas Sarkozy (Nicolas Sarkozy face à un échec personnel).
- On the left, there are those in the ruling Parti Socialiste who wish to create a new centre left party free from the historic baggage of the left, and indeed the word socialist. This skirts over the more difficult task of re-connecting with the popular electorate. A government headed by one of the few politicians in France to admire Tony Blair, Manuel Valls, that has failed to offer substantial reforms to improve the quality of life for wage-earners, reduce unemployment, and has been unable to relaunch economic growth, is not in a strong position to appeal to these lost voters.
- The left, taking stock, did not suffer electoral annihilation, although it lost in important regions, including the Ile de France (surrounding Paris, perhaps the consequence of a big, 10.2% drop in the FN vote between rounds). With 5 regions for the left against 7 for the right it may seem as if their formal political strength has stood up. The Socialists, in agreement with the Greens (EELV), 6,81 %, and the Front de gauche, nevertheless did not shine in the electoral scores (around 7%). Inside the Front de gauche Jean-Luc Mélenchon has complained that the complex regional alliances and lists that the bloc has entered into prevented getting a clear message across. It is very doubtful if this was a major factor in their results – although perhaps somewhere in France Mélenchon’s personal message of the Bolivarian Revolution, on the Venezuelan model has support. His own refusal to give any recommendation for the second round was not universally appreciated. The Greens lost half their votes – they had 12,18% in 2010. ( Elections régionales : la débâcle des écologistes).
There is no argument that a fundamental reason for the FN’s rise in support lies in its encouragement and use of anti-Muslim feeling. This reached a crescendo after the slaughters of the 13th of November. (Le Front national se déchaîne sur l’islam. Le Monde. 4.12.15.)
President Hollande responded to the massacres with a state of emergency and airborne retaliation in Syria against Daesh.
His personal popularity leapt, but his party, the Socialists, did not benefit.
The FN have been able to take advantage of the popular mood because of a boarder package of polities. This can be seen in the social composition of their electorate. Unless one believes that young people, workers and the unemployed are particularly hostile to Muslims, and that this was the reason for their ballot box choice, we would look into what this demagogy in embedded within.
The theme of “security” against ‘Islam’ and, more widely, “foreigners” is tied to a deeper set of ideas, a national ideology, that animates the party of Marine Le Pen, nationalist ‘sovereigntism’ (the principle that the ‘nation’ should be the source of all political, economic and social decison0making and virtue). Their attraction for the young, the working class and all shades of “precarious” employed people lies in the call to protect the French nation from outside forces, foreigners, refugees, migrants and economic powers. That is, to give them jobs, and preserve living standards, and social security.
The FN claims not be primarily ‘anti’ other nations, religions or peoples: it is for France. It claims to be the best political force to protect French citizens from outside threats; not to seek out new areas in which to expand French power. The FN has been supportive of Russian interests (for which they have been rewarded), over the Crimea and Ukraine, which they see in terms of another nation standing up to foreign menaces.
In this sense the Front National is sometimes described as ‘national populist’ , not fascist; defensive rather than overtly imperialist.
Its policies centre on ‘national priority’ for French citizens in jobs, and welfare, stricter controls of immigration, ‘Laïcité’ (secularism) but recognition of France’s ‘Christian’ roots, strict laws on ‘security’ including reestablishing the death penalty, and a long list of measures designed to protect French industry and make French law supreme against EU legislation.
These reactionary ideas are by no means unusual in Europe today.
Many of the FN legislative plans – stricter immigration control and cutting migrants’ right to social benefits – are shared by the mainstream British right, and are policies of the present Cameron government.
The ‘sovereigntist’ approach to the European Union – blaming the EU for France’s poor economic performance and allowing migration are at the heart of the right-wing campaign in the UK to leave the Union.
Before British leftist indulge in their customary lecturing of the French Left there is another aspect of the FN that it’s important to note. Some of the FN’s views on Europe, which see migrant labour as a “tool” of the capitalists to undermine French workers’ living standards, are shared by the anti-EU ‘left’ in the UK. The idea that ‘national’ control of the economy is the way to confront the problems of globalisation is also popular amongst some ‘left-wingers’ here and in France. There is as yet no equivalent of the kind of overt cross-overs from left to right which is a feature of French political life amongst ” souverainistes” but this could easily develop.
Populism, as they say, is about being popular.
In this respect, with 27% of the vote, the prospect of Marine Le Pen emerging at the main challenger in the French Presidential elections on 2017 is strengthened, not weakened by this weekend’s results.
The Communist Party Leader and supporter of the Front de gauche, Pierce Laurent has called for a “new progressive project” to unite the left to stand up against the right and the extreme right, fighting austerity, and engaging in measures to tackle the problems of the world of work (Régionales : Déclaration de Pierre Laurent.).
Ensemble, also like the PCF, part of the Front de gauche, have equally called for a new approach, “Pour rassembler, il faut un projet commun de tous ceux qui à gauche et dans le mouvement social ne renoncent pas et aspirent à une alternative politique de rupture avec le libéralisme, un nouvel espoir.”
There is now the suggestion that the Front de gauche, the alliance of these two forces with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche and others, is poised to dissolve. Après les régionales, le Front de gauche en sursis. This will leave Mélenchon more free time to campaign against German influence in Europe.
Steve Bell’s If …
By Dale Street (also posted at the Workers Liberty website)
“SNP independence has become the cocaine of the politically active. Fun to join in, but dulling the senses, jabbering on at a hundred words per minute while disconnected from self-awareness.”
In a recent article admitting that the SNP’s economic arguments for independence never stacked up, this is how Alex Bell summed up the delirious nature of the pro-independence political mindset. (Bell was SNP Head of Policy under Salmond.)
But the response of the SNP to the launch of airstrikes against Daesh has exposed the inaccuracy of Bell’s statement: he was being too charitable by half.
Labour Party policy was to oppose the bombing. The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs – and a majority of the Shadow Cabinet – voted against the bombing. Some 75% of Labour Party members were against the bombing. The lead speaker in Westminster against the bombing was the Labour Party leader.
But all these basic facts were blotted out of reality in the parallel political universe inhabited – and created – by Scottish nationalism.
SNP MP John Nicolson summed up the political essence of the SNP response to the launch of airstrikes when he created the hashtag: “Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems #BombingTogether.”
Challenged about the accuracy of this hashtag, Nicolson responded that bombing was backed by the vast majority of Tories (true), by all Lib Dems (wrong), and by most of the Shadow Cabinet (wrong).
And the 152 Labour MPs who voted against bombing? Or Labour Party policy against bombing? Nicolson simply ignored them.
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson likewise ignored how most Labour MPs actually voted. Harking back to the SNP’s exploitation of the Labour-Tory “Better Together” referendum campaign, he tweeted:
“Syria vote: Want to join opposition to Labour/Tory ‘better together’ majority. Join the SNP.”
The Tories had a majority even without the votes of Labour MPs. And the majority of the Labour MPs voted against bombing. But this did not prevent Robertson from performing the political conjuring trick of pulling a “Labour/Tory ‘better together’ majority” out of his hat.
The SNP was equally silent about anti-war speeches by Labour MPs. Instead, on planet SNP, the intervention by Labour MPs was reduced to Hilary Benn’s closing pro-bombing speech. Read the rest of this entry »
The SNP’s model of independence is broken beyond repair. The party should either build a new one or stop offering it as an alternative to Tory cuts …
There is a strange moment in the TV coverage of the 2015 UK general election. Nicola Sturgeon is in a debate and a member of the audience admits to liking the new SNP leader but not supporting independence. She asks if she should join the party. Sturgeon listens and answers in what seems like perfect modern politicalese – you are welcome, she says. The audience in the studio and at home are comforted by the generosity, the non-tribalism of Nicola. It seems like a perfect example of our political leaders mending fences after a divisive campaign.
Consider what actually happened in that exchange. The leader of a party whose first tenet is independence is asking a person who openly admits she doesn’t want independence not just to vote for her, but to join the party. She is saying, implying at least, that the SNP is for people who are for Scotland – and that alone. There is no prescription to sign up for independence – just sign up for the SNP and its success. (Watch from 0930 onwards)
This shift in the party’s purpose from independence to being ‘Scotland’s party’ is often read as a simple tactic. The leadership are disguising their main aim, sovereignty, until a referendum victory looks likely. In fact something else is at work. The SNP is shifting its emphasis because the leadership can find no way of achieving the core aim safely.
Cut Nicola and no doubt she still bleeds independence, but what she means by that is far less clear than before the referendum. The doubt arises because the campaign towards the 2014 vote, and the economic information since, has kicked the old model to death. The idea that you could have a Scotland with high public spending, low taxes, a stable economy and reasonable government debt was wishful a year ago – now it is deluded.
A lesson of the referendum is that many arguments around independence are simply redundant. We can all agree you can have a nation of any size, governed in any way, seeking to do whatever it wants within the tolerance of the international community. Tranches of what occupied both sides up to September 2014 are simply distractions.
The only thing that matters in Scotland’s argument is this – what will be the likely economic health in the short to medium term, and what will that mean for government spending and borrowing? Dull, but it determines everything else.
2014 was an economic sweetspot for two reasons. It was a good year for oil, and it came after thirty good years. Thus the Scottish economy looked healthy and was able to boast that it had chipped in more to the UK treasury than it had got back over recent times.
That is not the same as being able to say the Scottish economy could afford British levels of spending, which was a significant plank of the Yes promise. That debatable point could be obscured by lots of noise, and the SNP is accomplished at shouting.
But Nicola Sturgeon knows the SNP is good at misdirection. The party’s success has been built on hard work and spin. Behind the scenes she isn’t gullible. It may work in public to rubbish claims by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that there is a gap between what Scots pay into government and what they get out in services, but only fools believe their own propaganda. The fact is a gap exists – Scotland does not earn enough to pay for its current level of spending.
Once you accept that, you acknowledge that the SNP’s model is broken. That model, as expressed in the White Paper and numerous speeches, is that it was possible to move from the UK to an independent Scotland and keep services at the same level, without either borrowing a lot more or raising taxes. It isn’t.
As sure as death and taxes, there will be an economic jolt in the road to independence. Scotland will have to pay to either increase borrowing, raise taxes or cut services to bridge the gap between revenue and spending. And that’s not the only bump.
The second shock to the system will be the cost of borrowing. A new state will inevitably attract higher borrowing costs. Thus the price of the debt we inherit from the UK will go up on independence day. There’s more.
The appeal of the SNP is that it resists austerity. It promised to reduce budgets by (fractionally) less during the 2015 election. In other words, it would borrow more. So on top of the higher cost of borrowing, you would have more borrowing to pay for. It doesn’t end there.
SNP fine print makes it crystal clear that it will not reverse the dastardly Tory cuts on independence. It will not reverse the privatisations or the anti-union legislation of Thatcher and nor will it repair the cuts of Cameron and Osborne. However, it does give the impression that, come sovereignty, it will restore things to what they were. Its central message in Westminster is that the state need not be dismantled. It is therefore reasonable to expect, voters certainly will, that spending goes up on independence. Which will add even further to borrowing.
However, Scotland may not be allowed to borrow that much. A currency Union, either Sterling or the Euro, would come with limits. A brand new currency may not be trusted by lenders. So taxes would have to go up to meet the spending gap and the extra money it takes to ‘repair’ the state.
But there is of course one more bump to overcome – the cost of transferring to an independent state in the first place. Recall all the problems associated with merging eight police forces into one and multiply this by a hundred. What price the transfer to sovereignty? £1 billion, maybe £2 billion.
Thus an economy which couldn’t afford existing spending will be hit by several significant new demands on the Treasury. Without a thorough, independent understanding of those additional charges, you can make no promises on what independence will be like. It is reasonable to assume that all these obstacles can be overcome, but it is stupid to deny they exist. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Trade Unionists Against the EU’ allies with Tory right … and ‘Campaign Against Euro Federalism’ allies with UKIP
Sheppard and Lyon of Vote Leave protest at the the CBI conference
On Monday of this week David Cameron addressed the CBI conference in London, and was mildly heckled by two posh young men from the Vote Leave campaign.
For those who don’t follow the intricacies of anti-European factionalism in the UK, Vote Leave is an outgrowth of Business for Britain and Conservatives for Britain, both set up by long-standing Tory anti-Europeans Matthew Elliott (founder of the Taxpayer’s Alliance) and Dominic Cummings (former special adviser to Michael Gove), which for years have been pressurising Cameron and the Tory leadership for a harder line against the EU, and have now come out for withdrawal. Vote Leave claims to be a “cross party” campaign, but is overwhelmingly made up of right wing Tories with just Douglas Carswell of Ukip, Kate Hoey and a handful of Labour right-wingers, mavericks and millionaire donors, plus the Green’s eccentric Baroness Jenny Jones, giving the outfit the excuse to call itself “cross party.”
What was interesting about Monday’s protest was that while the two posh boys were protesting inside the hall, outside a small gaggle of aging Stalinist little-Englanders calling themselves Trade Unionists Against The EU, held a simultaneous protest. The two protests were quite obviously co-ordinated, and indeed, the Morning Star (Nov 10) quoted one Robert Oxley (who turns out to be Vote Leave’s Head of Media) as saying: “we will be working together closely during the campaign to do more of these protests – particularly at the AGMs of big companies who try to scare the British people into voting to remain.”
The Morning Star seems to have interviewed the two posh boys as it named them as Phil Sheppard and Peter Lyon, and quoted Mr Lyon as describing their experience as “terrifying” but “worthwhile.”
This is all a bit odd, because back in June of this year, the Morning Star carried an editorial (“Left reasons to ditch the EU“) denouncing Conservatives for Britain and Business for Britain (ie the two main constituent parts of Vote Leave) as “neoliberal and nationalist extremists” and called on trade unions, the Labour Party and the left to “develop an independent position of their own, one which represents the real interests of workers and the mass of the people across Scotland, England and Wales.”
Yet now we have the Morning Star giving sympathetic coverage to Vote Leave, and frequent Star contributor (and CPB member) Brian Denny co-ordinating the activities of Trade Unions Against the EU (of which he is, apparently, an Organiser) with Vote Leave.
But even stranger is the position of the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, which is to all intents and purposes, Mr Denny and a few of his friends like the ultra-nationalist little Englander (and fellow Morning Star contributor) John Boyd, just wearing different hats: the website of the other main anti-EU campaign, Leave.EU (presently battling it out with Vote Leave, for recognition as the official anti-EU campaign), set up by wealthy Ukip backer Arron Banks and virtually a front organisation for Nigel Farage and Ukip, carries the following endorsement:
“As a well-established Eurosceptic Labour movement organisation operating for nearly 30 years, CAEF is pleased to join an organisation that seeks to represent people from all walks of life and defend national democracy, which is clearly under threat from a corporate-dominated European Union that is accruing evermore powers at the expensive of member states. No country can truly decide its own future democratically without the sovereign power to make its own laws and run its own economy in the interests of its citizens free from outside interference”, Brian Denny