Britain, gordon brown, Politics, Scotland

missing links

I had missed this further twist in the Scottish independence referendum saga (hatip: Scottish Sketch). So Wendy stole Gordon’s idea, then. Thereby compromising the idea – and their relationship – alltogether. At a different time, the whole story would have also compromised their reputation and credibility, but it’s far too late for that now.

Britain, gordon brown, Labour Party, Politics, Scotland

Brown’s strategy will backfire both north and south of the border

You don’t need a nostalgic Blairite to waste his precious time convincing you that Gordon Brown is a poor political strategist: you already know that all too well. So it’s no surprise that Mr. Brown is getting his strategy for the next election completely wrong. Roughly, this is what Brown and whoever advices him are thinking: we’ve got a Scottish problem. If the English electorate perceives us as too Scottish, we really have no chance at the next general elections against two candidates, Cameron and Clegg, who are quintessentially English. So what we are going to do is making sure that the English public can’t say that we are being partial to Scotland. That will also suit the purpose of giving Salmond a very bumpy ride; so that whenever we decide to call the next general elections – because it’s we who call the shots – we’ll get respect from the English for not having given in to our Scottish roots; and also Scottish Labour will be stronger against the SNP just in virtue of the fact that we have made it so difficult for the SNP to govern, thanks to a – relatively to the past – underfunded Scotland.
That sounds, if not clever, at least reasonable. And it explains, along with many other things, the anti-Scotch budget; and the recent unsuccessful trip to Westminster by John Swinney, Scotland’s Finance Secretary. Problem is, Gordon Brown’s strategy is going to backfire. Here’s why: the Scots are going to be particularly outraged by a Scottish Prime Minister who appears to be particularly tough on them of all people. That will inevitably result in a perception of the SNP as the only party standing for Scotland – as was more than obvious over the budget, when Scottish Labour MPs had to go on telly defending anti-scottish legislation: Salmond knows how to play that card; has played it ever since the beginning of his time in office; and Brown is being thick enough to continue playing in Salmond’s hands. This could ultimately result in the SNP being a serious player in the next general elections: it is estimated that, with the present level of support, the SNP could get as many as 30 Westminster parliamentary seats next time around – which could prove decisive in case of a hung parliament (and, needless to say, it’s not with Labour that the SNP would strike a deal).
But Brown’s strategy might backfire in England as much as in Scotland. His thinking is that by being tough on Scotland he’s going to prove to the English that he would do their interest, and never put Scotland’s interest ahead of the interests’ of the majority. Fair enough: problem is that if Brown alienates the Scots, he offers the Conservatives a brilliant argument against him. Cameron can then tell the English: here’s a Scottish politician loathed by his own people; why should we English trust him?

Politics, Scotland

intentional wrongdoing

If you are a philosopher of action, it is not everyday that your research interests are at the core of current affairs, talked about in the news as if it were knife-crime. So I must admit to be quite amazed by the whole of Scotland talking about ‘intentional wrongdoing’. Wendy Alexander has chosen it as her catch-frase to justify remaining in office notwithstanding her admission of having broken the law.

I have broken the law, Alexander admits. But I have not done so intentionally. What does that mean? It means that Wendy admits to having taken an illegal donation; and she admits to having taken the donation intentionally; but she denies that she intentionally took an illegal donation.

Alexander, philosophers of action would say, has only done one thing, ‘accepting Green’s 950 quid’. That was her action, and she concedes as much. But Wendy’s action can be described in more than one way: it can be described as ‘taking a donation’. Under that description, Wendy admits to her action being intentional. But it can also be described as ‘taking an illegal donation’. Under this description, Wendy says that she did not act intentionally.

But how can the same action be both intentional and unintentional? Suppose that you are waiting for the bus #29; suppose you board the bus #37 thinking that it is the #29. You have intentionally boarded the bus; but you have unintentionally boarded the #37 – your intention was to board the #29.

Similarly, Alexander claims to have taken the illegal donation unintentionally – her intention was to take a legal donation. Had she known that the donation were illegal – she is implying – she would not have taken it (and here her position gets difficult, given that she wrote to Green at his Jersey address, and given that she must have known – or, at least, ought to have known – that only registered voters can make donations).

Why is Alexander stressing that she did not brake the law intentionally? That won’t help her much in the courts because, as people say, ignorance is no excuse. She is doing so to defend her personal and political integrity. She might be the sort of person and the sort of politician who brakes the law, but she is not the sort of person and politician who does so deliberately. She is, in short, asking the public to judge her by her intentions rather than her actions; given that she is not disputing her having acted illegally, only her having intended to do so.

Indeed, politicians’ intentions matter. Consider a politician who sets out to rip us off by selling our personal data – say national insurance number and bank details – to fraudsters. Consider, on the other hand, a politician who simply loses such data (they might be called Alasdair, for example). The outcome might be the same; still, our opinion of the corrupt politician might be lower than our opinion of the merely incompetent one.

Does that mean that we can live with Wendy Alexander’s incompetence, just because her intentions are good (assuming that they are)? No, it does not.

Alex Salmond, Britain, donorgate, england, Politics, Scotland, wendy alexander

Saturday afternoon, Scotland

The politician who is in the most trouble because of Donorgate is, by a long distance, Wendy Alexander. She has done what others have done down south, taking an illegal donation. But Wendy Alexander was also stupid enough to say, in Parliament, that she knew nothing about the source of the donation. It turns out she had signed a thank-you note to the donor. If she doesn’t go, then we can be sure that no one in London will either.

But when the pressure on Alexander had become unbearable, here comes Alex Salmond himself to her rescue, by drawing attention away from the donations scandal with a pretty childish insult to Blair and his family. The Yucca has too much respect for Salmond’s political skills to think that calling Blair’s family ‘revolting’ in the middle of such a difficult week for Labour north and south of the border was not deliberate. Salmond has come to Brown’s rescue – he’ll want something back, be sure.

And while talking of Salmond’s political skills, the Yucca appreciates his bashing of anti-english sentiment in Scotland as “pathetic, inward-looking, provincial, narrow-minded and silly”. Not only do Salmond’s words ring true, they also reveal his strategy: the enemy has been identified as Britain, not England. England, indeed, is a potential ally in the struggle for more devolution/independence. So much so that while anti-scottish sentiment in England is good news for Salmond, anti-english sentiment in Scotland is an embarrassment and an obstacle. Well played, Alex: just be careful not to alienate that substantial part of the SNP’s electorate which did vote for you on anti-english grounds. You know the way Americans call Britain ‘England’? Well, when Scots say they want rid of Britain, what they mean, too, is that they want rid of England.