07 December 2009

Is Gradualism working?

This started life as a comment on today's post by Yousuf about the TNS-BMRB poll on independence, but it was turning into an essay so rather than bog Yousuf's site down with it I've moved it here. The numbers don't make the greatest of reading, but they are what they are: both Yousuf and I have seen plenty of uncomfortable polls, but we are capable of keeping calm and carrying on. Particularly when, a little later, another poll comes along with better news, as can sometimes be the case. And even then, when the polls are on your side, you're smarter to remember - as we all do - that it's just a poll. They mean the same to all of us (or should do) whether they're good, bad or indifferent.

But there's one thing I do want to pick up on:

After all, those who believed in the gradualist case that winning power in Holyrood would enable them to prove they could govern and nudge the country towards Independence is failing, as Jim Sillars at least seems to have noticed.

Well, Jim Sillars is not exactly Gradualism's biggest cheerleader, so for the SNP, an article by him saying the present direction isn't working is a little like how the Tories must see an article by Dan Hannan or Roger Helmer arguing that David Cameron should take a tougher line and pull the UK out of the European Union: heartening for a decent-sized section of the support, slightly uncomfortable for the Leadership, an interesting story for the press about key party figures dissenting with the party's default position, but ultimately, nothing new. This is no change of mind by Jim Sillars, just as a post on EU withdrawl wouldn't be anything radical from Hannan or Helmer.

But the real question is this: in the face of the poll numbers and the expected criticism, is it actually right to say that gradualism is failing?

Here's something to think about: around 1997, in fact from pretty much the late 1970s until the millennium, the debate on constitutional policy focused on whether there should be a Scottish Parliament, or whether Direct Rule should continue. And in the early, difficult days of the Parliament's establishment, there was a vocal minority that openly questioned whether or not devolution was worth the fuss.

But as we moved deeper into this decade, the terms of reference changed, and you had the LibDems producing the Steel Commission on the powers of the Scottish Parliament, as well as an element of soul-searching within the Tories about Holyrood's financial powers. By the time the McConnell Executive came to its end, Labour was the only party clearly wedded to the current framework. The Scottish Parliament had become a fact, a given, and the debate now focused on whether more powers should be transferred to Holyrood, or whether the status quo should prevail.

Now, as we move out of this decade, the Calman Commission has reported and there are quarrels over how to implement it. But no one's talking seriously about things staying as we same. The wish to change the balance of powers and responsibilities is now the basic point of reference, and the question is whether Scotland goes for a partial or a full transfer of powers.

So in the space of just over a decade, we've gone from Direct Rule or Devolution, through Devolution As It Is or Further Devolution, to Further Devolution or Full Independence. That's the debate now.

In short, points that used to produce a great deal of uncertainty are now givens. This means that gradually, the debate is moving the SNP's way.

On that basis, I'd say that Gradualism is doing exactly what it's supposed to.


Anonymous said...

'On that basis, I'd say that Gradualism is doing exactly what it's supposed to.'

I'm inclined to agree. I think many in Labour's top ranks have recognised this for some years now and that's why they've been so afraid of further devolution of powers (until recently...???).

JPJ2 said...

I am afraid that for me Jim Sillars will always represent the sad waste of a potentially great talent.

I sometimes wonder if that is how he feels about himself.

Ted Harvey said...

If you are a Nationalist, then I suppose that you will need to accept that you are talking about a change over generations timescale. No country ever escaped quickly and easily from the Imperial British State.

In addition, ‘gradualism’ has just a tad to easy and linear a sound - change is likely to be what the present economic recovery prospects have been described as; shallow and corrugated but curving up. There will be bumps and downs if there are to be any highs and risings.

On Jim Sillars, I unfortunately heard him on BBC radio Scotland Tuesday morning. It sounded like a bullying, hectoring and self-contradictory rant. Either the BBC interviewer lost control or her producer said into her earpiece 'give im the rope let him rant'(given their BBC morning radio team's overall lack of professionalism, the 'lost control' version seems most likely).

Just one example, Jim went on and on about the other interviewee (and much of the rest of the world)not telling the truth - and then when the interviewee had the nerve to doubt the credibility of the one 'expert' that Jim quoted, Jim shot back something along the lines of 'how dare you say this man is lying!'

I don't know Jim Sillars apart from having met him the once many years ago on very amicable terms, and I never could make my mind up about him. But I have to say that his performance on this particular stage could have come, for all the world, from one of the old Labour West of Scotland tyrants.

That he is a climate change denier is anyway a difficult and problematic stance to adopt for a supposed progressive. Maybe Jim just spends too much time among the Gulf Oil States’ business networks now.

J. R. Tomlin said...

It's one poll. An outlier for all we know. Or maybe disaster and people really are turning against the idea of independence. But I'd wait to see another one before getting all excited one way or another. It bucks a rather longstanding trend so I'd definitely want to see another before making any judgment.

Anonymous said...

Good points made there - can't see how anyone could disagree!