Our Election, Brexit, and Going Forward

"Vote Here/Vote Aqui" sign in Orlando, Florida - 2008. Image Credit:  Erik (HASH) Hershman  via  Flickr   CC

"Vote Here/Vote Aqui" sign in Orlando, Florida - 2008. Image Credit: Erik (HASH) Hershman via Flickr CC

     So it all comes down to this. After arguably the most bruising, unconventional, and wild political campaign in American history, we are finally at the moment when we choose our next president.

     To be honest, it has been tough to get my head around it all, with so many twists and turns, ups and downs, allegations and innuendo being thrown around, facts and falsehoods being spouted about, claims and counter-claims being made, and just generally, the anxiety over the whole affair.

     As it stands, the choices we face as a country are both unpopular and with unprecedented high negative ratings. For many of us, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is one we would rather not have, for neither has been particularly inspiring and they both have heavy amounts of baggage – the contents of which have been exposed for us to see.

     Nevertheless, that’s those are choices we have and a choice must be made, for this election has come down to a referendum on the future – about what kind of country and society we wish to be, much like the UK’s referendum on the EU in June. Indeed, much commentary has been written and discussed about that referendum and what happened there in relation to our election. There are differences to be sure, but just as our election has pitted the wild card Trump against the more seasoned Clinton, the EU referendum pitted the unknowns of Britain leaving the EU against the what was known about staying in – in other words, the relative status quo vs a desired yet ill-defined change.

     What ought to be clear is that vast swathes of the people in both countries are not satisfied at all with where they are in their lives and with the state of our countries. There is the sense that the establishment has been failing them for years with policies appearing to benefit only those who are ingratiated with the system, such as the politicians, their families, wealthy campaign donors, corporate and other special interests, and just about anyone with inside connections to give them a leg up over everyone else.

     Along with the effects of 2007-2008 financial crisis, there have been the issues - repeated throughout the Western world - of globalization and how many people have been left behind as a result of it, changing economies and demographics which have clashed with the traditional structures and assurances of societies, and a general sense of uneasiness and the feeling that things are going downhill in many ways. Frustration with the status quo has allowed for the rise populism, which has fueled Trump in America and Brexit in Britain.

     That decision for Britain to leave the EU was a shock to everyone because it was figured that given the given the stark choice between the known and the unknown, Britons would stick with what they knew as a future in Europe as opposed to the unknowns outside of it. When the vote came, a slight majority of Britons decided that whatever unknowns there were outside the EU, they were worth it in the belief that the fortunes for themselves and the UK were better off outside.

     The mistake that some of the pro-EU campaigners made leading up to last June’s referendum was that they focused too much on the negatives of leaving, rather than the positives of staying, just as those advocating keeping the UK together during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum were criticized for accentuating the downsides of separation in order to get the people to vote “No”. This resulted in the “Yes” vote for separation being much higher than anticipated as the separatist campaign – appealing to positive platitudes if not solid facts – made inroads particularly among the working classes who felt they little to lose in choosing separation. Two years later, the Brexit campaigners did much of the same thing by portraying themselves as having new and bold solutions, as opposed to the stale answers offered up by the establishment. Similarly, a significant chunk of the American electorate appears prepared to risk uncertainty with Trump rather than go with what they know (and probably dislike more) about Clinton, who has been touting her experience and readiness for office in contrast to the unpredictability of Trump.

     Whatever happens, it is incumbent on our leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to commit themselves to getting things done for the great good. At everyone’s heart is the desire for a government that works effectively and efficiently, which works in the national interest while engaging with the world. Indeed, there is a lot that needs to be done domestically and internationally, and the people and political leaders must rise to the occasion as we do live in unprecedented times where people’s trust and confidence in government and other institutions are so low.

     This is the landscape facing the victor of the election tonight (or tomorrow) and on top of that, about half of the country not only voted against this person, but probably has a low opinion of them, to say the least. Whoever it is will have to work hard to unite the country as never before and provide answers to legitimate issues raised throughout the course of the campaign.

     As an optimist, I do not believe all will be lost regardless of who wins. Our country has gone through so much in over two centuries of existence, including an all-out civil war and presidential resignation, and we have shown the capacity to not only survive, but go on to be a better country than before. Our Constitution and hard-won democratic institutions are greater than any one person who temporarily occupies them for a few years at the pleasure of the people, and I believe the same to be true of the UK as well.

     That said, the choice we make does matter and I hope that people do consider the future carefully make a wise choice that we can be holistically comfortable with for generations to come.

Who's "Anti-Scottish", Now?

SNP advertisement from the 2007 election.

SNP advertisement from the 2007 election.

     This week, the SNP unveiled its plans for local government taxation should it win the Scottish parliamentary election in May.

     Under the proposed changes, households within the four highest Council Tax bands will have to pay more for the funding of councils; specifically, those living in the average home at the lowest of these bands (Band E) will pay an extra £105 per year, while those living in the highest band (Band H) will be paying extra £517 per year. For everyone else in Scotland – those who live in homes within the lowest bands of A through D – there will be no changes to how much they pay.

     The biggest revelation by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was that the package included the end of the Council Tax freeze in 2017 – ten years after the SNP implemented it when it came to power for the first time. The freeze was conducted under the pretense of helping all taxpayers by providing tax relief and it has been funded by the Scottish Government, which provided the money on the condition that the local councils did not change Council Tax rates (i.e., the “freeze”). However, the initiative has been criticized – including by the SNP government’s own poverty “czar” – for disproportionately benefiting those on higher incomes and living in larger homes at the expense of funding for public services.

     Sturgeon has claimed that the move to make those in the higher property bands pay more will raise £100 million for education initiatives, whilst the end of the Council Tax freeze and giving councils the ability to vary it by 3% per year will allow them to raise another £70 million for public services.

     In addition, those who are asset-rich but cash-poor – living in higher band homes on low incomes, such as pensioners – will be entitled to an exemption, and there will be relief across all property bands – particularly families with children. The First Minister further claimed that the charges for those in all bands will still be lower than of the freeze were not in place, average rates will remain lower than those in England, and that there were no plans for revaluation of properties, which are still taxed based on valuation from 1994.

     In many ways, this seems all well and good – getting rid of the prolonged freeze to give councils more breathing room and making changes to the overall system to make it “fairer”.

     However, it amounts to an overall tinkering with the present system, which is something they had criticized doing in years past. In fact, heading into the 2007 Holyrood election, Nicola Sturgeon as deputy leader of the SNP had said: “the Council Tax is unfair and cannot be improved by tinkering around the edges.” She had made this statement following the announcement by the Scottish Tories under then-leader Annabel Goldie that if elected, they would retain the Council Tax system with a discount for pensioners.

     To be fair, the Council Tax as been criticized throughout the United Kingdom by people of all persuasions. It was cobbled together by John Major’s government following the disastrous debacle over the Community Charge (aka, Poll Tax) which provoked a campaign of nonpayment, as well as riots and helped to bring down his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher. Council Tax has not generated such feeling as the Poll Tax, but is still considered unfair and regressive in many quarters as a means of funding local government.

     However, in responding to the Conservatives’ policy on retaining the Council Tax, Nicola Sturgeon went further in her criticism by calling them “anti-Scottish” for wanting to do so. Specifically, she said: “The anti-Scottish Tories have clearly run out of ideas as this is not the first time they have announced this policy.” Her party campaigned in 2006 and 2007 on a pledge to abolish the “unfair Council Tax” in Scotland and replace it with a “fairer local income tax where over half a million pensioners pay nothing and most will pay significantly less.”

     In May 2007, the SNP won the parliamentary election and formed a government for the first time, and they instituted the Council Tax freeze as a precursor to their objective of permanently replacing it.

     Once they got to the nuts and bolts of crafting policy however, they quickly realized that a local income tax was insufficient and undesirable; insufficient – because it could not be enough to bear the weight of funding local government, and undesirable – because it would have to be set by Holyrood and thus erode local accountability.

     Given these concerns, the SNP went into the 2011 election saying it would: “consult with others to produce a fairer system based on ability to pay to replace the council tax and we will put this to the people at the next election, by which time Scotland will have more powers over income tax.” Following that election, the cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform was created during the current parliament and presented its recommendations in December – calling for the end of the Council Tax.

     In the wake of this, the SNP decided to forgo an all-out replacement of the Council Tax and instead, opted for the position of merely tweaking and reforming the current system.

     As Brian Taylor of the BBC noted, it has been a “long, slow retreat” for the SNP on this issue, and having placated the people with the nine year freeze, they now hope that this modest, moderate plan will be enough to satisfy the voters in thinking that they have kept their promise of producing “a fairer system based on ability to pay”, even if they failed to “replace the council tax.”

     Possibly the greatest irony of this climb-down from abolition is that the policy decided upon by the SNP shares much similarity with the recommendations offered by the tax commission created by the Conservatives. Tartan Tories, indeed.

     However, this may not matter for the election that occurs in two months. Indeed, one of my acquaintances on Twitter, who goes under the name “El Del” (@Del_ivered), believes that the very modesty of the proposed changes only further ensures the SNP’s reelection prospects. Specifically, he notes how the ability of councils to raise tax by 3% may actually be the SNP effectively passing on some of its ability to tax from Holyrood on to those councils, so that councils are left with the decision to raise council taxes for public services, but income taxation in Scotland stays the same as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

     This is important, because Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been advocating for increase in income taxes in Scotland in the belief that it may be attractive to some voters who believe that people – especially those of a higher income – ought to pay more for the benefit of public services. Not only does Del contend that they fell into a Nationalist trap, but they were “so hellbent on unleashing their tax missile at the SNP, they were blind to the vital bigger picture: Keeping [the] UK a level playing field and Westminster budgets relevant to Scots.”

     In this light, he further asserted that while the SNP does not “care a whit for UK cohesion”, they also did not wish to see talent drain away from Scotland to other parts of the UK due to tax differentials and that “calls for worker solidarity across the UK at the indy referendum were forgotten as [Kezia] Dugdale and [Willie] Rennie were happily prepared to make Scotland the highest-taxed part of Britain.”

     Having avoided this and for achieving a “reformed” (i.e., “tinkered”) Council Tax system, Del believes that pointing to broken promises by the SNP on abolishing and replacing it will prove to be ineffective because voters care about the here and now.

     However, pointing out this broken promise on Council Tax replacement is necessary when one realizes the circumstances of the election in 2007. To be sure, there were many things going on which help to explain why Labour lost power to the SNP that year, but this was still an election in which the SNP only beat Labour by one seat to form a minority government in Edinburgh. Given how close this election was in some individual constituencies (not to mention the irregularities and various voting/counting/ballot paper issues – possibly most infamously in Cunninghame North) and in the Scotland-wide result, it is possible that the “abolish and replace” promise was probably enough to help the SNP to power for the first time. Looking back, this election proved consequential, for it eventually led to the referendum, further constitutional upheaval, and nine years of SNP rule (with the last five years as a majority government). Without that promise, it is possible that Labour would have held on to power. At the very least, enough votes against the SNP would probably have kept it from attaining power that year, and all things being equal, prevented the madness of past nine years.

     Another issue is the fact that Sturgeon called the Conservatives “anti-Scottish” for taking the very position that that her party is now promoting: retaining the Council Tax system with some adjustments. Furthermore, during the 2011 election, senior SNP MSP Humza Yousaf tweeted that Scottish Labour was "betraying Scotland" by not lending its support for "scrapping the unfair Council Tax." Well, what does this make the SNP? As Euan McColm said recently in The Scotsman, "there's something troubling about the othering of politicians by opponents. It speaks of a pettiness that's a world away from the talk of consensus and working together that we so often hear."

     For that matter, if certain powers are not to be used because of the resulting disadvantage to Scotland (and the benefit of the rest of the UK), then what is the purpose – the need – for devolution, more powers, the recent struggle over the fiscal framework, or even separation? Indeed, this would seem to take the argument for the Union, as I explained a couple of weeks ago. Again, the SNP may not care about the unity of the UK, but they have paradoxically emerged as a UK unity party.

     Then again, it probably comes down to a simple fact: nobody likes paying taxes, and when they do pay taxes, they’d rather not pay any more. Even when they say they believe in higher taxes to fund public services in surveys and polls, so often, they vote according to their pocket books and not their political or social ideals – in other words, they usually vote according to their own economic self-interest.

     This may prove difficult to understand for people such as Lesley Riddoch, who seem to be wondering why the SNP is timid in its ambitions for local taxation. Why, they ask, is the SNP passing up an opportunity to really shake up the system of local taxation and come up with something new, innovative, and radical? The reason why is that Scotland is not as radical as she thinks or hopes, and the SNP knows this. Like most political parties, they don’t want to “scare the horses” (i.e., the middle classes, who tend to decide elections) so that they can stay in power. Indeed, some of those within Middle Scotland (a close cousin of Middle England) who benefitted from the freeze may well be shocked at having to pay more after nine years of frozen rates.

     In addition, as Brian Taylor pointed out, the SNP knows that any major change in local government taxation will be first such change since the advent of the Poll Tax, and we all know where that went.

     This brings up the important fact that there are no plans for a revaluation of properties, which means that Council Tax bills will be based on valuations from over 20 years ago – and that current property values are not accounted for and some people are effectively paying at a discounted rate. This sounds similar to what happened in the 1980’s when the Tories kept putting off what they knew would be unpopular revaluations and increases in the old domestic rates, until they couldn’t any longer (especially in Scotland) and decided to solve this problem by introducing…the Poll Tax.

     It is perhaps possible that similar conditions are being produced which will eventually force the SNP to move further on local taxation than it has thus far. For the moment however, they seem content with more-or-less adopting the position on local taxation taken by Tories in that consequential election of 2007. Who’s “anti-Scottish”, now?

Glimmer of Hope? The State of the Race for Holyrood (and Secession)

This year's election won't only decide who takes power at Holyrood, but will also likely set the trajectory of Scottish politics for perhaps another decade.   Kim Traynor  via  Wikimedia Commons   CC

This year's election won't only decide who takes power at Holyrood, but will also likely set the trajectory of Scottish politics for perhaps another decade.  Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons CC

     With the Scottish parliamentary elections only three months away, a new YouGov poll for The Times has provided some interesting findings which may provide some hope for those who support the Union and are opposed to the SNP.

     Firstly, with regard to the election itself, the SNP still leads the way voting intentions with 50% in the constituency vote and 42% in the regional list vote, which according to the Scotland Votes election calculator, translates into 69 seats – the exact same number the Nationalists won five years ago. They would still have an outright majority in a legislature supposed to be designed against such outcomes and be elected to an unprecedented third term in power.

     However, this poll is a bit different than previous polls in that it shows comparatively low numbers for the SNP. Polls back in the late summer and fall were showing them getting in excess of 50%, sometimes as high as the upper 50’s and lower 60’s – a reflection of the ascendancy of the Nationalists when they won 56 of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons in May. Even now, another recent poll by TNS shows them with 57% in the constituency vote and 52% in the regional list vote.

     Nevertheless, it may be fair to ask whether the SNP has more-or-less reached its ceiling, whether it has maxed out its support among the electorate, and has nowhere to go but down. The answer to this will have to be deferred until after future polling, and perhaps even, until the election itself takes place in order for us to know where the SNP really stands among the voters. With the current polling figures from YouGov, the party will win 69 seats – the same number they won in 2011, which may appear to be a disappointment in comparison to the net gain in seats predicted in other polls.

     Part of the reason for this is that the proportional part of Holyrood’s election system (based on the regional list vote) works against the party that does well in the constituency vote, and the SNP is projected to do really well in that area – capturing all but eight of Scotland’s 73 Holyrood constituencies according to the Scotland Votes election calculator. As a result, the calculator projects that the SNP will get only four regional list seats on 42% of the vote, which leads to the other reason the party may do no better than in 2011: minor parties.

     There may well be some pro-separation voters who will vote for the SNP in the constituency vote – knowing that the first-past-the-post system punishes smaller parties such as the Greens – but then lend their second (regional) vote those small parties in the knowledge that they will register better in terms of proportionality.  As such, the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party hold 6% and 2% respectively of the regional vote – likely at the expense of the SNP, and for their part, the Greens stand to pick up three seats for a total of five, which means that the pro-independence majority will stand at 74 seats.

     In the face of this, what is there to say about the main pro-Union parties who will have 55 seats among them if this poll were repeated on Election Day?

     For Labour, the outlook remains as dismal as it has ever been since the referendum. The party which only ten years ago had led a coalition government in Holyrood, and whose grip on some parts of Scotland was so tight that votes were said to be weighted and not counted, is sitting at 19% of the constituency vote and 20% of the regional vote, with much of their traditional voting base having voted Yes in the referendum and now voting SNP. If this result were to be replicated in May, Labour would lose all of its constituency seats, and will depend on the regional vote to give it 25 seats. In fact, Labour will take the lead in regional seats even though the SNP carries 42% of the vote, but again, the proportional system will work against constituency-heavy SNP.  

     Meanwhile, the Conservatives will have the same regional vote share, but end up with 19 seats – six less than Labour. However, the Tories do have a one point edge in the constituency vote, and this – combined with the relative collapse of Labour and the Liberal Democrats – is projected to be enough for them to win six constituency seats. Among them is Labour-held Eastwood, whose UK parliamentary equivalent was a Tory stronghold for most of the 20th Century and was once the safest Tory seat in Scotland until Jim Murphy won it in the Labour landslide of 1997.

     That election resulted in the complete wipeout of the Conservatives in Scotland in terms of seats in the Commons, and since 2001, they’ve only held one seat at Westminster and as much as 18 at Holyrood (and currently only 15), thanks to the perception of them being “toxic” during and following the years of Margaret Thatcher. But now they are poised to win 25 seats in May, and this is attributed to the leadership of Ruth Davidson, who is judged to have had a good referendum by campaigning for the Union and putting on a fresh face for the Conservatives. She is currently rated as doing well as party leader by 40% of YouGov poll respondents, as opposed to 36% who say she is doing badly.

     Among those who believe she is doing well includes 46% of Labour voters, which explains another reason for the recent Tory ascendancy in the polls: disillusioned Labour voters who are planning to vote Tory because of Labour’s shift to the left under UK party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale’s invitation to those who voted for separation but who may otherwise agree with Labour on everything else save for the constitutional question. They see this as Labour lessening its support for the Union - a point with which I respectfully disagree - and therefore see the Tories as the “only” Unionist party who will stand up against the SNP and speak for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

     Much the same can be said about the Liberal Democrats, who have been paying the price for going into coalition with Conservatives following the 2010 UK general election which resulted in a hung parliament. While Labour and the Tories battle it out for second place (and bragging right for being the official opposition), the LibDems too have, under Willie Rennie, made an invitation to Yes voters to join their party and vote for them regardless of their difference on the constitution, because like with Labour, many of their former voters voted Yes and/or for the SNP. They currently sit at 6% in the constituency vote and 5% in the regional vote, which will be enough for them to hold on to the five seats they currently have, including their only two constituency seats of Orkney and Shetland – which have been in Liberal/Liberal Democrat hands for much of the last century.

     However, these results are not set in stone, and it is possible for the three parties to at least prevent the SNP from obtaining another a majority. The reality is that the SNP has been successful in picking off voters who had traditionally vote for the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats through slippery and slick triangulation – shape-shifting when needed to appeal to certain groups of voters in certain areas. So each party needs to go forth and present itself as the SNP alternative in the parts of Scotland in which they are still strongest. For Labour, this means concentrating on the Central Belt and Lowlands regions; the Borders for the Conservatives; the Highlands and Islands for the LibDems; and the northeast for the Tories and LibDems, with Aberdeen, Dundee, and the areas surrounding them also being potential targets for Labour.

     However, it’s not just about areas, but issues as well. The ongoing row over local council funding cuts has sparked a debate on taxation and how much people should be taxed. On this Labour and the LibDems have taken the side of using Holyrood’s existing powers to raise taxes to improve public services, and according to the YouGov polling, most voters support this proposition, including a clear majority of SNP voters. Another byproduct of the local government funding debate is whether the SNP’s nine year old council tax freeze needs to be brought to an end, as the Scottish Government’s own independent advisor on poverty has recommended. In his analysis, Professor John Curtice said that the freeze “may be approaching the end of its politically useful life, as well as, perhaps, its fiscally sustainable one” as council budgets and services come under increasing pressure and jobs are at stake. 54% of voters now wish to see council tax raised in order to improve local services – effectively ending the freeze.

     This may put the SNP in an uncomfortable position as the council tax freeze has been one of its landmark policies and is very likely reluctant to campaign on raising any taxes, lest it lose the middle class and upper class voters who have been the source of its electoral strength, thanks to them disproportionately benefiting from the freeze and other policies such as free prescriptions and free university tuition. It has certainly found itself on the same side of the Tories on whether taxes should be increased, and Labour under Dugdale is certain to use this point throughout the campaign with at least some belief that the public does stand for taxes to be increased.

     Whether this will work in practice remains to be seen. As Euan McColm said in The Scotsman, the agenda of exposing the Nationalists as faux radicals – “claiming to be left-wing while acting centrist” – may “work if the voters who are keeping the SNP in power were at all interested in hearing that they’ve been conned.” The problem of course, is that some within the middle classes who decide elections and who vote SNP do not see themselves as being conned because as far as they’re concerned, it is they who have benefited pretty well from SNP policies, which have been cloaked under the guise of universalism. Despite what Brian Wilson refers to as the “unctuous self-praise about what a uniquely caring people we are, delighted to pay a little more to help the weak in our midst”, the reality in Scotland according to McColm is that “regardless of the left-wing rhetoric that we hear so often in our political debate, voters remain cautious and self-­interested” (just as they are in England), and both the SNP and Labour – more-or-less occupying the same political space save for the constitution – know this.

     However for Labour, this is about setting itself apart from the SNP as well as the Tories – perhaps in an effort to capture some of their traditional working class vote who may feel conned that the SNP stands with the Tories on not raising taxes. For their part, the Tories have made some noise about the SNP not ruling out tax increases in the future, especially when it’s expected that Holyrood will gain complete control over income tax rates and bands in 2017. On this, they will lay their hopes on picking off middle class support for the SNP. This will likely not put them into power any time soon, but like with Labour fighting for its political life, the Tories have to propose something to differentiate themselves from everyone else, including the LibDems, who under Willie Rennie have also proposed tax increases. With any luck, all three pro-Union may save themselves from losing a few seats and help prevent the SNP from attaining another majority, which is the best case scenario for them.

     However, there is one definite ray of sunshine: support for separation – at least in this poll – is slipping. The last time YouGov asked the question in October, 49% of respondent declared they would vote No and 45% supported Yes; this time, there was a 51% response for No and a 43% response for Yes. With those who said “Don’t Know” and “Would not vote” taken out, this amounts to 55% No and 45% Yes – the same proportion from the actual vote in September 2014, which according to Professor Curtice, “is actually the lowest level of support for independence recorded in any YouGov poll conducted since the referendum.”

     Looking at the internals, 91% each of those who voted Yes and No would do so again; 5% of those who voted Yes in 2014 would vote No in a second referendum, while 4% who voted No would switch their vote to Yes. Breaking down by party, 99% of Tories, 94% of Labour, 95% of LibDems, and 12% of Nationalists at last year’s general election would vote No again; for this year’s Holyrood election, this stands at 99% Tories, 90% Labour, and 8% SNP (the LibDem figures were not available).

     Seen another way, the Conservatives will win 38% of No voters, closely followed by Labour at 34%, the LibDems at 12%, and 13% among the SNP. All of this appears to indicate the support for the Union remains very strong among the three main pro-Union parties, while around 90% of SNP voters either voted, or will again vote, for independence. The only area for long-term concern is the 18-24 age group, who responded in favor of Yes by 55%-45%, while all other groups responded in favor of No.

     At any rate, the YouGov polling shows that – at least for now – a second referendum is a distant prospect, if for no other reason than because of Nicola Sturgeon's own benchmark of having consistent support for independence at 60% or more in the polls for several months before going for it again. If she does go for it before the end of this decade and loses, it will mark a serious and near-fatal setback for the Nationalist cause with back-to-back defeats. It is therefore no wonder that some in the SNP are dreaming of an EU referendum scenario in which the overall UK votes to terminate its EU membership, but Scotland votes to keep it, so they use it as an excuse to call a second referendum based on that fact the YouGov polling currently shows Scots supporting the UK’s EU membership 66%-34%. Barring that circumstance, another referendum looks to be in the offing. As McColm further notes, after the election, Sturgeon will:

"have to maintain support while conspicuously not delivering that second referendum. With the focus off the constitution, perhaps flaws in the SNP’s domestic agenda (and these flaws do exist) will start to become apparent."

     Nevertheless, the pro-Union parties need to step up their own game if they wish to definitively take a referendum off the agenda after May, which requires preventing the Nats – perhaps along with the Greens – from having a majority and at the very least, operating as a minority government and not being able to get through a referendum bill, just as they could not do from 2007-2011. Such a bill would be symbolic and non-binding as constitutional matters remain reserved at Westminster, but if it were to pass, it is difficult to see how Westminster – in the absence of formal rules regulating referendums – can stand in the way if that’s what the majority of Holyrood wants.

     So the Tories, Labour, and the LibDems need to get out and campaign hard by focusing on the issues that matter to people beyond the constitutional arguments. Promises of avoiding a repeat referendum will not gain enough votes to prevent another SNP majority, but dealing with the day-to-day issues and concerns of people (such as health, education, and policing) and offering a positive alternative has the chance of at least making just enough people to think twice before voting for the SNP. Let the SNP wallow in the constitution while for example, council budgets tighten, services are reduced, and people are thrown out of work. Each party has their own strengths, and must use them to their advantage and fight like hell if they wish to upend the consensus narrative of this election year.