Filling the Hole With Water
Politics has to be better than causing problems so you can exploit them.
This is the 100th edition of this newsletter. When I started it I thought it might be of interest to a few political anoraks. I’m amazed to be sending each issue out to thousands of people and even more so that many of you have become paid subscribers to help pay for some of the new content I’m working on. Thank you to all of you - and please keep sharing so it continues to grow.
In a hundred editions of this newsletter on political strategy I’m amazed I’ve resisted lazily reaching for a scene from the West Wing to illustrate a point. It’s been a good run, but it’s about to come to an end with a reference from 20 Hours in America. In that episode, President Bartlet tells this joke in a speech:
You know the story about the guy whose car gets stuck in a muddy hole. A farmer comes along and says he'll pull the car out of the mud but he's gonna have to charge 50 bucks because this is the tenth time he's had to pull it out today. The driver says, "When do you have time to farm? At night?" The farmer says,"No, that's when I fill the hole with water."
One of the risks of governing power is that it can serve political self-interest rather than the national interest. If people being angry about something got you elected, why would you want that motivating issue to disappear? Might your party’s strategy be better served by exploiting it rather than eliminating it? Might there even be an incentive to make the supposed problem worse?
Bartlet was talking about US Republicans who claim to be against reliance on foreign oil but oppose green energy solutions because of their links to big oil - but he could have been describing Scottish nationalists on any number of issues.
Yesterday the BBC’s More or Less, a programme that debunks inaccurate political claims, dismantled the nationalist claim that Scotland has more tidal power capacity than the rest of the world combined. It’s not the first wildly exaggerated claim on renewable energy. The SNP government’s claim that we enjoyed a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind was also shown to be ridiculously inflated. And then there was the lie that all of Scotland’s electricity comes from renewable sources.
They concoct extravagant fictions about the level of Scotland’s energy resources and then accuse those of us who point out their lies of talking Scotland down.
They are filling the hole with water and hoping that we won’t notice.
Yesterday saw two other examples of this. The SNP finally brought forward revisions to the Bill on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, years after the Supreme Court found their original bill had been “drafted in terms which deliberately exceed the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.” Meanwhile, the SNP Government released their own internal report into the bottle deposit scheme which showed the policy was an utter mess long before the UK government refused an internal market exemption.
In both cases, the devolved government set out to make sure that devolution wouldn’t work and then concluded that devolution couldn’t work. It’s a tactic we can expect them to repeat.
I’ve written before criticising the ‘muscular unionism’ that sees such tactics by the SNP, not as a trap to be avoided but a fight to be relished—for example, the stupid fight over devolved Ministers working with overseas governments. Chris Deerin writes in the New Statesman that an incoming Labour government will likely decide to box clever with the SNP. He suggests structural changes too:
“improve and invest in the official channels between London and Edinburgh so that potential conflicts are caught and managed ahead of time. It might suit the SNP to take debates over what is devolved and what is reserved to the Supreme Court, but it’s no way to run a country. The system as it stands is unfit for purpose.”
This is worthwhile but both the existing framework for Scotland’s two governments together and any future revision will rely on good faith actors on both sides. So, a Labour Prime Minister and a Labour Secretary of State for Scotland need to be more than just constructive than their predecessors but they also need to be more canny. Be the reasonable grown-up in the room while also exposing the SNP as the unreasonable children that they are.
Covid Inquiry Questions
At today’s appearance before the Covid Inquiry, Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged her mistakes during the pandemic. This is very much at odds with the narrative the SNP encouraged that suggested the decision-making in Scotland was superior to that of the Johnson government. Long-term readers will remember this video comparing the approach taken by governments:
Humza Yousaf has said his government will comply with the inquiries demands for all emails and WhatsApp messages. However, after First Minister’s Questions, his spokesperson denied that Ministers discussed decision-making with advisers over WhatsApp. As a former Special Adviser to Cabinet Ministers, I can tell you this is laughable. This is worth keeping an eye on…