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Wings Over Scotland

Interview with Tom Harris MP

Posted on December 02, 2011 by

As regular readers will know, as a supporter of independence this blog fervently hopes that Tom Harris wins the contest for the leadership of Scottish Labour. Not only because Comical Tom – a fervent pro-Unionist who has already proclaimed that "I don't want Scotland to run her own affairs" – would be a massive recruiting sergeant for the Yes campaign, but also because he's simply the most entertaining.

It recently dawned on us that by joining Youth Labour for just £1, we could actually help to make such a thing happen by having a vote in the leadership election. We duly filled out the form with some enthusiasm, but were sad to realise that we lived far too far away from any of the hustings to quiz Tom directly. Until, that is, he sportingly hosted a live Q&A session on his website

Under our new guise as a Labour member (and using a pseudonym, because Tom doesn't tend to answer when we ask him things in person on Twitter, as he prefers to dodge tricky questions where possible), we joined in a few moments after the start, just as Tom opined that "As a democrat, I don't believe one nation should impose a form of government on another." Given that the people of England in practice always – through huge imbalance of numbers – impose their choice and form of government on Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland), an obvious opening presented itself.


WOS: Do you consider Scotland to be a nation?


TOM: Of course. Do you?


WOS: Absolutely. How many nations don't get to decide their own government?


TOM: Very few. Fortunately, we live in a nation (Scotland) that has chosen repeatedly to remain within the UK. That's how sensible Scots are!


WOS: It has? When was Scotland offered the opportunity to leave the UK?


TOM: At every general election ever held. Scots could have voted for the separatists at any point.


WOS: That's an odd one, Tom. In 2007 and 2011 Labour was at pains to point out that a vote for the SNP *wasn't* the same as a vote for independence. Were they lying?


TOM: Actually, as I recall, we were saying that a vote for the SNP was a vote for separatism.


WOS: So your position is that if the people of Scotland elect the SNP to government, they are in fact voting for independence? I'm sure you see where that's going…


TOM: Good grief, no! I'm saying that we told the Scottish people that a vote for the Nats was a vote for separatism. They just didn't believe us!


WOS: Sorry, Tom, I'm finding this hard to follow. Your view is that if the people want independence, they'll vote SNP. But when they actually *did* vote the SNP into power, they *weren't* voting for independence?


TOM: I agree: you're finding this hard to follow.


WOS: So help me out. How have the Scottish electorate consistently voted to stay in the Union, even when giving the SNP a landslide victory and majority?


TOM: By supporting unionist parties at every general election. Even in 2011 a majority didn't support the SNP. And a big percentage of even SNP supporters oppose separatism.


WOS: So your position is that Scottish Parliament elections are meaningless as an expression of the will of the Scottish people, and only Westminster elections count, even though the SNP can never get a majority at Westminster?


TOM: No. Next?


WOS: So if that's NOT your position, why was the Scottish electorate's landslide vote for the SNP not a vote to leave the Union? Are you saying that all votes for Unionist parties are effectively the same?


TOM: Don't know if you've read the SNP manifesto (don't blame you!) but voters knew before polling day that a vote for the SNP was not a vote for independence because the Nats promised a referendum. If someone really, really wants separation, they'll vote SNP. Most voters have got other priorities – you know, like real life and stuff.


WOS: Make your mind up, Tom. The Scottish electorate voted overwhelmingly SNP in May. So do they want separation or not?


TOM: It's true, isn't it? Those who really, really want separation and think Alex is fab voted SNP in May. They were joined by many more who don't really care or who oppose separation.


WOS: And under the terms of the election, the SNP won a convincing majority. So by your logic, that's a vote for independence. If it isn't, then no other election has been a vote for the Union. You can't have it both ways, can you?


TOM: Not a vote for independence because it was only 46 per cent -and if the SNP themselves had announced that a vote for them was the same as a vote for independence, they wouldn't have won.


WOS: 46% is irrelevant. When Unionist parties won Scottish elections they didn't get 50% either, so those weren't votes to stay in the Union. So when did Scotland ever actually vote to stay in the Union?



With Tom having slammed the door on that line of questioning, the debate moved on. Another poster asked Tom whether he was certain that 100% of non-SNP voters opposed independence, and we decided to helpfully answer.



WOS: Not all Labour members oppose independence, as I'm sure Tom will tell you.


TOM: True – only the vast, overwhelming majority. Far fewer than the number of SNP members who oppose separatism.


WOS: According to Ipsos/MORI, almost 20% of [Scottish] Labour supporters AREN'T opposed to independence.


TOM: Yippee for them. Doesn't mean they actually *support* separatism. They're probably pretty sensible – not getting obsessed with our constitutional status.


WOS: [comment pointing out that according to page 11 of the Ipsos/Mori poll, in fact 19% of Labour supporters do actively support independence, with only 1% claiming to be undecided, not published]


WOS [trying again]: The issue is that 19% of Labour members support independence. Who do we vote for as leader? Who speaks for us?


TOM: Oh dear, WOS – you have evidence that one in five Labour *members* support separatism? Hardly!


WOS: Yes, Tom, I do have evidence for that, as I already told you. Page 11 of the Ipsos/Mori poll already linked to states it clearly. The poll was conducted at the Scottish Labour Party Conference 2011, so it seems fair to assume those polled were members.


TOM: I have now attended and spoken at a very large number of Labour hustings, at which not a single person has been anything other than hostile to separatism. Labour is opposed to separatism as much as the Nats are in favour.


WOS: Hardly surprising – they'd likely be lynched. Do you think it's democratic and healthy that nobody speaks for almost a fifth of the Scottish Labour membership with regard to independence?


TOM: No, I think it's a shame that Nats have to cling to a lie that a fifth of Labour members support separatism.


WOS: A lie? Who's lying – Ipsos/Mori, or the Labour members they polled at the Scottish Labour Conference? [comment not published]


WOS: But I do agree with you that "Labour is opposed to separatism as much as the Nats are in favour", rather than your previous statement that it was "the vast, overwhelming majority. Far fewer than the number of SNP members who oppose separatism". That sort of intimidatory misrepresentation is probably why people don't speak up at hustings. [comment not published]


TOM: Signing off now – thanks for the chat!


WOS: But we don't know who you think is lying yet!


WOS: Tom? Hello?


TOM: […]


And then there was only silence. So what have we learned?


1. The Scottish people have clearly and overwhelmingly rejected independence on numerous occasions, by not voting for the SNP at general elections.


2. But when the Scottish people DO vote for the SNP at general elections, that DOESN'T count as voting FOR independence, because they've failed to understand that the SNP stand for independence. This is important.


3. The reason, in part, is that you need over 50% to vote for independence, but less than 50% to vote for the Union.


4. It's also because whether you vote for Labour, the Conservatives or the Lib Dems, you're actually voting for the Union, rather than on the basis of any other policies. (Logically, it therefore follows that the three parties should merge into one, since they stand for the same thing.)


5. So this is where we get a bit confused. Tom insists that the electorate can vote for independence any time they like, by voting SNP. If they vote for anyone but the SNP, they've voted for the Union. But when they do vote SNP he asserts that they've misunderstood what they're voting for, and still aren't voting for independence. So we're not quite sure what circumstances could ever exist under which Tom would accept that the Scottish people really had voted for independence.


Even in a referendum which dealt ONLY with the subject of independence, Tom has already laid plentiful advance groundwork to discredit the result by claiming that the vote was "rigged", dishonest or undemocratic. It does rather seem as if there's nothing the electorate could possibly do to convince Tom that they wanted independence, up to and including all five million of them turning up at his house in kilts and Jimmy hats and marching up and down outside playing "Scotland The Brave" on bagpipes.


6. A poll conducted by the respected polling organisation Ipsos/Mori at the Scottish Labour Party Conference in October 2011 apparently massively exaggerates the number of Labour members who support independence. However, we don't know if this is because the Labour members who responsed to the poll were lying, or if Ipsos/Mori are lying about what they said for some bewildering, unspecified reason.


7. The number of Labour members who support independence is either much, much smaller than the number of SNP supporters who oppose it, or it's about the same.


Tom Harris is still ranked as 5th-favourite to win the Scottish Labour leadership election, a contest which has three runners. We need to do more, and it's not too late. Join Youth Labour! Vote Harris! Vote early! Vote often!


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7 to “Interview with Tom Harris MP”

  1. rodmac

    NIceOne!!! 🙂

  2. Ross

    "Make your mind up, Tom" – Ha!

    Any chance of talking to the other leadership candidates? 

  3. RevStu

    If they do webchats, I'll certainly have a go…

  4. Jen

    Best article I have read in a while.  I roared with laughter at the mans stupidity. 
    Hail alba and free us from idiots like him. 

  5. Jona

    This guy used to be my MP.  He's your typical empty-headed drone MP.

  6. Jock MacSporran

    When the absurd contradictions in the unionists' arguments are pointed out they go in the huff and clam up. It's like five-year-olds stomping their feet because they lost at "snap". Pathetic.

  7. RevStu

    That does seem to be my experience. Even with the more reasonable activists, they very quickly clam up when you start putting the tricky questions to them. (Such as the classic “Why does Labour want Scotland to have more Tory governments than it votes for?”) Whereas I don’t think I’ve ever failed to give any of them a straight answer to anything.

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