U-turn if you want to

We expect our politicians to make the right decision every time. We expect them to be exemplary role models in every aspect of their private and professional lives. If we want to have a better politics in this country, we need to accept that all our politicians – whatever their party or ideological background – are human, and that sometimes humans make mistakes.

There is a significant cognitive dissonance surrounding ‘U-turns’ in politics. We see a policy we dislike, we make a big clamour about how much we dislike it, the government changes its mind on the policy, and we are outraged that the U-turn has happened. Either we didn’t dislike the original policy, we made too much of a clamour, we spoke too soon and so when the government changed its mind we realised we liked the original plans, or alternatively we like using U-turns as a stick to beat politicians with.

One of the main arguments against U-turns seems to be: ‘but they should get the policy right in the first place’. Certainly there is a case to be made for that argument, but as previously mentioned, our politicians are human, however much we try to convince ourselves they aren’t. If a politician gets something wrong, or underestimates how unpopular something will be, then the right thing to do is to admit that and U-turn. By our constant outcry every time a bad idea gets canned, you’d think we’d prefer to suffer and say, ‘I told you so,’ than have effective policy-making.

This argument also undermines one of the basic principles of politics: the idea that decisions should be made through a public and/or parliamentary debate about an issue. The whole reason we have a debate and elections, rather than just allowing faceless administrators to govern in some benevolent dictatorship, is that we want bad decisions to be overturned and mediocre decisions to be turned into good ones. If we start out with the attitude: ‘we want debate and parliament to listen to our voices, but we don’t want them to actually change their minds’, then one has to ask what the point of the debate actually is?

Politicians may well be expected to get a decision right first time, every time, but when they don’t we should respect them far more for U-turning in the face of public pressure than for carrying on regardless and inflicting poor policy upon us. A strong leader will get every decision right, a stronger one will be willing to compromise when they get things wrong.

Pragmatic policy-making, with consultation and debate, is the desired political process. It ensures that we get the best decisions, and that where decisions go against what we desire we can influence our legislators to implement better policy. Accountability requires responsiveness, if we want an accountable government, we need to stop criticising politicians for being responsive.

When a politician is strong enough to admit that they were wrong about something and change their mind, that is far more worthy of respect than any posturing show of strength in the face of criticism. We put an extraordinary amount of pressure on our politicians and expect them to be everything to everyone. In a culture of criticising everything they do, let’s be clear: if we don’t like a policy they propose, and they have the guts to U-turn on it, then we should be applauding that decision, not implying that it makes them weak.

For a truly responsive, inclusive and working democracy, we should tell our politicians: ‘U-turn if you want to’.

The NUS has Failed Students, We Deserve Better

Where the NUS belongs is at the heart of government fighting for improvements for students in areas like education, housing, public transport etc. It cannot do that job if it is shouting incoherent babble from the fringes of politics. The only time the NUS should be overtly political is as a facilitator of student campaigns. The whole point of a student movement is to be the mouthpiece of students, rather than telling them what they should think. If the NUS was an apolitical body amplifying the voices of all students, then it would be able to support the campaigns it does currently, but it would also be able to encourage those who feel marginalised within it to find their voices once more.

They claim to represent all students, they do not. They show students in the worst possible light. They are a major cause of apathy about student politics. Students on the ground don’t feel represented and, worse, know that whatever they do they cannot make a difference. So they don’t take part, they drop out of student politics, they stop listening, and the NUS continues to elect delegates who belong to the governing clique on ridiculously low turnouts.

The fact that someone elected on a ‘moderate’ platform is on record as having such a left wing position which will put her directly at odds with the Conservatives she represents is remarkable. How exactly a President with such beliefs will engage with Conservative Societies and the political campaigns that they may desire support from the student movement for is unclear. Perhaps she will follow the path of her predecessor, and not bother?

If the NUS believe that kicking out the Tories is a suitable agenda for the student movement, then they should hand back the money that Conservative-supporting students send them every year through their Unions. That’s my challenge to the NUS: if you seriously believe that you represent students with these sorts of policies, offer them the chance to prove it. If you won’t reimburse dissatisfied students, then perhaps the best way to show that you represent them would be by letting them vote directly, with a One Student, One Vote system. We all know that that is not something that you’ll do.

The time has come for a new movement. The student movement cannot be reclaimed from within the NUS – Tom Harwood’s fantastic campaign for real change securing only 35 delegates showed us that much. The systems and the structures simply prevent anyone beating the out-of-touch elite who build careers off the back of gesture politics and pointless protests. Outside the NUS though, there is a way.

Non-NUS Unions are much more capable of reform. Building a student movement that works for students is not a short-term process, but if we can show NUS universities that there is a better way outside of the NUS, then we can play an active part in facilitating a better student movement. So lets. Let’s set an example by building Unions which do not vilify you for having an opinion, but support you.

Unions should lend their resources, their expertise, and their support to student campaigns, even where those campaigns are conflicting. Most importantly, we should facilitate actual change, working pragmatically with local government and with any politicians who will listen to us to pursue an apolitical agenda that seeks to improve the outcomes for students in policy-making. If we can work in politics without being political, then we can ensure that our Unions do not alienate those who they represent, and by delivering real change we can show our members that there actually is a point to SUs.

SUs aren’t better together all of the time. The NUS is a formalised version of a set of relationships that should be much more informal. Its existence numbs the voices of individual SUs where they disagree with the overarching power structure – because it speaks for us, no one is interested in hearing us speak for ourselves. Yes, student unions should work together on important issues, but we don’t need a formal body to do that. The NUS hears the words ‘student politics’ and believes that the most important word is ‘politics’ – if they stopped playing politics and started representing students, we’d have a much better student movement.

One of the best things about university is discovering that not everyone agrees with you. That the NUS doesn’t reflect that is why it is no longer fit for purpose. One of the best things about Unions are their power to amplify the voices of their members and tackle apolitical issues on their behalf. That the NUS only tries to represent one small group of students is why it is not fit to represent all of them. The NUS is obsolete, the time has come for a new movement.

Let’s stop playing politics with students, let’s start listening to them.

The Conservatives are the Only Viable Party on June 8th

On June 8th, the country will have a choice. It will be a choice between a strong, united Conservative Party with a plan for Britain and the capacity to deliver a stable Brexit; and a Labour Party divided and led by a leader completely unfit to occupy 10 Downing Street.

The only thing that unites the Parliamentary Labour Party is their loathing of Jeremy Corbyn – they are not fit or able to govern this country. Their policies are limited and poorly thought through. Free school meals for middle and high income pupils, funded in such a way that they would have to ensure enough pupils went to private school, which combined with their opposition to grammars shows once again that Labour are not the party of opportunity, seems to be the only thing of any real note.

Not only do Labour not have any policies, but they couldn’t deliver them if they did. They are a party of ideological division, gesture politics, and personal ambitions. Corbyn isn’t strong enough to control his MPs or stand up for Britain on the world stage. He u-turned on his long-standing opposition to the EU for political gain – he shouldn’t be trusted to keep short term policy positions if he can’t even stand by his long-held beliefs. He won’t stand in the way of Scottish independence and stand up for our Union. He can’t keep a Shadow Cabinet together, let alone a government. He couldn’t even get a seat on a train, on June 8th don’t let his MPs get a seat in your area.

The Liberal Democrats won’t listen to the people. In 2010, the people trusted the Lib Dems not to raise tuition fees, they did. In 2016, the people told us they wanted to Leave the European Union, the Lib Dems didn’t listen. If you vote for them in 2017, can you really trust them to deliver what they promise? They want this election to be Remain vs Leave, stirring up the division of the last year once more – on June 8th, reject the Lib Dems’ politicking with the will of the people and don’t let them prop up an incompetent Corbyn government.

UKIP are divided and obsolete. They are a protest party without any credible political figures and an inability to keep the ones that they do have. If you want to see what a UKIP presence in Parliament would look like, look no further than their European Parliamentary group – disorganised, prone to (literal) infighting, and with a poor attendance record. A vote for UKIP on June 8th is a vote against Brexit and against a strong government. It is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

This election will define the future of our country. For a strong, stable, united United Kingdom vote for a Conservative Party who will stand up for Britain in the Brexit negotiations and who will stand up to the Scottish Nationalists in Edinburgh. It is time to put aside division, and petty politicking and come together behind the Prime Minister to deliver a solid mandate for this country’s future.

Theresa May has shown that she is able to represent Britain on the world stage. She is a proven statesperson with a solid record in government. The Conservative Party has a strong platform of policies and a record of delivering on our promises. If you wanted to find a direct contrast to Labour’s incompetence, you needn’t look much further than Theresa May’s Conservative Party.

A vote for the Conservative and Unionist Party is a vote for a strong and united United Kingdom. A vote for the Conservative Party is a vote for a proven government filled with experienced legislators who can continue to build a strong economy and a fair society. A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a party who will listen to, and work for, the people of this country at home and abroad.

Now, more than ever, we need a strong and stable government working for this country. Labour and UKIP can’t deliver, the Lib Dems won’t deliver – on June 8th let’s continue building a country that works for everyone.

Today Marks the Dawn of a New Britain

Today after many (literal) trials and tribulations, the Prime Minister fired the starting gun on Brexit. In the next two years, we will get more of a glimpse into what Brexit will look like, but here is a quick take on what Brexit should actually mean for Britain.The first (chronologically) and easiest thing for the Prime Minister to achieve in the negotiations is a guarantee that British citizens living and working in the EU27 will be allowed to remain, and that EU citizens living and working in the UK should be guaranteed the same. This is an important first step to securing peace of mind for the thousands of citizens in both areas who are deeply concerned about their right to stay in the country they now call home. Both sides seem to be committed to this principle as an early goal for negotiations, and so it should be achieved without too much strain.

Another important issue for the Prime Minister is to ensure that we created a globalist, outward-looking Britain, which matches both the desire of Leavers, and of the Remainers who support free trade and other liberal values. We should be aiming for free trade with the European Union after Brexit, but we must ensure that we are not tied down by the Customs Union. The regressive isolationism of tariffs on non-EU states has prevented Britain from harnessing the power and growth of emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, as well as inhibiting our ability to conduct trade with our traditional allies: particularly Canada, Australia and the United States.

Securing global free trade deals is an important aim of Brexit, and was something heavily pushed for by Vote Leave and mandated by the 17m people who voted for it. A global, free trading Britain is the future for this country, and becoming a beacon for trade can only bode well for our economy. Particular focus once trade restrictions with non-EU nations have been lifted should be securing deals with our traditional Commonwealth allies and other countries where there are fewer non-tariff barriers to entry, as well as ensure that the economies of tomorrow are included in any such deals.

With a globalist Britain in mind, we should also be looking to retain our cooperation on initiatives on important global issues, such as security and climate change. Britain should be a world leader in such areas and should retain its links with European nations to continue working to solve them – as was often repeated in the campaign: we are not leaving Europe, nor are we saying that we no longer wish to be friends and allies, we are simply leaving a political union. Cooperation within Europe should continue, and Britain should use the opportunity to build a new network of allies across the world to continue to tackle important issues.

Another goal of the negotiations should be an end to the automatic free movement of labour. Retaining free movement for tourism and for other leisure pursuits should be encouraged, but we must put an end to a discriminatory immigration system which weighs a person’s nationality more than a person’s personality. Our immigration system should be based on the person and not the passport that they hold, and everyone wishing to come and live in the UK should undergo the same process. If we accept that there must be some upper limit on immigration (whatever number that may be), then a system of free movement of people gives an unfair advantage to people from 27 nations over those from 169 – that is not just, not right, and not fair, and it must end.

Brexit also offers us a chance to reclaim and strengthen our democracy. It removes the impact of an unelected supranational body on our legislation, and instead it brings back important competencies to the UK’s legislative system. Increased powers for the UK Parliament should see powers that currently exist at national level fall down to regional governments, creating a system where the decisions that affect you get made by a local government that is much more convenient for you to lobby and influence, and by local representatives who can be swayed by a much smaller group of people (as they have smaller constituencies).

It may also bring an impetus for democratic reform. We have seen people examine the House of Lords with more scrutiny already during the Brexit process, and ask important questions about how much constitutional power the executive and the judiciary should have, and that sort of deliberation can only be a positive thing with regards building a representative and effective democracy.

Finally, it seems a given, but we should also use the opportunity to strengthen our Union, and not give in to those who seek to divide it. We share a common history and a common destiny. We share a common language and a common culture. This isn’t an English and Welsh Brexit, it is a red, white and blue Brexit, and it should work for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London and Cornwall.

Together, we take our first steps into a bright future.

The Scotland Question: Theresa May’s Four Options

The announcement that Nicola Sturgeon thinks a generation lasts five years was an unsurprising one, and it leaves the UK in an interesting position. With it seeming inevitable that the SNP minority government will be able to force their referendum demand through Holyrood, here’s a look at the four options that faced Theresa May yesterday at Westminster, before she ultimately decided to delay until at least 2020.

1) Don’t allow Scotland to have another referendum.

The surest way to guarantee that Scotland doesn’t vote for independence would, on the face of it, seem to be simply saying no to letting them vote. Sturgeon’s argument for a second ballot seems weak – coming 907 days after Scotland last voted, it doesn’t seem particularly justified to say that Scotland hasn’t been given the choice on independence – and the opinion polls have shown opposition to both independence and a second ballot remains stronger than support for them, meaning that the political implications behind rejecting Sturgeon’s proposal seem to have a net positive. Furthermore, it is certainly an achievable policy: three-line whipping the Conservative and Unionist Party’s MPs would produce a Westminster majority capable of vetoing the referendum.

However, the long term implications of preventing a vote could be significant. Blocking the SNP would incense nationalists and might lend some credence to their traditional ‘Westminster aren’t listening to us’ rhetoric. If the SNP become more determined and are given ammunition, then a Holyrood majority in 2021 seems likely, and by then SNP rhetoric will have had time to convince swing voters.

Verdict: Potentially not desirable, as it energises the SNP’s ranks and gives legitimacy to their arguments, but it would solidify the Union in the short term.

2) Call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold a referendum in autumn 2017.

Support for independence and for a second referendum is low, meaning that the likelihood of a referendum victory for the Union is significantly higher if we hold the ballot sooner. If Theresa May had decided to call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold the vote early it would catch the SNP off guard and wouldn’t give them the time required to convince voters around to their cause. This is particularly the case given the difficulties the SNP have had making clear what exactly an independent Scotland would look like.

Furthermore, an early referendum has some major benefits to the UK. It would reduce the effect that the threat of Scottish independence has on Brexit negotiations and a vote to remain in the Union would strength the PM’s hand immensely. Moreover, it would contain uncertainty and prevent a more significant period of uncertainty impacting on the economy between now and 2019. Lastly, a defeat to a Unionist campaign led by Ruth Davidson would increase pressure on Nicola Sturgeon and potentially topple the SNP minority government, leading to a Holyrood election between a delegitimised SNP and a resurgent Tory Party, and the potential for a much more significant hung parliament in Scotland.

Verdict: Desirable, victory seems much more likely sooner, but may impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

3) The Sturgeon option: referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

This is a terrible plan.

To elaborate slightly more, Nicola Sturgeon has played a very clever game with this particular option. Any move to hold the referendum at a different time will strength Sturgeon’s argument to an extent, as it will be seen as Westminster dictating Scottish policy, but in this case it is a much more desirable option than any other. If it is held at the end of the Brexit process then there are a whole manner of negative implications for the UK – the threat of Scottish independence if the UK gets a bad deal will significantly strengthen the EU’s hand, as it inserts an increased significance into Theresa May’s ability to threaten to walk away without a deal. The EU will know this, and if ever there was a bargaining chip that the UK cannot afford to allow the EU to hold, it is one as significant as secession.

It would also raise a further dilemma: failing to provide detailed information on the nature of the Brexit deal will increase uncertainty around Brexit and may push swing voters towards Scottish independence; on the other hand, providing detailed information would severely reduce the timeframe that the UK government has to complete a complex series of negotiations, and would involve the deal being finalised before the referendum, reducing the ability of the UK to secure a good deal.

Finally, it gives Sturgeon over a year to whip up nationalist sentiments and change the course of current polling. It provides a longer period of time for economic fluctuations to make the result more uncertain. It also increases general uncertainty and flattens markets at a time when we need uncertainty to be as minimised as possible.

Verdict: Political suicide.

4) Make Sturgeon wait for a mandate.

Agreeing to hold the referendum in 2021 would seem a logical move from the Prime Minister. Brexit negotiations will be long done by then and the UK will have borne out any uncertainty caused by it and be in a stronger position – additionally, other than option 1, this seems to be the option that would have the least impact upon the aforementioned negotiations. Furthermore, strengthened by a likely general election victory and the probability of some more Tory MPs in Scotland, it will enable the 2021 Holyrood election to be an essential referendum on the referendum – if the Scottish Tories can position themselves as the credible Unionist alternative to the SNP, then we could see a strong showing for them and a decreased mandate for holding the referendum in the first place.

The problems of leaving it until 2021 are largely ‘what if’ scenarios. If Brexit has a larger economic impact than expected, it could decrease the power of the economic pro-Union arguments. If the SNP are able to increase support for an independent Scotland (or simply get their act together), a 2021 referendum might produce a tighter result. But these are largely unpredictable – overall, it seems likely that this will be the option chosen, giving the SNP an opportunity to prove they have a mandate in a Holyrood election, and providing a solution which does not impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

Verdict: A generation seems much more likely to be 7 years long.

Overall

Options 2 and 4 seem to be the most likely to maintain the Union, while allowing Nicola Sturgeon to have her needless ideological pontification. Of the two, option 4 seems more favourable, given that it will have the least impact upon Brexit and the future that Scotland voted to be a part of in 2014. That reflects the decision the Prime Minister seems to have come to – if there is still demand for a referendum in 2020 and beyond, then it seems likely that it will be held in 2021 after the Holyrood elections. With a primary concern being the Brexit negotiations, options 2 and 3 have been ruled out so as to prevent the potential for an independence referendum to cast a shadow over the PM’s hand. Whether the PM ultimately chooses option 1 or option 4 is as yet unclear, but when making her decision this week she seems to have fallen down on the side of the latter.

Dear NUS

Dear NUS,

I’d like to start this open letter by congratulating you on successfully building an organisation out of your echo chamber. For most people, that is merely a pipe-dream, but you have successfully transformed the Twitter feed of a member of the Socialist Party into an organisation of unparalleled incompetence. Whether you are arguing for the abolition of prisons, failing to condemn ISIS, or single-handedly attempting to overthrow the government, you are certainly consistent in leaving your main legacy: a student body largely disengaged with student politics. One of the highlights of 2017 so far has been your attempts to destress our exams by providing light relief in the form of a group representing students at UK universities bickering about the relative merits of Israel-Palestine.

As a student at a Students’ Union outside of the NUS, the motives behind this letter may at first be unclear (not of course, that I expect anyone at the NUS to read it, you’re probably too busy correctly asserting that Donald Trump is not, in fact, your President), but the problem with the NUS affects all students, whether we finance your grandstanding or not.

First off, you do not represent all students. That became abundantly clear last year, when several Students’ Unions decided to depart your organisation, but has also been the case for some considerable length of time: Southampton, St Andrews and Imperial are just three examples. You also do not represent all of the students over whom you govern. Only 731 people voted in the election in which Malia Bouattia became President of the NUS – while we cannot play with turnout in the fashion so often used after general elections to invalid the mandate of the group elected, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume this isn’t a particularly high percentage of your membership, given that your own website boasts of representing over 600 Students’ Unions. Additionally, turnouts for delegate elections seem (from a scan of Google search results) to be generally low, suggesting that you do not in fact represent many students in any real sense.

This is problematic, because your pretence of a monopoly on student opinions, and the fact that due to your position as the ‘National Union of Students’ you have the most recognisable voice, mean that when people look at you, they think that all students are like that, degrading the ability of other student campaigners to lobby the public and politicians successfully.

Secondly, and following on, your very existence makes student politics a joke. There are real, genuine, important student issues to be debating and discussing. Transport, accommodation, education quality. Important issues like equality and diversity, representation of minority groups and international students are vital areas that always need to be looked at and addressed. The problem is, when an organisation that pretends to represent students is busy talking about ISIS and prison systems, that takes time away from its ability to actually represent students, and it makes student politics even more of a joke than it often is already. The truth is, while you say that you exist because no one takes student issues and student politics seriously; no one takes student issues and student politics seriously because you exist.

When students look to their Unions, they want to see them representing them. That means all students. A Union which has representatives who actively talk about overthrowing the Conservative Party does not speak for Conservative students, and breeds on university campuses a mindset in Conservative-backing students that they should keep their heads down and not express the fact that they are Conservatives. The compounding of shy conservatism may not seem like a bad thing to you, but it is – it is a bad thing because it disengages a whole generation of students from participating in student politics and encourages them to adopt a mindset of not admitting what they believe in. That is bad for them, and it is bad for you, as the voice of the Left on student campuses, because if Conservative students won’t argue with you, then you will never be able to convince them of your position because you won’t understand theirs. While your construction of a monumental safe space for your views will be welcomed by yourselves, it just means that more people will be put off politics, and that more Conservatives will drift to a place where they will constantly vote against you, but you won’t know enough about them to convince them back.

Disengagement isn’t just reserved to politically-active students who disagree with you, but it also extends to those who were disinterested in student politics in the first place. Let’s put it like this: if you aren’t interested in politics, are you more likely to become interested by watching quiet debate and discussion which you can engage with, or by watching angry protests and gesture-politics? What all of this disengagement does is weaken your voice and strengthen your echo chamber. It also weakens all of our voices, as a student body, because there are fewer of us willing and able to stand up and fight for students.

Equally, your latest hair-brained scheme is to thwart the government by boycotting the NSS. As a student at a university which will not be boycotting it, I have a natural inclination to welcome this particular policy, as the likelihood is that my university will shoot up the league tables, but this is a policy which is deeply damaging for current and future students, and shows a level of muddled reactionary thinking which is (even by your own standards) deeply misguided. If students don’t fill in the NSS, then the value of their degree programme goes down, by simple merit of decreasing its position in the rankings. Additionally, the value of the degrees done by second and first years decreases, because the NSS is used by universities to make vital improvements to the way in which courses and programmes are delivered – failing to provide that feedback means you are inflicting second year students with existing problems in degrees. Finally, you are robbing future students of an opportunity to accurately assess their university options. As a body that claims to be for students, you are acting against them in this. Not only that, but it is amusingly ironic as an action. You don’t wish for the government to increase the cost of courses, so you are boycotting the NSS and thus decreasing the value of them instead – with either policy the cost per unit of the course goes up, you just feel better if it is the latter case.

If you want to overthrow the Tories, NUS, then set up a political party. If you want to abolish prisons, or not condemn ISIS, or have schisms involving Mossad, then please do them in your own time – I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be engaging in your politics, I’m asking you not to do it in the name of all students. As a student who is not in the NUS, I ask you not to degrade my ability to make a difference.

Stick to what you do best, facilitating grassroots campaigns and providing people with cheaper stuff. Leave the politics to the students.

Lessons from 2016

2016 has been a year which has challenged the traditional political consensus. Brexit was delivered against all odds – a victory for all those who had campaigned against the undemocratic nature of the European Union, the unfair system of immigration it created whereby people from 27 countries are prioritised over people from the other 169, and the restrictions on policy choices available to British voters at the ballot box that membership of the EU brings with it. That victory, in spite of the ad hominem insults thrown at Leave voters, should teach valuable lessons on how to conduct a campaign in 2017.

The ultimate difference between the Leave campaign and the Remain campaign was twofold: the Leave campaign was positive and optimistic; and the Remain campaign offered very little by way of emotive arguments. The oft-quoted phrase that summed up the referendum (and perhaps 2016 as a whole) was Michael Gove’s quip: ‘People in this country have had enough of experts’. This is not strictly true, but what is true is that people don’t respond well to simply being told they should support a cause because they should – they want to be given an emotive reason why they should back it.

2016 has shown us the need for political campaigns to make an argument that combines emotive and logical reasoning – it isn’t enough to simply assume that people agree with your positions, you have to persuade them to agree with you. Likewise 2016 proved, once and for all, that negative campaigning is ineffective – particularly if people don’t believe what you are telling them. Merely having the support of an ‘expert’ isn’t sufficient to win you an election, and likewise fear and negativity (the weapons of choice of the Remain campaign and Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign) aren’t as impactful as a positive, optimistic message.

The election of Donald Trump also compounded the argument that governments need to do more to prove they are listening to the will of the people. While Brexit vindicates David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on EU membership, as it proves the demand for a referendum was overwhelming more accurately than any opinion poll; Donald Trump is a reflection of an American establishment that has systematically failed to respond to its voters. Barack Obama was elected as a force for change in 2008, and so it was in 2016. Moreover, Trump’s election proved that insulting supporters of your opponents is unlikely to convince them to change their minds.

What does that mean for 2017?

The reactions of many to Brexit and Trump suggests they haven’t learn the primary message of 2016: voters need to be convinced of your position through discussion and debate, however objectively correct you think you may be. Those of us who believe in the value of democracy and tolerance have to work harder than ever to defend them.

2017 will see big electoral chances for Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. Those fighting against them would do well to learn the lessons of 2016: when making the case against a populist demagogue, make it with passion, conviction and logic, and don’t insult those you are seeking to convert.

To Scotland, One Union Must Matter

Two years ago, Scotland spent months debating the merits of independence. In September 2014, they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the United Kingdom – by a margin of over 10% and 500,000 votes. One would not believe that such a debate had taken place with today’s rhetoric.

The clamour to remain in the European Union at all costs in other high Remain areas of the United Kingdom have been much more muted. Gibraltar, with a Remain vote of 94%, has committed to staying within the United Kingdom – their Chief Minister told a UN gathering: ‘There is absolutely no chance that Gibraltar is going to be bartering its British sovereignty, in exchange for…any one of the…advantages we enjoy as members of the European Union’. Northern Ireland’s First Minister has been equally assertive, committing Northern Ireland to ‘looking towards the opportunities of Brexit’. Nor has there been any notable independence movement emerge in London.

So what has changed in Scotland since 2014? Not a lot it would seem since Alex Salmond called upon ‘all Scots to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland’ – alas it would seem his successor as First Minister did not hear that particular speech.

EU membership was a key topic of the Independence Referendum. Scottish voters were convinced that a vote to Leave the United Kingdom would bring with it the loss of EU membership – that still holds true. If Scotland were to go independent, so the rhetoric goes, they would be able to remain in the European Union as a continuing state. While Nicola Sturgeon would have us believe this, the credibility of the claim is unfounded. Unfortunately for Scotland, EU member states have vetoes on new members – some SNP supporters have claimed no state would block their accession, but unfortunately they would.

Spain would veto because of Catalonia’s separatist ambitions; if they didn’t then Belgium would because of Flanders’; if they didn’t then Germany would because of Bavaria’s; if they didn’t then Italy would because of their various separatists; one could go on – the shortest way to say this is: someone would veto Scotland’s accession to the EU.

When the referendum on Scottish membership of the United Kingdom was won, a clear mandate was given that Scotland was to remain a part of the United Kingdom, come what may. Not a part of the United Kingdom where it wanted to be, but a part of the UK with the good and the bad. As Angus Robertson, SNP leader in the UK Parliament, said on the 14th October 2016, ‘Remain means Remain’.

The SNP would argue that they have a mandate for ‘IndyRef II: The IndyRef Strikes Back’ because their 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election victory was based on a manifesto including a commitment to hold another referendum if there was either a) evidence that independence was the preferred option of the Scottish people, or b) a significant and material change in circumstances. With Scottish independence polling at just 43.2% in an average of polls taken since the 23rd June – 1.5% lower than the Yes vote in 2014 and still trailing those opposed to it – one cannot see any logic in the former justification for reopening the debate. Likewise, as the United Kingdom has not yet left the European Union, there is no current justification for the latter case – we do not yet even know what Brexit will look like, and thus no significant and material change can possibly have occurred.

There is no case for Scotland to go independent, simply because of the EU referendum producing a result to Leave. Without clear evidence that the Scottish people desire independence, and without clear evidence that Brexit will harm Scotland (let us not forget that 1 million Scottish people voted to Leave the European Union), it is simply premature for the SNP to propose a second referendum now – it looks a lot more like political opportunism, then responding to the will of the people.

The case for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom is strong. We share a common language, a common history and a common island – we even have the same complaints about the weather. Scotland in the United Kingdom gets far more autonomy and far more powers than nearly any other non-independent entity in the world, without any of the costs. They get to elect representatives to their own parliament, to make their own laws; while sending representatives to Westminster to influence national laws (even in areas where Scotland would not be affected). Better still, for every 1 MP an English voter has, a Scottish voter gets 1.05.

Our nations are far more prosperous together. 64% of Scotland’s exports go to rUK, which would be heavily hit by independence. Of course, economics should not be the main reason for Scotland to stay in the UK – that reason is that there are no benefits to leaving.

Claims that Scotland must throw off Westminster for Brussels seem absurd. Claims that they should have open borders with the European Union, even if that necessitates a border between themselves and rUK, equally so. Of course, both of those conditions are based on the vaguest of assertions that Scotland would negotiate their way around the countries worried about separatism and those worried about another net beneficiary from the EU budget signing up to join the European Union.

More than the negative reasons why Scotland shouldn’t stay, are the positive reasons they should stay. Scotland and rUK have more in common than that which divides us. Weather, football, queuing – we despair over the same things. Putting aside division and working together to create a global, outward-looking Britain is what is needed. Nicola Sturgeon’s opportunistic attempts to divide us should not succeed – Scotland, we are, by far, Better Together.

Theresa May is Not Unelected

There are many conflicts inherent within modern politics: the fact that we bemoan the lack of young people in politics and yet berate young politicians as both inexperienced and careerist; our desire for more ‘normal’ people in politics but our aversion to paying a wage that would enable less affluent people to afford to enter politics; the list could go on and on. The biggest problem in the modern era, however, is that politics has become about the leaders rather than the policies, the parties, and the candidates.

Policies and representatives have become somewhat of an afterthought when deciding which party to vote for – instead, as the rise of the debates between party leaders during election campaigns attest to, we have descended into a situation where many voters are voting based on whom they want to be Prime Minister, as opposed to which MP they want to represent them and which party they want to be in government. This is, fundamentally, why people mistakenly refer to Theresa May as being ‘unelected’.

The truth is that no Prime Minister is actually elected by the public (or at least not by all of the public). David Cameron was not made Prime Minister by virtue of a ballot of the whole country, but more he was elected as an MP by the people of Witney and made PM by the fact that a majority of constituencies elected MPs of his party to Parliament. The principle of primus inter pares forms the basis of British politics – that is, that our leaders are elected by the representatives that we send to Westminster.

Theresa May was elected by a majority of her party colleagues and is therefore not an ‘unelected Prime Minister’. The only reason she may be considered unelected is if people voted for the person leading a party at the ballot box, rather than the person representing them – after all, only 58,482 people had David Cameron’s name on their ballot paper.

This cult of personality that has developed around our leaders raises interesting questions – after all, if we view electing our local representatives as a means of electing a national leader, won’t that mean that woeful MPs will not be held to account? If we prefer electing a PM to a local representative, should we introduce some sort of list based system of election? Or perhaps separate the executive from the legislature?

Either of those options wouldn’t seem to be a basis for ensuring efficient policy-making – in the former case, it makes it difficult to ensure that our representatives deliver on their promises; in the latter we could end up with the sort of deadlock we see in the American system.

Yet, do we have a problem? Aside from the rhetoric thrown out by opposition parties indicating that a Prime Minister who takes over without a General Election is unelected, the culture of modern politics could be beginning to move away from being leader-dominated. Labour voters may be forced to choose between their policies and local representatives, and their leader – the winner of that particular battle could shape how much the leader dominates the future of British politics.

As with the coalition, when cries of, ‘They have no mandate!’ filled the media, assertions that Theresa May has no mandate are in essence a misunderstanding of representative democracy. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, when one elects their MP, they then represent them using their industry and their judgement – thus it doesn’t matter who the leadership is, if you have an MP able to stand up for your interests.

In a representative democracy like Britain, Theresa May and the Parliament we elected in 2015 have a mandate to pass the laws and regulations they see fit, just as we have the right to lobby them to act in a certain way. Mrs May is not unelected, she is simply the new first among equals – a principle that always guides the steady hand of British democracy through restive waters.

Now is the Time to Empower Local Government

2016 has seen a paradigm shift in our political system. The Brexit vote will lead to significant areas of legislative control being returned to the Westminster Parliament; while the proposed boundary changes will see the number of MPs in the Commons reduced by 50, to 600. With these two events in particular in mind, is it time to implement a new democratic deal for the UK, with a further devolution of powers to local governments across Britain and Northern Ireland?

One of the main problems suffered by local politics – and the reason why its elections have consistently low turnout – is that councils are restricted by a lack of control over policy areas which affect their residents. That lack of real, significant influence over a breadth of local policy issues means that voters have a tendency to dismiss the importance of local politics – not without cause, as local government often lacks the capability to deal with their specific issues – and thus engagement with it decreases.

With a plethora of policy areas set to return to Westminster, it is time to have a shake-up of the distribution of power in the UK. Devolution as it exists is patchy and unequal – areas like Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a handful of English cities have been granted significant autonomy and legislative control (and accordingly these areas have seen higher engagement and increased turnout) – while other parts of the country have been left behind and continue to have weak local governments without the capacity to really shape their respective regions.

Local authorities and local councillors are best placed to deal with a whole range of local issues, because they generally have an in-depth knowledge of their area and what it requires. Increasing their legislative powers and introducing new areas of control into their remits will enable both effective local government and more effective policy-making across the country. Bringing power down to a more local level will also grant residents real influence over decision-making, as the people with control over policy will be members of the their community, whom they can contact more easily and efficiently.

Effective utilisation of local government legislators will also enable the UK to continue to improve representation, both inside and outside of the Westminster Parliament. If we are to see a commitment to reduce the number of MPs within Westminster, then empowering local councillors could be a good way to ensure continued representation. An ideal democratic model sees powers wielded as close to the people whom are governed by those powers as is humanly possible – with the changing political landscape in the UK at the moment, now could be an ideal time to return the decisions that affect Southampton, for example, to Southampton.

There are certainly reforms that need to be made to local government infrastructure, but the impetus to make those reforms will be driven by the provision of further powers. By taking advantage of the unique opportunity that 2016 provides us, we can create a system of government where local politics matters again. Empowering local politics is about empowering local people, and ensuring that they have a choice about how their area is governed – let’s empower local people, by having the decisions that affect their local area, made in their local area.