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Could a new independence party reshape Scottish politics? – BBC News

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A series of SNP and pro-independence campaigners have suggested setting up a new party ahead of the Holyrood elections in 2021. Why are they doing this, and are they more likely to split the nationalist vote or secure a mandate for a new referendum?

What is this all about?

The SNP continues to enjoy a dominant position in Scottish politics, with polls suggesting the party will continue its electoral winning streak in 2021.

So it might seem odd to many outside the political bubble that supporters of the party – including one of its own MPs – are advocating voting for someone else at that election.

The answer lies in the Holyrood electoral system, which makes it hard for one party to win an outright majority of seats.

The “additional member system” features 73 constituency seats, elected on a traditional first past the post (FPTP) basis, and 56 “list” seats scattered across seven regions.

The system itself is complex, but in short the more constituency seats you win, the harder it is to win list seats.

To take 2016’s election as a case study, half a million people voted for Labour in constituency contests, but thanks to the all-or-nothing nature of FPTP this yielded only three MSPs. So 22% of the vote won 4% of the seats.

However, the party’s 435,000 votes on the list ballot saw them pick up a further 21 seats – meaning that overall, they got roughly a fifth of the votes in the country, and roughly a fifth of the seats at Holyrood.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the constituency contest the SNP won 46.5% of the vote, and 80% of the seats (59 of them). This meant that on the list, almost a million votes only produced four regional MSPs.

The additional member system balanced things out as it is designed to do – with just under half of the vote, the SNP got just under half the seats on offer overall.

To come to the point, some supporters of independence conclude that it would be much easier to win a Holyrood majority if there was a list-only party which could sweep up the regional seats which the SNP may struggle to reach.

What is the proposal?

The argument is that if the million people who voted SNP on the list in 2016 had backed another party, in theory they could have returned dozens of pro-independence MSPs instead of four.

If this party were to stand only on the list, they would not have any constituency seats to hold them back as far as the formulas are concerned.

The SNP could take the constituency vote, the new party would clean up on the list and the two would add up to an overwhelming mandate for indyref2 – or so the theory goes.

But what is this “new party”? A number of different vehicles have been suggested, from the “Independence for Scotland Party” to one led by Wings Over Scotland blogger Stuart Campbell – who has in turn suggested former SNP leader Alex Salmond could set up his own group.

The latest is the “Alliance for Independence” proposed by former SNP MSP Dave Thompson, which he envisions as an umbrella group uniting smaller pro-independence campaigns.

Proponents believe this would be more productive than the “both votes SNP” approach of previous years, which Mr Thompson – a 55-year veteran of the party – says “will achieve nothing”.

This approach has been endorsed by figures including sitting SNP MP Kenny Macaskill, who said: “With success on the constituency basis resulting in limited progress on the list, ‘both votes SNP’ just doesn’t work.”

What is the SNP’s position?

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a political party, the SNP is loathe to urge people to vote for anyone else.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he “can’t understand the logic” of a list-only party, citing the precedent of the SNP majority in 2011 successfully triggering a referendum.

The last thing the party’s leaders want to be is complacent. They cannot simply assume they will walk away with the lion’s share of constituency contests – indeed, taking elections for granted is a very good way to lose them.

So if the party were to lose a constituency seat, say in Glasgow, they would want to give themselves the best chance possible of picking it up again on the regional ballot by stacking up as many list votes as possible.

They will be decidedly wary about splitting the vote. One advantage the SNP have long had over their unionist opponents is that in a country divided pretty evenly down the middle on the constitutional question, they have a near monopoly over one half of the vote – while the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems have to scrap over the other half.

Another issue for them is messaging. “Vote SNP” is an easy slogan to paint on the side of a bus. “Vote SNP on one bit of paper and a pro-independence alternative of your choosing on the other” is slightly less pithy.

Is this a new idea?

The Scottish Greens would point out that they are quite a prominent pro-independence party that chiefly does well on the regional list.

But other smaller outfits have also come forward at previous elections – and failed to make any impact at all.

In 2016, RISE contested the regional lists, with a former SNP MSP on their ticket, but ultimately polled fewer votes than the Scottish Christian Party.

Solidarity – Tommy Sheridan’s breakaway from the Scottish Socialist Party – did a little better, but still only managed 0.6% of the vote and zero seats.

There is an argument that a figurehead like Alex Salmond (who, to be clear, has said nothing at all on the subject) and a platform focused solely on independence could see a new party make a bigger impact – but if the SNP actively oppose the idea, that impact could be in splitting the vote.

The pro-independence side are not alone in debating whether they should try to game the list system, incidentally – George Galloway is attempting to set up an “Alliance for Unity” that sounds a lot like a unionist version of Mr Thompson’s umbrella project.

Would it work?

This is the million-dollar question, and the hardest one to answer.

The majority of 2011 will be much cited in this debate, but it is actually something of an outlier. In that election, the SNP broke the system – they took 53% of the seats at Holyrood despite “only” winning 45.4% of the constituency vote and 44% of the regional one. This is what the system was specifically designed to prevent.

It happened essentially by fluke – the stars aligned for the party in just the right way, with the placing of the 53 constituencies won around the country somehow still allowing the party to pick up 16 list MSPs.

There isn’t really a way to strategise for that to happen again in the same way. The only way to be sure of a majority at Holyrood is to literally win a majority of the votes cast in Scotland.

That is a tall order for one party alone. The SNP’s landslide in the 2015 Westminster election saw them hit 50% of the vote, but in December they were back at 45% – a familiar figure to any Yes voter.

The paradox is that, if it had the open support of the SNP, a list-only party could provide a theoretical route to producing a larger cohort of pro-independence MSPs. But at the same time, it is difficult for the SNP to support it without risking their own position.

It would be a move fraught with complexity and danger, and Nicola Sturgeon is not exactly known as a gambler.

And when it came to the campaign, would any new party really exist harmoniously alongside the SNP, which has become an electoral juggernaut partly by dint of its unity of purpose?

Imagine Mr Salmond did end up fronting a new party – would a Salmond vs Sturgeon debate really be beneficial to the cause both politicians champion, or would it exacerbate tensions about the current first minister’s cautious approach to indyref2?

There are also wider questions over whether a pro-independence majority spread across several parties has the same impact as it does when a single party wins a thumping mandate.

After all there is currently a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, with the Greens backing the SNP – which has conspicuously failed to produce a referendum, despite MSPs voting in favour of one several times.

The debate underlines one thing – despite coronavirus continuing to dominate the agenda, Scotland is less than a year away from an election. More and more, party politics is coming out of lockdown.

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Turkey's Ambitious Greens Aim to Colour Country's Politics – Balkan Insight

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“Turkey is an ecocidal country. It struggles with ecological problems across the country,” Urbarli said. [“Ecocide] is a term created by merging the terms “ecology” and “genocide”.]

“The government continuously gives licences to mining companies which destroy nature. The North Marmara Motorway and Kanal Istanbul projects have had tremendous effects on nature. The Marmara Sea is already practically dead and the Black Sea could also die because of these projects,” Urbarli claimed.

The motorway, which will be almost 470km long when complete, is designed to connect European Turkey with the rest of the country, skirting Istanbul and relieving congestion in the city.

Meanwhile some 79 per cent of the Kaz Mountains, on the Aegean coast, which has the country’s cleanest air and is home to many endemic species, is being licenced for mining by the government, despite popular opposition.

According to Northern Forests Defence, NFD, an advocacy organisation set up to protest the forests between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, at least 3.7 million trees have been cut down to make way for the construction of the North Marmara Motorway.

More will be cut down if the Kanal Istanbul project is actualised. The proposed canal is set to be 43 kilometres long and 400 metres wide and will connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.

Its construction would involve the destruction of a natural lagoon and a reservoir, which is one of Istanbul’s largest water reserves. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the project as his “dream”.

“The government thinks nature can be spent and destroyed … forests are being destroyed, and they think that they can replace them with landscaped designs next to motorways. The ecosystem is not what they presume,” Urbarli said.

Urbarli cited Istanbul’s water problem as an example of the government’s destructive projects. “The government had been warned many times that these forests and the area for the motorway are the water reservoir of Istanbul but all objections were overruled. Now Istanbul faces a great water shortage,” Urbarli continued.

According to the Istanbul Municipality, only 24 per cent of the city’s reservoir dams are full of water and some dams near North Marmara Motorway are empty. “If this situation continues like this, Turkey will have an unprecedented ecological problem,” Urbarli warned.

The only way out from these crises is Green thinking, he says.

Turning to future political alliances, he said: “We are not currently part of any political alliances but we are talking about this with other parties.

“Whether or not we take part in the next elections, we believe Green thinking will shape these elections; a Green discourse has started to appear on other opposition parties’ agendas,” he added.

“Other parties will need Greens because of their knowledge and experience of green politics – and the Green Party needs other parties so it can enter political alliances,” he concluded.

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The pandemic was already polarizing — now vaccines have become partisan as well – CBC.ca

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It was inevitable that the federal government’s handling of COVID-19 vaccines would become political. Politics has shaped public perceptions of the pandemic’s severity since it began.

But now the vaccines themselves are becoming politically polarized, with divisions emerging between those who want them and those who don’t.

Since the spring, polls have shown consistently that one of the major factors associated with how Canadians view the pandemic is how they vote. Supporters of the Liberals and New Democrats have been more likely to report concerns about the public health risks of COVID-19, while Conservative voters have been more likely to eschew precautions and oppose restrictions.

Polling conducted by a number of firms in November — as cases across the country continued to rise — still showed signs of this split between left and right in Canada.

The latest survey by Léger for the Association of Canadian Studies suggests that only 12 per cent of Liberal voters want to ease pandemic restrictions as soon as possible — even if another wave is possible early in the new year — while 31 per cent of Conservative voters say they want governments to ease up.

The poll also found that 52 per cent of Conservative voters are very or somewhat afraid of contracting COVID-19, compared to 66 per cent of New Democratic voters and 74 per cent of Liberal supporters.

A recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) found that between 87 and 89 per cent of Canadians who voted for the Liberals, NDP or Bloc Québécois in last year’s election report regularly wearing masks indoors; 71 per cent of Canadians who voted for the Conservatives reported doing the same.

And Liberal, NDP and Bloc voters were about twice as likely as Conservative supporters to list COVID-19 as one of their top three issues of concern.

When asked how governments should prioritize their responses to the pandemic, Conservatives were about twice as likely as Liberals to tell a recent survey for Abacus Data that there has been “too little emphasis on limiting the impact on jobs, income and the economy” — and more than three times as likely to say there has been “too much emphasis on limiting the health risk.”

We’ve seen proof of these political attitudes in how Canadians voted in October’s provincial elections in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The New Democrats (the main left-of-centre party in both provinces) did significantly better among voters who cast ballots by mail — and avoided crowds by doing so — than among those who voted in person. Right-of-centre parties in both provinces did much better in the in-person voting.

The polarization of immunization

Since attention has turned to vaccines, the Conservatives in Ottawa have focused their attacks on the federal government’s plan to acquire and distribute the vaccines in this country. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has claimed that Canada will be “near the back of the line,” though vaccines are expected to start arriving in early 2021.

But this week’s Léger poll suggests a minority of Canadians share O’Toole’s concern. While the poll suggests 37 per cent of Canadians are worried Canada might not get the vaccine at the same time as the United States and the United Kingdom — where the vaccines are produced — 48 per cent said they are “not that concerned” and feel “a few months won’t make much of a difference.”

A recent Léger poll suggests Conservative voters are more likely than other Canadians to be concerned about a delay in obtaining vaccines — and less likely to want to get vaccinated as soon as possible. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

It’s hard not to see partisanship behind some of this, as the Léger poll suggests Conservative voters are the ones most likely to be concerned about delays — and the ones least likely to say they would take the first vaccine made available to the public.

This is in part because many Canadians harbour doubts about potential COVID-19 vaccines.

A recent Ipsos/Global News poll suggested that 71 per cent of Canadians feel nervous about a vaccine being created and approved so quickly. A similar share of those surveyed said they are concerned about long-term side-effects.

On average, polls conducted by Abacus, ARI and Léger suggest only 34 per cent of Canadians would get immunized as soon as possible, while 41 per cent said they would wait a little before getting the needle. Between 11 and 15 per cent of those polled said they would not get vaccinated at all.

Conservatives more likely to wait or avoid vaccination

There is certainly a level of distrust among Conservative voters specific to the Trudeau government. According to Léger, about half of Conservative voters believe that the current federal government is withholding information about vaccines. Only 15 per cent of Liberal voters feel the same way.

This trust (or lack of it) could have an impact on Canadians’ willingness to get vaccinated. In the ARI, Abacus and Léger surveys, an average of just 27 per cent of Conservative voters said they would get vaccinated as soon as possible, compared to 43 per cent of Liberals and 39 per cent of New Democrats.

Canada has already pre-purchased millions of doses of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, but the government cannot guarantee when Canadians will get them. And some caution it could be months before this country can begin the distribution process. 1:58

An average of 84 per cent of Liberal voters and 79 per cent of New Democrats said they would get vaccinated either right away or eventually, compared to 69 per cent of Conservatives. The number who said they won’t get vaccinated averaged just five per cent of the sample among Liberal supporters and nine per cent among New Democrats, but rises to 19 per cent among Conservative voters.

The potential public health risk of this polarization could be mitigated if the federal government revealed a detailed plan for the acquisition and distribution of vaccines. Statements of support for such a plan from conservative premiers — some of whom have echoed O’Toole’s attacks recently — also could help to reduce this partisan split before vaccine doses start arriving.

Will that happen? The answer might depend on how much partisanship is running through Canadians’ veins right now.

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Opinion: The Liberal stimulus plan is all about politics – The Globe and Mail

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Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland receives a fist-bump from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after unveiling her first fiscal update, in Ottawa, on Nov. 30, 2020.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Despite doubling federal spending this year to about $650-billion, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is just getting started.

In her fall fiscal update, tabled Monday, Ms. Freeland announced plans to spend an additional $70-billion to $100-billion over three years on a postpandemic stimulus program – with the details to come later. This is on top of promised investments in a national child care program – no cost estimates for that, either – and provincial demands for more health care cash.

Never has a Canadian government spent so much, so fast, or so insouciantly.

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While there is broad consensus across the political spectrum that investing in child care is the right move for both economic and social reasons, there is no agreement about whether a stimulus package would be either necessary or effective once the pandemic ends.

The promised stimulus, the details of which could be in the next federal budget, appears to be more of a political move by a minority Liberal government preparing for an election than sound policy based on the need for an injection of yet more public money in the economy.

There has, after all, been record amounts of public money doled out in recent months, much of which has ended up sitting in the savings accounts of thousands of Canadians who saw their incomes rise during the pandemic thanks to Ottawa’s largesse. Canadian businesses are also sitting on huge stockpiles of cash, waiting until the pandemic passes to invest it.

“Redeployment of that cash will have a notable impact on the future trajectory of consumer spending and the economy as a whole,” CIBC economists Benjamin Tal and Katherine Judge said in a Nov. 17 report that pegged the “excess cash” held by Canadians at $170-billion.

Rolling out stimulus spending at the same time consumers and businesses are reopening their wallets would serve no useful economic purpose. It will only add to a ballooning federal debt.

Ottawa will still need to come to the aid of individuals and businesses hardest hit by the pandemic for months to come. But it must begin to do so in a more targeted fashion than it has until now. The pandemic will permanently change the configuration of Canada’s economy and propping up businesses unable to adapt to this change could damage the recovery.

In her fiscal update, Ms. Freeland pointed to recent calls by the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for governments to “maintain substantial fiscal support through the crisis and recovery phase, where they have space to do so, including by directly stimulating demand through public investment as a complement to transfer programs aimed at supporting household income.”

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Those urgings of the IMF and OECD were not aimed primarily at Canada, which takes the crown when it comes to pandemic-related income supports and other aid measures.

The OECD, for instance, last month found that real household income per capita surged 11 per cent in Canada during the second quarter of 2020. Household income dropped in almost every other developed country outside the United States, plummeting 7.2 per cent in Italy, 3.4 per cent in Britain and 2.3 per cent in France.

For its part, the IMF has reported the combined deficits of Canada’s federal and provincial governments will exceed 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product in the 2020-21 fiscal year. The average for eurozone countries is 10.7 per cent. Against this backdrop, the need for additional stimulus here is debatable.

“As economies tentatively reopen, but uncertainty about the course of the pandemic remains, governments should ensure that fiscal support is not withdrawn too rapidly,” the IMF said in a blog post accompanying its October Fiscal Monitor report. “However, it should become more selective and avoid standing in the way of necessary sectoral reallocations as activity resumes”

Public investments in infrastructure should be evaluated based on their long-term economic merits, such as productivity-enhancing and decarbonization measures. Projects that are “shovel ready” often turn out to be a waste of public money.

That was the case after the 2008-09 recession, when the Conservative government of Stephen Harper introduced a $47-billion stimulus program that fell short of its stated goals. Politically motived pet projects got funded, to be sure. But a 2010 Fraser Institute review of the program found that “government spending on infrastructure had little to no effect on Canada’s economic growth during the recovery. Instead, the data demonstrated that private-sector investment and increased net exports were the drivers of economic recovery.”

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That conclusion is now being hotly contested by none other than Ms. Freeland and the federal Liberals, who are planning a stimulus program twice the size of the Harper plan.

What could go wrong?

Even based on the most “optimistic” scenario outlined in Ms. Freeland’s fiscal update, federal spending will approach almost 30 per cent of GDP, far surpassing its previous peak of 24.9 per cent in 1982-83, based on fiscal tables going back to 1966. The best-case scenario sees federal spending falling back below 20 per cent next year, and to about 16 per cent (including interest costs) by 2024-25. The fiscal update provided no information about how this will be achieved.

Instead of dreaming up plans to spend more, Ms. Freeland needs to tell Canadians when and how she intends to spend less. Because that day is coming, whether she admits now it or not.

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