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Thoughts on the Scottish Independence Referendum I: Electoral Ramifications

[ 77 ] September 16, 2014 |

On Thursday, the Scots go to the polls to decide whether or not Scotland will leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country. This issue has been dominating British politics for the past few weeks, especially following the unexpected and rather dramatic tightening of the polls, following months of a seemingly unassailable No lead. This post briefly examines the future electoral ramifications for the remaining United Kingdom should Scotland vote for independence (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland).  I’m also writing a follow-on post that considers what we should expect on Thursday, the constitutional ramifications of both a Yes and No outcome, as well as the political and international ramifications of Scottish independence.

First, the eligible electorate is an interesting question, with the primary criterion being residence in Scotland.  Any British citizen resident in Scotland can vote, as well as residents of Commonwealth countries (with “indefinite leave to remain” in the UK, which is the British version of the green card), EU citizens resident in Scotland, and a few others. As a student of turnout, the voting age has been lowered to 16 for the referendum, which is intriguing. However, while a French (or German, or Polish, or Lithuanian, or Jamaican, or Canadian) citizen resident in Scotland is eligible to vote in the referendum and help determine whether or not Scotland becomes an independent country, Scots living in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, or New Zealand can not.

For the rest of Britain, an independence vote has the potential for a significant electoral ramification. For the past two years, aggregate polling has suggested that the Westminster election in May 2015 will result in a clear Labour majority. Today, assuming a uniform swing (which isn’t a safe assumption), Labour stands to enjoy an outright 44 seat majority, based on polling numbers of 32% Conservative, 36% Labour, 8% Liberal Democrat, 15% UKIP, and 5% Green. Note, the swingometer UK Polling Report uses is crude, and lumps in the UKIP support with “others” (including the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens, Respect, et al.) hence might underestimate UKIP’s seat share resulting from the election. Furthermore, I suspect that the resulting majority will be smaller than 44 seats, more along the lines of 20-30 (which is where it has been estimated for most of 2014). Nevertheless, those numbers are available, so let’s use them: out of 650 MPs, the Tories would win 256, Labour 347, LibDems 21, Others, 8, and Northern Ireland distribute their 18 seats across four or five parties.  Eliminating Scotland’s 59 MPs, and extrapolating using the 2010 seat distribution north of the border, a resulting House of Commons would have 255 Tories, 306 Labour, with 10, 2, and 18 remaining for the other three categories. Given a majority in a 591 seat Commons would require 296 MPs, Labour would still retain a thin, yet outright, majority.

Since 1974, Scotland has only marginally swung an election three times, but the feeling amongst Labour Party members is that independence would be a significant impediment to a working majority following the 2015 election.  The table blow lists the Labour governing majority (if one existed), the seats in Scotland and their percentage of the House of Commons, the number of Scottish seats that went Labour and the number that went Conservative.  The only elections where eliminating the Scottish seats would have changed the outcome were both 1974 elections, and  2010. In the first 1974 election, the Labour government that formed was a minority government (indeed, while the Conservatives “won” the popular vote, they had four seats more than the Conservatives. Take away Scotland’s 71 seats, of which 40 were Labour, the Conservatives end up not with an outright majority (only seven seats short) but with 15 more seats than Labour. Encouraged by strong polling numbers later in 1974, the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, called a snap election, which resulted in an outright Labour majority of three entire seats. Again, remove Scotland from the equation, Labour have 278 seats to the Conservative’s 261, which would have resulted in a minority Labour government. Finally, the results of the 2010 election, minus Scotland, would have resulted in an outright Conservative majority: the Tories only lose the one seat, while Labour loses 41 and the Liberal Democrats 11, resulting in 306 Tories, 217 Labour, and 46 LibDems. This would have saved both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats the ignominy of serving together in a coalition.


Election Labour Maj. Scotland Seats / PCT Labour Scot Tory Scot
2010 -39** 59 / 9.1% 41 1 (+11 LD)
2005 67 59 / 9.1% 41 1
2001 167 59 / 9.1% 56 1
1997 179 72 / 10.9% 56 0
1992 -21 72 / 11.1% 49 11
1987 -102 72 / 11.1% 50 10
1983 -144 72 / 11.1% 41 21
1979 -44 72 / 11.1% 44 22
1974oct 3 71 / 11.3% 41 16
1974feb -17* 71 / 11.3% 40 21

 

While Scottish influence on Westminster elections since 1974 have been marginal (February 1974 would have resulted in a minority Tory rather than minority Labour government, October 1974 results in a minority rather than slim majority Labour government, and 2010 becomes an outright Conservative rather than Con-Lib coalition government) Labour are justifiably concerned. Losing Scotland and the safe 40-odd seats there comprises roughly 13% of the MPs that Labour require to form a majority in the Commons. That’s roughly equivalent to the blow the Republican Party would face should Texas finally secede from the Union: the 38 Electoral College votes that Texas faithfully delivers to the GOP represents 14% of the 270 that they need for a presidential victory.

Eliminating Scotland from the future House of Commons electoral calculous might result in a marginal effect on the size and stability of any resulting Labour government. Should Labour only win 2015 with a 20 seat majority, once the elected Scottish MPs become unemployed and pack their bags to go live in their newly independent country, the extant Labour government becomes based on a fragile minority which can’t be expected to long survive a vote of confidence.

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I Wish!

[ 31 ] September 16, 2014 |

Keri:

There are a million moments that shape a team’s season. Given all of the pitches that miss by an inch, grounders that take a bad hop, and long drives that curve just foul, harping on one particular play might seem unfair. Still, there’s no sugarcoating what happened Sunday afternoon, when Ned Yost quite possibly pissed away the Royals’ season.

I wish he had.  But let us be frank: after tonight the Mariners ain’t making the playoffs.  Congrats Kansas City on breaking the drought.  And let us also be clear that when a team is for some reason is running the ridiculous Kendrys Morales out every day at DH during a pennant race — because who doesn’t need a DH who hits .218 without much power who would swing if the pitcher threw the ball into centerfield — it pretty much deserves what it gets.   Jose Vidro, come back, all is forgiven.

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The NFL’s Principles Strike Again

[ 176 ] September 15, 2014 |

The Minnesota Vikings received some praise for deactivating Adrian Peterson on Sunday for betting the hell out of his son.

Then the Vikings discovered that they have no rushing attack without him. The Patriots easily disposed of Minnesota.

So even though if anything Peterson’s actions look worse now than they did late last week, the Vikings have reinstated him for this Sunday’s game. The justification for this is, uh, weak.

It has nothing to do with him as a football player. It has to do purely with the facts that we have, that have been presented to us.

The first sentence is bunk. The second sentence is correct because the facts that have been presented to the Vikings is that they are bad without their best player.

….Also, Jim Harbaugh is a giant hypocrite.

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Hack of the Day

[ 5 ] September 15, 2014 |

Stuart Taylor Jr. 

Some bonus hackery from the archives. 

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The Cultural Turn

[ 86 ] September 15, 2014 |

Interesting article on how Democrats are now using cultural issues to hammer Republicans in much the same way Republicans did effectively until very recently against Democrats.

In Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado, important swing states, Democratic senators contending with a sour climate for their party have used debates to hammer their Republican opponents on issues related to contraception and women’s rights. Those efforts may carry them only so far in a year when Republicans have more paths to winning control of the Senate than Democrats have to keeping it.

Republicans’ attempts to parry attacks also reveal how the ground has shifted. Their challengers in the three states have fought back with proposals to sell birth control pills over the counter, a pivot that not long ago might have enraged religious conservatives who were concerned about enabling promiscuity. But there is little indication of that now, nor any broader sign that the right is being motivated by Democrats’ push on social issues.

“We cannot assume that we still live in Mayberry,” said Russell D. Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Clearly American culture has changed a great deal.”

Just as striking is what is barely being discussed: same-sex marriage. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, a Republican, simply changed the subject to the economy when he was pressed about a federal judge’s decision striking down his state’s ban on same-sex unions.

Now Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, who succeeded Mr. Allard in 2009, is running a campaign courting female voters by emphasizing the culture wars. Along with an array of outside liberal groups, Mr. Udall has pounded his Republican challenger, Representative Cory Gardner, on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.

When he had the opportunity to ask a question at the first Senate debate last weekend, there was little doubt about what Mr. Udall would raise.

“When it comes to a woman’s reproductive rights and women’s health, how can women and families trust you?” the senator asked.

Mr. Gardner countered by airing a commercial featuring him speaking to a group of women in which he vowed “cheaper and easier” access to birth control pills.

Mr. Udall narrowly leads Mr. Gardner in polls, and Colorado Republicans say that if Mr. Udall’s cultural assault is successful, it will represent an ominous sign about their party’s ability to win statewide.

“If he can’t win this in this environment and against this incumbent, I shudder to think when we are going to be able to win one,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican chairman. “This election, in many ways, is going to determine whether Colorado has really shifted blue.”

Turns out that taking crazy extremist positions may not be sustainable for long-term political viability. Who knew. And really, if Republicans start losing Colorado consistently, which is quite likely, their political base has really eroded. The only states we can argue are maybe becoming more Republican at this point are the Great Lakes states, but the prediction of them turning to the Republicans permanently is going on 35 years old now. This is why Republicans are so desperate to stop minorities and college students from voting. The only way they can win is to reduce the electorate.

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Scotchtoberfest Revisited

[ 71 ] September 15, 2014 |

Gotta love this:

I particularly enjoy it because I’ve always found the following exchange evocative of the kind of baroque post-nationalism that the Scottish referendum represents:

Groundskeeper Willie: Now the kilt was only for day-to-day wear. In battle, we donned a full-length ballgown covered in sequins. The idea was to blind your opponent with luxury. [Bart ties a set of balloon to his kilt, making it fly off with them and show his buttocks, which makes everyone gasp.] Aah, ’tis no more than what God gave me, you puritan pukes.

Principal Skinner: Congratulations, Simpson. You just fell for our sting and won yourself three months detention. There’s no such thing as Scotchtoberfest.

Groundskeeper Willie: There’s not? Ya used me, Skinner! Ya used me!

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Airpower Over Vietnam?

[ 18 ] September 15, 2014 |

For the National Interest this week, a brief reappraisal of the promise and failure of airpower in Vietnam:

Effectively, the Obama administration has decided to rely on airpower in its efforts to limit the catastrophic, ongoing chaos caused by the Iraq War. Thinking about the operation against ISIS in these terms almost inevitably evokes similar thoughts about previous catastrophic wars. For example, could airpower have won the Vietnam War, or at least limited the extent of our defeat?

Certainly, lots of people believed so at the time. While the United States Air Force may have viewed the Rolling Thunder campaign as sub-optimal, given its desire to attack a much wider range of targets, the commanders at the time viewed it as an opportunity to show that the service could win a war on its own. Taking a look at the strategic, tactical, and joint aspects of the use of airpower in Vietnam, we can get to an answer of “Maybe, but…” with an emphasis on the “but.” The United States could have used airpower more effectively in Vietnam than it did, but even the most efficient plans likely could not have saved the Saigon regime.

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Since the Beginning of Time, Republicans Have Yearned To Massively Expand Medicaid

[ 95 ] September 15, 2014 |

Thomas Frank’s lastest profit-taking Salon column begins with the germ of an interesting argument about the problem of over-reliance on experts.  Alas, from there it follows the typical path straight down Pundit’s Fallacy Gulf. Along the way, he makes the usual historical and empirical errors your really don’t need to be a fancy-pants political scientist to identify:

In 2010, the two parties repeated the act, with D’s embracing the extremely unpopular Republican bailout strategy (and a more modestly unpopular Republican healthcare program) and R’s pretending to be some kind of ’30s-style protest movement waving signs in the street.

Omitted: any national Republicans or state-level Republicans not governing alongside massive Democratic supermajorities who supported a massive expansion of Medicaid accompanied by a much more tightly regulated private insurance industry. I also note the implicit argument that the original Medicaid, which left large numbers of poor people ineligible, was “real” liberalism while the ACA’s version, making a significantly superior program available to everyone within 138% of the federal poverty line, was not. Nor do I think there’s anything particularly progressive about letting the entire financial system collapse in 2008. At any rate, the idea that the Democratic Congress in 2009 and 2010 was focused on enacting a “Republican” agenda is simply absurd.

This particular howler is the culmination of the anti-history we’re familiar with:

This approach has had a number of successes. But its limitations are far more striking. I offer, as Exhibit A, last Sunday’s big Upshot piece in the New York Times, “Why Democrats Can’t Win the House” by Nate Cohn, another journalist known for his data-shuffling skills. Cohn asks why Democrats, who are the majority party, have so little chance of re-taking the House of Representatives from the Republicans this fall, despite the Republicans’ extreme misbehavior over the last few years. It’s a good question, and Cohn downplays the usual answer, that it’s all because of partisan gerrymandering. Instead, he points to the concentration of Democratic voters in a small number of urban Congressional districts, which has the effect of leaving the remaining House seats of a given state to the GOP.

Even so, these House Republicans are really, truly awful. Isn’t there a way for Democrats to beat them regardless of the geographic hurdles? According to Cohn, not really. Either Democrats have to appeal to lost voters (like “the conservative Democrats of the South and Appalachia”) by moving rightward, or they will have to “wait for demographic and generational change” to win the seats for them. And maybe that makes sense, given the assumptions of the lame school of political science that D.C. types always gravitate to—the kind in which there are but two poles in political life and politicians of the left party can only win if they move rightward.

It is this kind of strikingly unoriginal thinking, which I am sure is shared by the blue team’s high command, that explains why the Democratic Party looks to be headed for another disaster this fall.

Allow me to drop a single, disturbing data point on this march of science. You might recall that Democrats controlled the House of Representatives from the early 1930s until 1994 with only two brief Republican interludes. What ended all that was not an ill-advised swerve to the left, butthe opposite: A long succession of moves toward what is called the “center,” culminating in the administration of New Democrat Bill Clinton, who (among other things) signed the Republicans’ NAFTA treaty into law. Taking economic matters off the table was thought to be the path of wisdom among expert-worshipping Washingtonians, but it had the unforeseen consequence of making culture that much more important for a large part of the population. Democrats were eventually swamped by all the crazy grievance campaigns of the right, which has splashed back and forth in the mud of the culture wars ever since.

First of all, while it’s true that Democrats nominally controlled Congress for most of the period between 1932 and 1976, the implicit argument that it did so through a an uncompromising commitment to economic liberalism is deeply wrong. For most of this period, Congress was in fact controlled by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. And even during the New Deal, conservative Democrats exerted substantial influence over legislation. (What Democrats had to “offer” the South was plenty of racial discrimination within the new federal welfare state.)  The brief heyday of the Great Society, admittedly, was not similarly compromised, with the result that conservative Southern Democrats permanently exited the party coalition. Frank is obviously getting cause and effect backwards. It is true that the Democrats during the 1990s overcompensated, which is why the Democratic Congress of 2009-2010 was substantially more progressive than its Clinton-era predecessor, something you can get around only if you erroneously label longstanding Democratic priorities as “Republican” despite the total absence of previous or contemporaneous Republican support.

The key point here is that the obvious structural limitation that Cohn is discussing here — the fact that both houses of Congress overrepresent conservative, rural areas — was not absent during the New Deal era. The Democrats were able to control Congress for most of this period, but did so only by having a caucus loaded with members who make Ben Nelson look like Barbara Lee. The idea that these state can be won back by running economic liberals is pining for a past that never existed.  Thinking about this period should also remind us that Frank is very wrong to think that the “crazy grievance campaigns of the right” only became relevant in the mid-1990s (and also wrong, of course, to trivialize civil rights issues, or imply that they’re somehow distinct from economic issues.)

impeachearlwarren3

Above: What Happened When Bill Clinton Took Economics Off the Table 

The structural problem Cohn identifies is a longstanding feature of American politics. There has never been a time in which the Democratic coalition consisted entirely of robust economic liberals. Frank offers, again and again, “solutions” that just wish the problem away. Not only could the Democrats retake the House of Representative in 2014 merely by changing ideological positioning, but miraculously enough “agreeing with Thomas Frank about everything” is in every context a political winner. Again, you don’t have to be any kind of expert to see that this is just isn’t hard-headed political analysis; it’s daydream believing.

…Chait has more.   As does Bernstein.  

…and a slightly more positive Kilgore.

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On Quirk

[ 37 ] September 15, 2014 |

I have a bizarre obsession with the movie “Gentleman Broncos,” because I see it as the ultimate example of wasted potential. The premise–sad, fatherless boy writes good (?) cathartic sci-fi story only to have it stolen by successful sci-fi writer in a creative slump (as played by Jemaine Clement!!!)–sounded so delicious and ripe for comedy to me, I was positively giddy about seeing it. The movie is actually pretty terrible. It didn’t have to be; it was ruined with QUIRK.

Quirk is tricky, but I’d say that if there were one rule regarding quirk, it’s this: Quirk must seem organic. Quirk has to seem like it just appeared of its volition. It can’t be movie icing.–it can’t be something you just slather all over your movie to make it more interesting.

The reason “Gentleman Broncos” didn’t work for me is because I felt like the director was so focused on making the film quirky and weird he got in the way of the story. In fact, the story itself always felt secondary to me.  Actually, it felt buried under layers and layers of awkward weirdness. It looks like it’s 1985 for some reason and the mother has a “talent” for making hideously ugly nightgowns. The small-town auteur is over-the-top freaky in a really mannered way. It’s like the Jared Hess ingested “Napoleon Dynamite,” vomited it up then boiled it down to make a concentrated movie syrup and served it up to us. It’s not good eats.

I think quirk is tricky because it can make a detour into awkward weirdness or saccharine cuteness really quickly. But it can be employed to good use, too: think of the Charlie Kaufman-written gems “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich.” They’re both weird as hell yet incredibly accessible and  better than they have any right to be. I seriously don’t know how “Being John Malkovich” ended up being as organically bizarre and hilarious as it was. But that is QUIRK DONE RIGHT. 

Wes Anderson mostly does quirk really well, too; sweet, artful quirk is just part of his aesthetic.

I just think quirk is a thing best used sparingly unless its in the hands of the truly gifted.

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“Looking Out For No. 1″ Is A Kind of Ethics

[ 234 ] September 14, 2014 |

I’m happy to mostly outsource my response to Bryan Lowder’s trolling to Madeline Davies. I will only add that the increasingly shabby treatment of non-premium customers by airlines is beside the point. The idea that people should sacrifice comfort so they can be better objects for Bryan Lowder’s aesthetic contemplation while engaging in a form of travel that is never going to be comfortable is just deeply stupid and offensive on its face. (And we’re not talking here about choices that tangibly affect someone else’s comfort — saying people should shower and avoid powerful food odors is a different issue.) Nor is self-interest an issue; I generally wear a button-down shirt and slacks while on planes and never wear sweat pants unless I’m exercising. Nonetheless, you’re a decent human being if you want to wear sweatpants while flying, while pissing and moaning that the “swamp of schlumps” aren’t wearing sports jackets during their periods of encasement in flying sardine tins nowadays is something less than decent.

I hadn’t planned to bother pointing out the obvious, though, until someone on the Facebook pointed out this contrarian comedy classic from Lowder’s archives:

He was talking about the stock. Vegetarians were at that moment speeding up the express subway track toward our home, and, despite my efforts to craft a menu that would appease them, I had just failed by using chicken stock in the mushroom risotto … or had I?

I flashed my chilliest Stepford smile at him as I gently stirred the liquid into the hissing pot. “You won’t say a word, will you, sweetie?”

I should probably apologize for this supposedly egregious violation, but for some reason, the words choke in my throat. For starters, the addition of my carefully crafted homemade stock to the risotto was not malicious. In my daily cooking, the ingredient is as basic as kosher salt and freshly ground pepper; I reach for a half-cup of it to thin a sauce or enrich weeknight rice just as I would somnambulistically reach for the AC remote in the middle of a steamy August night. In other words, it was an accident.

But the more I meditate on this issue, the more I think that it is not I who should feel guilty, even for an honest mistake. After all, one version of a saying by none other than famed gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin tells us that “stock to a cook is like voice to a singer.” Can you really justify taking away my voice? When I have vegetarians over for dinner, I’m already making a sacrifice by forgoing a real entrée in favor of a meatless one. Fairness and common sense would argue that, in return, vegetarians shouldn’t make a big deal about some small amount of a near-invisible (if crucial!) liquid. I’ve compromised my culinary integrity enough already—now it’s your turn: Vegetarians and vegans, chicken stock does not count as meat.

Look, part of being a good host is that you should accommodate the dietary and ethical concerns of your guests. If your guests don’t eat animal products, don’t serve animal products. You can make a perfectly good risotto with homemade vegetable stock, or if you can’t make a decent vegetable stock you can serve one of the countless good vegetarian dishes that don’t use it. Your guests shouldn’t be required to compromise their principles because you lack imagination. And if you want to pretend there’s some principle involved in never cooking without chicken stock, don’t lie to your guests about it. I mean, really.

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If ladies burped, farted, or told raunchy jokes, I could see them serving in the infantry. But…

[ 138 ] September 14, 2014 |

Lioness training in Iraq via United States Marine Corps

Of course women aren’t fit to serve in the infantry. Men are pigs who will sexually assault and harass them at the drop of a beret.

[This post is brought to you by a pair of your old friends.]

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Today in Post-Racial America

[ 53 ] September 14, 2014 |

Obviously if a black woman is kissing a white man, she’s a prostitute. There can be no other possible explanation for such deviant behavior. Handcuff her!

And this sort of behavior is directly connected to the institutionalized violence the police commit against African-Americans, in Ferguson and everywhere else. They see black people as criminals and so even the most basic human activities are reason for arrest, intimidation, and violence.

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