Enfranchise expatriate Scots!

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications and is Author of ‘Lobbying: The Art of Political Persuasion’. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn 

If Swedes, Spaniards and Singaporeans are to be offered a vote in a future referendum on Scottish independence, why aren’t expatriate Scots?  

The failure of the SNP to achieve a majority in last month’s Holyrood elections has not stopped them from demanding a second independence referendum. Despite the Westminster government’s insistence that it would not accede to this demand any time soon, few doubt that there will be a second referendum at some stage in the not-too-distant future.  

Under the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998, constitutional issues are reserved to the Westminster Parliament. The Cameron administration allowed the SNP Scottish government to dictate the terms of the 2014 referendum. They had three tactics. First, the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent nation’ was designed to produce the answer ‘Yes’. Second, 16- and 17-year-olds – who were reckoned to be strongly in favour of independence – were given the vote. Third, European Union nationals resident in Scotland were also enfranchised.  

Next time around the Westminster government must ensure that the odds aren’t  artificially stacked against the preservation of the Union. For a start, the question should be ‘Should Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom?’ More importantly, the Westminster government should ensure that the Scottish government is not able to rig the franchise in favour of independence.  

Now that 16- and 17-years-olds have the vote in Scotland, it wouldn’t be practical (or fair) to take it away from them. However, the SNP government’s plans to give votes to any foreign nationals who happen to be resident in Scotland at the time of the referendum needs to be looked at very carefully. This bloc of voters could include people who are only there for a short time and for a very defined reason – such as overseas students or employees of multi-national companies posted to Scotland for a fixed period.  

If foreign nationals are to be allowed to vote in any future independence referendum, then surely Scots-born expatriates living in the rest of the UK – or overseas – should also be allowed to vote? Many expatriate Scots maintain close ties with friends and relatives in the land of their birth. Some Scottish members of the armed services are based in the rest of the UK or overseas but will ultimately return to Scotland. Some expat Scots have properties and other investments in Scotland, and intend to retire to Scotland. To disenfranchise these people is patently unjust.  

There is also the matter of fiscal engagement. Many expatriate Britons working abroad still pay taxes in the UK. All expatriate Scots working in England, Wales or Northern Ireland will be liable to pay UK taxes. And UK taxes have, since 1978, subsidised the Scottish economy, and the comparatively generous Scottish welfare system, through the Barnett Formula – to the tune of £1,630 per head per year.  

Therefore, to deprive those individuals who have paid UK taxes to sustain the redistribution of money north of the border of a vote in any future referendum wouldn’t stand. Whatever happened to ‘no taxation without representation’?  

I’m working with the campaign platform Democracy 3.0, which has kindly commissioned polling to help understand the opinion landscape around this important issue. Significantly, and despite the near total absence of any debate around the Scottish expatriate issue, nearly half those polled (45 per cent) supported our inclusive approach, while one in three (33 per cent) opposed it. SNP voters particularly appreciate the importance of giving Scots outside Scotland a say, with almost six in ten, 59 per cent, saying they would support it.  

If you would like to support this campaign and sign the petition, click here.  

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

What happens next: The battle for Britain

GUEST POST: Katie Frank is a Consultant at Portland Communications. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

We have been living through a constitutional cold war, with a political stalemate between Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon over an independence referendum.

But as Bute House and Downing Street wait on tenterhooks for the results of the Scottish Parliament election, attention now turns to the key question of the election: will there be a mandate for a second independence referendum in Scotland?

The stakes could not be higher. For Boris Johnson, the battle for Britain as a Union of nations still hangs in the balance. For Nicola Sturgeon, this is an unmissable – perhaps her last – opportunity to be the First Minister to lead Scotland to a referendum, and independence.

Two Prime Ministers have refused to hold a referendum in the past seven years. First Theresa May and then Boris Johnson batted back any proposals for a second independence referendum.

But this election could change the political dynamic.

While an SNP majority government in Scotland, or a significant vote for pro-independence parties in this election, is not synonymous with support for a second referendum, it would make the case against holding a second referendum increasingly more difficult for the Unionists to make.

Since 2014, polling shows support for independence steady – even increasing in the last year. Something the Nationalists will seek to capitalise on is a majority in this election which will be seen as a mandate for a referendum. They view this moment as an unmissable – almost ‘now or never’ moment – to pursue independence.

For Unionists, they know they need to deny the Nationalists a majority. They also know they need to play for time – staving off a referendum until a rear-guard action can be mounted to counter the pro-independence surge in public opinion.

Boris Johnson must be both bold and cautious.

He must be cautious on a referendum – standing his ground without martyring the Nationalist cause and avoid prompting them to pursue the issue through the courts or a consultative ‘wildcat’ referendum that could cause significant political headaches. A difficult tightrope to walk.

He must be bold on reinvigorating the case for the Union and taking the fight to the SNP. The Nationalists may be setting this up as a question of democracy – who gets to decide Scotland’s future, Boris Johnson or the people of Scotland? – and that may be fruitful territory for boosting public support for a referendum, whatever your views on independence.

But as the election campaign has shown, the SNP still have huge questions to answer on the case for independence itself. This is the territory where Boris Johnson can win – and undermine support for a referendum.

That means a shift from the tactical safe ground that the Westminster leadership of the Conservatives have retreated to in recent times.

But the onus is not just on the Westminster leadership of the Conservatives.

The Scottish Conservatives also need to up their game significantly by finding a strong and charismatic leader in the Scottish Parliament who can inspire voters with a positive Unionist vision. At the moment, they are found wanting on that kind of leadership. With the new Ruth Davidson-approved candidates potentially winging their way to the Scottish Parliament shortly, it remains to be seen if a new talent can emerge and galvanise the Scottish Conservatives and Unionist cause.

It certainly looks likely that in the event of a SNP majority, and even a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, that the Scottish Government would seek to negotiate a Section 30 Order under the Scotland Act 1998 to hold another referendum at some point in the next Parliamentary term.

But irrespective of the size of a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, it does not change one simple fact: legally, it is crystal clear that it is the UK Government that can enable a referendum to happen.

There are, of course, alternatives to a mutually-agreed referendum. The Scottish Government, for example, may seek to legislate unilaterally for a consultative referendum. But they know that is a risky road to travel down – the messy example of Catalonia looms large in Nationalists’ minds and any legislation is likely to be challenged in the courts by the UK Government. It is far from certain that the Scottish Government would win such a challenge.

Therein lies the predicament for the Nationalists. For all that they may claim a mandate and have options on the table – there is only one route to a credible, internationally-recognised results on self-determination and that is a referendum agreed upon by the UK Government.

The UK Government knows the strength of their position. For all that this election may strengthen the Nationalists’ hand, it is Boris Johnson that still possesses the trump card. How he plays it could come to define his premiership.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for Portland’s newsletter Inside Holyrood 2021Subscribe here.

Scottish Tories need to save their campaign to save the Union

GUEST POST: Katie Frank is a Consultant at Portland Communications. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Over 700 years have passed since the Scottish Wars of Independence. While ballots, not battles, is now how Scotland decides its future, one thing is for certain: nothing, not even a pandemic, can shake the insatiable appetite Scotland has to debate one topic. Independence.

Since the referendum in September 2014, the Scottish Conservatives have been beating the drum for Unionism, with one key message: ‘No, to another divisive independence referendum’.

In the elections of 2016 and 2017, the Conservatives pounded the pavements with this simple message. It resulted in an electoral renaissance. Huge swathes of Scotland turned blue, some areas for the very first time. The Conservatives scalped major nationalist names in 2017, including Alex Salmond and the Westminster Leader Angus Robertson. SNP seats in their former heartland of North East Scotland were reduced to a small speck of yellow on the map surrounded by a sea of blue.

However, the election in 2019 saw this support wane. The loss of Ruth Davidson at the spearhead of the Unionist fight has been a damaging one for the Conservatives. Her successors, Jackson Carlaw, and now Douglas Ross, have seemingly failed to mobilise support for Unionism in the same way.

The Conservatives are the most electorally successful political party in the UK, and they are still the primary force for Unionism in Scotland – but they need to save their campaign if they are to resist the march of the nationalists and save the Union. With Scottish Labour hot on their heels, the Conservatives may accidentally hand the election, and the fate of the Union, to the nationalists unless they find the spark they had under Ruth Davidson.

Personality matters. This is something that No.10 and Edinburgh are painfully aware of.

The Conservative Party machine is undeniably an efficient and sometimes brutal one. Something Jackson Carlaw quickly learned. The Party machine has now started to kick into overdrive once more after a recent decline in the Scottish polls. Ruth Davidson, despite standing down, is featuring more prominently than Douglas Ross on much of the political literature and the Westminster rumour-mill is swirling with talk of potential plans for the Prime Minister to charge northwards to save the Union. These two big personalities could eclipse Douglas Ross in an effort to save the Union and the life of the Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland.

Yet, personality is not everything. The Scottish Conservatives in the 2016 and 2017 elections were also not just the one-trick pony they now appear to be. They were strong on business, on education, on healthcare, and on the justice system. They seized effectively on the multiple policy failures that ran riot under the SNP’s leadership.

The recent internecine warfare in the nationalist movement between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond has damaged the post-Brexit uptick in support for independence and the reputation of the Government at Holyrood. But the Scottish Conservatives have not seized upon this opportunity or the numerous policy failures with the same vigour they would have done a mere 4 years ago.

The SNP’s PR machine is a slick one and the Scottish Labour Party have finally started to find their way out of the electoral wilderness. If the Scottish Conservatives do not revitalise their campaign and show a positive alternative future for Scotland, then they may entirely lose their place as the main party of opposition in Scotland.

Recent polls suggest that support for independence is teetering on a knife edge. But, the Scottish Conservatives must save their campaign and the life of the Party in Scotland, if they are to save the very Union itself.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for Portland’s newsletter Inside Holyrood 2021. Subscribe here.

Boris must find the bandwidth to take on Sturgeon

GUEST POST: Eliot Wilson is Co-Founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons ClerkFollow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Being prime minister is not an easy job. Whether you adopt the approach of Thatcher’s four-hours-a-night, or Macmillan’s retreating to Trollope novels at moments of extreme stress, it is a position which occupies your every waking (and probably many a sleeping) moment; the situation is not helped by the fact that the vast majority of prime ministers live ‘above the shop’ in the apartment complex of 10-11 Downing Street. Time to think can be at a premium.

Boris Johnson is certainly not short of challenges to which he could devote his brain power.

Covid and Brexit are the two most obvious and pressing matters, but one could easily add the “levelling-up” agenda, HS2, the grievous state of the hospitality industry, repayment of the national debt, the examination system in schools, NHS shortages and law and order, and that would be the in-tray only half full.

Being leader of the opposition is a very different matter. The effective levers in your hands are virtually none, especially when you face a government with a healthy parliamentary majority early in the electoral cycle, and if you are not to be wholly reactive (“We think the government should have gone further…”) then thinking is one of the few things to which you can devote a lot of time.

Just before Christmas, Sir Keir Starmer made a “major” speech on devolution and the Union. 

This is the sort of parlour game into which opposition leaders are forced; those who occupy the territory willingly are political oddballs and often Liberal Democrats. The content of the speech promised a commission to examine the devolution of power, advised by former prime minister Gordon Brown.

While this is not a move which will capture the imagination on voters’ doorsteps, it is a sensible and grown-up response to the persistent popularity of the SNP in Scotland and the inexplicable perception that the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has handled the Covid crisis well.

A recent poll showed support for Scotland’s secession from the Union at 58%, which would be a comfortable plurality at a referendum. 

This is literally an existential threat to the UK: from a business point of view, secession would mean the United Kingdom losing the human capital of 5.5 million people, access to the oil and gas reserves of the North Sea, an enormous potential source of tidal and wind energy and the huge financial services sector in Edinburgh, apart from anything else. It is by no means unrealistic to imagine an independent Scotland by 2030: the government must address this.

What must worry unionists is that Boris Johnson, personally and institutionally, simply does not have the bandwidth to take the fight to the nationalists at the present time. It is often suggested that Johnson, for all his mixed heritage an ineffably English figure, is ill-suited to woo a truculent Scottish electorate.

But if not him, then who? The Labour Party lost its relevance in Scottish politics with its Westminster annihilation in 2015, and its Holyrood leader, Richard Leonard, is the sort of man who is forgettable to his own memory foam mattress. The Liberal Democrats are a harmless fringe. Faute de mieux, the battle for the Union must be an SNP/ Conservative fight.

But who is going to stand in the front line? The Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, is a landowner who looks like a refugee from a late-stage Macmillan cabinet; Baroness Davidson (as she will become) is a proven vote-winner but is only standing in at Holyrood until next May; the Scottish leader, Douglas Ross, is accident-prone and yet to find an authentic voice which resonates with the electorate north of the border.

The prime minister needs help. He needs some heavyweight unionist figures (who need not necessarily be Conservatives); he needs an ultra-smooth and highly responsive media team; and he needs some enormous brains to sit in darkened rooms and find the arguments against secession which will strike a chord with the voters.

The second and third categories should not be impossible to satisfy. The first, the cheerleaders, may prove more difficult. If anyone has any ideas, the address is 10 Downing Street, London SW1A.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for City AM.

What’s in store for 2021?

We asked our team and industry patrons for their opinions.

Katie Perrior is Chair of iNHouse Communications

It’s wishful thinking to believe 2021 will see a return to normality. The fight against Covid-19 will continue as the No.1 priority, but the impact of Brexit – with or without a deal – will follow closely behind. As vaccines continue to roll out, there might be light at the end of the tunnel. In reality, once the Budget is out of the way, the Government faces challenging local elections with an impending political crisis unfolding in Scotland as the Nationalists push for a second referendum. All of this through a backdrop of rising unemployment. In short, no Prime Minister has faced so many challenges at once since the Second World War. A supportive team, with senior ministers, officials and advisers in control of their own briefs and who can command loyalty from others, partnered with clear and concise messaging from the PM himself will get them through it and it’s up to all of us to do what we can to help. This battle has only just begun.

Iain Anderson is Executive Chairman at Cicero/AMO 

With a new president in the US the idea of ‘build back better‘ is going to be the mantra of many governments across the globe. In the UK, it is already the mantra of the current administration. Turning up with ideas to help that effort will be the starting point for 2021. Covid-19 has also exposed a four-speed UK. Navigating another constitutional debate in Scotland will be of key importance when the starting gun gets fired on the Holyrood poll in the new year. 

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications 

Problems always bring opportunities, and public affairs professionals are the ultimate problem solvers.  

The big challenge on the political horizon was supposed to have been Brexit. But even this historic issue has been eclipsed by the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Even as the UK leaves the EU there will be British firms who need help to do business on the continent and EU firms who need help to do business over here. As for the pandemic, it has fundamentally reshaped British government and the British economy, and businesses will need help in seizing the opportunities and avoiding any fall-out. 

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Founder & Director at do Different.

Adam wrote a longer piece here.

Aisha Cuthbert is Head of Communications at a large housing association

Aisha wrote a longer piece here.

Laura Dunn is a Digital, Social and Creative Communications Consultant to MPs 

Many MPs have utilised the benefit of digital during the pandemic and over the two lockdowns. From hosting Facebook Live Q&A sessions with constituents to spotlighting local businesses who continued to safely trade and diversified their services to help their communities, MPs’ social media channels have taken on a new meaning and purpose to provide coronavirus updates, and keep constituents informed of their work and ways they can help during these times.  

It’s been interesting to see the individual brands of different MPs emerge on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and the different types of content that are being produced. One series to highlight is Andrea Leadsom’s ‘ParliFacts’ videos.  

There has been much debate about the use of digital in Parliament and the ‘hybrid’ model that was introduced by the House to enable participation in-person and remotely by Members. Expect this debate to continue into the new year. 

Finley Morris is a Parliamentary Researcher 

Covid-19 has reshaped ways of working for most people and the offices of Members of Parliament are no exemption. Teams are now working remotely – or at least semi-remotely – and are likely to continue doing so throughout 2021, meaning direct contacts will always be far more efficient. In short, brush-up on who you know. Brexit, Covid-19 and the economy are all issues that swamp Members’ inboxes daily and they’re not going away any time soon; to communicate with MPs in 2021 must be to practice the art of brevity

Gavin Ellwood is Founder & Director at Ellwood Atfield (EA)

Although the UK recruitment market has experienced a 50% drop since the start of the pandemic, there continues to be a demand for communications and advocacy skill sets. As organisations navigate Covid-19 and the economic turmoil, C-suite leaders increasingly rely on their communicators for wise counsel and action – as Churchill once said, “the difference between management and leadership is communication.” A national vaccination programme will be a boost for the market, giving the confidence for leaders and managers to re-invest in new talent for the recovery. Some of the temporary shifts in how the office-based work is delivered will become permanent, a new ‘hybrid’ model of home and office working will doubtless emerge, though it can only be long-term if it is sustainable. As responsibility for regulation moves from the EU to the UK, we are experiencing an increased demand for policy and regulatory expertise. Whether actively looking or open to opportunities, I encourage you to put your best digital foot forward and brush-up your LinkedIn profiles in readiness for what’s ahead.

Alec Zetter is Policy and Public Affairs Headhunter at Ellwood Atfield (EA)

It has been a tough eight months in the recruitment market. What was supposed to be an exciting year of new growth hires to prepare business for Brexit has, instead, seen thousands of redundancies – remember “full employment”? – and share prices plummet (unless you work in food delivery or online shopping). The number of opportunities out there have fluctuated since March 23, from complete shutdown to small merry-go-rounds in certain sectors. 

However, there is certainly reason to be positive. The message from our clients and others is clear: communications, advocacy and public affairs are as important as they’ve ever been, and the value placed on them will only increase as we look to recover from the pandemic, re-write our legislative and regulatory frameworks and repair the economy. Associations, businesses and NFPs need to have their voices heard, and who better to deliver that for them than, well, Tories (and others) in Comms. 

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.