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Getting the name right?

What do you do if you’re a fading historic right-wing party in a small  northern European country with a strong, broadly  social-democratic political culture?

For the Scottish Conservatives, whose  secular decline despite the electoral bounce- back of 2010 in England and Wales is catalogued by a recent IPPR report, the answer would seem be to dissolve and rebrand as a new more modern, more appealing centre-right formation.

That at least is the idea of leadership contender Murdo Fraser (one floated as early 2007)- and one looked at with quiet sympathy by London Tories around David Cameron who basically buy in to the idea the Conservative identity is too toxic and too undermined by social change and the decline of political identities shaped by religion and Empire to be redeemable. Better a strong, autonomous allied party better than enfeebled rump.

But what – assuming Mr Fraser gets his way – would such a party be called?And what would it imply? Perhaps  in time the drawing in of pro-market elements of the Liberals or the SNP.

We know one thing. The new would include the word ‘Scottish’ and not include the word ‘Conservative’. But where to go from there?

Perhaps take inspiration from the Anglosphere?

The  main party of centre-right in New Zealand is the National Party, but that label is clearly not available. in Scotland

Canada has the Progressive Conservatives, but the ‘C’ word is out and Progressive tag (Scottish Progressives? Progressive Democrats?)  alone might be a linguistic modernisation too far, even in this age of political cross dressing. I guess,  still following Canadian politics, the label Reform might be a possibility.

After all, the Tories European Parliament Group – where this new party’s MEPs (if it won any) would sit – is called the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR). So perhaps Scottish Reform Party? Tory bloggers liked this idea. On the other hand, the label does have vaguely religious echos, which might be a bad idea given Scotland’s sectarian history.

Perhaps the Scandinavian right might offer inspiration.  Sweden has the Moderates (as does Estonia)  but I suspect the Scottish Moderates would not do well and might provoke a few guffaws given the Tories’ history of hot gospelling Thatcherism in Scotland in 1980s.

Iceland, of course, has the Independence Party – a pragmatic  fusion of Liberals and Conservatives , take note – but somehow that might not strike the right note in Scotland… And besides UKIP seems have baggsied the Independence label.

Some Scottish Tories also toyed, it seems, with the idea of becoming the Freedom Party, although this rather in-your-face label has only been successfully used by Geert Wilders anti-Islamic outfit in Holland and the late Joerg Haider’s radical right grouping in Austria and is more associated with European liberal parties.  Beside Scottish Freedom Party, sounds somewhat like a more radical version of the SNP.

Perhaps  Central and East European politics then?  After all, the dissolve-rebrand-and-reinvent formula was tried by a number of discredited former ruling (communist)  parties there.

However,   as even the most rapid Tory-phobe would admit,  we not talking about a bunch of ex- totalitarians, so it’s really the CEE right we should be looking. Here the word ‘Democratic’ seems to be the main label on office (Civic Democratic Party in the Czech Republic, Slovene Democrats, Bulgaria’s Union of Democratic Forces (as was)) – as well as general avoidance of the word ‘Party’.

Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria

So that would leave is with Scottish Democrats or Scottish Democratic Union (handy echoes of the Unionist tag, the Scottish Tories historically used until 1965  and which, oddly, seems a favoured option, despite stressing the English link and having slight undertones of Northern Irish protestant politics)

Unless,  like many a Central European and Scandinavian conservative, they started to think less in party terms and more in terms of alliance-making.  Slovakia had its Blue Coalition, Denmark its Blue Alliance.

Which perhaps begs the question of where the ranks of this new centre-right in this increasingly politically far away country called Scotland would come from.

>Ill again… with Euro election fever


It’s a sure sign of middle age, but I’ll admit it. I am interested in the upcoming elections, to the European Parliament. And not just in the UK or the Czech Republic, but pretty much everywhere. I guess it must have been that bump on the head (the doctor did ask me if I had been behaving out of character) or perhaps it’s just the broad comparative panorama of of the EU 27. Over the last two days, when not marking essays or reading PhD drafts, I’ve been glued to the Predict EU site compiiled by Simon Hix and colleague at LSE, which runs polling data from the 27 member states through a predictive statistical model. The overall picture, as ever, is not much change. Shifts to the left in one country tending to be cancelled out by shifts to the right in another. Green and the Communist/Green Left, however, seem set to do badly: the UK Greens, for example, are predicted to lose both of their seats, although the Czech Greens (bearing up surprisingly well in the polls despite internicine internal party warfare) are predicted to gain one.
Britain’s far-right BNP is also predicted to gain one MEP, which would be its first elected representative above sub-national level. The Euro-election prospects of the BNP – surely the most over-reported minor party in Britain – are analysed in detail by an excellent Radio 4 documentary, which comes to broadly similar conclusions.

I also discovered the EUProfiler website, which like a range of similar sites quizzes you about your views on the issues and plots your position in two dimension political space. The difference here is that you can plot yourself in relation to parties from one or all EU states to guide your choice for the upcoming EU elections. I emerge as a social liberal or social democrat with mildly pro-EU leanings. In UK terms, the site tells me, this means I should vote for the UK’s Liberal Democrats, advice I will ignore, and in Czech terms that I am more or less in the liberal centre of Czech politics, although. I ran the other EU 25 states to see if there is a party in some other countries that reflects my views exactly. The Dutch and Swedish social democrats come close, but, as it turns, out there’s only party for me: Estonia’s Greens. Vale Euroopale roheline tee!

I don’t know what that means, but if I did, I’m sure I’d believe it.

>British politics: Leaked membership lists highlights surban far-right


I am (briefly) back in the UK. The papers are full stories about the far-right British National Party, prompted by the leaking and posting online of a list of the party’s 12,000 members. There’s a lot a hand wringing about data protection and privacy, although I kind of wonder whether there is actually an argument for Estonian style total transparency about party membership. There they are all legally online.
Although the original site has been taken down, I found the list easily via Wikileaks and looked through to see if anyone I knew was listed (no) and how many BNP members there were in our town (ten – of whom five seemed to using an accomodation address). More interesting politically is the geographical mapping of the party’s membership, which show a large concentration of members not only in London and major conurbations in the North and Midlands, but also in more prosperous and monoethnic suburban and retirement towns along the South Coast.

>Estonia’s many shades of Green


My SSEES colleague Allan Sikk gives a seminar at the Sussex European Institute about Estonia’s Green Party, currently the strongest in Central and Eastern Europe having broken into the country’s parliament in the last elections with something over 7% of the vote. As elsewhere in the region, they have roots in the anti-communist dissident protest movements, which in the Estonian case means a certain (historically) nationalist tinge and a total lack of support from Russophone voters (perhaps, however a consequence of insufficient resources to mount a bilingual campaign Allan thought). In the Czech case, it means anti-communism and an inclination to work with the right, although recently the half a dozen Czech Green MPs have fallen out amongst themselves and some are looking to work with the Social Democrats. Quite how there can be ‘problems of communication with the leadership’ in a group of six, I’m not sure.
Despite some modest claims to have co-written the research paper the talk is based upon at short notice just before this year’s BASEES conference, it’s an impressive thorough and scrupulous presentation, which cleverly interweaves election survey, ecological analysis and more qualitative and historical insights to raise some bigger issues about the possible (re-)emergence of Green parties in the region. As quickly emerged – despite a propensity to attract better educated voters – there is no real evidence of Estonian Greens representing the first shoots of growth in post-materialist values based on a post-industrial economy despite high growth the emergence of a middle class of sorts. Instead of this sociological story – one that arguably even distorts our understanding of Green parties in the West – I (having spent too much time reading Charles Ragin on ‘configurational causation’) wondered if we had to look to a mix of factors coming together in certain cases: environmental and/or agrarian interest with the demand for ‘new politics’ of the centre, best delivered through a known and trusted political brand. In this perspective, the Green label is just a kind of franchise taken up by a rather diverse group of political business partners. Not necessarily totally meaningless, but not really indicative of a close ‘party family’ relationship.

>UK Liberals’ Estonian ‘Cheeky Boy’ may have hidden political depths (honestly)

>I’ve always had a sneaking regard for the Liberal’s Northern Irish-born, Estonian-descended MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales, Lembit Öpik. As well as unusual family and political origins on the Celtic/Baltic fringe and some standard praiseworthy Liberal Democrat concerns with keeping rural post-office open and civil liberties, Öpik combines a eccentric range of personal and political interests: hang-gliding (which nearly finished him off), caravaning (he is a parliamentary consultant to the Caravaning Club of Great Britain), regular appearences on TV chat and talent shows (he plays the harmonica and does a decent stand-up routine) and appeals for increased spending to detect asteroids on catastrophic collision course with the Earth. He also seems to specialize in bringing the political kiss of death to other Lib Dems, having backed alcohol-impaired Liberal leader Charles Kennedy to the last last year as all around were finally giving up (Kennedy resigned) and then backed Lib Dem President Simon Hughes in the race to be his successor (whose chances promply collaped after relevations of hypocritically concealed bi-sexuality – Hughes was first elected to parliament in 1980 in a by-election which saw his Labour opponent subjected to some of the most virulently homophobic campaigning ever seen in Brtitish politics)

Interestingly, although Britain’s best known Estonian – he speaks the language fluently – and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Estonia, his voting record and webpages show Öpik somewhat inactive on (East Central) European issues. He does, however, seem to have a weakness for Eastern Europe and kitsch pop music. Not only did he attend the Eurovision song contest as a guest of Tallinn City Council in 2002 – the only recent Estonian related entry in the Register of Members’ Interests – but he is in the news once again for having dumped his fiancée, Welsh TV weather girl Sîan Lloyd for one of the Cheeky Girls, a UK-based Romanian kitsch pop duo – who I had never actually heard of until the Guardian Online (who else?) broke the story. Not sure whether to be proud or ashamed of that.

Öpik is not really taken seriously by some of the more worthy and staid Liberal Democrats – “Anyone seen an asteroid?” a card carrying Lib Dem academic immediately commented when I mentioned Öpik in his presence last year. However, the piccareque, self-deprecating, media-hogging personality must it seems to me, in part, be cultivated and seems to be to be a potentially valuable political asset. Lib Dem MPs tend to rely on local bases and individual votes far more than those of the two large British parties and a colourful personality can shore this up as surely as grassroots constituency work. Both London Mayor Ken Livingstone and now booze-felled former Liberal leader Charles Kennedy (“Chatshow Charlie” ) built up personal followings that enabled them to outmanoevre duller, more standard politicians in their party establishments by developing the same kind of never-boring “cheeky chappy” image. I’m sure – politically speaking – we really haven’t heard the last of Lembit.

>Playing leapfrog in Estonia

> Some interesting neo-liberal/Blairite ideas about the Baltic kicking about in discussions at work today. The three Baltic states and CEE generally, should, blaze a trail of e-government, public and judicial sector reform and open migrant-friendly labour markets, leapfrogging tired old Western Europe, which has been a point of reference as model for much too inefficient and sclerotic to emulate. Estonia with its flat taxes, double digit growth andpaperless tax system (almost) is the case in point with Slovakia mentally in the background and an honourable mention for the Czech migration programme seeking to recruit skilled professionals from the CIS (a failure in practice alas -an over complicated bureaucratic application procedure has procduec only a few dozen suitable migrant). Of course, the implicit alternative point of reference, here, is the US and our own ongoing British experiment in market-led modernization…