Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, has set September 18, 2014 as the date for the referendum on potential Scottish independence.
Polls have been relatively consistent, with support for independence at around 30% to 35% and with support for continued union with England at around 50% to 55%.
But the up-or-down vote will come in 18 months, and a lot can obviously change in 18 months, including the popularity of Salmond (pictured above) and his Scottish National Party, which won in 2011 the first majority government since devolution in the late 1990s.
Three quick things to keep an eye on:
Shetland and Orkney. Shetland and Orkney, the groups of islands to the northeast of Scotland, could well stay within the United Kingdom if Scotland leaves. That would complicate the Scottish economic rationale for independence, dependent as it is upon North Sea oil revenues. It’s no surprise then, to see Liberal Democrats encouraging Shetland and Orkney to think of themselves as a unit within the United Kingdom than as just an appendage of Scotland.
Tory incentives. As Liberal Democratic deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has sharply noted, Conservatives do not have an incredible incentive to fight hard to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, given that they hold one seat. It’s fair to worry that Tories actually have an electoral incentive to see an independent Scotland — though, because the Scots are just 8.5% of the UK population, it’s not as much as you might think. Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s massive 12-point 1997 landslide was still a massive 10-point landslide within England proper. In the 2010 general election, Labour won 28.1% in England and 29.0% nationwide, while the Tories won 39.6% in England and just 36.1% nationwide. So it’s a boost, but not a gigantic one.
Europe. Also, there’s some dicey choreography with the European Union too, because as the United Kingdom approaches prime minister David Cameron’s promised 2017 referendum on potentially leaving the EU, the more it could have a negative effect on the Scotland effort. In fact, even with sluggish growth in the next 18 months, I think the anti-Europe tone in England is the biggest threat to the anti-independent forces in very much pro-Europe Scotland. If Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) continues to make further gains in advance of the 2015 general election, it could well scare some of the pro-union, pro-European Scots toward the independence camp.
Despite what anyone in Brussels or Berlin or London or Edinburgh says, no one thinks that Scottish independence would leave it outside the EU for long. Given that the Scots have implemented as much of the acquis communautaire as England has, it’s certain that the Scots would align independence with simultaneous Scottish accession to the EU. That’s a non-issue.
Just days after the death of longtime Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, his previous opponent in the 2012 election, Henrique Capriles, lost no time in taunting acting president Nicolás Maduro:
Nicolás, nobody elected you president. The people didn’t vote for you, kid.
It was quite a bit out of character for Capriles (pictured above), who often campaigned against Chávez, then ailing with the cancer that ultimately took his life, with kid gloves — after all, Chávez remained the beloved champion of Venezuela’s poor, and Capriles himself pledged to retain the misiones that provided education and health benefits in the event of his election.
In fact, Capriles’s sneering and taunting attitude was more reminiscent of Chávez, who never lost an opportunity for a little name-calling.
Although Capriles is reported to have seriously considered boycotting the election, he announced March 10 that he would accept the presidential nomination of the opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) with the kind of intensity that critics claimed his previous 2012 campaign lacked. In a fiery, nearly hour-long speech, he attacked the record of chavismo and pursued Maduro with a newfound aggression, challenging Maduro by his first name (¡Y tu, Nicolás…) and attacking the government’s handling of the constitutional succession and its performance since Chávez won reelection:
Maduro was hand-picked by Chávez as his new vice president and anointed as his preferred successor, and he has — for now — secured the support of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and much of the Venezuelan army, now sympathetic to the ruling chavista regime after 14 years of Chávez in power.
But from his newfound abilities in populist rhetoric and campaign aggression, it may well be Capriles who is becoming the true heir to Chávez.
For example, on March 10, in response to ‘homophobic’ slurs from Maduro, Capriles took the opportunity not only to deny them, but to make a full-throated attack on the machismo of the chavistas and to argue forcefully for social inclusion for all Venezuelans, no matter what their sexual orientation:
That takes a lot of brass — and perhaps it’s the kind of brass that comes from a campaign against Maduro that seems more doomed than the one last year.
The conventional wisdom is that Maduro will ride the wave of sympathy for Chávez to victory so soon after the funeral, and polls show that Maduro is leading Capriles, in some cases by a wider margin than the 11% victory Chávez won in 2011 (such as a recent Datanalysis poll that gives Maduro a 14-point lead).
Capriles has attacked the polls, too, arguing that the government are paying pollsters to show Maduro leading. True or not, it’s a classic play from the Chávez playbook — disregard the facts, and turn a negative into a way to attack your opponent.
What it means is that Capriles is running the kind of offensive campaign that Chávez ran throughout his career, and Maduro is running the kind of defensive, hesitant campaign that’s typically been associated with the opposition.
But regardless of whether Capriles has a chance to win, he’s now free to run against chavismo without having to run against the charismatic commandante himself.
After a setback for opposition forces in the regional and gubernatorial races in December 2012 (Capriles himself won reelection only narrowly against Elías Jaua, a well-financed former Chávez vice president), a feisty loss in the April 14 presidential election would not only energize the opposition, but keep it united and prepare it to take on the PSUV in parliamentary elections due in 2015.
Even more slyly, one of the subtle themes of the Capriles campaign is simply, ‘Maduro is no Chávez.’
The subtext here is that, even if you supported Chávez, and perhaps especially if you supported Chávez, you don’t necessarily need to support Maduro, who doesn’t measure up to Chávez. Capriles has argued that Maduro, in less than a hundred days as the de facto acting president during Chávez’s terminal illness, has already begun to dismantle the achievements of the Chávez era.
That’s one reason Capriles has been so aggressive in attacking Maduro’s February devaluation of the bolívar, Venezuela’s currency, which lowered its value by 32%. Maduro doubled down this week, however, announcing a second devaluation that is expected to cut even more deeply into the value of the currency, and a new foreign exchange system to assist importers acquire increasingly rare U.S. dollars. The devaluations are also designed to cut a budget deficit that swelled in 2011 and 2012 in advance of Chávez’s reelection, despite abundant oil wealth.
It’s also why Capriles has gone on the offensive about cutting subsidies to Cuba — it’s widely believed that Maduro was Havana’s preference as Chávez’s successor, hoping that Maduro’s election will secure the uninterrupted flow of oil subsidies, cheap credit and other goodies to the Castro regime. Again, the anti-Cuba rhetoric is subtle way of reclaiming nationalism at the expense of Maduro’s relatively weaker position. Capriles would never have been able to attack the nationalist bona fides of Chávez, the 21st century champion of ‘bolivarian’ revolution. Not so with Maduro.
Consider, too, this television advertisement from the Capriles campaign yesterday — although it’s only a simple 21-second spot, it’s a harsh indictment of chavismo that lists five reasons for change: violence, power outages, expropriations, deficient hospitals and lack of water:
Capriles may well still lose the election because the wall of sympathy for Chávez was always going to be too high to surmount.
But make no mistake, Capriles is certainly waging a more spirited campaign than anyone every really anticipated — it may not be enough to win the election, but it may well make it a far closer run than the chavista regime would have liked. That, in turn, will lay the groundwork for a future challenge if Maduro wins and conditions deteriorate in advance of parliamentary elections or before the next presidential election in 2018.
When elections were called in Italy late in 2012, the centrosinistra (center-left) coalition united around Pier Luigi Bersani thought, on the basis of polls that showed Bersani (pictured above, left) with a wide lead, that it was nearly assured that they would easily win a five-year mandate to govern Italy.
Instead, they may have won just a five-day mandate to show that they can win a confidence vote in both houses of Italy’s parliament.
The leader of Italy’s Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), Pier Luigi Bersani, will have the first formal opportunity to form a government after three days of talks between Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano (pictured above, right) and the various party leaders, including former technocratic prime minister Mario Monti, who ran on a platform of extending his reform program; former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose centrodestra (center-right) coalition nearly outpaced Bersani’s coalition; and Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle(the Five Star Movement), who himself did not run for a seat in the Italian parliament.
Napolitano, in a rare speech today, pleaded for a solution, arguing that institutional stability is just as important as financial stability.
Yesterday, Bersani called for a grand ‘governo di cambiamento,’ a government of change that would draw from all of the parties in the parliament. It’s not immediately clear, however, what exactly Bersani would do with such a government or that the announcement would significantly shake up the coalition talks.
Bersani will have until March 26 — Tuesday — to show that he can pull together a patchwork vote of confidence. Otherwise, Napolitano will conduct further talks with the party leaders in search of a Plan B.
In the February 2013 elections, the centrosinistra won an absolute majority of the seats in the 630-member Camera dei Deputati (House of Deputies) because under Italian election law, the winner, by whatever margin, of the nationwide vote automatically wins 54% of the seats. So Bersani commands a majority in the lower house, though he does so after winning a surprisingly narrow victory (29.54%) over Berlusconi’s centrodestra (29.18%) and Grillo’s Five Star Movement (25.55%):
The current crisis of governance in Italy springs from the fact that there’s no similar ‘national winner’s bonus’ for the upper house, the Senato, where the centrodestra actually won more seats than the centrosinistra. That’s because there’s a regional ‘bonus’ — the party with the most support in each of Italy’s 20 regions is guaranteed an absolute majority of the senatorial seats in that region. As Berlusconi’s coalition won so many of the contests in Italy’s largest regions (i.e., Piedmont, Sicily, Campania), however narrowly, he won the largest bloc in the Senato:
Snap elections (after the election of a new president).
Since then, we haven’t seen an incredible amount of action, because the parliament only sat for the first time last weekend, when it elected speakers to both the lower and upper houses. None of those are likely to happen in any meaningful sense, but there are small variations on each that could keep Italy’s government moving forward, if only for a short-term basis to implement a narrow set of reforms (e.g., a new election law) and to elect a new president — Napolitano’s term ends in May.