Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsirpas delivers a televised address from his office at Maximos Mansion in Athens. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tsipras vows to go ahead with referendum and campaign for No - what next for Greece?

The No side's lead has narrowed since the bank closures on Monday. 

When it emerged this morning that the Greek government had accepted the the bulk of the troika's conditions, the assumption was that the referendum scheduled for Sunday would be called off. But in a characteristically defiant TV address this afternoon, Alexis Tsipras dismissed this possibility. The Greek PM announced that the referendum would still go ahead and that he would campaign for a No vote. He again insisted that the vote was not on whether to remain the euro and that the hoped-for result would strengthen his hand in negotiations. "A popular verdict is much stronger than the will of a government," he declared.

It is far from clear what Greeks are voting on now (indeed, it never has been). The offer that was withdrawn after the referendum promise or the deal now being discussed? But for Syriza, "oxi" (the historically resonant Greek word for No) is now an act of symbolic defiance. 

The polls are pointing to a victory for the No side but its lead has narrowed to nine per cent since the bank closures on Monday. It is doubtful, however, after Tsipras's relentless brinkmanship, that the troika will respond by offering improved terms. Should Greece vote Yes, the government would have to resign and new elections would be held. But there is no guarantee that Syriza (which was elected with just 36.3 per cent of the vote in January) would not again be returned to power. 

Ahead of his emergency Budget next Wednesday, George Osborne, as in 2010, is pointing to the crisis as evidence of the dangers of easing up on austerity. But as economists rightly contend, it is a surfeit, not a dearth, of austerity that has immiserated Greece. Though one would not know it from Osborne’s statements, the country’s cyclically adjusted primary budget surplus (which assumes a normal level of economic activity and excludes debt interest payments) is the largest in Europe at 6 per cent of potential GDP. It is the absence of stimulus for a depressed economy that explains the overall shortfall in revenue. Greece, on this basis, has been more fiscally responsible than the UK government (which has failed to achieve a surplus of any kind). Indeed, had Osborne not reduced the pace of the cuts, the recovery that he lauds would have been weaker.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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