Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Farewell Malcolm Rifkind

There will be little public sympathy in Scotland  for Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who will be seen as the author of his own demise.

It is a rather humiliating end to forty years on the political frontline, caught out by one of the easiest political hooks in the undercover reporter’s bag, boasting that you work as an MP only part-time and then defending yourself on the grounds that a salary of £67.000 is not enough to live on.

It looks like he was immediately cut adrift by David Cameron. The Prime Minister gave him only half-hearted backing as chair of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee when the cash for access story broke on Monday.

His rapid dispatch has the hallmarks of Cameron's Australian election guru Lynton “no barnacles” Crosby.

Ten weeks out from an election he would have advised the party to clear the decks of this unnecessary distraction no matter how well regarded Rifkind might be.

In his time Rifkind held one of the high offices of state, serving as Foreign Minister under John Major and as Defence Secretary.

He entered parliament in 1974 as the 28-year-old MP for Edinburgh Pentlands when the Tories had 32 per cent of the vote in Scotland and 21 of the 72 Scottish MPs.
He will be best remembered in his native heath as Secretary of State for Scotland from 1986 to 1990, or as Margaret Thatcher’s Governor General as he was widely lampooned.

With the poll tax being imposed in the teeth of civic opposition, with the country traumatised by the loss of heavy industry, mining and the privatisation of utilities, Rifkind ran Scotland in the high season of Thatcherism.

Despite that Rifkind was himself a moderate Conservative. He changed the development agencies, the SDA and the HIDB into Enterprise Companies with more private involvement but he did argue for Ravenscraig to be kept open. 

To his credit he found money to establish  the Gaelic Television service, his shooting and fishing connection to the late Sir Iain Noble might have played a part in that. As someone who undertook country sports he felt he understood rural Scotland and funded  infrastructure programmes like the A9 and the Vatersay causeway.  
He wouldn’t take the lesson of a changed Scotland when the Tories were routed from Scotland in 1997 and had 900 voters swung the other way in 2001 he would have had his Edinburgh Pentlands seat back.

Instead of going to the Lords, as Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth had chosen, he stood again in the plum seat of Kensington and Chelsea in 2005.

But he took the huff when he did not make the running as Tory leader and David Cameron did not reward him as shadow Foreign Secretary so did not return to cabinet after the 2010 election.

With his Defence and Foreign Office experience he was well-respected in Westminster and was a natural choice to be appointment as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Given that he is a veteran political operator his self-destruction was surprisingly rapid.

At 68 he launched a stout initial defence of himself when the cash for access sting was sprung this week. But he showed himself to be completely out of touch, and quickly lost the support of colleagues, when he said that it was impossible to live on an MP’s salary.

He may be found to have broken no rules but he lost in the court of public opinion with that one.

Witty, with a light touch in the Commons chamber, he once quipped that the worst thing about losing office as a Minister was going out in the morning, jumping into the back seat of the car and realising that there was no driver.
He will have plenty time to get used to driving himself from now on. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sturgeonomics - the message counts not the maths

 Daily Record column 13/02/15

She is in London so often, three visits in three weeks, that Nicola Sturgeon ought to be house-hunting in the capital.

Yesterday the First Minister came to give a lesson in Sturgeonomics and to dine with that demon of nationalist theology, the BBC’s Nick Robinson.

The actual economics of what Sturgeon said hardly matter. To want to cut less than George Osborne sounds fine, even if your sums don’t stack up.

The anti-austerity Sturgeon was not so much laying out terms for talks with Labour, as the case for replacing Labour.

Look at the fate of the Greek centre-left party Pasok, which went from 40 per cent to four per cent after trying to administer austerity in Athens.

By refusing to “slash and burn” Sturgeon is getting her alibi in early for not supporting a Labour government and standing by to soak up discontented voters.

To maintain economic credibility a chancellor Ed Balls would have to continue a cuts programme. But there are cuts and cuts, and a great deal of difference between the parties.

Osborne plans public spending cuts of £37.6 billion in the next parliament. Gulp, that’s reductions of more than ten per cent across government departments.

Nicola Sturgeon,in contrast, is recommending growing departmental budgets by half a per cent each year and spending £180 billion more.

Balls is somewhere in between. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies Labour would cut £28 billion less than Osborne.

That’s not going to be comfortable for anyone, and who wants austerity-lite when you can abandon the deficit with the “progressive” SNP?

The deficit, under this scenario, would be paid off not by 2020 but whenever the gauge stops on the time machine. There was no word on raising taxes.

The economics are as wobbly as the SNP’s case for independence. If Ed Balls had the audacity to say such thing he would be laughed off stage. Nicola Sturgeon is feted at University College London with light cross-examination

Sturgeonomics might be daft but Nicola is not. The last YouGov poll found more than half of those thinking of voting Labour want the party to end austerity, the SNP offer that.

Voters would have to look at that deal with one eye covered to avoid a brutal truth; voting for something apparently more progressive actually makes it easier for David Cameron to unleash the most savage cuts in a generation.


Tories' Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde

Along with John Swinney, Michael Gove used to be regarded as one of the politest men in politics.
But the usually mild-mannered Conservative chief whip went into a gothic frenzy the other day.

Grasping for power, the Dr Jekyll of the Tory Party became a Mr Hyde.

The Scottish-born pal of David Cameron warned a deal between Labour and the SNP would produce a Frankenstein monster, “a stitched-together creation capable of causing great harm.”

The Tories want to talk up the prospect of a Miliband-Salmond deal, which in a hung parliament even Labour MPs now have to sniff around.

To improve their own chances the Tories must reduce the number of Labour MPs by making Scots buy the idea of voting SNP to get a Labour government.

At the same time Gove wants to plant the fear of nationalism in English voters tempted to vote for Labour think again.

You see why talking up the SNP is indeed Cameron’s “last best chance” of getting back to Downing Street.
But Gove stoops to conquer by stirring up feelings against fellow Scots and sowing that kind of division between nations that is the stock in trade of UKIP demagogues.

He made it sound as if it was a Viking longship that was due to sail up the Thames in May to break open English coffers, not just blowhard nationalists who, if things go according to Tory plans (and SNP ones too), would be bystanders to the next Cameron government. 

Of course we don’t need Gove to stir a fear of Scots, amongst the rich of London at least. We have mansion-raiding Jim Murphy to do that.


 David Oyelowo

After seeming Selma, the Martin Luther King Jnr drama based on the 1965 voting rights marches in the USA, two thoughts struck me. The Ocscar ceremony is going to be a travesty because of the exclusion of British actor David Oyelowo and when we debate “freedom” in our generation we don’t even know that we’ve born.


Sùil Eile
A rèir a’ chunntais sluaigh chan eil comas Gàidhlig ach aig nas lugha na dàrna leth de chloinn ann an sgoiltean
nan Eileanan an Iar. Tha a’ Ghàidhlig mar mhion-chànain ann an cridhe na Gàidhealtachd.

Mur a biodh foghlam sa Ghàidhlig cha bhiodh fìu ’s na h-àireamhan sin ann.

Ach tha connspaid air èirigh le mar a tha Comhairle nan Eilean air inbhe Gàidhlig a thoirt dha sgoiltean far a bheil Gàidhlig agus Beurla air an tabhann taobh ri taobh.

Chan e sgoiltean Gàidhlig a th’ annta a rèir eòlaichean, agus feumar gabhail ris an fhìrinn sin. Tha fios againn gur e làmh an uachdar a gheibh a’ Bheurla ann an suidheachadh co-ionann sam bith.

Stèidhich na h-Eileanan poileasaidh dà-chànanach ann am foghlam bho choinn deich air fhichead bliadhna, ach chan eil fhathast sgoil Ghàidhlig aca, mar a th’ anns na bailtean mòra.

An e misneachd a tha a dhìth air ceannardan, neo air coimhearsnachdan?

Ma tha iarratas ann airson foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig, tha e na uallach air luchd-gléidhidh a’ chànain sin a fhreagairt. Chan eil còraichean aig pàrantan a’ cur bacadh air iarrtas mion-shluaigh.

translation

According to the census figures less than half of school pupils in the Western Isles have a command of Gaelic. The language has minority status in the heart of the Highlands.
There wouldn’t even be these numbers were it not for education in Gaelic.

But the Western Isles Council’s decision to give Gaelic status to schools where English and Gaelic are taught side by side has given rise to controversy.

These are not Gaelic schools according to the experts, and we need to accept the truth of that. We all know the upper hand English has in any equal situation.

The islands established a bi-lingual policy over 30 years ago, but they still don’t have a Gaelic school as the cities do.

Do the leaders lack confiddence, or do the communities?

If there is a request for Gaelic-only education the language’s guardians have a duty to answer it. Other parents don’t have the right to veto the demands of a minority.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

What's the lesson from Ashcroft?

 
Lord Ashcroft’s poll of Labour’s heartland failure proves one thing: telling people that voting SNP will deliver a Tory government simply bounces off.
 
Four out of five Scottish Labour supporters who are determined to vote SNP want a Labour-SNP coalition at Westminster after May.
 
Voting for the SNP will produce exactly the opposite effect.
 
So far, Labour has been unable to convince voters of that essential truth.
 
Or, more probably, voters are not listening any more than they monitor the daily fluctuations in price of a barrel of oil.
 
But if the SNP is the choice the consequence is almost certain - Scotland will find itself opening the Downing Street door to David Cameron.
 
That is not the result Labour switchers want, though it is the outcome that best suits the grateful recipients of their support, the SNP. A Tory government, an EU referendum and constitutional chaos is the SNP menu.
 
The Ashcroft poll drops the pretence. It is Middle Scotland, not Middle England, that will decide who holds the No 10 keys.
 
Westminster number-crunching has Labour and the Tories in a dead heat. With neither having majority support jostling for the most seats becomes a crucial factor.
 
What polling does not examine is how coalitions are formed.
 
In a hung parliament David Cameron will have squatting rights in Downing Street. With the most seats, though with fewer options, he can make the first move for minority or coalition rule. 
 
There is no logic to the suggestion that a Labour minority government will be magicked up by voting SNP. You can’t vote for a coalition, but the trick works in a nation divided along referendum lines.
 
Ashcroft’s English marginal polls opens the Downing Street gates to Miliband. But it is a long walk to the fabled black door.
 
If Labour loses 40 seats in Scotland it needs to win an impossible 88 in England to have a majority.
 
Haemorrhaging tartan blood will leave Labour short of being the biggest party, the target it can best expect.
 
If Scottish voters feel angry enough to wipe out Labour the result will be a divided left, not a progressive coalition.
 
Scotland would be a hapless bystander to another right-wing government and, given the scale of proposed Tory cuts, Scots would suffer.
 
Putting the constitutional future on the slates again is ideal for the SNP, but not for Scotland’s poor. That’s the Ashcroft lesson.

Friday, 23 January 2015

New Tory poster bigs up the SNP vote


Conservative Central Offfice have just unveiled their latest wheeze, talking up the SNP in order to hammer down the Labour vote in across the UK.
The poster works two ways, trying to feed fear in English voters that the SNP will somehow "interfere" with the governance of the UK and selling the idea to Scotland that the SNP will support a Labour government, which is the last thing nationalists really want to do. 
It's an interesting message, revealing the Tories calculate they effectively burnt up Labour to vanquish Scottish nationalism. They think it is now safe to play with fire by encouraging SNP votes in Scotland while talking up the propsects of  reducing Scots MPs  to second-class Westminster status under Evel (English votes for...). All in all a short-cut formula to a second referendum
The Tories couldn't be more wrong if they think it is game over for nationalism but the cyncicism David Cameron demonstsrated for the Union on the morning after the referendum was won is now clear for all to see.
Cameron is quite happy for the SNP to win big in Scotland because this means Miliband is less likely to have a majority. He appears willing to risk the very Union he fought hard to keep for the short-term gain over Labour. Is he really that desperate? Yes, is the answer.
What the Tories want is exactly the outcome the SNP wants, a Conservative majority, although for different reasons. Here's a column from the Daily Record from last week that looks at the SNP strategy for May:

DEAL or no deal? Last weekend Ed Miliband doggedly avoided saying if he would go into coalition with the SNP.
He just wasn’t going there, leaving Sunday’s interview open to interpretation.
Miliband didn’t rule out an SNP deal for the simple reason that if he did (which he’d love to) then, a-ha, he must be preparing for coalition with the Lib Dems.
Regardless of whatever else he’d say, the idea of a Labour majority would fade from voters’ minds in an endless numbers game.
Labour strategists, at this point, talk a good game for a majority, though doubts rumble across their brows like winter storms.
They recall the horror of 1992, an election Labour looked like winning. Who can forget Kinnock’s “we’re awright” Sheffield rally cry?
Things were not all right. In the last furlong, support ebbed away. Labour began talking coalitions and voters felt the prospect of a majority was gone. They talked themselves out of government, so no loose tongues this year.
The polling could slip away from Miliband, though mini-Stalingrads being fought across marginals confound the idea of a universal swing.
Then, the question is not would Miliband make an SNP deal, it is could he?
No – and not just because he’d have Jim Murphy to answer to.
SNP bosses insist they would support Labour but giving succour to a mortal enemy is the last thing they want to do.
Hence, Nicola Sturgeon’s red line on scrapping Trident. No new British PM could allow themselves to be defenestrated on the world stage by a minority party. She knows this.
Alex Salmond’s crazy fiscal autonomy demand is no less agreeable. Who would sign up to terms that leave Scotland worse off?
Polls show that a third of Scots would prefer a Labour government with an SNP coalition – but that is not what the SNP leadership wants.
A Tory majority, preferably lashed together with UKIP, is what they want.
An EU referendum, creating an opening for another vote on independence, is what they dream of.
A weak Labour government, flapping for a majority, would be a second-best choice.
No, a Tory government is the ideal outcome for the SNP’s Westminster vanguard.
Obviously, voting for either party would help achieve it.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Bridezilla effect on soaring Scottish polls

 From the Daily Record 22/01/15

The polls in Scotland leave beaming smiles the faces of SNP politicians. But not even they can quite work out what is going on, far less predict the final effect on the general election.

Our own Daily Record polling shows that 47 per cent of people thought the SNP “did not tell the truth” on the economy during the referendum campaign. The evidence of plummeting oil prices and a consequent £7 billion gap in independence finances bear this out.

But Nicola Sturgeon emerges as the most trusted political leader by streets and the SNP appear to be on track to demolish Labour across Scotland in a few months.

To inject analysis into this topsy turvey world enter the not the voting experts, but the publishers of bridal magazines.

They explain that most young brides start buying their magazines a year before the big day.

But the business model relies on a huge percentage of readers continuing to buy the magazines up to a year after exchanging their bridal vows.

Recently married readers continue to buy into the product to maintain a link to an event in which they invested so much emotional energy.

Less generous people dismiss this as the bridezilla effect, but as an explanation of the SNP surge it serves as well as any other analogy.

The comparison breaks down in Scotland’s case, of course, because the groom said No at the alter in September.

The jilted bride, still with this huge emotional investment in the big day,is angry.

“People are in the mood to give us a kicking, it just depends how angry they are,” said one phlegmatic Scottish Labour MP, back in Westminster from a discouraging weekend on the doorsteps.

The job of defusing that anger falls on Jim Murphy and the footslogging determination of Labour activists.
For Murphy, so far so good. He has established himself as a credible figure with the Scottish media, but that is only one circle of influence.

Out in the real world people haven’t really heard his reforming message and, 104 days to go, time is his enemy. He has made a priority of oil, jobs and the economy, issues that connect with the voters.

The SNP, having bet on black gold and lost, cannot go on the economy. It is back to core vote issues like Trident and being Scotland’s defenders.

Which approach will woo this jilted bride, none can yet tell.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Vow swung ten per cent - really Mr Salmond?

It is flattering that Alex Salmond declares in his Spectator interview today that the Daily Record Vow front page changed the minds of ten per cent of the voters in the Scottish referendum.
That's something like 400,000 votes changed by a single front page. That is not just flattering, it is amazing if it were near true.
It is also, coincidentally, about the same number of votes that Alex Salmond lost the referendum by.
Instead of accepting he himself might be in some way responsible for losing he has tried to displace the defeat.
The Vow is now Mr Salmond's spur for a return to Westminster where he promises to hold feet to the fire if the terms are not delivered, which he already claims they are not.
That is all a matter for robust political debate which I'm sure will be reflected in the pages of the Daily Record, whose readers, incidentally, were a keen and vital part of the referendum and well able to make up their own minds.
It is re-assuring that the First Minister describes The Record as a paper with "credibility".
That credibility and even-handedness was displayed in other front pages during the campaign and when we handed over editorial control for a day to each of the Yes and No sides to put their arguments across to our readers.
It's worth noting that apart from one poll none of the surveys put the Yes side ahead at any time in the campaign. It would be good to see Salmond's evidence that many people were on their way to the Yes side but were stopped by the Daily Record coverage of the Vow.
Yes Scotland had it's own private, Canadian pollsters for the campaign and they confidently predicted a 54-46 win for the Yes side, basing their prediction on soundings from social networks and online activity.
They were badly wrong and despite the sound and fury created online by the Yes side, Alex Salmond has now admitted an old-fashioned truth about political campaigns - print is king.





Thursday, 4 December 2014

Fracking up Scotland's back yard

From today's Daily Record column.

Scottish environmentalists are celebrating renewables overtaking nuclear as the biggest source of electricity production. 

Sure, every turn of the turbine blades is one less unit of carbon produced. 
But rows over windfarms in the landscape will be a summer picnic compared to the forthcoming war over fracking. 
Fracking, extracting shale gas and oil by drilling underground, is a very messy business. Just ask them in boomtime North Dakota where land and lives around the one million barrels a day industry are ruined.
Fracking is going to be big business in Scotland.
Ineos, the operators of Grangemouth chemicals works, have staked the future of the plant on shale gas.
The company has ambitious plans to ship shale gas from the USA.
But Ineos has also bought two big licences to frack in Scotland, covering 700 square kilometres around Grangemouth and stretching across the central belt like the coalmines once did.
It has also applied for further licences from the UK government.
Under Smith licencing is to be devolved to Holyrood, but the Scottish government already has an effective veto on fracking.
Planning permission is local and the permit regime, to drill a hole you need about nine of them, is managed by SEPA, the arms-length Scottish environmental agency.
Scottish politicians just need to tweak the planning regime and the permit conditions to stop the industry in it’s tracks. But will they?
Both governments bent over backwards to keep the Grangemouth open two years ago despite the atrocious treatment of trade union reps.
So where will they stand when fracking wars start? This is not a problem we can park at Westminster’s door. The solution is in our own back yard.


Not a good look

The SNP numpties who set fire to the Smith Commission report need to read more, not less.
How about starting with “The Complete Idiot’s guide to Nazi Germany”?
The last time people started burning books in Europe it didn’t end well. Suspension isn’t enough.
Mags MacLaran, warming her fingers by the blaze, is twice-paid from the public purse - as a councillor and staffer for Cabinet Secretary Derek Mackay. Book-burning or democracy, which does he endorse?


Choose a tune to play

One minute she’s comparing herself to civil rights legend Rosa Parks and the next Nicola Sturgeon is assuring businesses they have nothing to fear from her conversion to land reform.
Two weeks in the job and she’s playing more tunes than the accordionist at my birthday party.
When friends in the north of England look at the SNP they don’t see nationalists, they just see right-wing politicians waving a Saltire.
No surprise to them that John Swinney didn’t welcome the Smith Commission’s tax-raising powers