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

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A very political mini-budget

 For the Daily Record, reaction to the Autumn Statement
To the Autumn Statement, delivered as weird Commons convention dictates, on a cold day in December.
These occasions are more about the political theatre than hard economics and this mini-budget was Osborne’s last chance to use his office to set the weather before the General Election
But if was a concert hall piece and he’d asked us what we thought of the show so far, we’d all have shouted back: “rubbish”.
Bullish as he might be, there is no disguising George Osborne as a failed chancellor. 
He has missed just about every target he set for himself four years ago.
Growth not rising as fast as he needed, spending more than he budgeted for, deficit not paid off - fail, fail, fail.
The main message from Osborne has to be if you think that was bad, just wait for the next four years.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility, that assesses what the government’s plans mean for public spending, say 60 per cent of the cuts are yet to come.
Gulp, and gulp again if you are a public sector worker on an effectively frozen pay grade, or if you are someone who relies on public services because you are old, a child or a patient.  
For Scotland there are mixed messages. True, there is more than £200 million more at the drop of a hat into the Scottish budget because of the Barnett consequentials.
Surely that is shovelled straight into an NHS creaking because of under-investment on the SNP’s watch?
There will inevitable nationalist anger over devolving Corporation Tax to Northern Ireland when the idea has been rejected for Scotland.
Several reasons are proffered for this tax anomaly: Northern Ireland has a land border with another EU country and the deal is dependent on the Peace Talks and the Northern Irish Executive getting it’s finances in order.
Also Northern Ireland is much poorer than the rest of the UK with a huge over-reliance on the public sector, so private corporations have to be encouraged. 
Add that no compelling case was made to the Smith Commission to devolve corporation tax to Scotland, other than the SNP wanting to start a cross-border spiral to the bottom. Glad to see the STUC endorsing that view yesterday.
The real reason though for tax devolution to Northern Ireland is that David Cameron might need Democratic Unionist Party MPs to shore up a minority Tory government after the next election.
Like I said, nothing to do with economics, everything to do with politics. 

Sùil Eile air ceist an Fhearainn

Sùil Eile airson an Daily Record

‘S math gu bheil ceist an fhearainn air ais air clàr-gnothaich an riaghaltais; tha mi a’ cur fàilte air Nicola Sturgeon dhan a’ champa bheag a tha ag iomairt airson na cùise.

Mar as àbhaist leis an SNP, cha chanadh tu gu robh riaghaltas sam bith eile an sàs anns a’ ghnothach bho Ghladstone. Thàinig a’ mhòr-chuid de leudachadh air ceist an fhearainn fo riaghaltas Làbarach.

Ach leig sin seachad agus gluais air adhart còmhla, chanainnsa.

A thaobh chùisean mar chìsean dha oighreachdan spòrs, tha sin ciallach agus cothromach, chan e radaigeach.

Agus ‘s ann practaigeach a bu chòir dhan riaghaltas a bhith. Chan eil càil a dh’fheum air ath-nuadhachadh air an fhearann gun daoine anns na bailtean croitearachd.

Sa chiad àite dh’fhaodadh Sturgeon an taic-airgid airson taigheadas croitearachd a dhùblachadh agus an sgeama a leudachadh airson spionnadh a thoirt do bhailtean iomallach.

Tha an t-airgead ann. Tha croitearan an-dràsta a’ sporghail airson beagan taic-airgid airson nan lotaichean aca, agus na milleanan air an sgrios a’ toirt taic dha tuathanaich agus uachdarain mhòra gun fheum sam bith.

English translation

It is good that the land question is back on the government agenda; I welcome Nicola Sturgeon to the small camp campaigning on the issue.

As usual with the SNP you wouldn’t think any other government had been involved in the business since Gladstone’s time. Most of the movement on the land question came from a Labour government.

But let that pass and move forwards together, I’d say.

On issues like tax on sporting estates, that is just sensible and fair, not radical.

And practical is what the government ought to be. There is no point in renewing the land without people living in the crofting villages.

In the first place Sturgeon could double the financial support for crofter housing and widen the scheme to give a boost to remote villages.

The money is there. Crofters are scrabbling around just now for a little grant money for their lots, and millions are wasted giving financial support to big farmers and landlords for no use at all.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Post-referendum Big Bang - the Smith Commission reports

Immediate reaction to the Smith Commssion in today's Daily Record

We've had the vow, now the wow.

The rollercoaster that is Scottish politics just took another twist with the arrival of the Smith Commission today.

This is the Big Bang of devolution that Scotland has been waiting for.

Before, during and after the very long referendum campaign the majority of Scots expressed a desire for two things -  more power for the Scottish parliament and the continuation of the United Kingdom.

People voted to stay together in September and now in November they are being given a devolution package that exceeds expectations and is being delivered faster and with more surety than independence could have delivered.  

Power to set tax rates,  higher or lower depending on what voters demand, the ability to change and shape welfare budgets, borrowing powers, a wedge of VAT receipts to do as we please with - it looks like a big slice of devolutionary cake whichever way you want to cut it.

For some it won't be enough power, for others it will raise fears of unbinding the very Union that they fought so hard to maintain just a few months ago.

What effect this package will do to the volatile mood of the electorate when it is digested no one can predict.

But this we do know, this massive transfer of powers out of Westminster into the hands of the Scottish people will change Holyrood and the rest of the UK dramatically.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Labour's Scottish solution

Daily Record column 30/10/14
Lobbing stun grenades through the exit door provided a good smokescreen to cover Johann Lamont’s departure.
Lamont is a tenacious politician and Labour's ineptitude in handling its Scottish personnel created a handy narrative of "London control" that diverted from real concerns about her leadership.

Reluctant as we are to admit it, there are darker spices people require of their leaders.

These include elements of ruthlessness and enormous self-belief, talents Johann can be thankful she does not possess.

Gordon Brown has the requirements but with him Labour would not be forced to look in the mirror. The answer to every problem would begin and end with the word "Gordon".

Whoever the next leader is will have to face these "challenges", the word of the week to describe Labour's crisis of opportunity.

The first real-time problem is being the back-marker in the Smith Commission on devolution.

Labour’s low tax-raising offer, reasoned as it is, makes them look like reluctant home rulers, allowing the SNP to frame the general election on who will deliver more for Scotland.

By squaring off on the Smith Commission the new Labour leader can ask the real 2015 question - who governs, Labour or the Tories?

Then, there is the talent issue. To look like a capable Scottish government the leader needs A-list candidates for the 2016 campaign. That includes the powerful symbolism of Labour MPs leaving Westminster for Holyrood.

Obviously the leader must hold the SNP to account, to remind voters that Nicola Sturgeon’s vision, decisively rejected by voters, looks threadbare.

The SNP’s big consumer offer is populism, like free tuition fees for the middle class dressed as a universal benefit. This avoids the difficult choices facing true social democrats. 

This is the Labour leader's hardest challenge and moving left might provide strong core messages, but not policy answers. 

In good news for the party, voters don't care any more for its management structure than they do for Tesco’s. 

It would be just nuts for Labour to turn a showcase of talent in the leadeship campaign into a squabble between London and Scotland

Scots like Labour’s values of social justice, that's why the SNP preach left while governing right.

On the referendum doorstep voters kept saying one thing about Labour - they want the party to be better than it is. 

In that sense Labour is a great Scottish brand, it just needs a leader to match.

The asylum of the sea 

Immigration is becoming the dark and perfect storm of the political winter.

Natacha Bouchart, the  mayor of besieged Calais, said illegal migrants on the French side of the Channel are  "prepared to die" to get into the UK because of our attractive regime of benefits.

Compared to the kicking they get as they cross Europe, £72.50 a week that an asylum-seeking couple would get here makes the UK look like an El Dorado.

What draws migrants to our shores is our world-conquering language, English, and our stable migrant communities.  

But feeding the fear and loathing around immigration is a Home Office losing contact with thousands of asylum seekers refused the right to stay.

On top of that Tory Minister Nick Bowles says the UK can never avoid heavy immigration because freedom of movement is fundamental principle of the EU.  

Telling the truth is not exactly helpful to a Prime Minister trying to kow-tow to the UKIP anti-immigration agenda. 

And Ed Miliband has his own problems as UKIP polling clams that half of Labour voters in the Rochester by-election are crossing to the anti-immigrant party. 

But the migrant problem is not in Calais, or in Westminster, or in Rochester.

It is in the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean where thousands of refugees risk their lives to cross from Africa to Europe.

It is there that the UK government this week refused to fund any future search and rescue operations on the basis that saving drowning people only encourages  more to attempt the dangerous crossing. 

That should fill us with anger and shame. Where is our common humanity when the asylum we want to offer is in the sea?

Halloween offer
Are you stuck for a Halloween idea? I've checked online and they do still sell Alex Salmond party masks.
A terrible thought, I know, turning up to a party as the most divisive politician in Scottish history.
But buy now as most of the stock has been sold to Lib Dems in the Gordon constituency who are going out tomorrow night frightening the voters with the idea of the politically dead rising again.

Scales of tolerance 

Post-referendum the right-wing Scottish commentator (they do exist) Iain Martin provocatively asked: "just how much more Scottish wingeing can the English take?" 
The outrage from online nationalists was laughably predictable. 
But the science tells us there is no limit to English tolerance.
A poll for the London Evening Standard showed  only 25 per cent of Londoners were less likely to support Andy Murray at Wimbledon despite his backing for Scottish independence.
How annoying, they like is whether we win or lose. 
Sùil Eile

Chan eil buidheann de luchd-bhòtaidh ann am Breatainn cho cumhachdach ri dràibhearan.

Nuair a bruidhinn riaghaltas Làbarach air cìsean a thogail a rèir nam miltean a bha dràibhearan a' siubhal, bha uiread de dh'fhearg ann agus nach cuala guth air an leithid a-rithist.

Nuair a thig e gu cìsean peatroil, 's e a' cheist dè cho àrd 's a leumas luchd-poilitigs airson dràibhearan a chumail riaraichte.

Mar sin tha e mar ìognadh gu bheil Riaghaltas na h-Alba air a dhol cho fada 's gu bheil iad air camarathan astair a chur air rathad mòr an A9 idir. Cha chaomh leis an riaghaltas seo a dhol an aghaidh ghuthan làidir.

Ach chan eil rian nach eil feum air na camarathan.

Tha iad air an A77, agus tha tubaistean air a rathad chunnartach sin air tuiteam an darna leth.

Tha dà cheud tubaist air an A9 a h-uile bliadhna, còrr is trì fichead bàs thairis air còig bliadhna.

Tha e duilich argamaid phoilitigeach a dhèanamh an aghaidh fhigearan mar sin.

English translation

There is no group of voters in Britain more powerful than drivers.

When the Labour government talked about raising tax according to the miles drivers travelled, there was such fury that the we never heard of the likes again.

Then it comes to taxes on petrol, it is a question of how high do politicians jump to keep drivers satisfied.

So it is surprising that the Scottish Government has gone so far as to put speed cameras on the A9 at all. This government does not like to oppose strong voices.

But there is no doubt that the cameras are needed.

They are on the A77, and the number of accidents on that dangerous road has fallen by half.

There are two hundred accidents on the A9 each year, over sixty deaths over a five year period.

It is hard to make a political argument against figures like that.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Angus MacLeod, Scottish Editor of The Times and distinguished broadcaster

It is very sad, at the end of a remarkable political season, to mark the death of Angus MacLeod.

The editor of The Times in Scotland was one of the country's most respected journalists.

Like every other reporter Angus MacLeod could be reduced to a name  above a newspaper article. But for colleagues and politicians who admired his inquiring mind he was a character much bigger than any by line.

After decades in print he still greeted every story with huge enthusiasm, firing up others around him as he cut through to the heart of what mattered.

He had a reputation as an old school print journalist, but was cuter than all the young reporters he mentored and took to every media platform. His last tweet was in defence of one of his reporters.

And that voice. Many's the Radio Scotland listener would not rise from their bed until his eloquent Saturday morning newspaper review was complete.

That voice turned newsprint into verse, no mean achievement even with his lilting Hebridean accent. 
Angus Macleod's every syllable resonated of a home he left years ago.

People think he was the sound of Stornoway but in fact his was a very specific Isle of Lewis brogue. 

Gaelic was on his tongue though not his lips. He had the pleasant grout of Plasterfield, a pre-fab housing estate where the edge of the English-speaking town met the sound of the Gaelic hinterland and mixed. 

Like all village sounds in Scotland that accent is being smoothed away, it is all but gone.
Angus was a rare pebble on the shoreline, and his voice and his influence on Scottish journalists will echo for a long time to come.