Friday, 28 October 2011

Campbell Christie 1937- 2011

Campbell Christie, the former General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, has died aged 74.

Christie served as General Secretary of the STUC from 1986 to 1998, during the height of Thatcherism, and was one of the key players in the campaign that led to the Scottish parliament.

He also served as chairman of Falkirk Football Club, and most recently he chaired a commission on the future of public services in Scotland.

First Minister Alex Salmond described him as a giant of the trade union movement who “served Scotland to the end”.

The tributes to Christie, who is survived by his wife Betty and his family, were led by Graeme Smith, the current STUC General Secretary.

He said Christie had been one of Scotland’s most outstanding trade union and civic figures whose leadership of the trade union movement in the 80s and 90s gained respect for himself and the union movement across the industrial and political spectrum.

Smith said: “Campbell was comfortable on the shop floor and in the boardroom. He was never afraid of taking the difficult decision, even if he knew it might upset others in the Labour movement. He always saw the bigger picture. Whether it was the myriad of campaigns for jobs, in support of manufacturing or public services or in opposition to the imposition of the poll tax, Campbell’s overwhelming objective was always to place the STUC and the unions at the heart of Scottish industrial and political life.”

“Under Campbell’s stewardship the STUC rose above the exclusion of unions from the ‘corridors of power’ and forged relationships across Scottish society which galvanised opposition to the brutal policies of Thatcher and Major Governments’. Those relationships remain in place today.”

Smith added: “He was a passionate advocate of Scottish Home Rule committed, not only to seeing the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, but to it being Parliament with a progressive purpose, accessible to, and working for the people. While politicians take credit for Devolution, the role played by Campbell Christie and others in civil Scotland was equally important.

“His influence reached way beyond the STUC. He was a prominent figure in the social partnership structures of the EU, in the international peace movement, he was active in voluntary and community organisations and of course”

While Chair of the Board of Falkirk Football Club, the team enjoyed a run in the Premier League and reached the Scottish Cup Final, something in which he took great delight.

Christie remained involved in public life until recently, leading the Scottish government’s Commission on the Future of Public Service.

First Minister Alex Salmond said: “Campbell was loved by many for his principles, his humour and his courage. He was a key figure in the campaign for a Scottish Parliament, a strong voice for democracy in the late 1980s and 1990s when civic Scotland led the movement for change. Salmond added: “He served Scotland to the end, his last public duty to lead the Christie Commission into Public Sector Reform, which he did with great wisdom and diligence. His advice in that report will live on to guide us in these new difficult times.”

Falkirk FC also released a statement paying tribute to their club director and said a minute’s silence will be observed prior to the team’s game against Raith Rovers on Saturday.

The club said: “After a period of illness, Campbell died peacefully at Strathcarron Hospice in the early hours of this morning. Our thoughts are with his wife, Betty, and his family at this time.

“Campbell loved Falkirk Football Club and was a great servant to the club. He spent three spells as Chairman and steered the club through periods of its greatest turmoil and greatest successes. He will be greatly missed by everyone at the football club.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said Christie will be great loss to the Labour movement and Scotland.
"He was one of our foremost trade union leaders and served with distinction as General Secretary of the STUC at a  particularly difficult time for working people and the country. He led from the front in the struggle to defend working people against the ravages of the Thatcherite government as manufacturing industry in Scotland was hammered by the Tories.
“But Campbell was above all a true public servant in every sense and was very active in the civic life of Scotland, serving on many other bodies and organisations, not least his beloved Falkirk FC.”
Born in 1937 in Carsluith, Dumfries and Galloway, as one of six brothers, Christie moved to Glasgow with his family at 12 years of age.

As a youngster he represented Glasgow in football and athletics but went on to join the Civil Service, where he became active in trade unionism.

Based in London,Christie was key to transforming the Society of Civil & Public Servants into a modern and effective organisation with greatly increased membership.
By 1976, he became Deputy General Secretary of the union and a leading figure in the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

In 1986, he left London to become General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the umbrella organisation representing the views of all unions in Scotland.

Christie represented the STUC on the Scottish Constitutional Convention from its creation in 1989. He also served on the European Community’s Economic & Social Committee and as a director of the Glasgow Development Agency for six years in the 1990s.

After retiring from the STUC in 1998, Christie was appointed to the Board of Scottish Enterprise and also to the Board of British Waterways

He was also Chairman of Falkirk Football Club and has held directorships in the health, brewing and transport sectors.

Awarded a CBE in 1997, he was granted honorary doctorates from St Andrews, Stirling, Napier and Glasgow Caledonian Universities, together with Queen Margaret’s University College.

In his tribute Alex Salmond captured the warmth of Christie’s personality.

He said: “Campbell’s life will not just be measured in the offices he held or the achievements he won, many as they were, but also in the generosity of spirit and dignified manner which distinguished all his actions.
I speak for the nation in sending condolences and sympathy to his beloved wife Betty and family.

“For many, Campbell’s warmth as a man and a fighter were evident in his love for Falkirk football club, and I know that all Falkirk Bairns will be mourning today.”

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Happy Birthday Private Eye

It's purile, it's childish, it's 50 years old and no home should be without it. This week's cover shows why we'll relish another half century of the Eye.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Option 3 - "I Can't Believe It's Not Independence"

Here's the Hansard report of last night's adjournment debate on Scotland.

Tom Harris MP, aspirant leader of the Scottish Labour Party, called the debate to get some clarity on the timing of a referendum. No light, some heat, and a witty description of "Devo Max" as "I Can't Believe It's Not Independence"

Constitutional Status (Scotland)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Angela Watkinson.)

10.16 pm
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to lead this important debate about the future of my nation. It will not have escaped your notice that the results of last May’s Scottish Parliament elections were less than satisfactory as far as my party is concerned. We now have a majority Scottish National party Government at Holyrood, a Government who are committed to ripping Scotland out of the most successful political and democratic union the world has ever seen.

Although I disagree fundamentally with the nationalists and the very notion of identity politics—my party has always believed that people are rather more important than borders—I nevertheless concede and recognise that the SNP now has a mandate to hold a referendum on whether Scotland should be a nation separate from the rest of Britain and, consequently, Europe.

I want to take the opportunity of this debate to remind the nationalists that the electorate have given them a mandate, not a blank cheque. I want to know from the Minister whether, if the SNP proves to be incapable of holding a free and fair referendum, the UK Government will have any role in ensuring that the Scottish people are properly consulted about the future of our nation. The SNP manifesto earlier this year stated:

“Independence will only happen when people in Scotland vote for it. That is why independence is your choice. We think the people of Scotland should decide our nation’s future in a democratic referendum and opinion polls suggest that most Scots agree. We will, therefore, bring forward our Referendum Bill in this next Parliament. A yes vote will mean Scotland becomes an independent nation.”

Unfortunately, since unexpectedly achieving an overall majority at Holyrood, the First Minister seems to have decided, rather counter-intuitively, that the manifesto on which he was elected matters less than it would have mattered if he had been forced to govern again as a minority. Even now, many SNP members claim that their party’s mandate is to hold the referendum towards the end of this Parliament. The manifesto says no such thing. The First Minister is entitled to hold a referendum at a time of his choosing, and it could be next year, or in 2015 if that is his preference. He obviously knows when it will be, and it beggars belief to suggest that he and his cohorts have not, at least, narrowed down the time to two or three possible dates. Why will they not share that information with Scotland? Are only high-ranking members of the party entitled to that information?

Whatever one’s view of independence, I am sure we can all agree that this debate will inevitably cause a degree of uncertainty in Scotland. Even if Alex Salmond today condescended to share the date of the referendum with us mere mortals, a degree of uncertainty and financial instability would ensue. The SNP could choose to minimise that, but instead chooses not to do so. More important than the effects on future investment decisions is the simple democratic right of ordinary Scots to know precisely what plans the SNP has for our nation.

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Nor does the SNP manifesto feature a commitment to lowering the voting age for the referendum, yet that seems to be exactly what the SNP is planning, since it clearly believes that the chances of the people endorsing their plans for independence would be less if the existing franchise were used. The SNP will, no doubt, point to its long-standing commitment to joining Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador in the group of nations where 16-year-olds vote. Polling suggests that younger people are more likely to support independence, so who can doubt that a one-off reduction in the voting age for one specific event can be anything other than the most cynical move to get the “right” result? If the SNP really cared about enfranchising younger people, why has it made no progress towards lowering the voting age for local authority elections, over which it does have legislative control?

Thirdly, the SNP seems to have a problem with the idea of the Electoral Commission having any oversight of the referendum. I suspect I know why. When the Deputy Prime Minister announced his preferred question to put before the people in the AV referendum, the Electoral Commission said no and insisted on a more objective, more easily understandable question. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister’s preferred question was “AV is great, isn’t it?” To be forced to ask the Scottish people a straightforward, understandable question is something that the SNP, bizarrely, cannot tolerate.

Then there is the biggie: so-called full fiscal autonomy. However long it will be before the referendum, it is unlikely that this option—whatever we call it, whether it is “Devo Max”, “Independent Lite” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Independence”—is likely to be any better defined than it is today; it will still mean whatever one wants it to mean, which undoubtedly explains why it is consistently the most popular option in the opinion polls. Not only is it ill defined, it is not even deliverable, since it would affect fundamentally the way in which whole of the United Kingdom, not just Scotland, was governed. Scotland imposing a form of government on the rest of the UK would be no more acceptable than the other way round.

Moreover, once again, there is nothing in the SNP manifesto, nor in anyone’s manifesto, to justify the addition of a third option on the ballot paper.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Harris: I am tempted; of course I will.

Pete Wishart: I have been listening very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. When does he think that Westminster should take over the whole referendum process? Given that he is so concerned, perplexed and exercised about the third question, what does he have to say to Lord Foulkes, Malcolm Chisholm, former First Ministers and those of his hon. Friends who believe that a third option should be put on the referendum?

Mr Harris: When the SNP starts telling us dates, I will, in turn, give the hon. Gentleman some dates for any deadline that the UK Government might wish to impose.

Even in his typically humble and understated conference speech in Inverness on Saturday, the First Minister gave an opaque hint that “Separation Lite” might yet be included on the ballot paper, but he fell short of clarifying the issue, though his spin doctors had told the press in advance that that was exactly what he intended to do.

25 Oct 2011 : Column 290

Let us be clear that none of these things—the refusal to name a date, the lowering of the voting age, the exclusion of the Electoral Commission and the inclusion of a third, vague option—was in the SNP manifesto, and for a very good reason: fair-minded Scots would have concluded that someone, somewhere, was attempting a constitutional sleight of hand; and they would have been right. Whether or not the Scottish people wish to remain part of the UK, it is of the utmost importance that the result of any referendum cannot be second-guessed, misinterpreted, reinterpreted or undermined. It must not be ambiguous.

In 1995, the people of Quebec were asked to take part in their second referendum on independence. One might be forgiven for assuming that the question on the ballot paper was, “Do you want Quebec to become independent?” That would have been far too honest and straightforward a question. After all, the actual question was framed by nationalists. This is the question that was put to Quebec’s voters in 1995:

“Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the Bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on 12 June 1995?”

Very straightforward, is it not? Given the high esteem in which Scottish nationalists hold the separatists of Quebec, I expect that they looked upon that wording and on the narrow margin of defeat that it suffered with envy and admiration.

It would be a great shame if the nationalists’ posturing, prevarication and cowardice on the referendum were to result in the same kind of solution to which the Canadian Parliament was forced to resort: a Clarity Act to ensure that certain basic principles of transparency and honesty were adhered to in any referendum. That is not a road that I want to go down, but it is something we may have to consider. After all, the sovereignty of the Scottish people and our right to a fair and honest say in the future of our nation trump the pomposity and pride of Scottish Government Ministers of whatever rank.

Perhaps this jiggery-pokery—I do not know whether this will be the first time that that phrase will appear in Hansard—is understandable from a nationalist perspective. After all, politics is about priorities and the SNP priority is independence, nothing else. Jobs, the economy, the health service, schools, the fight against poverty—none of those issues matter as much to the nationalists as the prospect of replacing the words “United Kingdom” with the word “Scotland” on their passports. Perhaps in their minds, the end justifies the means. In my mind, and in the minds of the great majority of Scots, it certainly does not.

It is not too late. The Scottish Government could, even now, rescue their reputation and re-establish their commitment to Scottish democracy by making it clear that the question we were promised—yes or no to independence—will be asked, with no fudging, no cheating, no rigging, and with complete transparency. The Scottish people deserve that at least.

If the SNP Government cannot rise to the challenge of delivering their own manifesto commitment, we may have to accept that the UK Government have a role to play. Alex Salmond is highly thought of in Scotland. [ Interruption. ] He is. He is a substantial politician and I have no doubt—I am not being sarcastic—that he loves Scotland dearly. If he is guilty occasionally of putting his party’s ambitions above those of the Scottish people,

25 Oct 2011 : Column 291

it is only because he too often conflates the two. So what would it say about Alex Salmond if the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), the Prime Minister, turned out to be more capable than he of delivering the SNP’s key manifesto commitment?

10.28 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris) on securing this debate on what is an important issue, and I thank all hon. Members for their presence at it. I note the hon. Gentleman’s participation in the contest for the leadership of the Scottish Labour party. I would wish him well, but I know that that would damage his chances. There is also a contest for the deputy leadership of the Scottish Labour party. As I have already made clear, when a newspaper headline read, “Mundell Backs Davidson”, it did not refer to the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), so that should help his chances.

The Government have been clear that they are totally opposed to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has committed to working constructively with the devolved Administrations on the basis of mutual respect. There are many issues on which the Government have worked successfully with the Scottish Government. However, we do not agree with the Scottish Government in their pursuit of separatism. On that issue, we will give them no succour. Whatever factors played a part in May’s election result, a rise in support for Scottish separatism was not one of them.

However, let me be clear that we are not complacent about the Scottish Government’s call for a referendum on the breaking up of the United Kingdom. We are challenging them. They must answer the substantive questions, to which the hon. Member for Glasgow South referred, about what they mean by “independence”. They have been uncharacteristically shy in setting out exactly what independence would involve and what it would cost.

After repeated questioning, the Scottish Government have now told me that the 2009 White Paper “Your Scotland, Your Voice” and the 2010 draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill hold all the answers. As hon. Members would expect, we are scrutinising those papers thoroughly. However, so far they appear simply to raise more questions than answers. We now also have another glossy SNP pamphlet entitled “Your Scotland, Your Future”, in which, as usual, dozens of promises are set out but there are no facts and no evidence.

The hon. Gentleman raised valuable points about the Scottish Government’s proposed referendum. First, the date of the referendum is crucial. Not only is the current situation unsettling, but many people’s patience is being tested by the lack of detail coming from the Scottish Government on what independence would actually mean. Business leaders are now beginning to say that they are worried about the uncertainty that that is creating about Scotland’s future, which is damaging to Scotland and to the United Kingdom. We are trying to get more detail out of the Scottish Government. At present, all that we have to go on is the vague time line of

“the second half of the parliamentary term”

25 Oct 2011 : Column 292

and no other detail. We do not have to accept that that is satisfactory. As the hon. Gentleman said, that time scale was never a manifesto commitment. In fact, the First Minister revealed the notion only a week before the elections took place. If the case for separatism is so strong, why wait to hold the referendum?

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the referendum question. The First Minister has raised the prospect of “devolution-max”, also known as “independence-lite”, or possibly “full fiscal autonomy”, and is dangling it as a supposed third way. That is a fallacy. There is no third way. The only choice is between separatism and remaining in the United Kingdom.

We can review and update the devolution settlement, as Calman did and as the Scotland Bill is currently doing. The Calman commission, formed through cross-party consensus, recognised the strength and benefits of the economic and social union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Its recommendations are now being implemented through the Scotland Bill, which represents a radical, historic and significant change to the financing of public services in Scotland. We can allow the settlement to evolve, but selling the Scottish people the undefined SNP construct of “devo-max” is selling the Scottish public a pig in a poke. Any referendum question needs to be clear—yes or no to separatism. As the hon. Gentleman said, anything else would simply be jiggery-pokery.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the franchise. The Scottish Government have indicated that 16 and 17-year-olds should be given the right to vote in any referendum. Many people are already suspicious that the SNP is trying to rig the electorate to get the result it wants. Is it appropriate to experiment with changes to the franchise on a matter of such importance as the future of Scotland?

Finally, the hon. Gentleman discussed the role of the Electoral Commission. It is an independent body, respected for ensuring transparency in polls across the United Kingdom. In their 2010 draft referendum Bill and consultation paper, the Scottish Government stated that they intended to create their own electoral commission for any referendum. Questions have to be asked about that course of action. What is wrong with the current Electoral Commission, which has delivered so much in Scotland to date? What is the motive behind the Scottish Government creating their own commission? How many extra costs would that create for the taxpayer?

The hon. Gentleman also made a valid point about the Canadian Clarity Act, and it is worthy of further consideration. Hon. Members will be aware that the Scottish Affairs Committee is holding two inquiries into questions relating to a referendum and what the break-up of the United Kingdom would mean for Scotland and the rest of the UK. I have no doubt that academics and experts called before the Committee will be keen to explore the Canadian Clarity Act and its parallels with Scotland.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister correctly identifies that the Scottish Affairs Committee is looking at aspects of a separation referendum. Will he make the resources of government, particularly civil servants, available to provide information to the Committee? That would help us to clarify some of the

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questions that we identify in our current trawl. Those issues will require settlement before any referendum is held, so that the Scottish public can be well informed.

David Mundell: I can give the Committee Chairman that assurance. The Government will do everything we can to support the Committee’s work, because we believe that the people should be well informed before any referendum takes place. We sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will follow our example and be forthcoming with the same level of information, which is required not just by the Committee, but by the people of Scotland if they are to make a decision on this important matter.

Pete Wishart: The Minister does not quite understand that the days of this House determining and dictating what the Scottish do in future are over and gone, and do not matter any more. Does he foresee any situation or condition in which this Westminster Conservative Government will take over the referendum process?

David Mundell: If the hon. Gentleman believed a word of that diatribe, he would call the referendum now and demonstrate what the people of Scotland think.

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We share so much in common across the United Kingdom and we have a successful partnership that delivers stability and prosperity for all parts of the nation. I think we will see people across Scotland coming out in favour of the most successful economic and social union ever when they eventually get the chance to vote. It is right to keep the United Kingdom together when so much unites us. The best of the UK is still to come.

Let hon. Members be in no doubt that the Government will not be neutral on the break-up of the United Kingdom. We will continue to argue for a better future for Scotland within the UK. We look forward to continuing this debate and to contributing to the Scottish Affairs Committee inquiries in due course, and to the Scottish Government’s co-operation with those two inquiries, when they can answer the questions raised in the debate. What the people of Scotland need now is not vulgar triumphalism from Mr Salmond and glossy brochures from the SNP, but facts, evidence and answers.

Question put and agreed to.

10.38 pm
House adjourned.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

"Odd Couple" revive domestic double act

As far as I can see the committed Europhobe Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) was the only Scottish MP, though not the only Labour one, to vote for a referendum on the EU last night.

Davidson spoke for a third way - a renegotiation of the European Union, a kind of EU-max perhaps. He doesn't want to be in a position of voting to leave when what he wants is reform.

That argument allowed his old roommate Michael Connarty MP - they shared a flat in a Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon arrangement before the MPs' expenses reforms - to give him a bit of a ribbing later on.

While detailing how article 49 and article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty mean that renegotiation of EU membership is a nonsense - you're either in or out - Connarty noticed with disappointment that Davidson had left the chamber. "He is not so much a friend as an ongoing further education project for me," said Connarty.

You can imagine the chats the pair have had over a cocoa in the old days.

Meanwhile, the well known Europhile Denis MacShane had a rough write up in Hansard, the offical parliamentary report which sometimes inadvertedly captures the mood of the house in its formalised style:

Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour) rose —

Hon. Members: Groan!

Nigel Evans (Deputy Speaker; Ribble Valley, Conservative): Order. He has not said anything yet.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Tory EU rebellion limits Cameron on Scotland

The scale of the Tory rebellion on the EU referendum - it looks like 81 MPs - has implications for the constitutional future of Scotland too.

With almost half the Tory backbencher who are not hired as ministers or bag carriers openly defying him, Cameron has entered the nightmare territory for any Conservative leader.

The Tory Party's ability to tear itself apart over Britain's role in Europe is well-remembered, not least by Cameron who as a party researcher had a front-row seat on the "bastards" vs John Major over Europe in the 1990s.

This time it's different - a highly Eurosceptic Tory party and a leader who over-promised the rightwingers on his path to power.

In the next few years Cameron could be wrenched by either arm on the constitutional questions as Salmond on one side, and his own Eurosceptics on the other, try to tear up the UK settlement.

Tonight's Westminster rebellion on the EU must now limit Cameron’s room for maneouvere on Scotland. Downing Street has been mulling over whether to call its own early referendum on Scotland’s future in the UK.

The PM is said to be open-minded on whether to order a simple Yes-No referendum on Scottish independence ahead of Alex Salmond’s plans for a multi-option ballot sometime beyond 2014.

But to call a referendum on one constitutional issue while denying his own backbenchers a vote on another will prove highly tricky.

Neverendum groundhog day

Today the main news is about a political feeding frenzy as a fundamentalist, fiercely nationalistic party pursues it's obsession with a multi-question constitutional referendum while the rest of the country worries about the economy plunging off the edge of a cliff.

Sounds strangely familiar...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Come on Mr Salmond, it's our country too

“There is no one on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, apart from Eilidh Whiteford [SNP MP for Banff and Buchan] that has a mandate to say anything about a referendum, apart from the fact that they are opposed to it. The only ones with a mandate to say or do anything are the ones sitting in the Scottish Parliament.” - Alex Salmond.

I think that's a genuine quote from the First Minister reproduced this morning in the Scottish edition of the Daily Telegraph, itself culled from a Holyrood magazine interview.

Salmond was responding to the idea that the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee is to launch an investigation into his plans for three-question "yes, no, mubee" referendum and the practicalities of what the SNP actually means by an independent Scotland.

It's quite some statement to claim that only signed up SNP MPs, and presumably MSPs, have a right or a mandate to say anything about the political future of Scotland.

It's quite staggering how the First Minister continues to be relatively unchallenged on that presumption too. Come on Mr Salmond, it's our country too, don't forget that.

You don't have to dig too deep to get at what the SNP leader is signalling with his get your Westminster scooters off my lawn rant ahead of his party conference this weekend.

The thing a dominant SNP fears most is a Westminster-organised referendum with a simple Yes or No to the nation, an idea which is gathering momentum across the other parties. He'd lose that one.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Och, here's the news and pass a razor blade

If a nation is the story it tells itself then the PA news schedule for Scotland this afternoon is a depressing tale.

Sectarianism, unemployment, murr-der, impotence, robbery, we've got it all. Even the one film that gets accolades, Peter Mullan's Neds, is the story of a violent, urban Scottish upbringing.

I phone the newsdesk to complain that there must be some good cheer somewhere to report and the deadpan response is: "Listen, that's only the news, you should see the weather."

Here's that full list, unabridged:

Press Association Scotland schedule update at 1600 on Monday October 17.
COURTS Bigot: A man who used a social networking website to post sectarian comments about Catholics and Celtic supporters has been jailed for eight months.

SCOTLAND Unemployment: Scotland is suffering from a "youth employment crisis" with one in four young men out of work, Labour said today.

SCOTLAND Redundancies: Councils have spent millions of pounds on voluntary and compulsory redundancy payments in the last two years, according to new figures.

CITY Philips: Lightbulbs-to-TV maker Philips is to cut 4,500 jobs after announcing its profits nearly halved during the summer.

SCOTLAND Death: A man has been charged with murdering another man who was found seriously injured at a house.

SCOTLAND Jobs: The rate of improvement in the Scottish labour market continued to ease off last month, according to a report.

SCOTLAND Trams: The first tram is expected to be delivered at the newly completed depot on the outskirts of Edinburgh this morning.

ENVIRONMENT Energy: Household electricity bills could be pushed up by around £300 a year by 2020 as a result of a continued reliance on fossil fuels to provide energy, environmentalists claimed today.

SCOTLAND Football: Two men are due in court in connection with football-related hate crime, police have said.

SCOTLAND Pylons: Work gets under way today to remove a string of electricity pylons from the UK's largest national park.

SCOTLAND Impotence: A convenient new drug to help men overcome erectile dysfunction has been approved by Scotland's medical watchdog.

MONEY Pension: Automatic enrolment into pension schemes could create an extra six million people saving, generating £12.5 billion annually to the retirement pot by 2017, research from Standard Life suggested today.

SCOTLAND Robbery: Three men have stolen more than £10,000 from a supermarket during an armed robbery.

SCOTLAND Stags: Male red stags are being snubbed by their female counterparts as they fight for attention during mating, research has shown.

SCOTLAND Burns: A mural inspired by Robert Burns's poem Tam O'Shanter has been unveiled at the bard's birthplace museum.

SCOTLAND Mother: A mother of five who died after a night out at a music festival has been named.

SCOTLAND Dog: Animal welfare inspectors are appealing for information about a starving and injured dog which was found in a "dreadful state".

SCOTLAND Climber: A man died after falling around 1,000 feet while climbing in the Highlands.

SCOTLAND Baftas: The nominees for this year's Scottish Baftas have been announced with Peter Mullan's film Neds named in four categories.

SCOTLAND Bank: Police have been stopping motorists and pedestrians near a city centre bank which was held up and robbed last week.

SOCIAL Funerals: A quarter of people fail to show the proper respect to a funeral procession, according to a survey.

SCOTLAND Pharmacists: The role pharmacists play in helping care for people could be developed in the future, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said today.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Dughlas - a cheud ceum air ais airson na Labaraich

‘S e fear de phrìomh bhall a’ Phàrtaidh Làbaraich an Alba - agus a-measg an fheadhainn as motha a th’ air a bhith an sàs ann an iomairtean Albannach agus aig ìre Westminster.

Ach a-nochd bheir Dùghlas Alexander òraid ann an Sruighlea far an aidich e gu bheil am Pàrtaidh Làbarach air chall agus gu feum cruth-atharrachadh tighinn air ma tha iad a’ dol a thàladh luchd-bhòtaidh.

S e òraid inntinneadh, tuiseach a th’ aig Dùghlas, agus bu chòir a leughadh bho cheann gu ceann. ‘S e a' cheud ceum air ais dha fhèin agus a phàrtaidh ann an Alba, a' tighinn as dèidh do Mhairead Curran dreuchd mar neach-labhairt dùbhlanch air cùisean Albannach a ghabhail.

Sa cheud àite tha e ag aideachadh a-nochd dìreach cho dona sa bha na Làbaraich ann an taghaidhean sa Chèitean. Fhuair iad pronnadh cho cruaidh bhon SNP 's gun tug e gu seo fhèin mus tàinig iad timcheall. "We were gubbed," tha e ag aideachadh.

Tha e a' mìneachadh carson a chaill na Làbaraich, carson a bhuannaich na Nàiseantaich. Tha diofar adbharan ann ach 's e a' phrìomh fhreagairt air sin, a rèir Dùghlas, 's e nach do rinn am pàrtaidh aig e-fhèin ceangal sam bith ri sluagh na h-Alba.

Thairis air na bliadhnaichean, le fèin-riaghladh, le crìonadh ann an aonaidhean ciùird agus seann obraichean tha na ceanglaichean sin eadar na Làbaraich agus luchd-bhòtaidh air briseadh sìos.

Bha sin a' fàgail am pàrtaidh a' sabaid seann chogaidh an aghaidh Thatcherism agus a' feuchainn fhathast an t-eagal a chur air bhòtairean mu dheidhinn neo-eisimealachd.

Feumaidh a-nis am pàrtaidh prìomhachas a thoirt do chuspairean Albannach, a bhith a' maipeagadh cùrsa air adhart airson na dùthich, a tha a' toirt misneachd do dhaoine agus a tha a' bruidhinn ribh mu dheidhinn dòchais agus chan ann mu dheidhinn dorchadais.

Ceart gu leòr, ach chanainn-sa gu bheil gu leòr bhòtairean a bhiodh tòrr nas cruaidhe air na Làbaraich airson nan adhbharan a chaill aid. Agus tha sibh a' coinneachdh riutha, bhòtairean Làbarach a bha cho freagarrach le mar a bha am pàrtaidh a' cur iad fhèin air adhart, agus an ceannard a bh' aca, 's gun do ghluais iad a-null dhan SNP.

'S e a chanas Mgr Alexander gu feum am pàrtaidh e fhèin as-ùrachadh, stèidhichte air na prionnsabalan a tha aca co-dhiù - co-ionnanachd agus ceartas sòisealta.

Feumaidh iad a bhith mar thagraichean airson Alba, ach chan e Alba a tha air a reubadh a-mach às an Aonadh, ach dubhaich far a bheil na buannachdan mòra sòisealta a rinn na Làbaraich fhathast rim faighinn.

Tha e a' cur air an SNP gu bheil ùirsgeul acasan a tha a' cantainn nach urainn dhut a bhith na d'fhear Albannach mura h-eil sibh a' cur taic ri na Nàiseantaich.

Chan eil sin fìrinneach, canaidh Alexander, ach feumaidh am pàrtaidh Làbarach a bhith làn gràdh-dùthcha ach le teachdaireachd gu bheil e ceadaichte a bhith na d' Albannach agus na do Bhreatannach, agus gu bheil buannachd anns gach stàit.

Chanaidh na Nàiseantaich gu bheil e ceart - gu robh na Làbaraich sgriosail sna taghaidhean agus nach eil buannachd sam bith ann dìreach a bhith a' feuchainn ri an t-eagal a chur air daoine mu dheidhinn neo-eisimealachd.

Ach cuiridh Alexander dragh orra cuideachd. Seo cuideigin aig àrd ìre sa Phàrtaidh Làbarach a' tòiseachadh a' mìneachadh nan adhbharan cinnteach, dearbhadh airson Alba leantainn am braoin an Aonaidh.

'S e deasbad a leanas bliadhnaichean a seo ach bheir an òraid seo misneachd dha na Làbaraich gu bheil cuideigin aca a chuireas air adhart gu aragmaidean làidir airson prionnsabalan sòisealta an aoidh neo-eismealachd.

Taing do Eilidh Dhubh

Dr Fox still outruns the media hounds

Simon Heffer (Daily Mail), Jonathan Freedland (Guardian), Trevor Kavanagh (Sun) - the list of columnists calling for the pelt of Defence Secretary Dr Fox grows with each morning's newspaper delivery.

He may well go in the next day or week, but that will be thanks to the money trail that reporters are uncovering. None of the Fleet Street pillars will be able claim the credit.

Trevor Kavanagh's Monday column "..if he hasn't been sacked by the time you read this..." was perhaps the most significant.

A decade and more ago The Sun would have published that kind of column in the sure and certain knowledge that the deed had already been done. The paper would then present the shrill demand as the act that really forced the minister's dispatch.

On Monday the determined Dr Fox did not stick to the script and that tells us two things. Firstly, as we know, we're dealing with one crazy fox here and secondly, the Sun is not the Whitehall power player it once was.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Osborne bonus refunds SNP c-tax freeze

So, Osborne has found £805m down the back of the sofa for a council tax freeze in England for another year.

This, I'm told, will deliver the Scottish government a Barnett consequential of about £67.5m into its general budget. The Holyrood government can use the bonus as it pleases, it is not assigned to specific spending.

The SNP administration has already budgeted around £70m a year to pay for a Scottish council tax freeze for 2012-13. The SNP pledged in their manifesto to keep the charge frozen for the lifetime of the parliament, up to 2016.

Effectively, Osborne could claim he is reimbursing the Scottish government for its popular policy, but the Tories here in Manchester aren't spinning it like that.

On the subject of finding money down the sofa, hats off to the Treasury team for finding -albiet at the very last minute - £3m to keep the two emergency tug vessels on the west coast of Scotland going for another three months.

The contract for the coastguard tugs in Shetland and Stornoway ran out on Friday and was not due to be renewed under the cuts programme. But the Department of Transport has been told, quite directly I understand, to find the means to keep the cover until another funding solution is devised.

Just as well, because it's blowing 70mph out there in the Hebrides today. Had there been a shipping disaster anywhere from the Shetland Islands to the Western Atlantic with no towing vessel available Lib Dem MPs Alistair Carmichael and Danny Alexander would have had some explaining (and possibly some resigning) to do. The pressure will now be on to resolve this lifesaving issue.

With every turn away from austerity the government is, of course, making a rod for its own back. You know what the mantra is going to be for the coastguard tugs and every other crucial u-turn - if they can find £250m for weekly bin collections then surely...

Dave Cameron's sing-along referendum song

The songbook for tonight's traditional Scottish Conservative reception has been published.

All four leadership candidates are expected to make a contribution to the ceilidh but I'm not sure which of them will dare sing this one about David Cameron's options for calling an early referendum on independence. It's not an easy question to answer but it is an easy tune to remember...

“T’was by yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie Braes,
That Wee Eck had a victory so glorious,
But since that day in May there’s been no yea or nay,
On when we get a say on who rules oo’er us.

So You’ll tak the High Road and I’ll tak the low Road,
And I’ll get the Scots votes afore ye,
For me and my true love my bonnie Nicky Lad
We can still stick a ballot box afore ye.

There’s a tribe out the west that the Scots know the best,
But the Gray men went down in the slaughter,
Now they havnae got the crown and they havenae got a king,
And they’re seeking for a Prince oo’er the water.

Oh, you take the High Road and I’ll take the low Road...

On the banks of the Thames the air was stirring warm,
With the sound of the pipes far up yonder,
If Salmond got his plan, there’d be no bawbies and no dram,
It’s the thought made Davie’s clan sit and ponder.

Oh, you take the High Road and I’ll take the low road...

If Eck played in long then the Scots could be gone,
With the folks that were stacking in his favour,
Was it best to cut him short with a vote oo’er the lot
And put a Union yes or no on the table

You take the High Road and I’ll take the Low Road...

Young Danny was sent north to cut the Saltire cloth,
With a nine o diamonds as his callin
Was quite a sight to see, his plaid and finery,
Frayin on Drumossie muir on that morning.

But for all that Libs could yell , Wee Eck said go to hell
For the time o the fight was his choosing,
He’d wait till close of play and he wouldn’t face a crowd
On any day it looked like he’d be losing

You take the High Road and I’ll take the low road...

But the Scots knew the score and their patience it grew sore,
With the flummery he was making of their future,
If the man was ‘frit’ to call then the deal it must be soor
Or was he taking them for fools in their trustin.

So you take the High Road and you take the Low Road
And let us Scots have a vote put afore us
And we’ll tell baith masters then with the power of our pen
That none has a right to rule oo’er us.

(Trad: arrangement Crichton & Kidd)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Things you see when you're out without...

I respectfully stood aside for the Prime Minister and Mrs Sam Cam as they returned to the conference hotel after breakfast tv interviews this morning.

Not so Kevin Maguire, associate Editor of the Mirror and left-wing bane of the Tories.

The cheeky chap met Cameron coming out of a lift in the hotel last night and greeted him with a cheery: "Hello, Dave."

Cameron replied with an equally bright: "Welcome..." trailing to "...ish" as he realised who he had encountered.

Cam-1, Maguire-0

Tory conference opens with Scottish dust-up

And so onto the last lap, the Tory party conference in Manchester, which begins with a bit a Scottish dust-up.

Scotland Office Minister David Mundell, who had stayed above the fray in the Scottish leadership contest, has now thrown his lot behind Ruth Davidson.

Mundell, the Scottish Unicorn of the Tory Party as their only MP north of Carlisle, has spoken out against the Murdo Fraser plan to close down the Tories and relaunch with a new right of centre "Caledonia" Party.

It's an idea that has given Murdo first name recognition in Scotland but also left his campaign crashed on take-off.

Mundell joins Michael Forsyth and other top Scots Tories in backing Ruth Davidson as the kind of fresh new face that will appeal to people who don't traditionally back the party. He certainly doesn't think that a new party is the answer to the Scottish Tories poor showing.

"If I'm elected the next time I'll be taking the Conservative whip in Westminster and not entering coalition negotiations on behalf of some brand new party," Mundell tells me this morning.

"I think we've got to build on what we've got not destroy it. No one denies we don't need significant change but this is throwing the baby out with he bathwater," he says dismissing the Fraser plan.

"I had intended to remain neutral in this election but its not just about the leadership it is about the future of the whole party and about whether people would be able to continue voting Conservative in Scotland. I can't just be a bystander any more."

Mundell and Annabel Goldie make platform speeches today - sticking it to Salmond and Labour in equal measure. There is a lunchtime leadership hustings at the conference tomorrow at which we expect there to be a fight over the sandwiches

So much for the Indian Summer, it's raining in Manchester, the Fort William of England.