Friday, 23 March 2012

Cameron to MacTories - get off your knees

David Cameron is just off stage at the Scottish Tory Party conference in the Walker Hall, Troon.

Anyone who's been to one of the early stages of the solo competitions at the Royal National Mod will recognise what the atmosphere was like - a foosty municipal venue, in a provincial seaside resort, filled with loyal but desultory devotees of an inevitably declining pursuit.

Maybe that's a bit unfair to the Mod, I actually like attending the Gaelic music festival and the standard of performances is getting better year by year.

In contrast Cameron's appearance today was lacking, as if he was tackling a prescribed song without much enthusiasm.

On the referendum he seems to have fought Alex Salmond into an early stalemate on the date and the number of questions.

Urging the SNP leader to "stop dithering and start delivering" on the vote he had one good gag - "I thought we were going to be watching the movie Braveheart, it turns out it's more like Chicken Run".

He said he remained "open minded" about the transfer of more powers to Holyrood. I leave it to Kremlinologists to determine if this a step down from his pledge of "considering" what further powers can be devolved when he visited Scotland last month, or just a different phrasing?

His most important message was to the Tories themselves - time to get off your knees.

"I say its time we stood up even more strongly for what we believe in," said Cameron, referring to the state of the Union.

"Not everyone will agree - but those who do will follow your lead. That's what we've done on the Union. For years we shied away from the subject, scared of saying anything, worried that it would be taken the wrong way."

"Now we're the ones on the front foot - asking for that referendum, looking for the challenge."

Certainly the assertion was brave but his analysis of why people who would otherwise be expected to support the Tories don't simply missed the point. In Scotland they have an alternative anti-Labour vote - it's called the SNP.

Still, the Tories claim to be clawing back support in Scotland. Since the kick-ass new leader Ruth Davidson was elected in November 2500 lapsed and new members have joined the party. That brings the Scottish Tories up to 11,000 members.

The SNP is, of course, streets ahead with its pound for the party membership scheme bringing in over 20,100 members.

The number of members of the Scottish Labour Party is a secret, but its reckoned to be a lot less than 18,000. That's less people than go to the Royal National Mod each year.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Good day for Salmond to bury bad news

The news agenda today will be dominated by the budget so there will be little room for what would have been a front page story for most of the Scottish press - an Alex Salmond capitulation.

Despite the SNP threat to torpedo the Westminster government's Scotland Bill that would give more power to Holyrood, the Scottish government now appears to have completely backed down.

A written Ministerial Statement issued by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore this morning makes it clear that the UK government and Scottish government have reached agreement on the bill.

There's grumbling from the SNP, and concessions not to take minor powers back to Westminster, but both administrations have confirmed they will recommend MSPs and MPs support the bill when it comes before Holyrood and the Commons.

The SNP had vowed to frustrate the process of transferring powers by rallying their troops to vote against the measures in Holyrood, where the party has a comfortable majority.

But here's the bill, at the committee stage in the Lords today, with hardly any significant changes to what the Coalition was proposing in the first place.

Remember, when Salmond won a Holyrood majority he came south with a shopping list of demands he wanted added to the Scotland Bill.

In the glow of election victory the First Minister bid for control over corporation tax and Crown Estate revenues.

He made new demands over alcohol and cigarette excise duty, broadcasting powers and EU representation.

These will doubtless remain SNP demands but there is no sign of them being contained in the Scotland Bill.

What is contained is the biggest transfer of powers since devolution. I know Michael Moore says "since the creation of the UK" but that's too much hyperbole for me.

The measures include:

a new Scottish rate of income tax
the devolution of stamp duty land tax
the devolution of landfill tax
the power to create new taxes
new borrowing powers

There are also legislative odds and ends like power over air weapons in Scotland,
responsibility for drink driving and speed limits on Scotland's roads, and a role in appointments in broadcasting and the Crown Estate.

There's also going to be a new procedure for Scottish criminal cases that go to the UK Supreme Court.

Politically the SNP would have found it hard to vote against more powers anyway, but a few weeks ago the Scottish government was describing the new tax powers as harmful and the whole bill a "pig in a poke".

Now they seem perfectly happy to accept the measures and vote accordingly. As with so many issues for Alex Salmond, he huffed and he puffed, and...

UPDATE: The SNP's John Mason has popped up to call the Scotland Bill "a missed opportunity".

All that does is highlight Salmond's silence on the issue, presume this will be sorted by SNP Central soon.