Thursday, 25 September 2014

Miliband's Scottish Secretary should be an MSP

My Daily Record column for this week

Little details on a large canvas can be the most revealing. A small scene on the vast referendum campaign trail stuck with me as a lesson for Scottish Labour.  

It was Gordon Brown storming out the doors of the Royal Concert hall in Glasgow, witnessed by a few loitering journalists.

Having finished one barnstorming speech he was late for another in Edinburgh. As he ripped off his lapel microphone he fumed, at no one in particular: "Why did no one come for me earlier?"

His frustrated growl would be the perfect title for a Labour's campaign memoir.

The party won by recalling to service its most able leader. The only direct blow against Alex Salmond was struck by Alistair Darling; the street campaign was a solo Jim Murphy effort and the flashbulb moments belonged to Anas Sarwar. All of them are Westminster MPs.    

But in that televised debate, when a woman asked Darling if he actually had a referendum vote, she revealed what many think of Westminster politicians -  that they are remote from Scotland.  

Caught between two seismic events, the referendum and the roar of missiles on ISIS, there was no mood in Manchester for Labour post-mortems.  

Margaret Curran is right, to survive the party has to get stuck into heartland constituencies again. She's done it before, she can do it again, though anyone knocking on the doors of weary voters over the next few weeks won't be thanked for their efforts. 

There is the usual sniping around Johann Lamont's leadership, though she has no intention of stepping down.

But there are more positive fixes than a descent into internal warfare.

First of all Labour's Westminster talent has to join its Holyrood team where the political game is.  

From now on Westminster is just West Point, a political training academy where Labour recruits are drilled for Scottish service.

The Cameron double-cross to exclude Scots from English votes will inevitably involve some compromise of a Scottish MP's Westminster role. 

But here's another symbolic step Labour can take to cement itself to Scotland. 

When Miliband appoints his first Secretary of State for Scotland he should not give the job to a Labour MP.

Instead, a Labour MSP should sit in cabinet as Scotland's representative in Westminster.

Forget the niceties that mean nothing outside the political bubble. The move, combined with Labour MPs seeking Holyrood seats, would signal a party that takes Scotland seriously.  

The Scottish Secretary need not be Labour's Holyrood leader, because surely there is space to have more than one talented and ambitious Labour politician reaching the top on the canvas of Scottish politics. 

Resignation, what resignation? 

While I was on the notorious NFI list for the First Minister's Bute House swan-song what I heard didn't convince me Alex Salmond is  going anywhere soon.

Had I been there I'd have joined the rest of Scotland in thanking him for an outstanding contribution to public life.

Critics and admirers can agree Scotland owes the First Minster a huge debt. He has sacrificed his personal life to politics, a field in which the reward is often to be stung from the sidelines by the likes of me.

On that note, Salmond does go down as the most divisive politician in Scottish history.  

His accusation that the elderly are bed-blocking freedom and his sinister suggestion about ignoring the referendum result show the dream of division has far from died for him.  

Politics, he said, is now bigger than Westminster, cannot be contained by Holyrood, and is entrusted with the people.

Recognising public cynicism, the anti-politics politician is moving onto the next phase. 

He will cast himself as a figure beyond politics, above the grubby fray but with the common people, binding together the wider independence movement.

Prepare for Mandela Salmond, in open-necked shirt mode as father of the selfie nation.

By turning the page on a "political generation", as he said, he leaves a blank sheet for Nicola Sturgeon to pursue another referendum.

That leaves him to legitimise ideas like an illegal declaration of UDI or to give credence to other wilder claims of the thwarted 36 per cent.

I could be wrong, and like his biographer David Torrance I expect a letter from the First Minister telling me so.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Last post before the vote

I usually let my Thursday column speak to the Record readers who've paid for a copy of the paper. For once, in advance, a preview.

Copy for the Daily Record 18/9/2014

To my "I hate nationalism, but.." friend.

It seems like we now live in two Scotlands. No matter what the outcome in tomorrow's sleepless dawn we will be in a divided country. 

From now on we live in a Scotland where half of us think the state broadcaster undermines democracy, while the other half looks on bewildered by this self-fuelled paranoia 

One half of Scotland believes an assertion that the UK would share our currency risks right after we walk out the door. The other half  lives in fear of falling through a trapdoor that spits us out as a washed-up Argentina.

One half is happy to think there is switch that turns off nuclear weapons and lights up nurseries. The other half shudders at the omens a vote for nationalism would send into a 21st century Europe that has already been down that dark alley of history. 

One half thinks Scotland will be born-again socialism, the other half foresees the death of social justice if politics has to be judged by its futile patriotism. 

The division is internal and external. I've had letters and exchanges with friends caught between the two Scotlands.

Overnight someone sent me a long e-mail entitled: "I hate nationalism, but I'm voting yes."

The clue to his conflict with himself was in the title.

Despite misgivings his frustration with the Westminster system drive him to a Yes vote. He justified his choice by blaming Labour for letting him down.

Well, we've all been let down by politics, and he is in for a big one.

I told him if he chooses a Yes on Thursday we get nationalism on Friday, not the fair and just society he wants.

The SNP is soft-soaping on social justice because it needs my friend to believe just enough, just once, that nationalism offers a better future. It doesn't.

Labour's political mission is fight poverty. The SNP's mission is to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK because we are somehow different from them.

This nationalism cloaks patriot politics as concern for social justice as a means to gain votes. 

Every nationalist movement that comes along tells you it is different from the last one, that its reasons for driving people apart are somehow unique.

In the end it is the same divisive force, and no one can explain what is progressive about dividing people?

The idea of Scottish nationalism was to divide us from England.
What it has succeeded in doing is dividing us from ourselves.

Stand up for freedom 

If the No side squeak a win in the early hours then last Sunday's demonstration outside BBC Scotland by Yes supporters will go down as the biggest waste of an afternoon's canvassing time in history.

The attempt to intimidate journalists by laying siege to the near-empty building in Glasgow did nothing to bolster the case for independence and a great deal to raise profound questions about nationalism.

Anyone marching under expensive banners demanding journalists be sacked for scrutinising politicians needs to think again about what they mean by Scottish freedom, press freedom and personal freedom.

Undecided voters viewing the demonstration would have seen not a freedom march but glimpsed a sinister movement of intolerance. 

The online bile every reporter gets washes off but when journalists cannot conduct interviews or ask questions without attracting hostile crowds we are entering a different ball game.

Shamefully it took 24 hours to extract a mealy-mouthed statement from the National Union of Journalists, my own trade union, in defence of press freedoms. 

The SNP is already writing the myth that the referendum campaign was a huge exercise in democratic engagement.

The truth is thousands of Scots have kept their heads low and their opinions close while a carnival of flags diverted people away from hard questions about currency they might be paid in next month.  

Meanwhile the list of the intimidation grows, as the tone of aggression comes off the cybernat keyboard and onto the streets. 

It all makes you thankful for the sacrosanct privacy of the polling booth. Today no one need fear expressing their verdict on what they have witnessed and felt.    

Last Post

Tom Nairn once said Scotland would "never be free until the last Minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post".

A bit grim, but has he checked on the progress of his prediction?

The Church of Scotland has only one Minister left in the west Highlands as congregations split over gay clergy.

Portree minister Rev Sandor Fazakas is the only full-time Kirk minister in the Presbytery of Skye and Lochcarron.

There are 16 vacancies for parishes stretching from Harris to Sutherland.

Don't let the Rev Fazakas near the Sunday Post for the next 24 hours.

Man of the match

The final whistle hasn't gone but I've already chosen my man of the match - Archie MacPherson.

His electrifying speech on the campaign trail spiked those on the left who consider voting Yes.

He said: "They are not become Nationalists. Worse. They are becoming parochialists and turning their heads away from the system and the tradition which brought us together and created our society."

Sùil Eile

"Seo dhut camanachd air a' Charibbean." Sin mar a chuir Fergus Ewing BPA fàilte orm, 's mi air nochdach aig Pàirce a' Bhught airson Cupa na Camanachd.

'S ann airson faighinn air falbh bho phoileataigs a chaidh mise dhan gheàma ach bha mi toilichte Ministear na Turasachd fhaicinn, agus cha robh e fada ceàrr.

Bha a' ghrian a' deàrrsadh agus gàire air aodann a h-uile duine a bh' ann an Inbhir Nis Disathairne airson latha mòr na h-Iomain.

Agus abair spòrs. Chan eil geàma ann coltach ri iomain airson sgil, luaths agus gaisgeachd. Tha d'anail nad uchd gach mionaid a tha thu ga choimhead.

Mar Leòdhasach, chan fhaca mise caman gun robh mi còrr is fichead bliadha a dh'aois 's mi anns an Eilean Sgitheanach. Bha mi air mo ghlachadh leis a' gheàma agus na freumhan domhainn a th' aige ann an coimhearsnachdan Gàidhealach.

Chaidh an latha 4-0 le Ceann a' Ghiùthsaich, far a bheil ginealaich de ghaisgaidh spòrs air an àrachadh.

Chaidh iadsan dhachaigh leis a' Chupa; dh'fhuirch an còrr againn ann am blàths Camanachd a' Charibbean beagan na b' fhaide.

English translation

"This is Camanachd on the Caribbean". That's how Fergus Ewing MSP welcomed me, when I knocked up a the Bucht Park for the Camanachd Cup.

It was to get away from politics that I went to the match but I was pleased to see the Tourism Minister, and he wans't far wrong.

The sun was shining and there was a smile on everyone's face at Shinty's big day in Inverness on Saturday.

And what a sport. There isn't a game like shinty for skill, speed and heroism. Your heart leaps in in your chest every minute of play.

As a Lewisman I never saw a shinty stick until I was more than 20 years old on the Isle of Skye. I was captivated by the game and its roots in the Gaelic communities.

The day went 4-0 to Kingussie, where generations of sporting heroes have been raised.

They went home with the cup; the rest of us stayed in warmth of Caribbean Camanachd for a little longer.