Friday, 5 October 2018

A tale of two visions of Scotland's future


From my Daily Record column

THIS is a tale of two commissions, two rival visions of the future which collide over the SNP conference in Glasgow, though neither are on the agenda.

The first, the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission report will be the embarrassing uncle, talked about but kept away from fireplace conversations.

Andrew Wilson’s independence blueprint has not aged well over the six months since it hatched.

The vision of a low tax Scotland where austerity would last at least another 10 years look very unfashionable now.

In contrast, the IPPR Commission on Social Justice, a landmark report with radical solutions for the broken economics that have left so many people behind, set the weather for the political conference season.

The IPPR recommendations translated straight into platform speeches for McDonnell and Corbyn, capturing the mood of voters to the extent that Theresa May was forced to claim she will abandon austerity.

With calls for a decent living wage and workers on company boards, the “prosperity and justice” report really did spark a national conversation.

It spat out ideas like a £10,000 “universal minimum inheritance” for all young people. It proposed to double the number of workers covered by collective bargaining, to auto-enrol gig economy workers into trade unions, to give the self-employed work-related benefits.

The Wilson Commission didn’t even consult the Scottish Trade Union Congress.

Instead, it recommended workers prepare for independence with something called “flexicurity”, a term so loaded with low expectancy, low wages and globalised exploitation that it will be the shameful headstone for the Wilson report when it is buried.

The IPPR Commission recommended reversing cuts to corporation tax, which have failed to increase investment as promised.

The Wilson commission argued indy-Scotland should match the UK’s low corporation tax step for step in a race to the bottom.

Given the preferred Tory model for Brexit Britain is to slash tax and diminish work protections, this is deeply worrying.

Tackling poverty and inter-generational opportunity are at the heart of the IPPR report.

In the Wilson Commission these issues, central to what politics is for, get little more than wishful thinking.

The IFS, the highly regarded economics research institute, concluded Wilson’s plans would leave Scotland facing an extra 10 years of austerity.

Yet, the SNP national assemblies convened to debate the Wilson vision reportedly spent their time obsessing over what currency Scotland should use.

Instead of wishing for money they don’t have, SNP members would do better for social justice by asking their leader questions about the money she does have.

Anyone going to the Glasgow conference will know the city has the highest levels of deprivation and lowest life expectancy in Scotland.

The council, now SNP run, have to tackle this with £233 per head less to spend on services than five years ago.

In the rural Western Isles, where public services are harder to provide, council funding has reduced by £504 per head of population over the same time.

These are not Tory cuts, this is austerity minted in St Andrew’s House.

The Scottish Parliament’s own research unit show that since 2013 council budgets have been cut by £744million, or 7.1 per cent compared to the Scottish Government’s own UK grant, which decreased by 1.3 per cent over the same time period.

Theresa May could end austerity with the stroke of a pen. So could Nicola Sturgeon but she backs the Wilson blueprint for independence and she’d double down on austerity.

Anyone who believes in tackling economic injustice, that's anyone on the left really, ought to look at Sturgeon’s council cuts and should compare the Wilson and IPPR reports.

Only one has the answers for a fairer future.

Friday, 28 September 2018

So what happens to UK politics under Brexit? Read Scotland's menu.


From my Daily Record column after the Labour conference
To find out what's happening in the UK, Westminster politicians really ought to pay much closer attention to events in Scotland.
Everything the political class in London are wrestling with - the backlash of anti-politics, the explosion of nationalism clothed as patriotism, post-truth news, a vile online debate, the triumph of emotion over economics, the unresolved schism of a referendum that warps all policy debate in its wake, the very divided self - we own all that.
Welcome to Scotland, you guys, your lunch was our square sausage political breakfast.
All the signs are there that a Scottish lunch is now being served to British politics.
The Labour Party conference in Liverpool gave us a glimpse of the starter menu.
Delegates would have gone home with the impression that a general election campaign is kicking off next week and that a personal thank-you card from Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn will be in the post before Christmas.
Yes, it might happen. A cold mid-November election to match the gloominess of the "when the lights went out" Britain of 1974 is possible. But the chances of it actually taking place are slim.
The Tory party wouldn't give Corbyn the opportunity. The Tory right will, by all means, rail against the Chequers Brexit plan. But lose a vote of confidence that would trigger a prime ministerial resignation? Not yet.
Labour strategists know this but they also know the transformed party that Corbynism has created demands permanent revolution.
The enthusiasm of the thousands of new and "old left" members has to be maintained by promising Heaven is just one more step away.
The same situation confronts Nicola Sturgeon on an annual basis.
Having been gifted one of the most energetic and motivated political mass movements in Europe, she now has to find new ways of telling them the same story - that independence is just around the corner.
The SNP leader is good at keeping the ball in the air, often with the help of opponents. And Corbyn will be looking, learning and hoping that no one remembers that he promised conference they would next year be gathering under a Labour government.
That said, the Scottish experience offers Labour few lessons in how to move politics beyond the dominant divide created by the referendum (either referendum - Brexit or independence).
Labour had some good, strong policies this week, selling socialism as a retail offer, making Karl Marx sound like Marks & Spencer.
Tories like Robert Halfon MP, who understand constituencies that are key to a Commons majority, are worried. So they should be when you see the slick video about "rebuilding Britain" that Labour released.
Labour's ideas for a rebalanced economy are popular and the Tories have no response to a change agenda that wins elections.
But that doesn't matter to the Tories. As long as they occupy themselves with Europe, nothing else will matter. And that's the Scottish-flavoured main course we'll see at their party conference in Birmingham. In Scotland, nothing matters except the constitution.
Michael Gove doesn't believe in a Chequers deal any more than Alex Salmond believed in a devolved Scottish parliament.
But like the SNP in the late 90s, the astute on the Tory right are willing to get any Brexit deal over the line and then start dismantling it later on.
Like the SNP on devolution, the Tory Brexiteers will take the Chequers deal for now, as a means to an end.
Like the SNP, they can then start a tug of war and keep pulling the constitutional cables until, they hope, connections with Europe, or the UK in the case of the SNP, are severed.
If they chew through the ropes, we'll bring the UK the dessert menu, too.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Corbyn - the speech he won't make


The weeks leading up to party conferences are when speechwriters really earn their corn. A leader’s speech is a moment of high jeopardy, able to transform or confirm voters’ impressions. So I suspect these discarded “notes” won’t make it to Corbyn’s speech to conference this week: 


“Comrades. I think it is safe enough to say that now the shadow cabinet and the NEC have our MPs surrounded. Comrades it is, then.

Let’s not forget, united we stand, divided we fall. If the Tories finish off Theresa May, we face an election in a few weeks. Polls show we would win.

On the brink of a Labour government, we need the best to fight the battle. So read my lips – no re-selections, only victory.

"But today I want to speak beyond Labour, directly to Britain’s Jewish community, and say this: If I gave offence to you, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart. I apologise.

I learned that from John McDonnell. He knew that to be taken seriously, he had to sever his past history with the IRA, just as today I repudiate my connection with anyone seeking to dismantle the state of Israel.

A Labour government will not back enemies of peace. We will ensure the peace (and I will not mention Trident for a few years).

And on national security, let me just say this about Vladimir Putin – any friend of Donald Trump’s is not a friend of mine.

In a divided world, people see enemies everywhere. The right-wing press have me as an enemy. They threw everything at me, only some of it stuck. Now, they will try to engender fear of Labour’s economic plans.

All my life, I’ve been saying capitalism is broken. The last 10 years have proved it.

Of course, Labour will stand for the poor, will re-order national priorities.

But I want to reassure you, if you enjoy a glass of prosecco, if you drive a Nissan Qashqai, I am not your enemy.

My data crunchers tell me this is the key demographic. And I thought being middle-class was having an allotment.

To people who want to improve their lives and their children’s lives, I say we are the party who will give your children a chance, who will close the wealth gap, give them homes of their own and a future.

But if your choice is Champagne, if your car is a Bentley driven to the City bank by a chauffeur, look out.

If you are a tax haven multi-national, we will come for you with a corporation tax to make you pay on your UK profits.

The world is moving left. Remember Ed Miliband’s so called “Marxist” energy price cap – the Tories have brought it in.

But rotten, divided Tories can’t deliver fairness and, to borrow a phrase, if we can’t take this lot apart, we shouldn’t be in politics at all.

Labour can do much more. We are socialists but we are not Venezuela.

My Build It In Britain slogan is not narrow patriotism, it’s a plan to use the power of the government to create jobs and invest in communities. It’s not communism, it’s common sense.

On slogans, I now realise, as you do, there is no Jobs First Brexit. Any Brexit will damage the economy.

People ask if I am for a second referendum? I am not for a second referendum, do you hear me, Nicola Sturgeon?

But I will lead a Labour government who lead in Europe. A Labour government who keep Britain in...”

The notes run out there, so who knows how this draft ends. But it is so out of tune with the country’s mood that none of the passages will make it to the leader’s real speech. 


Friday, 14 September 2018

Katag MacLeod, Swordale, 1929 -2018


Katag MacLeod, Suardal

Sometimes my father would lift a packet of sugar and remind us that the two pounds he held in his hand was the weight Katag MacLeod (Katag an Nìonag) had been when she came into the world.

Born in an age before the NHS, Katag’s premature arrival in April 1929 left her with skin so translucent that all her mother Lily, my great-aunt, could do was cover her in olive oil and swaddle her in a shoe box. 

The sugar baby turned out to be a real fighter.

Katag, our neighbour, our cousin, a second mother to the village children of Swordale, was buried this week, aged 89, having borne many trials and illnesses with great dignity.

She was a strong woman, Katag, and life made her stronger still.

At a young age she lost her two half-brothers within weeks of each other, Murdo (3/11/39) and John MacKenzie (23/11/39 on the HMS Rawalpindi. Norman MacLeod, 25 Swordale, was also lost along with six other Lewismen on the ship ). They were among the first naval losses of WWII. Murdo Iain ("Fred", 19 Swordale) is named after them.

Her elder brother, Iain Dan, emigrated soon after the war. Katag was left with her younger sister,  Mairi, to comfort their mother and father, Donald MacKenzie. 

She was married herself in 1966 to the boy next door, Kenneth MacLeod, “Am Bowan”, and presented none of that tragedy to the world.

They were a fun-loving couple who indulged all the village children.  Katag and Bowan introduced us to cassette tapes, to war comics, country and western music and mail-order catalogues.

She was brilliant photographer, casually taking her Kodak to the peat banks, breaking the convention that photos had to be formal. These were the pictures of we 'd pore over for longer. She leaves a great photographic legacy of village life.

Katag loved innovation, and new gadgets. A few years ago, I showed her the camera on my mobile phone and we took her first selfie. Though her eyesight was fading, she immediately wanted an upgrade to her own basic mobile.


Katag and Bowan had no children but as youngsters we couldn’t appreciate that particular pain, we just benefited from how they turned it into love for us all.

Nephews from Seaview,  and from Kyle of Lochalsh, who would spend the summer at 19 Swordale, expanded our horizons and became part of our village. Katag carried that bond with young people across generations to her grand nephews and nieces.   

In 1977, when Bowan was only 54, he collapsed on a Sunday night on their kitchen floor, having suffered a heart attack, leaving Katag a widow for the next four decades.    

Am Bowan, my father’s best friend from childhood, died cradled in his arms. They had volunteered for the Royal Navy together, my father accepted for wartime service, Bowan rejected either because he was colourblind or lied about his age, possibly both.

Even if he was too young, even though the village was reeling from the loss of Katag’s brothers, he still wanted to volunteer. They were a remarkable generation.

The MacLeods were generous in every way.  Bowan gave Aonghas Dhòlan (Angus MacKay, No 16) his first sheep, allowing the young boy to choose the best ewe from his flock - if he could hold it down. I still have Bowan’s trademark black work beret, which Katag gave to me.


One evening Bowan gifted my brother a pocket watch. Dòmhnall was so enthralled that the next morning he sat, half awake, staring at the watch face while blowing his nose with a handkerchief. Still dozy, he threw the watch instead of the hanky into the open stove. I suppose it’s safe to tell that one now.

The village came out for Katag’s funeral on Tuesday.  Aonghas Iain Eachainn (20 Swordale) pointed out in prayer and in tribute how she was a cornerstone of the village family.

Between showers we carried the coffin to the graveyard and laid it beside Bowan’s headstone.

A heavy lift,  the men said, which is a way of saying it was no bother at all. Swordale will miss Katag, the sugar baby, who was so light in life.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Salmond's £80,000 warning to Sturgeon


From my Daily Record column

Of course he has the money to pay for it. Court actions are for the rich and no one bothers the Court of Session without the wherewithal to put money where their over-extended mouth is.

So Alex Salmond is pulling a stunt in crowdfunding his legal action against Nicola Sturgeon’s Government over how her civil servants handled sexual harassment complaints levelled at him.

In crowdfunding campaigns, sums can be quickly raised by a few generous backers funnelling donations through micro-contributions. In turn, the naive and devoted part with their small amounts of cash and an impression of popular support is created.

Raising a populist £50,000 (now £80,000) is a banker for Salmond – and not just a financial one. It is a symbolic show of strength warning the SNP, Sturgeon and Scotland not to trifle with him.

It demonstrates he has a substantial well of loyal support should the ride get any rougher than it already is.

Salmond has, typically, taken a massive risk in ending 45 years’ membership of the SNP, jumping before his protege came under irresistible pressure to push him, with all the internal party rancour that would cause.

Already there are signs these divisions may just be delayed, not avoided. It is why Salmond hitched his money appeal to the lodestar of independence, a cause bigger than any individual, he said (subtext, but not bigger than me).

But if Salmond closed the door on his own membership, then his dream will have died.

The whole situation is a nightmare. For Salmond, who cannot address the complaints against him, for Sturgeon in a stomach-churning fight between political expediency and personal morality, and for the women whose harassment complaints are sidelined in this spectacle of legal distraction.

Having had the courage to come forward, they will go through hell wondering if the process and substance of their complaints will be legally undermined and their credibility shredded.

Salmond’s fight for “fairness”, as he labels it, only serves to telegraph to them, and us, what forces are stirred when women choose to cross a powerful man, as he undoubtedly is.

With his connections to the ruling party and his well-deployed ability to command media attention, the former first minister is wrestling for the conductor’s baton. The police and the law courts must play in this unwilling orchestra, and the strings connecting the village web of political, legal and civic Scotland are tuned up too.

This weekend, we lament the passing of my former paper, the Sunday Herald, launched as the Scottish Parliament first convened, at a time when things could only get better.

In the years since, Scotland has become a toxic and divided polity where allegations of sexual harassment are viewed through a “for us or agin us” prism, where MPs air state conspiracies and connections appear out of thin air.

In the early days of the Sunday Herald, we attempted to map out the real links between politics, law, media and the PR industry in cosy village Scotland.

It is perhaps time to draw that map again. For the least edifying aspect of the last week is how influential commentators, with a stake in currying favour with the ruling party, attempted to shield the First Minister from media scrutiny under the guise of concern for the complainants.

Sturgeon could deal with this situation in no other way except the way she has. The rules apply to everyone regardless of status. But the rules of politics are incontrovertible too and this scandal has the potential to consume her premiership.

Sturgeon, by her own admission, had three meetings with her mentor at which the situation was raised and has questions to answer, personally and publicly.

What Sturgeon knew, and when she knew it, is only the beginning of it.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Runrig - the parting glass

From my Daily Record column

So that was what Liam Clancy meant with “the parting glass”.

When Malcolm Jones raised his guitar for the last time, when the emotional rip current caught him, it really was “soraidh leibh”, goodbye to Runrig.

The unassuming Malcolm, always more attentive to his guitar work than the applause, was most affected by the crowd at the end of Saturday’s final gig.

Don’t worry Malcolm, in the dark, under the ramparts of Stirling Castle, there were many tears.

Younger readers will find out later, but a great trick of ageing, I noticed on Saturday, is that everyone stays the same when the 45 year soundtrack of our lives is played. 

Like the “sìthean”, the little people, Runrig on stage still looked like the boys from the village hall, the ones who took their music to the world.

Lifelonrg friends spooled by with the songs. There was Iain “Smithy” Smith, a born for the stage musician, whose mandolin drove Donnie Munro’s evergreen set. 

Great that Donnie was given his due, that Gaelic threaded every minute, that Gary Innes’s accordion echoed of the late Robert MacDonald, of Blair Douglas, of the ceilidh chords that set Runrig on the way.

When I recorded Seumus Heaney’s paean to Sorley MacLean he said the Raasay bard saved Gaelic poetry in the 20th century and so saved the language forever. Quite a claim but, you know, poets.

That honour now belongs to Calum and Rory MacDonald, the band’s soul brothers, whose music ensured Gaelic’s recovery. Their authentic Highland charm was ever the secret tune of Runrig’s success.

Where these boys led with song, others followed with words and deeds, pens and policies. 

Without that 1970s “Runrig generation” we’d have been drinking a parting glass to Gaelic long ago.

Some of them were there on Saturday, forever young, dancing like the fairies, toasting the joy of a wedding, not a wake.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Holding on to the Trump rollercoaster


From my Daily Record column today

 The Westminster press corps at Chequers, the hat didn't help get me question

AS we sat in the baking sun at Chequers, watching Theresa May’s white-knuckle podium grip while Donald Trump freewheeled through the world order, it struck me we’re only a quarter of the way through.

Not a quarter of the way through the press conference. Believe me, we journalists didn’t want that one to end.

No, depressingly, it struck me we are a quarter through a Trump presidency.

Close up, this guy is a phenomenon, an unstoppable force, who will stand and win again in 2020.

Barring impeachment - maybe the 12 innocent Russian spies aren’t so innocent - or personal calamity, nothing will stop The Donald’s second term.

That will be eight years - and many afterwards to clean up after him.

Victory looks inevitable. Trump won on populism against a toxic, elitist opponent the last time. “Crooked Hillary” stuck with voters. We could be in for the same kind of re-run.

Left-leaning senator Elizabeth Warren is trying to forge alliances (Trump calls her “Pocahontas” as a slur on her claims of mixed heritage). But rich Democrats seem to think Trump can be fought from the centre ground which, as we know, is gone.

When people look at British polling and wonder why Labour aren’t 20 points ahead of the shambolic Tories, I say look at it the other way.

Labour, with their most left-wing leader ever, seemingly determined to taint British socialism with anti-Semitism, are polling within touching distance of power.

In Scotland, a party with a prospectus for Brexit 2.0 chaos rest on the belief that separation will magically insulate us from global storms.

That represents a lot of anger against a broken system, where voters despair and political campaigns blithely cheat their way through the democratic process.

But Trump is better at stirring his base to anger than the liberal left are.

In one week in Europe, he slotted old allies as foes and cuddled up to a kleptodictator, selling the pass on the Middle East and his own intelligence services, until he remembered he had mis-spoke.

In Helsinki, the architecture of the world was re-arranged, nothing less, the post-war consensus dismantled in front of our eyes.

We are only two years in. People say we are rushing back to the 30s but we will sooner be in the 2030s, where “fake news” and instant, emotional politics will make democracies easier to sway.

The antidote must be as radical and counter the political darkness with optimism, of course.

There was quite a bit of that, and tremendous humour, coursing through the thousands who marched against Trump in Edinburgh, where I went on Saturday.

The homemade banners were hilarious. “Yer Maw” was my favourite.

But the mistake the left make is not to take Trump seriously, to see him as a balloon buffoon.

He’s not. He’s astute and cunning. When he plays the media, as he did at Chequers - charming down one side of the aisle, brawling down the other - he has four decades more expertise than any of us.

After a weekend full of Trump, I went to see Paul Simon play in London’s Hyde Park, to be reminded of another, more beautiful America.

I swayed with the baby boomers as they bade farewell to the balladeer of plaintive songs, goodbye to their blessed generation. It’s going to get harder for their grown-up kids.

He’s not much given to political pronouncements, Paul Simon, but he’s profound enough for me.

“Strange times,” quipped the poet and the one-man band during his last encore, and we all knew what he meant.

He added, quite simply: “Don’t give up.”


Friday, 13 July 2018

Dear Mr President - a letter to one island son, from another

Here's my Daily Record letter to Donald John, whose mother hails from the Isle of Lewis, as I do.


Dear Mr President, 

Welcome home, or fàilte dhachaigh, as they would say in Tong, the village that was birthplace of your mother and my own.

There will be great celebrations in the island village today.

The dish towels will be nailed to the fence posts, flying as flags, but not because a prodigal son is back on native soil.

It’s not all about you.

You see, there is a wedding in Tong today, a beloved daughter of the village is getting married.

She happens to be a cousin of mine, but that doesn’t mean we’re all related on the islands. It just shows we value relationships and know who our family are.

It’s a great shame Donald John, that you didn’t keep up your Scottish island connections, or the values of compassion, co-operation and tradition of welcoming exiles and visitors typical of these small places. 

It’s perfectly understandable how you have to give international publicity and promote commercial interests on your private golf course in Ayrshire, now secured in perpetuity at the expense of the British taxpayer.

Who wouldn’t want to play a round of golf with pals, rather than pay tribute by visiting their family home. 

When you took your oath as the 45th President of the United States your hand rested on Lincoln’s Bible and below it, I gather, the Bible your mother gave you in your youth.

So, she must have meant a lot to you, though not enough for you to take time out from the fairway to visit her birthplace.

Your elder sister Maryanne, who visited often with your mother, made a donation of almost £160,000 to a small care home in the Western Isles. She didn’t want the glory, she just wanted to honour the memory of her mother.

When you did set foot on the Isle of Lewis in 2008, your second ever visit to the Western Isles having previously only been there as a child, it was to promote your other golf course in Aberdeenshire.

These were the heady days before you fell out with your big pal, Alex Salmond, and transferred your allegiance to these other populists for a nationalist cause, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

You were asked then to make a contribution to the restoration of the island’s museum. You gave not a cent, and as a consequence I don’t think the museum makes mention of you, the most famous son of Lewis. 

The good book say a prophet is without honour in their own land, and I guess you thought there was nothing in it for you.

More’s the pity because your family story, your mother’s story, reflects the experience and the honour of so many Scottish and American families.

Mary Anne MacLeod, as she was in the 1920s, was one of millions of Scots who went to the New World as economic migrants and made their lives and families there.

The loss of that migration generation had a profound effect all across Scotland, in places like the Isle of Lewis, in fact all across Europe.

We miss them, and try to keep the ties with our cousins across the world from generation to generation. 

Their hard work, their spirit of adventure and enterprise, that was your country’s gain and our loss. People like your Scottish mother, and your German grandfather, they were the people who made America great.

But, because of your political views you cannot acknowledge your own family story.

You Donald, you lock migrants up and separate children from their parents to dissuade others from making the same journey your family undertook.

Your own mother, Donald, arrived at Ellis Island beneath the Statue of Liberty which proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

You have traduced that American legacy and, sad to say, with it the memory of your own roots. You threaten the very values of liberty that makes America one of the great nations, the pillar of our freedoms.  

The door will always be open for you and your family on the Isle of Lewis, of course it will be. People there are courteous and kind and do not forget the ties that bind. 

Your mother’s Bible tells us how the prodigal son was lost and then was found. But you Donald, you have wandered far from home.

For the sake of the millions of women like your mother, who will come to seek a new life in my European home and your American home, I hope you that you can one day accept who you are, a migrant son.

Then we could welcome you home with an open hand and a warm embrace.

Friday, 15 June 2018

SNP look to Parnell for Brexit delay tactics

The bust of Parnell, Irish Home Ruler, in Westminster
There is a bronze bust of the Irish Home Rule campaigner Charles Stewart Parnell in the corridor outside the SNP Commons offices which they took over from the Lib Dems.

These statues litter the Palace of Westminster. Lloyd George, the last Liberal Prime Minister, is at the bottom of the stairs on the way to the underground car park. So the mighty fall.

But it’s fitting that the 19th century Irish nationalist should be guard of honour for the SNP leader's office, particularly now.

Parnell held great sway over the Commons for many years and was expert in sabotaging procedures to force the government to take Irish issues seriously.

As his namesake, SNP MP Stewart McDonald, pointed out yesterday he once kept the Commons sitting for 45 hours considering the 1887 South Africa Bill.

“It might be that those tactics are of interest to the House at this time,” said McDonald, with a twinkle in his eye.

In protest over the Scottish parliament vote on Brexit being ignored the SNP has promised to hobble the Commons at any time.

Parnell and the Irish Home Rule movement provide the template which the SNP hope to emulate with Brexit.

Kenny MacAskill, former SNP Minister and firebrand,  showed the way in his Glasgow Herald column today in which he promotes the plan. 

He wrote: "The model for the SNP isn’t Sinn Fein but its predecessors in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Under the great Charles Stewart Parnell it flourished in the chamber when it suited, but never forgot that its purpose was to leave.

"Hopefully, that will now be the template for the modern SNP, allowing the good work on the rape clause and other issues to be pursued but recognising that it isn’t its parliament and it is not respected there. It doesn’t mean being rude or malicious, simply ending the far too supine posture that has been taken and being more robust in defending Scotland’s interest."

The idea has some merit, look at massive publicity and membership boost the SNP had from this week's walk out.

But there are downsides too. The novelty of protest might capture the headlines once or twice, but  disrupting the Commons on a regular basis begins to get a bit wearing all round.

It also exposes individual SNP MPs to the charge (which you'd think their opponents would make regularly anyway) that they are sitting in the Commons not for their constituents but for their cause.   

The tactic is being roadtested, as far as I can see. At Business Questions on Thursday SNP MPs kept Andrea Leadsom answering questions until nearly 1pm, passing the ball backwards and forwards while the clock ticked down on the day.

The big Brexit clock is ticking down toward a deadline too and Theresa May can ill afford to have the Commons gummed up by delaying tactics.

Of course these kinds of tricks are played by all sides, all the time. 

Everyone blames everyone else for how little time there was to debate the devolution clauses on Tuesday.

Labour blame the government for squeezing Brexit clauses into two days (They had planned for one).

Tories blame Labour for calling votes on every amendment, everyone blames SNP MPs for loitering through the lobbies as if on a Sunday stroll, ensuring even less time and more outrage for the devo clauses.

The SNP’s first guerrilla attack, a walk-out over the disgracefully short time given to debate devolution in the Brexit Bill achieved its purpose.

The issue is on the agenda, a ministerial statement made, an emergency debate on Monday. But what next?

To keep the issue on the boil SNP MPs will have Parnell as a touchstone of disruption every time they walk past him to their leader's office.





Wednesday, 13 June 2018

He shoots, he scores... Blackford in Ally MacLeod land

My first World Cup report from Westminster, for the Daily Record

The World Cup doesn’t start until today but already we’ve had a controversial refereeing decision.

Like Willie Johnston being sent home from Argentina in ‘78, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford left the Commons chamber claiming to have been the victim of a great injustice.

But he left with the satisfaction of scoring a brilliant victory - even if he was given an early bath by the ref, sorry, Speaker.

Until now it has been hard to generate interest in the Torys' Brexit constitutional insult to Scotland.

Months of Mike Russell statements, Downing Street summits, overwhelming rejection by Holyrood, yet the whole season was a goalless draw.

With the Brexit bill in the Commons for the last time, the Tories were going to win.

So when the ball fell at Blackford’s feet in the 90th minute, he made a run for goal.

The rest was like an Ally MacLeod fantasy of Brexit negotiatons.

Blackford shoots, he scores, cheers from SNP terraces, but he is red carded for defying the ref.

For the middling midfield general it is his finest hour.

He is carried shoulder-high by his team, who forget to take the ball away with them.

He is man of the match, the shot is replayed for the rest of the tournament, even though Scotland isn’t in the competition.

Then we wake up, and nothing has changed except English MPs joshing that when it comes to the World Cup, it’s all “SNP”.

That’s short for “Scotland Not Playing”, and it’s as true at Westminster as it is for the World Cup.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Sùil Eile air an dealbh-cluich "Translations"


Sùil Eile,  bho Daily Record an latha an-duigh

Tha an dealbh-cluich ‘Translations’ leis an sgrìobhadair Èireannach Brian Friel air fosgladh aig a’ Theatre Nàiseanta.

Sin Theatre Naiseanta Shasainn air bruaich deas an Thames.

Agus mar as àbhaist tha na h-ealain air thoiseach air poileataigs na dùthcha.

‘S ann mu dheidhinn oidhirp le saighdearan Breatannach ainmean Beurla a chur air àiteachan Gaelige a tha an dràma, mun strì eadar dà chànan agus dà chultar.

Tha an aon sgeulachd ri innse mu ainmean-àite na Gàidhealtachd, a bh’ air an call fo bhlas na Beurla.

Ach tha na thachair ann am poll mònach Dhùn na nGall anns an naoidheamh linn deug, air innse ann an dealbh-chluiche bhon ficheadeamh linn, a’ togail sgàthan air suidheachadh an latha an-diugh.

Tha na ceangalan iom-fhillte eadar Èireann agus Breatainn air an cluich a-mach air àrd-ùrlar Westminster agus na Bruiseil gach latha.   

Gun fhreagairt air crìochan Èirinn a Tuath tuitidh còmhraidhean Brexit às a chèile.

Gun tuisge air dè tha an eachdraidh a ciallachadh, tha gach taobh a’ bruidhinn cànan eadar-dhealaichte.

’S e Èirinn a’ cheist air nach robh freagairt aig Breatainn bho riamh.

Chan e nach do dh’fheuch iad, mar a tha ‘Translations’ a’ dèanamh soilleir.


Translation

“Translations”, the play by Irish writer Brian Freil has opened at the National Theatre.

That’s the National Theatre of England on the south bank of the Thames. 

And as usual the arts are ahead of the politics of the country.

The drama centres around the efforts of British soldiers to give English names to Irish places, about the conflict between two language and two cultures.

The same story could be told about Highland placemanes, which were lost under the accent of the English language.

But what happened in the peat bogs of Donegal in the 19th century, told in a play from the 20th century, holds a mirror up to us today.

The complex ties between Ireland and Britain are being played on the stage in Westminster and Brussels each day.

Without an answer to the Northern Irish border, Brexit talks will fall apart.

Without an understanding of what the history means, each side is speaking a different language.

Ireland is the question that Britain was never able to answer.

Not for want of trying though, as “Translations” makes clear.