Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Welcome to the Commons, Mr Mason - a friendly place.

John Mason, the new SNP MP for Glasgow East, has been warmly welcomed to the Commons by another by-election winner, Labour's Jim Devine.

He's a political sell-out,” says Mr Devine cheerfully, after watching the SNP tyro vote Tory three times in the division lobbies last night in his first ever votes at Westminster.

John Mason had three opportunities to vote on behalf of the people of Glasgow – and three times voted with the Tories on the critical issues of financial stability and jobs,” says Mr Devine. “The new SNP MP has 100% Tory voting record. The message is clear – vote yellow, get blue.”

During an opposition day debate Mr Mason voted against an amendment by Yvette Cooper, Chief Secretary to the Treasury in favour of “a commitment to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the stability of the financial system.”

No one said opposition was easy did they Mr Mason?

Jim Murphy offers ceasefire to Salmond and "you'll have had your tea" welcome to hacks

I envy Alistdair Darling and his balti curry bail out. The Scottish pres corps at Westminster had no time for lunch today. The new Scottish Secretary had us round to his Dover House gaff straight after the Chancellor's statement.

Alas the Scottish Secretary offered us nothing except a cup of tea. I was "pure hank marvin", as they say in East Renfrewshire, while the new man outlined his ceasefire plans with the SNP government in Edinburgh.

Jim Murphy said he had called Alex Salmond within ten minutes of being appointed the other day and has spoken to him this morning about the economic situation. He's willing to brief Mr Salmond before and after meetings of the National Economic Council, the war cabinet, which he attends twice a week.

Mr Murphy said he wanted “honest, private conversations about how the UK government and the Scottish Government (he's relaxed about the terminology) can work together” to help families and businesses in a situation that will “affect every village, town and city” in Scotland. . Mr Salmond has responded positively, he said, and a meeting with the Scottish Secretary, the
First Minister, the Scottish CBI and the STUC is being planned.

This is a new Jim Murphy who was previously one the most acerbic Scottish Labour Mps when it came to anything to do with Mr Salmond. But, after dealing with 30 different governments across Europe in the last 18 months in his old job he thinks he can find common ground with one in Scotland. We'll see.

An early test of this new detente will be the Secretary of State's blog which he will maintain on the Scotland Office website - a brave move considering how top blogging Minister Tom Harris was dropped last week. The fact that the blog will be open to comments will no doubt delight the Pantone 300 ink brigade who have raised the poison pen letter into a digital art form on this and other newspaper sites.

“I've got my approach, they might have another,” said Mr Murphy. I'm off to going to buy him a packet of biscuits for his next guests.

Monday, 6 October 2008


Don't hold your breath for the writ to be moved on the Glenrothes by-election today. That's what Labour sources are telling me this morning. We had expected the writ to be moved on the first day that parliament returned, with an election on Thursday November 6th.

That November date, which would be overshadowed by the result of the US presidential election, could still hold. If Labour do move the writ today the latest they could hold the by-election is November 6th. If they move it tomorrow they have the opition of going for Thursday 13th.

Part of the reason Labour felt pressured to move the writ is that the SNP was cooking a plan to do just that. However, the Tory whips would not support the move so that plan has been shelved.

Plenty for the SNP to be happy about today though. John Mason, their victorious candidate in the Glasgow East by-election, takes his seat in the Commons this afternoon. He won't be making his maiden speech just yet but here's a taste of what he said beforehand.

“The swing that elected me, in what was Labour’s third safest seat, shows Labour’s days of taking Scotland for granted are over. It is clear that people have had enough of Labour’s broken promises, and want a change for the better."

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A plug for my new Sit-Com:

Broadford or Bust

Never mind "Speaking our Language". These amadans are minding our language!

Madmac Productions presents

Broadford or Bust.

Torcuil Crichton and Mairi Kidd’s new sit-com set in the professional Gaelic world.

Starring: Mairi Morrison, Iain MacRae, Ruairidh MacIver and Tony Kearney.

Guest starring: Lorraine McKintosh.

Special guest stars: Carina MacLeod, Derek “Pluto” Murray and Angela MacEachann.

With Donald MacKay and Donald Gillies as Gairm and Dwelly.

Produced and Directed by Ishbel MacIver

Tuesday 7th Oct. at 10pm on BBC Alba, Sky Channel 168 or Free Sat.

Dis-asster! Every rival Gaelic language development agency in Scotland has been sent to one office in Broadford, on the Isle of Skye. These professional Gaels will stop at nothing to save their careers and escape back to the big city. Saving the language? ’S mathaid as deidh lunch.

Feedback please to or

We want to know:

Are you able to view the programme? Would you watch it online?

Do you want a series of Broadford or Bust?

Oh, and when exactly did you get permission to laugh in Gaelic?

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Great Schlep

Why has everyone heard of the Sarah Silverman, except me, until now?

From my friend Paul at and it's the funniest political campaign of the month.

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Boris sacks Britain's top copper

Sir Ian Blair Profile

Brought low by a personal scandal and his political enemies, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has been under pressure from the media, from inside his own force and across the political divide since he took office.

In his resignation statement Sir Ian made it clear he blamed the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is now chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, for effectively sacking him when the two had a private meeting on Tuesday.

Boris Johnson’s antipathy towards Sir Ian, combined with fresh media allegations of corruption and continuing racism row in the upper echelons of the force, seem to have finally done for Britain’s top policeman.

Life has never been quiet on Sir Ian’s beat. His three and a half years at the helm of the Met has been a trial of strength and fire. It was Sir Ian who fronted the cameras with a reassuring face of police order when mass terrorism hit London in July 2005, just months after he came into post. Over 50 commuters were killed on tube trains and a bus in the first attack on 7th July and in the heightened tension following the second failed attack on the 21st police firearms officers shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell tube station, believing the innocent Brazilian to be one of their suspects.

The De Menezes shooting - as traumatic counter-punch to the bombings themselves - was the most serious threat to Sir Ian’s career. The ongoing inquest hangs over him like the sword of Damocles and such is the symbolic importance of the shooting dead of an innocent man that there were suggestions last night that Sir Ian might be staying on until December just to deal with the outcome of the case.

The Metropolitan Police was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws over the Brazilian’s death but no individual officer has faced charges over the killing at Stockwell Underground station. Sir Ian himself was cleared of wrongdoing over claims that he misled the public about what the police knew on the day.

Blair by name and by nature Sir Ian was seen as a very “politically correct copper” who had a close relationship with the former Prime Minister and his namesake when he was appointed. But there was the scent of trouble from the off. The cerebral Sir Ian took over command of the biggest police force in Britain from Sir John Stevens, a rumbustious “copper’s copper” and a favourite with the capital’s 31,000 police officers. So, this softly spoken Oxford English literature graduate was never going to be popular in the canteen.

Many rank and file Met officers will be glad to see the back of Sir Ian. He guessed himself that 10 per cent of the Met police officers were against him and he knew that the newspapers, with the Daily Mail and London’s Evening Standard leading the pack, were out to get him from the off.
But with Tony Blair in office and the strong support of mayor Ken Livingstone, a politician who shared with Sir Ian’s passion for communication with the public, Sir Ian clung to office through a series of catastrophes.

The suggestion that he used public money to pay for advice on how he should conduct himself as commissioner when he took the post seems to have been the last straw in a trail of scandals that have dogged him since he took office. A £15,000 contract to the company of a close friend, Andy Miller, is one of £3m of business being investigated by a team of officers led by Sir Ronnie Flannigan, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary,

Boris Johnson, the new chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, was no great fan and he removed the scaffold from under him at the first opportunity. The major has no statutory right to remove the Commissioner from his post but Mr Johnson, proving himself as the most powerful Tory in Britain, has flexed his muscle, leaving Jacqui Smith looking weakened on the bed of nails that his the Home Office just as a cabinet reshuffle is in the offing.

Remember Sir Ian is in charge of counter-terrorism not just in London but across Britain where security services are tracking 2000 terrorist suspects and up to 30 active plots to repeat scenes like those that confronted us on 7/7. Boris Johnson - acting freelance or with Mr Cameron's say so? - has effectively put himself in charge of counter-terrorism policy.

Sir Ian has had his Mark Twain moments before - twice actually - when he claimed that rumours of his death had been greatly exaggerated. Last night the chapter of his life marked Metropolitan Commissioner came to an end.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Cameron's speech- the man from the Pru.

To begin with he appeared tense lipped, taking the measure of the audience and the auditorium, the huge Birmingham Symphony Hall, as he entered stage right.

It was a look that had worked on as much as the script had been to over the last 48 hours as the world was turned upside down. Mr Cameron had to show concern, for these have been troubling days.

So this was a speech for the times - sombre, calm, with an austere, old fashioned delivery. This was no time to walk around the stage, unplugged. People want something to cling to and a man in dark suit at a podium looks more statesmanlike than someone who might be playing air guitar.

Charged with being a novice by a Prime Minister who beats his chest about his own economic experience Mr Cameron had quite a task to sell his message - that what Britain needs is change not experience, character not calculation, high principle not politics.

If the test was one of character Mr Cameron demonstrated courage, tackling the charge of inexperience head on, trying to turn it into a virtue. When it came to leadership and judgement he said he was the man with a plan. He wanted you to think he was as safe as the man from the Pru

The vital passages, aimed outside the hall, were heavy on his values. “I am a 41 year old father, I am deeply patriotic, I am not an ideologue, I am a child of my time” The key words - trust, principles, conviction not calculation.

In a well crafted speech he stuck to his notes - adding only one line, crucial for the Scottish Tories, about how he wanted to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, not England alone.

There were few direct attacks on Brown and a few jokes effectively deployed. At heart it was a continuation of Mr Cameron’s audacious bid to seize the middle ground of British politics, to wrest the social justice agenda from Labour and to strip Gordon Brown of his reputation for economic competence.

And it was a clever speech, taking his party into territory where it was not quite so comfortable. This is a party with an instinctive crime and punishment reflex but he said prisoners had to be understood not just banged up.

On social justice he accused the Labour party - not Margaret Thatcher - of creating a situation where there was “no such thing as society”. At Labour media monitoring their jaws must have been on the floor, probably in sneaking admiration. This was shapeshifting politics not seen since the early days of Tony Blair.

And just as Blair challenged his own support base as well as the country to change,so Cameron invited his party and the nation on a journey to a better Britain. They listened to in rapt silence, the Conservative faithful, as he convinced them he has taken the party in the right direction.

If he convinced outside the hall remains to be seen but he did underpin a serious image he has to portray if he is to stall a Labour recovery in these fearful economic conditions.

For a short time, as the applause thundered through the Symphony hall, he looked alone but then up came Samantha to take the traditional ovation. He rubbed her tummy, more than once, a typically intimate gesture by Mr Cameron, and probably as deliberate as the practised, tense lipped entry. “Is she pregnant?” a photographer asked me. Please, that was just David Cameron getting personal - with you.

Anticipating David Cameron

Just been speaking to David Cameron’s staff about that speech. It’s going to be a long one, over an hour they say. He has a tightrope to walk between offering co-operation, as he did yesterday, and criticism of Brown’s “experience” as the roadblock to change in Britain. It all kicks off at 2.30pm, so if you’re watching you’re forewarned - don’t expect to go anywhere for over an hour.