Wednesday 24 August 2011

Donohoe declares against indy Scottish Labour Party

Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, has entered the debate on the future of the Scottish Labour party, no doubt after Tom Harris's declaration yesterday that he would stand for the leadership.

Implicit in having an MP as Scottish leader is the case for an independent Scottish Labour Party, something Donohoe and others remembers as a cause for schism and heartache in the late 70s when Jim Sillars was a young maverick.

Donohoe has issued a stark warning against a free-standing Scottish Labour Party, proving, if it needed to be, that there is a strong pro-unionist streak in the Scottish party and no concensus on the future direction of travel.

Donohoe said: “There is no way a United Kingdom party can have a separate identity and people who think the opposite are deluded!”

“I have spent long enough in politics to have had experience of a Scottish Labour Party before which thankfully died on the vine. I am pro-unionist and believe arguments should be presented on the strength of the union not the whim of the separatist.”

Strong words indeed for Murphy and Boyack, and indeed, Tom Harris to chew over.

My morning listening is split between GMS, Athris na Maidne and the Today programme so I contrived to miss Douglas Alexander ruling himself out of standing as a candidate on Radio Four this morning.

He said it was very kind of Tom Harris to suggest him as a future Scottish leader but said he was busy with Libya and pursuing his Foreign Affairs brief.

As I expected Harris's move has opened a gap for Alexander and Murphy to escape demands that they should be the ones turning north.

Alexander said: "I think there are people who can and should offer themselves for the work of rebuilding (the Scottish Labour party) and in that sense if Tom wants to put his name forward that's all to the good."

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Clear the runway, here comes "Bomber" Harris

Good on Tom Harris MP for enlivening the Scottish Labour leadership debate, such as it is, by indicating that he will throw his hat into the ring.

With the Scottish party moribund,and the leadership looking as it might go be default to Joann Lamont MSP, Harris is stirring the pot again.

But quite a few things would have to happen for a Harris candidacy to get onto the runway. Almost all of them depend on Jim Murphy, who is currently conducting a review of the party with the consequence that he is being boxed into answering the question of whether he'll sort out Labour's Scottish problems

Firstly the review of the party structure has to make the leadership post is for leader of the Scottish Labour party, not just the group of Scottish Labour MSPs. Otherwise Harris, Murphy or anyone else with MP after their name just couldn't stand. That one move would logically lead to the Scottish Labour party defining itself as a separate entity from the UK party with all that (positively) entails (Another blog, another time).

Secondly the review, or later the party, would have to find a mechanism for MPs to move easily from Westminster to Holyrood.

The next Westminster elections are due in 2015, the next Holyrood elections the following year. It would be a political high wire act for an MP to stand down and wait a year in the hope that the d' Hondt formula or a patient constituency would grant them their wish to go to Holyrood.

From this I would deduct, the dual-mandate politician, serving a transition term in Holyrood and Westminster, is back on the agenda. No harm in it either, as Donald Dewar, Alex Salmond, Henry McLeish and others would testify. As would many continental politicians who transit between regional and national parliaments.

The most crucial human factor that would have to come into play in the Harris gambit is that Jim Murphy, the former Scottish Secretary and Shadow Defence Secretary, does not stand as Scottish leader. Or Douglas Alexander for that matter, the other MP Harris would like to take up the claymore.

Harris's move on the kingship doesn't quite put Murphy into check but it will force him to declare his hand, sooner or later. Murphy is deft though, and Tom's declaration might have just given him the means to decline the offer.

The leadership question might anyway be settled before any major reform of the party gets put in place.

Whoever wins, whoever stands, has to mark themselves out as the leader of a very distinctive Scottish Labour party if they are to escape the SNP's definition of Scottish Labour being "London Labour"(which is itself natspeak for English).

As Salmond proves leaders of devolved parliaments need a streak of independence (small i) for the electorate to back them. The job, in the eyes of the agnostic voter, is to stand against the central power of UK government of whatever hue. Salmond is very aware that he might be overreaching himself by seeking to define the job as dismantling the UK.

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone before him, show the electoral appeal of being their own man. There are many politically talented male and female Scottish Labour MPs - they won't thank me for naming them - who now find themselves the wrong side of an electoral boundary following the rout by the SNP.

Any of them who thought that Westminster was more important battleground than Edinburgh now has cause to think again.

Referendum, or not, if Labour doesn't re-establish itself as the social democrat vehicle for mainstream Scottish politics then what happened at the Holyrood election could well repeat itself in 2015 UK-wide.

Tom Harris's merits as a candidate are that he speaks the blunt truth about the Labour Party and Scotland. This, of course, also counts against him by the core of Labour membership who decides. He also stuck his neck out against Gordon Brown which for some makes him a brave politician, for others someone to be struck down on sight.

Tom's trouble, and the SNP's delight, is that he challenges Labour othrodoxy. He's centre-right, by that I mean he is more interested in giving a voice to working people who pay taxes to fund social services than he is in defending the recipients of these social benefits. He is not the comfort-zone candidate and defeated parties tend to retreat into the cushions.

But even over the internet, his chosen weapon, Harris delivers a fair payload of incendiaries onto the SNP independence strategy with regular accuracy. On a leadership platform he would give the opposition a good pounding. Against him is that he has bombed his own side fairly often too with his blunt pronouncements.

He's not often accused of being shy but if he really wants to go for the leadership he has to stop being self-effacing. His, I'll do it if Jim Murphy and Douglas don't stand, already has the SNP lampooning him as his own third choice candidate.

If he wants it he should go for it. It would be good if some of the other Labour MPs at Westminster gave him a run for his money.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Coulson and Co in Strathclyde crosshairs

"Wanted man in Mississippi,
Wanted man in ol' Cheyenne"

The claims by former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman that hacking was "widely discussed" at the paper obviously raises fresh legal dangers for Andy Coulson, the editor at the time and latterly David Cameron's communications strategist.

Coulson and the News of the World are in the crosshairs of police investigations in two juristicions - Scotland and England.

I'm told by sources that Strathclyde police have 42 officers working on Operation Rubicon - the force's investigation into perjury, phonehacking, data interception and bribery arising from the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.

Appearing in the witness box at the Sheridan trial Coulson insisted he had no knowledge of illegal activities at the News of the World, like bribing police officers .

That was the day, according to Coulson himself, that he decided he could no longer carry on as David Cameron's communications strategist.

His evidence, and that of other News of the World witnesses, has been subject to complaints to the Scottish police by Sheridan's legal team.

Although Strathclyde won't confirm the numbers officially Rubicon has, by my figuring, as many if not more officers than are working on Operation Weeting, the Met police investigation into phone hacking.

Given that some London officers will have been pulled off the case to help out with the aftermath of the riots, the Scottish inquiry could well be the biggest investigation into the hacking allegations.

The thorough, clean broom, approach by Strathclyde no doubt reflects well on Stephen House, the chief constable of the force, who was approached to apply for the vacant post as the next commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

House is also in the frame to be the first chief of a new single Scottish police arising from the merger of the current eight forces. I suppose that sometimes it is okay to be wanted in more than one place.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Brian Wilson Writes - online.

My goodness, the revolution has reached Mangersta.

Welcome online, at last, to Brian Wilson who joins the world of blogs with his Brian Wilson Writes, an online version of his West Highland Free Press column.

This is as auspicious an occasion as double-width looms beings introduced to the Harris Tweed industry. Although he's moved on from politics Brian's take on current affairs has always been required reading.

It took land campaigner Andy Wightman's patience to haul Brian away from print and into the digital age.

Until now his take on politics has only been available in the Free Press, and I hope giving the column away online doesn't affect circulation.

There's plenty for him to comment on more than once a week and instead of posting facsimiles of the Free Press I hope the blog as platform for more than re-printing the Free Press column

And there are plenty out there who'll violently disagree with Brian's opinions because of his politics and often because of their own insecurities. Provoking the SNP with a meatslicing turn of phrase is one of life's minor pleasures for Brian, and is quite amusing for the rest of us. But mostly he's to be read for his original insights, on the Highlands, Scotland and the wider world.

I expect some cybernats will be rolling up their well-paid sleeves up on hearing the news that they have a new target. But the online nats, like the midges, are always with us if slightly less annoying, so don't let that put you off Brian.

There's no obligation to publish derogatory comments, it's bizarre that furious, online guttermouths don't understand that.

As I keep reminding my own nationalist friends and foes, read without prejudice, and at least read to the end before pouncing on the keyboard.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Glasgow gangs ceasefire lessons for the riots

A bit of a mixed bag of measures there in David Cameron's "fightback" against the summer riots. Everything from insurance claims, bans on balaclavas and closing down social networking sites is to be considered in an attempt to slap down on the social disorder we've witnessed this week.

One of the most significant announcements is that the example of Strathclyde Police anti-gang strategy could be rolled out across the UK.

The operation targeting gangs in Glasgow has resulted in a 50% reduction in violent offending by those taking part. In a city with a stab rate on a par with New York that is some result.

The prosaically-named Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) is itself a copy of the more bling-sounding Boston Ceasefire project which was ran in that US city from 1996 and had success too.

Both schemes made breakthroughs by talking to gang members, offering them an alternative, and getting them to confront the victims, the mothers, the surgeons and the cops that have to stitch back together the slashed lives of gang violence.

Quite simply the young gang members were told if they stopped the gang fights they'd have access to help with training, housing, education and community groups. If they carried on, they'd go to jail.

Four hundred gang members signed up in Glasgow - mostly pressurised through their parents - and violent offending among those who undertook the most intensive programme fell by 73%.

All the gen is towards the end of this excellent Prospect magazine piece on Karyn McCluskey, the officer who brought the scheme to Strathclyde after it had been rejected in London and and West Mercia.

Iain Duncan Smith's social justice think-tank has done a lot of work on gang culture and the Work and Pensions Secretary is working with Home Office on how the Westminster government will respond to gang culture.

We're expecting a report in October, expect Glasgow to feature prominently again in Iain Duncan Smith's thinking.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Why Scotland's neds aren't rioting

The hubris of the First Minister of Scotland over his "frustration" that the riots being described as a UK event, rather than an English one, is beginning to get traction as a news story.

Alex Salmond's comments just remind me of the parochialism displayed during the terrorist attacks of London in 2005, and the attempts on the capital in 2007.

As a London-based reporter I remember trying to engender news desk interest in the failed Tiger-Tiger bombing on Haymarket and the fact that an Islamist terrorist cell was on the run with Wimbledon, Gay Pride and a Royal event all taking place in the city that weekend.

The message came back to write an atmospheric wrap, because none of this really affected Scotland. Boom! A few hours later Glasgow airport was aflame and Scotland was the frontline in the War on Terror. Thankfully no one was killed, apart from one of the bombers, but the event shook Scotland out of its complacency.

You'd think that event alone would have been enough of a lesson for Salmond, who was First Minister at the time. It doesn't pay to be smug or feel that Scotland is somehow different or immune to events that can sweep across the country as fast as it takes to send a BBM.

While Salmond may be playing to his nationalist constituency many have been wondering why the Neds, Scotland's answer to Yobs, haven't been rioting.

Geography has something to do with it, I guess, but not the borderline between England and Scotland.

Scotland doesn't have many inner-city housing estates close to High Street shopping centres. It does do a good line in peripheral urban deprivation, far from the glistening consumer cathedrals.

But for any disaffected youth to get to downtown Glasgow, say, they would have to pass through the territory of rival youth gangs, and get back again once the looting was over. I suspect the police helicopter would be the least of their problems on that booty-laden journey.

Also, there is obviously no black street culture in Scotland, and I can't understand why people have been reluctant to consider race as a factor in this.

There aren't that many black Scottish kids who get stopped and searched by an almost all-white police force. The neds don't complain of being harassed regularly or casually abused by "the Feds" the way black teenagers in London do.

Scottish teenagers might then have less reason to be pissed off in the first place, though they face the same problems of unemployment, lack of opportunities and see the same level of inequality.

That said, the contrast between highly visible wealth and poverty in London is on quite another scale. The pavements may not be lined with gold but a Porsche is one of the least expensive cars you'll see parked on some streets.

It's also worth remembering that before last weekend the most recent event that required a mounted police charge to disperse the mob was the party in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow on the day of the Royal Wedding.

Everyone else in Britain had a street party, Scotland had a ned riot.

Footnote: I forgot the obvious reason why there aren't riots in Scotland - not sectarianism, not national character, just the fact that its raining flat out.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

In the evening there is fear, in the morning they are gone...

It is the morning after the night before, or rather the third morning after the third night of looting and rioting in London.

This city is so gargantuan that it rolls on anyway, with people making their way to work in the morning sun as if it is just another office day at the slightly chilly end of high summer.

But last night, after it became dark and the police sirens could be heard criss-crossing the city, the mood was apprehensive and edgy. The disorder that broke out in Hackney in broad daylight began to look like pantomime rioting when the rolling news coverage began broadcasting the looting and the licking flames in Croydon and Peckham.

Cuts, racism and plain bad policing don't go near explaining what is happening in the capital and in other cities across Britain when darkness falls.

Mary Riddell, in the Daily Telegraph today, give the best account of the insidious reasons why we are seeing London ablaze against the backdrop of a global economy posed for freefall.

She argues that massive social inequality, stories of corporate larceny and a crippled economy are combining as they did after the Great Crash of 1929 and that the hopeless generation is mustering for the backlash.

She quotes Isaiah, Adam Smith and JK Galbraith in short order to work out why young people who have already fallen off the edge of the economic cliff have taken a peculiar consumerist vengeance on society. The unrest, for now, seems more centered on targeting shoe shops and mobile phone franchises than it is at overturning the political system. But each night has been different and the mood of the mob could change again.

Apart from the question of public order the big political issue is whether Cameron's premiership take a fourth night of pillaging on the streets of the Olympic city without being seriously wounded?

The Prime Minister was badly behind the curve on the last big political crisis, the hacking scandal, and he is in danger of being seen as not having a grip on this far more serious issue. It will take more than a fine speech and a stiff upper lip to sort out the underlying causes of the violence.

Mary Riddell hits the mark by paraphrasing Adam Smith's observation that a well-ordered society cannot develop when a sizeable number of its members are miserable, and as a consequence, dangerous. Read her Telegraph article on the underclass riots here.

Friday 5 August 2011

Keynes vs Hayek - the fight of the next Depression

While the world waits for leadership or a repeat of the 1930s economic apocalypse John Papola and Russ Roberts have produced "Fear the Boom or Bust" and "Fight of the Century", two great economics hip-hop music videos.

They're a lot more fun than listening to Robert Peston trying to explain it all. Thanks to David Williamson at Wales Online.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Salmond's Dear Rupert letters

Robbie Burns couldn't have penned a finer exchange of letters that those between First Minister Alex Salmond and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

From a day at the races to a night at the opera, Salmond's courting of News International has the makings of a fine one-sided bromance. Here we go...

After the 2007 New York meeting, Salmond wrote:

"Dear Rupert,
It was good to meet you again in New York last earlier this month.I enjoyed our conversation and, as ever, found your views both insightful and stimulating.

Thank you very much for your letter of 12 October and Jim Webb's book which I will read with interest."

An invitation to join the GlobalScot network was extended, but it doesn't look as if Rupert took out membership. Undeterred, Alex ploughs on...

"Dear Rupert

Many thanks for taking the time to speak with me earlier this week.

As discussed I would be delighted if you were able to join me as guest of honour for The Gathering celebrations on 25 July. I will host a reception at the Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle before the unique Pageant production takes place, a highlight of the weekend's celebrations."

Ach, Rupert didn't make it home, so Alex tries to get him on his own patch.An invitation for Murdoch to join Salmond at a golf event in Kentucky in the US follows.

"Dear Sir Rupert(sic)

Scotland is a country renowned for being the birthplace of Golf and as such we take pride in calling ourselves "The Home of Golf. Scotland is due to host the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014 and as future hosts we have the opportunity to invite a limited number of guests to the preceding tournaments.

I would like to invite you to join me as part of the official Scotland delegation to the forthcoming 37th Ryder Cup Matches to be held at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, next month..."

Later Salmond offers the media tycoon tickets for a performance of the Black Watch play in Brooklyn:

"We would be very happy to organise for you to meet with the artists if you like. However, if you would like to attend incognito this can also be arranged. I will arrange for my office to contact your secretary to make further arrangements."
He went on to advise Mr Murdoch that the play is a "rough, tough production" with views he might find controversial."

Then Salmond sents Rupert a DVD through the post, the political equivalent of a homemade teenage mixtape:

"Dear Rupert

I recently wrote to you enclosing a copy of a DVD with a voice over by Sean Connery that encouraged golfers to come to home of golf next year and to join in our Homecoming Scotland 2009 celebrations. I asked that you help ensure maximum exposure for this film and I am very grateful to you for showing it across some of your network...As I mentioned before, I would be delighted if you where able to join me at any of the Homecoming events as my special guest and I look forward to welcoming you back to Scotland in the near future."

Finally, Rupert replies:

Dear Alex:

Thank you very much for your letter and the beautiful brochure about your coming celebrations. I can't yet promise to be there but I am trying.
I have passed your letter on to Sky Television to see what they can do and either they or I will be in touch with you very soon."

Wednesday 3 August 2011

See me, see Pele...pass the ba'

The wee guy in the middle with the ball, that's Pele. And the wee guy on the right, that's my pal Kevin Schofield doing a diving header in an attempt to cut me out of the picture with the Brazilian football legend.

The greatest football player of all time came to Downing Street today and some of the lobby football squad were privileged enough to meet him.

Pele seemed like a gent, and a fit looking one for 70 years of age. Shake that hand and it's the hand that lifted the World Cup first in 1958, and 1962, and 1970. Wow, it's the hand that shook the world.

Along with some others in this picture I wouldn't even grace the subs bench of the lobby team, but I was tolerated anyway. And seeing the pathetic way Schofers tried to bring me down out there today I'm going to have a trial for his left back position. But I'll only play in a number 10 shirt.