Thursday 24 November 2011

Hoots man - who do you think you are?

Which MP is this? His mother was from Glasgow and his grandmother worked as a GP in the Gorbals in the hungry 1930s.

His grand-uncle was the chairman of Fairfields shipyard on the Clyde and was knighted for the company's manufacturing efforts in WWI.

His grand-aunt was a chandler in Oban, her surname was Goodwin and she was probably the only female chandler on the west coast.

Another grand-uncle, whose birthday fell on August 12th, was the one-time chairman of a Highland Distilleries, the manufacturers of Famous Grouse.

His great-grandfather was a Church of Scotland Minister in Avoch on the Black Isle, and he still has his bible (there's a clue to his identity).

He also owns a kilt, once played the bagpipes and went to school in Stirling for a while.

That would be enough burnishing of Scottish credentials for any politician, but there's more. He was also able to pronounce my name correctly first time, because he had an uncle from Skye called Torquil MacLeod.

But it was when he said another relative swam ashore from the Iolaire with the rope that saved over 30 souls from the infamous Lewis shipwreck I thought this MP was pushing it too far.

But as it was a MacLeod, John F MacLeod from Ness, that came ashore with the rope, and given that this politician has MacLeod relatives, the claim is not that fanciful.

So, who is he? Step forward Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda and scourge of News International.

Bryant, former Europe Minister, and a former Anglican priest, was born in Cardiff to a Scottish mother and a Welsh father but has kept the Scottish antecedents hidden under, er, a kilt until now.

Unfortunately, because of his gaydar profile pics from some years back we all know what he's likely to wear under a kilt - but we can look forward to the pictures nonetheless.

Surely he should make more of his background and have a voice in the debate on the Scottish referendum? Just as soon as he's dispensed with the Murdoch empire.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Coastguard closures - "an element of gamble" says Kennedy

Been away for a week, though it seems like more. Amazing weather on Skye and Raasay and now back in harness in the Commons.

Transport Minister Mike Penning, a man we like more and more on the west coast, has just been on his feet in the Commons making a formal annoucement on the closure of coastguard stations around the UK.

As expected, Stornoway and Shetland coastguard have been retained as 24/7 operation centres after a furiously well organised campaign which, the Minister acknowledged, made an "overwhelming" case.

Alistair Carmichael, the Shetland MP, looked tremendously relaxed as the announcement was made - as well he might. There have to be some advantages to being deputy chief whip in the government. Carmichael, I'm told, burst a blood vessel when the original proposal to close Shetland was made and managed to get his station into a face-off for 24 hour coverage with Stornoway.

It took some amount of politicing to get both Stornoway and Shetland retained - though the maritime case is abundantly clear to anyone who looks at a nautical chart.

The Clyde, Forth, Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea stations will all close, to be replaced by a new national network that must be fully tested.

The PCS union has already accused the government of ignoring the people who know best and Charles Kennedy MP, while quick to praise the retention of west coast coverage, issued what could be a prophetic warning.

Kennedy said: "there is a considerable element of gamble involved in all of this".

“Whilst welcoming the sensible concessions that have been made, not least with regard to the west coast, the Minches, the northern waters, because the earlier suggestions just flew in the face of all common sense whatsoever.

“Would the minister nonetheless accept that there is a considerable element of gamble involved in all of this? And given the warnings from the seafarers and the emergency services who have been doing this job successfully for generations, about what may occur, would he at least confirm today that if circumstances merited he would reopen this entire recasting and go back to the drawing board?"

Tuesday 1 November 2011

It's Halloween, and Freddie's back

It must be Halloween if the man once dubbed as the Freddie Kreuger of Scottish politics has been drawn back into the ring.

Yep, Michael Forsyth is back and the on Halloween eve Scotland's last Thatcherite ran his talons across Alex Salmond's tumshie.

Speaking in the Lords last night Forsyth made the extraordinary claim that the First Minister is ready to sabotage a referendum on independence - that's if Westminster has the temerity to call a vote ahead of the SNP government.

Forsyth, who served as the last Conservative Scottish Secretary, accused the SNP leader of threatening to organise a boycott of an indy referendum if Westminster puts a simple "Yes or No" question in front of the Scottish people.

It was certainly a combative return to form, because Lord Forsyth of Drumlean didn't stop there.

He also claimed the First Minister would order Scottish police and other public authorities not to co-operate with a Westminster organised referendum.

If the FM is ready to issue political orders to Scotland’s police forces, Forsyth asked: “Is the First Minister not getting a bit too big for his boots?”

The Scottish government last night dismissed Forsyth’s claims as “wishful thinking” and goaded the Scots Lord by repeating Salmond's own claim that Westminster had no mandate to hold a referendum on Scotland.

(Legally speaking the opposite is true, but I leave that argument to the noble Lord. Here he goes...)

Forsyth hit back that Salmond was not issuing an outright denial of his claim.

Speaking to the Daily Record he repeated the claim and said that the Salmond had delivered the private message of a boycott to none other than Chancellor George Osborne.

Lord Forsyth said: “In public Alex Salmond is saying he wants a referendum and privately he is saying that if you hold one he will not co-operate. I think people should know about that and that he should explain himself.”

He added: “This is a serious matter as the legal position is that he can’t hold a referendum that is legally binding. Constitutional matters are a reserved power for Westminster.”

Forsyth, in prickly alliance with Labour's Lord Foulkes, has led calls for Westminster to beat Salmond to the draw and organise a simple yes or no to independence instead of the SNP’s confusing multi-question options.

Salmond fears he would lose a simple Yes or No question on separation so is banking on a softer “devo-max” question as an insurance at a date to be decided.

A spokesperson for the First Minister said: “We have no idea what Lord Forsyth is talking about - the reality is that the Scottish Government won a resounding mandate in May to deliver the referendum in the second half of this Holyrood term, a position accepted by the Prime Minister after the election."

The official added: “The UK Government has no mandate whatever on the referendum issue, and no amount of wishful thinking by Lord Forsyth can change that.”