Friday 23 December 2011

All aboard for Capt. Osborne of the Titanic

These clever people at Designiscentral have produced the STUC's Christmas greeting, which is a version of James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster "Titanic". (I know, 1997 Is it that long ago? )

"A Flag of Convenience - rearranging the deck-chairs" has Osborne, Cameron and Clegg starring in "a disaster waiting to happen".

It has been described as a "heart and pocket wrenching drama", but it's quite funny too.

I see that my blogsite doesn't do widescreen, so here's the link to the STUC website for the full experience.

Anyway, have a Merry Christmas, and take it away James Horner and the Titanic orchestra...

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Cameron kippers Miliband at PMQs

Unemployment higher than it has been in a generation, Britain isolated in Europe, the spectre of recession haunting Christmas spending and yet, and yet, the Conservatives are ahead in the opinion polls for the first time in 17 months.

Someone is doing something wrong here, and it ain't David Cameron. The Prime Minister gave Ed Miliband one mighty slap across the chops at Prime Minister's Questions today, on the one issue that voters identify the Labour leader with - doing in his brother.

It was all going so well for Miliband, teasing the mute Nick Clegg by Cameron's side about the problems of coalition politics, as Lib dem rival Chris Huhme smirked away further up the gangway.

Cameron rose fluidly to tell Miliband it would surprise no one that Lib Dems and Tories had their differences. He said Miliband shouldn't believe everything he reads in the papers.

"It's not that bad," quipped Cameron. "It's not like we're brothers or anything."

Game over - another bruising half hour encounter for the Labour leader, which is becoming a regular occurrence. The focus groups tell Cameron that fratricide is all voters remember Miliband for and every few weeks the PM makes sure that one salient fact doesn't slip from their mind.

Nick Watt of the Guardian thinks today was Miliband has had his Westland moment, when Neil Kinnock failed to kill Thatcher when she was there for the taking.

Labour's longtoothed strategists are biding their time, betting that the short term gains Cameron has made with his British bulldog stance to the EU will rebound as the consequences become clear and the economic weather worsens.

It may take more than that to change Labour's fortunes, and they all know it. I hear that one of the oldest Labour beasts in the jungle, the one who talked Eve into eating the apple, thinks that Ed Miliband can eventually be persuaded to eat something that's not good for him too.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Voters urge Salmond to get on with indy poll

Thanks to the Balkanisation of the British press I had to scramble around behind The Times paywall for details of the Ipsos Mori poll on Scottish attitudes to an independence referendum.

The story is the splash in the Scottish edition of the paper and gets not a mention in the London copy I bought at the station this morning.

A large part of the dis-assembly of the UK is down to the London papers regularly slotting Scottish stories into edition silos that are read only by Scottish readers.

Conversely the Daily Record is the only Scottish daily still circulating in London, both the Scotsman and the Herald having withdrawn from the capital. I know there is a news life online but there is still a lot to be said for the visible and tactile power of print and its engagement in a national conversation.

Anyway, that's a personal diversion. As expected the poll shows that two thirds of Scots believe Alex Salmond is wrong to delay a referendum on independence until at least 2014.

The Ipsos MORI poll shows 33 per cent of Scots voters want a referendum as soon as possible. Another 31 per cent want one within the next two years.

That's 64 per cent want a poll before Salmond's "after 2014" pledge, a nine point increase since August.

None of that is likely to change Mr Salmond,'s mind which is set on a referendum in the second half of this five-year Scottish Parliament, meaning not before 2014. Everyone says 2014 - Bannockburn anniversary, Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup - is Salmond's date with destiny. It could be later than that, I reckon, but that option is now backed by only 29 per cent of Scots, down eight points from August.

The bottom line is that Salmond would lose a referendum if one were held early or late.

The poll finds that support for independence among Scots certain to vote has risen by three points since August to 38 per cent.

But a clear majority of Scots — 57 per cent — still believe that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. This has declined since August, again by three points.

Professor John Curtice, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, said the changes might be little more than the variability of all polls.

Monday 12 December 2011

Cameron takes a bow

David Cameron is due to be cheered from the rafters this afternoon by his own side following his "triumph" in Brussels last week.

Labour's frontbench have found themselves on the wrong side of populism twice in the last fortnight. When it came to the Autumn spending review I think Cameron and Osborne's attack line - "you can't spend your way out of debt" - resonated with voters' own experiences in the last few years.

As any passing Keynesian will tell you, national economies do not behave in the same way as household bank accounts. But the handbag analogy is working for the Tories right now.

Effective as he is Ed Balls hasn't found the same rhetoric to answer back with, regardless of how coherent his analysis is.

Similarly on Europe, by amplifying the Europhobia of his own backbenchers Cameron has tapped into the knee-jerk anti-Europeanism of the electorate. Labour doesn't quite have an answer.

Although Douglas Alexander, and David Miliband this morning, do fine destructive analysis of "the reasons not to", you don't get the feeling that penetrates far beyond the political village.

For now all Ed Miliband can do is hold the line for the long term, which is all opposition is about. In a year the public might see Osborne's plan A isn't working and British business will begin to express discomfort with distancing the country from its' biggest market.

Labour's pre-1997 experience was that Britain's business community didn't like Tory beef wars or the Brussels-bashing agenda of the Thatcherite rump left in Major's Tory party.

It might take a while for Britain to realise the consequences of Cameron taking Britain down a fork in the European road. It looks smooth for Cameron now, but the road gets rougher ahead.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Calum's Road comes home

I went back to Raasay last Friday (I know, twice in a week. Even though the island tried to devour me whole I can't stay away). There was only one place to be that night, come hire car or high water, and that was in the new hall for the last tour performance of "Calum's Road".

It lived up to the billing as an extraordinary night of drama. Theatre and location and people don't come together like this very often. Here's my West Highland Free Press review of the Comminicado/NTS production of Calum's Road

A play is nothing without an audience, but a play becomes something else when it is its audience.

Taking the stage adaptation of "Calum’s Road" back to its island setting demonstrates the inescapable, powerful connection between art and the places from which it springs. Landscape and memory have a pull strong enough to draw people from very far away, and to fill Raasay Hall twice over last Friday.

In fact the National Theatre of Scotland could have taken residence in Raasay for a week and, weather permitting, sold out the run. But a play is essentially ephemeral art, and different each time. Anyway, casting like Iain Macrae as Calum cannot happen twice.

"He had my father to a T," said Julia, Calum MacLeod's daughter in her own review of Macrae’s performance as the islander who defied the world with a wheelbarrow and a shovel.

That’s the real Julia speaking — in front of her eyes, on stage, she is seamlessly represented as a young girl by Angela Hardie and as a woman by Ceit Kearney, who also managed to slip into the role of Julia's mother Lexy.

Fictionalising real people and a real place and projecting that back to the most discerning audience is a pretty neat trick, if you can pull it off. Raasay was lulled and lilted by Alasdair Macrae's score and let itself be carried down the road again.

After their own long journey around Scotland, the cast have honed the parts into a lesson in ensemble acting, so that characters play off each other and not just out into the audience.

While Macrae is as energetic as Calum himself Finlay Welsh, as Iain Nicolson, is a counterpoint in paring back a performance until he delivers the intensity of his emotions with a glance or a twitch.

Gerry Mulgrew’s Communicado Theatre has long experience of successfully adapting Scottish literature for stage. Roger Hutchinson’s book lends him some of the best lines, but it is the dexterous layering of a familiar tale by writer David Harrower that elevates "Calum’s Road", unexpectedly warming a slow-burning tragedy.

The gentle, unrequited love story cocooned in the play and the repeated motifs of the road saga — depopulation, the fragility of family and culture — are, like Calum’s struggle with the barrow against the county council, universal themes.

"Calum’s Road" is not just from our past. The question mark over end-of-the-road communities resonates through modern Scotland all the way down to the inner Clyde.

Even on islands like Shetland and Iceland, where they had money to throw at the situation, people continue to gravitate from the periphery to the streetlit centres.

But that is no reason to give up on places like Raasay. Even the new hall that hosted Calum’s homecoming is a symbol of hope. When it is not converted into an amphitheatre for the National Theatre of Scotland it hosts intense football sessions for the island’s youngsters. One day there will be enough kids for a Raasay 11-a-side team. There is, finally, a new pier in a sensible place, with a beautiful, working fishing boat moored to it. New social housing is being built, hopefully not too late.

And on nights like last Friday — when that rare thing happens and art, time and place combine to make huge emotional demands on an audience — it reveals a very special community at the centre of its own story.

Outside the hall winter’s wind rages and the complaints are all too real-life. They are much the same ones as Calum MacLeod might have made in a strong letter to Inverness County Council. The island’s roads are still awful.

Friday 2 December 2011

Thoughts from abroad

Cameron's off to Paris today and, coincidentally, so am I. He's trying to shore up Britain's influence on the Eurozone, I just want to spend my remaining summer holiday Euros while they remain acceptable currency.

All this existential worry about the Eurozone must start to be annoying for SNP campaign managers back home. It can't do for people to be distracted by an economic Armageddon and fret about whether they'll have a job or not when there's the serious task of nation building to be getting on with.

Implicit in the whole modern offer of independence was the notion that Scots need not worry about leaving the comfort blanket of their most beneficial monetary and economic union in 300 years, the UK. They would be replacing it with an even larger and more successful EU club. (Mmm, in many ways "Independence in Europe" could have been a more persuasive slogan than the selfishness of "Scotland's oil" which ran against the redistributive grain of many Scottish voters).

Well, given that the Eurozone is on the sliproad to the autobhan to hell (and us with it) the sell of separation from the UK is even harder to crack than that 28 per cent plateau, particularly if the leadership can't sound coherent on the currency or status of Scotland post-separation.

That means it's headscratching time at SNP central sloganising department. Indy in EU, nah, forget it; Arc of prosperity, uh uh; Risk it all on Yes in 2015, em, think again.

When the recessionary riptide is running the other way its hard to come up with ideas that broaden the economic appeal of independence. And on that score the SNP looks weak.

Unfortunately, apart from the welcome adoption of an idea for of a Minister for Youth unemployment, there's not much evidence of the Holyrood government doing much to stem the economic tide or move Scotland forward this week, or any other.

Despite a stonking majority in parliament, a mandate for anything, Salmond appears to be set on a course to becalm Scotland in the run up to the whenever'endum.

The message coming from political masters senior policy makers is that nothing will really be done to rock the Scottish boat in the next few years. Big issues like structural changes to the NHS, which may be electorally unpalatable but acknowledged as necessary, will be avoided. Reform of the education system, don't go there.
Criminal Justice, anything so long as it strikes a fine balance between dogwhistling reactionary retribution (core Labour vote) with liberal echo (soak up remaining Lib Dems).

Environmental policy, the SNP's biggest calumny, veers from "drill baby drill" in the wild Atlantic to somehow magicking windmills on and offshore with a continuing subsidy from the UK consumers even after independence! Check out the latest report from Citgroup for an even more devastating critique of why the Salmond's renewable vision will end up by 2020 in energy dependence on imports and a tacit acceptance of extended Scottish nuclear power generation.

It's unfortunate that in the five lost years of constitutional wrangling the government has decided to substitute hard policy with broad populism. That's deliberate, of course, in order not to upset any sectoral group on the road to i-day, the name campaign managers had been saving up for the Independence app.

But Alex Salmond's focus on a downloadable Gettysburg address actually gets in the way of a real world agenda for Scotland. Instead of mapping out a future he is being accused of putting Scotland's future on hold for another five years.

In a vacuum of political figureheads Scotland likes Salmond and my guess, and that of the polls, is that people would let him lead anywhere, except across the line to separation.

There's a growing tide of opinion calling on Alex Salmond to get on with a referendum to end political and economic uncertainty.
He calls the shots on that but why doesn't he use his considerable personality and political majority meantime to just get on with governing?