Thursday 30 October 2014

Labour's Scottish solution

Daily Record column 30/10/14
Lobbing stun grenades through the exit door provided a good smokescreen to cover Johann Lamont’s departure.
Lamont is a tenacious politician and Labour's ineptitude in handling its Scottish personnel created a handy narrative of "London control" that diverted from real concerns about her leadership.

Reluctant as we are to admit it, there are darker spices people require of their leaders.

These include elements of ruthlessness and enormous self-belief, talents Johann can be thankful she does not possess.

Gordon Brown has the requirements but with him Labour would not be forced to look in the mirror. The answer to every problem would begin and end with the word "Gordon".

Whoever the next leader is will have to face these "challenges", the word of the week to describe Labour's crisis of opportunity.

The first real-time problem is being the back-marker in the Smith Commission on devolution.

Labour’s low tax-raising offer, reasoned as it is, makes them look like reluctant home rulers, allowing the SNP to frame the general election on who will deliver more for Scotland.

By squaring off on the Smith Commission the new Labour leader can ask the real 2015 question - who governs, Labour or the Tories?

Then, there is the talent issue. To look like a capable Scottish government the leader needs A-list candidates for the 2016 campaign. That includes the powerful symbolism of Labour MPs leaving Westminster for Holyrood.

Obviously the leader must hold the SNP to account, to remind voters that Nicola Sturgeon’s vision, decisively rejected by voters, looks threadbare.

The SNP’s big consumer offer is populism, like free tuition fees for the middle class dressed as a universal benefit. This avoids the difficult choices facing true social democrats. 

This is the Labour leader's hardest challenge and moving left might provide strong core messages, but not policy answers. 

In good news for the party, voters don't care any more for its management structure than they do for Tesco’s. 

It would be just nuts for Labour to turn a showcase of talent in the leadeship campaign into a squabble between London and Scotland

Scots like Labour’s values of social justice, that's why the SNP preach left while governing right.

On the referendum doorstep voters kept saying one thing about Labour - they want the party to be better than it is. 

In that sense Labour is a great Scottish brand, it just needs a leader to match.

The asylum of the sea 

Immigration is becoming the dark and perfect storm of the political winter.

Natacha Bouchart, the  mayor of besieged Calais, said illegal migrants on the French side of the Channel are  "prepared to die" to get into the UK because of our attractive regime of benefits.

Compared to the kicking they get as they cross Europe, £72.50 a week that an asylum-seeking couple would get here makes the UK look like an El Dorado.

What draws migrants to our shores is our world-conquering language, English, and our stable migrant communities.  

But feeding the fear and loathing around immigration is a Home Office losing contact with thousands of asylum seekers refused the right to stay.

On top of that Tory Minister Nick Bowles says the UK can never avoid heavy immigration because freedom of movement is fundamental principle of the EU.  

Telling the truth is not exactly helpful to a Prime Minister trying to kow-tow to the UKIP anti-immigration agenda. 

And Ed Miliband has his own problems as UKIP polling clams that half of Labour voters in the Rochester by-election are crossing to the anti-immigrant party. 

But the migrant problem is not in Calais, or in Westminster, or in Rochester.

It is in the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean where thousands of refugees risk their lives to cross from Africa to Europe.

It is there that the UK government this week refused to fund any future search and rescue operations on the basis that saving drowning people only encourages  more to attempt the dangerous crossing. 

That should fill us with anger and shame. Where is our common humanity when the asylum we want to offer is in the sea?

Halloween offer
Are you stuck for a Halloween idea? I've checked online and they do still sell Alex Salmond party masks.
A terrible thought, I know, turning up to a party as the most divisive politician in Scottish history.
But buy now as most of the stock has been sold to Lib Dems in the Gordon constituency who are going out tomorrow night frightening the voters with the idea of the politically dead rising again.

Scales of tolerance 

Post-referendum the right-wing Scottish commentator (they do exist) Iain Martin provocatively asked: "just how much more Scottish wingeing can the English take?" 
The outrage from online nationalists was laughably predictable. 
But the science tells us there is no limit to English tolerance.
A poll for the London Evening Standard showed  only 25 per cent of Londoners were less likely to support Andy Murray at Wimbledon despite his backing for Scottish independence.
How annoying, they like is whether we win or lose. 
Sùil Eile

Chan eil buidheann de luchd-bhòtaidh ann am Breatainn cho cumhachdach ri dràibhearan.

Nuair a bruidhinn riaghaltas Làbarach air cìsean a thogail a rèir nam miltean a bha dràibhearan a' siubhal, bha uiread de dh'fhearg ann agus nach cuala guth air an leithid a-rithist.

Nuair a thig e gu cìsean peatroil, 's e a' cheist dè cho àrd 's a leumas luchd-poilitigs airson dràibhearan a chumail riaraichte.

Mar sin tha e mar ìognadh gu bheil Riaghaltas na h-Alba air a dhol cho fada 's gu bheil iad air camarathan astair a chur air rathad mòr an A9 idir. Cha chaomh leis an riaghaltas seo a dhol an aghaidh ghuthan làidir.

Ach chan eil rian nach eil feum air na camarathan.

Tha iad air an A77, agus tha tubaistean air a rathad chunnartach sin air tuiteam an darna leth.

Tha dà cheud tubaist air an A9 a h-uile bliadhna, còrr is trì fichead bàs thairis air còig bliadhna.

Tha e duilich argamaid phoilitigeach a dhèanamh an aghaidh fhigearan mar sin.

English translation

There is no group of voters in Britain more powerful than drivers.

When the Labour government talked about raising tax according to the miles drivers travelled, there was such fury that the we never heard of the likes again.

Then it comes to taxes on petrol, it is a question of how high do politicians jump to keep drivers satisfied.

So it is surprising that the Scottish Government has gone so far as to put speed cameras on the A9 at all. This government does not like to oppose strong voices.

But there is no doubt that the cameras are needed.

They are on the A77, and the number of accidents on that dangerous road has fallen by half.

There are two hundred accidents on the A9 each year, over sixty deaths over a five year period.

It is hard to make a political argument against figures like that.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Angus MacLeod, Scottish Editor of The Times and distinguished broadcaster

It is very sad, at the end of a remarkable political season, to mark the death of Angus MacLeod.

The editor of The Times in Scotland was one of the country's most respected journalists.

Like every other reporter Angus MacLeod could be reduced to a name  above a newspaper article. But for colleagues and politicians who admired his inquiring mind he was a character much bigger than any by line.

After decades in print he still greeted every story with huge enthusiasm, firing up others around him as he cut through to the heart of what mattered.

He had a reputation as an old school print journalist, but was cuter than all the young reporters he mentored and took to every media platform. His last tweet was in defence of one of his reporters.

And that voice. Many's the Radio Scotland listener would not rise from their bed until his eloquent Saturday morning newspaper review was complete.

That voice turned newsprint into verse, no mean achievement even with his lilting Hebridean accent. 
Angus Macleod's every syllable resonated of a home he left years ago.

People think he was the sound of Stornoway but in fact his was a very specific Isle of Lewis brogue. 

Gaelic was on his tongue though not his lips. He had the pleasant grout of Plasterfield, a pre-fab housing estate where the edge of the English-speaking town met the sound of the Gaelic hinterland and mixed. 

Like all village sounds in Scotland that accent is being smoothed away, it is all but gone.
Angus was a rare pebble on the shoreline, and his voice and his influence on Scottish journalists will echo for a long time to come.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Glasgow's Finnieston food revolution

Want a lesson on how to regenerate a rundown part of your city? Visit Finnieston in Glasgow where the alchemy of supercool dining venues, old-fashioned pubs and a rates holiday on opening new businesses has transformed the area into one of the best weekends of your life. 

There's a post-grad and a business model to emerge on what factors make a place like Finnieston work, but worry about that after the Lib Dem conference because all these great places are on your doorstep for the next few days.

When you emerge from a day under the shell of the Armadillo conference centre you are in a bit of a booze and food desert.

But cross through the red centipede, the covered bridge over the expressway and follow your nose up Minerva Street and onto Argyle Street.

You are then standing at the town end of Argyle St. Moving west along that half-mile strip bordered by the Kelvingrove Art gallery at the other end are all the dining out options you'll need.
First thing to do is find the Ben Nevis, not the mountain, the pub and orientate yourself from there - corner of Corruna St and Argyle St. A £5 taxi ride if it is raining.

It sits at the centre of the Finnieston universe, and yours for the next few days 
Ten  Restaurant Tips: 

1 - Panevino - a new entry. The setting isn't amazing but the staff are and so is the great Italian food. Beer or prosecco and  a tray of nibbles for £5 in the afternoon. Best way to spend conference sessions if you're not skipping to Piece, the cafe on the other side of the road.

2- Crabshakk - the one that started the Finnieston food revolution and still the best place in town for seafood. All the food's good, crabcakes a speciality, service can take time so also try their Table 11 along the street.

3- The Gannet - imitation the sincerest form of flattery. Across road from Crabshakk, v hip, v tasty seasonal Scottish food and a good glass of wine always available.

4 - Kelvingrove Cafe - next door, less expensive than Gannet or Crabshakk and v friendly.

5 - Mother India - the big Moma India one street away on Sauchiehall Street has to be one of the best Indian restaurants in Britain, and I include the County Hotel, Stornoway in that list.

6 -Ox and Finch - Another new arrival on Sauchiehall St. Tapas size portions of melt in mouth food. London prices though.

7 - Old Saltys - a brand new, old-fashioned fish and chip shop that you can sit-in and have a scoff for a few bob. It also has a licence, which is handy.

8 - The Finnieston - Bar restaurant in that foodie style. Lobster and chips special offer during the week.

9 - The Banana Leaf - small, hole in the wall, BYOB, South Indian eatery far from the madding crowd.

10 - Mother India  - at Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Possibly even better than the big M India. Smaller portions and large queues to get in. Try the deli next door which has a limited menu but is less busy.

Further afield - In the merchant city there's Cafe Gandolfi and Bar Gandolfi - make the trip. 

Ubiquitous Chip off Byres Road, your expense account can find its way there blindfold,  and Hanoi Bike Shop - is up there too. 

Other side of Kelvingrove park is Stravagin, best bloody marys and excellent food.


The Ben Nevis, Argyle St - stunning choice of whiskies with a malt of the month offer. Stylish but not pretentious bar.

The Park Bar, Argyle St - Hebridean antidote to the Hoxton-isation of the area. Part of the Gaelic triangle that takes in the Snaffle Bit and the Islay Inn. All worth a ceilidh whirl 

Lebowskis - first pub you hit on the Finnieston strip when coming from city centre, good for Guinness. 

Brewdog - opposite Kevingrove Gallery at the west end of the area, locally brewed craft beers 

The Grove - down at heel and close to Mother India. Everyone ends up here, the barman told me.

The Baby Grand - hidden by Charing Cross train station. Scene of late-night drinks disasters.

The State Bar, Holland St -  In the shadow of the burnt out Glasgow School of Art. Used to be His Nibs when the art school dance went on forever. Good beers, good debates in the bar

The Horseshoe Bar - down by Central Station, a Glasgow institution. 

Blythswood Hotel - Top for cocktails though traditionalists like me will still go to The Rogano.

And one last one closer to conference - Hilton Garden City. Beside the Finnieston crane (Glasgow's Eiffel Tower) is a box-shaped hotel that actually has a good outdoor terrace on the riverside where you can watch the sun set on the Clyde.