Thursday 11 December 2014

The Vow swung ten per cent - really Mr Salmond?

It is flattering that Alex Salmond declares in his Spectator interview today that the Daily Record Vow front page changed the minds of ten per cent of the voters in the Scottish referendum.
That's something like 400,000 votes changed by a single front page. That is not just flattering, it is amazing if it were near true.
It is also, coincidentally, about the same number of votes that Alex Salmond lost the referendum by.
Instead of accepting he himself might be in some way responsible for losing he has tried to displace the defeat.
The Vow is now Mr Salmond's spur for a return to Westminster where he promises to hold feet to the fire if the terms are not delivered, which he already claims they are not.
That is all a matter for robust political debate which I'm sure will be reflected in the pages of the Daily Record, whose readers, incidentally, were a keen and vital part of the referendum and well able to make up their own minds.
It is re-assuring that the First Minister describes The Record as a paper with "credibility".
That credibility and even-handedness was displayed in other front pages during the campaign and when we handed over editorial control for a day to each of the Yes and No sides to put their arguments across to our readers.
It's worth noting that apart from one poll none of the surveys put the Yes side ahead at any time in the campaign. It would be good to see Salmond's evidence that many people were on their way to the Yes side but were stopped by the Daily Record coverage of the Vow.
Yes Scotland had it's own private, Canadian pollsters for the campaign and they confidently predicted a 54-46 win for the Yes side, basing their prediction on soundings from social networks and online activity.
They were badly wrong and despite the sound and fury created online by the Yes side, Alex Salmond has now admitted an old-fashioned truth about political campaigns - print is king.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Fracking up Scotland's back yard

From today's Daily Record column.

Scottish environmentalists are celebrating renewables overtaking nuclear as the biggest source of electricity production. 

Sure, every turn of the turbine blades is one less unit of carbon produced. 
But rows over windfarms in the landscape will be a summer picnic compared to the forthcoming war over fracking. 
Fracking, extracting shale gas and oil by drilling underground, is a very messy business. Just ask them in boomtime North Dakota where land and lives around the one million barrels a day industry are ruined.
Fracking is going to be big business in Scotland.
Ineos, the operators of Grangemouth chemicals works, have staked the future of the plant on shale gas.
The company has ambitious plans to ship shale gas from the USA.
But Ineos has also bought two big licences to frack in Scotland, covering 700 square kilometres around Grangemouth and stretching across the central belt like the coalmines once did.
It has also applied for further licences from the UK government.
Under Smith licencing is to be devolved to Holyrood, but the Scottish government already has an effective veto on fracking.
Planning permission is local and the permit regime, to drill a hole you need about nine of them, is managed by SEPA, the arms-length Scottish environmental agency.
Scottish politicians just need to tweak the planning regime and the permit conditions to stop the industry in it’s tracks. But will they?
Both governments bent over backwards to keep the Grangemouth open two years ago despite the atrocious treatment of trade union reps.
So where will they stand when fracking wars start? This is not a problem we can park at Westminster’s door. The solution is in our own back yard.

Not a good look

The SNP numpties who set fire to the Smith Commission report need to read more, not less.
How about starting with “The Complete Idiot’s guide to Nazi Germany”?
The last time people started burning books in Europe it didn’t end well. Suspension isn’t enough.
Mags MacLaran, warming her fingers by the blaze, is twice-paid from the public purse - as a councillor and staffer for Cabinet Secretary Derek Mackay. Book-burning or democracy, which does he endorse?

Choose a tune to play

One minute she’s comparing herself to civil rights legend Rosa Parks and the next Nicola Sturgeon is assuring businesses they have nothing to fear from her conversion to land reform.
Two weeks in the job and she’s playing more tunes than the accordionist at my birthday party.
When friends in the north of England look at the SNP they don’t see nationalists, they just see right-wing politicians waving a Saltire.
No surprise to them that John Swinney didn’t welcome the Smith Commission’s tax-raising powers

Wednesday 3 December 2014

A very political mini-budget

 For the Daily Record, reaction to the Autumn Statement
To the Autumn Statement, delivered as weird Commons convention dictates, on a cold day in December.
These occasions are more about the political theatre than hard economics and this mini-budget was Osborne’s last chance to use his office to set the weather before the General Election
But if was a concert hall piece and he’d asked us what we thought of the show so far, we’d all have shouted back: “rubbish”.
Bullish as he might be, there is no disguising George Osborne as a failed chancellor. 
He has missed just about every target he set for himself four years ago.
Growth not rising as fast as he needed, spending more than he budgeted for, deficit not paid off - fail, fail, fail.
The main message from Osborne has to be if you think that was bad, just wait for the next four years.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility, that assesses what the government’s plans mean for public spending, say 60 per cent of the cuts are yet to come.
Gulp, and gulp again if you are a public sector worker on an effectively frozen pay grade, or if you are someone who relies on public services because you are old, a child or a patient.  
For Scotland there are mixed messages. True, there is more than £200 million more at the drop of a hat into the Scottish budget because of the Barnett consequentials.
Surely that is shovelled straight into an NHS creaking because of under-investment on the SNP’s watch?
There will inevitable nationalist anger over devolving Corporation Tax to Northern Ireland when the idea has been rejected for Scotland.
Several reasons are proffered for this tax anomaly: Northern Ireland has a land border with another EU country and the deal is dependent on the Peace Talks and the Northern Irish Executive getting it’s finances in order.
Also Northern Ireland is much poorer than the rest of the UK with a huge over-reliance on the public sector, so private corporations have to be encouraged. 
Add that no compelling case was made to the Smith Commission to devolve corporation tax to Scotland, other than the SNP wanting to start a cross-border spiral to the bottom. Glad to see the STUC endorsing that view yesterday.
The real reason though for tax devolution to Northern Ireland is that David Cameron might need Democratic Unionist Party MPs to shore up a minority Tory government after the next election.
Like I said, nothing to do with economics, everything to do with politics. 

Sùil Eile air ceist an Fhearainn

Sùil Eile airson an Daily Record

‘S math gu bheil ceist an fhearainn air ais air clàr-gnothaich an riaghaltais; tha mi a’ cur fàilte air Nicola Sturgeon dhan a’ champa bheag a tha ag iomairt airson na cùise.

Mar as àbhaist leis an SNP, cha chanadh tu gu robh riaghaltas sam bith eile an sàs anns a’ ghnothach bho Ghladstone. Thàinig a’ mhòr-chuid de leudachadh air ceist an fhearainn fo riaghaltas Làbarach.

Ach leig sin seachad agus gluais air adhart còmhla, chanainnsa.

A thaobh chùisean mar chìsean dha oighreachdan spòrs, tha sin ciallach agus cothromach, chan e radaigeach.

Agus ‘s ann practaigeach a bu chòir dhan riaghaltas a bhith. Chan eil càil a dh’fheum air ath-nuadhachadh air an fhearann gun daoine anns na bailtean croitearachd.

Sa chiad àite dh’fhaodadh Sturgeon an taic-airgid airson taigheadas croitearachd a dhùblachadh agus an sgeama a leudachadh airson spionnadh a thoirt do bhailtean iomallach.

Tha an t-airgead ann. Tha croitearan an-dràsta a’ sporghail airson beagan taic-airgid airson nan lotaichean aca, agus na milleanan air an sgrios a’ toirt taic dha tuathanaich agus uachdarain mhòra gun fheum sam bith.

English translation

It is good that the land question is back on the government agenda; I welcome Nicola Sturgeon to the small camp campaigning on the issue.

As usual with the SNP you wouldn’t think any other government had been involved in the business since Gladstone’s time. Most of the movement on the land question came from a Labour government.

But let that pass and move forwards together, I’d say.

On issues like tax on sporting estates, that is just sensible and fair, not radical.

And practical is what the government ought to be. There is no point in renewing the land without people living in the crofting villages.

In the first place Sturgeon could double the financial support for crofter housing and widen the scheme to give a boost to remote villages.

The money is there. Crofters are scrabbling around just now for a little grant money for their lots, and millions are wasted giving financial support to big farmers and landlords for no use at all.