Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Farewell Malcolm Rifkind

There will be little public sympathy in Scotland  for Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who will be seen as the author of his own demise.

It is a rather humiliating end to forty years on the political frontline, caught out by one of the easiest political hooks in the undercover reporter’s bag, boasting that you work as an MP only part-time and then defending yourself on the grounds that a salary of £67.000 is not enough to live on.

It looks like he was immediately cut adrift by David Cameron. The Prime Minister gave him only half-hearted backing as chair of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee when the cash for access story broke on Monday.

His rapid dispatch has the hallmarks of Cameron's Australian election guru Lynton “no barnacles” Crosby.

Ten weeks out from an election he would have advised the party to clear the decks of this unnecessary distraction no matter how well regarded Rifkind might be.

In his time Rifkind held one of the high offices of state, serving as Foreign Minister under John Major and as Defence Secretary.

He entered parliament in 1974 as the 28-year-old MP for Edinburgh Pentlands when the Tories had 32 per cent of the vote in Scotland and 21 of the 72 Scottish MPs.
He will be best remembered in his native heath as Secretary of State for Scotland from 1986 to 1990, or as Margaret Thatcher’s Governor General as he was widely lampooned.

With the poll tax being imposed in the teeth of civic opposition, with the country traumatised by the loss of heavy industry, mining and the privatisation of utilities, Rifkind ran Scotland in the high season of Thatcherism.

Despite that Rifkind was himself a moderate Conservative. He changed the development agencies, the SDA and the HIDB into Enterprise Companies with more private involvement but he did argue for Ravenscraig to be kept open. 

To his credit he found money to establish  the Gaelic Television service, his shooting and fishing connection to the late Sir Iain Noble might have played a part in that. As someone who undertook country sports he felt he understood rural Scotland and funded  infrastructure programmes like the A9 and the Vatersay causeway.  
He wouldn’t take the lesson of a changed Scotland when the Tories were routed from Scotland in 1997 and had 900 voters swung the other way in 2001 he would have had his Edinburgh Pentlands seat back.

Instead of going to the Lords, as Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth had chosen, he stood again in the plum seat of Kensington and Chelsea in 2005.

But he took the huff when he did not make the running as Tory leader and David Cameron did not reward him as shadow Foreign Secretary so did not return to cabinet after the 2010 election.

With his Defence and Foreign Office experience he was well-respected in Westminster and was a natural choice to be appointment as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Given that he is a veteran political operator his self-destruction was surprisingly rapid.

At 68 he launched a stout initial defence of himself when the cash for access sting was sprung this week. But he showed himself to be completely out of touch, and quickly lost the support of colleagues, when he said that it was impossible to live on an MP’s salary.

He may be found to have broken no rules but he lost in the court of public opinion with that one.

Witty, with a light touch in the Commons chamber, he once quipped that the worst thing about losing office as a Minister was going out in the morning, jumping into the back seat of the car and realising that there was no driver.
He will have plenty time to get used to driving himself from now on. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sturgeonomics - the message counts not the maths

 Daily Record column 13/02/15

She is in London so often, three visits in three weeks, that Nicola Sturgeon ought to be house-hunting in the capital.

Yesterday the First Minister came to give a lesson in Sturgeonomics and to dine with that demon of nationalist theology, the BBC’s Nick Robinson.

The actual economics of what Sturgeon said hardly matter. To want to cut less than George Osborne sounds fine, even if your sums don’t stack up.

The anti-austerity Sturgeon was not so much laying out terms for talks with Labour, as the case for replacing Labour.

Look at the fate of the Greek centre-left party Pasok, which went from 40 per cent to four per cent after trying to administer austerity in Athens.

By refusing to “slash and burn” Sturgeon is getting her alibi in early for not supporting a Labour government and standing by to soak up discontented voters.

To maintain economic credibility a chancellor Ed Balls would have to continue a cuts programme. But there are cuts and cuts, and a great deal of difference between the parties.

Osborne plans public spending cuts of £37.6 billion in the next parliament. Gulp, that’s reductions of more than ten per cent across government departments.

Nicola Sturgeon,in contrast, is recommending growing departmental budgets by half a per cent each year and spending £180 billion more.

Balls is somewhere in between. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies Labour would cut £28 billion less than Osborne.

That’s not going to be comfortable for anyone, and who wants austerity-lite when you can abandon the deficit with the “progressive” SNP?

The deficit, under this scenario, would be paid off not by 2020 but whenever the gauge stops on the time machine. There was no word on raising taxes.

The economics are as wobbly as the SNP’s case for independence. If Ed Balls had the audacity to say such thing he would be laughed off stage. Nicola Sturgeon is feted at University College London with light cross-examination

Sturgeonomics might be daft but Nicola is not. The last YouGov poll found more than half of those thinking of voting Labour want the party to end austerity, the SNP offer that.

Voters would have to look at that deal with one eye covered to avoid a brutal truth; voting for something apparently more progressive actually makes it easier for David Cameron to unleash the most savage cuts in a generation.

Tories' Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde

Along with John Swinney, Michael Gove used to be regarded as one of the politest men in politics.
But the usually mild-mannered Conservative chief whip went into a gothic frenzy the other day.

Grasping for power, the Dr Jekyll of the Tory Party became a Mr Hyde.

The Scottish-born pal of David Cameron warned a deal between Labour and the SNP would produce a Frankenstein monster, “a stitched-together creation capable of causing great harm.”

The Tories want to talk up the prospect of a Miliband-Salmond deal, which in a hung parliament even Labour MPs now have to sniff around.

To improve their own chances the Tories must reduce the number of Labour MPs by making Scots buy the idea of voting SNP to get a Labour government.

At the same time Gove wants to plant the fear of nationalism in English voters tempted to vote for Labour think again.

You see why talking up the SNP is indeed Cameron’s “last best chance” of getting back to Downing Street.
But Gove stoops to conquer by stirring up feelings against fellow Scots and sowing that kind of division between nations that is the stock in trade of UKIP demagogues.

He made it sound as if it was a Viking longship that was due to sail up the Thames in May to break open English coffers, not just blowhard nationalists who, if things go according to Tory plans (and SNP ones too), would be bystanders to the next Cameron government. 

Of course we don’t need Gove to stir a fear of Scots, amongst the rich of London at least. We have mansion-raiding Jim Murphy to do that.

 David Oyelowo

After seeming Selma, the Martin Luther King Jnr drama based on the 1965 voting rights marches in the USA, two thoughts struck me. The Ocscar ceremony is going to be a travesty because of the exclusion of British actor David Oyelowo and when we debate “freedom” in our generation we don’t even know that we’ve born.

Sùil Eile
A rèir a’ chunntais sluaigh chan eil comas Gàidhlig ach aig nas lugha na dàrna leth de chloinn ann an sgoiltean
nan Eileanan an Iar. Tha a’ Ghàidhlig mar mhion-chànain ann an cridhe na Gàidhealtachd.

Mur a biodh foghlam sa Ghàidhlig cha bhiodh fìu ’s na h-àireamhan sin ann.

Ach tha connspaid air èirigh le mar a tha Comhairle nan Eilean air inbhe Gàidhlig a thoirt dha sgoiltean far a bheil Gàidhlig agus Beurla air an tabhann taobh ri taobh.

Chan e sgoiltean Gàidhlig a th’ annta a rèir eòlaichean, agus feumar gabhail ris an fhìrinn sin. Tha fios againn gur e làmh an uachdar a gheibh a’ Bheurla ann an suidheachadh co-ionann sam bith.

Stèidhich na h-Eileanan poileasaidh dà-chànanach ann am foghlam bho choinn deich air fhichead bliadhna, ach chan eil fhathast sgoil Ghàidhlig aca, mar a th’ anns na bailtean mòra.

An e misneachd a tha a dhìth air ceannardan, neo air coimhearsnachdan?

Ma tha iarratas ann airson foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig, tha e na uallach air luchd-gléidhidh a’ chànain sin a fhreagairt. Chan eil còraichean aig pàrantan a’ cur bacadh air iarrtas mion-shluaigh.


According to the census figures less than half of school pupils in the Western Isles have a command of Gaelic. The language has minority status in the heart of the Highlands.
There wouldn’t even be these numbers were it not for education in Gaelic.

But the Western Isles Council’s decision to give Gaelic status to schools where English and Gaelic are taught side by side has given rise to controversy.

These are not Gaelic schools according to the experts, and we need to accept the truth of that. We all know the upper hand English has in any equal situation.

The islands established a bi-lingual policy over 30 years ago, but they still don’t have a Gaelic school as the cities do.

Do the leaders lack confiddence, or do the communities?

If there is a request for Gaelic-only education the language’s guardians have a duty to answer it. Other parents don’t have the right to veto the demands of a minority.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

What's the lesson from Ashcroft?

Lord Ashcroft’s poll of Labour’s heartland failure proves one thing: telling people that voting SNP will deliver a Tory government simply bounces off.
Four out of five Scottish Labour supporters who are determined to vote SNP want a Labour-SNP coalition at Westminster after May.
Voting for the SNP will produce exactly the opposite effect.
So far, Labour has been unable to convince voters of that essential truth.
Or, more probably, voters are not listening any more than they monitor the daily fluctuations in price of a barrel of oil.
But if the SNP is the choice the consequence is almost certain - Scotland will find itself opening the Downing Street door to David Cameron.
That is not the result Labour switchers want, though it is the outcome that best suits the grateful recipients of their support, the SNP. A Tory government, an EU referendum and constitutional chaos is the SNP menu.
The Ashcroft poll drops the pretence. It is Middle Scotland, not Middle England, that will decide who holds the No 10 keys.
Westminster number-crunching has Labour and the Tories in a dead heat. With neither having majority support jostling for the most seats becomes a crucial factor.
What polling does not examine is how coalitions are formed.
In a hung parliament David Cameron will have squatting rights in Downing Street. With the most seats, though with fewer options, he can make the first move for minority or coalition rule. 
There is no logic to the suggestion that a Labour minority government will be magicked up by voting SNP. You can’t vote for a coalition, but the trick works in a nation divided along referendum lines.
Ashcroft’s English marginal polls opens the Downing Street gates to Miliband. But it is a long walk to the fabled black door.
If Labour loses 40 seats in Scotland it needs to win an impossible 88 in England to have a majority.
Haemorrhaging tartan blood will leave Labour short of being the biggest party, the target it can best expect.
If Scottish voters feel angry enough to wipe out Labour the result will be a divided left, not a progressive coalition.
Scotland would be a hapless bystander to another right-wing government and, given the scale of proposed Tory cuts, Scots would suffer.
Putting the constitutional future on the slates again is ideal for the SNP, but not for Scotland’s poor. That’s the Ashcroft lesson.