Thursday 23 April 2015

Fealla-dhà cho làidir ri tè mhòr à amhaich a’ bhotail

Leirmheas air Uisge-Beatha Gu Leòr airson an Daily Record

Uaireannan tha an saoghal an crochadh air aon neach - co-dhiù nuair a tha Iain MacRath air an àrd-ùrlar.

Tha an t-actar a’ cluiche làn chèis de charactaran ann an , agus tha an tìde-stèidse agus fealla-dhà aige cho làidir ri tè mhòr à amhaich a’ bhotail.

Le sgioba bheag thàlantach, tha an dealbh-cluich aig Iain Fionnlagh MacLeòid air a h-innis le diofar phàirtean fo dhiofar adan.

Tha an aon chleas ri fhaicinn anns Na 39 Steps, dealbh-chluich eile sa bheil sgioba bheag a’ cluich a h-uile pàirt a th’ ann am fiolm an leabhair.

San aon dòigh, chan e sgeulachd Compton MhicChoinnich a tha seo ach sgriobt stèidhichte air a’ fiolm ainmeil mu dheidhinn na thachair ann an Caolas Eirisgeidh aig àm a’ Chogaidh. Air innse a-rithist anns an latha an-duigh ann an taigh-seinnse.

Chan eil blas na fìrinne dheth, ach tha an sgeulachd èibhinn a’ toirt luchd-amhairc a-mach ‘s a-steach a bhàighean gaoil agus aonarachd le gàire.

Tha Theatar Nàiseanta na h-Alba air turas tarsainn na Gàidhealtachd le Uisge-Beatha Gu Leòr.

Monday 20 April 2015

A referendum? Don't bet against it

At the SNP manifesto launch

If the SNP manifesto looked familiar it would be because it was a Labour manifesto wrapped in a yellow cover.

Long-standing "progressive" Labour policies, like the 50p tax rate, the mansion tax, and the minimum wage were panhandled as if they were rare Tyndrum gold.

You know when the SNP starts quarrying on the left it is not out of conviction, but convenience. That is where the rich seam of anti-austerity votes are to be found.
Any inconvenience, like the £7.6 billion albatross of full fiscal autonomy, was effectively kicked into the political long grass

An independence referendum was dropped before the groans of an Edinburgh Assembly Rooms audience had time to die away. 

Sturgeon said she wouldn't bet on one in the next five years.  But when she insisted the general election was not about independence, a hearty laugh echoed among the cavernous rock walls chosen for the launch.

Beneath the SNP leader's strong and simple message about standing up for Scotland are layers of complex geology, aimed at different audiences.

A grab for Labour's mantle of social justice combines with a presumptuous vow to deliver it across the whole UK.

That soothes Scottish ears but by reaching out to England Sturgeon does a sterling job for David Cameron in marginal seats where the Tories evoke fear of the SNP to prod voters back to the devil they know. 

To ensure a Tory government, the result that suits the SNP best, winning Scotland is not enough. Labour must be weakened in England too.

But should Miliband emerge as a Prime Minister Sturgeon promised her MPs would be a constructive force, on their best behaviour in the Commons.

That makes perfect sense. To persuade Scots to vote SNP next year they have to be shown it was worth voting nationalist this year.

The odd maverick gesture aside, SNP MPs would be obligingly supportive of Labour for a year, to prove Scots need not vote Labour again.

In time a  "betrayal" could be found and the walls of the Westminster temple brought crashing down, with the role of Samson played by Alex Salmond (sadly absent wrestling lions yesterday). 

You wouldn't bet against as referendum then.   

Thursday 9 April 2015

From Yes Scotland to Maybes Aye in two nights

From the Scottish leaders debate in Aberdeen for the Daily Record

Barnett vs The FFA might sound like a Soccerworld Scotland League fixture in the north east.

But for thirteen minutes last night Barnett was the byword for a one-sided penalty shoot-out that Nicola Sturgeon lost.

The Barnett formula, which might as well we carved into the Salisbury crags above Holyrood, is the method by which Scotland's public services are generously funded from UK resources.

FFA, or full fiscal autonomy to it give it a Sunday name, is the SNP's fall-back from independence.

It means Scotland would raise and keep all its own taxes, save what it sends to Westminster for shared  services liked defence and foreign affairs.

It means, on current reckoning by independent experts, that Scotland would be £7.6 billion worse off each year, about half the health budget spending.

Nicola Sturgeon said given the chance her MPs would vote for it "next year".

So, the SNP want to cut Scotland's funding next year -it's official.

Cock-a- hoop, Labour thinks Nicola Sturgeon pretty much wrote £7.6 billion cuts into the SNP manifesto last night,  and that the battle lines now are over Tory cuts versus SNP bigger cuts.

They shouldn't get ahead of themselves. Who remembers the results of minor league football fixtures? This score win may not count.

We came to Aberdeen expecting  a dull northern re-match of the Edinburgh fixture.

The sour joker in the pack, UKIP MEP David Coburn, might have stolen the show. But he was reduced to the role of a football mascot, scorned by leaders and audience alike. This was a serious game.

James Cook, the BBC referee, was first to put Sturgeon on the spot. When was it she wanted full fiscal autonomy?

"As quickly as the other parties agree to it," she said.

Murphy was in: "Would your MPs vote for it next year?"

She shot back: "Yes, would you support it?" Ooh, she dropped the ball.

It was a the equivalent of a  defensive pass to an opposing striker, and he wasted no time. "Absolutely not," said Murphy. Who would vote to cut Scotland's funding?

"I don't think it makes sense," he said, as the crowd broke into applause and the other main party leaders lined up to take their free penalty kicks.

Sturgeon was being hammered and Murphy made sure the audience got the point. "Barnett today, tomorrow and forever," is not a terrace chant, but it's what he promised.

Sturgeon's advisers, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the STUC - all warn of the dangers of cutting Scotland's share of the UK budget.

Spinning back from that is hard. Yes, polling shows people want more powers, but also shows they want the same level of services and pensions as the rest of the UK. No one votes for less, regardless of the timing.

Sturgeon was in more trouble backtracking on the timing of a referendum and Labour, who'd looked and learned, had set a trap and a slogan.

From Yes Scotland to "maybes ayes" in two nights of television is not a good look for an independence leader.

"I don't want to live in a Scotland were we don't have to set up a welfare fund to mitigate Tory cuts," Sturgeon said. But she sounded like a protesting First Minister, not  a party leader on the march, and she was jeered and cheered in equal measure.

It fell to Ruth Davidson delivered the final blow.  She said: "You have to be able to fund welfare . Full fiscal autonomy, right now if we vote for it next year, would mean that we had billions of pounds less in Scotland to spend on welfare."

"In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it would be £7.6 billion which is more than we spend on every single pensioner in this country.

"That's the other half of the equation that you don't want the people out there to know."

That should have been it but Willie Rennie, back to being cheeky,  could not resist putting the stiletto in. "I think what Nicola fails has to accept is that she lost the referendum last year ."

It was not pretty, political muggings are rarely clean affairs. Being reminded by the audience that she didn't speak for Scotland would not have helped either. 

Debates in themselves might change nothing, but they do set the campaign weather. This was the worst tv night the SNP had since Alistair Darling gave Alex Salmond a bloody nose in the first referendum debate.

Alex Salmond lost that one on the money, and Sturgeon lost last night on the money too.

Friday 3 April 2015

Just one look, from the real debate winner

For the Daily Record from the Manchester leaders' debate

Sometimes two hours can pass in a flash, sometimes a whole campaign can be captured in a second and a single, unspoken look.

The most revealing moment last night's leaders' debate was only a few seconds long, but it told the whole story.

There he was, David Cameron at the end of a line-up of seven British politicians, smiling to himself as as Nicola Sturgeon tore into Ed Miliband on spending cuts.

The Tory leader had never wanted to go head to head with Ed Miliband, and when the camera cut away and caught him enjoying the spectacle of the SNP leader going for the Labour leader you felt his strategy was a wise one. 

Instead of being held to account, which admittedly he is used to in the Commons, Cameron could lean back for large parts of the debate while six other voices strove to put across their views.

In the opening hour it looked as if things were going to Cameron's plan, which included insisting the Greens be in the room.

From the off it was as if the Coalition had not existed. Nick Clegg, with the biggest yellow Lib Dem tie in Manchester, attacked David Cameron's cuts. But the crossfire from other leaders blunted any direct attack.

There were dividing lines, with the alliance of SNP, Green and Plaid leaders, going against austerity of the three big parties and delivering a vision of the country in accents and words that many other Britons would have found unfamiliar. 

All were nervous to begin with. David Cameron's nerves showed through his sweaty, Richard Nixon upper lip.

But the heat was on them all. Three female leaders, the future of politics, four minor parties, five if you count the Lib Dems, had won the golden ticket to a national stage. They all proved themselves accomplished politicians.

But still only one of two men,  Cameron or Miliband, can come out as the ultimate winner. It was they who had to escape with no wounds or having inflicted damage on their main rival

Ed Miliband, confident, having taken lessons on his posture, stood firm and said "here's what I believe". He listed what he would do at Prime Minister, hoping people at home could believe he would be Prime Minister.

Farage, with nothing to lose, was the most animated of the line-up. Pinstripe suit and polka-dot tie, he "believed in Britain", and called for control of borders to be taken back from the European Union.

Nicola Sturgeon had the most sophisticated strategy,  a message of friendship to the people she wants to make foreigners - the English, Welsh and Northern Irish - while she held out the  prospect of "new, progressive politics" at Westminster

She kept pushing and pulling against the Labour leader in equal measure, promising to support him on poverty reduction but not on cutting public services. He couldn't quite attack her, couldn't quite reject her. That could be Miliband's bind after May 7th. 

On poverty reduction  Nicola said, "I back Ed",  and Conservative HQ pumped the line on twitter to feed their narrative of fear about a Labour/SNP alliance.

When the SNP leader turned her fire on Miliband for backing Tory austerity plans her attack was cut short by ITV moderator Julia Etchingham.

But that not before the cameras caught David Cameron smiling to himself. The Tory strategy of setting the SNP against Labour was working fine for him.

Green leader Natalie Bennett tag -teamed with Sturgeon in the progressive alliance against austerity, attacking Miliband,  just as Cameron hoped they would.

"Cuts will have to come, "said Miliband. "But we can do it in a balanced way."

It was Nigel Farage threw the first punch, at Scotland. He complained that too much money was "going over Hadrian's Wall". 

Sturgeon hit back saying there were no problems that he wouldn't blame on foreigners. Farage shrugged that he wouldn't disagree, and that provided some humorous relief.

But then the UKIP leader engaged in low politics to talk about foreign patients with HIV being treated on the NHS.

Plaid's Leanne Wood, whose warmth won friends, brought him down. "This is dangerous, it stigmatises people and you should be ashamed of yourself," she said to the first outbreak of applause from the oh so quiet audience.

Miliband managed to land one NHS cuts  blow on David Cameron. "They believed you were another kind of Conservative," he said, and the sword connected.  

He had  bought two new pairs of shoes for the encounter, and well he might need them if he fails to come out ahead in the election. We know how time wounds all heels.

So, no clear victor, no gaffes,  no losers. But that smile of satisfaction from Cameron, as a left-leaning SNP leader went for the leader of the Labour Party, that was the moment that made Cameron the winner.