Friday 29 May 2015

5 things Scottish Labour should do (but might not)

Scottish Labour is on its knees after a shattering defeat. What’s the way back? 
The party's problems are profound, but here’s five things Scottish Labour could do right now as a start  (but probably won't):

1) Adopt one member one vote - an easy reform, giving equal value to every selection. No one has anything to fear from it.    

2) Re-open the list - bloodletting is due over candidate selection that gave no-hopers a Holyrood seat. Labour needs top talent in #Scotparl5.

3) Hold open primaries - bring a friend to the selection party. Hugely successful in the SNP referendum campaign, adopted by Harman for the UK leadership. Open primaries throw up new talent.

4) Talk to trade unionists - ignore barons by all means, but the trade union movement remains the heart of Labour. Most progressive polices in the UK started as union campaigns.  

5) Embrace new Scotland - Scotland is a modern nation, bolted by terabytes not rivets. Stop talking about the past and offer the future.    

Five things it shouldn’t do (but might):

1) Don’t look back in anger - history is in the rear view mirror, the party could be too. Don't blame Donald or Jim or anyone but yourself. Your opponents are in front, not behind. Get on with winning.

2) Don’t forget the who won the referendum - high turn-out was driven by middle-class voters saving the UK. Make an offer on aspiration, not just welfare.  

3) Don’t separate from UK Labour - that buys the nationalist narrative of Scotland being ”different”. Labour achieves by common endeavour, not by division. 

4) Don’t deny reality - reconnecting on voters’ trust is hard work and takes time.

5) Don’t give up - against failing school and health standards, Scotland needs a social democratic alternative to nationalism more than ever.  

Thursday 28 May 2015

SNP shapes up for battle royale over Trident

 For the Daily Record

ALEX Salmond has warned the UK government will be making a “fatal mistake” to renew the Trident submarines against the wishes of Scotland.

The former First Minister said it was “totally untenable to make a half century decision” to renew the Clyde-based nuclear deterrent in the face of opposition of 57 Scottish MPs, the Scottish government and much of the opposition.

The SNP MP was speaking after Commons debate on the allegations of Trident whistleblower Able Seaman William McNeilly who has claimed a catalogue of safety breaches aboard the subs.

In a signal that a Commons vote on Trident next year could be the SNP’s trigger for a second independence referendum, Salmond told MPs:  “This costly, useless,expensive, unlawful and inherently dangerous military plaything will not be tolerated by these benches, this party or this country any longer.”

Salmond insisted afterwards that a referendum decision would be for Nicola Sturgeon, but made it clear the SNP is shaping up for a battle royal with the UK government over Trident.

SNP Defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara MP renewed calls for a “full, transparent investigation” into McNeilly’s allegations after Tory Defence Minister Penny Morduant said that neither the operational safety of the subs or the safety of mariners had been compromised.

O’ Hara said the Ministry of Defence had dismissed 18 pages of safety concerns raised by McNeilly in a 500 word statement .

He questioned whether the claims had been properly investigated.

“Many issues have been raised and it would take far longer than a week to investigate them all,” said O’Hara.
The Argyll and Bute MP added that he would make himself available to McNeilly after asking if the sailor had been given any access to legal counsel.

Mordaunt said McNeilly had returned to duty after being arrested for being absent without leave and has not been charged with any offence.

How devo powers could help Ruth Davidson

Three posts the Daily Record

Hi, I'm Ruth and I can save you money..
Have you met Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish low tax party?
That’s the doorstep pitch the Scottish Conservatives will use next year after the Scotland Act comes into law.
When the pomp and ceremony is done, when the swords-length debates are settled, a new political dynamic will emerge in Scotland from this Queen’s Speech.
By next Spring, in time for the 2016 Holyrood election, we will have a parliament responsible for the first time for raising 40 per cent of Scotland’s taxes and deciding on about 60 per cent of spending.
No one can dismiss it a “pretendy parliament” anymore. Despite inevitable protestations, no nationalist can deny this great leap forward for self-government.
As the late Margo MacDonald lamented, until now the Scottish parliament has not really set a budget, just decided how to distribute money raised elsewhere.
With the Scotland Act that changes. Politicians will answer for what they spend. It is a prospect parties and the public alike should reish and it will change the landscape.
Until now all the attention has been on how the SNP is outflanking Labour on the left, while camping out firmly in the middle ground of government. 
Little notice has been paid to what might happen if the Tories make Scotland’s middle classes an offer they can’t refuse - lower taxes than their English contemporaries.
We know how much the Tories like a little tax competition within a devolved UK.
George Osborne devolved Air Passenger Duty and promptly halved it for children taking off on holiday. There’s only one way for Holyrood to respond when it takes responsibility for APD.
Similarly, John Swinney swiftly altered his Land and Buildings Transaction Tax on middle class properties when Osborne offered English sellers a better deal.
As Tory Austerity 2.0 begins to bite next year can the SNP offer low taxes? 
The SNP has scooped up left wing votes and stands for independence.
So, if you back the Union and believe in low taxes the Tories will offer you a leaflet. 
Knocked off a pedestal, Labour is unsure of its offer, and this week a Lib Dem vote equates to a vote for fibbing. 
Squeezed from the left, pinched on the right, what will this mean for Scottish Labour’s middle class support? 
 Devolution, the reviving drink for the Scottish Tory party - who’d have thunk it?   

When Yes means No

Last year a Yes vote meant leaving the Union, next year a Yes vote means staying in the Union. Got that?
In the European referendum coming swiftly down the tracks the question will be framed so we will be asked  to confirm we want to stay in the EU.
No one should underestimate the advantage of Yes, the positive choice which gave the Scottish independence campaign plenty momentum.
But it is going to be hard to drum up enthusiasm for endorsing continuing membership of the European Union.
Even with tinkering reforms the organisation is basketcase behemoth incapable of responding to the needs of millions of Europeans.
There are powerful political tides are sweeping the continent - strong nationalist movements, hard attitudes on immigration, aggressive Russian expansionism and the siren call of parties and governments who would wish away the rules of economics.
Britain is not immune to these currents. Already we have walked away from our commitment to the Mediterranean refugees. Alex Salmond, to his credit, made his first policy statement as the Foreign Policy spokesman on the issue.
My generation has had the protection of Europe from war and hunger and, when the wall came down, the cultural and economic prize of central Europe opening up like a clam.
It would be complacent to rely on the power of Yes to prevent the disintegration of the EU or our departure from it.
It is not impossible that the tide could turn, that we could become the generation who turn our backs on Europe.

Lessons in being a minority partner

The emotional vote in Ireland’s marriage equality referendum boosted liberal spirits across the British Isles.
Success has many parents. But it was the Irish Labour Party that made the vote a manifesto issue and condition of coalition with the Fine Gael government.
Labour may not reap the reward but has delivered a lesson on advancing progressive politics while being a minority coalition partner.
And, if anyone asks you what’s the point of a Labour Party...

It is not about the 56, it is about the 5.3 million

Here's a column I wrote for on what the SNP hope to achieve at Westminster
Ever since the Earl of Bute stuffed his 18th century cabinet with so many cronies that there were fifteen Ministers with surnames beginning Mac, Westminster has borne waves of Scottish political invasion.
This parliament will be the first in many years to have a Treasury team without a Scot in a key role. It will also be the first to have the vast majority of Scottish MPs of a nationalist bent, borne south on a pendulum swing to patriotism following a hard-fought and hard-headed referendum vote.
They’ve been a political and media sensation, the new SNP MPs. They’ve played musical chairs with Dennis Skinner, claimed Westminster’s Sports and Social bar as their own, and their every utterance and antic is amplified in Scotland where fascination with what the SNP will do in Westminster remains high.
Regarded with something approaching alien intrigue by sections of the parliamentary lobby, most new SNP MPs fall into the category of fully-rounded human beings.
They come from diverse backgrounds - teachers, entrepreneurs, actors, with a smattering of party insiders and former advisers.
Scottish accents will be to the fore in Westminster, not least that of Angus Robertson MP. The SNP parliamentary leader will be entitled to two questions a week to the Prime Minister. Former First Minister, Alex Salmond, will lead on Europe and Foreign Affairs, so plenty airtime guaranteed.
The SNP will have the chair of two committees, Scottish Affairs and Energy and Climate Change, and a voice on every other.
The first lesson opponents need to learn, one easily forgotten within the mock gothic Palace walls, is SNP MPs don’t want to join the Westminster establishment, they want to break it apart.
But to begin with, the main mission of the SNP is to retain the trust of so many former Labour voters in Scotland.
So, the buzzwords are foodbanks and anti-austerity, and all newbys have been strictly on-message. The frustrating arithmetic of Tory majority rendering them powerless to prevent cuts may change that.
The R-R words, that’s “referendum-re-run”, are a no-no, unless you happen to be a “senior SNP source” briefing journalists as the drinks flow on the first night back.  R-R remains the aim although, ironically, Nicola Sturgeon scored the SNP’s greatest political victory on a platform explicitly not for independence.
Gauging the mood of a divided nation is not for fresh schism, Sturgeon said it would take “a material change in circumstance” for her to put forward another independence vote.
You could argue with Labour leaderless in Scotland and the UK, and an austerity driven Tory government in place (she’s alleged to have told the French ambassador that is what she really wanted), circumstances could not be more fortuitous.
But Sturgeon is a gradualist, albeit a strategic politician scanning the Westminster horizon for an opportunity while constitutional devolution moves on apace.
The Scotland Bill, containing the powers of the Smith Commission, will be laid before the Commons with as much symbolic importance as the EU referendum bill.
MPs will be debating devolution clauses on the floor of the House before the summer break. The SNP will demand more powers but it’s clear the Scotland Office is kicking the can down the road until the Calman and Smith tax-raising powers bed in.
Right-wing Tories could ambush the Bill with a call for full fiscal autonomy, an SNP policy the party disavows because it would actually cost Scotland £7.6 billion in lost Barnett funding.
Next up in the permanent political campaign that Scotland has become is the Holyrood 2016 election. That’s the real mission for the 56. It is hard to imagine an SNP manifesto next year that does not contain a commitment to an independence referendum, although in terms that will not bind the party leadership to a timetable.
The EU referendum could provide the opportunity to re-insert a vote, but more likely is renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. If Cameron was cute he would delay the maingate decision on Trident until after the Holyrood elections in May of next year.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, education and health standards are falling off the scales in Scotland after eight years of SNP rule.
Sturgeon and her Ministers are going through a quick stepchange to confront this weakness, admitting they must improve things and so neutralise Scottish Labour’s 2016 election platform.
By adopting Labour’s shape the SNP has all but defeated the last bulwark against independence. And thanks to the patriotic pull of nationalism, Sturgeon continues to walk on water, over the floating hulk of Scottish Labour.
The SNP does this by practising not so much politics as psychology, first on itself and then on the nation. In the last decade the party has been transformed from a gurning, political fringe to a positive force of government and optimism.
Scottish Labour regularly beats itself up for allowing this to happen, but is only partly to blame. The relentless accent on a positive, different future in an age of anti-politics where people are looking for alternatives to the mainstream has made the SNP’s battle easier.
So much easier that under Sturgeonomics the figures don’t matter that much, only the commitment to better times ahead under independence.
The nationalist cause has been helped enormously by Westminster too. A long time ago the SNP turned Westminster into the dirty word of Scottish politics.
As a euphemism Westminster has supplanted hostility towards the English, the implicit appeal of old woad and freedom nationalism. The narrative of Westminster as the embodiment of elitist, remote politics fits into the SNP’s agenda as well as it does UKIP’s.
The state of the palace (and the UK state) is typified by the expenses scandal and surely symbolised by a vote for multi-billion pound Trident renewal in a Foodbank Britain and against the democratic mandate of Scotand where the missiles are based.
If that isn’t a trigger for a “material change in circumstances” and another referendum, Westminster will not have served its purpose.
You see, for the SNP it is not about Westminster at all. The prize is much bigger. It is not about the 56 coming down to London, it is about getting 5.3 million Scots away from it.

Monday 18 May 2015

SNP grab the front row seat from Skinner

The SNP has launched an attack on Labour’s left wing squad in Westminster by seizing the front row seats usually occupied by the party’s awkward squad.

The rebels’ bench, down the gangway from the opposition dispatch box, is the prime spot for heckling the Prime Minister across the floor of the Commons.

It has been the preserve of Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner for over 40 years in opposition.

But ahead of the new parliament meeting for the first time today, the SNP have put their towels, or rather their MPs, on the green leather.

Three new SNP MPs were seated in the rebel benches hours ahead of the parliament meeting at 2.30pm.

The MPs were taking it in hour-long shifts to stop Skinner and left-wing Labour colleagues taking the spaces.

Partick Grady, Margaret Ferrier and Stewart Mcdonald (Glasgow South) were camped out on the seats at 11.30am to reserve space for SNP Commons leader Angus Robertson and the SNP’s front bench team.

SNP MP Pete Wishart, who was organising the rota, said: “We are the third party and we will make sure the House sees that.”

There are no rules about where MPs can sit.

By convention when parliament is sitting MPs can reserve seats early in the morning by placing prayer cards in the spaces.

But there are no prayers today ahead of a Speaker being chosen for the new parliament and Wishart signalled that the SNP is ready to defy the convention.

“We are there, this is where we want to be, this is our space in the Commons,” he said.

The move to symbolically assert the SNP presence in the Commons comes ahead of the Speaker being chosen and the swearing in process taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ronnie Campbell, another Labour MP in the awkward squad, said he didn’t see what the fuss was about.
“Alex Salmond put them up to this, do they think they’re more left wing than the Labour party?”

Speaking last week Skinner said that his fight for the seat was not for one day.

“David Owen tried  to take it off me, but he wasn’t prepared for the long fight,” Skinner said, recalling the 1980s split from Labour as if it was just yesterday.

Of the SNP’s possible encroachment on his territory, he said defiantly: “I was there before them, and I’ll be there when they’re gone.”

Update for the Daily Record: Skinner -1, SNP -0
SNP setback
Torcuil Crichton

The SNP suffered their first Westminster setback yesterday when a ruse to seize the rebels’ bench occupied by Dennis Skinner backfired.

Newby SNP MPs were ordered to squat on the rebels’ bench usually occupied by the veteran left winger for hours before the Commons met.

Pete Wishart MP had organised squads of three MPs to take an hour each occupying the bench to reserve it for SNP bigwigs on the first day.

The Perthshire MP declared that the SNP would assert its right as the third largest party to take the front bench and defy Commons convention that has let the veteran Skinner occupy the seat for over 40 years.

The plan worked well all morning but at 1pm, an hour and half before the MPs were due to meet, the SNP squad was asked to vacate the chamber to let police sniffer dogs in.

Labour’s Kevan Jones MP spotted the chance and grabbed the position which is the prime spot for heckling the Prime Minister across the floor of the Commons.

The burly Geordie Labour MP refused to move despite Wishart’s protestations and when the House convened at 2.30pm Skinner was able to take his rightful place.

Another attempt to garner publicity the youngest SNP MP, Mhairi Black, attempted to photobomb opposition leader Harriet Harman by sitting on the Labour benches behind the deputy Labour.

She and SNP colleagues sat next to Labour’s Diane Abbot in order to get their faces on the news.

The SNP’s 56 MPs were on best behaviour as the Commons re-elected John Bercow unopposed as Speaker of the House.

Bercow said he had been honoured to serve as Speaker for the past six years and would be honoured to continue in that role for a “little longer” before being ceremoniously dragged to the speaker’s chair.

In his first comments of congratulation from the dispatch box Prime Minister David Cameron made a point of emphasising that he would govern “for the whole of the United Kingdom”.

Thursday 14 May 2015

If not Murphy, then who?

Daily Record column 14/05/15

Facing the most draconian trade union laws in a generation you might expect some Scottish trade union alarm.

There was nothing about Business Secretary Sajid Javid’s Thatcherite slingblade on Unison’s Scottish website.
Plenty about shooting down Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader though.

Instead of resisting the Tories after the annihilation of Scottish Labour, the mini-McCluskeys have turned inwards.
The case for Murphy going is that he lost. 

It’s doubtful St Mungo could have won for Labour in Glasgow, or anywhere else, against the faith-based economics of independence. 

Cries that Labour was not left-wing enough are hollow. The polices were popular enough to be adopted wholesale for the SNP manifesto.

The electoral test for parties was “How Scottish are you?” So Murphy didn’t lose on policy, he lost on identity.
As the pendulum swings to patriotism the arrival of 56 SNP MPs in Westminster should alter the landscape utterly. 

Everyone is looking for SNP-Tory conflicts, but the mutual accommodation that served both sides in the campaign is likely.

Cameron is set to concede to Sturgeon new powers beyond the Smith Commission. It has inbuilt policy contradictions that need ironing out.

It will not be Full Fiscal Autonomy, with the loss of the Barnett Formula.
“We will not make an offer they cannot refuse, that would do Scotland down,” a senior Tory told me.

With more powers won Sturgeon deftly avoids the second referendum she could lose, but still demand more.
Tempted by another yes-no vote, she can resist internal pressure to stage a referendum without Westminster blessing.

Cameron’s flipside deal, English Votes for English Laws, renders Scotland irrelevant for Tory majorities, keeps the SNP powerful and Labour emasculated. It suits both nationalist sides. 

The last Unionists in the room, Scottish Labour, cannot resist it even if a rearguard in the Lords does.

Sadly for the Union barons attacking Murphy made sure he stayed, and they have no replacement.
If not Murphy, then who?

Under another leader Labour would not just have been defeated last week, but killed stone dead.

Murphy, to his credit, never gave up and didn’t allow the campaign to become a debate on Labour’s implosion.

He has to deal with that now, but having been through hellfire he will hold the SNP to account in Holyrood.

They might have hated the results but the outcome is Labour’s talent is now back in Scotland, where it should have been a decade ago.

Skinner to the barricades

Once it was the SDP, now it’s the SNP.

The battle for Dennis Skinner’s seat begins in earnest when parliament sits for the first time.
I’m not talking about the Beast of Bolsover’s majority, which is solid, but the 83-year-old’s perch down the gangway from the Labour frontbench.

The rebels’ bench is traditionally taken by Labour’s awkward squad in opposition and by the Liberal Democrats when Labour is in office.

With the SNP 56 due to take the place of the Lib Dem phonebox pack, there will be manoeuvres on Skinner’s seat, which he has occupied for 40 years in opposition.

Skinner reserves his place each morning with a prayer card, the traditional way of reserving a seat.
It means being early every morning, which the Labour veteran cannot quite guarantee. 

“David Owen tried  to take it off me, but he wasn’t prepared for the long fight,” Skinner told me, as if the SDP was just yesterday. 

Of the SNP’s possible encroachment on his territory, he said defiantly: “I was there before them, and I’ll be there when they’re gone.”

Where the nationalists choose to sit in public isn’t half as telling as where they sit in private.

Away from the tv cameras my snout in the members’ tearoom tells me the SNP contingent has taken up residence at the Tory end of the room. 


For David Mundell MP, the new Scottish Secretary, it is a case of moving offices in Dover House where he was previously number two to Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael.

In the tradition of Labour’s Liam Byrne I’m told the departing Scottish Secretary left a note for his successor on the desk.

I’m guessing it reads: “I’m afraid there are no powers left”.

Sùil Eile

Mar as àbhaist, tha mi air a bhith a’ sgrùdadh na liosta de Mhinistearan ùra an riaghaltais fheuch a bheil Albannaich ann, neo iadsan aig a bheil ceangal ris a’ Ghàidhealtachd.

Uill, tha Daibhidh Camshronach ann, agus seall cho diofraichte ‘s a tha an sloinneadh aige nuair a sgrìobhas tu a-mach e. ‘S ann à Alba a bha athair.

Roinn an Ionmhais? Tha barrachd mhinistearan à Hertfordshire na Na Hearadh.

Daibhidh Mundell, an aon Tòraidh ann an Alba, mar Rùnaire na h-Alba.

Chunnt mi ceathrar eile. Tha Mìcheal Gove ann, à Obar Dheathain, agus Iain Donnchadh Mac a’ Ghobhainn, a rugadh ann an Dùn Èideann. Ach  bha iadsan ann roimhe.

Tha Ruairidh Stiùbhart a-nis aig DEFRA agus Steaphan Crabb mar Rùnaire na Cuimrigh. Tha freumhan aigesan ann an Inbhir Nis.

Tha nas lugha Albannaich anns an riaghaltas na bha bho chionn bhliadhnaichean, neo ‘s màthaid linntean.

Ach bu chòir fàilte mhòr Ghàidhealach a chur air Amber Rudd mar Rùnaire na Cumhachd ge-tà.

Gun ise cha bhi càball dealain airson tuathanasan gaoithe nan Eileanan an Iar. Sanas comhairle - cheumnaich i à Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann.

(Mile taing mar is àbhaist, Mairi Kidd)

English Translation

As usual, I have been scrutinising the list of new Ministers for Scots, or those who have a connection with the Highlands.

Well, there’s David Cameron, and see how different his surname looks in Gaelic (it means bent nose). His father was from Scotland.

The Treasury? More Ministers from Hertfordshire than Harris.

David Mundell, the one Tory in Scotland, as Scottish Secretary.

I counted four others. There’s Michael Gove, from Aberdeen, and Ian Duncan Smith, born in Edinburgh, but they were there beforehand.

Rory Stewart is now at DEFRA and Steven Crabb as Welsh Secretary. He has roots in Inverness.

There are fewer Scots in the government than there were for years, if not centuries.

But a big Highland welcome has to be laid on for Amber Rudd, the Energy Secretary.

Without her there will be no interconnecter for the windfarms of the Western Isles.

My top tip - she graduated from Edinburgh University.  

(post script: seems, I missed Michael Fallon, who was born in Perth)

Monday 11 May 2015

The Fifty Six arrive (minus one)

The SNP MPs meet the cameras at St Stephen's Entrance

For the Daily Record

NICOLA Sturgeon greeted her conquering army of MPs at Westminster yesterday with a declaration that David Cameron has “no right” to rule out a second independence referendum.

As the band of nationalist brothers and sisters gathered the St Stephen’s entrance of Westminster in a dramatic display of the SNP’s election success, Sturgeon said she was “not planning” to hold another referendum, but refused to rule it out.

The SNP leader set out her position in an appearance on ITV’s Loose Women (it was that kind of day) ahead of joining the troops outside parliament.

She said: “We had that debate and that vote last year, and Scotland, against my better efforts, opted to stay part of the United Kingdom, to stay part of the Westminster system.

She added: “I’m not planning another referendum. Why I stop short of saying I absolutely guarantee it is the same reason I don’t think David Cameron has got any right to rule it out.”

Supporters at the parliament gate fielded a huge Saltire to challenge the Union flags that dominate the Whitehall skyline.

A huge scrum of photographers shouted at the gathering MPs: “Can you go back, can you go back?”

They were not asking the SNP to turn home, but to move further away so the lenses could fit them all in.

Not all could make it. Islands MP Angus MacNeil was delayed by bad weather, but almost every other corner of Scotland was represented.  

Former First Minister Alex Salmond joined the throng at the last minute, enjoying the moment.

Salmond acknowledged in light of the electoral progress he made the right decision to stand aside as First Minister and return to Westminster as a humble backbencher.

He will not challenge Angus Robertson MP, the sole nominee for the leadership position when the group meets formally on Tuesday.

Salmond said: “I loved being First Minister, but everyone has his time”.

Looking around, he added: “I think things are turning out not too badly, as I see it.”

As well as representing most of Scotland the new MPs looked like a cross-section of Scottish society.

Chris Law, like any Scottish tourist, wanted to see the spot in Westminster Hall where William Wallace was tried.

The pony-haired, six foot six bearded MP looked smart in his three-piece Edinburgh tweed suit.

He vowed to wear tweed for the duration of the five year parliament, if he won.

With London sweltering in 24 degrees centigrade sunshine that second referendum can’t come soon enough for him.