Thursday 22 October 2015

Glimpses of another country

My Daily Record column
Wandering on the Aberdeen esplanade during the SNP conference I glimpsed another country.
Inside the black box conference hall, Scotland was ordered – coming blinking out on to the seafront was to see economic reality.
On the eastern horizon, rig supply boats were lined up far as the eye could see.
These ships are not waiting for a berth in a busy port. With their skeleton crews, they are going nowhere.
The idle fleet is a symbol of the impact the dramatic fall in oil prices has had on the fortunes of Aberdeen and the North Sea industry.
It was like having the central flaw of the independence White Paper writ large.
For each one of its 670 pages of oil-borne promises, 100 North Sea jobs and more are gone.
The jobs pain is spread evenly across the UK but a switch to three-week shifts offshore has effectively cut a third out of the onshore economy that services the turnarounds.
Real jobs, real livelihoods and mortgages hang on the fickle graph of oil barrels across dollars determined far from wellheads and safe harbours.
It has taken a year for senior SNP figures to publicly acknowledge the economics of independence let them down so badly in the referendum.
Whatever the excuses, voters didn’t accept the case. Internally the party has accepted the lesson, as the passionate conference debate on fracking demonstrated.
In their hearts, delegates wanted to ban the industry but Ineos boss Jim Radcliffe’s timely warning about fracking being Scotland’s best chance (last chance?) of “economic independence” rang true for them.
Independence remains the prize, it is just that with diminishing oil resources the price might be getting higher.
On Friday, the gathering storm over the Tata closures in Dalzell and Clydebridge, the outside world interrupted proceedings again.
Nicola Sturgeon promised to do what a Government can to bind the wounds, but for some the grasp on economic reality was slim.
One MSP claimed if Scotland had been independent then the Ravenscraig steel works would have been saved.
Possibly, but unlikely, though that sentiment captures both the strength and weakness of independence economics
Most Scots don’t believe independence could provide any better insulation against the rigours of global markets. That makes independence a hard sell.
Yet the very feeling of powerlessness and fury we feel about rampant globalisation is what makes many people look for alternative economic accounts, for other way of looking at reality.
The corporate muscle that stretches and bends our lives has had its own strong backdraught.
It has driven many voters to turn angrily away from conventional solutions to our problems, to a place where the price of oil will not matter to jobs and the long line of supply boats would not exist.
I dare say that anger over Chinese dumping of steel on the global market provided a distraction as Tata dispensed of what remains of the Scottish steel industry without too much scrutiny.
It is not entirely the fault of the Chinese that steel coming from Scunthorpe to Dalzell cost £325 a slab, wheras the same material could be purchased on the world market for half the price.
We cannot demand Chinese steel workers take redundancy to save ours.
It is one of the contradictions of this complex world that if Scottish steelmaking is to be revived it will likely be rescued by the very people now being scapegoated for its demise, our new friends in the Chinese Communist Party.
Maybe with the honour guard for President Jinping, the demise of steel in Scotland and these lines of boats off Aberdeen during the biggest ever SNP gathering, we all glimpsed another country this week – the one formerly known as Great Britain.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Sturgeon with the whole world in her hands

When will the second referendum be?

It is the question on the lips of hundreds of new members turning up for their first ever SNP conference in Aberdeen today. It’s also the only story really exercising the media in the carnival tent in carpark 4 of the exhibition centre.

Jim Murphy in his exit speech from politics said it would be “as soon as they can get off with it”, and you can forgive the cynicism of Scottish Labour’s lost leader.

Nicola Sturgeon finessed it rather better this morning in her opening speech to the 81st SNP conference.

In a fair attempt at that old circus trick, riding two horses, she assured No voters, the majority of Scots, that there will be no commitment to an independence referendum in next year’s manifesto for the Holyrood.

Simultaneously she warned the result of the referendum we do see coming down the road, the EU vote, could be the trigger for Scotland to exit the UK. “Unstoppable” was her word, not inevitable.

But while trying reassure half the country that they are not entering “neverendum” land with the SNP she has clearly signalled that within months of winning office she could be preparing for a second referendum vote.

For rank and file SNP members, even the newbys who want a Indy2 yesterday, that should suffice. 

Sturgeon, who bestrides Scottish politics, has great command and respect from her party and there will be few, if any, dissenting voices.

It is that level of personal trust and respect that the SNP leadership want to replicate with the Scottish public over the next few months.

The election campaign is going to be all about Nicola (no Alex at all) and how much you trust and respect her to run the country. So the assurance on the referendum is a strong message.

Sturgeon said there would have to be “strong and consistent” evidence that the mood in Scotland has moved to independence before there is a second vote.

How will they know that? Polling evidence for sure but with 114,000 members, about two per cent of the population, the party ought to be able to judge the mood well enough.    

But asked if the future direction of the country would be weighed on the outcome of opinion polls by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg the First Minister let slip the proper answer.

“ It will be down to whether we judge, I judge, that people who voted no last year have changed their minds,” she said.

“I judge” - Nicola Sturgeon, she has your whole world in her hands.

Coin is mhadaidhean-allaidh

Sùil Eile airson an Daily Record

‘S e an t-àite as fheàrr airson chon is mhadaidhean-allaidh rannan a’ bhàird.

Ach tha cuid de dh’amadain a tha airson na beathaichean a leigeil dhan Ghàidhealtachd a-rithist gus an t-àite a dhèanamh na fhìor fhàsach.

Bha aonan aca air an radio an latha roimhe, Alan Watson Featherstone, bho urras a tha a’ cur barrachd luach air glèidheadh chraobhan na air mac an duine.

An rud a tha cunnartach mu leithid, chan e am beachd neònach a th’ aige air madaidhean - sin gòraiche.

‘S e na thuirt e mu dheidhinn dòigh-bheatha a th’ air daoine a chumail anns na gleanntan is na h-eileanan fad bhliadhnaichean a tha marbhtach.

A reir an duine uasail seo, ‘s e “perverse subsidy” a th’ anns an taic airgid do chroitearan airson chaorach.

Bhiodh barrachd mathais air a ghlèidheadh anns an talamh às a h-aonais.

Sin an argamaid a bhiodh aig a’ mhadadh-allaidh cuideachd, nach eil fhios.

Seo mo chomhairlesa - fàg na madaidhean-allaidh gu mac-meanma, agus stamp gu cruaidh air beachdan luchd-glèidhteachais bhreugaich.

The best place for dogs and wolves is in the verses of the bard.
But some fools want to release the beasts in the Highlands again to turn the place into a real wilderness.
One of them was on radio the other day, Alan Watson Featherstone, from a trust that puts more value in hugging trees than in human beings. 
The dangerous thing about his kind is not their weird views on wolves, that’s just nonsense.
It is what he said about the way of life that has kept people in the glens and on the islands for years that is deadly.
According to this honourable gentleman the financial support for crofters to keep sheep is a “perverse subsidy”.
More nutrients would be kept in the soil without the sheep.
No doubt that’s the argument the wolf would use too.
Here’s my advice - leave the wolves to imagination and stamp hard in the views of these false conservationists.