Friday 30 September 2016

Show us some direction on the Brexit bypass

For my Daily Record column

Does anyone at Holyrood have an actual plan for Brexit? 

We can’t be sure about the effect of leaving the EU, but there is little sign of the Scottish government trying to even insulate the place from the impact.

It’s scant relief the First Minister yesterday gave an assurance on the future of Highlands and Islands Enterprise following well-sourced reports that closure was being considered.

HIE, and its forerunner the HIDB, was the instrument of turnaround Highland development, successfully channelling millions of euros of EU funding into the area.

Closing the region’s development agency before Brexit would be an act of economic vandalism, yet it was on the cards.

On this, and a host of other policy areas, Holyrood Ministers are floundering instead of making the waves. 

Only this week a £3 million European fund to develop community businesses in the Western Isles was told to stop taking applications because of the alleged uncertainty Brexit is causing.

Businesses can’t sleep easily just because Fergus Ewing has written to Whitehall for clarity.

Speaking on radio the SNP’s Alasdair Allan MSP sounded as informed on the issue as the Victoria Quay janitor. He is actually the Scottish government Minister for Europe.

Instead of offering something constructive all hapless Allan bleated was: “I’m just asking the question, what happens?” 

I'll tell you what’s happening.

As Ministers look for fights with London their civil servants are taking from the Highlands with one hand then punching it in the face with the other. 

While there’s an unseemly haste to close up shop on economic development there’s no slow down in efforts to baler twine the region in European environmental designations that sterilise the sea and shoreline. 

If we’re going to be out of the EU these empire-building schemes from the bureaucratic green brigade won’t apply.

But European Union Wild Bird directives are being rushed through in Scotland fast before the Brexit guillotine falls.

That’s what Brexit means for the Highlands, it’s a pretty shameful two-handed game  that doesn’t impact on government thinking.

Playing keepy-up with the constitution Nicola Sturgeon’s distraction therapy from focusing on a real Scottish response to Brexit.

Marching purposefully past tv cameras down Brussels corridors does not amount to a plan.

Pro-independence firebrand Alex Neil is the only person to have set a compass.

In an excellent article this week Neil nailed it - forget a referendum vote, there to be lost, and focus on getting as many EU powers and replacement funds to Scotland as possible. 

He has hit on Scotland’s Brexit sweet spot. A majority voted to stay in the EU and a majority voted to remain in the UK.

So, if power is to be repatriated from Brussels then it should by-pass Westminster and go to the communities affected by the decisions.

It’s £800 million of cash and a swathe of controls over farming, fishing, employment law, consumer protection, social policy and the environment.

Neil is the only one on the case, oh and the NFU which is hiring big lobbying firms to make sure rich farmers stay subsidy rich.

Yet if powers and cash are to be clawed back from one distant political institution they shouldn’t then be embedded in Edinburgh, home to the most centralised government this side of Uzbekistan.

Really, to kickstart a Labour comeback Kezia Dugdale should have ripped off Neil’s article and used it as her Liverpool conference speech. Well, maybe not the bit about “neo-independence”, more about real devolution. 

As the clock ticks down on our EU departure all the Scottish government’s preparations for the Highlands amount to is cutting the legs from economic development while strangling the population with needless European environmental designations.

It will be the same for the rest of Scotland. Some plan that.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Sùil air ais - Tsunami a' Chuain Innseanaich

Le Iain Moireasdan a deasachadh airson Fianais

Ged a tha mi rim chluintinn tric air an radio, chan ann tric a bhios mi bruidhinn air mar a tha na naidheachdan a' toirt buaidh orm fhìn.

Ach ann an streath cho math 's a tha Radio nan Gàidheal air cruthachadh, tha Iain Moireasdan air a bhith a' bruidhinn ri luchd-fianais thachartasan mòra an t-saoghail.

Bho Ar-a-mach Ioràin gu 9/11, chan urrainn dhut ach a bhith air do ghlacadh leis an teisteanas.

Mar bu chòir a h-uile prògram Gàidhlig a bhith, tha iad pearsanta agus farsaing aig an aon àm. 

'S ann air Tsunami a’ Chuain Innseanaich ann an 2004 a tha mise a' toirt fianais, agus tha e air Radio nan Gàidheal an-diugh.

Mar fhear naidheachd eadar-nàiseanta ('s mi a bha glamorous) bha mi ann agus chunnaic mi, ann an Sri Lanka agus an uairsin Banda Aceh, Indonesia, far na bhuail an t-suaile mhòr an toiseach agus far na chaill na mìltean am beatha.

Mar as fhaisg a thàinig e air latha clàraidh a' phrògraim le Iain, 's ann a thàinig e steach orm cho beag cuimhne 's a bh' agam air na thachair bho chionn aon bhliadhna deug air ais.

Siubhal ann, na cùisean èibhinn a tha a' tachairt sa h-uile suidheachadh dorcha, bha iad sin mar sgeulachd nam inntinn ach ainmean dhaoine, àiteannan, mar a chaidh làithean seachad, cha robh càil idir ann. Carson?

Gu fhortanach ann a leabharlann Mitchell ann an Glaschu tha a h-uile pàipear-naidheachd a bh' ann ri lorg.

Chladh mi mach na h-aithisgean a chuir mi air ais a dh'Alba bho thaobh eile an t-saoghail, àite a bha coltach ri deireadh an t-saoghail fad na ceala-deug a bha mi ann.

Chuir iad iognadh orm. A h-uile tubaist, sealladh sgrios, bàs agus èiginn a chunna mi, bha iad sgrìobhte. Agus leum iad bhon an duilleig air ais dham inntinn mar gun robh mi ann fhathast.

Ach bha a' chùis gu math inntinneach. Tha e iongantach mar a tha d' inntinn a' dùnadh sìos agus a' dùnadh às nan rudan a bheir droch bhuaidh ort.

Bha mi air diochuimhneachadh gus mo dhìon fhìn bho na seallaidhean uabhasach a chunnaic mi.

Chan e gun robh mi air mo leòn, neo gun do chaill mi teaghlach neo dachaigh.

Ach thug e deòir dha mo shùilean nuair a dh'fhosgail mi a-rithist cuimhne air an sgrios agus a' bhàs.

Bha m' inntinn air an duilleag a thionndaidh ach 's e bha eadar-dhealaichte dhomsa, an taca ri na mìltean eile, gun robh mise air a sgrìobhadh sios.

Dh'fhosgail mi m' inntinn, agus chan eil fios agam an e faochadh neo uallach a tha sin

Dè dìreach a chuimhnich mi, gheibh sinn a-mach ann am prògram, Fianais, air i-player a BhBC.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Momentum's Moses could leave Scots tribe in the desert

Liverpool, 24th Sept 2016 

They’re in the process of weighing the votes for Jeremy Corbyn at Liverpool. 

A fair number of Labour’s left-wing are licking their lips at the prospect of the leader outdoing his incredible performance last year and gaining more than 60 per cent of the vote.
(Update it is 61.8 per cent of the vote).

That said, none appeared willing to take my bet on the outcome of the next general election.
Instead they took my tip of the day - Crimson Rosette in the 1.50pm at Newmarket. It’s a surefire favourite to win.

Corbyn’s win is a remarkable double - twice-elected leader of the Labour Party in a year while trailing the Tories in the polls by double-digit figures.

Not a lot to celebrate there, you would think, but the left of the party seems overjoyed at trouncing the “hated 172", as Labour’s rebel MPs are branded.

The biggest result of the day will not be the leadership vote be the outcome of the National Executive Committee meeting later this afternoon.

That is meant to thrash out Tom Watson’s proposal for shadow cabinet elections against Corbyn’s intransigence to the idea.

The leader, with a bigger mandate than the last time, could sweep away the demand to allow MPs to return to the shadow cabinet with honour and simply demand they pay tribute.

Four former members of the shadow cabinet are said to be prepared to make the walk back which will give Corbyn the patina of unity to get through the day at least.

But for anything other than a superficial smile of unity from the Labour conference look elsewhere. 

The biggest smile in Scotland today?

That will be on Ruth Davidson’s face as these middle class, middle of the road people who put their vote Labour’s way for many a year give the party a despairing parting wave.

Davidson has stolen a lead in Scotland as the face of anti-nationalism and in a population divided along the constitutional faultline this could be another gain for her.

Generational Labour voters will find it hard to leave the family, but some will walk into the desert than follow Momentum’s Moses to a promised land.

Ruth has already been roadtesting her next campaign slogan for these bewildered middle-ground voters.

Welcome to the tribe,” she will say.  

Monday 19 September 2016

Sturgeon on the transcendental tightrope

For the Daily Record

So, the case independence “transcends” everything else, according to Nicola Sturgeon.
That must be a bit like transcendental meditation. 

If we all hum “freedomm, freedomm” long enough we will achieve an altered state in which the deficit, the oil revenues, and the money flowing uphill from the UK will not matter.

It would be the political equivalent of yogic flying.

Easy as it is to mock the First Minister’s abandonment of the 2014 model of independence her sharp tack to fundamentalist a signals the pressures the SNP leader is coming under.

Sturgeon has to quickly put a great distance between herself and the economic flaws of the last independence case.

She has to destroy the old independence agrument and construct a new one in a hurry because Brexit presents her with a closing window of opportunity to go for another referendum.

Brexit is seen by many SNP supporters as the short-cut to independence. Alex Salmond reckons a vote will be held by 2018, others are urging caution.  You pays your money and takes your choices on what Strugeon will finally do, it depends on how hard a Brexit the UK makes.

But yesterday's tack to fundamentalism is in danger of turning her from the calm centre of the Brexit storm to the Grand old Duke of York of politics   

Sturgeon initially threatened a second indy referendum if Scotland did not keep its place in the  EU Single Market.

When polling evidence showed no surge for independence despite Scots voting overwhelmingly to stay in the EU she stepped back.

Now she has see-sawed to an indy or bust stance pleasing to the activist base.
Part of the reason is that Sturgeon is, as Willie Rennie said, “trapped” between SNP activists who want freedom at any price and her own caution. 

The political reality is that if she goes early she loses, and if she loses it is curtains for her and for independence.

The tension could make for an interesting SNP conference in Glasgow as the party has become the natural home for leftivists who otherwise might have joined Corbyn's Labour revolution.

Tommy Sheppard, the amiable Edinburgh MP, is standing against the more established Angus Robertson for the party deputy leadership.

Sheppard offers left-wingers who have swelled SNP ranks a chance to express their impatience for change.

For Sturgeon it is important that Robertson fend off the challenge. The leader does not want a thorn in her side that could disrupt party discipline and her dominance of the referendum timing. 

So the shift to transcendental independence has to be seen through the prism of what Sturgeon is attempting to do - walking a tightrope between a call for a second vote and not really wanting to do until the result is guaranteed.

She’s attempting to take the country out on that tightrope with her, and that’s harder than yogic flying.

Friday 16 September 2016

Shouldn't this be the dawn of IndyRef2?

My Daily Record column for today

Two years on from the first independence referendum shouldn’t we be waking up this Friday morning to the result of the second one? In other words, hasn’t Nicola Sturgeon missed her chance? 

If the First Minister had been bold on that dawn of June 24th, when it became clear the UK had voted to leave the European Union while Scotland had overwhelmingly chosen to stay, she would have called an independence vote for this very week.

An immediate declaration of intent from the steps of Bute House, an unprecedented emergency sitting of Holyrood on Saturday, an overwhelming parliamentary mandate to go for a referendum. All of it delivering a knock-out blow to a British state reeling from the biggest crisis since Suez.

Remember, power had been sucked out Westminster that weekend. You could feel that walking around the tented media village on College Green outside parliament. It wasn’t a broadcasting centre, it was a first-aid station for a political class hit by a hurricane.

The story since is that Sturgeon was the calm centre of the storm, that she projected purpose and a plan by demanding Scotland remain in the Single Market or that she may, just may, trigger a second independence referendum.

That’s reading it wrong.

There were only two possible reactions for the SNP leader to have had that day - to strike fast and summon Scottish patriotism to the European flag or to meekly pick at the details, rather important details, of how to replace EU funding and rules for Scotland’s fishing, agriculture and environment.

Instead Sturgeon went for the middle path, demanding status in the UK negotiations - the Tories never fail to be amazed at how obsessed the nationalists are with status - or threatening to pull the plug on the Union. History might judge this as kind of seven and half out of ten endorsement of independence.

If she had gone for broke the question on the ballot paper would be “should Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom?”.

But the terms of the debate would be do you want an independent Scotland to be in the European Union? In in the heat of a turnaround summer of politics who knows what the outcome a short, sharp campaign might have been?

A gambler would have bet the farm on lifting independence over the 50 per cent plus one vote barrier. Alex Salmond appeared to suggest so in his intervention on Wednesday, demanding that Sturgeon “block Brexit”.    

Now, it looks like she overplayed the slim hand she had.

Now, she sends Mike Russell to vacuous meetings to David Davis while she and Theresa May adopt a holding pattern until the heat goes out and the Brexit landing lights come on.

There still has to be hope for Sturgeon, that a hard Brexit will make Scots rush into her arms.

But then she has the difficulty of outlining the alternative to being outside Scotland’s biggest trading union and adopting the currency of the union we want to be part of. Did someone mention currency? Let’s not go there, most Scots will think.  

Meantime backing for independence has not surged since Brexit and Sturgeon’s own ratings show signs of deflation. 

Support for independence is still high but depressingly two polls this week show that all nationalism has achieved as we mark this two year anniversary is to continue to divide Scots, not from England, but from each other.

The task of any post-referendum leader was to move the nation on from that sorry state. Instead Nicola Sturgeon has chosen to play the game again, but to roll only one dice. 

Friday 2 September 2016

Irish tax breakfast could be UK's serfs dinner

My Daily Record Column for today
IMAGINE you woke up one morning to find out someone offered your country enough money to fund the health service for an entire year. 
Then you read every political party, bar one hardline grouping, have put up their collective hands and said: “No, we’re fine, our indebted country and creaking health system doesn’t want the money. You keep it.”
This is what has happened in Ireland, a country where GPs can charge you 50 euros for turning up at the surgery and people long ago stopped believing in pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The European Commission have ruled that Apple, the makers of mobile phones and laptops, paid less than one per cent tax on European profits for years through their Irish base.
By 2014, Apple were paying 0.005 per cent tax on European profits.
Sweet, if you are Apple. Sour when you consider that is 50 euros tax on every million euros in profit generated.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the arrangement with the Irish government is illegal under state aid rules and Apple must pay Dublin 13billion euros and the interest on top.
Apple’s billions in back taxes could build 100,000 homes for the poor or pay off a chunk of the nation’s debt.
The trouble for Ireland is that Ireland doesn’t want the money. 
For 40 years and more, the cornerstone of Irish economic policy has been a low corporate tax rate that attracts inward investment. 
The iPhone-makers are one of more than 700 US companies who have a European foothold in Ireland. They employ a combined 140,000 people across the island.
So, do you want the 13billion euros or not? 
Go look up the answer at Google or ask a friend on Facebook, or any other multinational using an Irish stepping stone.
The sound of hand-wringing in the Dail, Ireland’s parliament, can be heard this side of the Irish Sea.
Most commentators, as far as can be fathomed, back the Irish government’s stance to appeal the decision.
Irish finance minister Michael Noonan, vowing to fight Europe on behalf of the world’s richest company, went straight for Ireland’s famine heart.
“To do anything else, it would be like eating the seed potatoes,” he said. 
These Irish jobs are at stake and Apple, backed by the US government, won’t brook the European Commission meddling. 
For Apple, this is a drop in the ocean. The company generated about $4.45billion a month last year and the back tax – equivalent to about $3000 for every man, woman and child in Ireland – works out at three months of profit.
But no way are the Irish getting a share of Apple’s pie.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook said: “Ireland always does the right thing. You can always count on that.”
If there’s an iPhone app for generating smugness, that guy was the first to download it.
Why should we worry about Ireland’s tax dilemma? Well, I get the feeling whichever direction we turn, Ireland’s breakfast is our dinner.
Just as Alex Salmond sought to emulate the Celtic Tiger across the northern “arc of prosperity” (what a cracker that was) his plan for an independent Scotland depended on facilitating any passing multinational with a lower than UK corporate tax rate.
Events have changed all that and now the entire UK finds itself cast as the continent’s international tax haven.
Eurosceptic Tories have been eager to press Theresa May to offer Apple an even better deal than Ireland does, if that is possible.
I fear that’s what Brexit means on Tory terms, rendering craven homage to global companies and turning your workforce into the cyber-serfs of the 21st century.