Friday 15 June 2018

SNP look to Parnell for Brexit delay tactics

The bust of Parnell, Irish Home Ruler, in Westminster
There is a bronze bust of the Irish Home Rule campaigner Charles Stewart Parnell in the corridor outside the SNP Commons offices which they took over from the Lib Dems.

These statues litter the Palace of Westminster. Lloyd George, the last Liberal Prime Minister, is at the bottom of the stairs on the way to the underground car park. So the mighty fall.

But it’s fitting that the 19th century Irish nationalist should be guard of honour for the SNP leader's office, particularly now.

Parnell held great sway over the Commons for many years and was expert in sabotaging procedures to force the government to take Irish issues seriously.

As his namesake, SNP MP Stewart McDonald, pointed out yesterday he once kept the Commons sitting for 45 hours considering the 1887 South Africa Bill.

“It might be that those tactics are of interest to the House at this time,” said McDonald, with a twinkle in his eye.

In protest over the Scottish parliament vote on Brexit being ignored the SNP has promised to hobble the Commons at any time.

Parnell and the Irish Home Rule movement provide the template which the SNP hope to emulate with Brexit.

Kenny MacAskill, former SNP Minister and firebrand,  showed the way in his Glasgow Herald column today in which he promotes the plan. 

He wrote: "The model for the SNP isn’t Sinn Fein but its predecessors in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Under the great Charles Stewart Parnell it flourished in the chamber when it suited, but never forgot that its purpose was to leave.

"Hopefully, that will now be the template for the modern SNP, allowing the good work on the rape clause and other issues to be pursued but recognising that it isn’t its parliament and it is not respected there. It doesn’t mean being rude or malicious, simply ending the far too supine posture that has been taken and being more robust in defending Scotland’s interest."

The idea has some merit, look at massive publicity and membership boost the SNP had from this week's walk out.

But there are downsides too. The novelty of protest might capture the headlines once or twice, but  disrupting the Commons on a regular basis begins to get a bit wearing all round.

It also exposes individual SNP MPs to the charge (which you'd think their opponents would make regularly anyway) that they are sitting in the Commons not for their constituents but for their cause.   

The tactic is being roadtested, as far as I can see. At Business Questions on Thursday SNP MPs kept Andrea Leadsom answering questions until nearly 1pm, passing the ball backwards and forwards while the clock ticked down on the day.

The big Brexit clock is ticking down toward a deadline too and Theresa May can ill afford to have the Commons gummed up by delaying tactics.

Of course these kinds of tricks are played by all sides, all the time. 

Everyone blames everyone else for how little time there was to debate the devolution clauses on Tuesday.

Labour blame the government for squeezing Brexit clauses into two days (They had planned for one).

Tories blame Labour for calling votes on every amendment, everyone blames SNP MPs for loitering through the lobbies as if on a Sunday stroll, ensuring even less time and more outrage for the devo clauses.

The SNP’s first guerrilla attack, a walk-out over the disgracefully short time given to debate devolution in the Brexit Bill achieved its purpose.

The issue is on the agenda, a ministerial statement made, an emergency debate on Monday. But what next?

To keep the issue on the boil SNP MPs will have Parnell as a touchstone of disruption every time they walk past him to their leader's office.

Wednesday 13 June 2018

He shoots, he scores... Blackford in Ally MacLeod land

My first World Cup report from Westminster, for the Daily Record

The World Cup doesn’t start until today but already we’ve had a controversial refereeing decision.

Like Willie Johnston being sent home from Argentina in ‘78, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford left the Commons chamber claiming to have been the victim of a great injustice.

But he left with the satisfaction of scoring a brilliant victory - even if he was given an early bath by the ref, sorry, Speaker.

Until now it has been hard to generate interest in the Torys' Brexit constitutional insult to Scotland.

Months of Mike Russell statements, Downing Street summits, overwhelming rejection by Holyrood, yet the whole season was a goalless draw.

With the Brexit bill in the Commons for the last time, the Tories were going to win.

So when the ball fell at Blackford’s feet in the 90th minute, he made a run for goal.

The rest was like an Ally MacLeod fantasy of Brexit negotiatons.

Blackford shoots, he scores, cheers from SNP terraces, but he is red carded for defying the ref.

For the middling midfield general it is his finest hour.

He is carried shoulder-high by his team, who forget to take the ball away with them.

He is man of the match, the shot is replayed for the rest of the tournament, even though Scotland isn’t in the competition.

Then we wake up, and nothing has changed except English MPs joshing that when it comes to the World Cup, it’s all “SNP”.

That’s short for “Scotland Not Playing”, and it’s as true at Westminster as it is for the World Cup.

Friday 1 June 2018

Sùil Eile air an dealbh-cluich "Translations"

Sùil Eile,  bho Daily Record an latha an-duigh

Tha an dealbh-cluich ‘Translations’ leis an sgrìobhadair Èireannach Brian Friel air fosgladh aig a’ Theatre Nàiseanta.

Sin Theatre Naiseanta Shasainn air bruaich deas an Thames.

Agus mar as àbhaist tha na h-ealain air thoiseach air poileataigs na dùthcha.

‘S ann mu dheidhinn oidhirp le saighdearan Breatannach ainmean Beurla a chur air àiteachan Gaelige a tha an dràma, mun strì eadar dà chànan agus dà chultar.

Tha an aon sgeulachd ri innse mu ainmean-àite na Gàidhealtachd, a bh’ air an call fo bhlas na Beurla.

Ach tha na thachair ann am poll mònach Dhùn na nGall anns an naoidheamh linn deug, air innse ann an dealbh-chluiche bhon ficheadeamh linn, a’ togail sgàthan air suidheachadh an latha an-diugh.

Tha na ceangalan iom-fhillte eadar Èireann agus Breatainn air an cluich a-mach air àrd-ùrlar Westminster agus na Bruiseil gach latha.   

Gun fhreagairt air crìochan Èirinn a Tuath tuitidh còmhraidhean Brexit às a chèile.

Gun tuisge air dè tha an eachdraidh a ciallachadh, tha gach taobh a’ bruidhinn cànan eadar-dhealaichte.

’S e Èirinn a’ cheist air nach robh freagairt aig Breatainn bho riamh.

Chan e nach do dh’fheuch iad, mar a tha ‘Translations’ a’ dèanamh soilleir.


“Translations”, the play by Irish writer Brian Freil has opened at the National Theatre.

That’s the National Theatre of England on the south bank of the Thames. 

And as usual the arts are ahead of the politics of the country.

The drama centres around the efforts of British soldiers to give English names to Irish places, about the conflict between two language and two cultures.

The same story could be told about Highland placemanes, which were lost under the accent of the English language.

But what happened in the peat bogs of Donegal in the 19th century, told in a play from the 20th century, holds a mirror up to us today.

The complex ties between Ireland and Britain are being played on the stage in Westminster and Brussels each day.

Without an answer to the Northern Irish border, Brexit talks will fall apart.

Without an understanding of what the history means, each side is speaking a different language.

Ireland is the question that Britain was never able to answer.

Not for want of trying though, as “Translations” makes clear.

Growth Commission - would the real author please stand up

From my Daily Record column today

Bad artists copy, great artists steal, said Picasso who knew a thing or two about art.

If so, take a bow Andrew Wilson, the creative mind who produced the SNP’s Growth Commission report last week only to be accused, among other things, of lifting bits of it wholesale from another report.

It appears that when it comes to the writing credits, cheers of “author, author” cannot go entirely to Wilson.

According to investigative reporter Paul Hutcheon over 950 words of the document, hailing New Zealand’s scorched-earth approach to economics as one to emulate, was copied and pasted from a New Zealand Treasury paper written ten years, with no credit given to the original author.

Okay, so the great white hope of nationalism had some uncredited plagiarism in it, an embarrassing error that was all.

Wilson explained how a footnote giving due credit the origins of the analysis was mistakenly removed during the drafting process.

We know the report was cooked, frozen, microwaved, put in a drawer and re-heated over two years to make it as palatable as possible, and everyone makes a mistake.

But far more embarrassing than the omission, I have discovered, would have been to credit the real author of the New Zealand passage.

Lo and behold the section of “copied homework” is that of a respected British economist, Neil Kidd, who did indeed work for the New Zealand government, and has gone back to live there now.

But Kidd also worked for HM Treasury in London in the run up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

He was one of the key Treasury team which wrote the Scotland Analysis Programme, a series of hefty documents produced by the UK government to inform the independence debate.

The documents, carrying the full weight of the Treasury’s best economists, pored over everything from pensions to currency under independence.

They were war hammers in the hands of George Osborne and effectively destroyed Salmond’s dodgy  milk and honey prospectus.

So the Growth Commission report, raising the new case for independence from the rubble of the White Paper, is built on the foundation of an economist who analysed Scottish independence and found it wanting.

Irony doesn’t come near it.

Being found copying the work of a Treasury economist who built the case against independence will merely feed the nationalist backlash against Wilson’s cautious plan.

One former SNP government adviser, Alex Bell, described it as the political suicide note of nationalism, ceding ground to Labour on cuts and the Tories on low taxes.

But Wilson is a politician bouncing along with so much friendly optimism that he makes Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh, look like the glumbucket Mrs May.

His sunny disposition may be unaffected by the slings and arrows.

Part of the reason for making the real case for nationalism now is to draw the toxic response to the price of independence out of the body politic.

Because he is one of the most ecumenical politicians in the land, the good regard Wilson is held in helped the report off the runway without being shot down on take off.

But if going out of your way to please people is a personality strength, it is a political weakness too.

With his natural inclination to please everyone he meets Wilson has produced a hodgepodge of bolted-on, contradictory ideas of Danish welfare spending and New Zealand neo-liberal economics.

With a bit of unacknowledged help from an anti-independence economist, he’s cut and pasted them onto a photocopied map of a future Scotland. Mind you, Picasso did a lot of collage work too.