Monday, 29 December 2008

Scottish MPs - A Waste of Time and Money?

As I said in a recent post, Livingston MP Jim Devine's recent posturing not only says a lot about his priorities but it also raises a very big question which has implications for representation across the UK and possibly for the current devolution settlement.

The question can be simply put:- "What do Scottish MPs actually do?"

Without going to the bother of reading the Scotland Act (and ignoring the grey areas and stuff on the margins), Holyrood is pretty much responsible for all aspects of Scottish life except Welfare and Benefits, Defence and Foreign Affairs, Macro-economic policy and Immigration. With the exception of Welfare and Benefits, these are not typically the kind of issues that constituents tend to burden their representatives with.

The buck stops with Holyrood and MSPs for just about everything which is of day to day concern to the people of Scotland; Health, Law & Order, Education, Housing, Transport etc etc. So in terms of sorting out our day to day concerns, the answer to the above question is 'not very much'.

Sure, these MPs will act as Westminster lobby fodder too, but just how often are the views of the 59 Scottish MPs influencial in the outcome of any vote? Not very often.

Which brings up two interesting follow on questions;
1) Why do Scottish MPs get paid more than MSPs and why do they get staffing expenses which dwarf those available to MSPs?
2) Why do Scottish MPs get paid the same as English MPs and why do they get the same staffing expenses?

Question 1 reflects what is actually an outrageous situation. MSPs who have to do the majority of the work get scarce resources while MPs can afford to pay people to sit around and make work up. (I've heard it said that some MPs actually employ people just to follow them around and take photos.) This is not good for the democratic process and, in my view at least, this is a far bigger problem than any of the Holyrood expenses 'scandals' which have emerged since 1999.

Question 2 is interesting. We often hear how the introduction of an English votes for English laws system at Westminster to balance the devolution settlement would be a bad thing because it would result in two classes of MPs. Strikes me that we already have that; the English MPs who have to run around covering all the matters that Scottish MPs and MSPs deal with and the Scottish MPs who can sit in the bar until they have to follow someone into the lobbies.

Conclusion? If you live in Scotland, even of you have an excellent MP, he or she will be a complete waste of money - at least in comparison to your local MSP. And if you live in England, why the hell do you put up with this?

Sunday, 28 December 2008


I notice that this blog has blipped on the Iain Dale new blog radar. Being naive in the black arts of all things Internetty I guess this must mean that somebody somewhere who isn't so naive is reading my outpourings.

Unfortunately, my work was described as an SNP blog, which it most certainly is not.

I did vote SNP last time but do not always do so. I believe in Independence for Scotland (and England for that matter) and I currently can't see any reason not to vote SNP next time.

But that does not make this an SNP blog. It is my blog and mine alone.

Maybe I'm just getting over-sensitive in my old age and I have certainly had to deal with worse accusations in my time.

Anyhow, if you are visiting via Mr Dale's site, you are very welcome.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

End of Year Report

As 2008 comes to an end, let's take a very high level view of the state of the parties through my own strangely tinted spectacles...

2008 has been a modestly good year for the Tories in Scotland. Overtaking the LibDems in both Glasgow East and Glenrothes was probably as good as they could possibly have hoped for and Annabel Goldie continues to be the best of the opposition leaders at Holyrood.

Elsewhere, Derek Brownlee continues to impress both in the chamber and as a TV performer and Annabel is given strong support by Murdo Fraser, Bill Aitken and David McLetchie.

It is unfortunate for them that their predecessors had such an impact on the Scottish psyche as their poll ratings do not do their capabilities and general performance justice. That being said, the last Westminster poll showed that they have crept above the 20% threshold.

Maybe, with a little more patience and continued improvement, the Scottish Conservatives could be a real force again.

Just where do you start in assessing Labour's year?

Compared to this time last year, we could say that things are pretty much as they were except there is a different leadership team in place. That would be to completely ignore what has been the rollercoster that has been the last 12 months.

Compared to August, post-Glasgow East and pre-Credit Crunch, Labour has to feel good about its current position. Almost everyone had written them off, Brown was described as a dead man walking and no seat looked safe after the outrageous swing against them in Glasgow East.

Since then, we've had Brown the SuperHero circling the globe giving the impression that he is single handedly saving the world, we've had the reinstatement of a full time Scottish Secretary and we've had Glenrothes. Labour looked to have arrested the decline, the SNP challenge was brushed aside in Fife and there was even brief talk of a spring election.

Another couple of months on and things don't look quite so rosy. The poll ratings look to have peaked and the economy is going down the toilet despite all the impressive looking action of Brown and Darling. By all accounts things are going to be much, much worse than anyone previously imagined.

In my view, the LibDems are the big losers of 2008.

If the result in Glasgow East was bad, Glenrothes, after weeks of presenting themselves as credible challengers, must have hurt even more.

Despite a few brief flurries from new leader, Tavish Scott, notably on the HBOS / LTSB merger, these electroal defeats have been reflected in increasingly sterile contributions in the chamber.

The good news, I suppose, is that things can't get any worse, can they?

Like Labour, the assesment of the SNP's position very much depends on your point of reference.
Despite trailing Labour by a few points in the latest Westminster poll, the SNP is pretty much where they were this time last year only a little more seasoned and mature.

Viewed from the immediate aftermath of Glasgow East, this will seem like a huge let down. However, in the context of Glenrothes, it demonstrates that its failure to wrest that seat from Labour's grasp was by no means the disaster it might have been.

It may be a consequence of having got used to him as FM, but Alex Salmond has undoubtedly lost some of his sparkle since the summer. On the other hand, his ministerial team continue to impress particularly Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and, like him or loathe him, Kenny McAskill.

My judgement is that the political momentum, briefly seized by Labour in the Autumn, is now back with the SNP and the Tories and my guess is that this will become more pronounced as the economy worsens.

The LibDems appear moribund and seem to have nowhere to go either in a Scottish or a UK context. Labour are now suffering from the expectations that were necessarily raised by Brown and his team in order to save his job. I fear it is unlikely the public will be fooled a second time.

I'll come back to the LibDems in a future post because I think their position (and future) deserves further analysis.

Looking back, I believe that Glenrothes will prove to be a watershed for Scottish politics. In the long term, it is probably the best thing that could have happened to the SNP - a small advance in terms of its vote but a massive brake on the momentum that was beginning to get out of control.

To his and its credit, Alex Salmond and the wider party, displayed a great deal of humility in the aftermath of their defeat. Indeed, I have even heard it said by some who voted Labour that this humility was enough to persaude them that they had voted the wrong way that day.

And, as I suggested in October they might, Labour seem to have mistaken the result in Glenrothes as an endorsement of its economic policies and a sign that the Scottish electorate had decided that it had been a mistake to flirt with the Nats.

The real lesson from 2008 is that the famous phrase 'Events, dear boy, events.' is as applicable today as it was when McMillan first coined it all those years ago. For the SNP and the Tories, this translates as, 'As long as Labour remain in power, there is a real prospect that they can retain power.' Both would do well to remember that.

Monday, 22 December 2008

At Last Labour has a Plan

Only it's not theirs!!!

The Sunday Herald broke the news of an alleged planning scandal at West Lothian Council and, although I'm not sure his comparison to the Trump fiasco is relevant, Stephen reports further today.

On the face of it, it seems that the Action to Save St John's Councillor, Gordon Beurskens, is sailing pretty close to the wind. My reading of the situation is that he is probably OK by the letter of the law but there are serious moral questions to be asked about his actions.

GB - funny how these initials keep cropping up when there are allegations of skullduggery around - is therefore a legitimate target. He should be fully investigated and Labour are quite right to pursue him.

As usual, of course, Labour's real motivation is nothing to do with morality and righteousness but everything to do with trying to discredit the SNP and this is betrayed by their hysterical pursuit of the SNP Leader of the Council, Peter Johnston, on this matter.

They claim that Johnston is complicit because he did nothing to stop GB after he was copied on some emails sent by GB, in his capacity as a consultant to the planning applicant, to planning officials.

There are several problems with that. Firstly, Johnston would have no locus to formally do anything to prevent a priviate individual from making representations to planning officials. Secondly, who is to say that Johnston did not informally take GB aside and point out that his action was not appropriate? And, thirdly, it seems that the Chief Executive of the council has reported GB to the police. Do we really believe that this would have been done without the agreement of the Council Leader? I seriously doubt it.

West Lothian Council is fascinating. It has long been a Labour / SNP battleground and it is currently a microcosm of Scotland. Like Holyrood, the SNP are in minority control. Like Holyrood, Labour is united only by their passionate hatred of the SNP leader.

Unlike Holyrood, Labour is the biggest party in West Lothian. But it couldn't retain control of the council because the previous Holyrood adminstration's compliance in the gradual donwgrading of St John's Hospital resulted in 3 single issue councillors being elected. That hurt them then and it still hurts now.

With a Hat Tip to Holyrood Patter, where I first read there was a whiff of a scandal on Saturday night, my moles have been out and about trying to find out what is going on.

It seems that ever since the new council administration was formed, Labour have been continuously dangling carrots in front of the Hospital councillors to induce them to switch their allegiance. Now, as many in West Lothian will know, these Hospital councillors are 'unique' in their approach to politics. However, I'm sure even they realise that they could not credibly be seen to be doing anything to help Labour after slagging them off over St John's for the last few years.

Labour has now given up on this approach and is now trying to force resignations in the hope they can win the resultant by-elections and force a change in administration. There has been a succession of local press articles on one of GB's colleagues, Ellen Glass, but in the meantime a whole pile of FOI requests have been made in a bid to dredge up stuff to concoct scandals from.

This story might turn out to be the first of many allegations but Labour's previous record in West Lothian on the corruption front is not good. And those who live by the sword tend to die by the sword...

Interesting times ahead.

The Devine Comedy Continues

I read with interest the indefatigable Jim Devine's blundering attempts to dig himself out of the hole he has dug himself into regarding the troubled Livingston firm, Gemfire.

Regular readers will recall my previous posts highlighting Jolly Jim's will he/won't he plans to organise a protest at the gates of the US owned firm after they had told their employees to go home because they didn't have enough money to pay them.

Amidst severe pressure from some of the affected workers, who were rightly concerned that such action would deter any alternative investors, the PR stunt was called off. The company has since re-commenced partial operations while further funds are sought.

Now it seems Mr Devine wants to pretend that all along he has been trying to 'broker' a deal on behalf of Gemfire. But, says West Lothian Labour's 'Mr Consensus', Gemfire won't return his calls.

Although Mr Devine gives no detail on who he might be trying to broker such a deal with, let's just say for the sake of argument there is some substance to what he is saying for once. Why, then, would he continue to say that Gemfire has 'treated their workforce like a 19th-century coal mine owner' ?

Strikes me that perhaps Mr Devine doesn't want Gemfire to get back in touch. That way the bluff over his potential deal won't get called and he'll be able to continue in the pretence that he is somehow representing the interests of his constituents in the full glare of the media spotlight.

I think this speaks volumes for this particular individual's style and approach to politics and representation. Everything this man does seems to be motiviated by the need to generate publicity.

However, it raises wider questions which need answered. I hate to be a tease but that will have to wait for a later post.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Take a Mulligan, Mulligan

A motion worthy of Crap Holyrood Chat has been crafted by Mary Mulligan, who has managed to be Labour's MSP for Linlithgow for nearly 10 years without anyone noticing. For the anoraks, the motion number is S3M-03122.

Disappointingly, Sun Microsystems are relocating 100 or so jobs from Scotland to the USA. Mrs Mulligan's motion suggests that this is the doing of a certain Crawford Beveridge. Further, Mrs Mulligan claims that Mr Beveridge is a high profile donor to the SNP. She also points out that Mr Beveridge is a member of Alex Salmond's Council of Economic Advisers. Her contention is that this is very embarrasing for the Scottish Government and Alex Salmond. Oh, and by the way, she concludes her motion by suggesting that this is bad news for her constituency.

I'll leave Mrs Mulligan to explain why she focusses her attention on trying to embarass the SNP rather than make positive suggestions as to how this regrettable decision can be reversed. (Maybe she is taking her lead from her West Lothian Westminster colleague and grandstander extrordinaire, Jim Devine?)

On the substance (did I really dignify this tosh with that word?) of the motion, it would be incredible if Crawford Beveridge, effectively the worldwide Chairman of Sun, had any part in making this operational decision and even if he did, why is Mrs Mulligan getting so worked up about Gordon Brown's much loved global economy in action?

Isn't it funny how the global financial meltdown can't possibly be anything to do with a Labour Chancellor/Prime Minister but the relocation of 100 jobs can be laid squarely at the door of an SNP supporter?

I recall that Mr Beveridge suggested he was going to support the SNP at the last election and is a supporter of Independence but I haven't seen anything to suggest he funds the SNP in any way. I could be wrong on that one but it is perhaps revealing that Labour politicians assume that any businessman that has a good relationship with a government must somehow be involved in funding the party of that government!!!

Rather than waste our time and taxes with this drivel, perhaps Mrs Mulligan would like to spend some time explaining why a Labour Minister is driving a coach and horses through competition regulation and putting hundreds of local banking jobs in jeopardy just so his boss's mate can finally fulfil his dream of merging LTSB with HBOS.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Public Has Spoke

It's enough to restore your faith in the British public.

Congratulations to Chris Hoy for peddling off with the Beeb's Sports Personality of the Year Award. The smart money had been on Rebecca Adlington and Lewis Hamilton but it seems that Hoy's achievements were sufficiently impressive to overcome the 'campaigning' advantages that his competitors for the title had.

Through the years, many Scottish sports stars have not had a look in when it comes to this award. This is even more galling when you consider that, unlike this year, there have been so many mediocre years for British sport in the last 30 years. When you look at some of the names that have won this trophy it is difficult not to believe that one of the major reasons why the likes of Allan Wells, Jim Watt, Stephen Hendry, Robert Millar, Gavin Hastings or Kenny Dalglish were never in the running is because they are Scottish and therefore not held in the same affection by the majority of those voting or involved in the selection process as English sports stars.

Hoy had to overcome this in-built disadvantage, the massive lobbying power of the F1 brigade and a concerted campaign on behalf of Adlington. The fact he did so, and by a margin of over 100,000 votes, underlines just how impressive a performer he is.

While I have huge admiration for Adlington's Olympic achievements, whose two events were both freestyle endurance events, I'm not sure that they compare to Hoy who won three very different disciplines and wasn't even allowed to defend his title from 2004. It should also be remembered that Beijing was the crowning of several years of Hoy's utter dominance of the velodrome.

I'm not an F1 fan and as far as I am concerned it shouldn't even qualify as a sport. And nice bloke though he seems to be, I'm not sure Lewis Hamilton qualifies on the personality front either.

So congratulations also to the British public who, for once, got it absolutely right.

Friday, 12 December 2008

A Fate That Could Await Any Of Us

Business has been a bit hectic over the last week so apologies to my limited readership for the the lack of my even more limited writing recently.

Big Margo's documentary on assisted suicide got a UK-wide airing through the week and for a couple of days, the subject was high on the news agenda.

My personal view is that there is a lot to be said for allowing those who wish to end their life to do so in a controlled, humane and dignified fashion. I can see where the Catholic Church are coming from in terms of abortion or genetic engineering but I'm struggling with their view on this one because, as I see it, this is about an individual making an informed choice about their own life rather than some 3rd party making a decision about the life of a helpless unborn child or embryo.

But there is one area that troubles me and I don't think it is getting much attention. It concerns those who might wish to die but who have been assessed as lacking the cognitive ability to make that decision or communicate that wish. I think this is going to be a huge problem in the future as we continue to get better and better at treating physical illness and trauma, resulting in an ageing population with increasing rates of mental degeneration.

Most of us can now expect to live until we are 80 and a large number of us will hit 90 or even 100. Sadly the signs are that our physical well being will not be matched by mental well being at these ages. And, if you are like me, you will fear the prospect of being physically healthy but mentally incapable every but as much as being mentally healthy but physically incapable.

So we might be able to make progress for people who are mentally well enough to take responsibility for making the final decision to end ther lives but how can we ensure that those who are suffering just as intolerable an existence through mental degeneration have access to the same remedy? Even where clear instructions are left before the person in question loses their capacity to decide, someone else is going to have to take responsibility for that final decision and/or act. That is going to be tough to support in a legal framework, I suspect.

It may be a long time away for many of us, but any one of us could end up in this situation through dementia or a similar condition and I would like to think that there would be some way I can ensure that I don't have to live out a meaningless, lonely existence if it comes to that.

I don't have a clue how such a right can be enshrined in law therefore I fully support Margo in calling for a full, open and honest debate about assisted suicide.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Going Round in Family Circles

For the umpteenth time, the press have published details of which MSPs are employing members of their family. And for the umpteenth time, I'm still not sure there is any substance behind the implied cries of nepotism.

Having mulled this over each time the story 'breaks' I think there is a strong case to be made that this practice is actually a very efficient use of taxpayers' money. There are plenty of MSPs who are more articulate than me (though some clearly aren't) that could make this case but it seems they would rather just ignore the issue and hope it goes away.

That appears to be wishful thinking. So why don't these guys confront the issue head on and justify their actions. It's not as if it is a partisan issue after all - Labour and SNP MSPs appear to be equally 'culpable' at first sight - and as long as they leave this issue at the mercy of the press, it is all too easy for it to be manipulated to bring our Parliament and Democracy into disrepute.

I'm going to have a bash on their behalf anyway in the hope that it will encourage them to pick up the theme.

1. It seems to me that the most important qualification one needs to work for an MSP is to have the absolute trust of that MSP. This goes for both representative and political issues. It takes years to build up such a level of trust, therefore isn't it obvious that close family members (even spouses in some cases ;-) ) would be far better qualified on this score than anyone else?
2. Even if you don't accept that trust is the most important factor, it must be conceded that it is an important factor. If an MSP had to recruit from outwith their immediate circle of family and friends what would be the cost to the public purse and, more importantly, the cost to the MSPs constituents of a lengthy recruitment process to identify a complete stranger that might be trustworthy? What would be the cost to everyone involved of having to replace staff who turn out not to be trustworthy?
3. Why is there such a focus on family members in any case? Why is there no focus on pals or on apparatchiks who are clearly being groomed for political advancement at the taxpayers' expense?
4. With the prize of doing a decent job, especially for constituency members, being re-election the involvement of family members provides a natural incentive to go the extra mile on behalf of their boss (although see comment re spouses above ;-) ). It is certain that family members employed by an MSP would deliver better value for the taxpayer.

There is one caveat however. What I do think is wrong is for a family member (or anyone else for that matter) to be employed who is not qualified to do the job in question. Therefore, rather than stigmatise the relationship that may exist between MSP and staff why not focus on the capabilities and experience of the staff?

Why not, for instance, use whatever HR function that exists in the Scottish Parliament to have a veto over MSP staff appointments on the basis of the prospective staff member not having relevant qualifications or experience?

Maybe that would just be too sensible.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Great Balls of Fire

I congratulate Ed Balls for his swift action in ensuring that Sharon Shoesmith, Director of Children's Services in Haringey has been fired following the report into the Baby P case.

However shocking, it is always possible to forgive a mistake if it has been made in good faith. Sadly, this report appears to confirm all our suspicions that a litany of failures led to Baby P's death and all the more shocking since this was the council that was meant to have learned the lessons of previous failures.

It's good to see that the leader of the Council and the Cabinet member for children and young people have also resigned. Maybe they should have gone before now but they have now accepted their responsibility.

I don't usually go along with the general clamour for political resignations in the wake of operational failings. But in some cases political leaders have to do the decent thing and fall on their sword even if they are not directly culpable personally. This is such a case.

It is to be hoped that everyone involved in this dreadful case follow the lead of these councillors and resign their posts immediately.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Is the Tide Turning Again?

I'm beginning to think that the Tories, and George Osborne in particular, have managed to get back on the front foot.

Osborne has, by all accounts, won fulsome praise from the right for his Post-Pre-Budget-Report Performance (PPBRP). Just as the current crisis gave the rudderless Brown a target to aim at, so Darling's PBR has given the under pressure Osborne something to get his teeth into - and he has taken some almighty bites so far.

There is no easy answer to this mess. But it is hard to disagree with the view that the answer to a crisis caused by huge and irresponsible corporate and personal borrowing is not to borrow even more in the hope that it reignites the economy.

I believe that, fundamentally, recessions are a correction for unfunded growth and spending. This recession should be deep because of the huge amount of growth that has been induced through the illusion of increased wealth rather than through real, earned wealth.

My worry, therefore, is that if we somehow manage to stave off a recession or ease the depth of it then the underlying problems won't be fully corrected. The result will be that future growth will be built on an unstable foundation, which will result in further, and possibly more severe, pain later. Like it or not, this sick patient has to take its medicine and that medicine is, unfortunately, unemployment, business closures and the misery that goes along with them.

The problem with that strategy is that it means the economic cycle and political cycle will not be aligned as the Government would like. So, make no mistake, everything Darling is doing is designed to realign these cycles for the benefit of his party. To suggest anything else would be ridiculous just as it would be ridiculous to suggest that any other party wouldn't be motivated in exactly the same way.

My own reading of the PBR is that Darling would have been better doing nothing. The content of the PBR has given the Tories plenty of ammunition to back up what was beginning to look like a faintly ridiculous oppositionist stance. This stance now looks as though it was a gamble that has paid off and they now look very secure in questioning the wisdom of the Government's actions.

However, the biggest problem has been the presentation of the PBR and, specifically, the lack of clarity about possible increases in VAT after it has been restored back to 17.5%. This is like the 10p tax rate all over again and will confirm to many that had started to give them the benefit of the doubt again that Labour is just not capable of telling the whole truth.

It can take years to build up credibility in the eyes of the electors and only a moment to lose it. Brown had been doing a reasonable job of restoring his hard won credibility recently. I fear the PBR may have undone all that good work at a stroke.

Monday, 24 November 2008

There is a God!!!

Much to my amazement, my recent plea was heard and Jim Devine's planned demonstration outside the gates of Gemfire was called off. I can only assume that the good Lord intervened and let it be known that even the West Lothian Courier wouldn't cover such thinly veiled Labour posturing.

In this week's issue, Jolly Jim informs the Courier that the event was cancelled because the company had committed to seeking new funds so that the plant might be re-opened. This all seems a bit strange as that is what Gemfire were saying from the outset. It seems much more likely that the protest was called off as many of the Gemfire workforce felt such a move would make it less likely that new investors would be found. Well, quite.

Apart from fulfilling his highly paid role as MP by distributing benefits leaflets amongst the affected workers, Devine's latest wheeze is to write to the Gemfire Chief Exec. Apparently the Gemfire Heid Bummer has 48hrs to respond ... or else!!! Or else what, exactly, Jim? Who knows, but we can probably hazzard a guess that that it will involve some further PR opportunity for JD.

Happily, while Jim arses about trying to get noticed, it seems that progress is being made in finding alternative funds and it looks like the plant might be recommencing operations shortly. It won't be back to full scale in the short term but at least it is a start.

I have to say that Gemfire seem to have played this with a pretty straight bat. They have been upfront with their employees and genuinely seem to be trying to sort things out as best they can. Whether they will ever get back to where they were a month ago remains an open question but if they do it will certainly be no thanks to Jim Devine.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The East Lothian Question

The little local difficulty Labour is experiencing in East Lothian takes me back to the good old days when there seemed to be a similar problem in one Scottish CLP or another every other month. The Labour machine always sorted things out in the end with little or no electoral damage.

That was then. The context in which the East Lothian CLP crisis is being played out is rather different and represents a real test for Labour (Scottish and British parties alike).

For one thing, although things may look a little brighter post-Glenrothes, Labour is damaged goods in way it has never been before. Any difficulty reinforces this and cannot be dismissed as a side-show or a spot of local bother in the way it could have been before.

Secondly, there is a definite Scottish v UK angle to this one. The leader of the Labour Group at Holyrood, Iain Gray, is MSP for East Lothian and could therefore do without any internal unrest in the area and could do with keeping in with the local membership.

That particular bridge has already been burned by Anne Moffat, the MP for the area, and she is therefore relying on NEC intervention to prevent her possible deselection by the same local membership.

From my perspective, it seems a no-brainer. The NEC should not intervene and leave Anne Moffat facing the people she should be accountable to. In the process, the NEC would be seen to back the local members and, implicitly, the leader of the Labour Group at Holyrood.

But, should the NEC ride to Anne Moffat's rescue, what message would that send out? To me it would confirm that the status of a backbench, going nowhere fast Westminster MP is more important to the UK Labour Party than its leader in the Scottish Parliament.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Depressing News

The thing about business travel is that it forces you out of your daily routine. Today I found myself taking in BBC News 24 and skimming tabloids in various M1 service stations and airport lounges through the course of the d ay.

Both were instructive and re-inforced exactly what is wrong with this God foresaken country. I'll take the tabloids first, because I've posted about this subject before.

There seems to be some kind of competition going on to uncover the piece of evidence that makes Haringey Council most culpable over the Baby P case. The Daily Tittle says 'We've found this piece of evidence - isn't that shoocking?!?'. The Daily Tattle says 'Ah but we've found this piece of evidence - isn't that even more shoocking!?!?' It is all very unedifying, to say the least.

I, of course, did not know Baby P from Adam. But I have been truly sickened by the story and, to be perfectly honest, I have been quite depressed about it when I have allowed myself to think about it. So God only know how this wee boy's father is feeling right now.

My point is that the story has been, quite rightly, reported. It has, again quite rightly, been raised in Parliament (although it would have been nice to see it handled rather more sensitively). And an inquiry has been established.

Why can't the press just let it be now? Let the authorities get on with investigating what went wrong and let them try to sort things out. Give them the space to make the right decisions for the right reasons. But the tabloids will just not let go until they have exhausted every last angle and every last lead. Sensational headline after sensational headline with no thought for the people who have been truly damaged by the whole affair. These papers are an affront to decent society.

And so to BBC News 24 and their unrelenting coverage of John Sergeant's decision to quit 'Strictly Come Off It' or whatever it is.

Why does this even merit a mention on a TV news programme? Sadly, it reflects that our society values celebrity more than equality. It seems entertainment is more important than enlightenment. Gossip overshadows government.

It has been hard to avoid the tiresome debate about why twinkle-toes hasn't been voted off before now. The bottom line is that you can't ask the public to vote and then tell them what criteria they should be using to decide how to cast their vote. If you want to have a competition to decide who is the best dancer then it should be people who are qualified to judge on that criterion that should make the decision alone.

(The same applies to X-Factor, by the way. Simon Cowell puts it nicely when he talks about the likeability factor.)

There has to be something wrong when a TV programme which serves no purpose other than to entertain and adds no value but to help us pass the time on a Saturday night is providing the lead news story for much of the day.

If our society is one that demands this type of news then maybe there's a place for those tabloids after all. There's a rather depressing thought to end a long day!!!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Can the First 11 Match the First 15?

What a thrilling spectacle our boys served up against World Champions South Africa at Murrayfield.

We should have won and we would certainly have deserved to win. Sadly, the result means that we will lose our position as a 2nd rank team for the next Rugby World Cup and will have to beat a higher ranked team in order to keep our proud record of having reached at least the quarter finals in every tournament.

However, if Frank Hadden can keep the team playing to this form that shouldn't be a problem.

As I'll be away for a couple of days this week, I won't be able to go to Hampden to see if our other first team can serve up a similar performance against Argentina - probably the best international football side at the moment.

We could certainly do with it to generate a bit of belief and momentum for our World Cup qualifying campaign. Personally, I refuse to be despondent about our chances of making it to the finals yet. It looks like we will finish second in the group and, given our very good record against the Dutch, it is not impossible we could yet finish first. Although the latter outcome would require a big improvement in form.

Let's hope we get some sign of that form emerging on Wednesday night. I'm sure we would all be delighted with a similar performance to the one we saw on Saturday.

Friday, 14 November 2008

First Minister, Last Call

Has Alex Salmond pulled off his greatest masterstroke yet?

If anyone doesn't know what I'm talking about, Scotland's First Minister appeared on BBC Scotland's Children in Need tonight in the form of a homage to Rikki Fulton's much loved Rev I M Jolly. He gave a performance of humour and self-deprecation in aid of the cause.

In a week when Gordon Brown demonstrated his total inability to empathise, Mr Salmond reminded Scotland that leadership is not just about executing a rescue package perfectly scripted by mandarins it is also about humanity and the common touch.

The tradition of Scots leaders is that they are first among equals and, based on tonight's evidence, it is one tradition that Mr Salmond understands and intends to honour.

So, three cheers for Eck - although perhaps that dog-collar wasn't the most flattering of accessories!!!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

God Save Us From Devine's Intervention

Word reaches me that serial self-publicist Jim Devine MP is planning a stunt.

West Lothian has suffered a number of job losses recently and more are on the cards thanks to HBOS/LTSB and Cable & Wireless' acquisition of Thus. The latest high profile casualty is GemFire, a US owned semi-conductor facility, in Livingston.

It seems that, no doubt due to the current economic climate, GemFire has had an investor pull the plug unexpectedly resulting in the closure of the Livingston plant and the lay off of 150 or so employees. However, it also seems that GemFire are determined to find alternative investment to re-open the plant as soon as possible. Hopefully, the local council and Scottish Government are doing whatever they can to help them and I wish them well in their quest.

Mr Devine has decided that the best thing to do is to hold a protest meeting at the gates of the plant this Friday. It's not clear what he will be protesting about. What exactly would Mr Devine have done in the same position? Perhaps he would have just kept everybody working but just not paid them at the end of the month. Maybe he would just not have lost his investor in the first place. It must seem so simple from the Labour backbenches with the Master of the Universe leading them all into the brave new era of responsibility.

Given that there will be nobody inside to see or hear the protest, given that this type of action will result in any potential investors running a mile, it would seem that the only purpose such an event will serve is to generate publicity for an MP who is struggling to appear relevant to his constituents. To hell with the fact that he is putting the resurrection of this valuable local employer at risk, it'll be worth it to get his mugshot splashed across at least the local press.

Mr Devine has a track record of milking campaigns for publicity and then dropping them like a stone. Farepak victims will know what I'm talking about. Not one penny has been paid back to these people and, now that there is no political capital to be made out of it, what is Jim doing about it?

His approach is cheap and irresponsible but typical of the second raters who 'represent' us at Westminster.

I'm sorry to say that the despicable show at today's PMQs only serves to confirm my view of the quality of your average MP.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

How Many More Baby P's?

It's late but while I've been working away on my laptop tonight, I've seen snippets of BBC News, Sky News and Newsnight. All were leading on the tragic tale of Baby P, a 17 month old boy murdered by his parents after enduring a short life of merciless torture.

This poor little mite had been on the Child Protection Register for around half his tormented life but was let down time and time again by supposedly trained professionals.

By far the worst instance seems to have been the GP who, 2 days before Baby P's death, did not detect that he was suffering from fractured ribs and a broken back. How is that even imaginable never mind possible?

His mother was given the benefit of the doubt time and time again despite being arrested twice for neglect. Over and over, Social Workers failed to spot injuries, apparently, in once case, because Baby P had been smeared with chocolate.

I am so angry about this. What is the point of having all these highly paid professionals if they can't protect these most vulnerable of people? Why is nobody losing their job over this? Shouldn't that GP be summarily struck off?

My suspicion is that these professionals are prevented from acting on instinct because of a combination of political correctness and fear of reprisals, formal or otherwise. They find themselves protecting themselves rather than their clients because the rights of offenders seem to be more important than the rights of victims in many cases.

Our criminal justice and social services systems are failing the very people they have been put in place to serve. It's time for a radical rethink - for the sake of all the Baby P's out there.

Raising the Self Interest Rate

Events aren't half moving fast these days. The LTSB / HBOS merger, whose approval looked nothing more than a formality barely a few days ago, is now starting to creek under scrutiny.

First we have the George and Peter letter, now being backed up by an 'online petition' to gather support amongst HBOS shareholders. Then the Bank of China seem to be interested in funding an alternative bid. And to top it all the Financial Times editorial ridicules the merger plans as hasty and against the public interest.

This final phrase is key, for it was the venerable Lord Mandelson who decided to wave aside regulatory concerns because the merger was in the public interest. Perhaps the Business Secretary would like to explain how the loss of thousands of jobs and the reduction in choice for savers and borrowers alike can possibly be in the public interest.

May I venture an explanation? For 'public' read 'HBOS board members, LTSB board members and Institutional Investors'. HBOS board members get a nice fat pay off as a reward for their incompetence, LTSB board members move a step closer to earning juicy bonuses as a result of growing their business dramatically and Institutional Investors will see their HBOS shares bought for an inflated price (versus the market value) and their LTSB shares rocket in value as the efficiency programme strips cost out of the business.

Who loses out of this? HBOS employees (especially), potential HBOS savers and potential HBOS borrowers. Or let's use a useful collective noun for these people - taxpayers. That's right folks - Brown, Darling and Mandelson think it is right to use the taxes that HBOS employees are paying them to force them out of a job. It is simply disgraceful.

If these guys are serious about entering an age of responsibility it's about time they acted in the public interest on this matter rather than protecting the same old vested interests their complacency has been serving over the last decade.

I urge anyone who has any influence whatever to use it to save HBOS.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Tax Cuts for Sale

It seems that anyone who aspires to take power at Westminster is now queueing up to offer tax cuts.

The LibDems have already suggested a cut of 2p on the basic rate, paid for by cuts/savings apparently.

The Tories are hinting at a range of targetted measures; VAT holidays, freeze in Council Tax (presumably with substnatial Barnett consequentials for Scotland?), cuts in payroll tax for small business. Again this would be paid for by cuts/savings.

What Labour are thinking is anyone's guess. It seems that they have not learned their lesson on trailing their intentions. Surely if this is really going to be good news, the impact would be bigger if it was just announced in all its glory. My suspicion is that they are attempting to get the biggest PR bang for their buck by drip feeding a range of modest measures.

It is difficult to see what room for maneouvre the Chancellor has. Up to his scalp in debt on our behalf, can he really suggest he extends his borrowing further? On the other hand, what savings can be made in his current spending plans? The last I heard, spending was to be increased Keynesian style to 'kick-start' the economy.

The only answer seems to be to live for the moment, take out a shiny new BoE Corporate Card and spend, spend, spend. You have to admire the sheer brass neck of a Government who claims to want to end the age of irresponsibility while selling our children, their children, their children, their children, ..., and their children down the river. Then again, this is the party that remains in love with PFI and therefore thinks nothing of massive interest payments, as long as it is not them that has to pay them.

I find myself wondering when the media in this country will start to question the actions of this Government instead of just printing their press releases. With a few honourable, but mostly obscure exceptions, we are being extremely poorly served by the lackeys of the Fourth Estate at the moment. Maybe it's just too much like hard work.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Is the Transformation Now Complete?

Scottish Politics has been turned on its head in the last two years. I believe the campaign and result in Glenrothes demonstrate that the SNP and Labour have now swapped roles in that time.

By that I mean that, in Scotland at least, the SNP are now seen as the party of Government and the Labour Party are now seen as the party of protest. More importantly, the approaches that they settled on for the Glenrothes campaign confirms that the parties see themselves in those roles too.

The SNP may have been able to win Glenrothes if it had seen the threat of the home care issue earlier and dealt with it. They didn't. Although this was a costly tactical error, the strategy of pushing the positive and aspirational message was the correct one and will stand them in good stead for the future. The SNP stood as a party of government, being judged on its record and pointing the road to a better future.

This used to be the role of Labour as the SNP used the luxury of opposition to stir up grudge and grievance against the incumbent. More often than not it didn't work but occasionally when a powerful mix of circumstances conspired, a spectacular and unexpected result was delivered.

This sounds remarkably similar to what Labour achieved and how they achieved it in Glenrothes. Under a different political narrative the same campaign would not have worked. In a different constituency the same campaign would not have worked. At a different time the same campaign would not have worked. And, ultimately, it certainly won't work at a General Election.

Labour's only purpose in Scotland now appears to be to oppose the SNP. The comments of the increasingly objectionable Jim Murphy pretty much confirms that. Incidentally, the way that man can keep a straight face when he calls Alex Salmond smug is a lesson to us all in brassneckery.

For the SNP, the challenge is to accept the Glenrothes result as a likely hazard of incumbency and resist the temptation to return to the past days of grievance politics. It must remain positive but there is a certain political naivety that needs to be addressed too.

It should have been possible for the SNP to have identified the home care issue as a likely threat at the outset. Had it done so, the selection of Peter Grant (solid candidate though he was) might not have seemed such a good idea. This may sound like hindsight but can the SNP put its collective hand on its heart and say that there was a comprehensive analysis of the political risks and threats before the candidate was selected?

My summary is that the SNP need to stick to their current strategy but try to build a bit more political maturity into their campaign planning. Labour, on the other hand, look destined to remain on the back foot, trying to exploit tactical opportunities as and when they come along in the hope that it buys enough time for them to see out the economic storm.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Back in Time for Glenrothes Result

Having been indisposed for a few days, I've missed all the blog fun relating to events across the pond. But I was back in time for the Glenrothes result which, in my view, is possibly even more fascinating than the widely predicted outcome in the States.

Congratulations to Lindsay Roy and Labour on what, by any measure, was a very impressive result. By all accounts, Labour found a chink in the SNP armour on home care charges and exploited it to the full. There are some interesting observations to be made about this.

Firstly, I don't have a lot of sympathy with the SNP cries of foul play - the bottom line is that the SNP failed to recognise the threat of the attack and did not do enough to neutralise it.

Secondly, this type of 'negative' campaign would not have been effective had Gordon Brown's stock not risen substantially recently. Rather than attribute the result directly to his handing of the (at least in part) self induced financial crisis, his efforts gave Labour the context in which they were able to get their chosen message over.

Thirdly, the SNP vote advanced - even compared to last year's Holyrood election. So this type of campaign did not really impacted the popularity of the SNP Government but it did enable Labour to build a protest coalition against the SNP.

As I suggested a few posts back, this result may not be good for the Labour Party in the long run. I had to laugh when various Labour representatives on the TV tonight were accusing the SNP of being arrogant and taking the result for granted. The margin of Labour's win could very possibly see them slip back into their usual complacent ways as they reassure themselves that the last 18 months has been a temporary blip.

I am sure that many in the SNP would have thought that polling over 13,000 votes would have been enough for them to win. And, while there will be a lot of spin pointing to an end to what the media have described as a honeymoon, the reality is that the result demonstrates that the SNP are still as popular as last year, as well organised and well placed to profit from any downturn in Labour fortunes.

Jim Sillars suggested that the result might be a reality check for the SNP. Certainly, Alex Salmond could do with being reined in a bit. He is extremely effective when fighting Scotland's corner on genuine issues of substance. But he starts looking a bit high and mighty when he starts pronouncing on matters where there is no real need. Further, the result demonstrates that the SNP is as vulnerable to a protest coalition as Labour.

For the other parties, the Tories probably got about as much as they could have expected in the circumstances. The real losers, however, were the Lib Dems who couldn't even top the 1000 vote mark.

For me, this shows that the LibDems are nothing more that a vehicle of protest and their relevance is dwindling by the day. Yes they can win where they are the only obvious challenger to Labour but where they are not, their vote simply disintegrates. Contrast this with the SNP in Dunfermline 2006 where. despite the LibDem mega-win over Labour, their share of the vote actually increased.

Beyond all the by-election hoo-hah, what remains clear is that Labour still do not have much of a positive message. If the IMF are right, and the UK descends into the worst recession of all the developed economies, it is difficult to see what Labour will be able to do to hold back the tide at a General Election when it is their record alone that is being judged by the electors.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

A New Hope?

With Iain Gray's absence to attend a funeral, Johann Lamont debuted as the lead inquisitor at FMQs this afternoon.

Her line of questioning on HBOS/LTSB was pretty dubious, I thought, and made it pretty easy for Salmond to question Brown and Darling's commitment to Scottish jobs. Asking the wrong question at the wrong time has been a bit of a Labour trademark at FMQs since the change of administration.

However, Ms Lamont's delivery was excellent. She produced a combative tone without the facial contortions of Wee Wendy and without sounding hysterical. She was passionate without losing the plot. Above all, she engaged the audience in a way Ms Alexander and Mr Gray simply haven't been able to.

I'm sure there will be other things on his mind next Thursday but I have a suspicion that the Great Eck will be happy to see Mr Gray back at his post.

As for Ms Lamont, a useful marker for next year's Labour leadership election? (All right then, the next Labour leadership election.)

You can come out from behind the sofa now...

Labour and LibDem supporters must have been cringeing as they watched tonight's Politics Now.

I know that STV productions tend to lack a certain quality but that can't be used as the excuse for the truly appalling performances by Lindsay Roy and Harry Wills. This latter day Laurel & Hardy act reminded us all why the Labour / LibDem coalition were booted out of Holyrood last year.

Although it was difficult to choose which of the two performed worse in absolute terms, Roy's performance was easily the more disappointing as his candidacy has been talked up so much by many senior Labour figures, including the PM himself.

I can't remember him deliver a single line coherently and his admission that he did not know what a Post Office Card Account was while Post Office closures all across the country is one of the biggest issues of day was a remarkable insight into how out of touch the man is with people who depend on this vital service.

Let's hope for the sake of kids in Fife that Mr Roy is a far better teacher than he is a politician.

I didn't have high expectations of Wills and his chances of victory were so negligible that even his dire performance won't have made his prospects of being the next MP Glenrothes any more distant.

The SNP's Grant and the Tory Golden Boy hardly set the heather on fire but were made to look positively presidential by the competition. I'll bet that Grant in particular can hardly believe how easy a time he had of it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Birthrights and Resident Evil

I always think that football brings out the real Scotland. There is nothing like it for stirring the passions and disarming our usually cautious approach to debate. The result is that we get to hear what people are really thinking and feeling. And, though the footballing public might not be representative of all of Scotland, it is a large part of it.

So what are we to make of the great Nacho Novo debate? Leaving aside whether he is good enough to be selected, the question is whether Novo, a Spaniard by birth, should be allowed to play for Scotland once he has qualified for his UK Passport through residency.

Unfortunately, many Scots seem to think that you can only be a Scot by an accident of birth or through a bloodline traced back to the same. I have always found that a strange point of view but it seems I am in the minority.

Why should someone who was born in Dundee but who sits on their backside all their life have greater rights to Scottishness than someone who was born in Dublin (or Derby or Dortmund or Dubrovnik) but who contributes positively to our society by working or volunteering or both. Indeed, shouldn't these incomers be afforded greater rights to Scottishness on the basis that they have actually chosen to make Scotland their home?

And to illustrate the absurdity of the debate, we now see English born Terry Butcher, effectively Scotland's Assistant National Coach, saying that obvious non-nationals representing a country would be 'absurd'. Pot and black kettles I hear you say.

For me Nationality is about how an individual defines themselves and should not be seen as a label to categorise a set of people who happen to have been born in close proximity to each other. I have known many people, friends and colleagues, born in England but who see themselves as Scottish because Scotland is the place they have chosen to live.

Our Scotland is as much the people who are here now as the the people, and their descendants, who were once born here. Surely, if we want to field a football team that is truly representative of our country, it also has to represent the tens of thousands of people who, like Novo, have chosen Scotland as their home.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Right Strategy, Wrong Tactic

It's always nice to hear someone else say what you're thinking. So thanks to Will for backing up my hunch.

I thought that Stephen and Caron were becoming a little bit hysterical about the SNP in recent postings and, like Will, I have been wondering what it is all about.

The LibDems are toiling to appear relevant. I trace this back to their strategy following their spectacular (there is no other description for it) Dunfermline by-election win. Buoyed by this win and possibly sensing that the SNP were the party struggling to appear relevant, they completely overplayed their hand in the Moray by-election.

Portraying themselves as a party poised for victory then failing to even beat the Tories (who were an extremely distant second themselves) made them look rather foolish. It's always easy to overplay the effect of these things with the public at large but, assuming the LibDems weren't being disingenuous, the disappointment of that result would be tough to recover from.

Maybe, even, the psychological effect of that result was behind the LibDems running for cover from another term in coalition last year. Mibees aye, mibees naw but back to the point...

The last thing the LibDems need in the run up to a Westminster election is a rampant SNP. Not only would this make seats such as Argyll, Gordon and Inverness immediately vulnerable but it would also seriously weaken their '3rd Party' status right across the country. I wouldn't necessarily argue that that would make the SNP likely to win other LibDem seats but it may weaken their position enough to allow either Tory or Labour candidates overtake them. There must be some real concern in some LibDem quarters that they could be reduced to two or three Scottish MPs if they can't find some way to halt the SNP advance.

So, in the run up to the Glenrothes by-election, in which they are absolute no-hopers themselves, the LibDem tactic has to be to ensure that the SNP don't win.

In itself that is fine - politics is politics after all, and all parties have to look ahead strategically and support that with tactical choices. Strategically, the LibDems are absolutely correct to try to stop the SNP in its tracks. The problem is that their tactics in support of this are way off the mark. For in concentrating their fire on a relatively popular Scottish Government while largely letting a relatively unpopular UK Government off the hook the LibDems are making themselves appear even less relevant with every passing day.

A lot has been said about the possible demise of the Labour Party in Scotland but this is too simplistic. I sense that we may see a complete re-alignment of politics in Scotland in the next few years where the Unionist / Nationalist divide becomes the major fault line and we leave the traditional and increasingly irrelevant politics of Left v Right behind.

I suspect that whatever result we get in Glenrothes, the Labour Party will lose the next General Election. However, it may be pivotal for the prospects for both the SNP and the LibDems.

Friday, 24 October 2008

McCain Had His Chips?

I've always been fascinated by the US political system. In particular, I wonder how such a sophisticated system of checks and balances can get it so horribly wrong so often.

This year's election has been one of these once in a generation elections. I don't get too hung about wanting the Democrats to win ordinarily as I don't really see too much too choose between them and the GOP on most issues, especially on defence and foreign affairs (defense) which is probably the thing that affects me most as a non-American.

The Democrats are the lesser of two evils though and, although I remain to be convinced that Obama is not just another Tony Blair, the fact that he has steered clear of raising funds from vested interests gives him a real chance to change things.

However, as we have seen in Scotland, an administration's ambition for change can be checked by past decisions and inertia and resistance amongst the civil service and other stakeholders. Change is always so much more difficult than anticipated and I wouldn't be surprised if Obama hits a brick wall should he take office.

Which is to get to the point of this post. I had seen some evidence in the last couple of weeks that although Obama's lead in the national polls was widening, his lead was shortening in the crucial swing states. But today, Ohio has moved firmly into Obama's column.

This is the most high profile movement but there are other signs that Obama's national lead is now starting to manifest itself across the board. Montana and North Dakota are on a knife edge. In some polls, Obama is leading in Indiana, North Carolina and Georgia. These are places that not even Bill Clinton could win at the height of his powers.

Save for some Act of God, it looks over for McCain and that dreadful mistake of a running mate. And, if this trend continues, we may see a despondant Republican vote stay at home and allow Obama to pick up some even more surprising states.

The Big Mo is with Obama and it could lead to the kind of rout not seen since the days of Reagan v Mondale.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A Dangerous Game

I see Gordon Brown is banging on about a GB Olympic Footie Team again.

The suggestion has caused horror at the SFA and amongst the Tartan Army for they both know that such a precedent would set in motion a chain of political manouveres within FIFA aimed at ending the independent representation of the 4 home nations.

FIFA is a very different beast to the one which existed the last time Great Britain competed in the Olympic Football tournament. The African nations now have a legitmate claim to greater representation in World Cup Finals and far greater political clout. And, following the admittance of dozens of new European members in recent years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage qualification tournaments in the context of crowded (and financially lucrative) club committments.

Collapsing 4 national teams from the UK into 1 would ease a lot of those pressures and don't think for a moment that there are many movers and shakers in FIFA that are looking for any excuse to push for this. Football is not in the same position as Rugby, Hockey or Cricket who all need as many international teams as possible to keep the sport viable globally.

Looking at the situation from the perspective of other countries, I can understand their frustrations. Why should Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - regions of England / the UK as they it - have separate representation?

The SNP are making the noises you would expect but I wonder if the threat of an end to Scotland's independent status as a footballing nation wouldn't bring its objective closer?

I've said before that Scotland needs to get its obsession with football into perspective. It would be interesting to see what would happen in an Independence Referendum if one of the issues at stake was the very future of Scotland's National Football Team.

If Brown and Seb Coe keep pushing this idea and the SNP manage to secure a Referendum for 2010 we may very well find out.

The Age of Consent?

I'm not at all convinced that the Scottish Government's plans to raise the age for off-sales to 21 will have much of an effect. However, I'm glad that the SNP supported the Government's plans at their conference becasue I think we have go to the stage where we have to try things, even if there is not much evidence to suggest they will work.

I know that Ministers point to the trials in Falkirk, West Lothian and Fife but it seems these were very focussed and rigorously enforced in a way that a national rollout never could be. That doesn't mean to say that it won't work, of course.

Some of the arguments against the proposals are disingenuous - particularly the ones about ageism and age anomolies. Society is full of similar situations already:
  • you can marry and have kids at 16 but you can't buy a drink to celebrate either until you are 18
  • you can legally have sex when you're 16 but you can't watch a porno movie until you're 18
  • you can drive a car at 17 but you can't buy one on credit until you're 18

I'm sure there are plenty more examples.

I hope the plans are allowed to proceed and we can see if they have any impact. At the end of the day we are in the hands of responsible retailers. Maybe there is an arguement for the Swedish model where off-sales are only allowed through government run outlets?

Monday, 20 October 2008

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

I'm a bit behind on this one but I think it is important enough to make a belated contribution on Christine Grahame's calls to repatriate the remains of Mary Queen of Scots.

From what I am told, Ms Grahame is an excellent and tireless local campaigner. But those of us who aren't lucky enough to have her representing us can only be left with the impression that she is either a bit of a lunatic or a serial self-publicist.

Coming hard on the heels of the Bring Back Berwick campaign, this latest episode really does plumb the depths of bad taste and pointlessness. Scot Nats like their symbols and icons but the only hairs that will stand to attention for decayed bodies, however regal they might be, are the ones in their nostrils.

I know that minority Government will keep whips and business managers busy but surely they can spare some time to persuade Grahame to stop this nonsense. It is escapades like this that give credence to the line that Scotland will get her Independence in spite of the SNP.

What are non-nationalists (as opposed to Unionists), i.e. those that the SNP must persuade to vote for Independence, to make of it all. I can't help thinking that it simply re-inforces the idea that Independence is about being insular, narrow-minded and petty.

I've looked at the results of last year's election and I think they demonstrate that Ms Grahame's approach is fundamentally flawed. After coming a close second to the LibDems in 2003, she should have romped home in Tweeddale based on the National swings. But although her vote increased, so did that of her LibDem opponent, to the extent that she was no closer to winning.

Looking elsewhere, notably in Argyll & Bute for the most comparable electoral contest, but also in places like Stirling, Falkirk West, Livingston and Edinburgh East we see the SNP winning from far less favourable positions.

My conclusion is that while Ms Grahame gained a lot of support for her tremendous local campaigning efforts she also stirred up a great deal of antipathy with her nonsense which resulted in as big an anti-Christine shift as there was a pro-SNP shift last year.

Lucky for Jeremy!!!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

He Asked For It

Today may have been the biggest test for Alex Salmond since becoming First Minister.

He may not have given his most barnstorming performance but for content it was possibly the speech of the entire conference season.

Gordon Brown must have been feeling pretty good about himself when he allowed himself the luxury of dismissing the ability of an Independent Scotland to face up to the current financial crisis. It was a bizarre outburst - why would someone basking in such unfettered positive publicity go out of his way to make such a negative point?

I can only conlcude that his instinctive urge to Nat-bash had been suppressed for so long that it was simply an uncontrollable verbal ejaculation of unadulterated release. There was nothing to be gained politically from it but he did succeed in antagonising someone who is proving to be a far superior politician.

I said in my last post that Brown and his new man in Scotland, Jim Murphy, might live to regret their ill-conceived interjections but I didn't think it would come so soon. They gave Salmond a justifiable platform to remind us all of this Labour Government's considerable failings. But more, Salmond very cleverly harnessed another two enormous issues, Iraq and Trident, where Brown is completely out of kilter with Scottish opinion to provide the context for his arguement that Brown is at least partly responsible for the impending recession. It was powerful stuff and I suspect its craft will have taken Labour by surprise.

Salmond's 'Arc of Insolvency' looks like a paragon of virtue compared to Brown's 'Isle of Irresponsibility'. Once more Brown's questionable judgement and morality is centre stage in Scottish politics - and he has no-one to blame but himself.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Time for Clarity

This financial crisis has had some strange effects. It has allowed Team GB to appear decisive. It has caused a temporary political truce - broken, incidentally, by Gordon Brown and Jim Murphy with their anti-Indpendence rhetoric rather than David Cameron and Alex Salmond. (One suspects that both the timing and content of these remarks will come back to haunt the Labour men.)

But, for me, the major effect has been a simplistic reporting of the crisis that has sought to fuse two entirely separate issues into one. We have an economic downturn, recession, depression - call it what you will - and we have a banking crisis.

Turning to the latter first of all. I'm not going to blame Gordon Brown for this directly. As has been widely reported not even FSA auditors were able to understand how the banks were selling their debt on. It is therefore not realistic to expect someone like Brown, with no economic training or industrial experience, to understand it. However, it does mean that the regulatory framework was deficient and, ultimately, the man responsible for that is the now Prime Minister.

Lets be fair. Now he knows what the problem is, he is trying to do something about it and he may even sort it. If he does, then in my book he comes out of the banking crisis even. If he doesn't fix it then he has to carry the can.

But the far bigger issue is the general economic downturn. Forget how the banks were raising the finance for a moment. For years, the US Federal Reserve and their accomplices in the leading economies of the world have been allowing consumer spending to be funded by ever increasing mortgages and remortgages. For almost as long, some of the most successful contrarian investors (Warren Buffet anyone?) have been warning that this was not sustainable in the long run. It is difficult to argue with their analysis.

So why did Alan Greenspan, Gordon Brown et al not pay any heed and put the brakes on this flood of unearned liquidity into the economy? Quite simple really - to do so would halt the much heralded period of continuous economic growth dead in its tracks.

No more boom and bust was the cry and Greenspan and Brown knew that as long as house prices kept rising, then people could continue to withdraw equity and drive growth in the economy. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that house prices were being driven higher through policy measures - lack of new house building and the raid on pensions resulting in the rapidly increasing buy to let market, for example.

Eventually, though, as the contrarians were warning, it was always going to come crashing down. Real earnings couldn't possibly keep up with runaway house prices so, eventually, nobody would be able to afford them which would inevitably result in a downward adjustment, negative equity and general misery. was always in the plan for the banks to just continue to lend as much as we needed to keep the housing bubble afloat. Surely not? But then why relax all the regulations and drastically increase the permissable lending/deposit ratios.

The economic growth of the last decade has been founded on a pipe-dream and is undisputably the root of the current economic difficulties. The simple fact is that those in charge of the US and UK economies are the architects of today's recession. That's Greenspan, Bush, Blair and Brown. Sadly for Gordon, only one of them will be in office long enough to pay the price.

I could go further and suggest that it was this fatally flawed economic strategy that forced banks into more and more 'imaginative' financial instruments to allow them to keep funding the house price boom. In that case, the roots of the banking crisis are also in this crazy economic 'plan' but the benefit of the doubt leads me to believe that the banking crisis is down to a combination of light regulation and individual and corporate greed.

In summary, Gordon Brown deserves support in his attempts to resolve the banking crisis as I believe that no Chancellor would have known to take corrective action earlier. But, he also deserves a pasting for presiding over a sustained period of irresposible consumer credit which has now driven us into a what looks like being a long and deep recession.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Labour Recovery Requires Defeat in Glenrothes

Anyone else think that the Brown / Darling bailout is a little like someone cutting your throat then trying to make amends by offering an elastoplast?

Now the deeds have been done, it seems that the long awaited scrutiny is on the way judging by tonight's Panaroma. Such programmes can never guarantee that the opinions offered by their guests are representative but the overall impression about the Dynamic Duo's action was along the lines of 'It's the bloody least they could do'.

We'll return to this theme another day, but sooner or later, Brown is going to have to explain his part in getting us into this mess. He is by no means uniquely culpable but he is culpable nonetheless.

I welcome Labour's bounce in the polls. Frankly, it is no good for anyone when the outcome of an election becomes a forgone conclusion. I suspect that Brown and Darling have got a far bigger problem on their hands with the 'real' economy however.

All this activity may fix the banking system but there is no guarantee that this is going to stimulate the increased demand our economy so badly needs. Even supposing the banks start lending to each other again, who are they going to pass these loans on to? All these folks that are losing their jobs? I don't think so. All these small businesses that are seeing their order books plummet? Try again.

Trouble is we are already in the ever-decreasing circle of recession and the only ways to stimulate demand are to increase public spending and seriously cut interest rates so that those of us who still have a job and a house have more cash to burn. Unfortunately, Brown's stewardship of the economy has left us with a ridiculous national debt and spiralling inflation. Is there any way to increase spending without tax rises? If taxes are raised won't that cancel out any benefit in cutting interest rates? Tell me it's not so Darling.

One bi-product of this flurry of activity is that Labour now think they can hang on in Glenrothes and that Brown's involvement may even be a positive. Time will tell of course but I suspect that if they do hang on it will do little to prevent their demise at the next election. On the other hand, might a defeat in Glenrothes ram home the message that sorting out the banks is one thing but the real job at hand is sorting out the economy?

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Boyd Spits Oot the Dummy

In typically Scottish fashion Kris Boyd has declared he will not play for Scotland again while George Burley is our National Coach. One has to wonder whether Kris Boyd is really thinking of what is best for his country or what is best for himself. I'd suggest that his attitude confirms that Burley was right not to play him as it speaks volumes for his commitment to Scotland.

One thing that was pretty obvious to anyone at the Norway match was that Scotland were not creating any chances. I don't care what any Rangers apologist says about Boyd's strike rate, if his team isn't creating chances he won't score (unless Mark Kerr is playing for the opposition).

So playing Boyd from the start or having him come on as a substitute was never going to help Scotland yesterday. As it turned out, Burley's double substitution had an immediate impact with big Iwelumo's presence leading to Scotland's first meaningful shot on goal within seconds of his coming on. And, if weren't for that miss, Burley would be being hailed as a master tactician today.

Burley still has to prove himself to me but the stick he is getting is completely out of order. Yes, he took too long to change the system against Norway but when he did, he showed he knows how to change a game. He also showed he is not afraid to make difficult decisions by substituting the ridiculously over-hyped McFadden when he knew it would be unpopular with the crowd.

I'm pretty certain we'll finish 2nd in this group - we may even still win it if we can turn in a couple of decent performances against the Dutch and carry the same kind of luck Walter Smith and Alex McLeish enjoyed against France in the last campaign. On the other hand, I'm not sure finishing 2nd is going to get us a play-off berth.

When all is said and done, Burley may not lead Scotland to the World Cup Finals. In the grand scheme of things what difference is that going to make to anyone's life? We'll be disappointed temporarily but nobody is going to die as a result. Scotland really needs to get its obsession with football into some kind of perspective.

Until she does there will always be elements that will sympathise with a moderately talented prima donna that throws in the towel at the first sign of difficulty rather than knuckle down and prove his critics wrong through application and hard work.

So away you go in your pathetic cream puff Kris and give us all a break from the tiresome debate about whether you should be playing for Scotland despite the fact you can't even hold down a regular first team place in a team that was humiliated by a bunch of barely competent Lithuanians.

Those of us that care about Scotland will support the manager and the team come what may.