Thursday, 22 January 2009

Pond Life Descends on Pumpherston

A quite disgraceful episode played out in the streets of Pumpherston last Sunday. (For those who don't know, Pumpherston is a small village on the eastern fringe of Livingston and which has been immortalised by the celebrity charity football team Dukla Pumpherston.)

A dinner to raise funds to help alleviate the humanitarian disaster in Gaza was held at the excellent Raj Poot restaurant that night. Sadly, the 100 or so attendees, including 20 - 30 kids, were subjected to a torrent of racist abuse and foul language from a group of 'protesters' proudly displaying the Israeli and Union flags.

I can see why suppporters of the Israeli state might want to remind people attending this event that there are two sides to this story through a peaceful presence. But there is no excuse for intimidating people who are trying to ease the suffering of fellow human beings - and what on earth was the point of the Union flag?

I suspect, and certainly hope, that a peaceful protest on the part of Israeli sympathisers was hijacked by an insidious group of BNP activists who were simply displaying their usual standard of debate and enlightenment.

I guess we'll never know for sure but it is worrying to know that an event which had no purpose other than to help innocent victims of a war, in a place with virtually no political connection to that war, can result in such a poisonous atmosphere.

If this can happen here, is there any hope that common ground can be found between the Israelis and Palestinians themselves? We can only hope that they have a higher standard of awareness and tolerance than the pond life that polluted Pumpherston at the weekend.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Forth and the Fourth Estate

A belated Happy New Year to all!!!

But it’s not been such a jolly start to 2009 for the SNP Government as they have come in for a pounding over their plans (or lack of as some would have it) for the funding of the new Forth crossing.

That this should be causing the SNP so many difficulties is curious; here we have a once in a generation, essential investment in our transport infrastructure which any normal government would finance from the public purse over a period of many years having this perfectly legitimate and sensible funding option blocked by the UK Treasury.

It should have been a PR gift for the SNP. A Labour Government who thinks nothing of borrowing tens of billions to bail out the banks and, in the process, cause the loss of thousands of Scottish jobs, and thinks nothing of squandering more tens of billions on Trident will not allow the Scottish Government to borrow a couple of billion to ensure the heart of the Scottish economy keeps beating.

It is an utterly indefensible position and the UK Government’s language confirms this. Alastair Darling lambasts the Scottish Government for ruling out PFI/PPP on ideological grounds (as if the ideology of a democratically elected Government should simply be ignored) but on the other hand justifies his rejection of the Scottish Government’s preferred option as ‘that is something we don’t do’. Quite unbelievable.

In the afterglow of their election victory in 2007 it is inconceivable that the SNP would not have made considerable bundles of hay out of this. Since then, however, a few things have changed.

Firstly, the SNP Government and its media machine are having to deal with substantial, difficult to explain issues rather than more populist, easy to present initiatives. There seems to be a lack of thought and planning in how policy and initiatives are being trailed which is leaving gaping holes for journalists and opponents to exploit. For example, it is amazing that anything Labour says on funding the crossing is treated with anything but utter contempt as, if things had been left to them, there would not even be a commitment to the crossing never mind a funding package for it.

Secondly, the media have tired of the good SNP governance story and are now ready to hold the Holyrood administration robustly to account. That is certainly no bad thing, particularly if the SNP reacts and ups it game. That is how a healthy democracy with a free press should operate; continually driving standards upwards.

What is missing is a credible opposition at Holyrood and there are still few signs of this emerging from the Labour benches. David Whitton’s appearance on Newsnight the other night was a pitiful example. Yes, Mr Whitton was very eloquent in spinning the line that had been handed down from the UK Labour Government but he had no answer when he was asked how Labour would fund the crossing. That is not going to be good enough when Scotland is choosing its next Government and it begs the question whether Iain Gray and his team have anything to add to the debate themselves or whether they have now been firmly put in their place as Murphy’s Mouthpiece at Holyrood.

With the LibDems still struggling to make themselves relevant (and appearing increasingly desperate with their unfunded tax cut proposals) in addition to Labour’s ineptitude and the SNP’s seemingly endless list of challenges, there is a huge opportunity for the Tories to advance at the expense of all the other parties.

I wonder if Thatcher’s legacy has worn off sufficiently to allow 2009 to be the year of the great Tory revival in Scotland?