Saturday, 29 March 2008

Local democracy, the Labour Party way

Just caught a wee bit of Labour's Scottish conference. Doesn't take much thinking to work out, I wasn't really that impressed.

I saw an interview with Des McNulty MSP and Councillor Lesley Hinds, former Provost of the City of Edinburgh Council, in which they consistently set out Labour's opposition to the SNP.

What I found interesting about that interview was that, on the one hand, Des McNulty, was emphasising that, while Labour councillors were still not happy with the parliamentary group for putting through STV for local government elections, the new system was more democratic.

At the same time, Cllr Hinds was making the point that, with the historic concordat, councillors were afforded more leeway in terms of decision-making - although she hadn't seen any of it, being that she was in opposition. So rather than being happy that council colleagues have been allowed more decision-making ability on the basis of the reduction in ring-fencing, she argued that more, not less, direction was coming from the centre.

So, from that interview, I got that Labour support more democracy in local government but also don't support more democracy in local government.

Labour MSPs are mad at Pat Watters for agreeing to the concordat which brought more democracy to local government, yet they passed a system of PR for local government - which also brought more democracy to local government.

Labour councillors are mad at their MSPs for accepting STV as a voting system for local government (which cut their representation dramatically) that brought democracy to local government, but are more than happy - despite the picture Lesley Hinds painted - with the concordat.

So there we go, Labour's position on local government.

Clear as mud.


Friday, 28 March 2008

She's a perfect 10... but she wears a 12.

For someone who constantly has a go at the First Minister for being smug, I had to laugh Wendy Alexander's comments today about her time as leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament.

Asked by Brian Taylor during a webcast from Labour's Scottish Conference at Aviemore to mark herself out of 10 for her performance as leader since her unopposed election in September.

Her response:

"Rising all the time, I think is the answer. Ten out of ten, ten out of ten."

Because when (not just one, it has to be said) Sunday newspapers have been calling for you to quit you are clearly performing well as leader. Maybe she is right. After all, hot air rises...


Thursday, 27 March 2008

Orienteering for beginners

One was tickled by a Prime Ministerial "faux pas" at the state banquet to receive French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Windsor Castle.

Apparently our esteemed PM got lost on the way to his seat at the dinner table.

Seems a bit of a boob for poor old Gordon.

Maybe rather than making a grab for the left as Sarkozy did (above) he now just feels a right tit...


Wednesday, 26 March 2008

English Broadcasting Company

One other thing that irritated me somewhat at the weekend.

The BBC once again has the broadcasting rights to Formula 1 motor racing. From 2009 we can again watch uninterrupted (by adverts) coverage of cars whizzing round circuits around the globe without ever finding a way to pass the car in front. At a cost of £200m.

Now I should say I have nothing against Formula 1 - and I can't wait to hear Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" as the theme tune again - and indeed, I used to watch it religiously in the 1990s when there were real battles between Michael Schumacher & Damon Hill. But now it is as fun as watching paint dry or worse - watching the Labour party conference (which the Beeb also has the rights to - though probably not at the same cost...).

But the thing that really annoys me about this is not the fact that nobody really overtakes in F1 anymore. It is the fact that, just a couple of months ago when Setanta bought the rights to all of Scotland's 2010 World Cup Qualifiers at a cost of £3m, the BBC said it couldn't afford to bid for those games. At one sixty-sixth the cost that they have shelled out for Formula 1, the BBC could have satisfied their Scottish sporting fans. Instead they've bought into a sport which no one watches any more.

It is tremendously sad that only those who pay extra for Setanta will now be able to watch Scotland's journey to South Africa, and, hopefully, more golden moments like James McFadden's wonder goal (pictured above) against France in Paris. It is also tremendously frustrating that the BBC has turned its back on Scotland's national sport and that those of us north of the border who have forked out on an ever-increasing TV licence will instead have to make do with Lewis Hamilton's quest for a world title in passing people in the pits.


Henry in hot water

Just a quick post on the former First Minister's comments which seem to have gotten him in hot water within his own party.

Just to be clear, Henry McLeish has welcomed the Scottish Government's National Conversation as an "open debate" on Scotland's constitutional future.

He has not (yet) come round to the idea of Scottish independence, nor is he promoting that as the way forward for Scotland. He simply stated that he believed that the Scottish Government's National Conversation was, in his words, an "open debate" on the future of Scotland.

While the National Conversation has left open a number of constitutional options for the future, the Lab/Con/Lib Dem commission/working group/review has already closed the door to their least favoured option - independence.

Now, far be it for me to say, but hasn't Henry McLeish merely stated the truth? That the National Conversation is exactly that - an open discussion with the nation over where they want to see Scotland go in the future. He hasn't even given his view on it. So for him to be vilified in some quarters for his comments doesn't make much sense to me.

The man is using his democratic right to freedom of speech to welcome the opportunity for others across the country to use their democratic right to freedom of speech. A democratic right which, according to the unionist parties, should not be afforded to the rest of Scotland in a referendum on independence.


Saturday, 22 March 2008

Belgian Waffle

This is just a quick post for those who are perhaps not that happy with the concept of minority Government which has been in existence in Scotland since last May's election. It seems our continental friends in Belgium have finally found a way out of the deadlock which ensued after their election on 10 June 2007 (which North to Leith has covered in detail here). A government was finally formed on Thursday (20 March), a full 9 months after the election itself. Complicated not only by partisan differences but divided into linguistic communities, the 284-day negotiations over a new government were finally over when Yves Leterme was sworn in as Belgium's new Prime Minister.

One of the main issues which still divides the government is how much autonomy to give to the regions, with a disproportionate amount set to be handed to Dutch-speaking Flanders. The new PM Leterme is a Flemish Christian Democrat is in favour of more devolved powers and has threatened to quit by July if his constitutional reforms are voted down. However, with his reforms are likely to hit French-speaking Wallonia, with its high-unemployment & slow economy, harder than his home region of Flanders.

An interesting problem for the state which is home to the European Parliament. For is it a nation-state, or a state split into two nations? What will be the case in the future if Leterme's reforms are passed? Will Belgium split into Flanders and Wallonia - which, to all intents and purposes, it is already?

Feeding into the linguistic dimension of the "Belgian problem" is the fact that Flanders is, on the whole, much wealthier, with less unemployment and a higher growth rate than its French-speaking regional neighbour Wallonia. Within the context of a nation-state, to what extent does one region have a moral obligation to "look after" its economically weaker neighbour? Wouldn't the larger, more economically advanced region start to resent subsidising its "free-riding" neighbour?

It is true that we now live in an international community, where what goes on in one state/ country/ region/ community has some bearing on what goes on in another. But organisation of political affairs needs to take the most appropriate form, and if that means dividing nation-states further into regional-nation-states then that is the course of action which should be undertaken.


Friday, 21 March 2008


Now because I'm a geek, I was rather excited by a poll that was published last week (and this is the first opportunity I've had to look at it properly!). Qualifying that it was an MRUK poll - who before May's election last year had Labour winning handsomely - there is still probably something to be said about it. Again, as I'm a geek, I put the figures into graphs for ease of reading (and some colour).

The constituency vote would see the SNP up 6%, Lab down 1% Con down 2% and LD down 4% from May 2007.

Regional list vote has SNP up 9%, Lab up 1%, Con down 1%, LD n/c and Others down 10% from election.

And with the dodgy assumptions that Douglas Fraser alludes to here, this would translate into a seat gain of 10 for the SNP, and losses of 2 (Lab), 1 (Con) and 4 (LD) from 2007.

Of course, polls really don't mean that much at this point in time (with the next election to the Scottish Parliament still over 3 years away). Equally, they still don't make much sense. With Labour making such a mess of things and the SNP still enjoying an extended honeymoon period in government, the expected swing
in polls like this would be from Lab to the SNP.

That's not what we're seeing from this, with Lab breaking even over the 2 votes but the SNP up a net 15% over the 2 votes. Where is this coming from? Well, mostly a shift from LD to SNP on the first vote while the smaller parties are squeezed by 10% on the list vote. Which, as a follow on from the election result - with voters becoming more in tune with the electoral system and how to use their vote in what effectively became a SNP v Lab battle - does make a measure of sense. Labour are not losing out too much of their traditional voters to the SNP despite their troubles, but the SNP are gaining a substantial lead by appealing to traditional LD or "others" voters who are seeing them lead Scotland well.

Interesting stuff I guess, but as I said, what can you really read into it at the moment?

(EDIT - Apologies for the poor quality of the graphs - I'm still working on how to upload better quality pictures etc.)


Wednesday, 19 March 2008


I haven't had time to blog much over the last week - work and life keeps getting in the way. But I read elsewhere in blogland (Scottish Tory Boy and SNP Tactical Voting) about the possibility of some "subtle collusion" between the SNP & the Tories in the event that the Conservatives beat Labour in the next Westminster election, but fail to win a majority.

Ummm... run that past me again?

Granted, I'm too young (honest!) to remember the dark Thatcher years, Maggie stealing our milk, the poll tax, 1979 referendum etc. But I know that if you made a suggestion to someone in Scotland that they vote Tory, they'd either laugh at you or hit you.

I do remember, in the infancy of the Scottish Parliament debating at university what the best route forward for the SNP's quest for independence was - and, inevitably, the idea of the "hated" Tories leading the UK at Westminster was mooted as the most favourable condition. The argument went that it didn't matter that it was a Lab-led Executive at the time, the mere idea that the arch-unionist (and, still seen to be, anti-Scottish) Tories were in power would mean endless conflict. People would see Westminster as holding Scotland back, Labour would start to believe that they could run Scotland better without the Tories at Westminster telling them what to do and before you knew it... an independent Scotland.

But now? We have the SNP in Government in Scotland, the Tories supporting their budget, all three Unionist parties (claiming they are) supporting more powers for the Scottish Parliament, Labour paralysed by dodgy donation scandals and well down in polls... and the Tories primed to win back power after more than 10 years in opposition.

So... where does that leave relations vis-a-vis the Scottish Government & Westminster and, perhaps more importantly (if the Lib Dems continues to advance backwards) relations between the SNP & the Tories?

Well, given the "constructive engagement" that Annabel Goldie & the Scottish Tories have stuck to since the election, I can see the Tories improving their strength in Scotland as a party that provides meaningful opposition in the Scottish Parliament. However, Scotland still remembers the poll tax and Thatcher, and is still unwilling to forgive the Tories for that. And while they remain unpopular on those lines, it would not be in the interests of Scottish nationalism to join forces with what many in Scottish society still see as the forces of darkness.

However, the prospect of a Conservative UK Government is a real possibility, thus the prospect of "subtle collusion" is too. I think it would depend on what Scotland would get out of it - if it were based on the model that the CiU (Catalan separatists) have with the main parties in Spain.

Of course, as Jeff at Tactical Voting points out, there is the small matter of the clause in the SNP constitution which prohibits their working directly with the Tories in national government (they removed the local government clause last year after the STV council elections). I'd suggest looking closely at that to see if it actually precludes action of this sort, or merely indicates a feeling on the matter in the party.

I have to say at this time, I'm open to any idea that benefits Scotland. I don't think Scotland has had any particular benefit from having Scots (Brown/ Darling/ Browne/ Liddell/ Reid) in the Cabinet under Labour. And given that the Tories are rather thin on Scottish MPs it might make no difference. Thus, if the Tories could show a willingness to give something to Scotland, I could see the SNP backing them. Independence would suffice...

Ah, we live indeed in interesting times...


Tuesday, 11 March 2008

You can stick your oath...

So Lord Goldsmith wants all schoolkids to swear an oath of allegiance to "Queen and country", tax rebates for those who volunteer in the community and a public holiday to celebrate "Britishness" and foster "national pride."

At the risk of a lifetime prison spell, let me say this: Lord Goldsmith, your plans are idiotic.

There are so many holes in his proposals that I'm finding it difficult to find somewhere to start. To begin with, which "nation" is he talking about? The UK? Britain? Scotland? Or does this only apply to the commonly-mistaken-for-Britain: England? And while he wants an allegiance to the Queen, what of republicans? Especially those in Northern Ireland, for whom such a pledge could spark a renewal of anti-British hostility.

Now before anyone starts banging on that I'm being unpatriotic or partisan, let me say this. I understand the value of nationhood - possibly more than most, being a nationalist and all. And I do see some good in American-style ceremonies - they foster a sense of belonging and allegiance to a nation. But that allegiance is to a nation, and not to a figurehead whose role is undemocratic and hereditary.

I'm not alone in this either. Government figures in Scotland and Wales are against the proposals, as well as Labour peer Baroness Kennedy who calls the whole idea "rather silly."

Now I guess I am (in our sense of the word, not the American) a bit of a republican so I'm not that keen on the notion that, were I finishing school now, I'd have to swear allegiance to the Queen. And I'm even less keen on the suggestion that Lord Goldsmith sees no reason why a republican would have a problem with swearing such an oath.

So... these proposals will end up along with all of Gordon Brown's other hair-brained "British" ideas - somewhere near a landfill site.


Thursday, 6 March 2008

FMQs - 6 March 2008

On what has generally been regarded – by parly staff and journos alike – as another poor session at FMQs, I would like to try and be a wee bit more positive, on account of my pledge to be less partisan and more informed. So here goes.

Nicol Stephen had what I think was his best session at FMQs – possibly ever, but certainly in to my memory. He had a decent issue. He ditched the “Mr Angry” and made it a wee bit funny. But most importantly, he actually landed a punch on the First Minister. The FM managed to ride it, point out the abolition of the graduate endowment as a starting point etc, and then attacked the Lib Dems for being… indecisive. Now, as regular readers of this blog will know, I am not a fan of Nicol Stephen, his leadership or his increasingly irrelevant party. But… his was a much improved performance today, and, given the headlines earlier in the week about Gordon Brown’s secret meetings with Menzies Campbell to overrule Nicol’s leadership and keep the SNP out of power, he must end the week happier than he began it.

Annabel Goldie was not quite as good as she usually is. While using the issue of Local Income Tax, dubbing it the “Scottish National Income Tax”, she attacked on the issue that it, if the government get their way, will be set centrally. But given that Labour led on this issue last week, and the Lib Dems came over all consensus-like on the issue at their conference at the weekend, Annabel’s line looked like the Tories had come late to the party. And the FM’s answer was right – stating, quite simply, that what is wrong with the current system is that it does not take account of an individual’s ability to pay.

And so we come to Wendy. Where to start? It certainly was not her finest outing, that’s for sure. It is almost as if Simon Pia has left already, as after one week where she was marginally better, Wendy has returned to asking a question and getting an answer, then asking the same question again. Still, at least she didn’t mess up her lines like the other week (“defence is the FM’s form of attack” anyone?). Say something positive? Well… at least she’ll be buoyed by the news that she is not to be prosecuted for failing to register her donations to the Scottish Parliament. Just as well… prison grey probably wouldn’t suit her.

I think I’ll have to revise my pledge. I promise that I will be more positive… when I’m given the material to work with.


Wednesday, 5 March 2008

No referendum... no surprise

A final quick post for today.

MPs voted this evening - by a margin of 331 to 248 - against holding a referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty. This is despite all three of the main parties at Westminster campaigning on the promise to hold a referendum on the new EU constitution - the failed treaty that Lisbon Treaty replaces.

It is a sad but unsurprising finish to the six-hour debate on the Treaty in the Commons, and again it is the splits within parties which dominates the headlines rather than the lack of support for a referendum.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg had told his colleagues to abstain, but no fewer than 13 broke ranks - including 3 frontbench spokesmen who all resigned - to support a referendum.

I should point out that I don't really care either way. But as I said before, I think it is an inconsistent position to argue for a referendum on continued membership of a union that you agree with (ie, the EU) but disagree with holding a referendum on continued membership of a union that you also agree with (the UK). And that, for me, becomes all the more surprising given current polling which suggests that the UK may actually vote to remove itself from the EU but that Scots might vote to stay in the union with England.

So there you have it... an incomprehensible position.

One more thing. I was recently told that blogs in general, and mine in particular, are "a bit ill-informed and partisan." Needless to say that the holder of such an opinion was not only a member of the Labour party, but works for an MP as well.

I have to say I'm unsurprised on both counts. I don't think I'm that partisan - I say what I think, and, quite frankly, a lot of what I'm saying is being said by others in other parties and none. And I take a bit of offence at being told I'm ill-informed. The most ill-informed people about Scottish politics are Labour MPs - and, it seems, their staff.

However, just to make nice with the guy - and he has a hard life, he's a Falkirk fan - I'll pledge this: I will try to be more informed and less partisan. If I do that, can I be the next Labour spin-doctor?


Farewell Mr No...

And so, at the ripe age of 81, the Rev Ian Paisley has decided to step down as First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Not one to shy away from controversy, Paisley constantly told anyone that would listen that there would be "No Surrender" to the IRA. During his time as a triple-mandate (MLA, MP, MEP) denounced then Pope John Paul II as the Antichrist when he was addressing the European Parliament in 1988. But perhaps what he will be remembered for is not the multiple occasions he said no, but the one time he said yes.

I blogged last week on the extraordinary relationship between him and Sinn Fein Deputy FM Martin McGuinness. For Ian Paisley, entering into a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein was something he'd vowed never to do, and now that he has, Northern Ireland is better for it.

I hope that this, rather than his obstructionist tendencies, that his political life is remembered for.


John McCain versus who?

For a change I'm spoilt for choice over things to blog on, so I'll start in America.

Two big stories after a night of massive primary results: John McCain securing the Republican nomination (with thoughts now turning to his search for a VP candidate) and Hillary Clinton securing wins in Ohio & Texas which keep alive her hopes of winning the Democratic nomination.

Starting with the uncertainty over the Democratic race, there is still a lot to play for. Despite Clinton's wins in Ohio & Texas, she still trails Obama in the delegate count. Even so, she's the one talking about a "super-ticket" with her at the top. I can't see Obama becoming her VP candidate though - she's attacked him way too much for that. And with the next meaningful contest (the Pennsylvania primary, with 158 delegates up for grabs) still 7 weeks away, we can expect more of the same emphasis of the differences between the candidates.

Meanwhile (as I predicted here) the fact that John McCain has already secured the Republican nomination means he can look more and more Presidential while Clinton & Obama continue to squabble over who has the right to be the "first". McCain has now started to look at VP candidates - with Tom Pawlenty (Minnesota Governor) near the top of the list alongside former rival Mike Huckabee.

One quick qualification. As West Wing fans will no doubt point out, this is looking eerily like the final season of the popular tv series, with the Republicans uniting behind a moderate conservative while the Democrats squabbled up until the convention - eventually selecting another "first", in this case, a Latino candidate. WW fans will point out that the Dems ended up winning that race. However, as a geek who knows more than he should about that tv show, I would point out in return that it was only upon the untimely death of actor John Spencer (who played Dem VP candidate Leo McGarry) that the writers decided to let the Dems win the race for the White House. Up until that point, the Republican candidate was set to win the poll but the writers felt that they needed a "happier" ending to the series

Of course that was only a tv show...


Monday, 3 March 2008

On the other side of the world

It's maybe a reflection of how quiet things are here at the moment that I'm choosing to blog on news on the opposite side of the world, but these issues have dimensions which affect us all.

Forgetting about the US Presidential election for a moment, there is other news from the Americas which may impact us all the way over here. It seems that Colombian troops have killed Raul Reyes, the second in command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). All very good you say, FARC is a terrorist organisation (at least according to the Colombian government, the US, Canada and the EU), they've killed many people in Colombia over a fifty year low-intensity armed conflict with the government, and they're generally bad people.

Well... yes. I mean, subject to caveats (not everyone likes the term "terrorist" for a start - as it is overused and meaningless now) you'd be right in thinking that a hit on the "bad guys" is good for democracy, and striking at the head of the organisation will undoubtedly weaken it thereby slowing their war effort - its good military strategy.

But, the death of Reyes, occurring as it did in Ecuador, raises more questions. Not only has Venezuela's outspoken President Chavez denounced the attack, but both Venezuela and Ecuador expelled Colombian diplomats from their embassies, recalled their own dignitaries from Colombia and have moved significant numbers of troops to their borders with Colombia, thereby increasing tensions in an already politically sensitive area.

And why is this relevant to here?

The Colombian militia's actions - a cross border raid to attack an outpost base of domestic terrorists - was done without the consent of the Ecuadorian President. This emphasises the extent to which nations are now willing to trample over national sovereignty to deal with transnational issues like terrorism. We saw it with the US & non-UN sanctioned action in Iraq. We've seen Israel take steps to protect itself from acts of terror from civilians & military personnel in neighbouring Lebanon. And now Colombia has taken action against guerilla leaders when they've been residing outwith their national borders.

Its a worrying development. And it begs the question - is there such a thing as international law any more?


Sunday, 2 March 2008

"The Audacity of Hope"

Going back to the US Presidential election - and given that I've been mocked by some in blogland for backing John McCain - I thought I'd share with you an experience I had on Sunday.

I caught 5 minutes of Barack Obama giving a campaign speech in Dayton, Ohio. He was talking about his favourite subject - hope. His hopes that he can bring Americans together. His hopes to secure some republican supporters' votes in November. His hopes to be President. And I have an admission to make.

I was impressed.

He is an eloquent speaker - something which could not be said for the outgoing President. He takes the attacks from within his own party well and dismisses them with the same contempt that they are thrown at him. He inspires. And even if he does not win the democratic candidacy or, more likely, wins the candidacy but loses the general election to John McCain, he will have a legacy which is much more positive than that of the incumbent President. For he has shown that from his background, from being born into a single - teenage - parent, not particularly wealthy family you can get to where he is currently, close to the Presidency of the United States.

It is what hopes and dreams are made of. And I am impressed. But for all the talk of change, I think continuity is also required. And experience. And that is something which, in four or eight years, Barack Obama will have in spades. But not yet.

But I am impressed. And I won't be disappointed if he does become the next US President.

[edit] Also, I was just reading a rather good
blog entry by Jeff at Tactical Voting on Barack Obama, and found this video of him dancing on the Ellen show in the US. Good to know that if he doesn't win the race for the White House, there's always a job for him in showbusiness (or as a university rector..).


The Future of Liberal Democracy...

Having savaged Stephen Nicol for being... well, rubbish, I thought I better offer some hope for his future. Former UK party leader (that is, before they kicked him out for having a bit of character) Charles Kennedy was this week elected rector of Glasgow University. He joins another former party leader (who was kicked out for having a bit of... age) Sir Menzies Campbell as a rector [edit - not rector, Chancellor - which I should've known having sat through a grad ceremony last year!, thanks to ASWAS for that] of one of Scotland's old universities - he's at St Andrews.

So is there a future for the most bland man in Scottish politics in this sphere? Time will only tell...



Feel free to get in touch with me if you have an issue with something you've read here... or if you simply want to debate some more! You can email me at:

baldy_malc - AT - hotmail - DOT - com

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This blog is my own personal opinion (unless otherwise stated) and does not necessarily reflect the views of any other organisation (political or otherwise) that I am a member of or affiliated to.
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