Thursday, 31 January 2008

Waiting Lists at FMQs

Well well...

Just when it seemed like Nicol Stephen may have shed his robot-like performance and actually landed a punch on the First Minister for, well, the first time ever, he goes and shoots himself in the foot.

It appears that the Lib Dems leader has fibbed again. You see, he raised, quite legitimately the case of a woman who had been removed from a waiting list to reduce the numbers on the lists.

But what he omitted to mention - and removed from the letter when released to the press - was the date of the letter. This date was the 21st of December which, as my good friend Scottish Tory Boy points out is BEFORE the SNP began to enforce the waiting list targets they've put in place to improve waiting times.

Thus, this patient's removal from the list was not as a result of the SNP's policy, but of the policy of the previous administration - the previous Labour & Lib Dem executive.

Now I'm sure the Lib Dem leader didn't mean to "intentionally" mislead Parliament by blaming the First Minister for something that he was partly responsible for. But he remains culpable for his actions.

Read more...

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Florida

Two massive pieces of news in the wake of the Florida primaries - the bowing out of the Democratic race of John Edwards and the pending Rudy Giuliani announcement that he will do the same.

I'll get to them in a moment, but first let me comment on the result.

With the Democratic race rendered meaningless by the disallowing of delegates to the Convention (Hillary won this non-race) it fell to the Republican race to deliver the headlines. And it did.

John McCain won the primary, narrowly, from Mitt Romney. But it didn't matter how narrow the margin was, as his victory was both symbolic and substantial. Symbolically, it was a chance for McCain to prove he could win the Republican vote in the south - and in a state with a large number of delegates. Substantially, because of Florida's winner take all system, McCain swept all 57 of the state's delegates, giving him a large-ish lead (93-59-40) from Romney & Huckabee going into Super Tuesday.

But that was overshadowed by how badly Rudy Giuliani performed. Pinning his hopes on Florida after skipping the early states, Giuliani has blown what was a double-digit lead as the Republican front-runner last year and now looks set to exit the race - and endorse his friend John McCain. Embarrassing times indeed for the man dubbed "America's Mayor."

John Edwards announcement that he will no longer contest the Democratic primary - a race in which he has been squeezed out of from day one by the two "firsts" Hillary & Barack - is unsurprising. What is unfortunate is that he is a man that had the potential to be the candidate that the Democrats could win with. Now the fate of the party lies with whether they think America is ready for a female or black male President.


John McCain must be smiling in his sleep.

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Friday, 25 January 2008

Happy Burns Night!

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Read more...

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Hanging on...

The news from Westminster is not good for the Labour party in Scotland (which is not Scottish Labour – and I won’t call them that). It seems that their esteemed Secretary for Work and Pensions (and Secretary of State for Wales) has – FINALLY – decided to resign from the cabinet in order to “clear his name” regarding the £103,000 of undeclared donations to his campaign to become deputy leader of the Labour party.

There are – as Nick Robinson points out – clear differences between the case of Peter Hain (over £100,000 ) Harriet Harman (£5000 from a proxy donor) and Wendy Alexander (£950 from someone who was not a permissible donor).

But I’ve spotted another difference.

Peter Hain clung on as long as he could (and claimed he was “too busy” to lodge the donation) but resigned when the police got involved.

Harriet Harman is still there, guilty more of insufficient checks on donations.

But Wendy? Well, the Electoral Commission will report back next week. But having already admitted that she committed a crime – albeit unintentionally, which doesn’t make it any less of a crime – and with the police also investigating her, her future as leader of the Labour party in Scotland, and indeed, as an MSP, must be in doubt.


That, plus the fact that there is no one - apart from maybe Nicol Stephen - who could do worse than her at FMQs...

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It's a budget!

So… we have the beginnings of a Budget. Great stuff from the SNP group at Holyrood, particularly John Swinney on the budget itself, Brian Adam as the Chief Whip and Bruce Crawford on… well, everything behind the scenes really.

The vote was close – it was always going to be close with the parliamentary maths – but with the support of the Tories (who did not ask for much) and Margo thanks to capital city funding for Edinburgh, and the abstention from the Greens – did enough to secure a 64-62 split in favour of the proposals.

The budget will now go forward to stage 2 before returning – with only government amendments for a final, stage 3, debate in the chamber in early February.

So was it close? Yes. Did I worry a wee bit even when the voting was taking place? Yes, I’ll admit that. But seeing Bruce look relaxed (for the first time in months) was a bit of an indication that the numbers were there.

And at the end of the day, that’s all that was needed. A confirmation that the Government’s agenda for the next 3 years could be accepted in principle by the Parliament. Narrowly or resoundingly – a win is a win. And this was one of the most important wins yet.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Thompson drops out

Just a quick blog tonight on the news that former senator Fred Thompson has dropped out of the race to become the Republican nominee for President. While it reduces the Republican field to 6, its still a wide open race. Three of the candidates (Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and John McCain) have won the first six contests, while Rudy Giuliani has held back funds for the Florida contest next week.

*Since I wrote this, I've discovered that Duncan Hunter has dropped out of the race too, leaving the Republicans - like the Democrats - with 5 candidates remaining.*

Meanwhile, there is news that Mike Huckabee is struggling to continue to fund his campaign and may pull out of Florida prior to the contest. It may be that, barring a miracle comeback in that contest - where he trails by a large margin in polls to Romney & Giuliani - we may see Huckabee pull out of the race after the Florida contest.

He would look like a strong candidate for a Vice Presidential slot on the Republican ballot, appealing to the conservative and religious elements of Republican support in the south, and may want to pull out now to avoid damaging his chances with the other future Presidential candidates.

You heard it here first!

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Monday, 21 January 2008

The Republican Primaries

I blogged on the Democratic race yesterday, so here's how the Republican race is shaping up.

To win the Republican Party’s nomination for to run for President, a candidate must receive a simple majority (1,191) of the party’s 2,380 delegates to its National Convention.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) allocates delegates to the 50 US States as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the United States Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Delegates are awarded to states in the following manner:

3 for each congressional district
10 additional delegates for the state (regardless of population)
3 party delegates (2 RNC delegates and the chairman of the state-level Rep party)

States also get bonus delegates for:

having Republican Senators/ Governors of the state
sending a majority of Republican Representatives to Congress
maintaining partial/ total Republican control of he state
casting a majority of their 2004 electoral vote for George W. Bush

With no mandate to use a proportional system of allocating delegates to candidates depending on their vote level, some states give all their delegates to the winner in the state or congressional district while others do use a proportional system.

In similar fashion to the Democratic race, the Republican Party punished states for bringing forward their primaries before Super Tuesday. It did not punish Iowa (3 Jan) or Wyoming (5 Jan – convention) as their delegates will not be chosen prior to 5 Feb. New Hampshire (8 Jan), Michigan (15 Jan), South Carolina (19 Jan) and Florida (29 Jan) have been punished by halving their delegation to the Convention.

Some 21 states go to the polls on 5 Feb, with a total of 1,081 delegates to be pledged by the end of the day. Following this quasi-national primary, we should have a fair idea of who the Republican nomination for President will be.

Similar to the Democratic contest, if no candidate makes it over the threshold after the primaries, what is known as a “brokered convention” will occur, where the party will attempt to thrash out a deal between candidates and emerge with a single person to nominate at the end of the event.

Here’s how it looks so far, with seven candidates (Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson) remaining in the race:

3 Jan: Iowa – Huckabee 30, Romney 7
5 Jan:
Wyoming – Romney 8, Thompson 3, Hunter 1
8 Jan: N.Hampshire – McCain 7, Romney 4, Huckabee 1
15 Jan:
Michigan – Romney 23, McCain 6, Huckabee 1
19 Jan:
Nevada – Romney 17, Paul 4, McCain 4, Huckabee 2, Thompson 2, Giuliani 1, Hunter 1
19 Jan:
South Carolina – McCain 19, Huckabee 5

Which leaves the Republican race finely poised:

Mitt Romney – 59
Mike Huckabee – 39
John McCain – 36
Fred Thompson – 5
Ron Paul – 4
Duncan Hunter – 2
Rudy Giuliani – 1

Read more...

Narrow Presbyterian Racists?

Contrary to Kezia's opinion, the comments made by John McTernan about Scotland are despicable and do indeed show contempt to the Scottish people.

Quoting Mr McTernan in an email to Labour MSP Karen Gillon:
"[Sweden is] the country Scotland would be if it was not narrow, Presbyterian, racist, etc, etc. Social democracy in action."

Summarising - and correct me if I'm wrong - Mr McTernan, the Chief Aide to Des Browne, the part-time Secretary of State for Scotland, believes that we in Scotland are all narrow-minded racists? Sorry, that's not summarising, that's what he ACTUALLY said.

Kezia agrees with him, and argues that Scotland is at its core intolerant and prejudiced.

It's simply wrong to call a nation racist. I'll go along with the Scottish Attitudes Survey which uncovered some worrying opinions among Scots. And having spent enough time at football grounds in Glasgow, I know the scar that is sectarianism well. But condemning an entire nation on the views of an idiotic minority is simply wrong.

And they wonder why they couldn't get enough Scots to vote for them?

Read more...

Sunday, 20 January 2008

The Democratic Primaries System

I was asked in an earlier post to explain a wee bit about how the US election works - so here goes:

To win the Democratic Party’s nomination for to run for President, a candidate must receive a simple majority (2,025) of the party’s 4,049 delegates to its National Convention.

The delegates will be of two types: pledged delegates (who are mandated to vote for a specific candidate or “uncommitted” if no candidate was successful in the state – usually about 81% of all delegates fall into this category) and unpledged delegates (who are free to vote for whom they please at the Convention.

The 4,049 delegates come from three sources. All elected representatives at national level (235 Democratic House of Representatives members and 49 Democratic Senators) the two DC shadow congresspeople, and the 28 Democratic Governors of individual states are automatic delegates to the Convention – 314 in total.

The members of the Democratic National Committee are also delegates and various other elements to a total of 482 – which added to the 314 elected representatives gives a total of 796 unpledged delegates.

The remaining delegates come from primaries (state level elections) and caucuses (public meetings to select which candidate to support) from each of the 50 states in the US as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the United States Virgin Islands and expat Democrats abroad.

The states will apportion delegates to vote for candidates at the Convention in proportion to the number of votes they won in the state primary, with a threshold of 15% required to qualify for delegates.

The race began in January with the Iowa caucus on 3 Jan followed by the New Hampshire primary on 8 Jan. Michigan (which was stripped of its delegates for moving forward the date of its primary) Nevada, South Carolina and Florida (also punished for moving the date of its primary) follow. Democratic rules state only Iowa, NH, Nevada & SC can hold their primaries prior to Super Tuesday (5 Feb) hence the stripping Florida & Michigan of their delegates.

Some 24 states and other sources will go to the polls on 5 Feb, with a total of 1,688 delegates to be pledged by the end of the day. Following this quasi-national primary, we should have a fair idea of who the Democratic nomination for President will be.

Incidentally, if no candidate makes it over the threshold after the primaries, what is known as a “brokered convention” will occur, where the party will attempt to thrash out a deal between candidates and emerge with a single person to nominate at the end of the event.

Here’s how it looks so far, with only three candidates (Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama) standing a realistic chance of winning the nomination:

3 Jan: Iowa - Obama 16, Clinton 15, Edwards 14
8 Jan: N.Hampshire - Clinton 9, Obama 9, Edwards 4
15 Jan:
Michigan - no delegates
19 Jan:
Nevada - Clinton 12, Obama 13

I don’t really know how Obama won more delegates in Nevada despite coming second in votes, but there we go. Current delegate totals are: Obama 38, Clinton 36, and Edwards 18.

Read more...

Friday, 18 January 2008

Greenland

Always on the lookout for other nations asserting their sovereign rights, I note that Greenland is looking for more autonomy from Denmark. Pardon the pun, but it seems that things are heating up on the political scene in Greenland.

It seems that the Greenland's Prime Minister is set on having a referendum in November to press for more powers from Denmark. All going well for the Greenlanders, those powers could be implemented by June 2009, allowing them to celebrate more control over oil & mineral reserves as well as potentially more political powers.

Perhaps the Lab/ Lib Dem/ Tory waste-of-money-Commission might look at the expedited process in Greenland, forget about their commission and join in the conversation that has already started.

Read more...

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Holyrood procedure

A wee bit of tension in the Chamber this afternoon after the Minister for Parliamentary Business (Bruce Crawford) pulled a motion in his name upon which there was to be debate upon, promising that it would return to the Chamber next week.

Now I'm not an expert on procedure, and I watched with interest how the Presiding Officer dealt with Point of Order after Point of Order, most of which stopped just short of calling him incompetent, but it seemed to me a big fuss over nothing. However, Robert Brown, Jackie Baillie, Jeremy Purvis, (who should've been ruled out of order just for his suit) and David McLetchie all had a go before the Deputy PO suspended the meeting to make a ruling. On return, Messrs Brown, Baillie, and Purvis all had another go, along with Helen Eadie and Karen Gillon but the PO had made up his mind.

No rules had been broken. The Minister for Parliamentary Business was well within his rights to withdraw the motion as it was in his name. And as the motion had been withdrawn, so too would Mr Purvis' amendment which was no longer necessary.

So... a big fuss over, well nothing really. The debate will happen again, most likely next week. The amendment will, no doubt, also return. And everyone will continue to share a love-in in the Chamber.

Incidentally, I'd like to support my friend Calum Cashley in his nominating Helen Eadie as leader. Her Point of Order on the withdrawal of the motion started with the statement "Parliaments are sovereign in their nation." Now, I don't think its quite what she meant, but if she is implying that the Scottish Parliament is the sovereign body in its nation then we should expedite the process of her becoming leader. It seems she's not so daft after all!

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FMQs

I wrote last week how pointless FMQs is in terms of learning anything or having any meaningful debate. And I stand by that. But I think we might have learned a few things today.

We learned that even when Wendy gets multiple opportunities (and many more than the other opposition leaders) to have a pop at the First Minister, she fails to land a single punch. Even, it should be said, when she picks 25 different topics to ask about.

We learned that, as funny as Annabel is, the First Minister has learned how to ride out the funnies and win their duels.

And we learned that Nicol has developed into what Brian Taylor calls "Mr Angry". Unfortunately, his Incredible Hulk impersonation would be more convincing if he didn't deliver the one-liners (undoubtedly written by a more capable debater) in his monotonous robot voice.

So... an educational day. Now, when will the opposition leaders learn anything from it?

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Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Mitt Romney

So, after backing John McCain to build his momentum, I see today that Mitt Romney has won the Republican Primary in Michigan. It's a big win for Romney, though with only half the delegates from Michigan allowed to vote at the Convention, its maybe not such a big loss for any of the others.

But for Romney, this may have been make or break point. He had to win the state to have any kind of momentum, and to persuade potential backers to keep funding him after spending big bucks early on with little in the way of reward. Giuliani is now in the same boat, after ignoring the early states he has to start winning some primaries beginning with South Carolina on Friday. If he can take that, and Fred Thompson can take a reasonable showing out of the Nevada caucus, there will still be five candidates on the Republican side who have a realistic chance of winning the nomination - and that makes it a very interesting race.

At the moment, on the back of his Michigan win, Romney has 42 delegates, Mike Huckabee has 32 and John McCain has 13. With 1,191 delegates required to secure a nomination, we've a long long way to go. But that might change on Feb 5th...

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Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Hate Crime

It's been a quiet day, but with the announcement that the Scottish Government will back Green MSP Patrick Harvie's "Sentencing of Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland)" Bill, I had a wee think about what it meant.

Of course I have no problem with the sentiment. Effectively what the bill does is extend the current hate crimes legislation (covering acts predicated upon racial or religious grounds) to include crimes motivated by discrimination against the gay community and disable people. And it brings Scotland into line with the rest of the UK.

And this is good. What we are saying is that, in a modern society, it is not acceptable to use any element of a person's identity as a discriminating factor against them, and that any crime committed against someone where any of these elements is used as a motivating factor should be further punished.

However, and this is where I agree with the Tories, shouldn't we be saying that about any crime? "Let me give you an example". If I (and I am not a member of any minority group here - I'm an able-bodied straight white male) and my gay friend were beaten up by two different people, me for, say, wearing a hat and him for being gay, is it right that the attack on me is somehow seen as less serious in the eyes of the law?

Of course there is an argument to be made. I just don't know if that argument has been made to the right degree. And as Bill Aitken (Tory Justice Spokesperson) said, the Scottish legal system prides itself on "everyone being equal in the eyes of the law". But isn't this an imbalance?

Maybe I'm just picking as there was nothing much else of interest today. But I'd be interested to hear thoughts on the issue. Don't get me wrong - I'm not against the bill or its sentiments. I'm just wondering two things: is it needed and is it fair?

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Monday, 14 January 2008

Michigan

After a going a bit blog-crazy yesterday I'll keep this one short. Returning to the US for a quick blog on Michigan's primary which is held on Tuesday. Now, with Michigan state level parties deciding to move the state's primary up the calendar in order to have more influence on the outcome of the nomination process, and the subsequent barring of half (Rep) or all (Dem) delegates from voting at the final conventions, the race has lost most of its meaning.

With Obama & Edwards removing their names from the ballot, expect Hillary to clean up the Democratic side, but with no convention voters up for grabs, it'll be a hollow win.

On the Republican side - with half of the normal convention delegates at stake - it's a much closer race. Most polls have John McCain - fresh from his New Hampshire success - neck and neck with Mitt Romney, whose father is a former governor of the state. Giuliani and Thompson have done no campaigning in Michigan and Iowa victor Mike Huckabee remains a distant third in polls. With Romney having no victories under his belt yet, he needs a result in Michigan - despite only half the delegates voting at the convention - to stand a realistic chance of staying in the race.

My prediction? It'll be close, but I think JOHN MCCAIN will hold on to win the state and build on the momentum from his New Hampshire win. Then we roll onto Nevada & South Carolina - the big test for John Edwards campaign.

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Sunday, 13 January 2008

Answering Sam

I've been asked a few questions by a wee Winchester lad who, by his own admission, is "no expert on politics north of the border." Apparently he sees the news coming out of Scotland as pretty negative, citing the Trump development, the budget and the sportscotland issue as 3 examples of the SNP's "inability to govern" and asks whether these are just teething problems or real problems in governing or if its just the view they get in England.

In response, I'd say its a little bit of all three. But let me explain.

On the Trump Development, A. Salmond MSP met with Trump advisors as the locally elected representative. He also met some of those opposed to the scheme. Granted the timing looks bad, but there was nothing illegitimate done - as will be demonstrated in his appearance before the Local Government committee next week. The problem with the development really arose because of Aberdeenshire Council's planning regulations which allow a sub-committee (of less than a quarter of the full council) decide upon all planning applications in the area - even those of the magnitude of this. The decision - had it been held in most of Scotland's other authorities - would have been taken by the full council, and Aberdeenshire has now changed their rules on planning. Also - important to note given that most of the flak taken is from N. Stephen, the council is Lib-Dem led. And they messed it up. The decision to call in the planning application does not mean that it will be passed, just that the development will undergo more scrutiny before a decision is made. Incidentally, I (and I think the government) disagree with the way Martin Ford (the chair of the committee) has been dealt with in the aftermath of his decision to vote against the plans. So that's kind of teething problems I guess.

On the budget, as a minority administration with a wafer-thin majority (in fact, with one MSP on maternity leave, no majority) the government has to find measures to compromise to get its budget through. This, I believe, is no different than what happened under the previous Lib-Lab coalition, except that the concessions were made between 2 parties as opposed to to the whole parliament. The numbers limit the ability to govern independently, but the ability to govern. And in the next week, I think we shall see much negotiation between the SNP and other parties (in particular the Tories) in order to pass a budget which will benefit most ordinary Scots.

Finally, on sportscotland, I might give you that one. The decision to scrap it was taken as a means of trying to streamline and make agencies more effective. Probably a bad move. But I have to say, Stewart Maxwell has coped with it well, and kinda did a Keynes, but I agree that it hasn't been handled that well.

I have to say tho, you probably only do get the negative aspects down there. Since May the SNP has frozen the council tax, abolished the graduate endowment (so we don't pay ANY tuition fees), abolished the tolls on the Forth & Tay bridges, committed to a replacement Forth crossing (at a cost of £4 BN a transport project for the next generation) and pledged that no new nuclear power stations will be built in Scotland. Above all, the FM's approval rating is around 65% and there's been a significant rise in support for independence and a more confident, optimistic mood in Scotland. That's in sharp contrast to the image of dodgy donations and a Stalin/ Mr Bean leader who doesn't seem to know who to blame when something goes wrong (or missing in the post...).

Does that answer your question?

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"Let me give you another example..."

Wendy was in full swing on the Politics Show on Sunday. "Let me give you another example..." she constantly told both Glenn Campbell & John Sopel. Her message was simple, the freeze to the Council Tax that the SNP and (the Labour chair of) COSLA is BAD. More democracy for local authorities - many of which are Labour run - is BAD. You can't trust your locally elected representatives to spend your money wisely. No, they'll forget all about the most needy in society - repeatedly for Wendy "vulnerable two year olds, battered women and the elderly".

No I have no problem with delivering services to those identified by Wendy as needy. Indeed, I agree with her that they deserve the funding that they receive. But where I disagree is that they deserve a block grant. Let me qualify that. Local authorities are the lowest level of democracy we have - and I don't mean that in a bad way. They're the closest to the people. Effectively, they should know best which areas in their authority require more funding. And if there are charities such as Help the Aged or Woman's Aid who employ people specifically to lobby their representatives for funding for their particular interest, then they should have the confidence in their employees and their interest that it deserves the funding it should get.

In other words, it's a democratic system. Let the councillors do the job that they are paid to do - make the hard decisions.

By the way, another quote from Wendy on the show (at 36 mins 20 secs on the film):
"Devolution was never about staving off the SNP, it was about what is right. Around the world you see examples of people wanting to live in larger organisations, larger countries... there is a desire in Scotland not only to take responsibility for ourselves but also to be more accountable to ourselves and that I think is something which will find resonance in the rest of the United Kingdom."

Right... just speculating on what that means. Maybe if we're "taking responsibility for ourselves" we shouldn't let Charlie Gordon take the blame for our mistakes? And if this "will find resonance in the rest of the UK" should Mr Hain and Ms Harman maybe start looking out their P45s?

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Saturday, 12 January 2008

Polling data...

Reading around blogland, I came across Kezia Dugdale's blog - which, like mine, mixes entries on Scottish and American politics. Her most recent post gives details of a Progressive Scottish Opinion poll conducted between the 3rd and the 8th of January, which sees Labour a single percentage point ahead of the SNP on the constituency vote (37-36) and 4 ahead on the regional vote (38-34). According to Bill Miller (a brainiac at Glasgow Uni) the SNP's seat total would remain the same, but Labour would improve from 46 to 53.

Taking aside the fact that, when the fieldwork was done for this poll most of Scotland was either still drunk or hungover from Hogmanay celebrations, there is one thing which is glaringly obvious about the numbers. Despite Kezia's claims that the esteemed Cabinet Secretaries for Health & Justice would lose their constituency seats (but would still be returned under PR on regional ballots) for "breaking promises", the SNP remain on 47 seats.

For me, that doesn't make much sense. The suggestion is that Labour would pick up 7 seats, the Tories would drop 1, the Lib Dems 4 and the others 2. Granted the Lib Dems are not doing much to keep the public's faith in them but to lose 4 seats to a party currently in the midst of a scandal? Even Nicol Stephen isn't so bad that you'd vote for someone who (allegedly) broke the law.

What I'm trying to say, and what I think is wrong with the figures, is that if Labour are truly having some sort of comeback in Scotland - and I think that is doubtful in itself - wouldn't they cement that by taking seats FROM the SNP? And this poll suggests that that is not the case. Sure they're up in it - by a good distance - but judging by this poll, people seem to generally feel that the Nats are up to the job of governing Scotland.

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Friday, 11 January 2008

The End of the Week

And so the first week of this infant blog comes to an end. And what have I discovered? Well... discipline is required to register your thoughts on a daily basis. But also, a little restraint. You can't go on a rant about something when your thoughts will be in the public domain. Well you can, but it doesn't come across as that professional. Not that I'm a pro...

What else have I learned?

1) Don't count your chickens before the votes have been counted. Or listen to American networks and pollsters who say the thing is a done deal (and base your blog on polls) until they are confirmed.

2) That far from being a sure thing, the US Presidential election has been blown wide open after the two races so far. Will be blogging on that with interest in the coming weeks.

3) Closer to home, that Labour & the Lib Dems continue to be unable to cope in opposition and look like spending the next three years as bitter and twisted "third" parties (to quote our esteemed FM) unable to accept Government policy on anything.

4) That the Tories may well offer their support for the SNP's first budget, with a number of small concessions heading their way for their support. This was revealed in a round-about way in Labour's early debate on Tuesday.

And finally, a quick note on the sporting story which pulled at every heartstring in Scotland over the festive period - the tragic death of Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell. Tributes to the man have appeared across blogs and other press for the previous few weeks, and I'd add my own voice to those sentiments. But in the weekend when Motherwell return to action in a cup tie at Hearts for the first time since their loss, I hope that their tribute to their captain will be honoured in the right spirit prior to the game, and that the game itself is the spirited cup tie it promises to be. I'd also like to applaud the management of Motherwell F.C for their leadership and their tribute to to O'Donnell in renaming the Main Stand at Fir Park. It's a fine gesture, and one which is fully deserved.

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Thursday, 10 January 2008

Closer to home

I said I'd blog on politics here for a wee bit. I watched the first FMQs of the new session today and I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the line of attack coming from the opposition parties. I'll get to that in a minute, but first I want to make the point that I've always thought FMQs was a complete waste of time - a grandstanding theatre at no higher level than a wrestling bout aimed at viewers of roughly the same intellectual level. So when the Presiding Officer today had to shout repeatedly for order and quiet, culminating in his having to interrupt the First Minister because he couldn't actually hear what he was saying, I wondered why he'd bothered. It doesn't really matter what is said, all that matters is how it looks - or, rather, how it is portrayed in the media.

I should qualify that. Every week I watch FMQs (I'm not that sad - I do work there so I need to know what is going on). And every week I think the same. A. Salmond, generally does alright, never scores a knockout but - staying with the boxing metaphor - is usually well ahead on points. W. Alexander dances around on several issues, jabbing away but is unable to connect on anything given her own precarious position. A. Goldie is usually the best, consistently hitting hard on traditional Conservative issues and giving the FM a gentle needle in the direction she wants him to go. And N. Stephen - well, the less said the better. He delivers what are generally decent points (apart from the Trump attack) in such a wet and robotic way that no one is really awake when he's finished.

And so to today. Well, it was the usual score. Give it to the FM on points, mainly because the opposition parties didn't hit the target. And the reason? The line of attack. Wendy went on ring-fencing... for like the 12th week in a row, complaining that her choice group of the week might not get the same funding they did prior to the SNP's announcement that the Council Tax Freeze was agreed by scrapping ring-fencing and allowing Council's to distribute their funds the way they see fit.

And that's good. It's democracy being taken out of the hands of politicians who are a bit removed from the ground level and allowing those on the scene to decide on what needs to be funded. The principle of subsidiarity. But I suppose it comes down to trusting the local authorities with the cash, something that the Labour party seems unwilling to do. Which is ironic, given that they run more local authorities in Scotland than any other party and that the Leader of COSLA - a Labour Councillor himself - thinks the deal is good.

So that's the chat today. Get rid of FMQs. And we'll maybe start to do some work instead of political point scoring.

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Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Scot Free-d

Just a quick note on Kenny Richey, who arrived back in Scotland an hour ago after spending 20 years on death row in America and was once less than an hour from being executed. His conviction was over-turned in August and he was sentenced to time already served in a US prison. Good luck to the guy, who has now been given a second chance.

No one - no matter what crime they have committed - deserves to go through what Kenny Richey has. I don't want to turn this blog into a sermon on the death penalty, but that is one part of American political life that I cannot get on side with.

Now New Hampshire is out the way, I may blog a little closer to home for a few days...

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The "Comeback" Kids...

Well well well...

Looks like I (along with the majority of the American media) called New Hampshire a bit too early. In my defence, I'm on the other side of the Atlantic, working on information which is out of date before it reaches my computer so fast is this election moving. And so I went to my bed, having read reports that Obama had a double-digit (13 point!) lead over Hillary, presuming this was maybe slightly exaggerated but still enough for him to take the state.

And then I wake up to the news on the radio that Hillary had done what hubby Bill did years ago. No, not the cigar thing. I'm talking about make a "comeback" from a poor performance in Iowa to win the New Hampshire primary. You couldn't write this story.

And on the other side, another comeback was on the cards. 71 year old Vietnam vet John McCain - who lost out to George W Bush in 2000 - edged out Mitt Romney, who'd finished second in Iowa. Mike Huckabee followed up his Iowa win with a respectable third in NH, with Rudy Guiliani - who continues to hold his funds for Super Tuesday - back in fourth.

And so the merry circus rolls on to Michigan and Nevada before the South Carolina primary which may be make or break for John Edwards on the Democratic side. Interesting times indeed.

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Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Where am I?

I've been asked to clarify my position on the US Presidentials. Watch how I answer this like a politician before giving the answer at the end when you've forgotten what the question was - and are maybe even a bit surprised by the answer...

I have, in the main, two problems identifying who I want to win the US election. One - it only indirectly affects my life and as I don't stay in the States, I get limited coverage of what the candidates are saying. Two - probably most profoundly, there is no US equivilant of how I interpret my political philosophy.

What do I mean by that? Well, I've grown up in Scotland. Which, with proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament, has meant a multi-party system - a party to represent all the main strands of political theory and others representing single issues. So it is easier here to identify with a political party here. I'm pro-Scottish independence. Which puts me in the SNP, and that is who I work for.

But in the US? I'm a bit fiscally (whisper it) conservative which says Republican, but I'm also pretty liberal, which in most senses would make me align with the Democrats. I'm pro-choice (Dem) but support business (Rep). So you see my problem. In an ideal world, the states would have a Scottish National Party - they should have one, there's enough ex-pats - and I'd join that.

But it doesn't. And you want me to make a choice. Well, based on what I know, I'd probably support Barack Obama or John Edwards because America I think needs change and needs to welcome it. But it also needs stability, so maybe I'd pick John McCain. Or someone who makes sense talking about religion - Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney. But maybe it needs a woman's touch - Hillary (coincidentally, my mum's name). Or maybe someone who can deal with crises well - Rudy Guiliani.

So what am I saying? America doesn't know what it wants. Maybe at the end of today we'll have a clearer idea. In the meantime, who do I think will win their respective nominations? I'll put it on the line and say.... Barack Obama v Rudy Guiliani in November. Tho I think, perhaps, John McCain would is the best of the contenders. Surprised?

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Monday, 7 January 2008

New Hampshire

On the eve of the first US Presidential primary, it seems logical to start my blog with a bit about the States. Anyone who knows me will know I have a passing interest in the US for two reasons.

The first is that I don't think it matters where in the world you live, the US impacts on your life in some way - be it the fact that your nation is embroiled in a conflict somewhere or the fact that you drink Coke, use Windows on your PC or put expensive petrol in your car. The US matters, and as such, the politics of this hegemonic behemoth matters too.

The second reason is that I'm a huge fan of American football. Although my 4-12 Jets were nowhere near good enough to be in them, the Playoffs have started, and though a Division rival and I hate to say it, I can't see anyone stopping the Patriots on their charge towards an historic 19-0 season and yet another Superbowl.

But I digress. Back to New Hampshire. And it looks from this side of the Atlantic that Mr Obama who trailed the front-running Mrs Clinton for such a long time now has the big Mo. Fresh from pipping her in Iowa's caucus - and John Edwards pushing her into third, Obama looks like the new front runner for the Dems - tho its still early in the year.

The Republican race I think is a little more interesting - mainly coz most of my American friends are Reps. McCain. Romney. Guiliani. Even Huckabee after his surprising showing in Iowa is in with a shout. I think John McCain will win NH tomo, and get his campaign back on track. With Guiliani holding his funds for Super Tuesday and Mike Huckabee taking momentum from Iowa but remaining too conservative for moderate republicans, it looks like Mitt Romney may be the big loser out of the early states... but watch this space as I've been very wrong many times before!

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New Job & New City... and New Year

Okay, so the Welsh blog didn't really take off, but here's my new... resolution... if you like. I will post to this blog AT LEAST once per week on topics ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between.
I finished my Masters in Wales and now live in Edinburgh and work at the Scottish Parliament. I have a distinct interest in all things political and most things sporting... so look out for random thoughts on both of the above as I try to arrange my thoughts in a clearer way.
Feel free to comment, suggest, slag off (politely!) and judge me on my views. And let me know what you think - I love a good argument!!

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Contact

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

Comment Policy

I'm quite happy - indeed, eager - to engage in debate with others when the topic provides opportunity to do so. I like knowing who I'm debating with and I'm fed up with some abusive anonymous comments so I've disabled those comments for awhile. If you want to comment, log in - it only takes a minute.

Disclaimer

Regrettably, this is probably required:
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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