Friday, 29 February 2008

The Lib Dems... What are they good for?

Absolutely nothing.

I saw Brian Taylor's webcast interview with Nicol Stephen today. While it was a useful wee insight into the workings of the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader's mind, what a lot of mince he spoke - so just his usual then.

Brian Taylor put to him questions from BBC viewers/ website users, including questions on working with the SNP & the Trump development. In answering, Nicol Stephen pretty much ruled out working with the SNP until they drop their policy of holding an independence referendum. He denied personally disliking Alex Salmond (though I can't see that feeling being mutual!) but would not retract - at Brian Taylor's urging - his declaration that the Trump affair "smelled of sleaze."

He defended the party's unwillingness to allow a referendum on independence, and categorically denied that their support for a referendum on continued membership of the EU was inconsistent with that belief because they are in favour of the EU.

Hang on a minute though. They want a referendum (on continuing membership of the EU - which they believe is a good thing - but do not want a referendum on continued membership of another union, that of the UK, which they also believe is a good thing.

So Nicol supports asking this question of the British public:
Do you want to remain part of the EU? Yes or No

But does not want to ask this question of the Scottish public:
Do you want to remain part of the UK? Yes or No

What is liberal or democratic about that?

I say again, absolutely nothing.

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Thursday, 28 February 2008

Scrapping the Graduate Endowment

Voting in the Parliament today to scrap the Graduate Endowment (the tuition fees which the Lib Dems claimed to have done away with before introducing this as a back-end payment of fees) was meant to be almost as tight as the budget.

And it was. The bill - with only Jeremy Purvis' amendment - passed with 67 votes (SNP/LD/Green/Margo + A.N. Other - either by accident or design) to 61 (Lab/Con). The other is bound to be an interesting name (what odds Cathy Craigie again?! [- EDIT in fact Elaine Smith, which still doesn't answer if it was accidental or not!]) but my main question is this: who's in a right-wing alliance now?

It was an interesting debate too. In the end though, it appeared that even Labour - who along with the Lib Dems in that shady coalition introduced the fees - and the Tories saw the logic of the Government's argument, and offered up amendments which sought not to detract from the bill but to dampen the spirit that it was put forward in. Their amendments - which called for independent inquiry of the funding of universities - were added to find a way in which these parties, one of whom doesn't seem to know the meaning of the term "consensus", could back the Government without losing too much face, given their opposition to the bill at previous stages.

It is with some dismay then, that I write this. For on the issue of student welfare members of the Labour party - notably Richard Baker MSP, former leader of the NUS in Scotland - look to have student issues at their core. Yet, for party political reasons, they couldn't find it within themselves to vote for the removal of the fees which they themselves introduced and which contribute heavily to the mountain of debt students find themselves in.

To hear Rhona Brankin's interventions today - aimed at mocking the Scottish Government's promise to end student debt - served only to draw attention to the fact that students in Scotland have found themselves in worse debt because of the Labour-led coalition's introduction of the graduate endowment. The SNP pledged to end student debt, and scrapping the graduate endowment is the first stage of that. Just as they promised to replace the council tax, freezing it was the first step in that.

But when opposition politicians constantly want to portray themselves as the solution to Scotland's problems, and that those problems are the making of the new Scottish Government, there's something far wrong with their mentality. Labour and the Lib Dems had 8 YEARS to fix the problems that they are now identifying in opposition. Instead they exacerbated the problem of student debt by lumping a further sum on our students. The Scottish Government has acted to alleviate that burden. And if vulnerable groups really are the fiefdom of the Labour party, then they'd do well to remember that in votes such as this.

So Labour managed to find a way to vote against it. As did the Tories. At least students now know which parties are standing up for their interests in Parliament - and it isn't them.

Rant over - this has been much more partisan than my usual blog - but its been an issue I'm all too familiar with. It's a no brainer for support either - and yet again I'm baffled by the position of the Labour party.

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Sunday, 24 February 2008

Fantasy Politics

Having already blogged on the Speaker's problems, noting Raul Castro's taking over the Cuban Presidency and Ralph Nader's entry into the American Presidential election (which will no doubt aid John McCain's cause), I thought I'd blog on something... almost completely different to any of the above.

Giving my Canadian friend an overview of the Scottish Parliament's system, I had a thought about the system of government we have here. Arend Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy identifies a number of elements of government which constitute democracy, including a proportional electoral system and an open party system - two elements which are present in Scotland. One that we do not possess, however, is a bi-cameral (two-chamber) Parliament, which Lijphart reckons provides a further check on the democratic system.

The reason, I believe, that the Scottish Parliament has only a single chamber is that the committee system is designed to provide scrutiny of the legislative process, thereby reducing the need for a second chamber. And it works well - as far as I can see.

But the UK Parliament has both a committee system and a second (albeit unelected) chamber - and I know that the committees at Westminster serve a different purpose, but I want to indulge in spot of fantasy politics that may serve to change the face of the Scottish Parliament and the roles of MSPs.

One thought occurred to me. If we were to create a second chamber in Scotland - within the current electoral framework - it may make for an interesting political dynamic, even more so than it is now.

What if the 73 MSPs were elected from constituencies - as they are currently - but the 56 MSPs elected from the regions formed a second chamber, a regional one? That way that chamber would be split both along party AND regional lines, giving, say, a Highland Labour and a Glasgow Labour MSP reason to differ upon an issue which affects one's region in a positive way and another's in a negative way.

If we work on the logic that the largest party should form the Government (from across the 2 chambers) it would make governing more difficult - or ensure that more consensus is required in order to pass legislation. Based on the 2007 election, what we'd have is a first chamber with:

Lab - 37, SNP - 21, Lib Dem - 11, Con - 4

And a regional chamber make up of:

SNP - 26, Con - 13, Lab - 9, Lib Dem - 5, Green - 2, Independent - 1

It would also solve the problem of treating constituency & regional members the same - as they'd have different roles. Legislation would need to have local, regional and national dimensions just to pass through both chambers, with majorities required in BOTH to pass bills (as it would be easy, for example, for Labour to pass bills through the constituency chamber - where they have a majority of one - but not the regional chamber, where they have only 9).

Anyway, I just though that was an interesting, alternative look at electoral politics in Scotland - mainly as I'm bored of looking at maps in the wake of the Boundary Commission's map re-drawing!

I can't believe I've reached 50 posts already... in under two months. Too much free time? Or too much to say? Maybe a bit of both.

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Friday, 22 February 2008

Whitewash #2

And so this week, with little fanfare, no use of a parliamentary committee room and as little media coverage as they could manage, the Electoral Commission came to their second conclusion on Labour party donations in two weeks. Their verdict? No further action shall be taken against Charlie Gordon, Labour MSP for Cathcart – the man now infamously solicited the £950 donation from Jersey-based businessman Paul Green.

It has come as no surprise to me – or indeed anyone with any connection to politics in Scotland that this would be the case. Not because I don’t think there was merit in investigating the case, but because it was the Electoral Commission that was doing the investigating – and their conclusion on the Wendy case made a different conclusion in this case unlikely. I better explain that comment, lest I be accused of libelling the good name of the Electoral Commission.

I understand that the Electoral Commission is an independent organisation, and having them investigate the crime which was committed (potentially) prior to handing it over the fiscal was sensible given their (relative) expertise in the subject matter. I have to say, for the public looking on, having politicians effectively protected by a body which then decides if they should be investigated does appear a bit like one rule for the rulers and one rule for the ruled.

Putting that aside, did anyone believe that after the Electoral Commission’s verdict on Wendy (which, strangely, was investigated before Charlie Gordon’s case, despite the fact that it was his breach of the law which implicated Wendy) their findings would be any different on the Glasgow Cathcart MSP? I mean, once they’d declared Wendy had taken “significant steps” to mitigate her responsibility for breaking the law, how could they then recommend that Charlie Gordon face prosecution?

And that for me has been one of the many flaws in the process. Both ADMITTED they had broken the law. Yet they have the luxury of being investigated by an independent panel who then decide if they should face criminal prosecution, yet decide that it is not in the public interest to prosecute this breach of the law. I’m sorry, but the ‘common’ man who faces prosecution for an offence he inadvertently or unintentionally committed why is this different? Too much protection for elected representatives and not enough for the ‘McChattering’ Classes.

Maybe this is the sleaze that Nicol Stephen thought he could smell…

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Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Working together...

Lunching with Linda Fabiani today, who entertained me with a couple of stories from a previous evening's meal with the First Minister & Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Having studied the case in great detail during my Masters, I have to say there was an immediate sense of great joy - and amazement - that Ian Paisley & Martin McGuinness had worked out their differences and agreed to work together to improve the lives of the people that they represent.

I've read many different accounts of some of the acts perpetrated - on both sides of the conflict - including some inside information on McGuinness' role in a wonderfully interesting and informative book called The Secret History of the IRA by Ed Maloney.

Which for me, made all the more... awesome some of Linda Fabiani's tales - and indeed some of the stories told by journalists about the unlikely pair. It seems that there is now a mutual respect between them, with McGuinness aiding the older Paisley down steps, repeating journalists questions to him which he had not heard and quietly prompting him when he sidled off on a tangent.

Yes, it seems that two men who have spent the best part of half a century trying
to destroy what the other believed in have now settled those differences and are working together. Two completely opposed ideologies. Two violent backgrounds. Two distinct personalities. Now united with a common goal - to work together for the betterment of the lives of their constituents and make devolution in Northern Ireland a success.

It begs a question: If they can make it work - with all the history and emotional baggage that goes along with it - why is there so much opposition to working across nationalist/ unionist lines in Scotland?

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Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Tartan Tories

A great article by Hamish Macdonnell in today's Scotsman led me to ponder both the sentiments he expressed and the argument itself.

First things first - the argument that the SNP's budget only passed because the Tories supported it is wrong. Well... it's maybe partly right. It passed with the votes of the SNP and the Tories to a single vote against it (an error/principled stance by Cathie Craigie depending who you believe). Because Labour & the Lib Dems didn't want to come to the party and discuss potential amendments to the budget - and ultimately abstained - the Tories were the only ones who wanted to play ball. And in the spirit of consensus government, the SNP reached out to the Tories and listened to what they had to say. Or something like that.

The point is, the budget could have passed without Tory support - given Lab & Lib Dems indecision & inaction.

So, I'll dispute his starting point. But perhaps not the rest of it.

His points about the freeze in the council tax and tax cuts for small businesses being centre-right (as opposed to the SNP's centre-left doctrine) policies is accurate. They help small businesses and middle income families - at best they leave low income groups at the same place they were when the SNP took over. No major improvement, but equally no worse off.

Now the SNP remains a centre-left party in terms of its social policy, its opposition to nuclear weapons & power and its strong anti-war platform. But these shifts to the right on economic issues are not only a pragmatic political position to take in 2008 Scotland, they are the right policies to take Scotland forward.

I'd imagine I'd be in the minority in the party that would argue this case. But I am a profound believer in small government, in the power of the market - and in a smaller public service. This probably sounds like turkeys voting for Christmas, but let me explain.

The council tax freeze is a great example. It's gives a confidence boost to everyone who pays it when they don't see their bills rise. It gives them the confidence to go and spend some more of that on goods, stimulating the economy. If that gets a boost (so the argument would go) inflation would decrease, as would unemployment, meaning less people needing to claim benefits, meaning less need for public money - meaning a cut in income tax - and so the process continues.

Now I know thats fine in theory. And the reality is that with a freeze in the council tax some things will miss out on funding. But that is the reality of government in this country. Difficult decisions have to be made. Do councils wish they had enough to fund everything? Yes. Can they? No. I'm not arguing that councils should cut vital services - things like health & education are essential to society - but secondary services (like a swimming pool in Aberdeen which the council subsidises £11 every time someone uses) should be at the very least cut back.

And I think that puts the country in a better position, when we're not expecting our councillors to work miracles with a small amount of money and we're trusted to spend the money in a way we see fit.

I know this is not the most articulate argument in the world, but I'll bet there's no shortage of criticism of it - let me know what you think.

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Sunday, 17 February 2008

Independence Day

I was excited to hear that Kosovo has declared its independence from Serbia. The move has been supported by most of its neighbours in the EU and the US, but opposed by Serbia itself and Russia, who has blocked the move in the UN Security Council. And there will continue to be legal wrangles over declaration in the coming months.

After the recent violent history in the region, it was refreshing to hear some in the region talking of "an end" to their troubles, "freedom from tyranny" and "rebirth" of both the region and their own lives. Its an exciting time for the residents there, who have suffered for so long with the break of the former Yugoslavia and the resultant violence throughout the 1990s.

Its a big test for the EU, as Alyn Smith MEP notes in his blog, and their credibility as an actor on the international stage is at stake. For me, this is a chance for the EU to step up and take responsibility for state-building within the territory of Europe - something it has been accused of shirking in the past. It will also test how resolute the parliament in Kosovo, given the opposition to the move in Serbia.

One of the more disturbing elements of the process for me was hearing the reaction of the Serbian leaders to the news. President Tadic has indicated there will be an escalation of conflict in the region while the Serbian PM talked of securing "freedom for his people" by making Kosovo remain within Serbia. This may cause a larger problem - for Serbia, who are intent on joining the EU. If Serbia causes undue hassles for Kosovo by imposing unilateral sanctions or even (and I hope this will not occur) launching a military intervention, then their possibility of joining Europe's elites will prove remote.

Serbia's reaction to the declaration is understandable. And, presumably, a similar reaction would occur in Spain if the Basques or Catalans declared their independence, or even here, were the First Minister to declare unilaterally the independence of Scotland. The difference in this case is that Kosovo, crucially, has the support of the EU and the US. While Russia continues to oppose in the Security Council, Serbia will have a case. But with every passing day, and more international acceptance, Kosovo will move closer to statehood - and further away from former overlord.

One only hopes our great nation will follow suit.

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Friday, 15 February 2008

A new SNP Councillor

While I'm on a blog-roll, congrats to the SNP in Moray for securing another SNP councillor with a by-election victory in Elgin South - giving the SNP a councillor for every day of the year!

I received the news from my good friend, Councillor Gary Coull (Keith & Cullen ward) in the early hours of the morning, with him letting me know of John Sharp's victory.

While the seat is an SNP gain from an Independent, no one really expected the size of the victory (SNP 32%, Ind 25%, Lab 17%, Ind 11%, Con 10%, LD 2%). Nor did they expect the Labour vote to collapse quite as badly as it did - dropping by 11% from the election in May last year, with a 6% swing to the SNP. Despite the low 26% turnout, the party will be happy with their newest councillor.

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Mistaken Mr Angry...

Having spent a wee while putting links to MSP websites on this blog I was interested to see just how many of them have embraced technology and gotten themselves a website.

Interesting too, to read on Nicol Stephen's website, under his "biog" section, that he still considers himself:

Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Deputy First Minister
Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Lib Dem candidate for Aberdeen South

Judging by the list on his website of the things that he is, it won't be long before he loses both titles that he actually still possesses - the candidature of Aberdeen South will go with the boundary changes, and when Tavish Scott finally makes his move, so will Nicol's leadership.

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Page layout...

Apologies to the regular readers for keeping tinkering with the layout/ colour scheme. I still haven't found one that I'm happy with, but I'll stick with this for a wee while at least.

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Thursday, 14 February 2008

Democracy...?

Haud on tae yer hats! When I moaned about how quiet it is at Holyrood (it's deader than a dodo's great uncle Dod today as well by the way) I'd clean forgotten that the Boundary Commission was to announce their proposals for the Scottish Parliamentary Constituencies for 2011. And - for election geeks like me - its wet-yer-breeks-all-your-Christmases-come-at-once time.

Unless your a member of the Labour party. Or a Tory in Edinburgh Pentlands. Or a sitting MSP. Or a member of the public. But I'll come back to that.

Under the Scotland Act, the seats of Orkney & Shetland will always remain as they are. Similarly protected is the Western Isles - with only its name changing this time round to it's Gaelic translation. Other than those three, and the 2 Falkirk seats - everyone of the 68 remaining seats have been changed in some way, ranging from massive boundary shifts & mergers to subtle changes in how the seat is named. It's all change. Which is good... kind of.

Labour get shafted by it. There's no question. Maybe the Boundary Commission saw some of their perfomances over the past few weeks and decided a few less of them would be better for the Parliament. But certainly the changes mooted for Edinburgh (shifting wards about) and Glasgow (merging Shettleston and Baillieston) - as well as putting East Airdrie with Cumbernauld, and Clydebank & Milngavie together will not help the party. Losing Aberdeen Central (split into two) also leaves them without a seat north of the central belt.

While on the surface a new seat south of Aberdeen looks good for the Nats, the changes are not all their cracked up to be. A hard fought win in Govan last year looks like it might go with the boundaries, new parts into Argyll & Bute will hardly see the SNP singing, and marginals in Stirling, Cunninghame North and even Kilmarnock may be shaky with slight tweaks.

The Tories? Well, they're not going to be happy with Pentlands, that's for sure. I might even have heard Mr McLetchie shouting about it from a few floors down. Also splitting Dumfries won't help, and neither will Tweedale look that promising. A wee bit of cheer from a new marginal in Milngavie, and the potential of the shifting Tory vote from Pentlands to South Edinburgh.

Lib Dems? No luck either. Jeremy Purvis will hardly be delighted with the split in his constituency which aids Christine Grahame slightly, while Mike Rumbles loses half his seat to East Angus & Mearns - a notional SNP gain. Big loser is probably leader Nicol Stephen, whose Aberdeen South seat will become a three-way marginal.

Greens & Margo will be unaffected until it comes to the list element.

I'm yet to find an MSP who is thrilled with the changes - and while I have some sympathy with them, I'm not that happy for other reasons.

I lived for many years in Keith in the North East. Before I was old enough to vote Keith was Gordon in 1997 and Gordon for Scottish Parliament in 1999. But historically Keith had been in Moray and in the 2005 review, it was shifted back to Moray for Westminster. So now its in 2 different constituencies for the different parliaments.

The review will maintain that - I think. And for Keith its not too bad - at least the name of the constituency will remain the same. But I worry for folks in parts of Glasgow or central or south Scotland, whose constituency has changed dramatically in both area and name. I worry that the lessons of the previous election with spoilt ballot papers has not been learnt. I'm not saying the public can't cope with change, nor that they're too stupid to vote.

What I'm saying is this - is it really in their interest to keep making changes to how we elect our representatives? Given both the voter apathy and the general disillusionment with politics, I will be surprised if the next Scottish election makes a 45% turnout - and who knows what the figure will be for the European one - 15%?

I understand the theory - let all representatives be equal, and let them represent equal numbers of people. Fine. But lets think about those who are being represented for a second and ask ourselves this: is it going to make a difference to them?

If it is not - why are we bothering?

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Tuesday, 12 February 2008

zzzzz....

Recess is quiet. Too quiet. You can almost hear Wendy Alexander's anguish at yet another donation scandal all the way from Paisley. Almost.

One thing I want cleared up on the Wendy front. I'll forget for a minute that she (intentionally or not) broke the law, did not declare the donations to the Electoral Commission and used a front organisation to raise funds for her 2003 election campaign. I want to know why Wendy's press conference last week was allowed to proceed in a committee room of the Scottish Parliament.

Section 7 of the MSP Code of Conduct states that:

7.5 Use of Services of Staff of the Parliament

7.5.1 Staff of the Parliament are employed by the SPCB to provide an impartial service to the Parliament and its Members. Members should not ask Parliamentary staff to act in any way which would conflict with or call into question their political impartiality, or which could give rise to criticisms that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.

Now, by those principles, wouldn't those people involved in setting up the press conference be seen to be used for "party political purposes"?

The Electoral Commission can argue that it wasn't in the public interest to prosecute in this case (I disagree, you won't be surprised to know) but there is no way that anyone from any party can argue that it was in the interests of the Parliament to hold a press conference in which an MSP gleefully accepted the Electoral Commission's findings on their own premises. That was a party political event.

As it was hosted by the Labour party, have we any reason to expect the Electoral Commission - or any other public body for that matter - to investigate?

Unlikely.

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Monday, 11 February 2008

Upside Down

Returning from witnessing another dismal Scottish performance at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff at the weekend, I seem to have returned to a different place that I left. On Friday I ventured out of Edinburgh and embarked on a long (environmentally friendly!) train trip to Wales. When I left, Wendy Alexander's dodgy dealings had been whitewashed, Gordon Brown understood what he meant by "British" and the Liberal Democrats hated anything illiberal & undemocratic. What a difference a couple of days make.

It seems far from being over, Wendy's troubles look to be getting worse - and this time, no one can say it is not in the public interest to prosecute. Apparently Wendy raised funds to the tune of £12,000 by inviting donors to two events organised to aid the economic development of Renfrewshire. Apparently the only aiding that this money did was to help Wendy get re-elected. Now she must wish she hadn't bothered.

In spite of these problems, there appears to be no worries for wee Wendy. Brother Douglas will surely put in a good word for her, and with her friends in the Electoral Commission, she's bot so much the Teflon Taoiseach, more a Whitewash Wendy sort.

But she's not the only Labour leader to make a gaffe this weekend. As the row over the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments on Sharia law continues to rumble on, the Prime Minister has waded into the argument. Only he seems to forgotten who he is and where he comes from. The PM, as part of his crusade to make everything "British" has claimed that "British law would be based on British values".

Clearly being the PM messes with your mind. For not only is it particularly difficult in this multicultural society to define values which are inherently "British", there is no such thing as British law. As a Scot, Mr Brown must surely know that Scots Law is remarkably different from its English counterpart. Maybe he should ask Ms Alexander for confirmation , given the effective "not proven" verdict she was handed by the Electoral Commission last week - a verdict which would not be available in an English court.

Finally, in the week after the Lib Dems in Scotland spent much of their time attacking the Conservatives for voting for Scotland's budget it seems their leader at Westminster has decided to call a truce, and has declared that the Lib Dems may support a minority Tory Government after the next election, were the chance to occur. I wonder if he's sent Tavish Scott a copy of the memo?

And they wonder why Scotland voted SNP in May.

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Thursday, 7 February 2008

Romney concedes

With all the fun and games over the budget in the last few days, I've missed out on commenting on the American Presidential election and the fall out from Super Tuesday in particular.

It went pretty much as I expected. The Democratic race remains too close to call, with various different news agencies reporting that Senators Obama and Clinton have varying numbers of delegates in the bag. The way it looks, it could come down the the Dem's "super-delegates" - the elected officials who are assigned a vote - to decide who their nominee will be.

On the other side of the aisle, John McCain looks ever more like the Republican nominee, even more so now that main challenger Mitt Romney has bowed out of the race. And while the Dems are dithering over which "first timer" to choose, McCain looks more statemanlike... and more Presidential.

While the Democrats - with all the uncertainty and the, at times, vicious campaigning - may have blown their shot at winning the Presidency in November, the 71 year old war vet now looks like the favourite for the job. And that, in my view, is not the worst thing that could happen.

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Scurrilous rumours

So my sources were a bit wide of the mark on the "Wendy quits" rumours. But while at her press conference she did her best to answer some of the questions surrounding her future - ie that she is categorically staying - it did not answer one question:

What will happen when Procurator Fiscal decides on the Standards Commission's referal?

While the Electoral Commission has effectively returned a verdict of "not proven" on the £950 illegal donation, the Standards Commission has reported Wendy Alexander for a breach of the rules regarding declaring donations.

Will Wendy continue to "serve the people of Scotland as leader of Labour in their Parliament" if found guilty of this breach? And should she, given a) the scandal she has brought upon her party and b) the incomprehensible position she led Labour into during the budget yesterday?

Incidentally, favourite line of attack from Angus MacNeil MP: "It's like in football, if the Electoral Commission is the referee and a player scores when he is offside. An offence has been committed, but he didn't mean to be offside, wasn't intentionally so, therefore we'll let the goal stand."

A whitewash indeed.

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But...

Writing this before Wendy's delayed press conference. A wee rumour - and I stress wee - suggests that she might bite the bullet and resign, despite being cleared. As I say, sketchy rumour, but would it be a big surprise?

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Wendy cleared

I'm still in a bit of a daze after the high of seeing the historic budget passed yesterday. But I'm beginning to wonder what kind of daze the Electoral Commission is in.

You see, they have decided that it is "not in the public interest" to report Ms Alexander to prosecutors for her indiscretion regarding a dodgy donation.

The Commission has apparently determined that there is "not enough evidence to prove an offence had been committed."

Finally, they say that, even though Wendy took "significant steps" to comply with legislation, she has not taken "all reasonable steps".

Now, again, I am not a lawyer, but how can that be the case? Tom McCabe - a key aide during the leadership "campaign" admitted that they had broken the law in soliciting such a donation. Wendy Alexander herself admitted that she had broken the law but that there was no "intentional wrongdoing" on her part. Either you comply with the law - in which case you are innocent - or you do not, and are not innocent.

Whitewash anyone?

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The Aftermath...

Well, as I guessed, the press have been particularly unkind to Labour this morning, branding them "unfit to be in opposition, never mind to govern." A bit of a shocker, proposing an amendment, seeing that amendment carried then abstaining from voting on the bill it was attached to...

They really are all over the place at the moment, and I hate to say it, but once the Electoral Commission reports back, it may be the best thing for them - finally being able to put the uncertainty over the current leadership behind them and appoint someone with a few more "principles" in charge (Cathy Craigie anyone?!).

Best line on the budget I've heard so far?

"As we enter Lent, it seems Labour MSPs have decided on what to give up for 40 days: Voting."

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Wednesday, 6 February 2008

It passed!

What an entertaining afternoon!

I listened to most of the Budget debate, many of the early contributions - from all sides - were excellent. John Swinney was at his gracious best, Iain Gray showed why many are backing him over Wendy, Derek Brownlee proved he's a future leader and Tavish Scott proved better than his leader.

In the end, the contributions were not required. The budget passed by a margin of 64 to 1. In the end, the big story will not be the Lib Dems (who were expected to abstain) nor the budget passing and saving the First Minister's job. No, the story will be how Labour MSPs proposed a last-minute amendment to the budget - which was graciously accepted by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance - then proceeded to abstain from voting for it, even with the amendment attached.

It was a bizarre position and one which no one here can quite comprehend. For certainty, the press tomorrow will be all over it. And if, as expected, the Electoral Commission finally deliver their verdict on Wendy, tomorrow might be a bad bad day for the Labour Party in Scotland.

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Labour about turn?

Seems I may have spoken to soon. The current chat is that Labour's weak amendment to the budget bill - if accepted by the Cabinet Secretary - would be enough to secure their vote for the budget. This would leave only the Lib Dems - if the Greens & Margo remain convinced - as the only party remaining who do not vote for the budget.

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The Budget - early chat

Massive day in the Scottish Parliament. With the stage 3 debate - and vote on the budget to come at 5pm - the First Minister has stated quite categorically that if the budget falls he, and his team, will resign with immediate effect, leaving Scotland without a government.

His actions emphasise - as if it were required - the seriousness of today's vote. Passing the budget will allow the negotiated Council Tax Freeze to proceed. It will allow business rates to be reduced and the phased reduction (and removal) of prescription charges. It will do so much for the people of Scotland. If it falls, none of these things will be achieved.

Brinkmanship? Yes, a little. But making the point. A vote against the budget is a vote against improving the lives of some of Scotland's most vulnerable people.

But I suspect it won't come to that. Sources suggest that although Labour remain set against it - and probably will vote against it - the Lib Dems look like they will abstain. If they do, the government would only require the Conservatives to vote with them. Which, after prolonged negotiations, they look to have achieved.

Interesting times ahead...

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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Super Tuesday - pre-results

It's 10.30pm GMT and I'm done for the night. I had a long weekend, and really don't have the energy to stay awake and watch how the US votes, so I'm going to tell it like I see it before I go to bed.

On the Republican side, I think John McCain will have a good night. Although he probably won't pass the threshold required for the nomination, the opportunity the Republican race gives - with winner-take-all primaries - means that he will get very close. Mike Huckabee will probably bow out tomorrow after polling no more than 20% in any of the states voting while Mitt Romney will lick his wounds a bit longer before deciding on his future in the race.

For the Democrats it will still be - as it has been from the start - a two horse race. Obama & Clinton will fight it out tonight, and with more delegates required than in the Republican race, neither will get anywhere near the total required for nomination. A good night for either will see them appear more likely for November, but while John McCain romps away with the Republican ticket - and appears more statesman like everyday - the squabbling on the Democratic side will see them lose momentum to McCain for the General Election in November, and with it, the Democrats chances of regaining the Presidency.

I'll see tomorrow how accurate I am...

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Scotland's place in the world

I haven’t blogged on anything… substantial… in recent posts, but reading the First Minister’s comments on Scotland’s place in the world post-independence (and some of the responses to it) made me think I ought to use the two degrees I studied for to comment on something non-partisan.

The First Minister suggests that when independent, Scotland would be ideally placed to act as a global peacekeeper. He cites global goodwill towards Scotland as a reason for this and you can see where he’s going with it. Although somewhat tainted by being part of an illegal invasion of Iraq, the Scottish population was avidly against the war, and demonstrated this on a number of occasions.

Of course, conflict resolution is a somewhat tricky process. Just ask the Americans, who’ve struggled in Vietnam, Korea and, presently, in Iraq. But that is a symptom more of the attitude to conflict in the beginning. Europeans – and for this I defer to Robert Kagan – are “from Venus”, focusing more on the diplomatic and democratic methods to resolve conflicts while the American way tends to focus primarily on military tactics. This is not a criticism of what has come to be perceived as “the American way”, merely a recognition of what has become the art of the possible. You do what you can with your capability.

And that is what the FM is indicating. Scotland will not be placed to dominate the world militarily the way the US does or the way the British Empire did in the past. What it will be able to do is offer its position as the recipient of global goodwill in the hope that it can aid in conflict resolution in the same way that Norway has done in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, in Sri Lanka.

And this suggestion is not without merit, for we do have some experience in that field. Lord Robertson, from his time as head of NATO, was at the centre of conflict and resolution in many different places.

The responses to the First Minister’s comments have emphasised the inherent difficulties in what he proposes. And that is true – there is nothing about conflict resolution that is easy – look to examples in Northern Ireland, in the Basque Country and in Kenya to note both historical and current examples. But no one has suggested it would be easy.


What the FM is proposing is a bold position. It shows ambition for Scotland. And I, for one, would be proud to see Scotland take on this mantle as a beacon for peace in the world.

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Good Lord!

Okay, I’ll admit it. I didn’t want to do it. But I feel I’ve been living a lie too long. I can’t take the pressure any more. I want you to know.

I disagree with Calum Cashley.

There. It’s out. It’s been tearing me up inside. Although I’ve given light-hearted support to Calum’s campaign to back Helen Eadie for Labour leader, I feel I can no longer do that. Despite her excellent credentials, her first class ranting skills and the socialist propaganda in her office windows, I cannot back her for leader.

I cannot back her because there is a better candidate. Someone who has the experience and the political savvy to roll back the years and bury the current controversy. Someone who has first hand experience of being dictated to from lands afar. Someone who puts the “heavyweight” back into Labour politics. Someone who even went to the same (comprehensive) school as I did, that wonderful seat of education at Keith Grammar School.

Waddle forward, Lord Foulkes, saviour of the Labour Party in Scotland, man of the people, bench boy to Vlad the mad. You know it makes sense.

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Monday, 4 February 2008

A rocking horse?

Rumblings around Holyrood about the next leader of the Labour Party in Scotland - despite claims by the incumbent that she will not stand down.

North to Leith claims to be in the know about internal Labour politics, suggesting that 6 MSPs are required to nominate a candidate to challenge the leader. That blog - with its ear suspiciously low to the ground - suggests a stalking horse candidate in the form of Malcolm Chisholm. North to Leith suggests he'd be nominated to do the dirty job of getting rid of Wendy before bowing out - and being rewarded handsomely by the preferred candidate who NtL believes to be Cathy Jamieson.

I have no problem seeing that course of action, and it would be a smart move on Labour's part - Cathy Jamieson is a safe pair of hands, tough and experienced in the area of Justice, and performed well at FMQs prior to Wendy's arrival.

A couple of problems with this though. Malcolm Chisholm - notwithstanding his outstanding first name - is too nice a guy, and has too much in the way of morals to be a oust Wendy. Look at his stance on nuclear - it led to him resigning a front bench role (something Labour are notoriously reluctant to do). And for this he is despised by parliamentary colleagues - all of which shun him in the canteen. So the question is: would they trust him to pull this off?

A bigger problem arises if they can't. Namely - who else is there to take over? Andy Kerr & Tom McCabe are tainted by Wendy-gate. Iain Gray - who was promised a ministerial position if he returned to parliament - is the quiet man, and hasn't been back long enough. Lord Foulkes would be interesting - but also controversial. Margaret Curran is an option, as are Jackie Baillie (please no!) or Karen Whitefield (who I understand is powerful behind the scenes). Or as Calum Cashley points out, there's always Helen Eadie...

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Time to fall on your sword Wendy

“I am confident that I will be exonerated of any intentional wrong-doing when we finally get the Electoral Commission's report."
- W. Alexander, 3 February 2008.

In addition to the Electoral Commission’s investigation into an illegal donation (which, it should be said, came to light in November), the Scottish Parliament’s Standards Commissioner Dr Jim Dyer has reported the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland to the Procurator Fiscal for not publicly declaring donations in her register of interests as a Member of Scottish Parliament.

So, under investigation for breaking the law once, and having been referred to prosecutors for a second breach of the law, what course of action has the esteemed leader of the largest opposition party in Scotland followed? Amazingly, Ms Alexander has managed to break the law, admit doing so, blame others, claim its only a distraction, claim it was "unintentional" and deny that she will resign.

Now, I’m not a lawyer or a judge (and for sure not as sober as one) but there are a couple of things which strike me as odd here.

1) If you admit that you’ve broken the law – intentional or not – you must still face the consequences of that. “Aye sir, I did sir, but I didnae mean tae m'laud” is not a defence.

2) If you are going to blame someone else for it – and I agree that Charlie Gordon is culpable to a great degree for the Jersey donation – then make sure that the person you blame is going to accept the blame and resign.

3) To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to deal with one dodgy donation is unfortunate. To get into a bigger mess about declaring donations might be considered careless. It might also be considered criminal.

It’s time to accept responsibility for your actions. It’s time to show that you know you’ve done wrong, that you are sorry for your actions – however intentioned they were. It’s time, Ms Alexander, to resign.

Scottish politics will not be ill-served by your resignation. It has been ill-served by your leadership of the Labour Party.



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Speaker to sit?

Sources at the Palace of Westminster have hinted to me that current Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin may be considering his position.

Although known to stubbornly deny any leaning towards his former party colleagues on the Labour benches, he has been seen to be favouring the Government in recent weeks, most notably on the European treaty when he would not accept a cross-party amendment to the government line that would have seen the bill fall. Pressure is said to have come from Downing Street to avoid any more pressure for a referendum on the treaty.

The Speaker has not been the most popular figure in the Commons since replacing Betty Boothroyd as in 2000 and while unlikely to stand down voluntarily from his position, may consider not contesting his Glasgow North East seat at the next election.

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