Sunday, 30 November 2008

Happy St. Andrews' Day

Happy St. Andrew's Day to you all. I've just seen the Scottish Government video for Homecoming 2009 - with certain Scottish stars singing 'Caledonia'. Have to say, some of it is pretty good. Some of it, pretty cringy... Here it is:



Sam Torrance for the X-Factor next year anyone? I reckon Chris Hoy might make the outtakes...

Incidentally, when our rugby boys are on, does anyone know what the picture is in the background? Looks like Strathisla Distillery in my hometown (Keith) but does anyone know different?

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Friday, 28 November 2008

Our democracy: just or well?

Or just Orwell?


I'm with my blogging comrade Scottish Tory Boy on this. Just as the use of counter-terrorism legislation in the wake of the Icelandic banking collapse was ludicrous, so too the heavy-handed arrest of Tory MP and Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green on charges of "conspiring to commit misconduct in public office" are ridiculous.

Basically the guy is doing his job as an opposition MP. He was arrested for making public information which the government wanted kept hidden away - not for reasons of national security but for political gain. He didn't release into the public domain launch codes for Trident missiles, he made public four pieces of information leaked from the government - two issues regarding illegal immigrants, one a list of "rebel" Labour MPs and one an embarrassing letter from the home secretary suggesting the recession may increase crime levels. None of those matters are of national security issue, and as far as I am aware, none fall under the category of terrorism against the state - therefore use of counter-terrorism legislation is neither warranted nor justified.

One issue that interests me though, is the question of knowledge on the part of the government. My understanding of the counter-terrorism laws - and I could be wrong about this - was that the Home Secretary was to be notified if they were to be used. IF that is the case, then surely Jacqui Smith should have known about it - and should, surely, have passed that information onto Downing Street? The Met Police informed London Mayor Boris Johnson of impending arrest. I find it difficult to believe that someone who holds the highest office of any Tory MP would be told of something of this magnitude but that the Home Secretary was ignorant of it.

Tom Harris, Labour's blogging MP, "shares some the concerns of the public" on the isssue, and concedes the effectiveness of Green as an opposition MP in tracking down information and using it against the government. He suggests that a member of the government probably knew about the arrest beforehand - but if that is the case, why are Government MPs saying otherwise? He has previously rubbished claims that we are living in an Orwellian state. I wonder how much more evidence he needs.

I think this is a worrying development - but, sadly, the natural progression of Labour's anti-terrorism legislation. I didn't think something like this would happen so quickly or to such a high-profile figure, but the evidence is there, should it be required, that the counter-terrorism laws have made it easier for the police not only to run roughshod over civil liberties but to arrest opposition MPs for doing what is basically their job - being critical of the government.

If this is democracy, what the hell are we fighting for?

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Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross

2005 result:
John Thurso LD – 13,957 (50.5%)
Alan Jamieson LAB – 5,789 (20.9%)
Karen Shirron SNP – 3,686 (13.3%)
Angus Ross CON – 2,835 (10.2%)
Liberal Democrat HOLD
Majority: 8,168 over LAB

Candidates:
John Thurso MP (LD)
John MacKay (LAB)

Swing required: LAB – 14.8 % SNP – 18.6% CON – 20.15%

Council area: -
Highland (Other [IND GROUP]-LD-LAB coalition) (previously OTH-SNP – June 08)

Scottish Parliament: -
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross: LD (majority - 2,323 over SNP)
Ross, Skye & Inverness West:
LD (majority - 3,486 over SNP)
(SNP MAJORITY ON REGIONAL LIST in
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross AND Ross, Skye & Inverness West)

Electorate: 46,533
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross: 40,731 (87.5%)
Ross, Skye & Inverness West:
5,802 (12.5%)

Prediction:
A relatively straightforward hold for the Lib Dems in what should be considered safe territory for them. Although the Lib Dem vote will be squeezed nationally due to SNP-LAB and CON-LAB tactical voting,
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross should remain an intact LD stronghold. Expect the majority to be slashed to around 4,500-5,000, although who the main beneficiary will be is difficult to tell. I think that Labour voters might, in realising they won't win the seat, transfer votes to the Lib Dems - to stop the SNP winning - thereby losing second place to the Nats, who will shore up their regional performance at the SP election. An easy-ish LID DEM HOLD

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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Not tonight Darling, I've got a(nother) headache...


I'm trying to get a handle on this economic situation, but as has probably been painfully obvious to you dear reader, I'm struggling to work out what's going on. I'm recounting what has happened over the last year - that I can remember anyway (with the help of the BBC):
  • First (arguably) it was Northern Rock, whose collapse led the Chancellor Alistair Darling to bail it out to the tune of £25BN.

  • Then Bradford & Bingley post losses of over £25m for the the six months to June 2008.

  • Fast forward to August and Darling wakes up to the crisis - openly stating that the UK is in its "worst economic crisis in 60 years." To help out - and try to stimulate the housing market - the Treasury raises the threshold for stamp duty to £175,000. But the help barely registers. Bank of England holds interest rates at 5% in September.

  • Then HBOS takes a nosedive, and, despite this BBC report from September, continues to negotiate a solution.

  • Bradford and Bingley is taken under the government wing and nationalised in late September, with part of its operation sold to Santander.

  • The PM - rather than the Chancellor - announces that a guarantee on savings will be raised to £50,000.

  • Darling & Brown then announce a £37BN bailout for three UK banks - RBS, Lloyds TSB & HBOS. Stabilises RBS share price which had fallen dramatically.

  • Unemployment rises to 1.79 million in October 2008, while the Bank of England cuts interest rates from 4.5% to 3% in early November.

  • Which takes us up to this week, and the Chancellor's decision to cut VAT by 2.5%. Oh yeah, and now Woolworths have gone into administration, with MFI likely to join them shortly.
Now I know that none of this has happened in a vacuum, and that the global economy has gone, for want of a better phrase, tits up. And I'm not an economist so I don't fully understand the whole situation. But here's how it appears to me.

The government has acted when it feels like it has been forced - the bank bailout(s), the interest rate cut (which is technically independent, but probably lent on slightly by the PM and Chancellor), the savings guarantee and the VAT cut.

That action, it seems to me, is reluctant. I think they want the market to sort itself out. But the problem is, it doesn't seem to be doing so. Or, it does, but not in a way that helps the economy get out of a recession.


The problem, I think, is a lack of trust. The consumer doesn't trust the government not to raise taxes again, so they save instead of spend. The government doesn't trust the market to fix itself so it is interfering. And the banks, well, they don't trust anyone - let alone other banks - and so have dramatically cut their lending.


Seems like if we can learn to trust again, we can learn to love again... no wait, I've stumbled into a boy band single or something. Think the point is, trust matters. And I'm not convinced that I trust chancellor to be doing what is right just now

And I think a lot of people think the same way.

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk

2005 result:
Michael Moore LD – 18,993 (41.8%)
John Lamont CON – 13,092 (28.85)
Sam Held LAB – 7,206 (15.9%)
Aileen Orr SNP – 3,885 (8.6%)
Liberal Democrat HOLD
Majority: 5,901 over CON

Candidates:

Michael Moore MP (LD)
Chris Walker* John Lamont MSP (CON)
Paul Wheelhouse (SNP)

*It appears that Chris Walker was asked/forced/coerced into standing down as the candidate in favour of MSP John Lamont, who won the second selection fairly easily...

Swing required: CON – 6.48% LAB – 12.95 % SNP – 16.6%

Council area: -
Scottish Borders (Other-CON-LD coalition)

Scottish Parliament: -
Roxburgh & Berwickshire: CON (majority - 1,985 over LD – GAIN FROM LD)
Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale: LD (majority - 598 over SNP)
(SNP MAJORITY ON REGIONAL LIST in Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale)

Electorate: 72,430
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Roxburgh & Berwickshire: 44,846 (61.9%)
Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale: 27, 584 (38.1%)

Prediction:
A two-horse race between the incumbent Lib Dem Michael Moore and Conservative challenger Chris Walker, Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk could prove to be one of the tightest fought seats in
Scotland. High on the Conservatives list of targets, the work done by John Lamont in taking part of the Scottish Parliamentary equivalent should stand the party in good stead here. Another factor in play is the Borders Council is run by a coalition between the two main contenders. A 6.5% swing is all that is required for the Tories to win here, and I think if it is a good night for them nationally, that is managable. Expect fireworks, and afterwards, a new Conservative MP for the constituency. CON GAIN

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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Thoughts on the Pre-Budget Report


Enough has been written elsewhere regarding the government plans to stimulate the economy with a 2.5% cut in VAT (the first cut to VAT for over 30 years) and a 45% tax rate for all earnings over £115,000 so I won't really go into it in detail here.

Just wondering though, if either the government, the opposition or those reporting the story think people are stupid. Take these positions:
  • The government: believes if it cuts VAT people will spend more money (despite it only making a 2.5% difference in cost!) rather than save it for what they think will be tough times later. They also think that further tax on the rich will boost government coffers.
  • The opposition: believes that people won't spend more due to tax cuts - they'll save it for when the taxes not just returned to current levels but increased. They think the government plans are a short-term fix, and that increased borrowing will put a massive strain on the economy.
  • Those reporting: think that if they report concerns that the economy will go to the ground if people don't spend more money then people are more likely to spend instead of saving, probably out of patriotism/ willing the economy to recover.
Have I summed up the respective positions correctly? And if so, don't they all presume people are, well, stupid? Because I don't think it is quite as simple.

People will probably spend a bit more now VAT has been reduced - in the short term - but they'd probably decided on a budget for Christmas, and will probably stay within that limit (and I know my limit is pretty low, regardless of any change to VAT). But after that, into the New Year, people are less likely to keep digging, fearing a huge tax hike - so instead put their money away in bank accounts.

So the government is probably right - their idea will stimulate the economy both short and long term. In the short term, it will be the British economy. In the long term - the Swiss (think about it).

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Monday, 24 November 2008

Banff & Buchan

2005 result:
Alex Salmond SNP – 19,044 (51.2%)
Sandy Wallace CON – 7,207 (19.4%)
Eleanor Anderson LD – 4,952 (13.3%)
Rami Okasha LAB – 4,476 (12.0%)
SNP HOLD
Majority: 11,837 over CON

Candidates:
Eilidh Whiteford (SNP)

Swing required: CON – 15.9% LD – 18.95% LAB – 19.6%

Council area: -
Aberdeenshire (LD-CON coalition)

Scottish Parliament: -
Banff & Buchan: SNP (majority - 10,530 over CON)
Gordon: SNP SNP (majority - 2,062 over LD – GAIN FROM LD)

Electorate: 65,970
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Banff & Buchan: 57,113 (86.6%)
Gordon: 8,857 (13.4%)

Prediction:
Despite First Minister Alex Salmond stepping aside to concentrate on his Scottish Parliament duties, expect the seat to remain with the SNP – as it has since 1987 when (a much younger and less portly) Alex Salmond was first elected to serve as MP for the constituency. Conservatives to show well in second, probably increasing their share of the vote slightly, while the Lib Dems and Labour scrap for third. SNP HOLD

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

ELCLP: Not black and white


The Sunday Herald has more on the Anne Moffat/ East Lothian Constituency Labour Party mess here.

It seems Iain Gray has a spot of bother in his back yard - and now has to choose between the constituency party - who welcomed him into East Lothian and got him re-elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007 after he lost Edinburgh Pentlands in 2003 - and the MP for the respective Westminster constituency, Anne Moffat.

Looks like there's a lot more to come out in what is becoming a massive problem for Gray to deal with.

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Saturday, 22 November 2008

Train crazy


This makes no sense to me.


If we're are trying to encourage people to stop using cars and start using public transport, shouldn't we be cutting the costs of doing so?

A 6% rise in rail fares from January would certainly make me think again about using the train, especially since petrol prices are making their way back down.

As a student (with limited income) more often than not I take the cheapest option I can. Around Edinburgh I get the bus. When I'm through in Stirling I occasionally drive - or get the bus direct to the campus. There was a time when, travelling north to visit relatives I took the train. But now - especially when credit is a-crunching (the thirteenth day of Christmas...) I simply can't afford the outlay.

Economically and environmentally, this is a daft move.

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Friday, 21 November 2008

Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock

2005 result:
Sandra Osborne LAB – 20,433 (45.4%)
Mark Jones CON – 10,436 (23.2%)
Colin Waugh LD – 6,341 (14.1%)
Charles Brodie SNP – 5,932 (13.2%)
LABOUR HOLD
Majority: 9,997 over CON

Candidates:
Sandra Osbourne MP (LAB)

Swing required: CON – 11.1% LD – 15.65% SNP – 16.1%

Council area: -
East Ayrshire (SNP minority)
South Ayrshire (CON minority)

Scottish Parliament: -
Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley: LAB (majority - 3,986 over SNP)
Ayr: CON (majority - 3,906 over LAB)

Electorate: 74,159
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley: 51,504 (69.4%)
Ayr: 22,655 (30.6%)

Prediction:
Despite losing control of East Ayrshire council and 14 councillors across the two council areas, this is still Labour heartland territory. 2005’s boundary changes removed the previous marginality of the seat and upped Labour’s majority. Cumnock IS Labour territory, and while the Tories have some decent margins in bits of Ayr, the seat is much more Labour than it is Tory. With a majority of almost 10,000 votes and a swing of over 11% required for any party to get close, expect Sandra Osborne to hold onto the seat, albeit, again, on a reduced majority of about 4,500. LAB HOLD

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Strictly daft Question Time













One of these men is Secretary of State for Scotland. The other is "Lurch", the Butler from the Addams family films. For some reason, Jim Murphy's appearance on Question Time last night reminded me of the character... but I can't put my finger on why.


Speaking of Question Time, last night was the first time since it was held in Musselburgh (in July, I think) that I've actually had an opportunity to watch it. And to be honest, I know now understand why I don't bother. Ten minutes on John Sergeant's decision to quit Strictly Come Dancing was beyond a joke. First the UK Culture Secretary talks about the judging on the X Factor - in the House of Commons no less. Then 10 minutes on Question Time on the burning John Sergeant-Strictly Come Dancing issue in which our esteemed Scottish Secretary said (and I quote):
"The judges I think have totally misjudged what this programme is about. I watch this programme with my family, for family entertainment and good fun. John was emblematic of that. And rather than taking themselves so seriously, I think we should get rid of the judges rather than John."
Um... okay. I'd suggest that what the judges say is part of that entertainment Mr Secretary (not that I watch the show - I'm with Nicola Sturgeon, the X Factor is miles better). But my main concern is that the Secretary of State for Scotland is taking this too seriously. It's a reality TV show for goodness sake. There are bigger issues at stake in the UK at the moment.

On a lighter note, did everyone else watching cringe at Tavish Scott's attempt at humour? Something like "seeing as we're in Scotland, we should forget about the controversy and get going with a 'Dashing White Sergeant'". Oh dear...

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Thursday, 20 November 2008

Argyll & Bute

2005 result:
Alan Reid LD – 15,786 (36.6%)
Jamie McGrigor CON – 10,150 (23.5%)
Carolyn Manson LAB – 9,696 (22.4%)
Isobel Strong SNP – 6,716 (15.5%)
Liberal Democrat HOLD
Majority: 5,636 over CON

Candidates:

Alan Reid MP (LD)
Carolyn Brodie* Cllr Gary Mulvaney (CON)
Mike MacKenzie (SNP)
* Carolyn Brodie stood down as candidate for CON in February 2008

Swing required: CON – 6.55% LAB – 7.1 % SNP – 10.55%

Council area: -
Argyll & Bute (Other-SNP coalition)

Scottish Parliament: -
Argyll & Bute: SNP (majority - 815 over LD - GAIN)
Dumbarton: LAB (majority - 1,611 over SNP)
(SNP MAJORITY ON REGIONAL LIST in Dumbarton)

Electorate: 69,571
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Argyll &
Bute: 49,839 (71.6%)
Dumbarton: 19,732 (28.4%)

Prediction:
The first of what could legitimately be classed “four-way marginals” if Scottish Parliament election results are taken into account. The SNP’s Jim Mather won the corresponding Holyrood seat from third while second to fourth places in the Westminster seat have shuffled constantly since 1992. The SNP’s presence on the Council plus as MSP in the area must make them favourites to become the main challenger, but whether that will be enough to oust Alan Reid remains to be seen. I think the Lib Dem vote will hold up here, and they’ll hold on by around 1,500 votes. LID DEM HOLD

UPDATE - My first instinct (when I wrote this two months ago!) was to retain this as a Lib Dem hold. However, I am swaying towards a LID DEM LOSS. Who wins it – whether CON or SNP – I’m still not sure. Depending on who has the better night, it could go either way, though I’d suggest the SNP are probably better placed to take the seat, based on 2007 Holyrood performance and the fact that 2005 was a low point. However, sources are telling me that it will be pretty tight, and that it is most likely one from three - LD, CON or SNP, with the Labour vote falling and (potentially) transferring to the SNP. Truth in this, I don't know. Depending who you talk to, you get a different read.

If you want a guess at the moment, aaaaargh... I'll go with the SNP having enough from Jim Mather's presence in the Scottish Government to win this. Though I'm not convinced... as I said before, the Lib Dems might have enough to hold on. For the moment though...
SNP GAIN

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There may be trouble ahead...


...but while there's Moffat and money, some scandal, the suspension of a Constituency Labour Party and another election to come, Labour must face the music. And dance.

Okay, perhaps not the most catchy of tunes. But what is going on in East Lothian?! My ear to the ground tells me the BBC are reporting Labour's National Executive Committee have suspended the East Lothian Constituency party while a "full investigation of the local party and its affairs.

Not good news it would appear for Anne Moffat, Labour's MP for the area, who it would appear hasn't exactly made herself popular in the constituency who, in the past, has compared Alex Salmond to Hitler and hit the headlines previously for claiming £40,000 worth of travel expenses... in one year.

According to Brian Taylor, only 2 of the six branches in East Lothian backed her for automatic reselection, while three wanted an open selection process and the other, the largest branch, was divided. However, on the back of Trade Union affiliates' votes, she was reselected. The matter was referred to Labour's NEC who upheld the decision and has now suspended the branch.

Couple of things:

One - surely this makes an even bigger mockery of Labour's election process (which I highlighted during the leadership contest). Apparently Labour are all about hearing what the electorate wants to say... so why when their membership says something are they so keen to hush them up?

Secondly, this is Iain Gray's backyard. Well, not really... since he was MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands before that nasty Tory man stole his seat in 2003. This probably makes it difficult (but not impossible) for Labour to hold East Lothian in the next Westminster Election - and then what for the Gray Man of Scottish politics? If his seat goes orange, blue or yellow at Westminster, what are the chances of Gray himself getting back in at Holyrood in 2011? Bet I know one person who finds this story a mite interesting.

So... not a good day for Labour I guess.

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Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Angus

2005 result:
Michael Weir SNP – 12,840 (33.7%)
Sandy Bushby CON – 11,239 (29.5%)
Douglas Bradley LAB – 6,850 (18.0%)
Scott Rennie LD – 6,660 (17.5%)
SNP HOLD
Majority: 1,601 over CON

Candidates:
Michael Weir (SNP)
Alberto Costa (CON)

Swing required: CON – 2.1% LAB – 7.85% LD – 8.1%

Council area: -
Angus (“Angus Alliance” - CON-LD-LAB-IND coalition)

Scottish Parliament: -
Angus: SNP (majority - 8,243 over CON)
Tayside North: SNP (majority - 7,584 over CON)

Electorate: 64,591
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Angus: 35,969 (55.7%)
Tayside North: 28,622 (44.3%)

Prediction:
Since Andrew Welsh stood down from the Angus seat at Westminster to retain his seat in the Scottish Parliament the Conservatives have reduced what was a 10,000+ majority in 1997 to 1,600 in 2005. Mike Weir has been a popular MP and Andrew Welsh has increased his majority in the Scottish Parliament in the face of difficult competition in the shape of Alex Johnstone MSP, while in neighbouring Tayside North, local MSP John Swinney has worked miracles as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. The SNP also won 13 of the council’s 29 seats in the 2007 local government elections. The SNP managed to retain Angus in what was a poor night for them in 2005. If the Tories couldn’t win here then, how are they going to do so with the SNP running the Scottish Government and generally doing pretty well in opinion polls? Expect an all-out assault but an effort that will ultimately fall just short in a two-horse race. SNP HOLD

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Quote of the day

SFA Chief executive Gordon Smith on the cost of tickets for the Scotland v Argentina game tonight:
"The highest price is £35... which is for the best seats."
"It's a lot less than the Take That concert tickets and the stadium will be full for that over two nights next year."
Did he just compare the lure of seeing possibly one of the world's greatest footballers manage his country for the first time with four has-been 1990s boy band singers (who, granted, make some excellent music)?

I mean, one is overweight, unfit and forty-something, and can't sing or dance...

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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The economy: Is it stupid?


I'm not going to pretend I have a clue what is going on with regards the economy. Recession. Boom and bust. Fiscal stimulus packages. They might as well be talking Basque - I'd understand about as much. So when the Tories announced today that they are to scrap plans to match Labour's spending if they win the election I was left even more confused.

You see, "Dave" wants to create a "low-tax, low debt economy" and run away from Labour's "spend today, worry about tomorrow tomorrow" financial policy. Obviously I'm paraphrasing slightly - I don't have a clue what they're talking about.

The Chancellor, Lord Badger Alistair Darling slammed the plans, saying governments have to pump money into their economies to help populations struggling with the credit crunch. He is expected to announce a number of tax cuts and increased public spending. Which I'm not sure go together that well.

In fact, and I don't say this nearly often enough(!), I think Stephen Glenn is probably right when he says that if Labour go ahead with cutting taxes next week, they will inevitably have to raise taxes again soon, in order to pay for their public spending - which is not to be cut

Again, I'm not really in a position to evaluate each of the tax plans in detail. But simple household budgeting is evidence enough that if you cut the money coming in (say, by giving up your job to start a PhD) you have to also cut the money going out (like going to the pub/ rugby/ theatre). So how is it that a government cuts the money coming in, it can keep spending? Isn't that what got Aberdeen and Edinburgh councils into financial difficulties? Wait a minute... isn't that what got the UK into this financial mess? Banks - and indeed governments - spending money that they didn't have in the first place?

Not that I'm sold on the Tories idea at all, but if Darling made the mess, why should we trust him to clear it up?

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Airdrie & Shotts

2005 result:
John Reid LAB – 19,568 (59%)
Malcolm Balfour SNP – 5,484 (16.5%)
Helen Watt LD – 3,792 (11.4%)
Stuart Cottis CON – 3,271 (9.9%)
Labour HOLD
Majority: 14,084 over SNP

Candidates:
John Reid (LAB) *
Ruth Whitfield (CON)
*John Reid announced in September 2007 that he would stand down at the next election

Swing required: SNP – 21.25% LD – 23.8% CON – 24.55%

Council area: -
North Lanarkshire (LAB)

Scottish Parliament: -
Airdrie & Shotts: LAB (majority - 1,446 over SNP)
Hamilton North & Belshill: LAB (majority - 4,865 over SNP)
Coatbridge & Chryston: LAB (majority - 4,510 over SNP)

Electorate: 63,309
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Airdrie & Shotts: 55,519 (87.6%)
Hamilton North & Belshill: 7,380 (11.7%)
Coatbridge & Chryston: 410 (0.7%)

Prediction:
Despite the retirement of sitting MP and former holder of multiple Cabinet positions John Reid – and the massive (15%) swing away from Labour in the corresponding seat in the Scottish Parliament – I cannot see the 22% swing required to take the seat away from Labour in their heartlands. Without John Reid standing however, expect the Labour candidate to be returned with a much lower majority of around 4,500. LAB HOLD

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Monday, 17 November 2008

Thwarted again


Apologies for not getting a post up earlier today - a combination of recovering from the half marathon I ran yesterday (first race since January/ ill-health enforced absence) and doing other things. This one isn't really about politics.

I had the pleasure of attending Scotland's latest Autumn Test against South Africa on Saturday. The 14-10 final scoreline didn't really tell the full story of the match - other than showing how close Scotland ran the reigning World Champions. The loss was hard to take for a number of reasons, not least because we probably shouldn't have lost.

In all, Scotland missed 4 penalty kicks on Saturday, which is remarkable on the basis that with Chris Paterson had an incredible run of 36 successful kicks from 36 attempts between August 2007 and June 2008. However, Paterson had to leave the game after only five minutes with a facial injury. Stand-off Phil Godman (himself subject to a head injury) missed two penalties - one (with 5 minutes to go) from right in front of the posts, while his replacement, stand-off Dan Parks also missed two. Those 12 points were crucial in what was to end up as a low scoring game.

One of Scotland's coaches, Sean Lineen, has voiced his criticism of the fans who booed Dan Parks on Saturday puts it. I don't care that the guy "tries hard every time he pulls on the jersey" as Lineen says. The bottom line is he is just not good enough. And while I respect Lineen for what he has done in a Scotland jersey in the past, he shouldn't be criticising the fans who pay good money to watch Scotland play. I have been one of the most vociferous critics of Parks simply because he doesn't do what Scotland need a player in his position to do. His kicking game is okay at best but his decision-making is highly questionable. And while I keep attending Scotland games, I'll reserve the right to voice my opinion.

Stand-off is a problem position for Scotland, and filling it has become crucial. Our forwards have come onto a decent game - especially in the scrum, though the lineout needs some work in the absence of Scott Murray - and in Blair, Lawson and Cusiter we have three scrum-halfs that could probably get into any team in the world. Our backline is even improving - with the Lamonts and Thom Evans on the wings, Ben Cairns and even Nick de Luca showing massive improvement against South Africa. Hugo Southwell replaced Paterson at full-back and was impressive with his up-and-under kicking and under the high ball - two areas that Paterson is suspect in. We need a 10 that can utilise the good ball that the forwards secure.

So here's a suggestion - that I know isn't popular in some areas, and it has been tried before (though not for any extended period of time). Leave Dan Parks out the squad entirely. He has been due to be dropped for longer than I can remember. Drop Godman to the bench and play Chris Paterson at stand-off. Southwell played much better than Paterson at full-back and showed he should be starting there. Playing Paterson at full-back has been done only to ensure he starts somewhere but Southwell has shown that it isn't feasible to leave him out.

It's a temporary solution I know. But until we can unearth our own James Hook or retrain Chris Cusiter completely to play at 10, I see no other way to make sure our best kicker is in the side AND have a decent link between the forwards and the backs. I know he has been tried there before, but it hasn't been for long enough for him to settle. Parks has been tried for long enough and found wanting on too many occasions. We need to do something different, and I don't think Phil Godman showed enough on Saturday.

This sounds fairly pessimistic (Hi, I'm Malc, have we met?!) but there are some positives to take from the game. We held the World Champions to 14 points. We battered them in the first half and in the closing ten minutes but couldn't find a way through. With someone else kicking we'd probably have won. And the forwards have shown that they are a pack that can take on some of the best forwards in the world and win ball. At the end of the day though, we lost - and we're now out of the top 8 in the world - and, consequently, will be among the third seeds at the next World Cup. Which just makes things harder.

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Saturday, 15 November 2008

The SNP: Regionalist and Nationalist?

I note with some dismay that my pal Scottish Tory Boy has gotten himself into a bit of controversy over his description of the SNP as a "regionalist" party. As an academic myself (ha... ha ha) who is currently studying that topic, I have to defend STB to the fullest on description. According to academic descriptions, the SNP are a regionalist party.


Now I've never been the type of nationalist who gets offended when people use the word "region" to describe Scotland. I've gotten annoyed when I've been mistaken for English, or worse, when people assume Britain means England or use the terms interchangeably. But I wondered why those that STB referred to as "CyberNats" were so offended by the term. The conclusion I reached, and correct me if I'm wrong, was that the term "regional" was an insult, a diminishing the "nationhood" espoused by nationalist/ regionalist parties.

Now I don't really want to wade into a controversy here. Well, actually, maybe I do. But its only to point out the following: Most academics use the term "regionalist" as a catch-all term because the parties who fall into the category invariably want different things - full independence, enhanced self-government, fiscal autonomy, federalism or, indeed, self-goverment to begin with. What makes a party a nationalist party too is based on different aspects - a historic claim to nationhood, a distinct language and/or culture, civil society, independent structures (eg, in education, religion or law) and a claim to represent the best interests of that historic nation.

I'd argue that the SNP fit both criteria. They are - broadly speaking - a regionalist party, in the sense exist purely for autonomous purposes and compete electorally on that basis AND at the same time, a nationalist party, portraying themselves as the defenders of Scottish society. In this way, they are very similar to Convergencia i Unio in Catalonia - competing electorally in one region, promoting themselves as the defenders of the nation and demanding more power for their historic nation.


Anyway, its something I've been thinking about. Any (further) thoughts?

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Friday, 14 November 2008

Aberdeen South

2005 Result:
Anne Begg LAB – 15,272 (36.7%)
Vicki Harris LD – 13,924 (33.5%)
Stewart Whyte CON – 7,134 (17.1%)
Maureen Watt SNP -4,120 (9.9%)
Labour HOLD
Majority: 1,348 over LD

Candidates:
Anne Begg MP (LAB)

Vicki Harris * Matt Duncan ** John Sleigh (LD)
Mark Jones
(CON)
Cllr Mark McDonald
(SNP)
* Vicki Harris resigned as candidate for LD in August 2007
** Matt Duncan resigned as candidate for LD as of 7 May 2008

Swing required: LD – 1.1% CON – 9.8% SNP – 13.4%

Council area: -
City of Aberdeen (LD-SNP coalition)

Scottish Parliament: -
Aberdeen South: LD (majority 2,731 over SNP)
Aberdeen Central: LAB (majority 382 over SNP)
(SNP MAJORITY ON REGIONAL LIST in Aberdeen Central & Aberdeen South)

Electorate: 69,332
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Aberdeen South: 58,562 (84.5%)
Aberdeen Central: 10,770 (15.5%)

Prediction:
In a UK-wide context I expect the CON-LAB contest to squeeze the Lib Dems, while in Scotland the LAB-SNP contest will probably do the same. It is likely that this will see the Lib Dems drop their share of the votes in some places where they should really be moving forward. Aberdeen South is a very winnable seat for the Lib Dems – requiring a swing of just over 1%, with the added assistance of holding the equivalent Scottish Parliament seat (that of former Scottish party leader Nicol Stephen). However, this may be one of the contests where they may just fall short given Anne Begg’s relative popularity compared to the Lib Dem-led council. The SNP may just pip the Tories for third, and that would count as progress for them. All things considered, probably a safe-ish LAB HOLD

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