Thursday, 2 September 2010

A New Beginning

This post is serving two functions.  Firstly, it is a thank you to everyone who has read my ramblings over the past three years and voted for me in the Total Politics awards.  I'm not folding MitB entirely, but I am recognising that the rate of posting has withered a bit over the past few months, and in that sense, it is all but done.




However, I have a new project.  Jeff (SNP Tactical Voting), James (Two Doctors) and I have decided the time is right to embark upon a joint blog project, which we're starting today.  We've called it Better Nation and we hope it will be a collaboration of good quality work (well, each of the three of us made the Total Politics Top 10 - just!) which will also take a little bit of the pressure off of us to post as regularly.

So, if you liked our writing individually, stop past there for a read and debate our views.  Equally, we're fairly open to guest contributors (we don't want it to be a closed project) so if you are interested, get in touch.

Thanks again - and see you on the other side!

Malc

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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Retiring MSPs (Updated)

I wrote a post in June listing the MSPs who had announced they would stand down in May's Scottish Parliament election, along with a list of those who may be considering it.  The list of those who had announced their retirement by that point was:

Jamie Stone (LD, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross - 2 June 2010)
Ian McKee (SNP, Lothians - 29 May 2010)
Bill Aitken (Con, Glasgow Region - 19 May 2010)
Robin Harper (Green, Lothians - 13 September 2009)
John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West - 2008)
Chris Harvie (SNP, Mid Scotland & Fife - 2007: one term)

Subsequently, the following MSPs have announced they will also stand down:
George Foulkes (Lab, Lothians - 18 August 2010)
Ted Brocklebank (Con, Mid Scotland & Fife - 4 August 2010)
Trish Godman (Lab, West Renfrewshire  - 4 August 2010)
Rhona Brankin (Lab, Midlothian - 7 July 2010)
Andrew Welsh (SNP, Angus - 10 June 2010)
Jim Mather (SNP, Argyll & Bute - 5 June 2010)
Alasdair Morgan (SNP, South of Scotland - June 2010)
Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley - 17 May 2010)
Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston - May 2010?)

That, by my count, makes 15 MSPs retiring.  Of those 15, I'd suggest age to be the predominant factor in 11 of the cases, with 3 leaving to pursue politics in other places (London) and one (Rhona Brankin) hoping to do something similar.

I still think there are a few more who may be considering giving up their Holyrood salary (as I mentioned in my previous post) including:
Jack McConnell (given peerage 29 May 2010)
Nanette Milne (Con, North-East Scotland - age 68)
Mary Scanlon (Con, Highlands & Islands - age 62)
Jamie McGrigor (Con, Highlands & Islands - age 60)
Helen Eadie (Lab, Dunfermline East - age 63)
Nicol Stephen (LD, Aberdeen South - family)

And, I assume, with boundary changes, there will be some, ahem, "enforced" retirements in the sense that some MSPs will not be re-selected by their branches.  I have heard some rumours of this happening already, but no confirmation as yet.  And there will be the inevitable scramble for list places as well, a favoured bloodsport of political journalists.

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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

100 Days... and counting?

In the immediate aftermath of the coalition agreement, I wrote that I thought the Tory-Lib Dem partnership was liable to continue for some time - a period of years, not weeks or months.  I based that partly on the things that the Lib Dems had gotten out of the coalition (including practically half their parliamentary party in various government roles and some minor policy implementation) but also the weakness of the Labour party.

The latter part of that equation hasn't really changed in the last 100 days - Labour in no way look like a party of government in waiting - but the first part... well, there may be some movement.

I said at the time that the Lib Dem Cabinet appointments far outweighed what they were getting in terms of policy commitments.  I think that has borne out. Fixed term parliaments are likely to pass - something the Tories were happy about anyway, ditto ditching the "Mansion Tax" and inheritance tax - while they managed to get agreement to move the threshold for income tax up.  They've also got movement on Calman which, though I think it amounts to bugger all in the way of furthering devolved powers, it is an indication that the government recognises devolution - and more so that the Lib Dems are the ones pushing it.  

However, the pills they have had to swallow I think far outweigh what they've gotten out of it.  Being less pro-Euro, accepting a referendum for further transfer of power up to the EU, capping non-EU immigration (incredibly liberal that one) and, the biggie, accepting a referendum on AV.

Let me consider that last one for a second.  The Lib Dems condition of entering coalition was changing the electoral system to something more proportional.  What they've got is a commitment to hold a referendum on AV - an electoral system which is marginally (at best) better than FPTP in terms of making sure at least 50% of the electorate vote for a candidate.  And they'll be the only ones campaigning hard for it - especially given its apparent scheduling on the same day as devolved elections in Scotland and Wales.  The Tories are against it, as are Labour.  The "smaller" parties (at UK level) are grudgingly in support, but given they'll have the more important election to campaign for, won't spend too much time campaigning for it.

And what if, in spite of this, they actually get a Yes vote for AV?  It's a system the Lib Dems don't really like, and it isn't the STV that they wanted.  So how long before they demand another referendum on that voting system?  I think Dave saw Nick coming on that one - at least Dick Turpin wore a mask when he robbed people of their goods and dignity.

So, what does this mean for the coalition?  Well, 100 days in, they are still too busy dealing with Labour's deficit to focus on much else.  But soon these issues will come upon us.  In nine months time, devolved elections and a split over campaigning on the AV referendum might start to reveal tensions in the coalition.  And with the Lib Dem poll figures dropping considerably since they moved into government, the rose garden is the only thing that looks rosy for Nick Clegg at the moment.  

100 days ago, in that rose garden, when David Cameron was asked about Nick Clegg being his favourite joke, Clegg himself feigned walking away.  In nine months time he may just wish that he had kept walking.

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Monday, 2 August 2010

Total Politics Blog Poll 2010


I wasn't sure that I was going to post my nominations, but since I have every other year (2008 and 2009) here are the 10 blogs I voted for in the Total Politics Blog Poll 2010:

1. SNP Tactical Voting (2008 - #1, 2009 - #1) 
For me, the undisputed king in Scotland (which he, sadly, no longer is in) Jeff's blog remains my number one for a couple of reasons - frequency and content are both high.  Where does he get the energy?  Maybe he's actually a Duracell rabbit...

2. Two Doctors (2008 - #7, 2009 - #2) 
Although the frequency dipped after his candidacy in the 2010 election, James keeps his position mainly on the back of content - it's green politics with an international flavour.  And that appeals to me.

3. J. Arthur MacNumpty (2008 - #5, 2009 - #3) 
Sensing a pattern here?  Will's detailed analysis of the week in Parliament and thoughts on electoral reform, coalitions and boundaries are a psephologist's dream.  Long may it continue.

4. Lallands Peat Worrier (2008, 2009 - unplaced)
High-brow legal analysis written in a style which is unusual and, I think, unique in the blogosphere.  Also done with a sense of humour, which I enjoy.

5. Planet Politics (2008 - unplaced, 2009 - #10)
I like Stuart's "criticise everyone" approach, which is refreshing.  Highly non-partisan, almost anti-politics, I find myself reading it more and more.

6. Eric Joyce MP (2008, 2009 - unplaced)
For me, this is the best Labour blog in Scotland.  Eric Joyce is partisan when he wants to be but fairer than some others with it.  A former minister, he gives insights which are rare in this forum, and he has a writing style which resonates with the reader.  I suspect Mr Harris will beat him out for "best MP blog"... but not by much.

7. DoctorVee (2008, 2009 - unplaced)
Duncan's blog is eclectic to say the least - he splits time between each of his interests - but I find plenty overlap between my interests and his (new media, politics and F1) which keeps by interest going.  Equally, he deserves credit for his role in establishing the Scottish Round-up, which is still going strong (though he is looking for some help in that area - any takers?!).

8. Bethan Jenkins AM (2008, 2009 - unplaced)
See - I have broadened my reading slightly.  Bethan Jenkins' blog gives me an up-to-date picture of what is going on in Wales, obviously with an overtly partisan Plaid slant.  This one is on the up - and I'm glad, because she very kindly allowed me to interview her for my PhD.

9. Caron's Musings (2008 - unplaced, 2009 - #5)
What I said about Caron's eclectic blog last year remains true today.  It does have a more political slant now I think, especially now that her party is in government.  Though I'm not convinced she's sold on the coalition yet...

I don't really know how Stephen maintains the frequency of posting, but it is fairly impressive - especially when you consider how much work he does for a certain diddly wee no-hoper junior government party.  I hope (for his sanity) he doesn't land at #11 again!

So there we go, my top 10.  Obviously by (small c) conservatism showing through, with many of my previous favourites maintaining their position in my vote.  As usual, there are many more cracking reads in Scotland to keep an eye out for - I think time constraints have really cut down my blog-reading (though Google Reader is an amazing help on that score!).

Good luck all - you'll probably find out the results in about a month.

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Friday, 30 July 2010

Five Days

Like most others who fancy themselves as an amateur politico or psephologist, I watched Nick Robinson's documentary "Five Days that Changed Britain" last night (available on iPlayer here).  On the whole, it was pretty decent fare - I mean, you can (as most people do) question Nick Robinson's politics and the choice of questions he asked, but on the whole, I thought he struck the right chord with most of the interviews.

Three things that really stuck out for me though, the first of which was Nick Robinson's conclusion that "coalition government might be here to stay".  This is something I agree with - and wrote about 2 days after the coalition was finalised.  I've gone further too, by saying that I don't think Labour will return to government for at least another 15 years.

Which brings me to the other two things that stuck out - Labour attitudes and personalities.  It was an unedifying spectacle to see Ed Balls, a man who is a potential leader of the Labour party (though probably not on that performance) almost spitting venom when discussing the coalition negotiations.  Labour's attitude towards the Liberal Democrats in particular appears to accuse them of selling out social democracy, despite the fact that wasn't quite what the country had voted for.  "Screw the country - the other lot didn't get a majority, we can still govern unless you do a deal with them".  Except, by last night's account, Balls was one of the main obstacles to an agreement, despite being part of the Labour "negotiating" team.  

It is a worrying situation for Labour when, of all the Labour figures interviewed, the two who came across best were Lords Mandelson and Adonis.  They seemed assured, smart enough to realise that Labour had to take their medicine of opposition for a while, to rebuild trust - they knew it was over.  If Labour has any sense (and I can't believe I'm saying this) Peter Mandelson will be a guy they will listen to when the rebuilding project begins under the new leadership.  Personalities play a big role in this, and his is one which will be fairly influential.  Alistair Campbell too, though he seems somewhat more entrenched and Balls-like than the Lords pair.

On a further note, how disappointing not to have Gordon Brown interviewed.  I don't know if he was invited, but it would be pretty strange if he wasn't.  You can understand his reasons - the way it was described, he was the guy that was dragging all the negotiations, the block to any kind of Lab-Lib Dem pact; he was the loser, the vanquished.  But by not appearing, he allowed that perception to be furthered.  This was an opportunity to go in front of cameras again and say to the public "look, you voted us out, I'm sorry you didn't think we could provide the recovery this country needs but we tried."  But again, his lack of media savvy shone through.

I'm sorry if it appears that I'm having a pop at Labour at the moment, given what I said about Richard Baker a few days ago.  But I think these are worrying times for Labour I think, if Ed Balls is the standard of leadership candidate that they have.  Labour supporters better hope he is not the new leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, because if he is... well, he might not be for long, but his successors will be.

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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Nick Clegg's scheming plan

Nick Clegg thinks its "disrespectful" of 44 Tory MPs to think that voters in Scotland and Wales cannot vote on 2 issues on the same day - he said so yesterday at Deputy PMQs.  He should probably tell that to Ron Gould and the 140,000 voters in Scotland who spoiled papers in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election as they were invited to vote on both it and the local authority election on the same day.

The Deputy PM's idea for holding the AV referendum on the same day as Scottish Parliamentary and Welsh Assembly elections is supposedly about cost - with an apparent saving of £17m if it goes ahead on that day (as opposed to decoupling the two events and having them on different days).  Strange for me, that Clegg's point of principle, a semi-proportional electoral system should be a matter for such penny-pinching.

Also, I don't suppose he has given much thought to the potential outcome of the vote and the fact that it will be held alongside two national elections in Scotland and Wales and none in England.  Think this one through from a Tory perspective for a minute.  Say people in Scotland and Wales ARE convinced of the argument for AV and vote, possibly 80-20% in favour on a turnout average for devolution of around 60%.  Now consider England is predominantly not in favour, for argument sake, 80-20% against.  But given there is no other election on in England at the time, turnout is merely 15% (less than the European Election in 2009).  

What I'm trying to say is this:  what happens if the electoral system is changed to AV on the fact that turnout in Scotland and Wales is high and in England it is low?  

It's hardly fair that England gets saddled with an electoral system they don't want on the back of Scotland and Wales voting for it.  Or is that Clegg's intention?  Make the case in Scotland and Wales, ignore England and hope no one bothers to show up.  Which they probably won't.  He gets AV.

No wonder the Tory MPs are against the proposals.

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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A wolf in sheep's clothing

With apologies to the predominantly Scottish readership but there's some more news from Wales which I've found interesting (and, which has potential relevance to Scotland as well).  And it's this:  How much are the Tories about to royally shaft Labour?

I shall, perhaps, have to put that in a slightly more socially acceptable format should it ever grace the pages of an academic journal, but I felt the terminology apt.  Basically, I'm thinking about David Cameron's (and, to be fair, Nick Clegg's) plans to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and ensure constituencies of roughly equal numbers (75,000 voters).

The reason I'm interested?  The reduction of Welsh representation at Westminster by a QUARTER - or from 40 seats at present to 30 after the reduction.  In actual fact, Wales is, and has been for some time, over-represented at Westminster, so this would really be a simple bringing them into line with the rest of the UK in terms of representation.  As far as I understand, Scotland would be in line to lose 6 or 7 seats while Northern Ireland would lose 3 and the remainder would come from England.

Anyway, three knock-on effects (identified by John Osmond as "unintended consequences") resulting from the changes.  Firstly, the constituencies for the Welsh Assembly are tied to those for Westminster - meaning any reduction in seats for the House of Commons means a corresponding reduction in Cardiff Bay.  If nothing is done to change that then Wales would have an Assembly of just 50 members - 30 constituency and 20 regional list.  And given there are discussions at the moment to increase its powers (and the Richard Commission recommended in 2004 to increase members to 80) that might cause a re-think there.  

Secondly, they could de-couple the constituencies.  There is precedent here - Scotland's were tied too, but an amendment to the Scotland Act allowed us to maintain 73 Holyrood constituencies when we reduced the Westminster ones in 2005 to 59.  However, Welsh Tories aren't keen on the idea - the Welsh Assembly already suffers from a lack of electorate enthusiasm, and confusing the constituencies may make that apathy worse.  Which means that to maintain numbers, they could have an extra 10 list members, which would increase the proportionality of the system (and, one would think, the outcome of elections, the last of which was less proportional than the English local elections).

Thirdly, were the Assembly elected more by PR (with less reliance on FPTP) it would hurt Labour more, as they have benefited most from the only 1/3rd PR element - though, as I noted last week, their vote has been diminishing in Wales for the last decade.  Wales remains the last of the devolved administrations led by a Labour figure - with Carwyn Jones, as Welsh First Minister, the highest elected Labour official in the country.  It appears as though that position is under threat, as with diminishing vote numbers and a potential reduction in MPs, Labour's position as the dominant party in Wales is no longer guaranteed.  In short, the institution which they delivered in 1997 in  the expectation that they'd be governing - individually - for the subsequent two decades looks like it may end up as a further harbinger of doom for the party.

A final thought on that.  In 1997, the Conservatives opposed devolution.  Now, 13 years on, they've found ways to work with it and adapt the system to how it suits them after a damning defeat.  PR, a system which they are not fond of, has saved them electorally in Wales and, ironically, might be the system that secures their position and weakens Labour further.  Sea change indeed, and change that is fuelled by pragmatism on their part.  

A little pragmatism goes a long way - a lesson the Tories have learnt the hard way.  The question is - will Labour?

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Monday, 26 July 2010

Baker's Dozin'

The whole furore over the al-Megrahi release which has been opened up by David Cameron's visit to the States and the US Senate's desire to have Scottish ministers give evidence to their committee is a sad state of affairs.  Plenty has already been written about why this is ridiculous - when will the US start to realise that it does not have jurisdiction over any more than its own shores?  I'm still a bit annoyed (and that's putting it lightly) that Messrs Salmond & MacAskill didn't just tell them to f*** o**.  But perhaps my political antenna isn't quite as in tune as theirs.

Anyway, I digress.  I just wanted to point out the utter nonsense on the issue spouted by Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Baker.  He told the BBC (who have called him "Labour's justice spokesman" which I think is a downgrade in title):

"It speaks volumes about the lack of confidence he has now in his own decision that he is running a mile from any scrutiny of it".  Apparently in his view it is "perfectly legitimate" for American politicians to ask Kenny MacAskill to go to Washington because they can pretty well do what they like.  

Okay, I may have paraphrased that last bit, but his point is daft anyway.  Of course it is legitimate to for them to ask, but it is also legitimate for the Justice Secretary to decline (just as, incidentally, Baker's own colleague and former UK Home Secretary Jack Straw did).  Wouldn't the Scottish Government be justified in inviting the US Senators (some of whom enjoy lucrative sponsorship from oil companies) to come and share their findings with a committee of the Scottish Parliament (who DO have jurisdiction in the matter?  Of course - but they won't, because they recognise that the Senators do not have a constituency over here, and no place in our democratic system.

I think, thankfully, and hopefully, that the best outcome from this sorry media frenzy is that Richard Baker is unlikely to take his present role in opposition into government in the event he is re-elected in May and his party form the government - neither of which event is, thankfully, a certainty at this point.  

Of course what he said is political point-scoring, an opposition MSP trying to paint the government as incompetent.  But I wonder if Iain Gray realises yet that if he wants to run the Scottish Government next year he'll have to do better on the personnel than the amateurs he has running the show at the moment.  But then, it isn't like he has much of a choice.

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Thursday, 22 July 2010

Big Society, Little Britain

David Cameron got some points from me for his idea of a "Big Society".  His idea is very much in keeping with my view of what I guess is often described as "civic nationalism".  Leaving aside that the "nation" it encompasses is larger than I would like (being the UK and not just Scotland) I think the idea is bold and sensible, particularly in the times of financial difficulty which we currently find ourselves in. 

"Dave" wants society to help itself, to let communities run their own (non-vital) services and pull Britain back from the big (sprawling) government it has developed.  That to me is a laudable aim, particularly given that I have a "liberal" view of government as a "necessary evil" and that people shouldn't expect government to do everything for them.  If anything,  I don't think his Big Society goes far enough, but the idea is good, so as I say, points on that score.

But then he lost the points on arrival in the States when, in the words of the excellent Joan McAlpine, he "trashed" Scotland on the world stage by saying how wrong he felt the decision was to release Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, and clearly emphasised how he stood with the US against the Scottish Government on the issue.  Whether you believe the decision to be correct or not, the way in which David Cameron has blown his "respect agenda" for the devolved institutions shows a clear disregard for devolution. 

I expect he will announce a full UK-level inquiry into the decision in the coming days, further ignoring the fact that the decision was the Scottish Government's to make.  The fact that he was not PM at the time of the decision probably makes this easier for him - both in a partisan and bi-lateral, UK-US sense.  I made reference a few days ago to the UK (specifically Jack Straw, when he was Home Secretary) allowing General Pinochet to be released back to Chile on medical grounds, despite charges of torture and assasination against him.  I guess the difference in that case is that he was a) backed by former US President George H. W. Bush (and the fact that his military coup was supported by the US) and b) the decision was made by a UK minister.  I don't remember David Cameron (or indeed, anyone from the US Government) speaking out against that decision, and Pinochet lived 6 YEARS after his release.  The truth of the matter is that we would not be talking about this again had al-Megrahi not survived 11 months (and counting) after his release.  A sad state of affairs indeed that government ministers from both sides of the Atlantic are waiting for a terminally ill man to die.

So yes, the "Big Society" is a good idea.  But Dave, your perception of devolution is small and petty, and the respect for it is non-existent.  Must try harder old chap.

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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Florence and Precious


I think I've missed the boat with the timing of this post - but the sentiment is there, so let's ignore the fact I've showed up late and embrace the fact I'm here.

Last night's vigil and blog-in supporting Florence and Precious Mhango got plenty support from Scotland's great and good in the blogosphere.  Anne and Caron led the way, ably supported by Will and Alison while Jeff and Subrosa both chipped in with their views, all saying the same thing: they've got to stay.  And I'm 100% behind them.

Each of the posts above makes the same point in slightly different ways.  Will points out we've led genocidal murderers (Pinochet) and terrorists (al-Megrahi) live freely out of compassion but we can't see fit to extend that same compassion to a mother and daughter who have made Scotland their home after suffering domestic abuse among other things.  And Jeff points out that David Cameron's warm words about a "Big Society" sound hollow when the Glasgow community to which Florence and Precious belong want them to stay and are being ignored by the political elites who think they know better.

Of course we should take immigration seriously, and the issue of asylum is a sensitive one - but this is a total no-brainer.  If we send them back to Malawi, we're condemning them to a life without each other, Precious to become the "property" of her father.  

I've never been one to call myself British, but if our government is doing this in our name... then I'm disgusted even to be associated with the concept.  Come on Dave - you banged on about compassionate Conservatism enough during the campaign - now lets see it in action.

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Thursday, 15 July 2010

Nat Gain?

Here's a thought for you: can you imagine Jim Murphy deciding that Labour don't quite cut it any more and standing for the SNP at the Scottish election next year?  No? No, probably not.  Perhaps he's not a good example to use for this.  What about previous Scottish Secretaries - Des Browne, Douglas Alexander, Alistair Darling, Helen Liddell, John Reid?  Any of those aspiring Nats do you you think?  No?

Why do I ask anyway?

Well, it seems that former Secretary of State for Wales (and, indeed, architect of Welsh devolution it would appear) Ron Davies HAS decided that.  Indeed, he decided that Labour weren't very good six years ago and joined Forward Wales, a now-disbanded left-of-centre Welsh regionalist party.  Well, he has now gone further, and after campaigning for Plaid at the UK election in May, he is now the only nominee for the party to contest the Caerphilly seat in the Assembly election next year.

I'm not sure what to make of this.  Of course the comparison with Scotland is crude, and doesn't work on any level.  Each of the living former Labour Scottish Secretaries are still active in Labour politics, have recently retired from the Commons or are in the Lords.  And none of them resigned from office in disgrace after a "moment of madness" on Clapham Common.  And I suppose the best comparison (in terms of the person who steered devolution on the Labour benches in Scotland) would be Donald Dewar, and he is no longer with us (and, perhaps, even less likely to join the SNP than any of the aforementioned Labourites were he still alive).

But what is interesting, particularly for folk like me with more than a passing interest in Welsh devolution is the fact that the guy who practically designed devolution in Wales now wants more.  And though that is a fairly common view among the Assembly politicians - they voted unanimously to move to a referendum on the topic - it is not exactly popular among current and former Welsh MPs.  The fact that Ron Davies is ready to stake his political future on it by standing for Plaid - in the seat he held as a Labour MP and AM from 1983 until 2003 - made me think a little harder about it.

On the other hand, relations between Labour and Plaid are much more amicable than those between the SNP and Labour.  They have to be, for the sake of the coalition.  And in spite of tensions here, former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has readily offered his support to the SNP on issues where he agrees with them while Susan Deacon has recently taken on a role in the SNP Government advising on Children and Early Years education.  However, I would hazard that neither will be campaigning - or standing - for the party next year.

Of interest to electoral anoraks is if he wins.  He'd have represented the constituency for two different parties if he did so.  Betsan Powys points out that his former colleague in Forward Wales, John Marek could do the same, and represent 3 parties - he's just joined the Tories, having represented Wrexham for Labour between 1999 and 2003 and the John Marek Independent Party from 2003 to 2007.

Anyway, I'm not sure I can add much more to the analysis.  Just interesting stuff.

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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Total Politics Blog Poll

If I have any readers left, can I point you to the button on the sidebar that will take you to the Total Politics poll of best blogs 2010.  As usual, this is being run by Total Politics and promoted by Iain Dale, Labour List and Lib Dem Voice.  Some rules you may need to know:  


1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to 
toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.


I finished fourth in Scotland last year, but was much more active than I have been recently, so I'm not expecting much.  Indeed, I'm not even going to ask for your vote.  All I'm suggesting is that if you read blogs, you may want to vote.  Go on... 

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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The end of hegemony?

I was reading an interesting article by Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully today (it is this one here, though you'll have to pay to read it - I was at the National Library).  Anyway, the article was entitled "The end of one-partyism" and looked at the electoral performance of Labour in Wales between 1997 and 2005.

I wanted to extend it and look at 2010 as well, and performance in Scotland and England too.  So here's the info:

In Wales, Labour polled 54.7% of the vote in 1997.  In 2005, that figure was 42.7% - a massive 12% fall.  In 2010 they polled 36.2% of the vote - down a further 6.5%.  Of course we have to recognise that 1997 was a high watermark, even for Labour in Wales, but in 13 years of government - which included delivering a form of decision-making to Cardiff - their vote has fallen by 18.5%.  (Incidentally, despite being one of Labour's worst election results by share of the vote since 1918 in Wales, they still won 26 of the 40 seats there).

In England, the watermark was not so high in 1997 at 43.5% of the vote.  In 2005 that figured dipped to 35.5% - down 8%.  And this year it was down further - to 28.1% of the vote, down another 7.4%.  Now England - with the exception of the North, Yorkshire, the West-Midlands and bits of London - is not exactly Labour's heartland it is true, but drop 15% of the vote is a rather large fall.

And so to Scotland.  In 1997 Labour maintained their status as the dominant party in Scotland, winning 45.6% of the vote - not as high as Wales, but they faced a more competitive party system.  By 2005 that had fallen to 38.9% - a fall of 6.7% - almost half of the slide in Wales.  In 2010 they actually increased their share of the vote here, up by 3.1% to 42% of the vote.  In terms of seats, all that did was maintain their level of 2005, with the only nominal gains those which had been lost in by-elections during the session and the seat of the Speaker, which was a notional Labour seat anyway.

Which means what?  Well, I don't really know is the honest answer.  Certainly if you look historically at Wales you see a Liberal hegemony from mid-1800s until 1920s and then a Labour hegemony from the inter-war years to the present.  And recent trends (1997 on, as indicated above) show that hegemony waning, particularly in light of the four-party system at the National Assembly. 

Historically, Scotland is a similar story - a Conservative dominance was arrested in the 1950s and replaced by a Labour hegemony which, though less powerful than it used to be, remains in place today.  Obviously some Nats will take issue with the term "hegemony" and point to the SNP Scottish Government and Scottish and European Parliament results as evidence to the contrary, and that is a fair point.  But I haven't used that in the case of Wales (nor England, for obvious reasons) so why use it for Scotland.

I think the bottom line is equally obvious - that we have distinctly different party systems - and party competitions - in existence at the multiple levels of governance that currently occupy our representatives.  And though the SNP have been buoyed by winning Holyrood (2007) and European (2009) elections (and the Conservatives similarly with the European election in Wales) it is Labour who continue to dominate when it comes to Westminster elections, though that hold is loosening.

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Monday, 12 July 2010

Several(?) dates with destiny

I wrote at the tail end of last week about Nick Clegg's decision (well, okay, Nick Clegg's announcement of the decision) to hold the referendum to decide whether to adopt the AV vote on May 5th, the same day as the Scottish Parliament election next year.  Cue expected stushie, with Alex Salmond writing to David Cameron complaining that this hardly fits with his "respect" agenda, and suggesting that the referendum would "undermine and overshadow" the Scottish Parliament election.  I outlined some of the reasons for this in my previous post.

In theory, the Scottish Parliament can change the date of its election - up to one month either side of the 5th May date.  Well, actually, no, that's not strictly true.  The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament can request that the Secretary of State move the election, and they must sign off on it.  This is something, as Brian Taylor points out, which is being considered as a means of settling the other problem of the date - namely Westminster's change to fixed term parliaments, where the election dates would clash every 20 years starting on May 7th 2015.  He wonders whether the PO might make such a request for next year - probably in the full knowledge that if he UK government has made its decision then such a request is likely to be politely declined.

Interestingly (and, I guess, obviously, since they follow the same electoral cycle as Scotland) the problem is the same in Wales - they face having their Assembly election conjoined with the AV vote on 5 May as well.  There has been a similar reaction among elected politicians there as here, except for one, fairly notable exception.  The Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Dafydd Elis Thomas, who has no "constitutional objection" to holding both on the same day on the grounds that it would benefit turnout for both.  However, what is really interesting is that he recommends holding Wales' other referendum - that which seeks to move the Schedule 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, bestowing in one move legislative powers to the National Assembly - on the same day.  So you'd have the devolved election, the AV referendum and the powers referendum on 5 May.

Dafydd Elis Thomas has previously made clear his objection to holding the powers referendum in Wales until such a time as the result is not really in doubt, and is sceptical of holding it in March (as is currently rumoured to be the intention of Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan).  So this seems a bold move - shifting the referendum to a date where there are a couple of other things going on would likely drive up turnout but at the expense of giving a clear campaign solely on the issue of the Assembly powers.  So that is interesting.

Of more interest in Scotland, I guess, is the impact of such a scheduling.  If this did go ahead - and the Welsh had all three votes on the one day - would the First Minister be able to argue that Scots are too stupid to be able to vote on two different issues (the Scottish Parliamentary election and the AV referendum) on the same day?  I guess time will tell on that one, but if Wales did go ahead on that score, it may start to make things more difficult to decouple the votes here.

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Thursday, 8 July 2010

Cardiff & Edinburgh

Apologies for the hiatus, I've been in Cardiff awhile, with no real internet to speak off (or time for that matter) doing some academic research for my thesis.  And I seem to have missed out on a fair bit whilst away.

Take, for example, the UK Con-LD Government's decision to schedule the AV referendum on 5 May, the same day of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English local government elections, ostensibly for reasons of saving the public money (£17m was the estimate I heard).  Cue outcry from MSPs, AMs and, well, anyone who isn't a Tory or Lib Dem MP to be honest.  

Their argument - it'll overshadow the devolved elections.  And that, I think, has merit.  Because - and this is more of an issue in Wales I think, than in Scotland, where our media is a little more focused on what happens at Holyrood - the media, generally speaking, sets the terms of reference for elections.  You can quibble with my hypothesis if you like, but look at recently passed General Election - without the TV debates and the presence of the now Deputy PM Clegg, where would the Lib Dems have been?  Answer: probably out of government, most likely with fewer seats.  So the media matters - and if they are focused on the AV referendum then the devolved institutions will lose out. 

Another argument, and one that has merit in Scotland after the fiasco of the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, is that we might confuse people. I know, it sounds patronising - trust members of the public to put a cross on two different bits of paper?  But with that experience here - and the resulting democratic stooshie - I wouldn't be too willing to bet that people won't make a hash of it.  So that one I think, has some merit - but just a little.

There is a case that it may actually help - by combining both votes you may drive the turnout up a little.  This I'm more sceptical of.  If people feel so strongly about changing the method of electing their MPs, they'll show up to vote on the day anyway.

But really, I think, what it comes down to is money - and a distinct lack of it.  Parties are fresh from fighting a UK General Election.  In Wales they have the added complication of holding a referendum to decide on the speed of extending the powers of the Assembly, probably in March, followed by the AV referendum and the Assembly election, both on May 5.  The latter has a month's wiggle room and so could be held in June, but that's at the discretion of the Secretary of State... and if her government has decided to hold the AV vote on May 5 to save money, I doubt they'll shift the Assembly election to June, however valid their reason for doing so it.

No, money is the kicker - and political parties are lacking in it at the moment.  So while in public they will whinge and moan about the AV vote being on the same day as the devolved elections, privately they are probably a little more pleased that campaigning for both can take place at the same time, thus saving them time and energy - and, more importantly, money - in the campaigns.  Or maybe I'm just being cynical.

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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Retiring MSPs

As the battle for positioning on party lists for the next Scottish Parliament election starts to hot up, I thought it worthwhile making a note of the names of current MSPs who would not be on either the constituency or the regional ballot paper - those who have decided that their 4/8/12 years at Holyrood is enough, and that they will retire before the election.

Announced so far:
Jamie Stone (LD, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross - 2/6/10)
Ian McKee (SNP, Lothians - 29/5/10)
Bill Aitken (Con, Glasgow Region - 19/5/10)
Robin Harper (Green, Lothians - 13/9/08)
John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West - 2008)
Chris Harvie (SNP, Mid Scotland & Fife - 2007: one term)

Likely to stand down (given dual-mandates as MSPs/ MPs):

Possibility of standing down (given dual-mandate as MSP/ Lords):
George Foulkes (said he'd serve only one term - but see link)
Jack McConnell (given peerage 29 May 2010)

Other possibles (various reasons):
Ted Brocklebank (Con, Mid Scotland & Fife - age 67)
Nanette Milne (Con, North-East Scotland - age 68)
Mary Scanlon (Con, Highlands & Islands - age 62)
Jamie McGrigor (Con, Highlands & Islands - age 60)
(see Will's excellent post for more on these three)
Malcolm Chisholm (Lab, Edinburgh North & Leith - age 61)
Helen Eadie (Lab, Dunfermline East - age 63)
Alex Fergusson (PO, Galloway & Upper Nithsdale - age 61/ PO)

I want to point out that in no way do I think that once you hit 60 you should retire from politics.  All I'm saying is that if Bill Aitken is retiring at 63, then some of the others named above may also be considering it.


Also, when Nicol Stephen stood down as leader of the Scottish Lib Dems in 2008, he said it was because he wanted to spend more time with his four children.  Is there a chance he might retire as an MSP as well?


So, I make that:
SIX definitely not standing again, four likely (dual-mandates) and 8 others (age/PO/ spending time with family) giving a total of 18 possible new faces at Holyrood.  There may well be more too - with 11 months still to go, I'm really just speculating.

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Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The First Cut is nowhere near the Deepest...

Today's Independent shows the sheer scale of debt faced by the new UK government left by their predecessors.


The six small squares in the bottom right corner indicates the inroads made by George Osborne and David Laws in their cuts yesterday.  

Savage?  Aye right... they haven't even started yet.

Looking at that image, I'm really not sure how Labour types can sleep at night.  The Labour party as a "moral crusade" for "social justice"?!  Just don't ask them to balance the books.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

(Life) time in opposition

I read with interest Jeff's post yesterday, pointing out the truthfulness in Liam Byrne's joke of a note left to his successor David Laws.  "Sorry, there's no money left" was the gist - and accurate too, as Labour left office having racked up a deficit of £163 BILLION.  

And I agree with Jeff's assessment (to an extent):  "New" (for how much longer?) Labour remains right-of-centre, talking about immigration instead of social justice.  But Labour got whacked not for being right-of-centre, but for trying to be both right-of-centre and left-of-centre at the same time, resulting in a deficit Robert Mugabe would be delighted with.

But Jeff's conclusion - that in order to re-establish themselves Labour must ditch New Labour and return to their left-wing roots - is one that I think history teaches is one which will not be overly successful.

Evidence?  Here:

  • In 1979, Labour lost a general election to the Tories, the first of four consecutive election defeats.  They did so on the back of the "Winter of Discontent" - union strikes on the back of Labour economic policy.

  • In 2010, Labour lost a general election (and who knows if it will be the first of four or more defeats) to a Tory (and Lib Dem) government on the back of an economic mess - partly (if I'm being fair) brought about by Labour economic policy.

  • In 1979, Labour MPs believed that the party needed time in opposition in order to re-establish the party and examine what it stood for.

  • In 2010, Labour MPs and former MPs - including David Blunkett, John Reid, Andy Burnham, Dianne Abbott and Tom Harris and many more besides - argued against a "progressive coalition"/ "coalition of the losers" in favour of the Labour party leaving the Tories to govern and taking time to work out where Labour could go next.

  • In 1983, the general election immediately following 1979, Labour lurched to the left under Micheal Foot, producing a manifesto dubbed "The Longest Suicide Note in History" which saw the party take a drubbing at the polls, polling just 27% of the vote - only 2% ahead of the Alliance.

  • In 2015, Labour will have the opportunity to repeat that mistake.  And it would be a mistake... but what choice do they have?
Obviously this is a simplistic historical comparison, but you get the point.  As I've written before, I think the Tory-Lib Dem government is here for the foreseeable future, for several reasons:  any potential change to AV (or STV) will only increase their potential majority and the fixed term parliaments indicate an intention to work cohesively together for the long term.  But mainly, my reason for seeing this last is the lack of a real alternative.

Look at it this way.  Labour's economic plans have been discredited - who leaves office with a deficit of £163 billion for others to clear up?  (Incidentally, they did the same - though not quite to the same level - at council level in Aberdeen and Edinburgh).  And what charismatic leader do they have coming in to restore faith in the party and their goals?  Ed or David Milliband?  Ed Balls?  Andy Burnham?  Jon Cruddas?!  There's no John Smith or Tony Blair there.

No, Labour were right to prepare for opposition.  It's just not clear that they'll ever need to prepare for government again.

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Saturday, 15 May 2010

Silver lining

I'm not buying the "I'm suffering a Tory government, get me out of here" hysteria, for several reasons, not least that when Labour told us in 1997 that "things can only get better" they did for a while but it's not like 2010 is much more financially stable than 1997.  In short, I'm not as scared as everyone else of the Tories being back in power.

But here's really why I'm not so bothered:

England won the FIFA World Cup in 1966.
England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003.

In 1966, Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister of a Labour government.
In 2003, Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of a Labour government.

In short, England have won World Cups - but always under a Labour government.  So when Gordon Brown got so spectacularly thumped last Thursday, he didn't just lose an election and the opportunity to govern again.  He lost England the World Cup as well.

So, even for the 84% of Scots who are mad that they didn't vote for the Tories and still got a Tory government, be comforted in the knowledge that it may just save us from 50 years of clips showing Rio Ferdinand parading the FIFA World Cup Trophy (as the new one is called).  Silver lining indeed.

(Incidentally, before the comments come saying I should be supporting England at the tournament, I'll say now - I can't be bothered with the argument.  If they win it, well done.  If they don't, too bad.  I won't really be that bothered either way.  I just wish the media would calm down some).

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Thursday, 13 May 2010

A fixed term problem

A few days ago, I was discussing with Jeff & James the idea that the Tory-Lib Dem coalition (or indeed the Lib-Lab pact, as it could have been at the stage we were talking) might last only a year, and that the next election to the UK Parliament could end up being in May 2011, on the same day as the election to the Scottish Parliament - the first Thursday in May.

Both James and Jeff thought this would be a smart move by whoever was the larger party (if it had been Labour, all the better for them) for they would be able to squeeze the SNP in the Holyrood campaign by making them "irrelevant" to the UK election.  I argued that, given we've had to decouple Holyrood & Council elections because of difficulties interpreting where to put an X and where to put a number, AND ALSO that the boundaries were so different for Holyrood and Westminster elections (with the example of Edinburgh Central for Holyrood split 5 ways for Westminster) would make it near impossible, and that there was no way it could happen.

Well, while that might be the case in 2011 - assuming the Tory-LD government survives - I might not be that sure of my argument now.

The rules of the Scottish Parliament have stipulated from the very beginning that elections will take place on the first Thursday of May every four years from 1999.  That happened in 2003 and 2007, and will happen next year (2011).  It should also occur in 2015.

However, Dave & Nick's new happy band have decided that there will be 5-year fixed term parliaments for the House of Commons.  Given the election last week was on the first Thursday in May, the next election would be schedule for the first Thursday in May 2015.  The same day as the Scottish Parliament (and indeed, Welsh Assembly) election.

So, a problem on the horizon - and an example of how the new UK Government has already not taken into account the devolution dimension of UK politics.

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The future is orange (and blue)

As a follow up to my post a couple of days ago discussing how difficult the decision to take government office for the first time is, as well as yesterday's post analysing what the Lib Dems got out of the coalition agreement, I had a thought.

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth across the UK, from the "progressive left" to the not so progressive (or left, for that matter) Labour party, from disgruntled Lib Dems unhappy with the "coalition for change" and, well, pretty much the whole of Scotland - who categorically did not vote for the Tories.  Each have valid concerns about this "frightening" new form of government.

The "progressive left" argue that the majority of the electorate really voted for them - and still got lumped with a Tory-led government.  Well, maybe if the "progressive left" were one party instead of seven, there may be a case.  Labourites are mad because, although they got thumped in the election, the Tories didn't win outright but the Lib Dems picked them anyway - it's almost like they got ditched for what they see as an uglier member of the opposite sex - and are incredibly bitter about it.  Disgruntled Lib Dems are, well, disgruntled - they didn't vote for a Tory government either, but they've got some of their own stuff in there... though it could be interesting to see how much of it passes.  And then there's Scotland who, granted, did not vote Tory. But until Scotland is independent, a UK government with little mandate in Scotland is something that will have to be suffered from time to time.  Just think how England would have felt if Labour had managed to form a coalition - the Tories managed a majority of English seats.  So yes, it's unfair - but it's the way the system works.  Scottish Labour MPs may need to realise this sooner rather than later.

But, I digress.  There's something more important that has struck me.  It may not matter how annoyed people are at the moment - and the wailing and gnashing of teeth may continue for some time yet.  And then when it is finished, it may continue even longer.  And though yesterday I was picking holes and arguing, perhaps harshly (and I did say that at the time) that the Lib Dems were only in it for the office jobs, I think this could be a long-term thing, for two reasons.

Firstly, the five year fixed-term parliaments.  This is an indication that the coalition is in it for the long-haul.  Fixed-term parliaments are much fairer - it means the election is not called when the sitting PM thinks he can win, and for this reason there is no real objection.  But it is an indication that the Tories & Lib Dems are looking long-term - for a five-year term of office at least.  Secondly, the proposal to change a vote of no confidence from a simple majority to 55% of the Commons voting in favour - which is more controversial (see Mr Harris this morning for a scathing post on the subject) but not less indicative of a government set on working together for the long term.

Together, these two changes to the Commons set-up - plus the potential for reform to the House of Lords, incorporating a PR electoral system for all members in a House that currently also has a Tory-Liberal/Lib Dem majority - suggest that Labour may be out of office for a considerable period of time.

Now I know I should let the dust settle - the election was only one week ago after all - but look at this the way I am.  Yes, we still have to wait and see how this coalition holds up, how the policies fall, how agreements hold, personality clashes etc etc.  But the plan is that they will still be there heading into the election in 2015.  If they change the electoral system in anyway, it is likely (depending, of course, on how the electorate feel about them) to increase the number of Lib Dems, always maintaining a Tory + Lib Dem majority though unlikely to provide any single party with a majority.  Which means the parties could form an electoral pact, as seen in Germany with the CDU/CSU & FDP, and the SDP & Greens previously - a notion that would have been unthinkable a week ago.

Obviously I'm getting ahead of myself a little.  But there is some logic there - for both parties.  The world will change much in the next five (10?) years.  Tory policy on the EU may soften.  The economy may (hopefully!) recover.  The two parties may find themselves agreeing on more and disagreeing on less.  An agreement to keep both in power - at the expense of Labour - for the foreseeable future would be in both parties interests.

I wonder if that is playing on the mind of any future candidates for the leadership of the Labour party.


UPDATE - I just read Alex Massie of the Spectator on the very issue, and it seems he's equally speculative regarding the future - but paints an equally bleak picture for Labour.

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