Friday 29 August 2008

The long and winding road

One more (presumably of many) posts about the US Presidential race - and in particular about Sarah Palin, who, up until 4 hours ago, no one outside Alaska really knew anything about.

5 more facts (in no particular order):

1) She has been married for 20 years and has 5 kids - prior to entering elected politics she described herself as a "hockey mom".

2) She is the first woman to be elected as Governor of Alaska.

3) As Governor she has reached out to Democrats and Independents on numerous issues, claiming to in it "for the people".

4) Her approval rating as Governor is 80% (July 2008)

5) She opposes gay marriage, but vetoed legislation in Alaska which would have stopped benefits to same-sex couples.

To use an American sporting analogy, John McCain has stuck four wide receivers on the field and thrown a long, "Hail Mary" pass. Its a gutsy move. Its a calculated risk. But will it end with an amazing catch or will a bruising run ultimately fall short?

There's still 10 weeks to go in what is going to be a long race, with many unexpected turns from here on in - although this is probably going to top the lot. So I guess we'll find out a lot more about all four candidates - Barack Obama & Joe Biden for the Democrats, John McCain and Sarah Palin for the Republicans - in the coming weeks.

Hold onto your hats though - I think we're in for an interesting one!


She's a lady

Right, I'm not that clued-up on John McCain's VP candidate. But there are several reasons why she is a good pick:

1) She is the Governor of a state - which brings with it executive experience. She knows how to run something from the top, something which McCain, Obama and Biden all do not have. Okay, she's only been there 2 years... but you can learn a lot in 2 years.

2) She is younger than Barack Obama himself - taking the age card out of play.

3) She has a son who has recently gone off to serve in Iraq - which will play well in "patriotic" America.

4) She is pro-life - which will help McCain further with the conservative right of his party.

5) She supports McCain on his energy policy and is pro-offshore drilling - avoiding the need to import foreign energy, which also plays well among Republicans.

6) She is female - which, yes, is obvious, but may also counteract the perceived advantage that Obama may have as a first-time African American candidate. Plus, not to sound incredibly un-pc and sexist, she's pretty attractive. Though, of course, that [probably] won't be a factor when it comes to voting...

So there we have it - 6 reasons why she is a smart choice (if indeed, this is confirmed!)


The times they are a-changing...

A number of varied sources are reported that John McCain is to announce that his choice of running mate is to be...

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

More later...


This Charming Man

Nice touch from John McCain, post-Obama nomination in Denver last night.

He's right - it is a big moment and it is only right that, even though they are political opponents, he congratulate Obama on his nomination. I echo that - I have said before how impressed I am with Obama - and the wave of optimism he hopes will sweep him to power. Echoes of Tony Blair, circa 1997.

Congratulations Barack Obama on becoming the Democratic Nominee for President.

Hat-tip Mr Eugenides/ Iain Dale for the video.


Thursday 28 August 2008

The Show Must Go On

Something struck me tonight (and I don't mean because someone threw something at me) when I was thinking about the new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats - insert joke here. Now, I'm not going to be saying anything about the Lib Dems - I promised not to - but I have a query.

I'm hoping that someone from a
Labour background or someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Scottish Parliament's standing orders can help me out here.

We now know that on Thursday, at
FMQs, Alex Salmond will stand up an answer the second question of the session from Annabel Goldie and the third question from the new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott.

But, who asks the first question? Seriously, I'm a wee bit unsure.

Will it be Wendy Alexander? Does she continue in the position until a new leader is elected? Or when she resigned - is that it, someone else has to stand in?

Now, in most situations, when you stand down, you let your deputy stand in. Which would be Cathy Jamieson. Except, and here's the kicker. She resigned too. And neither the new leader nor the deputy will be in place before the new session.

So here's my question: Who will ask Labour's question? Seriously who is currently in charge?

My money's on Wendy, but honestly, I don't know how this works. Someone help me out?

*UPDATE* I am reliably informed that, despite standing down as Deputy Leader, Cathy Jamieson remains as "acting leader" until either she, Andy Kerr or Iain Gray is elected leader. Tavish Scott has already won the deputy leadership contest. So there you go.


King of Comedy

I really must stop taking the mickey out the Lib Dems...

But this is something that amused me (well, as well as Tavish's appearance with Brewer last night).

Apparently, Tavish got 1,450 votes in the leadership contest (and for more on what that number represents see Scottish Tory Boy here). Interestingly, 1,142 people voted in Iain Dale's poll for the Guide to Political Blogging in the UK. I wonder which vote means more? Especially to Tom Harris MP

2,457 voted (61%) which means the Lib Dem membership in Scotland is something like 4,030. Greens in Scotland have 1,100 (according to James, anyway). Just for comparison's sake. Also, the Lib Dems have 16 MSPs (could anyone name them?) and the Greens have just 2. But those 2 Greens have, arguably, proved more effective in opposition and constructive in debate - for evidence you only need to look as far as the budget debate.

Just a thought - but maybe someone should take up Jeff's challenge. After all, if one of us was elected as a Lib Dem MSP, how long before we managed to get elected as leader?! Especially if we got all those who voted in the blog Oscars to vote.

Okay, I'll stop. I promise - for at least one week - not to say anything else negative about the Lib Dems. Shouldn't be too difficult - they're a pretty anonymous bunch, probably won't even notice them.


Wednesday 27 August 2008

Radio Ga Ga

Just me, or has anyone else noticed how appalling BBC News at Ten has become? I don't usually watch it because I don't like being spoon-fed what people want me to hear. Just happened to have it on for 10 minutes tonight. It is now no longer on.

Why do I pay a TV licence for this?


Diamonds are forever

Or from Russia with Love...

I read that Russia has unilaterally recognised the independence of breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.

And I read that the Australia, Austria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the UK and the US have all defended the "
territorial integrity" of Georgia and condemned Russia's recognition of their independence.

So from that point of view, what I'm about to say may not make much sense. I think a) that Russia is right and b) that those states who have opposed Russia - for whatever reason - have done so either hypocritically or for their own ends, not for their professed interest in the territorial integrity of Georgia.

The reason I think Russia is right is simply this. In South Ossetia, a referendum was held on whether the republic should be independent. 99% voted in favour on a turnout of 95%. If in the future Scotland holds a referendum where 95% of the population voted for independence, I'd like to think that the UK Government would take note of that preference and cede the right of Scotland to independence. While in Scotland's case that a hypothetical, in South Ossetia, that actually happened. So why are the rest of the world all of a sudden anti-democracy? I mean, weren't they quick to condem China pre-Olympics for human rights abuses? Were they not somewhat peeved that the US rode roughshod over democracy to invade Iraq? Were they not quick to recognise the independence of Kosovo?

The answer to all those questions is yes. But there is method as to why this is the case. In the case of China, human rights abuses - particularly in Tibet - made the news globally. Many populations around the world showed their support for Tibet and politicians, keen to show their democratic credentials, spoke out against China. Similarly, in the case of Iraq and the lack of a Security Council Resolution, politicians wanted to say that democracy should not be ignored. Finally, Kosovan independence came at the end of a long conflict, with many Kosovans suffering. But, crucially, Serbia was no friend of Europe so Western states took the opportunity to stick it to them.

On the other hand, Georgia has made huge overtures to the West in recent years in the hope of joining the EU and NATO. The US is tied up in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Russia saw an opportunity to flex muscle in the region, an opportunity to expand its power. Now I'm not foolish enough to think that the reason that Russia is pushing South Ossetian independence because they are more pro-independence that the West. But despite the national interest at the heart of this, pushing for the democratic will is surely a laudable aim?

It's all about geo-politics. Machiavellian power plays. And, potentially, a new world order. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. But I think there's plenty more to come on it.


The Final Countdown

Delighted to break into the Top 40 of Iain Dale's List of Scottish Blogs - as voted for by UK blog and Total Politics readers. At number #28 - no mean feat for someone who had to take an enforced break from blogging!

Very well done to all (from all parties - no bias shown here!). The full list is replicated below, and can also be viewed at the excellent Iain Dale's own blog.

Top 40 Scottish Political Blogs

1 Tom Harris MP
2 Mr Eugenides
3 SNP Tactical Voting
4 J Arthur MacNumpty
5 Kezia Dugdale's Sopabox
6 Scottish Tory Boy
7 Ideas of Civilisation
8 Two Doctors
9 Scots and Independent
10 Adam Smith was a Socialist
11 Stephen's Linlithgow Journal
12 Freedom & Whisky
13 Indygal
14 Tartan Hero
15 Blether with Brian
16 Doctor Vee
17 Calum Cashley
18 Clairwil
19 Cassilis
20 Andrew Burns's Really Bad Blog
21 Bid for Freedom
22 Fraser Macpherson
23 Granite City
24 North to Leith
25 Underdogs Bite Upwards
26 Anything Caron Can Do *
27 Havering On
28 Malc in the Burgh
29 Sound of Gunfire
30 Caron's Musings
31 Scottish Roundup
32 Cameron Rose
33 Aitken's Edinburgh
34 Alastair's Heart Monitor
35 Katy Gordon
36 Andrew Reeves
37 Bellgrove Belle
38 Holyrood Chronicles
39 Political Dissuasion
40 Justified Spinner

*edited (updated) after mistake on original.


Tuesday 26 August 2008

Bored out of my mind

The Lib Dems have.........


Sorry, dozed off halfway through that. The Lib Dems have announced that Tavish Scott has won their democratic election to become the leader of the Scottish party. He follows in the footsteps of political heavyweights [Jim] Wallace and erm, Gromit (Nicol Stephen) to the hold this, highly coverted(!) position.

Of course, the contest for Lib Dem leader has been overshadowed by... well, everything over the course of this summer. But now the new leader will have the opportunity to...


Actually. Who cares?

"To obscurity and beyond!"


More Life In A Tramp's Vest

Just saw this post on Lib Dem Voice entitled "What's the main point of the Lib Dem party conference.

Some might leave out the words "main" and "conference" from that statement...


Monday 25 August 2008

Prologue to History

I got tagged on the blog-meme started by Iain Dale (via Tom Harris & Scottish Tory Boy). Where was I when the following took place? Here goes:

Princess Diana's death - 31 August 1997
I remember quite clearly playing football in the back garden on that particular Sunday afternoon. Mum was doing housework so hadn’t had the TV on all morning. When she put the TV on, she came out to the garden to tell us, just as I was rounding my brother to score another wonder goal. “Princess Diana died,” she said. At 13 years old, and not that familiar with the concept of death – especially a far removed death like this – we kinda shrugged, picked ourselves up and got on with the game. It was only over the course of the next week that we realised what a global event this was to be.

Margaret Thatcher's resignation - 22 November 1990
As a six year old boy, the only things I was into were football, getting muddy and sweets. So needless to say, Thatcher’s resignation didn’t quite top the list of must-see TV at that stage of my life. However, I do have vague memories of a black car rolling up to a black door, a woman with a huge handbag walking tearfully out the door and waving goodbye. And yes, my parents smiling delightedly.

Attack on the twin towers - 11 September 2001
This is one I do remember very well. In S6 at Keith Grammar School, it was a Thursday afternoon and we had PE in the Community Centre. After we’d finished, one of the guys who hadn’t been taking part had seen the news bulletin on the TV in the canteen, told us that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre. We had a debating contest in Aberdeen that night (STB played football, I did public speaking – go figure) and there were about 30 of us on the bus. You’ve never heard a school bus go so quiet when the news came on the radio as we all tried to work out what had happened. I remember the next couple of days fairly vividly too, when one of my friends brought a Stars and Stripes into the Common room which we put up on the wall; the three minutes silence immaculately observed by staff and pupils alike; the tears for those we didn’t know.

England's World Cup Semi Final v Germany - 4 July 1990
When I said I was six and only enjoyed football, mud and sweets – and that Thatcher didn’t fit into that I was telling the truth. However, Italia ’90 was the first football tournament that I really watched – vividly. I had a wall chart (that I still have!) that my dad helped me fill in. I remember the humbling defeat Scotland suffered against Costa Rica, a great but losing performance against an unspectacular Brazil and a win against Sweden which, ultimately, was not enough to qualify. I’d sit on the couch at home with my Batman slippers and pjs (I was a cool kid… honest) and watch the games – the eccentric Colombian keeper v Cameroon, Paddy Bonner saving a penalty against Romania, David Platt scoring against Belgium in the last minute and the worst final I’ve ever seen. Semi-finals weren’t much better. I remember wondering why it was that West Germany were playing in green and why Gazza was crying. Who was I supporting? I don’t remember…

President Kennedy's Assassination - 22 November 1963
As with so many of the respondents to this, at the age of 24, I was nothing like around at the time of JFK’s assassination. Indeed, my parents were only about 6 at the time as well.

Well that was fun. In blog-meme style I nominate the following to repeat this:

Ewan Aitken
Mr Scottish Unionist
Ideas of Civilisation

J. Arthur MacNumpty


Saturday 23 August 2008

Hey Joe

So, Barack Obama has named Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his running mate - his Vice-Presidential nominee.

Biden has represented Delaware since 1972. For those of you who struggle with numbers, that is 36 years ago. As a running mate, the 65 year old might be a smart choice, for his foreign policy experience alone - he is the chairman of the influential Foreign Relations Committee in the US Senate.

However, something doesn't sit right with this announcement for me. Obama has constantly claimed that Washington - indeed, the USA - needs "change". But now, rather than picking a running mate who would underscore the freshness that he would undoubtedly bring to the White House, he's chosen someone who has been inside the beltway for the last 36 years...

I have nothing against Biden you understand. Indeed, the more I hear about him, his personal life in particular, the more I am impressed by his dedication to family life in the face of the tragic circumstances which took the life of his wife and newborn child in 1972. I'm just not convinced his selection as VP candidate was the right one for Obama. I know why he's gone for Biden - that bit more experience at the bottom of the ticket to convince voters that he would have a guiding hand as President, that he could be trusted with the job. But it smacks of something like hypocrisy to slam the establishment, to campaign on the change that he believes is needed then name a VP candidate who's been there and done it for almost as many years as Obama himself has been alive.

I still think John McCain is the right man for the job.


Thursday 21 August 2008

The Deepest Blues are Black

I caught the first ten minutes of the Scotland v Northern Ireland friendly at the pub last night (and yes, incidentally, I'm pretty glad I didn't stay to watch the rest of it, dire that it was). And I have to say I was appalled.

Not at the football, though it was pretty bad. I'm talking about what happened before the game. When the teams lined up for the anthems, I cringed. Not at Flower of Scotland - which I think is actually a great, stirring anthem but that's a debate for another day. No, I cringed when I heard the first three notes of the anthem played for Northern Ireland - God Save the Queen. Now, I'm no fan of that particular track but the treatment it got from the Scotland fans - and, it should be said, no small measure of those from Northern Ireland in the pub - was absolutely appalling.

The Tartan Army are wonderful ambassadors for Scotland when they go abroad. Hoards of Scotsmen in kilts having a great time at landmarks across the world, posing for pictures with locals and generally behaving themselves. But last night - and in several recent home matches during the anthems - they embarrassed themselves and our proud nation. That was potentially the first time in my life I have been ashamed of some of my fellow countrymen and I didn't like it.

UEFA should throw the book at them.


Wednesday 20 August 2008

English Rose

Just watched Boris Johnson on BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? Was tremendous. Well worth a watch on BBC iPlayer if you like that sort of think (which my genealogist girlfriend does).

Now Boris is the kind of guy you watch mainly for comedy value (like the Duke of Edinburgh) and he doesn't disappoint. Best line is when he offends the whole of Wales by stating "Prince of Wales? What Wales, England? I mean, Wales, Britain?"

He also presses the point that, despite his "mongrel" European heritage (French, German, Turkish) he has plenty of English blood too.

What was particularly funny when he found out that his great (x6) grandfather was King of Wurttenburg, his great (x7) grandfather was Frederick, Prince of Wales. And his great (x8) grandfather was none other than King George II of Great Britain - which Boris was keen to emphasise, shows his "English blood."

Eh... kinda. Except George II was the last British monarch to be born outside Britain. And he didn't really speak much English.
So Boris is about as English as... the royal family. Good to know!


Tuesday 19 August 2008

Time and Time Again

Many around the blogging world have paid tribute to John MacDougall, MP for Glenrothes, who died early on Wednesday morning. I can’t say – and I’m sure most of those commenting would say the same – that they knew the member in any capacity. But, from what I have heard, the man was a formidable opponent, a hard-working MP and a good man. I’d like to add my own condolences to those that have been spoken and printed since his untimely death on Wednesday.

Though tragic for his family, thoughts – as they must in the case of a death of an MP – turn quickly to who will succeed him as MP for Glenrothes. Much speculation has already been had as to possible candidates, with former ("disgraced") First Minister Henry McLeish, Claire Baker and John Park, regional MSPs in the area, former MSP Christine May, Catherine Stihler MEP, several local councillors (who, apparently, have declined the opportunity) and even author Ian Rankin all being tipped in various quarters. For the SNP, speculation has been much less public. For both sides I would suggest an announcement will be imminent following the moving of the writ for a by-election.

The bookies have, of course, already installed the SNP as favourites for the seat after their stunning by-election win in Glasgow East (on a 22.5% swing). With many they are as short as 4/1 ON. To put that into perspective – it’s like putting money on that one of the Old Firm to win the SPL. Now I’m not suggesting that the SNP shouldn’t be favourites – Labour are in absolute disarray at the moment, the PM is looking at yet another relaunch, they are leaderless in Scotland, the economy is in tatters and David Cameron has started marking off the days until he becomes Prime Minister... okay, I might have just convinced myself!

But at 4/1 on? I’m not convinced it is that cut and dried – I think Labour might (maybe, just maybe) cling on... by a small majority.

Having said that, let’s have a look at the numbers.

2005 General Election
John MacDougall LAB - 19,385 (51.91%)

John Beare SNP - 8,731 (23.37%)

Elizabeth Riches LD - 4,728 (12.65%)

Belinda Don CON - 2,651 (7.09%)

Swing to SNP required for victory – 14.5% (remember, Glasgow East: 13.5% swing needed... 22.5% swing achieved).

But I think that the last election in a particular area – regardless of which Parliament it elects to – is a better read on the public mood. 2005 was 3 ½ years ago after all.

2007 Scottish Parliament Election
Tricia Marwick SNP - 11,290 (44.21%)

Christine May LAB - 10,754 (39.88%)

Elizabeth Riches LD - 2,288 (8.49%)

Maurice Golden CON - 2,003 (7.43%)

Tricia Marwick won it for the SNP on a swing of 7% - maybe a large personal vote yes, but the SNP councillors elected in the constituency were also elected with large swathes of the vote. Equally true is that John MacDougall’s win was probably influenced by a huge personal vote – the man was incredibly well liked in the constituency and outwith.

So – what am I saying? Probably that the figures look good for the SNP, as do the circumstances. But I wouldn’t write off Labour here. If they call a by-election for Motherwall & Wishaw for the same day (thereby splitting the SNP activists available for a by-election campaign at the height of the Scottish winter) and appeal to their voters not to abandon them to give Gordon Brown a bloody nose (as they did in Glasgow East) they may survive the winter without losing another MP in Scotland.

Then again, maybe not.

The issue of timing for this by-election is interesting as well. Will Gordon go short again - earliest possible date is Sept 11 - to get it out of the way before conference season and, crucially, before Labour name their Scottish leader? If it was me that was a candidate for the leadership of Scottish Labour (sorry, leader of the Labour MSPs in the Scottish Parliament) that's what I'd be asking for. An opportunity to draw a line under Glasgow East's debacle and a potential defeat in Glenrothes (even if they win it is unlikely to be by more than 1,000 votes; still very much a kicking) and have a fresh start under a new leader.

Of course, the other, much touted option is to kick it long - possibly even into November. This has a couple of advantages - not least the opportunity for the economy to turn around, Brown to relaunch, polls to turn, a decent candidate to step forward, a new leader in Scotland to tackle the First Minister. However, there is still the chance that, with all that done, Labour then go on and lose Glenrothes, thereby undoing all the good done before. Brown would then almost certainly face a leadership challenge and his premiership would probably be over before it has really started.

So what do I think? I'm leaning towards it probably being in September - probably the week before the leadership contest is announced. As to who wins, I'll reserve that judgement until we know for sure who the candidates are.


Monday 18 August 2008

There is no other way

Interesting blog piece by Robbie Dinwoodie from 2 weeks ago (I know, I just caught up...) in which he asks the question, "Will there be another Scottish UK Prime Minister?"

Short answer this one: No.


Saturday 16 August 2008

Great Balls of Fire

I saw that Ewan Aitken thinks the Labour party need "political pyromania."

Maybe they should give Lord Watson a call...


Tuesday 12 August 2008

Georgia on my mind

I don't often agree with a Tory (well...) but I read this post by The Right Student (right as in wing not correct - at least not all the time) and I had to admit, I'm pretty much in agreement with him. I just haven't yet had an opportunity to blog about it.

As Arnie quite rightly points out, there are glaring similarities in the cases of South Ossetia and Kosova which, when simplified, make uncomfortable reading for the collective West.

Lifted from "The Right Student"

"Kosovo -

  • In Serbia because of breakup of larger federation
  • Ethnically different from rest of Serbia
  • Largely self governing (until independence in Feb)
  • Attacked by Serbian armed forces
  • A democratically expressed desire to leave Serbia
  • Clearly defined borders
  • Calls for federation with larger neighbour (Albania)
Result? Independence. Supported by the West.

South Ossetia -
  • In Georgia because of breakup of larger federation
  • Ethnically different from rest of Georgia
  • Largely self governing, with foreign peacekeepers
  • Attacked by Georgian armed forces
  • A democratically expressed desire to leave Georgia
  • Clearly defined borders
  • Calls for federation with larger neighbour (Russia)
Result? No independence. Western refusal to consider independence, insistent on supporting Georgia's territorial integrity.

The only difference? Georgia is a friend of Europe and the USA. Serbia is not."

A lot of this is, of course, because other European states have "problems" with secessionist elements (Spain, the UK, Belgium etc...). As I have said before, I am in favour (broadly speaking) of secession in a variety of cases across the world - with the Basques being a case in which I have a particular interest. And I believe(d) that the US holds the same principle - at least when Woodrow Wilson (no, I'm not old enough to remember it) spoke of "self-determination" it is a policy which no American President has since disagreed with. Provided, of course, that it was in the American interest.

Which is where we come to the crux of the Georgian situation. A stable Europe is, in the main, in the American interest. And the EU gave its backing to independence in Kosovo hence support there. But the US fears Russian expansionist tendencies while it is tied up in wars in Iraq/ Afghanistan. More than that it fears Russian influence over states which are gravitating towards the EU. So while the fears of expansion are largely unfounded given the disparity in military (hard) and economic (soft) power between the US and Russia, there is the potential that the US now fears a second Cold War (or, due to global warming, maybe a "Lukewarm War") with Russia.

Could we be entering a new phase in US-EU-Russia relations? Certainly looks that way.


The Song Remains the Same

Quick question for you: Has devolution made a difference?

Okay, not such a quick question. But I'm (just) old enough to remember 1997 and the referendum campaign. That was 11 years ago (seriously!) and I was 13 - and had slightly more hair. 11 years ago on the 11th of September 1997 we went to the polls (well, I didn't - I wasn't old enough) to face be asked a simple question - did we want a Scottish Parliament, and did we want the opportunity to vary taxes by up to 3p in the pound. We all know that, on both counts, Scotland - overwhelmingly - voted yes. And we also know that the tax varying power made famous in that second question has not been utilised. But really - has devolution made a difference?

Even at 13 (I was, sadly, interested in politics from an early age - 1997 was a new, post-Tory dawn and an "exciting" time politically...) I remember some of the debates being played out in the referendum campaign:

  • Devolution will strengthen the union (Lab/ Lib Dem position)
  • Devolution will act as a stepping stone to independence (SNP - gradualist - position)
  • Devolution will create more transparency and participation in democracy
  • Devolution will allow more Scottish control over Scottish affairs
  • Devolution will increase taxes in Scotland ("No/No" campaign")
So really, 11 years on from that debate, which of those statements is true?

Well, according to research done at the time for Scotland Forward, we all thought that taxes would rise if we had a Scottish Parliament - but we still voted for a Parliament with tax-varying powers. However, that tax power has not been used - and, since last May, the Council Tax in Scotland has been frozen by the SNP Government, in contrast to the rest of the UK. So both the No/No campaign and the general populace were a bit wide of the mark with that one.

Control over Scottish affairs has obviously increased with the devolution of powers, particularly in the fields of health and education. Distinctive Scottish policies such as the scrapping of tuition fees - and later the graduate endowment - and free personal care for the elderly have set Scotland apart from the rest of the UK, where similar policies have fallen away in the face of top-up fees for students and the implementation of foundation hospitals. And there has even (he says with a cheeky grin) been Scottish control over non-Scottish affairs, with Scotsmen and women in high-ranking cabinet positions in the UK government. So I guess that box can be ticked. As can transparency in democracy - you just have to walk through the Parliament building and see the Petitions committee, open access to the chamber sessions, live streaming on the internet and lots of glass.

So that leaves one more question - has devolution strengthened the union or is it a stepping stone, a motorway with no exits on the way to independence?

I guess as a nationalist, I really do see it as a stepping stone. There were many in the SNP who worried that, despite suggestions of devolution being a "process not an event", that it was essentially a trojan horse to kill independence stone dead. And with Labour in power in Scotland and at UK level there was no tension in the constitutional arrangement. Labour were happy with how they had organised devolution and were unwilling - as they continue to be - to make waves. And I understand that, to a certain extent, when you are in power in both legislatures. But now - with the SNP in power in Scotland and Gordon Brown clinging to power at Westminster - certainly seems like the time to evolve.

Credit must go to Labour, certainly, for delivering devolution and for guiding it through its infancy. Credit too, the opposition in those first two sessions for keeping the government on its toes and not allowing it to become subservient to Westminster as it could have done. But now, with the SNP leading the Scottish Government, devolution has an opportunity to be much more, to make a real difference.

Where it will lead, only time will tell I guess. Interesting to hear what you make of it.


That's Entertainment

Another Fringe/ Comedy Festival review for you.

Michael McIntyre

Tremendous. For a very proper-spoken, very English man (and I don't mean that in a derogatory manner whatsover) he does a hilariously funny Scottish accent. He stayed on stage for 15mins extra to tell "one more story."

Highlights included:

  • The history of the kilt
  • No juice - his son, the Nazi three year old
  • Old socks and his father-in-law
  • An effeminate ballet dancer
  • Trams, Scottish breakfast and terrorists in Edinburgh.
I can't remember laughing that much. Great stuff. If you can get along to see him, he's well worth a look.


Saturday 9 August 2008

It's In The Way That You Use It

Meant to blog on this after the opening ceremony but I never had time. I couldn't agree more with Doctor Vee that trying to portray the Olympics as "non-political" is laughable. The rest of his article is... debatable at the very least, but that point is right. All flags that will be at the Games themselves represent geo-political entities - which makes the rule even more crazy.

But what I really wanted to mention was the fact that the opening ceremony of the Olympics featured a Pipe Band from Fintry. Playing Scotland the Brave - Scotland's "anthem" at the Commonwealth Games. I thought there was incredible irony in the fact that you are not allowed to fly a saltire as a member of the crowd at the Olympics, but tartan and pipes - something which is instantly recognisable across the world as being Scottish - were used to open the Games themselves. I know the ban is not simply to stop people from promoting Scotland - its to stop politics taking hold of the Games, a laughable prospect indeed - but it just amused me greatly.

Hugely funny line from BBC's "Mock the Week" on Thursday. Looking at the rules of the Games, China has put down so many regarding media relations, what can and can't be reported etc. Hugh Dennis came out with the following: "Why isn't one of the rules not to trample people with tanks?"

Which makes you wonder...


Friday 8 August 2008

Out of the sinking

Interesting thought struck me when in discussion about the leadership of the Labour group of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament at lunch today (yes, I’m that cool). What happens if it’s a draw?

Hear me out on this. I don’t have anything to do with the Labour party, but I do know that their leadership election runs through an electoral college: one third of the votes are assigned to elected representatives, (MPs, MSPs and MEPs – but not, interestingly, councillors) one third go to trade unions affiliated to the party and the final third goes to the wider membership of the party (including councillors).

So here’s the scenario.

  • Cathy Jamieson, the resident lefty, is courting the trade unions. Assume she picks up that third.
  • Iain Gray is the Westminster choice. He also has the most MSPs supporting him. And there are only 2 MEPs… so let’s assume he picks up that third.
  • Andy Kerr? Well, he’s fairly popular-ish. And has some forward thinking ideas. Assume he appeals to the wider membership (I told you – assume this as a scenario). Then he could take that third.

So, if each of them wins a third of the electoral college, who wins the race for the poisoned chalice of leading Labour in the Scottish Parliament? Is it a draw? Or do we have months of 2000 US Presidential-style legal wrangling over the result? Or, do we have to look further into the figures and – shock horror – actually use all the votes cast to determine a winner (it’s called democracy apparently).

Always trying to help the Labour party in Scotland, I have come up with a solution (and a hat tip to me mate Dave for this). What if Labour recruits the recently unemployed Carol Vorderman for the job of counting the electoral math – something she’s pretty good at. That way, Wendy Alexander can take over from her on Countdown – and get paid much more than her MSP salary (which, I remember, she was complaining was difficult to live on – incidentally, she should try working as a researcher…).

Can just see it now, when the Countdown Conundrum comes round:



Tuesday 5 August 2008

Some Might Say

...better than Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Second taste of the Festival last night. And if Rhod Gilbert was great... then this was tremendous.

7 Cast Members. One pianist. No script.

One Night Stand: An Improvised Musical

Surely one of the best shows at the Festival!

Go see it - different every night...


Send Away the Tigers

I've already ranted here about the Olympics. But the IOC makes me so sad that I had to write about them again.

They want to progress the ideals of the Olympic movement to "contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

Then they awarded the Games to China.

They have a daft rule that doesn't allow flags of non-IOC member states to be flown at the Olympics - thereby robbing individuals of the opportunity to make a political point by flying the flag of their home nation/ regions/ province/ state/ imagined homeland.

But what if (I can't believe I'm saying this) Mr Scottish Unionist is correct - that flying the flag of your nation is not a political act, merely an act of patriotism? I don't quite think that's what he said - but that's the way I see it, and that's what I think flying your flag is. Certainly flying the Saltire for me is indeed an act of patriotism.

Anyway, another strike against the IOC is that they only police the rule sporadically. Anyone else remember Australian athlete Cathy Freeman when she won gold in Sydney? Running round the track with - shock horror, not an Aussie flag, but an Aborigine one. I wonder if the reason they are being a wee bit more strict this time has anything to do with the flag above - the flag of Tibet.

The Chinese Government are anxious that the Games do not turn into a political statement and so are keen to avoid any chance Tibet is on the agenda.
I wonder what part of the "spirit of friendship" this falls under?


Monday 4 August 2008

Pick a Part That's New

After the lack of controversy over my last post, I thought I'd do a short piece on something that is the talk of the steamie at Parliament at the moment - and something that isn't. So here we go on the battle to succeed Wendy Alexander as leader of Labour's MSP group and the coronation to succeed Nicol Stephen as Lib Dem leader in Scotland. You can decide for yourself which is which.

Also, gives me a chance to link to the less-than-spectacular campaign websites...

For Labour we have:

Iain "White Shade of" Gray
Cathy "Asbo" Jamieson
Andy "Juan" Kerr

I can claim no originality on the inverted commas - I've heard those references on numerous occasions, from both SNP & Labour party members alike. It looks, from the outside at least, that Labour are on the verge of meltdown over this leadership contest, as this piece suggests. I guess its a case of sitting back and watching...

Incidentally, might it be worth asking Lord Foulkes about his support for Iain Gray given the use of a saltire on his website? Or is it only if the SNP use the flag that "independence by creep" is mooted? Granted, Iain Gray is about the only person in the Labour party that wants to be associated with Scotland at the moment, given the party's showing in Glasgow East.

Speaking of disasters in Glasgow East (no - Ibrox is in Govan...) let's look at everyone's favourite irrelevance - the Lib Dems. I don't want to keep kicking them when they're down but, well, its too easy. For them, we have a fight between:

Ross Finnie
Mike Rumbles
Tavish Scott

With Tavish the clear favourite, it does appear that this contest will be over before it has really started. However, I will give the Lib Dems their due - they are actually having a contest - unlike some we could mention... And that contest will involve every member of the party having an equal vote. None of this electoral-college, one-third-vote-for-members, one-third-vote-for-politicians, one-third-vote-for-trade-unions malarky for them. No, the Lib Dem contest will be democratic in that the winner will be the person whom the party members vote for in the largest numbers.

Now, if only they'd be as democratic when it comes to a referendum on independence...

ps - my Fringe began with a visit to see Welsh misery Rhod Gilbert and the Award Winning Mince Pie at the Pleasance last night. The man is hilarious... definately worth a look - the best show I've seen so far...


Friday 1 August 2008

Train in Vain

I see the blogosphere has already seized upon this story, seen on the front page of today's Scotsman - but I want to throw my own thoughts out there on it.

Transport Scotland is set to unveil bright new livery featuring the saltire on all of its trains across Scotland - for the first time ever a uniform look for Scotland's trains.

Now - you may call me a nationalist (duh!) and think that this view is informed by this, but I can't for the life of me see anything wrong with it. For one thing, it makes the trains look neat and tidies up the old-fashioned and tired looking "blood & custard" colours of SPT. It might be a superficial change of image - but image is important to the tourists we want to attract - and this is just another way of marketing Scotland. We're not just all about shortbread and tartan. And what better way of improving the look of our transport infrastructure than marketing the trains with saltires in time for Glasgow hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games? Plus, the planned livery looks pretty cool.

What's that you say? Not everyone agrees? Labour peer Lord "George of the Jungle Union" Foulkes says its tantamount to "independence by creep". He reckons the saltire is an SNP symbol and the Scottish Government's rebranding exercise is merely sticking their political symbol all over Scotland's infrastructure.

What a load of crap. Last time I checked - last Thursday gave a decent indication - the SNP's symbol was a black thistle shape on a yellow background.

The saltire - for Lord Foulkes' information - is one of the oldest national flags in the world, far older than the SNP. It's a symbol of nationhood and a recognisable feature of Scottish nationality. And using it to market Scotland makes sense.

Also, I note this, from the Scotsman article:

"Transport Scotland, whose own logo was inspired by the Saltire, stressed work on the new train design had started before the SNP came to power last year."

Might want to check the background to something before slinging the mud, m'laud.



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

baldy_malc - AT - hotmail - DOT - com
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