Friday 30 October 2009

Car for sale (maybe)

I'm thinking about selling my car (and joining the Edinburgh City Car Club).

Anyone interested in purchasing a 1999 Ford Fiesta Zetec? If so, drop me a comment or an email, and we can chat about it.



Thursday 29 October 2009

Spousal (expense) abuse

Just a thought.

Remember when the expenses scandal broke? How the Scottish Parliament made itself look morally superior to its Westminster counterpart, emphasising how the expenses system at Holyrood is transparent, open and accountable?

BBC News last night featured interviews with a couple of MP's wives last night - who work for their husband in the Palace of Westminster. According to reports, the Kelly inquiry is to recommend that MPs should not be allowed to employ any relatives to work for them - kinda looks bad when you are paying your son even though they aren't really doing any work for you.

So, what say the Scottish Parliament on this issue? I know of a number of MSPs employ family members - and MSPs who employ family members of other MSPs. Are the rules likely to change for Holyrood too?

Like I say, just a thought...


Wednesday 28 October 2009

Simon Cowell's dream contestant

The lighter side of Gordon Brown... by Rory Bremner:

Hat-tip Subrosa.


Tuesday 27 October 2009

Leading Labour

Like him or loathe him (and I know plenty on the latter side of that) Jim Murphy has done a fairly good decent job as Secretary of State for Scotland - from a political perspective at least.

No really. A number of commentators and academics had concerns about the informal nature of intergovernmental affairs between Westminster and Holyrood under the Lab-LD coalition. Decisions were taken on an "I know so and so from conference" basis, and toes were not stepped on when an issue was contentious (civil partnerships is probably the best example). With Labour in government at both levels, it was easy to see why they wished to avoid conflict - and the easiest way to do so was to avoid formal negotiations.

However, with the election of the SNP in 2007, the potential was there for more explosive relations. Indeed, most media outlets had the SNP pointedly fighting with Westminster over everything before they'd even set foot in Bute House. This proved unfounded. The SNP were keen to get intergovernmental relations back into the formal sphere, and tried to rebuild the Joint-Ministerial Council and British-Irish Council... albeit with some resistance from Westminster (and limited success).

Nevertheless, appointing Jim Murphy as Secretary of State for Scotland - and making the position full-time again - has been a successful move for the UK Government for several reasons. At a perception-only level, it has made it appear that Scotland is on the agenda and represented at Cabinet. More than that though, the position has acted as a buffer between the two governments - and more particularly, between the First Minister and the Prime Minister. Any time Alex Salmond has called for a meeting between governments, Gordon Brown has said "speak to Jim, he's responsible for Scotland". And that has worked - it has kept the First Minister as an unequal to the PM, on the same level as Jim Murphy. Crucially, it has allowed Gordon Brown to avoid entangling himself in every Scottish issue of the day.

But perhaps the best outcome for Labour in Scotland is that it has allowed a Scottish MP to regain some control over Labour's message in Scotland. Rather than leaving the leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament (LOLISP) to appear as a leader, Jim Murphy has, to all intents and purposes, assumed a leadership role - challenging the FM to debates, speaking at conferences alongside Iain Gray and generally getting quoted as the Labour spokesperson in Scotland. And, to a great degree, he has done so relatively successfully - keeping Alex Salmond at arms length from Westminster and acting as Salmond's equal.

Question is though, what happens after May? I mean, even though I expect Jim Murphy to survive a tough election (both the Tories and the SNP will be after him hard after finishing ahead of Labour there in the European election) Labour may not. In fact, I'd go as far to say I think the game is up - and we'll have a Tory Government with a majority of around 60 after the election. Which means a Tory Secretary of State for Scotland... and Jim Murphy out of his high profile role.

Granted, if that happens then Labour have bigger problems to deal with than losing Murphy as a spokesperson. But the real point is this - how will Iain Gray cope? If Labour are out of government at Westminster AND Holyrood, Iain Gray - being the higher elected official in Scottish Labour - will be the de facto Leader of Labour in Scotland.

What would that mean for Labour? And Labour MPs? What would their role be under a Tory Government and a leader who wouldn't sit in the same parliament? Would Jim Murphy continue to do the job as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland? Or would Iain Gray have to up his game?

I guess we wait...


Monday 26 October 2009

Guest Post: Lib Dems - supporting a referendum?

Another guest contribution, this time from Linlithgow's favourite Liberal Democrat, Stephen Glenn. He is a Lib Dem, so be gentle with him. But he is writing about an interesting subject, so get torn in!

Malc has kindly asked me write a guest post looking at the role that Ross Finnie has undertaken, looking at the position the Liberal Democrats in Scotland on the question of a referendum. Some have pointed argued it is a sudden change in direction. This being Malc’s blog I thought I’d best do some research into the historical context to see if that argument holds water.

A Scottish Parliamentarian once rose from the green benches of the House of Commons and said:

“The demand exists, and is becoming so urgent that it will no longer be ignored. That demand is reasonable. I do not know that I should need to make that point, for the simple reason that the Scottish people themselves are so reasonable that you could not imagine them taking up such a demand unless it were itself reasonable...

“The Scottish people never voluntarily renounced their ancient Parliament. It was filched from them by methods scarcely less discreditable than those which accompanied the parallel transaction on the other side of St. George's Channel at a somewhat later date.”

No it wasn’t Alex Salmond. It was however someone who in their career represented Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire (no, not Nicol Stephen!). It was in fact William Cowen, the Liberal MP for Aberdeenshire Eastern, moving his Government of Scotland Bill in 1913.The move was a step to fulfil Grand Old Man William Gladstone’s promise from the very start of his Home Rule campaign:

“I will consent to give to Ireland no principle, nothing that is not upon equal terms offered to Scotland, and to the different parts of the United Kingdom.”

But before the Nats jump up and down and cry out for a Scottish Free State that wasn’t on the table at the time but came in subsequent legislation. Cowen cited the backing for his bill from the Liberal Association in Scotland. In 2007 there was no discussion with the membership, which led to the refusal of the Lib Dems to even enter talks with the SNP.

Many in the membership, myself included, believed it was possible to allow a referendum without supporting the same side in that campaign as the SNP. Others considered it was possible to not have that as plank of coalition governance but leave room for the SNP to bring a bill forward. Yet the decision was taken and many in Scotland - Malc included - saw it as the Lib Dems being undemocratic and failing to live up to our name.

To 2009 then, and a new leader is in charge but the same position. A debate on devolution saw questions asked, dilemmas posed. First Kevin Lang (Lib Dem PPC in Edinburgh North and Leith) then new Lib Dem MEP George Lyon both called for a referendum in Scotland on the question of independence. I could have got up and said the same thing.

Tavish Scott was clearly flustered. In last year’s leadership campaign, one of the key separating factors between the three candidates had been their willingness to listen to the membership on key issues like this one. In fact Mike Rumbles had promised to revisit this very question with the membership in very clear terms - just as Tavish is doing now. It is not going against party policy: there wasn’t really a firm policy on the issue, and there hadn’t been a discussion about the possibility of a referendum in many leading members time within the party.

So is this discussion in Liberal/Lib Dem circles sudden? Looking at the historic context no, we’ve been having it for over 100 years. Will it, as some online Nats have been suggesting, bring down Tavish Scott? No. He’s called for the formalising of the discussion, maybe as a result of the wake up call provided in Bournemouth, maybe at the behest of others. But Lib Dems are a forgiving lot. However, what he does with the resultant consensus going forward will be the key.

The big question of course that everyone is asking is ‘What will the outcome be?’. I really don’t know. One thing I do know is that post-Bournemouth and post-announcement of this consultation more people are coming forward saying that the time for the referendum is right. There is certainly a feeling of let’s get it over with. I don't know what the outcome will be, but what I do know is that when we gather in Dunfermline on Saturday (31 Oct) to start that process, it will be an interesting session. I’m prepared to be shocked this time, if that is possible, unlike the time I was sitting in the hall back in September.

If a week is a long time in politics, how much more six of them?


Saturday 24 October 2009

Compassionate Conservatives...

A friend passed this on. Couldn't resist. Captions?


Friday 23 October 2009

The world keeps turning

Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time then. I watched it, and so, I'll guess, did about 5 or so million other people. Yousuf didn't - and now wants to know what the outcome was. You can let him know here.

I'm not going to review it, except to say that I thought the politicians did well when they presented a united front against Nick Griffin - and floundered when they were attacking each other. Yet they attacked with respect and dignity - always "Mr Griffin said" this and "Mr Griffin did" that. And Bonnie Greer's tactics were spectacularly good - being a non-white face on the panel, she was seated next to the BNP leader and gently chided him throughout as "Nick". The audience, I guess, were a bit of a braying mob - though some of what Griffin said did get some sporadic applause (when he wasn't his true racist self). Iain Dale has a fine review here.

Anyway, the point I made before is the point I will make again. Those who were opposed to a Nick Griffin appearing on the show are entitled to their views but their attempts to fight fascism with fascist actions - stopping freedom of speech, ignoring the legitimacy of a democratic election - fall somewhat short of the standards they have set for themselves.

Peter Hain spectacularly misses the point when he says that the BBC have done the BNP a favour by granting them publicity when the reaction to his appearance on Question Time has done more to put him in the spotlight than anything the BBC has done. All the Beeb did was offer the guy a microphone - legitimately elected though that the guy is, he has a right to speak. It's up to politicians of all hues to dissect his argument - not the role of the BBC to censor.

Really interesting exchange between Scotland on Sunday editor Kenny Farquharson and Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie on Twitter:

is confused about people who call themselves liberals - they'll let a mass murderer go free but won't let an elected politician on the BBC

@KENNYFARQ An elected *fascist* politician should not be treated the same as others. And Megrahi's not free. He's dying.

@patrickharvie So a vote for a fascist is worth less, democratically, than a vote for another politician? That's a curious democracy.

@KENNYFARQ The vote's worth the same. But the BBC's a public service broadcaster; exists to serve the common good, which BNP opposes.

I have to side with the journalist (for a change). It is a curious democracy when you are willing to overlook close to one million votes because you don't like what someone says. It is a dark day for liberal democracy when we go down that path.


Thursday 22 October 2009

Unite against fascism - become a fascist

I had to switch off BBC news 'coz the protesters were driving me nuts. By all means make your point, protest, make a bit of noise. But don't make the argument that somehow you are standing up against fascism by trying to ban fascists from speaking. Surely that is a paradoxical position?

The BNP have had much more exposure from this furore than they would have gotten from just being on TV tonight - just as they did when student protesters stopped Nick Griffin from debating at the Oxford Debating Union.

All that these protesters are doing is providing him with a martyr role - and he'll exploit that no end. Iain Dale has a good take on this here.

Why can't you protesters exercise your democratic right this evening to switch off the TV when he's on Question Time? Just like I'm doing right now.


It's Time for Question Time

And so we're here.

Later today Nick Griffin will represent the BNP on BBC's Question Time programme (if he can get through the protests at Television Centre that is).

I've long been a supporter of this move and of debating the BNP in general. I still remember my first year classes at university when I argued about freedom of speech and "shining a light on the the dark views" of racists being the best advert for both democracy and toleration. We don't agree with them - of course we don't - but if you let them say it, you can let people see how ridiculous their views are then you can rip them to shreds when their argument does not stand up to any scrutiny.

What about the rest of the blogosphere?
  • Well, Yousuf doesn't seem to agree. Though he used to think it was a good idea. Maybe he's been chatting to Peter Hain.
  • Kezia thinks a boycott would be a waste of time - and that we have a responsibility to deal with them.
  • Mr Eugenides, in his customary rather strong language thinks we need to tackle them head on.
  • Andrew Reeves reckons free speech should win out - and that they were legitimately elected, therefore they should be allowed (occasional) TV appearances.
  • Chris points out Jack Straw's credentials as a good opponent for the BNP.
  • Jeff thinks we should give Griffin a fair hearing... then throw the book at him when he steps out of line. Or ignore the show as unmemorable.
I have to say, I don't take my view lightly, and I understand the reservations that Yousuf has. The BBC are giving them a vehicle to promote their abhorrent views that is true. They are giving them a spotlight. But the notion of legitimacy has already been bestowed by the 800,000+ people who voted for them in June and elected two of their number to the European Parliament. That ship has sailed. But all is not lost.

No, Question Time provides our other representatives - representatives of decency, morality and general good - to take on the BNP, to shine a light on the darkness of their views, to show that these islands will not tolerate racism and that while they have come further than we had hoped with their 2 MEPs, they shall go no further.

We must take them on in a public forum. We must trust our side to make the argument for us. And above all, we must win. Decency, free speech, democracy rests on it.

We've got to deliver.


Wednesday 21 October 2009

Guest Post: What price t'union?

I've asked a few folks to write a couple of guest posts over the next couple of weeks. This one is from fellow blogger Arnie Craven, formerly of The Right Student and now writing a solo project at Another Brilliant Blog. He's a Yorkshireman, a Unionist and a Twit too. A unionist writing on a nationalist leaning blog... what is the world coming to!

From what I can gather, Malc and I share a lot of common ground, politically. Look at his political compass result, mine was exactly the same. Reading his posts, I don't find a lot to disagree with. As such, when he asked me to write a guest blog, I had to think long and hard about what to discuss. I didn't want you to think you were reading one of his blogs, after all.

Eventually it dawned on me though, I was an English unionist and I had been asked to post on a Scottish nationalist's blog. Really there was only one thing I could talk about.

I believe in the union. But I also believe that, the way we are going, the union is destined to end in divorce. A pessmistic view, you might think. But I have to look at what the SNP have achieved in Scotland, and when I do look I see something quite extraordinary. Something made all the more extraordinary by the fact that it is hidden in plain sight.

Perhaps this sounds a bit cryptic, but that is my point exactly. Unless you really pay attention, you don't see it. The best way to explain is by studying the remarks made by someone who should be leading the fight against Scottish nationalism, Jim Murphy, in
The Scotsman:

"For the Scottish banks it was Britain or Bust. The recapitalising of the banks cost £50 billion – that's £10,000 for every man, woman and child in Scotland. And the Asset Protection Scheme..which equates to six times the annual value of the Scottish economy...In a global economy there is nowhere to hide. The best protection is integration into a strong economy."

I ask you, on what is his argument focused? If you follow the link, you will see he devotes a couple of words to monarchy, embassies, things like that. But ultimately, it is all economics. And that is what is so amazing about what the SNP have done, they have come to completely dominate the Scottish political discourse.

Unionists are dancing to the SNP's tune. Could Iain Gray better Alex Salmond in a debate on economics? No, and it would be a waste of time trying. More than that, who can get enthused about the union when political leaders, who claim to support its continuation, allow themselves to be restricted to an economic debate? The SNP have the economics and they have 'freedom!', and people like that. If I were a Scot, I would.

Unless unionists regain control of the political debate, I see no way back. The march foward of Scottish nationalism will become irreversible. I give it maybe five, ten years. But when the economy picks up again, what will the unionists have to offer?

I believe in the union because I believe the Scots and the English have more in common than we don't. Sure, our accents are a bit different, and yes we do slightly different things at Christmas. But we are the same people, really. When I am in Scotland, do I feel like I am in a foreign country? Absolutely not. In fact, I feel more at home in Edinburgh than I do in London. If Scotland becomes independent, we will start to drift apart. It is a natural product of not having any civic nationalism to bind us together. Perhaps it might not happen straight away, but it will eventually come. Just look at the Irish Republic.

I like not feeling like a foreigner in Edinburgh, and I hope Scots don't feel like foreigners when they go to Berwick. Lets hope that wont change.


Tuesday 20 October 2009

Green Scotland: does it matter?

Caught a bit of Sean Lock's act on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow on Saturday and though he was being funny (as comedians tend to be) he raised an interesting point.

I like to think I've become much more thoughtful with regards the mark I'm leaving on the world. I recycle practically everything that I can. I wear about 4 jumpers before I think about sticking the heating on. And even though I own a car, it gets used sparingly - I prefer using the buses to get round Edinburgh. But does it matter? I mean, I was recently doing the recycling at Sainsburys and a woman arrived in a BMW to recycle some glass. She jumped out the car - leaving it running - and chucked the bottles in the recycling bin. If you're going to leave the car running, what's the point of doing any recycling at all?!

Broader point though. Well, the same point, just on a larger scale.

The Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act in June, widely accepted as being one of the most ambitious of its kind (though some didn't think it went far enough). If, as a nation, we're going to stick to this policy and do our bit to reduce our impact on climate change, what difference will it make if other, larger countries - the United States, for example - don't bother their arses? I mean, for all the talk of "change you can believe in", American views on the environment can roughly be translated as "we'll do what the hell we like and screw the rest of you."

I guess my question - to more knowledgeable folks like James and Patrick - is what difference will our small efforts to help the environment make in the grand scheme of things? And has the new Nobel prize winner actually done anything on this score...? And, I guess, will the upcoming Copenhagen summit deliver anything substantial or am I right to be my usual cynical self?


Monday 19 October 2009

20 SNP MPs? Don't think so

A few days ago - prior to the SNP conference starting - Jeff made a list of potential gains for the SNP in the coming Westminster election. No doubt over the course of the weekend he drank in more optimism from the gathered masses in Inverness and feels pretty good about his prediction. Makes sense - conferences are meant to recharge the batteries, invigorate the activists to campaign and deliver some seats. Even so, I still think his list may be somewhat... optimistic. Saying that, I'd love to have some of what he is drinking!

Jeff's list of potential SNP gains (in order of ascending swing required to win):

Ochil & South Perthshire (0.75%)
Livingston (4.55% - from by-election)
Dundee West (7.3%)
Kilmarnock & Loudoun (9.8%)
Argyll & Bute (10.55%)
Aberdeen North (10.6%)
Edinburgh East (11.5%)
Stirling (11.7%)
Edinburgh North & Leith (12%)
Linlithgow & Falkirk East (12.1%)
East Lothian (14.2%)
Gordon (14.5%)
Falkirk (14.75%)
East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow (15.4%)

Plus an extra shopping list of:

North Ayrshire & Arran (12.95%)
Paisley & Renfrewshire North (13.45%)
Midlothian (14.25%)
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East (14.8%)
Inverclyde (15.55%)
Glasgow Central (16.7%)

Anyway, I'm not sure what kind of national swing Jeff's predictions are based on, but by my reckoning only something in the range of a massive 14% LAB-SNP national swing would see some of the higher ones on the list go. And given the UK level is a straight fight between Labour and the Tories, I'd expect the latter to muscle in a wee bit on the fight in Scotland, grabbing a wee bit of the swing from Labour. In short, I can only see something like a 7 or 8% national swing at absolute best to the SNP from Labour. That isn't to say they won't win a couple of other seats which require a larger swing (as happened in 2007 - they failed to win Cumbernauld on a minor swing but grabbed Gordon & Stirling on massive swings) but I don't expect the "extra list" to come into play... or indeed much of the first list beyond Argyll & Bute. Saying that, there may be a couple of surprises (Gordon?).

Now the main criticism of my analysis here is that the swings are based on an election which will be five years old by the time the election comes round. And that is fair - we've had a Holyrood (2007) and European (2009) election since then, in both of which the SNP have polled remarkably well. Indeed, if the we transpose the European Parliament vote onto the Westminster constituencies, the SNP would end up winning more seats than Labour - from memory, everything north of Stirling, most of Edinburgh and some surprising bits of Glasgow (potentially goodbye to Glasgow South's blogging MP). So yes, there is potential for some shocks - and some big SNP gains.

But I'll return to the reason I'm suggesting some of them are not going to fall to the SNP, and that is that it is a Westminster election. While the party appear to be winning round people in Scotland - at least for Holyrood elections - this is their first real test of popularity as a Government. And I think they'll do fine - just perhaps not quite as well as some people think they will.

Coming off the fence, I'd give them 6 of 7 the seats they currently hold (minus Glasgow East) plus 6 or 7 more... but no more than 13 SNP MPs after the election. And here's a tip - the constituency where they need less than a 1% swing from Labour may be more difficult than you'd think. If Ochil and South Perthshire slips from Labour control, it might just be a Tory Gain rather than a Nat MP for the constituency.



Friday 16 October 2009

Why bother: a response from an apathetic mind

Maybe that should read "a pathetic mind" in the title, but Wendy's guest post yesterday got me thinking about some more reasons why people are turned off politics. And for me, these reasons are a by-product of the political system - and little to do with the expenses scandal.

Maybe calling this a response is misleading. More of an addition, some extra food for thought. Don't get me wrong - Wendy's point is right. There's very little connection between "professional" politicians and the voters at the moment, and that is causing a great deal of exasperation with the system.

This is not a new phenomenon. Well, okay, the expenses mess is. But people were turned off politics long before expenses hit the headlines. And I have evidence in the form of stats.

Height of the two party system.
A turnout of over 80% - four in every five people taking the time to vote.
4 MILLION people across the UK a member of a political party.
Labour and the Tories combine to take 96% of the vote and 98.7% of the seats.

Turnout was only 62% - down to three in five voting.
Less than half a million people members of political parties (despite having much more choice of parties).
Labour and the Tories still dominant, but only to the tune of 68% of the vote and 85.7% of the seats.

Those are facts. Here's the analysis.

If you were to make a prediction based upon choice, you'd probably guess that giving people more choice would make them more likely to find a party that was similar to their views and vote for them. Stands to reason - more options, more choice, right? So what should have happened - despite the electoral system? Well, instead of having just two parties (Lab/Con) or, in a few constituencies three (Lib) in 1955 you have 4 or 5 or maybe as many as 7 or 8 candidates in constituencies in 2005. So you'd have more options on the ballot, more likelihood of finding a candidate you agree with and so you'd be more likely to vote, agree?

However, choice is a funny thing. While it would appear that you have more choices in the 2005 election (depending how you look at it) you may have had more choice in 1955. Sound bizarre? It is and it isn't.

After Margaret Thatcher won power in 1979, Labour's 1983 manifesto went wildly left - anti-EEC, anti-nukes, nationalise everything. Needless to say, they got thumped. And again in 1987. Neil Kinnock modernised the party in 1992, but there were still fears that their leftie policies would ruin the country. The Tories tapped into this, and won a marginal victory. By the time 1997 came round, Tony Blair had pretty much stripped the left out of Labour. Gone was Clause IV, equality and workers' rights and revolution. In its place? Thatcherite economics, steady as she goes stuff - low taxes, low inflation, low interest rates - with more social conscience and some increases in public spending. The result - a Labour party that had moved from the left to the centre-left (some argue, beyond), from socialist to social democrat. In doing so, the party competition in the UK changed too. It was no longer a left (Labour) v right (Conservative) fight. It was a centre-left v right fight.

Now that shift made sense - it was, after all, where the voters were. Around 75% of the electorate sits between centre-left and centre-right on a left-right spectrum. The only way to win a 1990s or 2000s election was to appeal to those voters. And this is what David Cameron's Tories are doing too - shifting away from the traditional Tory right (anti-Europe, tough on immigration) to a more "compassionate," "progressive" position - somewhere between the centre-right and the centre-left.

The problem with politics - at UK level anyway - is that there is very little distinctive difference between Labour and the Tories at a superficial level at least. And that has resulted in less, not more, choice for voters when faced with selecting their new government.

In the 1950s it was easy - left wing or right wing. Now neither are distinctive and neither offer big solutions to society's problems. That, for me, is why people are disengaging with the system. Well, that and corruption. But if they can't see a viable, credible, distinctive alternative to the current arrangement, they the question does remain: why bother?


Thursday 15 October 2009

Guest Post: Politics: Why Bother?

A question I've been wondering about for some time. But given I have a vested interest in the answer (student of politics) I wasn't sure I should answer. But then I was emailed this argument. I don't know if I agree with all of it - but there's plenty to think about...

Guest post by Wendy Fraser (aka PJ)

I’m asked this question all the time by friends and family, bemused by my fascination with all matters political and bewildered by my addiction to Question Time, Newsnight, Andrew Marr and various (numerous) other political programmes. Their argument is often ‘it makes no difference what people outside government think or say’ or the all-too-common ‘all politicians are just out to get as much out of the system as they can’. So are they wrong? Well yes and no, and here’s why I think that.

There are two divisive topics regarding politics and politicians that, to me, define the lack of motivation to engage with the political process – empowerment and integrity. If the electorate do not feel empowered by our current political process to influence positive change then why would they bother to engage with it? If they don’t believe in the integrity of their political representatives then who can they believe in?

Now I don’t agree with either of those viewpoints but neither can I say that they are just misconceptions because they are so much more than that. At best they represent a lack of knowledge/belief but at worst an abdication of responsibility.

It’s so easy to blame someone else, to point the finger and say “It’s not my fault it’s their’s”. Sadly, we see this all too often in the public outpourings of frustration and anger directed between political adversaries (I was going to say parties, but that would have ruled out all the infighting!) The endless negativity, the personal attacks and backstabbing, sleaze and gossip – it does nothing to show politics in this country, or any other for that matter, as the immensely important arena that it actually is. I get tired of listening to it, and I’m a politics geek!

Having watched the endless tittle tattle and schoolboy bullying is it really surprising that the public have responded with such fury and revulsion to the expenses scandal? When the perception of politicians is already so low there wasn’t exactly a pool of public goodwill to tap into! It is my hope that the expenses debate will be dealt with swiftly and effectively, those who abused the system should be punished, those who did not should be able to continue untainted by their association with a flawed system. Can we get back to solving the problems with the economy, poverty and the environment now please?

But we need to do more than just renew faith in our individual politician’s integrity we also need to renew faith in our political process. A more positive approach isn’t exactly a new appeal but it certainly would be a good start. Engaging with people at an individual basis is the key to success here I believe. I know many political activists from different political parties who are doing just this, wearing through shoe leather pounding the streets and knocking on doors to talk to people directly. I’ve never had anybody knock on my door (perhaps I’m blacklisted...) but I know I’d be pretty impressed if they did, and I am in awe of the activists who give up their time to do this for their parties.

I also think that mediums like blogs and Twitter have tremendous power to connect and inform people but at a more important level they also empower people to speak directly to those in positions of influence, and sometimes they even answer! I still remember being a bit stunned when Jo Swinson the Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire sent me a tweet regarding a blog and Twitter debate I was involved in, how fantastic to be able to engage directly with someone who wasn’t even my MP but was significant in highlighting the issues at the centre of that particular debate! Jo is particularly adept at using Twitter to engage, and more and more MPs and MSPs are recognising its benefits and following suit. However, as has been found out the hard way, there are some inherent dangers for politicians who tweet without due thought and consideration...

My comeback to those who question my interest in politics is that I believe my vote is important and I’m not going to automatically give it to the party my parents vote for or my friends vote for, I want to make an informed choice. I get very angry with people who do not use their vote, who abdicate their responsibility to engage with our political processes. Yes, the system is not perfect but we have a responsibility to all those who have fought for our right to vote to use it and to use it well. We all have a voice that can be heard, although admittedly some are louder and more persistent than others....


Wednesday 14 October 2009

The new Scottish international

Interesting news from FIFA this week that the Scottish Football Association's proposal (backed by the Welsh FA) to allow anyone who has at least 5 years of schooling in a particular country in Britain the opportunity to play for said country, regardless of where they were born, has been ratified.

It means that Andrew Driver of Hearts - an England Under-21 international - could be called up to represent Scotland. He was schooled in Scotland - and played schoolboy international football for Scotland - but previously did not qualify to play internationals for us because neither he, his parents nor his grandparents were born here. At 21, he's been smart enough to say that he wouldn't make any decisions as to whether he would accept any invitation to play for Scotland until an invitation has actually been extended.

Interestingly though, Driver - should he be asked to play for Scotland - would not be the first to be called up under this new rule. Celtic's 14 year old Islam Feruz has been selected for Scotland's Under 17 side. And his story is, I think, part of the reason for the rule change. Islam is Somali-born, and his family moved to Scotland 7 years ago. He has grown up (well, as grown up as you are at 14) in Glasgow and still attends Hillhead High. He reckons in the past 7 years he has been made to feel welcome in Scotland and that it is his home - and he'll be proud to wear the shirt.

The whole thing raises an interesting question regarding nationalities - yes, that old chestnut. There are, obviously, some traditionalists who are dead-set against it, arguing that you are only Scottish if you are born here. That, I guess, is an old-fashioned argument, and does not take account of modern developments in society. It also, I guess, borders on xenophobic (though maybe just borders on it - I'm not accusing ex-Scotland internationalists and managers of that) in the sense that it excludes people from representing Scotland based on their place of birth. However, that is how international football works, so I guess it isn't quite as racist as it sounds!

The point I would make is that nations are no longer - if they ever were - single nationalities. Modern Scotland is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic place. Some have moved here to escape hardship in their country of birth, others have simply thought of Scotland as a place to settle. Their intention though (for the most part) is to contribute to this society, to this nation. Whether they are born in England and have relocated to Scotland through their parents' jobs (in Driver's case) or escaped a war-torn state to start a new life here (in Feruz's) the response should be no different. They contribute to Scottish society and have lived here long enough that they "feel" Scottish. If these guys see themselves as Scottish, and want to represent Scotland, then I don't have a problem with it.

I mean, its not as if we can claim they are glory-hunters, is it?


Tuesday 13 October 2009

In defence of MPs... no really

This is probably against the grain of public opinion, but I have a degree of sympathy with some MPs. Not those who spent our money on duck houses and moats you understand, but those who have genuine expense-related claims but have found, through Sir Thomas Legg's audit that the rules have been retrospectively changed.

It is hard, obviously, to have sympathy for those who look like they've been fiddling the system but for those who have abided by the rules, consulted the Parliamentary authorities throughout and then claimed within (what they thought were) the limits before being saddled with a bill of over 12 grand when an outsider decides that the rules need changing.

Imagine you work for a company who allows you to claim fairly generous expenses. You work hard for them, for a relatively decent but not spectacular salary. You fill out form after form to claim back what you think is a fair amount, reflective of what you have shelled out. It is nowhere near the upper limit, and you feel comfortable that you haven't been screwing them out of money.

You then turn up for work one day where a letter awaits, demanding repayment of some of those expenses - to the tune of £12,000. The letter apologies for the misunderstanding that you undertook to claim your expenses within the rules, notes that you did so but that they've decided to change the rules - and want their money back. Can you imagine trying to explain that to your spouse when you return home in the evening?!

"Sorry, can't afford dinner tonight dear - have to pay back 12 grand in expenses."

"What?!! Didn't you claim it right? Provide receipts etc?"

"Oh yes. Everything was above board. I haven't even done anything wrong. They've just changed the rules now, and want the cash back. Apparently its all about public perception."

Which, in fairness, is entirely what this is about. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have either had to repay expenses and are being asked to provide more information on several items. Each have told their MPs that they should pay back what they've been asked for and shut the hell up. David Cameron has gone as far as saying that if his MPs don't pay up, then they won't be standing for the Tories again.

Which is all a bit ludicrous. You've stuck to the rules - both spirit and law - and yet you are being asked to return money for legitimate expenses. And if you don't (which you are under no legal obligation to do) then you're booted out of Parliament by your party.

I know MPs are not seen in a good light at the moment, and when the expenses scandal broke people thought less of them than, well, than they did before. But really, isn't there a sense that this might have taken a rather strange turn? Surely there is a case for being indignant - if you have abided by the rules, why should you pay back money just because some auditor guy thinks the rules should have been different?

Yes, those that have claimed ridiculously - the moats, duck houses, flipping homes and porn movies etc - should have to pay back these claims. And, potentially, consider their position as worthy to return to the House of Commons in the next Parliament. But for those who haven't remotely broken rules... well, aren't they just being tarred with the same brush?

PS - always nice when my views are directly opposite those of the Daily Mail.


Friday 9 October 2009

Ross Finnie to decide the future of Scotland

Okay, so that headline is not entirely true. But it does sort of encapsulate the position of the Scottish Liberal Democrats at the moment.

It seems that Tavish Scott's merry men (and two women - so much for gender balance!) have decided upon a "policy review" on the issue of an independence referendum. The issue will be explored by Ross Finnie before a behind-closed-doors debate at their conference at the end of October.

Now this, to me at least, makes a bit of sense. The party were none too happy during the Calman Commission (particularly with the Interim Report when it looked like it was going nowhere) and the recommendations did nothing to improve their mood. And when an MSP (JFM), a PPC (Kevin Lang) and an MEP (George Lyon) have all declared their support for a referendum (not to mention top Lib Dem activists/bloggers) it is only right that the party conduct an internal review.

Jeff is sceptical about the review, wondering if Tavish might just be holding it in order to appear to be listening to his "young thrusting" PPCs but has already made up his mind on the issue - and it's a no from him.

I have to say, I'm not so sure. This might be a genuine attempt to change party policy. Having spent the last month reading "constitutional" documents relating to A National Conversation, the Calman Commission and The Steel Commission (pdf), my view is that the review is a genuine attempt to shift the Liberal Democrats position on the issue. We know where they stand on the constitution - and what powers they would like to see devolved (the Steel Commission showed that clearly). We know too, that the recommendations contained in it were much more like some of the discussions of extended devolution in the Scottish Government's Choosing Scotland's Future than the final report of the Calman Commission - with which the Lib Dems (particularly Lord Wallace, who served on the Commission) were not overly impressed. And we know too that, of the Unionist parties, the Lib Dems are the most likely to back down from the "not a chance in hell of a referendum" position - they apparently do like democracy after all.

For me, I suspect there may have been a quiet meeting between Alex Salmond and Tavish Scott. Or maybe John Swinney and Jeremy Purvis as Finance folk. Or maybe it wasn't even on that level. Maybe just a quiet whisper somewhere, a "name your price" deal which would see the Lib Dems agree to a referendum - probably a multi-option one - in exchange for something in the budget. Because this affects more than the Lib Dems. This is core SNP stuff. They promised a referendum. If - if - the Lib Dems decide to back it at their Conference (late October), then the SNP can deliver, as planned, their White Paper on a referendum on St Andrew's Day, safe in the knowledge that they will have the support to pass it.

So that referendum, that opportunity to decide the future direction of our nation really does lie in the hands of Ross Finnie. But for now, we wait.

My title wasn't as daft as you thought.



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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