Friday, 30 January 2015

Ed's turn

Yesterday we had the pleasure of Ed Miliband's company here in Scotland, when he visited the East End of Glasgow on a campaigning trip.  While here he promised that if Labour is elected he will see to it that a bill for home rule for Scotland will be put before parliament within 100 days after their election.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  As ever, though, the devil is in the detail.  You and I think of home rule meaning the Scottish parliament makes decisions on everything except matters of defence and foreign affairs.  Mr Miliband's interpretation is somewhat different.

For Mr Miliband, home rule means the watered-down recommendations of the Smith Commission that were in the recently published command paper,   And if that isn't enough, they intend next month to force a vote on devolving the promised job-creating powers.  And if that doesn't work, Labour will immediately devolve power over the Work Programme on taking power in May.

As damp squibs go, it's wetter than a haddock's bathing suit.

Mr Miliband yesterday also gave Labour in Scotland his full backing to make its own decisions.  However, he also gave the game away.
Speaking at a campaigning event with Murphy in Glasgow’s east end, the UK Labour leader praised his Scottish counterpart’s “energy, dynamism and vision”, adding that it was “absolutely right that when it comes to devolved issues, for Jim to make those decisions”.
 So, as it turns out, the fabled autonomy that Jim Murphy has been boasting of since he was made leader turns out to be only on matters devolved to the Scottish parliament.  For everything else, it's the Labour party line.  Not quite the sweeping powers he has been leading us to believe then.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Moratorium

Yesterday the Scottish government announced a moratorium on all planning consents for extraction of unconventional oil and gas, which is great news.  What a contrast with Westminster, who voted down a UK-wide moratorium on Monday,  In the vote, the majority of SNP MPs voted for the moratorium, while Scottish Labour MPs abstained.  I think that tells us a lot about what we can expect from Labour in Scotland should they get into power.

Of course, a moratorium isn't an outright ban,  It's simply a breathing space where evidence will be gathered and examined, allowing a decision to be taken at a later date.  Still, it's a step in the right direction, and demonstrates that the Scottish government is at least willing to listen. 

Scotland has the potential to lead the world in alternative power generation - wind and wave power for example.  That being the case, it makes a lot more sense to follow that path rather than destroy our land and poison our water by pursuing fracking and gas extraction from coal beds.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Freedom

Imagine this.  You're living at home with your parents and three brothers.  You have a job which is reasonably well-paid.  Your parents insist that you give them your salary each month, and they give a small proportion of it back to you to spend as you will.  The rest goes towards supporting the household.  Your brothers do the same.  None of you are allowed a credit card, in case you run up debts, but your parents have one, which they use quite frequently.

You spend your money wisely, paying for an Open University course and buying all your necessities such as clothes and toiletries.  You've also managed to buy yourself some luxuries such as a smartphone and a tablet, although you spent a bit more than you wanted to on them, which didn't please your parents.  But now you're back on track, balancing your budget and debt-free.  However, you'd like a bit more freedom, and the responsibilities that come with it.  Maybe even strike out on your own.

Your family has a meeting to discuss your desire for more independence.  You present your case, and you can see that some of them find it persuasive.  However, by a slight majority your family decides that you're better off staying with them.  They do recognise, though, that you could cope with a bit more autonomy, and after a long discussion it's decided you will get more of your money returned to you each month, while at the same time you will receive less food and fewer domestic services, as you will now be able to pay for these things yourself.  Further discussions will be had by your parents on how this will work, and they will get back to your with their proposals.

Decision day arrives and your parents sit you down for a talk.

'Well, son, we've thought the situation over and here's what we've decided.  We're going to return 25% of your money to you instead of 10%.  You can also have a credit card'

'Great!', you say, thinking of all the new things you can do with that money to improve your life.

'Hang on, son, there's a few new rules though'

'OK, what are we talking?'

'Firstly, if you want to make any big purchases, you'll have to get permission from us first'

'Oh?  Why's that?'

'Hmmm, suppose you go out and buy a big flat screen TV, for example.  That wouldn't be fair on your brothers if they don't get one.  It would cause arguments and we can't have that'

'Oh.  Can they not get their own TVs?'

'Well they could, but what if they don't want one?  What if they want a small TV?  We can't have one of you with something better than the others'

You feel slightly deflated.

'And the credit card, son?  You have to get one with the lowest possible interest rate and a low credit limit.  We don't want you getting into a lot of debt, and then we have to bail you out.  We just don't have the money for that'

'Really?  But you have a credit card, and you use it a lot'

'We do, but that's for the good of you and your brothers.  Anyway, if you want to use your credit card you'll have to tell us what you want to use it for and how you propose to pay it off.  If we don't think your plan will work, you won't be allowed to buy whatever it is'

You feel even more deflated.  Still, it's a better deal than you have now, even if it's not all you hoped for.

Your parent notice your lack of enthusiasm and try to cheer you up.

'Don't worry son.  We're letting you put any posters you want on the walls of your bedroom.  Now don't say we're not good to you'

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Call-me-Dave pops in for tea

Today David Cameron is visiting Scotland for the first time since the referendum, presumably in connection with the production of the draft legislation resulting from the Smith Commission recommendations, which is expected to be published today.  Coinciding with it, Downing Street have confirmed George Osborne's remarks from earlier in the week, saying that Scottish MPs would have their role reduced in Westminster, in that they will not be permitted to vote on matters of taxation that do not affect Scotland.

In principle I, along with most Scots, don't have a problem with English Votes for English Laws (EVEL).  It's only fair that we don't vote on matters which don't affect us.  The difficulty, however, is in identifying such matters, since many pieces of legislation which look on the surface to exclude Scotland actually do have an effect through the Barnet consequentials.

Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon gave an example of this, saying that the SNP would, for example, consider voting on legislation to stop privatisation of the NHS in England in Wales, even though Scotland has its own devolved NHS, if this would result in more public funding of the NHS in England in Wales and therefore in Scotland through Barnet consequentials.  This has, of course, been interpreted as the SNP showing willingness to interfere in 'English' matters and howled down.

Imagine an action movie, about three quarters of the way in.  The hero and some sidekicks are trapped in a building which has suffered huge damage of some kind.  We see our doughty crew in a room, staying still and listening.  There are groans and screeches as the building starts to settle, and a moment of drama when a roof beam starts to collapse but miraculously stops before anyone is injured.  You know, however, that it's only a matter of time before the building collapses completely.  This, for me, is the current state of the UK.

Will our merry band get out before the building is reduced to rubble?  Stay tuned...


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Chest wig

Today an alliance of the SNP/Plaid Cymru/Greens has tabled a motion calling for Trident not to be renewed.  This has been branded as a 'stunt' by many Labour MPs, most of whom will not be in the House of Commons for the debate and who will therefore not be voting on it.  One honourable exception is Katy Clark, who ran against Kezia Dugdale for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.  She will be voting for the motion.

The Trident programme was announced in 1980 and began patrols in 1994.  It consist of four Vanguard-class submarines each carrying a maximum of eight missiles and 40 warheads, which are intended to provide 'the minimum effective nuclear deterrent as the ultimate means to deter the most extreme threat.'  There are various safeguards and checks in place to ensure that the missiles are fired only after following a series of steps.  However, if the submarine commander has reason to think that the UK government is no longer operational (and one of the checks is whether BBC Radio 4 is still broadcasting), they are able to retrieve letters of last resort written by the Prime Minister and follow those instructions.

The motion proposed by the SNP/Plaid Cymru/Greens has arisen because the submarines have a life expectancy of approximately 25 years, meaning they will be due for replacement in the 2020s.  Discussions are currently taking place on whether to extend the life of the Vanguard-class submarines, replace them with a new submarine design or replace them with a modified design.

The option that is not being discussed by any of the major parties is that of simple not replacing Trident at all.  The Liberal Democrats would prefer to look at less costly options, but still believe that the UK needs to have a nuclear deterrent.  They are all in favour of us retaining our manly chest wig equivalent.

Really a step back needs to be taken here.  We are a set of small islands on the western fringes of Europe.  We once had an empire that spanned the globe, but these days we are of very small account to large powers such as the US, Russia and China.  Psychologically, however, our politicians are still wedded to the idea  of Britain 'punching above its weight' and having a seat at the top table in the UN Security Council.  The reality is somewhat different.

Most European nations do not have a nuclear deterrent and manage perfectly well without one.  We could do that too.  Getting rid of Trident would mean we no longer have to have weapons of mass destruction stored near Scotland's largest city, and no longer have to have convoys of warheads travelling through Scotland's most populated areas.

Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrats have both said that they want to look at cheaper alternatives to Trident.  Well here's an idea - how about not having one?  Can't get much cheaper than that.




Monday, 19 January 2015

You twit(ter)

It's becoming evident that the Red Tories have identified Twitter as one of the more successful vehicles for the Yes campaign during indyref and have decided to jump on the bandwagon (becoming something of a speciality of theirs these days is bandwagon-jumping it seems).

On Saturday we had the #myfuturescotland hashtag, which was, of course, promptly subverted by supporters of independence.  This morning we have the #askjimmurphy hashtag, and guess what's happened to that one too?

So far Mr Murphy and his team appear to be unable to come up with any new or original ideas.  1,000 more nurses than the SNP?  Trying to steal the campaign on imprisoning mothers from Women for Independence and the Howard League?  Aping the #yesbecause Twitter campaign? 

Clearly they were impressed by the Yes side during indyref, judging by their willingness to use the same strategies, although you'll never hear them admit it.  The trouble is that they don't seem to have anything more than a superficial understanding of how it worked, hence the Twitter campaign has backfired.  Their other problem is that indyref awakened interest in politics for many people, so the attempts to hi-jack ideas from other parties is pretty transparent.  I'm not saying they won't work on some people, but I doubt they will be as successful as the Murphyites believe.

So far the Red Tories have impressed only with their lack of originality and superficial understanding.  They're going to have to up their game considerably if they expect to honour Mr Murphy's promise to retain every single seat they currently occupy in Scotland.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Great chieftain

I see that one of our esteemed 'betters', Lord McColl of Dulwich, has said that he thinks that the US should lift the ban on the importation of haggis, as it would help to address the obesity issue in that country.  Apparently he thinks it's a scandal that American-Scots are being denied this 'wholesome' food, which US citizens would no doubt find a welcome alternative to their native fast-food.

I have to wonder if there's something in the water in the House of Lords (or maybe the champagne?).  Firstly haggis is a bit like marmite - you either love it or loathe it.  I loathe it personally.  Secondly, I can't see people who are used to McDonald's, Taco Bell and Domino's taking to haggis, even though the ingredients probably are rather better than what they're used to.

Finally, if haggis is such a healthy food, how come we have an obesity problem here, the home of the haggis?  Not to mention the appaling rates of heart disease.

Frankly I think this one must have come about after an exceptionally good lunch.  Maybe they had haggis on the menu in the House of Lords that day.


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Too far

Yesterday Jim Murphy has a nice lunch with some journalists and made a speech.  In that speech he called for plans to build a super-prison for women in Scotland to be abandoned, as he believes too many women, and mothers in particular, are being imprisoned, contrary to the Scottish government's guidelines on women offenders.  This is clearly an attempt by Mr Murphy to appeal to women voters, and it may well be successful for some who belive that mothers specifically should be dealt with in other ways, else you are effectively punishing their children as well.  It's a tricky area, and not a problem that will be easily solved, since you need to balance the need for women who have broken the law to atone in some way with the needs of children for their mother. 

Later in the speech Mr Murphy also claimed that he is not a Unionist and has never been a Unionist, Irn-Bru crates notwithstanding.  Sorry, what?  To revive a phrase commonly used during the referendum campaign, do you think our heads button up the back?  You were doing so well, and now you've just revealed your willingness to say whatever you think people want to hear, even if it means rewriting history.   We Scots have many faults, but a short memory isn't one of them.

Mr Murphy, you've just taken that too far.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Hustings

I have just attended the hustings for our local constituency MP candidates.  We have five very strong contenders for the position, so it was a good chance to hear their views of various subjects such as fracking, Trident, TTIP and home rule/independence, as well as what each of them think they can bring to the job and what they think their strengths are.  They have all sent out campaign materials over the past few weeks, but I always think it's good to see the candidates in person and to see how they come over.

We have four male candidates and one female.  I'm not in favour of having quotas for women for these things.  I think that we should be choosing the best candidate for the job regardless of their gender.  It's true that there are fewer women in politics than we would ideally like, but I think the answer to this lies in mentoring and training rather than quotas. 

After hearing all the candidates speak there are two strong contenders in my mind, and I think it will be a very close-run race.  Our constituency currently has a Labour MP with a majority of over 10,000, so we have a lot of hard work to do to overturn this.  Still, we have about 1,000 new members in our local branch, so with a bit of organisation and a lot of work, we can do this.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Can't argue

David Cameron has announced that he will not take part in televised leaders' debates if the Green party are not included in the debates.  This follows a decision by Ofcom that the Greens do not constitute a major party in the UK political scene.  Ofcom have, however, determined that UKIP do constitute a major party.

The reasoning behind the Ofcom decision seems a little specious to say the least.  They are basing their decision on the fact that The Green party have not shown significant support in previous general elections.  Neither have UKIP really, but apparently their showing in the European elections last year and in local elections was enough to get them major party status.  Come on, Ofcom, if you're going to have rules, at least apply them consistently.

So, Mr Cameron now gets to play Mr Magnanimous, standing up for the rights of smaller parties to be represented.  Now I may be being cynical here, but I seem to recall that Mr Cameron was rather reluctant to appear in televised debates with Alex Salmond during the referendum, citing the fact that he was not the leader of the Better Together/No Thanks campaign as the reason.  Of course, Alex Salmond wasn't the leader of the Yes campaign either, but he was at least willing to debate, national leader to national leader.

Could it be that Mr Cameron doesn't want to do the televised debates, for which he does not have a good reputation, and is using the Ofcom ruling as a 'get out of jail free' card?  I certainly won't be holding my breath for the debates to take place, since puce really isn't a good colour for me.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Je suis Charlie

We may not like what other people say about things that are dear to our hearts.  We may find what they say hurtful, embarrassing or disrespectful.  We may even feel hatred towards those that say these things.

Nevertheless, people have a right to say what they think, and they have a right not to be killed or injured for it.   Violence is the childish response.  Persuasion is the adult response.

We should all be Charlie. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Squabbles

Day 2 of the general election campaign and already the Labour party has descended into squabbling amongst themselves.  This has been caused by Jim Murphy's announcement yesterday of providing 1000 more nurses using Scotland's share of the proceeds from the proposed mansion tax, most of which will be levied from properties in the South-East of England.  Cue backlash from MPs representing constituencies in that area.

Diane Abbott has accused Mr Murphy of 'cynically trying to buy Scottish votes'.  She's not wrong, but it is rather amusing to see one politician accusing another of trying to bribe the electorate with promises of good things.  Ms Abbott is a prospective candidate for the London Mayor gig, which will, of course, have no bearing on her remarks at all.  Pot calls kettle 'sooty arse' one feels.

The other two prospective London Mayoral candidates have also spoken out against Mr Murphy.  David Lammy said that 'It cannot be right...that the money raised from the London taxpayers continues to be siphoned off to other regions', while Tessa Jowell said 'London's needs are great - we cannot simply act as the cash cow for the rest of the UK' (Both quotes are taken from today's The National).

Well, well, whatever happened to 'pooling and sharing'?  We were told during the referendum campaign that wanting to keep Scotland's income within Scotland and using it for the benefit of the Scottish people was selfish, and that we should think of the larger UK.  Apparently the same principles don't apply to London.

Meanwhile Mr Miliband is conspicuous by his absence, which does not inspire confidence in his leadership skills.

Mr Murphy is clearly trying to distance himself from the London leadership, since his current position requires him to demonstrate his independence from the rest of the UK Labour party (and isn't there a lovely irony in that?)  However, all that has happened is that he has made a vague promise based on a lot of assumptions about who is going to win both the general election and the forthcoming Scottish general election and the amount of money that will be raised from a proposed tax that may never be implemented.  Not exactly the flying start he was hoping for, one feels.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Nurse!

Today we hear that Jim Murphy is promising to spend Scotland's share of Labour's proposed mansion tax on 1000 extra nurses.  Apparently this is a policy exclusive to Labour in Scotland, and he has not run it past Ed Miliband, although he's sure that Mr Miliband will approve.  Telling that Mr Miliband's approval will have to be sought however.

So here we start with one of the commonest dog whistle policies employed by most politicians - extra nurses.  Now, I'm not saying we couldn't do with them, and I'm aware that we seem to be currently training more nurses than we have jobs for, given the difficulties I've observed nurse friends having in finding a job once they graduate.  But this is a go-to soundbite from politicians of all stripes, relying on the fact that the public hold nurses in high regard, so more of them can only reflect well on the politician in question.

But there is a problem with the policy for Mr Murphy.  The NHS in Scotland is completely devolved to the Scottish government, so any decision to employ additional nurses can only be made by Holyrood.  And Labour are not in power in Holyrood at the moment, so this is a meaningless promise under current circumstances.  Of course, Mr Murphy may well be taking the long view and making plans for Labour coming to power in Holyrood in 2016.  It's not looking likely on current polling, but he has over a year to turn things around, so let's not rule it out completely.  However, he is making this promise in the context of the Westminster elections, and is therefore making a promise he cannot keep in the short term.

The other problem is how he intends to fund it.  The mansion tax proposed by Labour is an annual tax on properties over the value of £2 million, and would be expected to raise around £1.2 billion per year.  Mr Murphy has calculated Scotland's share of this sum under the Barnett formula as £250 million, even though only about £15 million would actually be raised in Scotland.  Two problems with this.  One is that £250 million divided by 1000 is £250,000.  I don't know about you, but most nurses I know make about 1/10th of that or less.  That leaves a substantial sum unaccounted for.  The second problem is that this will create resentment among the English electorate, who will resent having to pay for improvements to the Scottish NHS.  The old 'subsidy junkies' epithet will rear its ugly head once more.  It will also not play well with the Scottish electorate, who resent being called 'subsidy junkies' when sending all their oil and whisky revenues to Westminster and only receiving a small percentage of it back.  Labour, of course, refer to it as 'pooling and sharing', something they are extremely keen on, as we saw during the referendum campaign when we all got heartily sick of hearing the phrase.

 So, to sum up, we have a politician promising something that he currently has no power to deliver, using money he doesn't yet have and which mostly wouldn't be raised in Scotland even if he did.  Off to a flying start then.


Monday, 5 January 2015

And they're off...

The holidays are over and the machinery is winding itself up for the general election in May, with the two main parties firing their first salvos.

Ed Miliband is giving a speech today in which he will say that Labour's priorities will be putting working people first, dealing with the deficit and protecting the NHS.  All quite typical left-wing policies, although as ever the devil will be in the detail.  He will also say that Labour offers 'hope, not falsehood', which has some interesting echoes of the 'hope over fear' slogan from the referendum.

Meantime the Tories will be rubbishing Labour's spending plans using an analysis by the Treasury on the cost of Labour’s 2015-16 spending plans in areas including education, media, tax and home affairs.  Labour are, of course, furiously challenging these assertions.  We've only got to day 1 and the rage is already turned up to at least 7.  It's going to be a long campaign.

Apparently UKIP are to favour us with their detailed policies in the next few days on subjects other than the EU and immigration.  Certainly they need to do something if they are to be seen as any sort of credible political party, as at present they really are seen as a lunatic fringe with bees in their collective bonnet.  I don't have high hopes that they will produce anything worth considering, but I'm looking forward to seeing how their logic works.

Meanwhile in Scotland, Jim Murphy is planning to target 200,000 former Labour voters who were Yes supporters in the referendum.  Not quite sure how he has come by their details, but the idea is to send them targeted letters, do doorstep canvassing at their homes and make phone calls to them.  Because that's not going to get old over the next 5 months.  I'd suspect that it might just as easily drive ex-supporters even further away rather than win them back simply from the sheer nuisance factor.  Mr Murphy is also hammering away at the idea that a vote for SNP is a vote to allow David Cameron back in, so a vote for Labour is the only way to get rid of the Tories, especially since Mr Cameron twice refused to rule out a coalition with UKIP not once but twice on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning. 

It appears, though, that Mr Murphy is not working very closely with his deputy, Kezia Dugdale.  There is a story in the National this morning about how Ms Dugdale has no problem contemplating working with the SNP, as she stated on the Crossfire programme on BBC Radio Scotland on Sunday morning.  So on the one hand we have Mr Murphy pulling out all the stops to win back former Labour voters to stop them voting SNP, while Ms Dugdale is apparently quite  sanguine about working with the SNP, which would suggest she isn't overly worried about the SNP picking up ex-Labour voters and Labour seats.  Not really off to a flying start there, but give them time to get their act together - they are, after all, a very new double-act.

Friday, 2 January 2015

National government

Today in the Guardian we have a story about how a Tory-Labour coalition may be the way ahead after the general election in May.  Yes, you did read that right - a Tory-Labour coalition.

The author is one Ian Birrell, whose Guardian profile describes him as:
... a former deputy editor of the Independent and [who] worked as a speechwriter for David Cameron during the 2010 election campaign
It's interesting to note that in the piece yet again parties such as UKIP and the SNP are described as 'insurgent' or 'insurgents', given that the word has a very specific meaning these days, as I covered elsewhere.

At one time I would have said that a Tory-Labour coalition was a fantasy, something that could never happen.  And yet, we saw them join forces during the referendum to 'defend' the union (ie scare the voters witless), so I can't say I would be entirely surprised if this did happen after the election, assuming that neither of the major parties wins a majority.  After all, many configurations may be possible in the event of a hung parliament, so why not this one?  Might as well make the lack of difference between the two parties explicit.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone has a great New Year and many good things happening in 2015.  The next election campaign starts soon, so let's get ready to change things for the better. SlĂ inte!