Monday, 27 April 2015

Fear turning to terror later

Today we have a new poll from TNS which puts support for the SNP in Scotland at 54%, with Labour dropping to 22%.  If reflected on 7th May, this could result in the SNP taking 57 out of the 59 seats available.  There is a major caveat to these figures, which is that that 29% of respondents were 'undecided', so there is no room for complacency by the SNP.

Jim Murphy and Ed Balls were in Glasgow attending an event for Labour activists at the Royal Concert Hall.  Needless to say the major topic was 'SNP BAD!'.  Mr Murphy said
It is the nationalists’ clear intention to pursue a second referendum sooner rather than later if they are given the opportunity. 
Well colour me shocked.  The SNP would like to have a second referendum?  My, they kept that quiet.  Oh wait, no they didn't.  Nicola Sturgeon has said that, while she will continue to work towards an independent Scotland, another referendum will only take place if there is a substantial change (such as England voting to leave the EU and Scotland voting to stay in) AND if the people of Scotland indicate they want another referendum by voting in a party that contains such a policy in their manifesto.

 Mr Murphy also said
They would consign Scotland to years of deepening divisions while the needs and priorities of working-class Scots are set aside for another day, another year or indeed another generation.
The latter half of that sentence just beggars belief.  Labour have had a majority of MPs in Scotland since 1959, and yet we still have some of the worst poverty in Europe in some areas of Scotland.  We have also had vast amounts of money wasted on vanity projects such as the Holyrood parliament building and the Edinburgh trams, all commissioned by Labour.   Meanwhile the SNP government in Edinburgh have implemented free personal care for the elderly, free prescriptions and no tuition fees, all of which will help meet the needs of working-class Scots.  What have Labour to show for their time in office at Holyrood?

In general, Labour are fighting this general election as if it were the referendum, which is odd as they fought the referendum as if it were a general election.  They seem to be suffering from a 6-month lag.  Maybe they should reboot their connection to reality.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Joined up thinking

Yesterday morning in the Guardian we were treated to an article on 'how disillusionment with Labour has turned into raw rage'. In it we learnt that Jim Murphy has been sworn at, denounced as a traitor to Scotland and called a red Tory by three different people in Glasgow.  Apparently Scots are refusing to accept Labour literature on the doorstep, treating it as if it was toxic.  This is being portrayed by senior Labour figures as a rage which apparently borders on the irrational (because of course Scottish people refusing to vote Labour could only be explained by irrationality).  Heads are being scratched, meetings held, but still they cannot come up with an explanation.  What could it be?

Then in the afternoon the Guardian reports that, should Labour get into government at Westminster, they will call on Michael Heseltine to be an adviser to such a government.  Yes, that Michael Heseltine, the one who was a minister in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet.

I have a feeling there's a clue there, I just can't quite put my finger on it...

Friday, 24 April 2015

Kezia of the Fourth Form

Yesterday I was travelling into the city on a train.  Sitting on the other side of the of the corridor was a teenage schoolgirl with her phone glued to her ear, regaling whoever was on the other end of the conversation with all the latest drama in her life, including torrid romances, breakups and secret affairs.  One young lady in particular must have had her ears burning as her character was thoroughly assassinated, all in breathless sentences ending in the upward inflection known as uptalk, making every sentence almost a question.

Later in the day I was watching First Minister's Questions when Kezia Dugdale brought up the issue of Neil Hay and some Tweets that he made under an anonymous account which she claimed were a heinous example of trolling by a Nationalist.  When this was countered with examples of tweets from Ian Smart, a Labour MP,  Ms Dugdale claimed not to be aware of them despite the fact that she follows Mr Smart on Twitter.  Poor preparation there, Ms Dugdale.  It was an obvious comeback and one that should have been anticipated.

While listening to Ms Dugdale perorate at length, she reminded me of that schoolgirl on the train.  She speaks in the manner of a keen student reciting a speech which she has learnt off by heart.  The kind of pupil who is diligent and earnest but doesn't have that spark about her that makes teachers think of her as someone who will achieve great things.  Rather she is somewhere in the middle of the class, neither outstandingly good or bad. Compare and contrast with Nicola Sturgeon, who speaks fluently and with fire.

If Ms Dugdale wants to reach the upper echelons of politics I'd suggest that she needs coaching in how to be an effective speaker.  As it is, it's hard to take her seriously.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Don't you wish they would just DIE!

Today saw the launch of the SNP's manifesto for the upcoming Westminster elections at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA), to a rousing reception from the assembled crowds and a distinctly unrapturous reception from the usual suspects.  No surprises there.

The manifesto itself addresses not only the Scottish electorate but also the wider UK electorate, giving them an idea of what the SNP can offer if they were to ally with Labour on a case-by-case basis.  The latter is, I think, what is scaring the living daylights out of the big two.

The only reason that Westminster allowed us to have a referendum is that they thought that the independence side would lose badly and that this would kill off the idea of Scotland leaving the UK for a very long time, if not forever.  In the event the independence side did lose, but not by a very large margin.  Since then the unionist side has constantly been telling Yes voters to accept the result.

Well, today, as the SNP manifesto proves, we have accepted the result.  We're still in the union, so we are damned well going to make sure we have a say.  Apparently, however, this is not what was supposed to happen.  The Yes alliance was supposed to slink away and Westminster would get back to business as usual.

This is, I think, the root of the hysteria we are seeing from the traditional parties on the subject of the SNP.  They don't like a politically active and engaged electorate, such as we are seeing in Scotland.  We're not playing by their rules, we're not pretending that austerity is the only way and we're not part of the gentlemen's agreements that seems to be how Westminster is run.  Far from slinking away we have become a thorn in their collective paw, and the resulting shake-up can only be good for democracy.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Playing catchup

Yesterday Jim Murphy launched Labour's Scottish manifesto, claiming that it was a reversion to old-school Labour.  He also made a rousing speech to party activists.  Must have been a fairly small venue then, since Labour are rather short of manpower on that front.  But I digress.

One of his major arguments was that Full Fiscal Autonomy(FFA) would be bad for Scotland.  People should
[t]hink about these new sources of income, the mansion tax, the bankers bonus tax. Full fiscal autonomy would stop all that money coming across the border.

That 50p top rate of tax - there are 16,000 people that would apply to in Scotland, but there are 300,000 people across the whole of the UK. Again that money would be stopped at the border.
 I think this shows how badly Mr Murphy and his campaign team have misread the mood in Scotland.

One of the epithets that was hurled with tedious regularity at Scots during the referendum campaign was that of 'subsidy junkies'.  It encapsulated Scotland as a nation of beggars sitting with their hands out for Westminster charity, as if as a nation we do nothing, pay no taxes and have no income of our own.  It's something that is still brought up in many a comment during the current election campaign.  And yet here we have Mr Murphy telling us that we should all be rubbing our hands with glee at the thought of all this extra tax money raised in England and being sent to Scotland.

It seems that Mr Murphy and his team think that Scottish nationalism is all about sticking it to the English, specifically the English upper classes.  That being the case, telling us that we will be taking money from them is bound to be a vote winner.

Except that's not what Scottish nationalism is about.  It may have been in the past, but not now.  Irvine Welsh has an interesting take on it.  He says
When I was growing up, [Scots’ consciousness] was that childish one: it’s the English’s fault. Then it changed in the 80s and 90s to the Renton thing: it’s our fault, the self-flagellating thing. Now it seems to have evolved into a healthy pragmatism that it doesn’t matter whose fault it is; the point is to get on with it and make it better. That’s been the evolution in my lifetime and it’s made it easier for people like me to get involved. Twenty years ago I would have been very anti-independence.
Sadly Mr Murphy seems to be stuck in the 70s and hasn't noticed the changes that have taken place while he has been away in Westminster.  We've moved on, but he and the Labour party in Scotland have not.

According to the latest polls Mr Murphy looks likely to lose his seat in East Renfrewshire in this election.  If that happens all he will have left is to try for First Minister in next year's Scottish general election.  Perhaps his new leisure time might allow him to catch up on developments in the past 30 years in Scotland.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The debate goes on

Last night there was yet another leaders debate on the BBC.  It proved to be much better than last week's efforts, due in no small part to the chairmanship abilities of David Dimbleby, who kept control of the participants most of the time.  At least on this occasion you could hear what the various participants had to say on a particular topic without it continually descending into a stairheid rammy.  Which is not to say there weren't any, but they were kept to a minimum.

The person who benefited least from this was Nigel Farage, whose odious views were heard loud and clear.  This was not to his advantage.  As usual his solution to everything was (a) leave the EU and (b) stop immigration.  Inside Mr Farage's head one imagines that there is continual Union Jack waving, forelock tugging and everyone knowing their place.  This explains his frequent, if geographically-challenged, references to all things north of Hadrian's Wall as a shorthand for 'Scottish'.  We Scots have introduced a sour note into his fantasy by holding a referendum on independence.  The mere thought of anyone challenging his 1950s theme park is simply unbearable, hence the desire to punish the Scots as demonstrated in the Ukip manifesto.  How dare we question the greatest nation in the world ever!  Cognitive dissonance rules for Mr Farage.  Oh, and a tip for the next debate - best not to insult the audience if you want them to take your part.

Ed Miliband put in a workmanlike performance which seems to have gone down well generally.  He did, however, rule out any kind of deal with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament.  Smooth move Mr Miliband.  He has effectively said that he would rather see the Tories in power than have anything to do with the SNP, who will not do any kind of deal with the Tories.  Somehow I don't think that's the impression he wanted to give at this stage.  Also an FYI to the many challenged newspaper editors - the SNP are not offering a coalition with Labour.

Similarly Trident was not a winner for him.  He may be a fan of stick-on hairy chest wigs, but many, many people see it for what it is - a very expensive white elephant.

Meanwhile David Cameron did not take part in the debate, being busy spending 10 minutes in Scotland to launch the Scottish Conservative manifesto.  Mr Cameron managed to avoid contact with any of the proles while here, which merely reinforced people's view of him as remote and out of touch with normal people.  Compare and contrast with Nicola Sturgeon, who regularly meets ordinary people, as for example at the Bairns Not Bombs rally in Glasgow last weekend.

Nicola Sturgeon again came out as the winner of the debate according to the post-match polls.  Her performance was assured and showed that the SNP are not simply a one-issue party but have ideas to benefit the whole of the UK.  Again there are people wishing that they could vote for the SNP outwith Scotland, which is the kind of endorsement many politicians would sell their grannies to have.

So, in summary, a much better debate than the previous ones (which I found literally unbearable to listen to).  Probably not Mr Miliband's finest hour, but at least he had the advantage of being there, unlike Mr Cameron.






Wednesday, 15 April 2015

I think my sides have split

This morning the Guardian has an 'exclusive' interview with Nick Clegg, outlining why he thinks his party is the only possible choice for a coalition and giving some details of the headline policies from his manifesto. His case, such as it is, is that the SNP and Ukip are parties of grievance, whereas his party is one of (and I am not making this up) conscience.  To borrow a quote from Blackadder, 'I thank God I wore my corset, because I think my sides have split.'

Mr Clegg apparently believes that no-one noticed the wholesale ditching of Liberal Democrat principles in the current coalition, and seems to believe that they have acted as some sort of brake on the worst of Tory excesses.  Given the current state of the UK under the coalition austerity, one can only imagine some sort of futuristic dystopia would have been the result otherwise, with freezing wastelands and dire poverty in ghettos.  Oh wait...

Mr Clegg then goes on to outline 'five manifesto pledges that will have “a near religious status” for his party when it comes to negotiating any coalition deal.'  These include spending on education which will rise in line with pupil numbers rather than inflation, 8bn more on health and equal status for mental health, increasing the personal tax allowance to £12,500 a year, a balanced current budget by 2017-18 and five green laws including a decarbonisation target for electricity

All of which sounds very nice, except for the fact that Mr Clegg has already demonstrated a willingness to drop his principles for a sniff of power faster than a penniless whore their drawers when the fleet comes into port.  Indeed he is basically touting for business by implying that he would be happy to support either Labour or Tory depending on the deal they would be prepared to offer in return for coalition support.

Vote Liberal Democrat - the party of negotiable affections.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Fear and smear

The election campaign has kicked up a gear this week, with the Unionist parties turning in earnest on  Nicola Sturgeon.  Following the Frenchgate smear of last weekend, which essentially boiled down to 'we all *know* that Nicola Sturgeon really wants another Tory government no matter what she says', this week the sights were again aimed at Ms Sturgeon but switching the emphasis from smear to fear.

There was the booing heard during one of the Scottish leaders debates, when Ms Sturgeon answered a question on whether there would be another referendum by saying that it was essentially dependent on whether the Scottish electorate voted for a party that contained such a proposal in their manifesto in the Scottish elections next year.  There was an attack on Ms Sturgeon's plans for Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland within the UK, resulting in Messrs Miliband, Balls and Murphy resurrecting fears that pensioners would lose their pensions and Scottish society would be wrecked by swingeing austerity cuts.  The phrase 'pooling and sharing' was resurrected, the best indication yet that Project Fear Mk 2 was underway.

Elsewhere there have been various stories about tactical voting, especially in the Gordon constituency, where Alex Salmond is standing as the SNP Westminster candidate.  The LibDem candidate, Christine Jardine, is Mr Salmond's closest rival, and has been vocal about telling people to vote for her 'in order to keep Alex Salmond out'.  She makes noises about wanting to be the candidate who will support local issues, but her major strategy is simply telling people who not to vote for.

Yesterday there have been various reports of Tory and Labour offices in Aberdeen which have been vandalised.  The Tory office had a swastika and the word 'scum' spray-painted on their window, along with a letter 'Q' on the door, while the Labour office not far away also had the letter 'Q' spray-painted on it.  This has immediately been trumpeted as evidence of 'the ugly face of nationalism', despite the lack of any evidence that this is the case.  Now it could well be that the idiot(s) in question believe in Scottish independence, and they would be rightly condemned by most independence supporters if that was the case.  However, the type of graffiti does lend an element of doubt.  Usually independence supporters are the ones compared with the Nazis, which makes it slightly odd that this was painted on the Tory office.  Also the assumption that the letter 'Q' stands for 'quisling' sounds a bit off to me too - it's not exactly an everyday word after all.  Why would they not have used the more common 'traitor' instead?

All this reveals one main thrust however - the Unionists are beginning to show real fear of the SNP.  The polls are not shifting in their favour and time is running out.  Expect the fearmongering to continue.


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Nits

The General Election campaign is now in full swing, with actual policies coming from all the parties and arguments being made and derided.  However, both Labour and the Tories seem to have developed a weird fascination for the SNP, somewhat similar to finding a strange-looking insect in your drink - both interested and disgusted at the same time.  Or, to put it another way, the SNP are regarded as similar to head lice, and both the major parties can't wait to deny they have them.

From the weekend we have seen attempts by one or more major parties and the mainstream media to smear the reputation of the SNP in general and Nicola Sturgeon in particular.  It started off with Frenchgate, where the Daily Telegraph got hold of a memo which said that Nicola Sturgeon had told the French Ambassador at a meeting in February that she hoped David Cameron would stay in office and that she didn't think that Ed Miliband was Prime Minister material. The claim was swiftly denied by Ms Sturgeon herself, the French Consul General and the French Ambassador herself, all of whom were actually present at the meeting.  The story fell apart within hours and left the Daily Telegraph and the rest of the mainstream media with egg on their faces, as well as the Labour party in Scotland, who leapt upon it with all the alacrity of a starving pride of lions in a gazelle herd.  The surprising thing about the whole affair was not that it had been done, but that it had been done so crudely.

So, memo having been debunked, another go was had by the Daily Record, this time trumpeting the defection of what they termed an 'SNP Boss' to Labour.  After some confusion it was established that Muhammad Shoaib (a) had defected from Labour to the SNP previously (b) had been a Labour councillor for some years (c) had not been selected as a Westminster candidate by the SNP, to his great disappointment and (d) had a somewhat 'colourful' past, thus making his credibility as a source for the story somewhat suspect.  The interesting part about the story was, however, his claim that
he was “shocked” at the way senior SNP members in Sturgeon’s Glasgow constituency are secretly backing another five years of David Cameron.
So here we have another go at the same smear as Frenchgate, this time implicating Nicola Sturgeon indirectly.  Clearly the Unionist parties have been studying Scottish history and have taken their inspiration from Robert the Bruce and the spider.

Most recently we have a couple of different tacks.  First that the SNP and the Tories were in partnership in the Scottish government from 2007 - 2011 and secondly that Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to admit that there may be another referendum on independence in the next Scottish parliament term.  Both are misrepresentations of the fact.  In the first case, the SNP were in a minority government, so made deals with the Tories and all the other parties (except Labour, exercising the Bain principle) in order to get legislation enacted.  You'd think that this experience would have made them an ideal alliance for Labour in a minority government in Westminster, but see the Bain principle above.  In the second case Ms Surgeon makes no secret of the fact that she wants to see Scottish independence and has made it clear that there will only be another referendum IF she includes such a thing in the next SNP manifesto in 2016 and IF her party is then returned with a majority.  Nonetheless both matters are being reported in the press as if they are some huge secrets which have been wrung from Ms Sturgeon and which she would rather hide, which is patently untrue.

I think we can only expect this line of attack on the SNP to get worse.  Clearly there is a great deal of fear of the SNP in Westminster.  Like nits, they must be attacked by any means possible for fear of them spreading.




Sunday, 5 April 2015

Scary, scary

There's an excellent piece by Kevin McKenna in today's Observer about why the main parties are terrified of what he calls 'the SNP revolution'.  He points out how many of the commentariat are bewildered by the surging (or insurgent if you're a writer in a major national newspaper) SNP popularity and therefore resort to denigrating its supporters in defence against any change to the comfortable status quo.

Yesterday saw 'Frenchgate', a crude attempt to smear Nicola Sturgeon's reputation which surfaced in the Telegraph, claiming that she had told the French Ambassador in a private meeting that she would prefer David Cameron to be Prime Minister after the next election. The claim was swiftly shot down in flames by both parties to the discussion, and now there is to be an enquiry as to the source of the leaked memo, which the UK government, in the form of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are denying all knowledge of.  The only thing surprising about this whole affair is the crudeness of it, possibly due to it being a rush job following Ms Sturgeon's performance on Thursday night's leaders' debate and her subsequent popularity.

One factor in the Establishment rush to try and neutralise the SNP 'threat' may be a strand of feeling after the debate from people outwith Scotland wishing that they could vote for an SNP candidate in their constituency, and regretting the fact that the SNP don't contest elections outside Scotland.  No doubt the major parties find it something of a relief that this is the case.  But there may be a way to allow people to do effectively that.

What if the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens were to form an explicit anti-austerity alliance?  Obviously the parties in question do not agree one hundred percent on all policies, but there seems to be sufficient overlap to allow this to be feasible.  After all, The Tories, Lib Dems and Labour are all effectively austerity parties.

No doubt people who are more politically savvy than I am can give me lots of good reasons why this wouldn't be a good idea, and I'm always happy to learn from that.  Nevertheless, it might go some way towards addressing what is, according to Mr McKenna, an unmet need to address austerity in people's own terms and not those handed down by Westminster.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Is that it?

The big leaders debate is over and the winner appears to be...whoever fits with the political line the papers want to take.  There seems to be agreement, however, that Nicola Sturgeon was the star turn of the evening, to the extent where many English people on Twitter were wishing they could vote for her.

I think this may be a turning point for the SNP, where they move from being an essentially regional party of no interest to the wider UK to a player on the Westminster scene.  Ms Sturgeon has shown that the SNP can look at the big picture and offer something to voters outside Scotland.  The fact that there seem to be a fair number of people wishing they had an SNP candidate to vote for should send shivers up the spines of the two big parties.  The phones at London SNP this morning have been pretty busy I understand.

Over the last few weeks the Tories have spent a fair amount of time portraying the SNP in general and Alex Salmond in particular as the bogeyman of politics, the monsters ready to destroy Westminster by propping up an Ed Milliband minority government, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Alex Salmond is no longer the leader of the SNP.  Don't think that'll be an issue after Ms Sturgeon's performance last night.  Labour, meanwhile, have been portraying the SNP as the monsters that will let David Cameron back into Number 10.

Stephen King, writer of many a horror story, has written that in the best horror stories you never show the monster, as your readers' imaginations will provide them with something far scarier than whatever you some up with.  If you show them, say, a 20-foot lizard with razor-sharp teeth rising from a lake they will think 'pretty scary, but what if it was 30-feet tall?'  I'm paraphrasing, but you get the gist.  Now the wider UK public have seen the SNP monster and have found out that it's not nearly as scary as they were led to believe and is in many ways quite cuddly.  The monsterishness of the SNP has been greatly exaggerated, to coin a phrase.

So, now that everyone has seen the monster and found it isn't nearly as scary as they were imagining, where does that leave the Tory and Labour campaigns?  Back to the drawing board boys.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Pieces of eight

Today Ed Balls was due to make a speech in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in which he would say that
There is only one way to end Tory austerity in Scotland and that’s by voting Labour.
This from the man who said that said that there wasn't anything major in George Osborne's budget that he would reverse.  Yes, not quite following the logic there Ed.  His plan, if you can call it that, is not to make the cuts quite so deep as the Tories intend.  In other words, do what Labour always does and tinker round the edges but fundamentally do things the same way.

His other keynote from the speech was to be
And third, because a vote for the SNP means it is more likely David Cameron stays in Downing Street. Every vote in this election that might allow the Tories to be the largest party is a vote for Tory austerity to continue.
Ah, our old friend 'Vote SNP, get Tories', with a side helping of 'the largest party gets to form the next government'.  In the past Scots have continually voted Labour and half the time got a Tory government anyway, so you might just as well say 'Vote Labour, get Tory' and it would have the advantage of having more truth to it.

Labour in Scotland are beginning to sound like a bunch of ill-trained parrots, who have only managed to pick up two or three phrases which they continually squawk until people are sick of hearing them.

Have we heard about the independent Scottish policies that Jim Murphy claims he has the power to set?  Have we hell.  All we've heard is naked bribery from Mr Murphy and, even worse, naked bribery from Gordon Brown, who is now most definitely a retired politician and therefore in no position to make promises to anyone.  (Presumably Mr Brown is now involved in the hope that he can sprinkle some magic fairy dust over the Labour campaign, assuming he kept some after the referendum).  Half of the promises they are making relate to matters devolved to Holyrood, which makes them irrelevant to this election.

Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Trident is still a redline issue and an alternative approach to debt reduction that would grow the economy.  People many not agree with her views, but at least she is thinking outside the box, which comes across as a breath of fresh air after the cosy consensus of the big two parties. That's why many Scots are turning towards voting SNP, on the basis that if you vote SNP you get SNP, and with luck they might just shake up Westminster.

Labour seem at the moment to be set on repeating their limited mantras ad nauseam, in the hope that eventually they can wear people down into voting for them just to get them to shut up.  Time to put the cover over the parrot cage.