Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Motes and beams

Over the last few days there has been a growing story about Women for Indy and some possible shenanigans with money which was donated to the organisation prior to its adoption of a formal constitution and 'robust and appropriate systems' back in March of this year.  It's been interesting to watch how the story has developed.

Let's take the Guardian as an example.  The first we hear of the story is on Monday morning in this article in which we gather:
  • there are significant discrepancies between the organisation's income from donations and its expenditure for financial year 2014/2015
  • the problem became apparent in late summer after an extensive information gathering and investigation exercise
  • that all possibilities of an explanation have been explored
  • that the matter has been handed over to the police for further investigation

The next article is in Monday evening, in which Natalie McGarry is linked to the missing money.  This is because Ms McGarry was alleged to be the only person with access to the Paypal account into which donations to Women for Indy were paid.  Aside from the above, the article consists of a rehash of the text from the earlier article, a short biography of Ms McGarry and a statement from Ms McGarry's solicitor saying that she will co-operate fully with any police investigation and giving assurance that she is not aware of any wrongdoing on her part.  The article also contains a quote from the SNP which simply says that they are of the situation but have not yet been given any details.  There is also an attempt to link the story to that of Michelle Thomson.

Today there is yet another article on the story, this time about Labour in Scotland demanding that Nicola Sturgeon take action over the matter, preferably by suspending Ms McGarry from the party.  This has been raised by the ever-sanctimonious Jackie Baillie (why not Kezia Dugdale, one wonders?).  Ms Baillie has sent a letter to Nicola Sturgeon making various demands.  For example, if Michelle Thomson's membership was suspended, surely Ms McGarry's should be too?  Of course, Ms Baillie is comparing apples with oranges here, but it's never stopped her in the past.  She goes on to adds that it would be a “very grave matter” if anyone within the SNP knew of allegations before May’s general election but failed to make them public.  Well, given that Women for Indy didn't become aware of any issue before 'late summer', why would anyone from the SNP know about it?  Either Ms Baillie is incapable of understanding that 'late summer' comes after May, or she's trying, with her usual lack of subtlety, to score points against the SNP.  The latter explanation is more likely, as she then goes on to point out that seven of the Women for Indy committee members are SNP candidates.  Of course, Women for Indy and the SNP are separate organisations, but Ms Baillie never lets facts get in the way of political points-scoring.

Labour in Scotland should, however, be somewhat cautious over this matter.  They aren't exactly squeaky-clean over financial irregularities.  Edinburgh Eastern constituency has recently reported the matter of £10,000 missing from their bank account to the police, after having waited for 18 months for Scottish Labour HQ to take action.  Many of the same questions that Ms Baillie is asking of the SNP over the Women for Indy affair could be asked of Labour over the Edinburgh Eastern affair.  Edinburgh East is the constituency that Kezia Dugdale intends to contest in May 2016.

If Ms McGarry is responsible for any wrongdoing then it is right and proper that she should face the consequences.  However, at the moment the principle of innocent until proven guilty should apply pending the outcome of the police investigation.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Incompetent

For the last few weeks Labour have been doing their best to plant the idea in voters' heads that the current SNP government is utterly incompetent.  Health services?  They must be hiding the truth from us.  Education?  The attainment gap between the richest and poorest is getting wider, the number of college places has been drastically cut.  Policing?  Making a single Scottish police force has been a disaster and it's all the fault of the SNP.  Week after week Kezia Dugdale chooses one of these subjects and accuses the SNP govenment of doing an utterly awful job.

It's becoming clear that Labour, backed up by their friends in the Tory and Liberal Democrat parties, are going to make this the central plank of their election campaigning.  So far Ms Dugdale has managed precisely one policy announcement (which turns out to have more holes in it than the finest Emmental) versus weeks of 'SNP Accused'.

Will it work?  On the surface, you'd think so.  The modus operandi seems to be to take one unfortunate incident, such as an elderly man dying on a trolley in A&E after waiting 8 hours for a bed or Lamara Bell and John Yuill lying undiscovered in their crashed car for three days despite their car having been reported to the police.  These are, of course, unfortunate incidents, and everything possible should be done to try and ensure that they do not happen again.  However, the current Scottish opposition like to try and paint these incidents as commonplace and typical of the services.

That, I think, is where this strategy will fall down.  Scottish voters are not stupid.  They can see that, by and large, things are going pretty well here in Scotland.  The NHS is mostly meeting its targets and is much better thought of by those who use its services than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.  College places have indeed been cut, but the reality is that most of those places were for short courses that did not lead to a recognised qualification. Labour now claims that free tuition fees are simply a sop to the middle classes, which is a bit of a turnaround from 2011, when both they and the Liberal Democrats pledged to maintain free tuition.  Forming the 8 Scottish police forces into a unitary force has saved money on salaries for 8 chief constables and other senior management posts, and what Labour aren't telling people is that they pledged to create a unitary ploice force in their 2011 manifesto.

So far their strategy doesn't appear to be working.  The latest opinion poll shows support for the SNP running at 58% on the constituency vote and 52% on the list vote.  Given the relentless negativity of Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie, you'd think that lead would be declining by now. 
So why isn't it? 

For one thing, as previously mentioned, people can judge from their own experience of the various services.  No-one is saying that what we have is perfect, but it's a lot better than what we had under the previous Labour/LibDem governments.  For another thing, the three Unionist parties are continuing to band together to oppose their mortal enemy, the SNP.  This will not play well with a large percentage of the electorate, who see the Unionist parties as taking their orders from London and not standing up for Scotland, as amply demonstrated last Monday during the Scotland Bill debate.  And no amount of protestations about how Labour in Scotland are independent of UK Labour regarding policy is going to be taken seriously when everyone saw their attempt at an independent policy on Trident being slapped down by London HQ.  Finally, continually criticising the NHS, police and education sector is simply going to annoy those working in this sector, who are doing the best they can.

The SNP have no reason to be complacent.  There are issues to be addressed, and they must be seen to be taking them seriously.  However, the opposition needs to stop the relentless negativity and start coming up with credible ideas for solving the problems, or another tsunami will sweep through Scotland next May.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Aghast

It would appear that David Cameron has received something of a slap in the face, metaphorically speaking.  It appears that he wrote to the leader of Oxfordshire County Council last September to ask why so many cuts were being made to frontline services such as libraries, elderly day centres and museums.  Surely, he said, cuts should be being made to back-office services instead?  Weren't there spare assets that could be put on eBay to raise some cash?

The Conservative council leader, one Ian Hudspeth, replied with a 6 page missive outlining the realities of life at the council.  He gently explained, using simple terms,  that there are no spare assets, that they have trimmed as much as they can in the way of staff and salaries, so they are left with no alternative but to start cutting public services. 

Mr Cameron has offered the services of his advisers to see if some other way of cutting back can be found.  Clearly he thinks that the council are simply inefficient, or too stupid to manage their money.

This is yet another demonstration of the Westminster bubble effect.  Insulated from the reality of most people's lives, he sees no connection between the policies that he and his mates are imposing on the population and the realities of cash-starved councils and public services.  To them these are simply the implementation of an ideology.  Surely everyone must understand that?  It's not personal, and it is, of course, regrettable that some people are affected for the worse, but it's all for the best in the long run.  That's why we have seen Conservative backbenchers laughing at stories of people who are being badly affected by cuts to benefits, by being sanctioned, by being made to prove they are disabled enough.  They don't see that reality, so to them it's simply a story being put by the opposition to score some points in the great game of Westminster politics.

Have the Conservatives never wondered why they are nicknamed 'the Nasty Party'?  Of course they haven't.  It will simply be dismissed as coming from people who are envious of them, because they are the elite.  They're alright Jack.




Tuesday, 10 November 2015

It's only a game

Last night in Westminster six hours were devoted to debating the Scotland Bill, which purports to be the implementation of the Smith Commission proposals.  The amount of time seems rather restrictive for such a large topic, and indeed Angus Robertson was rudely cut off halfway through a speech.

It was interesting to note that the benches were largely empty for the debates, with the majority of MPs appearing whenever a vote was required.  There is definitely scope for a change to the Commons procedures to insist that those voting on a given matter must have attended the debate, which seems only fair.

One of the major events was that Labour MPs voted with the Tories in defeating an SNP amendment to the Bill which would have seen power over tax credits devolved to Holyrood.  Given that Labour spent last week hounding Nicola Sturgeon to say what action she would take to obviate the effects of the tax credit cuts for Scots, following Kezia Dugdale's announcement of her Big Idea (so far uncosted), that one has to marvel at the disconnect between the Scottish branch office and the Parliamentary Labour Party.

It appears that in Westminster, the Tories and Labour are engaged in what is to them a game, where points are scored by defeating your opponents proposals because they are your opponents and not because you think what they have proposed is necessarily a bad idea.  To them these games don't relate to anything in the real world.

To the ordinary punter on the street, however, this is their lives.  To them it will seem that Labour sided with the Tories in preventing Scotland from having control over tax credits, which could have protected Scots from the worst excesses of the cuts.  All the fine words in the world from Ms Dugdale and Jackie Baillie about 'mitigating the cuts' are going to sound like so much hot air.  Your average punter doesn't care about the points-scoring.

More worryingly, both Iain Duncan Smith and David Mundell (the latter asked a direct question by Mhairi Black) have refused to confirm that any compensatory payments from the Scottish government to people affected by tax credit cuts will not be immediately clawed back by the Treasury as 'additional income'.  Where does this leave Ms Dugdale's Big Idea?

Labour has, I think, written its epitaph in Scotland.  The proof will be at next year's Scottish elections, where I fully expect to see their vote collapse, much as it did in May this year, all because of the utter stupidity of their MPs, who can't seem to see beyond the Westminster bubble and the games they play there.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The greater basking Kezia

Yesterday Ms Dugdale received much applause and indeed standing ovations for her speech, much as would be expected for any leader at their party conference. However, on Question Time on Thursday, a similarly impassioned speech was met with silence.

According to a friend who was in the audience on Thursday, David Dimbleby told them prior to the programme that they should clap if they agreed with something one of the panellists said and remain silent when they disagreed. Mr Dimbleby also asked people to put up their hands to show which party they supported as he called out the names of the parties. According to my friend the audience seemed to show a diversity broadly in line with the current voting trends. The fact that her speech met with silence is pretty telling. Even the Labour supporters didn't feel moved to applaud. This should set alarm bells ringing at Labour in Scotland's HQ. The party faithful may be convinced, the voting populace not so much.