Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Crying wolf

Recently the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) carried out a review of the Scottish education system.  The report was largely positive and highlighted some improvements that have been made as well as showing some areas that still need work.  On balance, though, it shows that education in Scotland is in a reasonably good position when compared with other countries. 

The National reported on the review in a positive manner, but also highlighted the areas that need to be improved, as you would expect from decent journalism. Everyone would be happy you'd think.

But of course, Labour in Scotland are not happy.  They do not, as the old song goes, accentuate the positive but instead respond in Eyore-ish, glass-half-empty kind of way.  An illustration of this was discussed on Wings Over Scotland, which showed a screengrab of a tweet from Blair McDougall.  In it he pulls out every negative thing said in the report with no positives to counterbalance them.  The usual 'SNP Bad' stuff.   I have no doubt that other Labour MSPs will be banging the same drum over the next day or so, when they're not criticising the Budget.

Labour in Scotland really need to rethink their reflex to declare that anything the Scottish government suggests is bad because the Scottish government suggested it, and that anything negative said about Scotland by a third-party organisation must have the blame laid at the feet of the Scottish government.  They have got to the point now where a large proportion of the electorate simply ignore their pronouncements due to their relentless negativity.  This is bad for democracy, since the odds are that at some point Labour will be correct about something that the Scottish government has got wrong, but at that point no-one will be listening to them.  They will be like the boy who cried wolf.

To me an opposition's job is not to simply oppose anything that the government might propose, but is rather to look at a proposal and ensure that questions are asked to make sure that all possible outcomes or consequences have been considered and contingency put in place to deal with them.  Sadly, however, Labour in Scotland seem to be no more capable of this than they are of persuading people to vote for them.  For too long they had things their own way, so that they didn't need to develop the necessary skills for either task, and it doesn't look like they're going to master them any time soon, if ever.

Monday, 7 December 2015

It's no oor fault

Over the weekend there was a lengthy article in the Guardian by John Harris about Kezia Dugdale and Labour in Scotland more generally, and their chances of reviving their fortunes before next May's elections.

The first part of the article describes a First Minister's Questions session, which clearly took place some time ago since Ms Dugdale's question was about the police not responding to the crashed car containing John Yuill and Lamara Bell.  In it he says that Ms Dugdale has 'something of the rabbit in headlights about her', which is a fair description in my opinion.  Afterwards he asks her about FMQs and whether she enjoys it, and she says this:
Look, I’m acutely aware that I’ve just been an MSP for four and a bit years,” she says. “You know? I’m 34 years old. There’s a lot about life, a lot about politics, that I’m still learning. A lot of the things I’m doing as leader, I’m doing for the first time. But there are things I do know a lot about, and there are lots of things I’m incredibly passionate about: education, tackling poverty, female inequality. And on that stuff I’m 100% on my game. But I think it probably does take a wee bit of a while. She’s had 12 years more than I have.
Unfortunately this comes across as a slightly whiny 'it's not fair, she's had longer at this than I have', but it leads to an obvious question: if Ms Dugdale herself feels that she lacks experience and has a lot to learn, why did Labour in Scotland vote her in as leader?

The next part of the article goes on to describe conversations that Mr Harris has with various Scottish Labour stalwarts, including some ex-MPs, as to why Labour is doing so badly in Scotland.  Gemma Doyle, a former MP, thinks it stems from 2007, when the SNP first took power in Holyrood.  According to Ms Doyle it was Labour's failure to change their approach that is the cause of their decline, which has been caused by voters punishing Labour for not doing things differently.  Neil Findlay, on the other hand, ascribes the decline to the devastation of heavy industry in Scotland and the declining influence of institutions such as the trade unions and the church.  Oh, and also that the SNP hired some talented strategists and media-operators.  Oh, and furthermore Labour's siding with the Tories in the Better Together campaign was a big mistake.  Mags Curran, however, blames the use of social media, where the evil SNP would undermine all the fantastic doorstep work she was doing by talking to people on Facebook.

So what do Labour want now?  They want people to listen to them.  Fair enough, that's what any politician wants.  But here's the thing.  If you want people to listen to you, you have to have something they are interested to hear.  It's no good just repeating the mantra that Labour has used for decades - 'vote for us, we know what's best for working people, don't worry your heads about the details.'  In the age of the internet that is no longer going to cut it.  And the current strategy of 'SNP bad' isn't going to cut it either.  People compare what Labour are claiming with the reality of their everyday life and tend to find it doesn't match up to the Labour rhetoric.

Ms Dugdale herself claims to have seen Labour's catastrophic decline coming even before the referendum:
I was well aware that there would be a consequence for the Labour party,” she says. “I can remember speaking to a Times journalist at a lunch, saying that the rhythm of events I could see was: Scotland voting no, but then being almost angry with itself, despite feeling it was the right thing to do – and the way to articulate that anger being to kick out at the Labour party. That was before the referendum.
 So there we have it.  Scottish voters are basically using Labour as the political equivalent of kicking a dog to relieve their anger at themselves.  It's not the dog's fault, it just happens to be there.

Then we have something about Ms Dugdale's background.  There is one paragraph I found quite revealing:
I vividly remember going into my first class, on the Scottish legal system – 250 people in a lecture theatre, all banked up the stairs – and it just made me so conscious of all these privately educated kids. They all had their schools’ sporting gear on. I just felt hugely out of place. I knew within the first few weeks of starting that I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
 So let's see.  Ms Dugdale's current bee in her bonnet is about how the professions are dominated by those educated privately.  However, the fact that Ms Dugdale herself was accepted into a law degree at Aberdeen would suggest that it isn't a closed shop by any manner of means.  She seems to imply that she didn't want to be a lawyer because there were too many privately-educated students on her course.  One rather suspects, however, that the fact that studying the law requires attention to detail may have been her downfall, since she seems to be often lacking that sort of rigour in FMQs, leading to frequent embarrassment when she is yet again proven wrong on a point of detail, for example this week when she made a big song and dance about the environmental impact of the FM flying to a climate change conference, only to be told that the FM would be travelling by train.  Another example is this:
Because I think [Nicola Sturgeon]’s a bit of a late convert to feminism. I think it’s something she’s adopted at a late stage, having studied Labour history and heritage. What it actually means to be a feminist… well, affirmative action, for example, the SNP have a very poor record on.
So apparently appointing a 50/50 gender split cabinet doesn't count as affirmative action then?  And Ms Sturgeon has been a feminist for rather longer than Ms Dugdale would have us believe.

The overall impressions from the article are that Labour in Scotland are still trying to blame everyone but themselves for their current predicament, they still feel that they are entitled to Scottish votes by default and Ms Dugdale is probably a nice person but is seriously out of her depth being leader and is unlikely to survive as such if there is a similar wipeout of Labour MSPs in next year's Scottish elections.  I almost have the impression she was elected as the sacrificial lamb who can be easily dispensed with in that event.

Labour in Scotland are clearly still in serious denial about their decline in Scotland and may not even survive with the formation of RISE taking the far left-wing spot on the political spectrum.  Meanwhile all they can do is cry 'it's no fair' and 'it's no oor fault' and wonder why that isn't working and no-one is listening to them.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Defiance and morality

Tomorrow there is a vote on whether the UK should extend its current bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq to include Syria as well,  joining allies such as France and the US who already carrying out bombing runs against ISIS in Syria.  The current expectation is that the UK parliament will vote in favour of military action, especially since Jeremy Corbyn has announced that Labour MPs will be allowed a free vote on the issue rather than voting in accordance with party policy.

Mr Corbyn's supporters as hailing his decision to allow a free vote as the moral thing to do, hoping that the majority of Labour MPs will vote against.  To me it's a serious failure of leadership.  A survey of Labour party members showed that 75% of them were against airstrikes in Syria, which is a pretty clear mandate.  By refusing to use a whip, Mr Corbyn appears to be weak and ineffectual, almost a typical sandal-wearing, lentil-eating, Guardian-reading cliche dad, who doesn't discipline his children because they should be allowed to do the right thing of their own accord.  And we all know how well that works out.

Will the airstrikes stop ISIS?  I don't think so.  If you voted Yes last year, think back to how you felt on 19th September.  Did you just shrug your shoulders, think 'oh well, that's that then' and move on with your life?  Many of you, like me felt a range of emotions, but one that isn't often mentioned is defiance.  And that defiance has continued, as can be seen with the phenomenal success of the SNP in the past year and the continuing high levels of political engagement in Scotland.  Do you think the ISIS fighters will feel any differently?

As for the moral case for the bombing, ISIS live among the ordinary people of Syria.  Is there a moral case for bombing people who are not part of ISIS but who happen to live in areas that ISIS fighters also live in?  If your answer to that is 'yes', you need to take a long hard look at yourself.