Saturday, 30 April 2016

Private dancer

Today the Guardian carries this video of Kezia Dugdale being interviewed by Owen Jones.  In it they discuss Labour's toxicity in Scotland, what it's like to be LGBT in Scotland and the perceived role of Brian Soutar in forming SNP policy.

Ms Dugdale attributes the Tories' toxicity in Scotland to 18 years of Thatcherism but seems at a loss to explain why Labour is becoming equally toxic in Scotland. In my opinion this is because of the referendum, not because they worked with the Tories in Better Together but because a lot more people became politically informed and began to question why, if Labour has been in power in Scotland for so many, many years, does Scotland still have huge problems with poverty and inequality, given her wealth of resources? Labour supporters will, no doubt, point out that they have not been in government in Holyrood for the past nine years, ignoring the fact that they still control the majority of local councils and therefore local spending and policy decisions.

With regard to the LGBT and equality issues Ms Dugdale raises, there is no doubt that more can be done on this front.  However, some credit should be given to the SNP for having a gender-balanced cabinet.  It was notable that Labour immediately copied this idea, for the first time in their history in Scotland, perhaps in an attempt to shift the perception that they are a party where business is done between men behind closed doors.

Mr Soutar seems to have become something of a scarecrow for Labour, dragged out whenever Labour want to suggest a shadowy conspiracy in Holyrood.  There is no doubt that the man holds some unpleasant views on LGBT matters, but to suggest that he is somehow the eminence grise of Scottish politics is a bit of a stretch.  It is also quite hypocritical of Labour, who have not always been very particular about their donors.

Ms Dugdale, to me, comes across as someone who talks the talk but doesn't really walk the walk. It's as if she knows all the steps but just doesn't have the natural talent to make a good dancer. She is in good company, however, as I don't see any of her colleagues as having any more talent than she does. The overall effect is that it gives what she says a certain air of insincerity which people are picking up on. This is one of their major problems, and not one that can be solved easily.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Marshmallow woman

STV's political editor Bernard Ponsonby is conducting a series of one-to-one interviews with the leaders of the parties fighting the Scottish General Election.  The most excruciating of these is the one with Kezia Dugdale.

She reminds me of someone who has brought a family-sized bag of marshmallows to a gunfight, with about the level of effectiveness you'd expect from such a scenario.  She doesn't have her facts at her fingertips and constantly relies on 'well that's what I've been told'.  Shades of Johann Lamont, whose interviewing style was equally hapless.  See, for example, this interview with Gordon Brewer regarding one of Labour's tax plansCompare and contrast with Nicola Sturgeon, who is generally well-prepared on the topic she's discussing and is therefore almost always able to think on her feet when challenged. 

This illustrates a fundamental weakness with Labour politicians in Scotland.  They try to reduce debate to the level of soundbites, and when the interviewer asks a question that departs from their script, they flounder.  One wonders if this is because any Scottish Labour politician with any talent is quickly moved off to Westminster, leaving behind the less talented for the Scottish parliament, which is to be regarded as the minor leagues.  This is key to understanding why Labour in Scotland are doing so very badly in the Scottish general election.

The SNP are very much a party for the people of Scotland, and this is illustrated by the fact that not all of their best politicians are hived off to Westminster.  Labour and also the Tories are perceived not to be interested in Scotland and its people, preferring instead to send all of their best to London.  The electorate are not stupid and can discern which parties are for Scotland first and which are for the UK first.

If Labour and the Tories in Scotland want to become serious contenders for the Scottish government, they will have to find some way to show the electorate that Scotland is important to them.  Almost inevitably this will mean them supporting federalism at the very least and probably ultimately independence.  So far this is not a step they are prepared to take, and they risk the very real possibility of being left behind by history if they are not prepared to change.


Monday, 11 April 2016

Shhhhh!

At the end of last week it was announced that 7,000 pupils in Edinburgh would not be returning to school today, as serious structural defects have been found at Oxgangs Primary School, where a wall collapsed back in January.  As the school was built under a PFI deal, all other schools built under similar arrangements have now been closed until safety checks can be carried out.

The reporting of this has been most amusing, if only for seeing the contortions that the newspapers have gone through to avoid mentioning who was responsible for letting the PFI contracts for the schools in question. And who was in charge at the time?  Well, Edinburgh Council was Labour-controlled, Holyrood was Labour-controlled and take a guess at who was in charge at Westminster.  Why that would be Labour!

As an example of the reporting, take this example from the Guardian, where the story is headed by a large picture of Nicola Sturgeon.  Labour supporters have been trying to argue in the comments that the story explains that this is not the fault of the SNP, but they are being somewhat disingenuous, as many people will simply skim the headline, see the picture of Ms Sturgeon and jump to an erroneous conclusion.  Event the Guardian seems to have felt some embarrassment, as their second attempt at the story was headed by a picture of the collapsed wall.  Notably, however, neither version of the story mentions the role of Labour in the debacle.

It was inevitable that at some point the papers were going to attempt to blame the SNP.  Step forward the Herald and the Scotsman, who are both running a story headlined 'SNP accused of refusing calls for school building checks'.  This turns out to be an almost verbatim retelling of a Tory press release from Liz Smith (yes, I don't know either).

Have we heard calls for a full public enquiry from Labour's own rentahonk, Jackie Baillie?  The silence is deafening.  Has Willie Rennie fired off yet another missive demanding a full investigation?  Strangely he does not appear to have deployed his pen, or if he has, he's not telling us about it.  How very odd, given their previous history of demanding enquiries at the drop of a hat.

Clearly the strategy seems to be that if they don't mention it, it'll all go away, with the voting public none the wiser.  I think, however, that it will have an unexpected side-effect, and not one they're going to like.  Many of the electorate will see this as an attempt to weasel out of taking responsibility.  And why, the voters will ask themselves, should we elect a party that will do anything to avoid taking responsibility for their actions?

In my local area recently, a phantom #SNPOuter with a sheet of stickers has been decorating the lampposts.  The stickers read

#SNPOut
Scotland Deserves Better 

Yesterday, when out walking my dogs I observed a hoodied youth on a bike stopping at each lamppost.  Curious, I went to see what he was doing.  He was using a black marker pen to obliterate the word 'Out' on each sticker so that it now reads

#SNP
Scotland Deserves Better

 He's right.  Scotland deserves far better than the current Unionist parties.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Kezia's amnesia and Wullie the White Knight

And so the attempts to smear the SNP go on, most recently with the story that Kezia Dugdale twice sought work experience as a researcher with the SNP when she was a student, was turned down on both occasions and subsequently joined the Labour party.  The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

So far so dull.  This particular piece of information has been bobbing about amongst Yes supporters for quite some time, so the Scottish Sun is somewhat late to the party.  The basic story seems to be that Ms Dugdale twice e-mailed Richard Lochhead to enquire about the possibility of an unpaid internship with him.  Note that it does not say anything about a job application, simply that an enquiry was made as to whether there were any opportunities.

Ms Dugdale herself says she has no recollection of making any such enquiry, which I find a little hard to believe.  I rather suspect that she has been advised to take this line, in which case her adviser has done her no favours.  A better approach would have been to own it and to say that yes, she did make the enquires but that it was a long time ago and she has subsequently found the Labour party to be a better fit for her political beliefs.  Job done, move along, nothing to see here.

However Willie Rennie seems to see this as his big chance to play the knight in shining armour, charging to the defence of Ms Dugdale by writing to the Data Protection Commissioner to demand an enquiry as to whether the whole affair has breached the Data Protection Act, which requires details of a job application to be kept confidential, rightly so as job applications contain personal information.  However, that's not what we're talking about here.  An enquiry as to whether there are any positions available does not constitute a job application.  Mr Rennie appears to be being somewhat disingenuous by conflating the two things, thus enabling another 'SNP Bad'.

Mr Rennie and Ms Dugdale seem to be developing a surprisingly friendly relationship of late.  During the leaders' debate on STV last week it was notable that, in the section where each leader was questioned by the other leaders, both Mr Rennie and Ms Dugdale were throwing each other softball questions, leading some people to wonder if there had been some collusion beforehand.  And now we have Mr Rennie rushing to the defence of Ms Dugdale over the matter of some ancient e-mails being leaked to the press.

Of course Labour and the LibDems have a bit of a history of friendly relations, as evidenced by their coalition in the Scottish Parliament prior to 2007.  One wonders if they may be hoping that, in the event that the SNP don't win an overall majority in the coming election, they could form a coalition to enable them to become the Scottish Government once more.  It's not looking likely according to the polls at the moment, but it may be their only chance of a sniff at power in the current climate.  Time will tell.