An interesting take on Scottish, UK and international politics that hopefully stimulates a little debate on topics where there is too little debate.



"Post hoc ergo propter hoc"

jim murphy

SNP praised Ireland’s competitive tax rates, their VAT now hiked to 23%; not such a good idea now? #NoAnswersfromSNP.

While Alex Salmond is in China building diplomatic and trade links, Fiona Hyslop is not long back from the US and Canada building cultural links and Stewart Stevenson has been in South Africa highlighting Scotland’s world leading climate change legislations: Jim Murphy MP is sneering at Ireland’s economic misfortune. No wonder he never stood for leader of the Scottish Labour Party - that’s not leadership. 


The ‘question’ he poses could be put another way:

Jim Murphy praised the UK’s economic policy under Labour, UK VAT now hiked to 20%; not such a good idea now? #NoAnswersfromJimMurphy.


I’m pretty sure that he, like me, would not see Labour’s tax and spend policies during their time in government as justification for the Tories hike in VAT. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: low corporation taxes were not the cause of Ireland’s economic problems just because they came before the fall. Indeed, evidence showed that before the current economic crisis, low corporation tax helped boost Irish economic growth and actually boosted tax revenue.


Unfortunately Jim Murphy is not interested in engaging in a serious debate about Scotland’s economy: he is only interested in distracting attention from the Scottish Government’s plan for nearly £13 billion worth of investment in large infrastructure projects.  What else would you expect from Labour? There Scottish leadership campaign has, however, highlighted their number one policy – if the SNP is for it, we’re against it. 



The Referendum Debate: State of Play

A quick glance at the Scottish Politics pages tells us that the debate over the independence referendum is alive and kicking. George Osborne has said ‘uncertainty’ over the referendum is damaging investment in the economy and Ruth Davidson is on message with her ‘colleague’ George, questioning Scotland’s future membership of the EU. Even Brian Taylor is blethering about the legality of the referendum. But that’s just the problem: the debate is over the referendum not independence. 

This is exactly where masochistic Unionist politicians want the debate to be: they failed at stopping a referendum, now they’ll try to discredit it by any means. Masochistic because in order to discredit the process, they are in danger of making themselves sound relentlessly negative. Just a quick look at the Twitter accounts of Tom Harris MP and Lord Foulkes shows just how obsessed they have become. This dog-whistle politics does them no favours and is not the path back to government, far less winning a no vote in the referendum. Tom Harris’s already slim chances of becoming Labour leader seem to fade with every nationalist baiting Tweet: it’s unstatesmanlike and it’s getting embarrassing. I must add, however, that Anas Sarwar has shown that this negativity will not necessarily be the future of Labour politics.

I must be sounding like broken record now but it’s not to late for us all to raise our game. 



Is this really the best our politics can be?

I was going to write a piece today about the ‘corrosive negativity’ of Scottish Labour politicians and how this, and their failure to articulate a positive alternative to the policies they oppose, is why they have lost two Scottish elections in a row. It was all typed out, it even had a clever corruption of a ‘future fair for all’. But it didn’t sit well with me. As angry as I was that Jim McGovern MP branded the SNP a “racist organisation” last Friday and before that when Ian Davidson MP talked about giving a female MP “a doing” without so much as a slap on the wrist, I just could not lower myself to the standard of debate Labour are setting. But, alas, it is the “CyberNat” that is the bogeyman of Scottish politics. For it is not our Honourable Members of Parliament that must abide by the highest standards in political discourse but ordinary members of political parties and assistants to MSPs. Enough. Many of the people being branded as “CyberNats” are politically engaged and passionate young people even if their passion does lead them to say intemperate things sometimes.

Let’s get real though, for as long as there has been public discourse there have been loony’s, nowadays on chatrooms, forums or the comments section of the Scotsman. The difference is, now our MPs  - and even those aspiring to be First Minister - engage them in conversation on Twitter. In the real world even Jim McGovern MP bates the SNP with his ‘racism’ jibes and references to the Scottish ‘Executive’. Is this really the best our politics can be? As a first step may I suggest Mr McGovern withdraws the insulting language he used last Friday. He need look no further than his own words for advice:

"Seriously, I hope I have the good sense and humility to know when I am wrong, although I will certainly have the courage of my convictions when I know I am right. The people of Dundee West would expect no less" (HC Deb 24 May 2005, c597)



Will there be a chicken run in Scotland after UK boundary changes?

A boundary review of all seats for the UK Parliament was the deal the LibDems made in order to get their AV referendum and next month the Boundary Commission for Scotland will announce it’s proposals for Scottish constituencies. We know already that Scotland will send 52 MPs to London, 7 less than at last years election. We also know that two seats will not be changed (Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Orkney and Shetland) as these are defined in law as island constituencies, protected despite their small electorate. What we don’t know for sure is where the seats will be cut and whether, following the SNP’s victory in May and current polling lead, there will be a bloodbath of Labour MPs scrapping for safe seats (the so-called ‘chicken run’).

There are a few ground rules before boundaries are changed: electorates should be between 72,810 and 80,473; this doesn’t apply where the seat is greater than 12,000 square kilometres in area; and they will try not to mix council boundaries as best they can. That means, excluding highland constituencies that may meet the 12,000 sq km requirement, 37 constituencies are too small and 2 are too big. 

Lets start with the 2 that are ‘too big’: Linlithgow and East Falkirk and Falkirk. The first already covers two council areas (West Lothian and Falkirk) and the latter lies entirely in Falkirk so any further division will result in more mixed council areas. The Guardian DataBlog's simulation proposes 3 new constituences: Linlithgow and Grangemouth (Falkirk/West Lothian), Falkirk East and Stirling South (Falkirk/Stirling) and Falkirk West and Cumbernauld (Falkirk/North Lanarkshire). The current MPs are as follows:

Anne McGuire, Stirling

Eric Joyce, Falkirk

Michael Connarty, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Gregg McClymont, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

The safest Labour seat of the four new seats will be Falkirk East and Stirling South whilst Linlithgow and Grangemouth becomes a lot shakier (more so since the SNP won the Linlithgow Scottish Parliament seat earlier in the year). But where will the sitting MPs want to stand?

This is just one example of a fight that could be played out across the country in the coming years. The good news for the SNP is that it is not expected to lose any seats from these changes (Labour are expected to lose 4 seats and the LibDems 3) and actually may see some seats become more favourable. I think we have seen from this years Scottish Parliament election that boundary changes can shake up normal voting loyalties an effect which will disproportionately affect the LibDems. 

Given that I’m not an expert in this area (who is?) I welcome all comments and debate on this issue! 



The First Cut is the Easiest - the Scotland Office

Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown restored the Scottish Secretary position to a full time one, appointing Jim Murphy. In spite of the fact that nearly all of the Scottish Secretary’s former functions have gone to the Scottish Government in the last ten years, the Scotland Office has grown. Since devolution the cost of the Scotland Office has rocketed from £3.7million in 1999 to £7.2million in 2009. From having only 20 staff in 1999, it had 55 in 2009. Why has it not reduced in size? Indeed, why is it still needed?


The simple answer for the Office’s growth, at least in the last 3 years, has been the election of an SNP Scottish Government in Edinburgh. The position has almost been reduced to that of a party political one, Jim Murphy is essentially a counter balance to the ineffective leadership of Labour in the Scottish Parliament, first from Wendy Alexander and now Iain Gray. Instead of Scottish Labour creating a strong Scottish party leader, as opposed to Iain Gray’s diminutive position as “leader in the Scottish Parliament” would reduce the need for this. Instead Labour has chosen to use it’s position in government to lend gravitas to a political position. I would expect, however, that Labour would rethink the structure of its Scottish Party if it loses the general election this year.


Is the Office needed at all? Probably not, but strong links between the Scottish and UK Governments are needed. All departments in Whitehall that have responsibilities that extend north of the border should share the role. More formal ties, adapted to suit each department, and regular meetings are needed. Spending over £7 million on a department to do this is not needed. As the main parties argue over where to cut first, the first cut should be the easiest: the Scotland Office.



The State of #ge2010: Backing Change

It feels like there has been an earthquake. The earth has moved and changed the landscape forever, the political classes now survey that change trying to map out the road ahead unsure what the coming weeks will bring. Since the first debate the UK political landscape has changed: three party politics, for this election at least, has landed and Labour and the Conservatives don’t know what to do.

In the first few days the papers knew exactly how to react, their power over the traditional parties was being challenged and they were on the attack. The Daily Mail didn’t disappoint, accusing Nick Clegg of being “Johnny foreigner”, not fit to be Prime Minister. After the second debate they changed tack, in trying to reassert David Cameron’s front runner status, they asserted that he won the second debate, in spite of what the opinion polls said. David Cameron remains in first place but it did not halt the advance of Nick Clegg.

Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown are all over the place. In turn they are attacking Nick Clegg and trying to imitate him. They don’t know what to do. There is now the very real possibility that there will be a hung parliament with no party gaining an overall majority.

I believe that a hung parliament will be exactly the tonic that is needed after 13 years of a Labour government with a majority so big that parliament has been reduced to a law factory, without the need for proper debate over legislation. In a hung parliament parties are forced to work together, to take on board the strongest arguments, where only the best ideas become law. Yes, it won’t be pretty, there will be arguing and bargaining but it will be politicians fighting for their beliefs: that’s what the people expect of them. We don’t expect them not to argue just for them to be arguing over things that matter to the people of this country.

This can be achieved if the voters reject both Labour and the Conservatives. In my opinion for Scotland this means a vote for the SNP, Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Liberal Democrats in England. But the Green Party must have a voice in Parliament, if we are a modern, forward looking European country, the Greens must be represented, their leader Caroline Lucas  deserves to win Brighton Pavillion.

These parties embody the same basic principles: a strong believe in local democracy; in social justice; rejecting armed conflict and nuclear weapons; tackling climate change and in finding radical solutions to society’s greatest ills. I don’t agree with them all of the times, being on the fringes means their policies are not always necessarily achievable but if they are better represented their views can at least be heard and can carry wait in Parliament. 



The Pink Elephant In the Room: Gay Rights, the #leadersdebate and @SNPofficia

Pink Elephant

So finally, in the second debate we got a question on gay rights. But did it really get to the heart of the issue? Was it even answered?

Firstly, I take issue with the question itself, it bundled up gay rights with the Pope’s visit, the child sex abuse scandal, contraception in Africa and the Catholic church’s view on science. Why not ask a substantial question on gay rights? The question gave the leaders the opportunity to make completely uncontroversial statements about child abuse. The moderator, however, prompted them to answer the gay rights part of the question, only David Cameron dodged it this time. It seems David Cameron can only talk about gay rights when he’s talking to Gay Times magazine.

Nick Clegg talks with conviction about the issue and has the policies to back this up – full marriage equality stands out here. Labour have over the last 13 years have delivered on the issue as I’ve said before. The Conservatives, however, talk the talk but I’m not convinced their policies back this up. I don’t think tagging civil partners on to any old style Tory social engineering policy counts. One other example is their “Homophobic bullying” policy, which is actually a recycled “more discipline in schools” Tory policy given a PC slant. That’s not change. Homophobic bullying and policies affecting young gay people are the most important in this area, they must be tackled properly, we need new thinking because the old hasn’t worked. Politicians need to stop worrying about offending the Daily Mail crowd and more time worrying about the children of this country for whom this issue is the only one that matters.  Despite Nick Clegg’s new found fame, he is still talking about these issues, whether it is popular with all voters or not.

In this election, however, I have one big disappointment: the lack of any specific policies to tackle this issue from the SNP. The SNP is a radical party for which equality is at the heart of their policies but sometimes putting Scotland and independence first every time clouds out all other important policies.

I asked the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson,  directly “Does the SNP have a gay rights policy and if not why not?”, he said “We believe in a policy of equality and non-discrimination”.

He couldn’t name a single policy. Why?



After the Dust Has Settled: The @SNP #ge2010 Manifesto

I thought I’d wait a day till I wrote this post, allow the dust to settle on the SNP’s manifesto and see it with a fresh pair of eyes.

My instant reaction was that it was wordy, predictable and lacked one definable vision. That’s not to say that the content isn’t good, just that the presentation is poor. Admittedly the writers had a hard job on their hands: the SNP’s position going into this campaign one is an odd one, especially for them. They are in government in Edinburgh with a record to defend and with one eye on re-election but this is an election for parliament in Westminster. The SNP leader isn’t even standing in this election and they won’t form any part of the next UK Government (specifically ruling out ANY kind of coalition agreement with the “London parties”) but in a hung parliament they may hold the “balance” of power. Reconcilling these conflicting positions is difficult and, unfortunately, I think the writers have failed in their attempt to do so.

The manifesto is a hotch-potch of themes, which is disspointing given how much vision their 2007 manifesto had compared to Labour’s. Some “themes” include:

  • The front cover urges voters to elect a “local champion” not a politician. The manifesto pledges that if elected their MP’s will sign a “Community Committment” or contract with voters.
  • Independence is front and centre, it is a “golden thread” running through the document.
  • Policies on jobs and the economy, linking in with independence, are given prominance.
  • It makes the argument that a “balanced” or hung Parliament is good for Scotland and a vote for the SNP is a vote for this.
  • More Nats, Less Cuts. By voting for SNP MPs, voters can apparently stop cuts on the Scottish budget.

This all leads to a confusing document which, I can surmise, is meant to cover all angles Alex Salmond can fight from as the campaign unfolds.

However, a day later, I come to the conclusion that this doesn’t matter. Alex Salmond is in a win-win situation, his real campaign will begin on May 7th. Look at it like this:

  • If the Tories win (without the support of the Scottish people) Scots will revolt and independence may become more attractive - it at least makes arguing for it easier.
  • If Labour wins (and it appears that this can only be with a very small majority) they’ll probably do so without the popular vote in England - this time the English are annoyed, pushing independence further up the agenda.
  • In a “balanced” Parliament - the SNP’s prererred outcome - the “London” parties will bicker amongst themselves and the SNP will come out on top in Scotland having gained key concessions.

In the end, a good result for the SNP is holding on to their existing seats (although losing Glasgow East wouldn’t be a huge setback) and possibly picking up a couple more. They could then talk about their best result “since 1974”. It would also help if they were solidifying their position in seats like Livingston that they must hold on to next year. As long as they don’t go backwards in terms of seats they’ll be ok. In terms of popular vote, it’s going to get more difficult if the LibDems keep gaining in the polls, stealing potential Labour swing voters away from the SNP.

I think it is clear that the SNP are not fighting this election like it’s their last, they’re looking towards the aftermath and 2011 Holyrood elections. Whether this will pay off or not, we’ll see on May 7th.



LibDems Polling In 2nd Place in Latest #ge2010 Poll

On figures just released by YouGov, the LibDems have lead-frogged Labour on the back of Nick Clegg’s performance in the debate last night. The figures are:

 CON 33%(-4), LAB 28%(-3), LDEM 30%(+8).

According to UK Polling Report if this were translated into a uniform swing across the country it would, bizarrely, lead to Labour winning the most seats in Parliament. If ever there was a case for changing the voting system to a proportional one this is it. Nor do I think Labour’s late conversion to an “Alternative Voting” system is enough, only the STV (Single Transerable Vote) system will lead to fairer Parliament.

Isn’t fairness what everyone has been banging on about?