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

06

Dec

"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. 

18

Sep

Partnership or Subordination: Scotland’s Two Governments

In 2010 the coalition, at the height of its fluffy and nice ‘we’re all in this together’ mood, extended the hand of friendship to the Scottish Government, hailing a ‘respect agenda’. This has not been the case, and Danny Alexander’s latest threat to Scotland’s budget is just one more example of it. In response to a request by the Scottish Government to delay changes to public sector pensions Mr Alexander wrote the following to the First Minister:

"If you decide not to take forward these changes, the Treasury will need to make corresponding adjustments to your budget. I would have to reduce the Scottish Government’s budget by £8.4million for every month’s delay."

Where is the respect in this? Mr Alexander should heed to words of Alex Salmond:

"My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment."

It is ironic that only today Danny Alexander at the LibDem conference called the Scottish nationalists the “enemies of growth” whilst rejecting a request from them that could potentially increase economic growth. As around 24% of the Scottish working population are employed in the public sector (higher than in England) reducing their disposable income has a knock-on effect on their spending and, hence, economic growth. 

But this is only one instance of the work the Scottish Government is doing to increase economic growth, the policy which above all others has been at the heart of everything the Scottish Government has done since its election in 2007. It is because they are making the right decisions that (according to the Bank of Scotlands PMI report) Scotland has shown growth in every month since the beginning of the year. It is because they are supporting businesses in Scotland that for the quarter May-July 2011 Scotland was the only nation/region in the UK where unemployment fell. In fact, unemployment has fallen this year by 33000 compared to UK unemployment increasing by 44000. Is this the work of the “enemies of growth”?

One of the key drivers of growth in Scotland has been the Scottish Government’s commitment to large infrastructure projects. Indeed this is why one of the early initiatives of the SNP Government was to push the UK Government for increased borrowing powers to fund such projects. This was delivered but at only £2.2 billion rather than the £3 billion that has been devolved to Northern Ireland and the £5 billion requested by the SNP. Limited access has been granted immediately but full borrowing powers will not come till 2015. Yet, on 14th September Nick Clegg announced the UK Government is to accelerate spending for 40 key infrastructure projects including Crossrail, improvements to the M1 and M25, the Switch Island link road in Merseyside. This is what governments do: prioritise their spending and borrowing to get the greatest economic yield. However, this right is denied to the Scottish Government. For them to do their best for Scotland they have to go cap in hand to the UK Government - that can’t be right and it is definitely not sustainable.   

Justification for this state of affairs is the ‘Scotland has two governments argument’. Michael Moore said as such on 30th August:

"Scotland has two governments - distinct, elected and legitimate. 

Both take decisions in the interests of Scotland, in light of their respective powers and their democratic mandate”.

The difference is one gathered 49% of the votes in a Scottish election and a majority of the seats in the country’s national parliament and the other is made of the third and fourth place parties in a UK election, 35% of the vote and only a fifth of the seats in Scotland. If it hadn’t been for the LibDems being in coalition, this gap in legitimacy would be even greater and not for the first time in Scotland’s history. 

There is only one solution that guarantees that the people of Scotland will be in charge of their own destiny. That it’s elected government will always work in its best interests. Independence. 

07

May

New Post: Is David Cameron a Giant #Condem?

Only a vote for Labour can stop the Tories and secure the econom

The Scottish people woke up today to a beautiful sunny, blue sky. But they also woke up to an uncertain political future: the only certainty being it would not be what they voted for yesterday. The results are in and Scotland voted a resounding no to a Tory Government. Actually, a no to any sort of change - not a single seat changed hands from the 2005 election result. It’s as if the last 5 years had not happened: the downfall of Tony Blair; the SNP 2007 victory; the expenses scandal; the Tory revival; the LibDem surge. Nothing seemed to factor in Scotland except fear of a Tory Government.

The SNP failed to make much progress at all, gaining no new seats and losing Glasgow East. A work colleague said to me yesterday “I didn’t know you could vote or the SNP in this election, I thought it was for the British Parliament”. That just summed up the disadvantage the SNP had before they even began. Firstly, the three main parties did all they could to ignore the SNP who they said were “irrelevant” in this election. Secondly, the SNP and Scottish issues were excluded from the three leaders debates that dominated the election. Finally, their “local champions” campaign had no resonance with the electorate, who clearly voted for national parties, not considering the merits or otherwise of the candidates - which explains some of the disastrous MPs elected/re-elected in Scotland. However, it was probably the best shot they had.

Scottish Labour fought a campaign founded in fear - fear of a Tory victory - and it succeeded spectacularly. However, this did not stop the Jim Murphy and Iain Gray spinning a different yarn as the votes came in. Apparently, the SNP were not irrelevant, the people actually voted for Labour in disapproval of the Scottish Government! The Labour spin machine never ceases to amaze me.

Nonetheless, the result is worst for the Tories who only managed to hold on to their single seat, increasing their vote by a mere 0.9%. Like every other factor, the Cameroon revolution didn’t play in Scotland.

Steve Bell

So what does this all mean? Well it looks like nationally we are either heading towards a Tory minority government or a Condem Coalition. Neither result is what the people of Scotland want - the LibDems and Tories coming third and fourth respectively in the popular vote. Never mind the political crisis currently in SW1, we’ve now got a constitutional crisis in Scotland. The Tories have not just failed to get a majority in Scotland but, unlike their last stint in government, they can barely get one MP elected. A deluded David Mundell has suggested that Labours victory in Scotland actually gives the Tories a mandate to govern Scotland. I just don’t believe the people are going to buy it.

 For Labour the victory in Scotland is the electoral equivalent to Jim Bowen’s BFH (bus fair home), a consolation price after a disastrous defeat. In spite of a disappointing night for the SNP, the only person that can take comfort from the result is Alex Salmond. The result will bolster the argument for an independent Scotland, with pre-election polls suggesting a Cameron victory will make people more likely to vote for independence. The next few days and weeks will be very interesting and I think the only thing we can predict is that none of us can predict what is going to happen.

23

Apr


#Trident and Failed: Well done @SNPOfficial and @Plaid_Cymru - excellent poster, excellent campaign. Sadly, the issue has only moved up the agenda because of Nick Clegg’s performance in the leaders debate. He made an excellent point though, why throw so much money at something that will probably be obsolete by the time its completed? Surely our experience with the disasterous Eurofighter typhoon project has shown such schemes as folly. Neither should we be swayed by the “jobs” argument. Alex Salmond has pointed out that in an independent Scotland, Faslane would remain the main naval base without nuclear weapons so most, if not all jobs would be maintained. 
Never mind the fact the biggest threats to peace in Scotland and the UK cannot be kept at bay with nuclear submarines. Gordon Brown said that Nick Clegg was a threat to the countries security because we needed nuclear submarines in case Iran gained a nuke. I’m no defence expert but what use are nuclear submarines against Iran? Maybe I’m wrong, please leave a comment if I am. 
The only country I can see the submarines being of use against is China, maybe David Cameron knew something we don’t?

#Trident and Failed: Well done @SNPOfficial and @Plaid_Cymru - excellent poster, excellent campaign. Sadly, the issue has only moved up the agenda because of Nick Clegg’s performance in the leaders debate. He made an excellent point though, why throw so much money at something that will probably be obsolete by the time its completed? Surely our experience with the disasterous Eurofighter typhoon project has shown such schemes as folly. Neither should we be swayed by the “jobs” argument. Alex Salmond has pointed out that in an independent Scotland, Faslane would remain the main naval base without nuclear weapons so most, if not all jobs would be maintained. 

Never mind the fact the biggest threats to peace in Scotland and the UK cannot be kept at bay with nuclear submarines. Gordon Brown said that Nick Clegg was a threat to the countries security because we needed nuclear submarines in case Iran gained a nuke. I’m no defence expert but what use are nuclear submarines against Iran? Maybe I’m wrong, please leave a comment if I am. 

The only country I can see the submarines being of use against is China, maybe David Cameron knew something we don’t?

22

Apr

Second #leadersdebate Instant Reaction

Going into the second debate Gordon Brown looked strongest, strangely buoyed by polls that, although putting him in third place, should result in him staying in office. Nick Clegg started nervously but grew in strength. I do think David Cameron did look weakest. He dodged questions that he didn’t like – notably on gay rights of which he didn’t mention – and he flapped when challenged. Cameron looked rattled, worse he tried to imitate Clegg and it looked wooden: he did Clegg’s “look at questioner, answer question, look into camera, talk to people” technique and it looked silly.  I don’t get the YouGov/Sun poll but as I said in my post on the last debate, debates will only confirm what people believe. Gordon Brown looked statesman like  - you’d expect that from a Prime Minister though wouldn’t you? Though this hasn’t helped him in the polls so far.

Even Alex Salmond managed a hit tonight in the post debate analysis. Producing an election leaflet from Gordon Brown’s constituency was genius. Whether this, or the debate itself has any impact, we’ll have to wait and see. After all, it’s only David Cameron that can secure the future for the future. 

21

Apr

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.

15

Apr

In It To Win It. The First #leadersdebate

Dale Winton

It’s going to be like one of those National Lottery quiz shows isn’t it? You know the one’s presented by some B-list TV presenter like Dale Winton where the banter is wooden and the drama non-existent. In the end the big “moment” is the lottery draw where 6 balls are chosen at random (Well Gordon might have a Balls waiting in the wings but who has the bonus ball?!) and someone wins the big money prize. Then again we don’t even get to find out who the big winner is.

In the case of the leaders debates we won’t find out the winner till May 7th. Definitely no big money prize here unless you count the £950.4 billion in national debt they “win”.

The big winner of the evening will surely be Nick Clegg.  Alistair Campbell points out that in the negotiations for the 1997 debates that never happened the LibDem leader Paddy Ashdown didn’t expect to be on an equal footing with the other party leaders. Notably absent from the debates (anyone surprised?) is Alex Salmond. However, he will appear in a special Scottish Sky debate - let’s hope it’s better than the BBC’s Politics Show debate (more One Show than Question Time).

What has been most interesting has been how they have been preparing for the debates or, rather, who they have been preparing with. David Cameron has been preparing for the Sky debate with Shadow Education Secretary Micheal Gove playing presenter Adam Boulton. Apparently, he’s also been putting a cushion up his jumper to better represent Mr Boulton’s rather portly figure. What Alastair Campbell fails to mention in his latest blog post is that he is actually playing David Cameron in Gordon Brown’s debate prep (can you imagine Malcolm Tucker debating with Gordon Brown??). An interesting post from the Fabian Society on Alistair Campbell’s role.

Finally, the New York Times has an article on the debates which reveals the help the candidates have been getting from accross the pond:

"Behind the scenes, American political consultants have played a central role in tutoring the party leaders. Anita Dunn, the communications director at the White House until last November, is advising Mr. Cameron, and Joel Benenson, who helped Mr. Obama prepare for the 2008 debates, is assisting Mr. Brown. "

One last point - look out for gay rights popping up in tomorrows debate. Nick Clegg would probably be the one to bring it up, especially knowing its his strong point and could be really weak for David Cameron. Especially given the press David Cameron has had on the issue in the last week.

Let’s hope it is a good debate and that in the end the public won’t need Mystic Meg to take a gamble on one of the three men.

10

Mar

Multi-nation debate?

So it has been decided, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are to be excluded from the TV election debates. As expected Alex Salmond has all guns blazing and is full of bluster. But does he have a point?

He is in his favourite position: all the big boys have ganged up on him and its not fair so he’ll huff and he’ll puff and he’ll try to blow their house down. If he’s one thing, he’s predictable. Sometimes though there is a valid point in all his bluster.

The key argument is that by not including the SNP in the TV debates Scottish voters will not get balanced coverage of the parties platforms. The average Scottish voter will get their political news in small doses: through coverage in the tabloids and in “soundbite” clips on TV news. They probably don’t watch political shows like Newsnight or Question Time and they probably won’t watch the debates. This makes it even more important that the full length debates contain the full range of Scottish political opinions because in the end they’ll be whittled down to a few snappy quotes. No inclusion of an SNP viewpoint, no snappy quote.

Worringly, these debates show a move towards a Presidential form of electioneering - alien to the great British parliamentary tradition. The main justification for excluding the SNP (excluding Alex Salmond needs no argument) is that they have no hope of forming the next government or of nominating the next Prime Minister. But let’s not forget that a General Election is not one election but a series of local elections to chose representatives in parliament. In Scotland, the SNP is currently first or second in 27 out of 59 seats (second only to Labour’s total) so voters have a choice between one of the three main parties and the SNP. The voter must make an informed choice about who he/she wants to be their MP.

This is not to say that the SNP (or indeed Alex Salmond) should necessary be included in the UK debates on an equal footing but that some sort of middle ground must be found. The debates were decided behind closed doors without the inclusion of the SNP, Plaid Cymru or any other minority party. Maybe a solution might have been to allow them to ask questions of the candidates during the debates but not actually answer questions themselves. I don’t have the solution but I know that the debates as they stand will not be fair and balanced for voters in Scotland.

Maybe it should be “And now the UK General Election debates except for viewers in Scotland where they have tonights episode of River City…”

01

Mar

Dancing Round a May (the 6th?) Poll

Election season has started and the pollsters are busy already, sensing a tight election.

Two polls have been published in the last two days which are particularly interesting:

POLL 1: There is no doubt that Sunday’s opinion poll published by the Scotland on Sunday makes bad reading for the SNP. They seem to have lost around 4% since the beginning of the year and are now 17% points behind Labour on Westminster voting intentions.  But lets put this in context: Labour are polling 1% less than they did in the 2005 election, the LibDems 8% less and the SNP and Tories are up by 3% and 4%. Not a disaster for Salmond but a big setback considering the SNP’s record highs in the polls in recent years - it certainly stymies his chances of 20 SNP MPs.

The real success story is the Tories who are now pushing for second place (only 1% point behind the SNP), remarkable considering their years in the Scottish political wilderness. However, there is a simple explanation for both their boost and the SNP’s fall-back that SoS avoided. Namely, the success of both Labour and the Tories in marginalising the SNP in the election. Both parties have made a point of avoiding the SNP at all costs, a clever strategy that seems to be working. This coupled with a bad few weeks for Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon means a slump in the polls.

POLL 2: The Scotsman publishes the first poll on independence since the SG announced it’s Referendum Bill. Although no figures were published online, the article claims it shows “an overall drop in support for independence” whereas Nicola Sturgeon argues “The poll actually shows a similar level of support for this independence question as the last YouGov poll in November”. The actual figures are a drop of 2% in support (to 27%) AND a 2% drop in votes against, with an increase in “don’t knows”. This may reveal that the SNP National Conversation is getting people to question their beliefs on the subject but the numbers are to small to draw any conclusions.

The key finding of the poll however is that 31% of those surveyed said that a Tory victory would make them more likely to vote for independence. That this is true is no surprise, the surprise is the size of this figure. It will bring comfort to Salmond and his strategy of holding off till after the election.

The hope is that more polls on independence will be conducted soon to gauge the affect (if any) of the SG latest proposals.