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

11

May

If you don’t want Sky News to become Fox News UK, complain to Ofcom about this awful report. 

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/complain/progs/specific/ 

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.

24

Apr

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. 

22

Apr

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?

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.

16

Apr

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?

15

Apr

@ericjoyce After the #leadersdebate, remember we are electing a local MP. Falkirk, who do you want to be your MP?

15

Apr

The #leadersdebate – What to Expect

There has been much debate about the debate, especially over whether the debate will actually excite and engage the public – David Cameron has said that he fears the public may feel “short-changed”. The rules do constrain the debate quite a lot, if you expect the kind of debates you see in the US you’ll be disappointed. Here’s the lowdown on the debates and the possible outcome of them:

·         The debate will be 90 minutes long. This will probably allow for between 8-12 questions.

·         The questions have been submitted by the public and selected by a public panel set up by ITV.  None of the questions will focus solely on a single leader or party. This will mean that it will be more difficult to hold one leader to account over particular policies such as George Osbourne was in the Chancellors debate over the NI cut.

·         Essentially this is a moderated town hall debate as the questions will be asked by the audience members and they must stick to the agreed question. It takes a very skilled interviewer to hold a politician to account but this debate will not allow someone to do this – as, say, Jeremy Paxman could. Nor will the public people able to harangue them in the way they do on Question Time.

·         The town hall format can bring with it pros as well as cons for the leaders. Bill Clinton famously showed his “man of the people” at a town hall debate but George Bush Sr.  equally looked out of touch in the same debate. Bill Clinton’s “moment” happened because he walked away from the podium and into the audience and any West Wing fans will remember the Santos-Vinick debate where they both started wandering around the stage. Interestingly, while the rules state that the moderator must stay on his podium there is no rule saying the leaders must do this – will anyone take the plunge? Most likely would be Cameron  as he does this regularly in his conference speeches.

·         The first half of the debate will be “themed”. In the case of the ITV debate tonight this will be domestic issues:

o   “including but not exclusively: NHS; Education; Immigration; Law and Order; Family; Constitution; Trust in politics; Political reform”

·         Expect “people power” to loom large especially in health and education – both Labour and Tories have focussed on this in their manifesto while the LibDems may be stronger on “cleaning up politics”. As I said in my last post gay rights may be a safe bet since the parties have put a lot of focus on winning the “pink” vote. However, it could make them uncomfortable, it’s ok talking about gay adoption to a gay audience but tonight they’ll also be trying to court “traditional family values” voters.

·         The second half of the debate will be “unthemed”. If they’re not talking about domestic policy I can only imagine this will focus on personality, qualifications and experience. This is always one of the clangers in US debates , no less so here when you see the gap in this area between Gordon Brown and the other two leaders.