Put the Kettle On

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Polly Toynbee was in Maryhill! The fragrant Polly from the Guardian toured the streets with our excellent local MP Ann McKechin and she didn’t knock the door to say hello…imagine missing a visit to the Cybernat Bunker where I could have shown her the satellite control screens for my constituency drones monitoring activity from above and demonstrated my political laser maps pinpointing each stairwell where Labour votes are being lost. That’s a selfie opportunity I’ll never get back…

Polly is writing about the SNP conference http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/30/snp-confident-tories-want-scotland-gone and how she was blown away by the scale and excitement it generated but she doesn’t deviate from the Guardian script that this is identity politics and the SNP apes Labour policy while the Scots are no different from people in England – apparently it’s all the Tories’ fault.

She spoke to a taxi driver – a truly representative group – and a bloke up the road who blamed Poles for unemployment and then she reminded us of the British Attitudes Survey that found Scots not too different from Brits on a range of society issues including immigration.

Regular readers will know I’ve covered this shallow argument before and the response is simplicity itself. Forget the opinion surveys and look at what the Scots have voted for – free personal care, free OAP travel, free prescriptions, no tuition fees, living wage, early years investment, no public service redundancies, investment in renewables, NHS public ownership protected, council tax freeze, extra police while they’re cut in England, 25,000 apprentices – and then add in SNP policy positions like no nuclear weapons, opposition to UK detention of children as asylum seekers, open immigration and comprehensive childcare…the list goes on. That’s the difference between Scotland and England – here we have parties advocating progressive policies and a parliament that implements them. In England they have UKIP.

Now to be fair to Polly (because I secretly admire her), she has a point. If you examine policy positions from Ed Miliband and add in his party’s deficit reduction plan, you do end up with a totally different story from Cameron’s Tories. Labour will have more money to spend. They are producing ideas that are aimed at working families and are trying to restrict corporate profiteering. Good for them.

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The problem is that nobody in Scotland is listening. After the referendum we pressed the mute button. Scots have had a bellyful of Labour promises that we swallowed whole and regretted when they failed to digest. It started arguably with Blair and Iraq (Clause Four, anyone?) and grew through the years of rightward drift and Brown bluster, culminating in the arrogance and duplicity of the No campaign and playing with the Tories. When the arch Blairite Murphy was elected – and wiped from his pages his support for Tory spending cuts – we couldn’t reach for the remote quick enough.

The result is we no longer trust Labour and we no longer hear them. Parties earn the respect of the voters first and then they can make their offer. The offer without the respect is just words. Until Labour take a beating and go through rehab, they will remain Scotland’s silent party – permanently stuck on mute.

(Next time, Polly, pop in for a cuppa. I’ve got bergamot and water lily tea bags waiting).

 

 

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Hail The Sun God

I’m finding it difficult to see the computer screen today with the brilliance of the light reflected over Maryhill from the Sun God down by the Clyde. Empress Nicola is reflecting her aura across Yes City and heads bow at her progress. I’m told aides walk backwards from her presence. Outside the SECC there is a board with hieroglyphics depicting her beside the Old Pharaoh Salmond and between them the Great Sage Curtice.

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It makes it tough to write a blog, though, especially if you want to be cheeky and you might be torn to pieces by the mob.

I was chairing Alex’s Edinburgh book event last week and was taken aback by the thunderous reception he received. (His quiet aside that it was actually for me didn’t wash…) I’ve said before that to me he is a Great Scot, the best politician of his era, the man who used every skill to bring us to the very edge of independence. He deserves our gratitude. And I like him. But I can’t for the life of me forget that the Alex Salmond I know is a politician.

That means representative, advocate, lawmaker etc but on Thesaurus.com the associated sections are Bureaucrat, Demagogue and Sycophant. I’m delighted the membership has surged and the enthusiasm is infectious but I have an inbuilt alarm when support veers into adoration. The best politics occurs through engagement, not devotion. Politicians perform best when the route to achievement is marked by checks and balances. They are high-wire artists who have to know the cost of a single slip.

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I suspect the SNP leadership has learned through years on the outside and now years in office how to behave and how to manage both expectation and failure but you can’t be sure until the votes are counted. If Labour form a government and deliver next to nothing despite needing SNP support, how will the new blood react? If the Tories get back in a coalition and the SNP bloc can only fume, how will the arrivistes respond? Suppose the votes don’t add up and the Scottish seats are fairly spread between Labour and the SNP, will a culprit be sought?

But in the spirit of unexpected holiday that is sweeping the movement, I offer instead of a blog two selections of what has happened to Labour champions when they became starry-eyed. http://www.scotsman.com/news/brian-wilson-raise-a-glass-to-nicholas-macpherson-1-3731556

The first I came across while searching for something else and clicked on with misgivings. Reading Brian Wilson is like opening a long-forgotten bin and finding maggots crawling within. I emerge relieved, like escaping from someone’s darkest nightmare. What made my jaw drop was the total lack of awareness from a man who built a name as a radical, both anti-Establishment and committed, and a Highland land reformer. I seem to recall him on television years ago arguing with the Earl of Thurso or somesuch nob of the realm.

Yet here he is, genuflecting to the Brit Establishment, crawling up the inside leg of a scion of privilege, down on one knee in supplication at a public official who decided, without any evidence of official approval, to abandon the rules of impartiality to defeat the democratic Yes movement in Scotland. Och! says Bulldog Brian, that’s nothing. He’s only doing what any honest official would in the national interest… Good old Eton…no difference there with Dunoon Grammar, is there? Doesn’t make you a bad chap…no social mobility issue here…

Nicholas Macpherson’s family are also part of the landowning classes Wilson used to oppose. They have substantial holdings in Ross-shire. Here’s what the Herald said some years ago.

‘Ewen Macpherson owns the 32,000-acre Attadale estate valued at £9m. (Now £13m). In Kevin Cahill’s definitive Who Owns Britain, he objected to a proposal by Highland Council to re-route a section of the A890 Auchnashaen to Lochcarron road through Glen Udalain on his estate in 1996. Mr Macpherson said at the time: Of course I have a vested interest but who wants a road going through their own property? ”This is a wilderness area and do we want a highway through wilderness? The proposal is still unresolved. The Attadale estate was historically part of the Clan Matheson lands that extended west to the Kyle peninsula. Most of the estate consists of bare hillside with around 200 acres of flat ground covering the floor of the Attadale glen. It was bought in 1952 by Mr Macpherson’s father, Ian, whose family had left the island of Skye in the early years of the 19th century. Mr Macpherson is married to Nicolette and they have a 43-year-old son, Nicholas, who was educated at Eton and Oxford.’

But then those campaigns were surely the imaginings of a young hothead and no longer relevant either to Scotland or to an entrepreneur living high on the hog. In here are the ramblings of a man who has given up and who, like Labour, has abandoned everything he once stood for, downing the New Labour potion to emerge mangled and crooked like Mr Hyde. This is what can happen when winning is easy and criticism muted – the foundations rot and principle bends.

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If you can stand it, the second entry is top of my list of supreme vomit-inducing hagiography, or, as it’s known in Labour circles…Gie’s a joab.  http://www.scotsman.com/news/john-mcternan-none-bigger-than-gordon-brown-1-3488146?fid=15278&isc=1&did=dc4523c6391c90870505bafab4ec7790370aad86&ctp=article

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The Chips Are Down

I do love a guilty pleasure…a glass of wine before 5pm, crunchy salt on skinny chips, reading the Press after an English football defeat. Beating them all right now is the sound of British bleating that the Union might actually be working for once and the family of nations voting enthusiastically.

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Indignation! Incredulity! Induced hysteria! Every bulletin in a tight BBC voice – ‘Alex Salmond says he will vote down a minority Tory government’ – and every headline – ‘SNP will sabotage British democracy’ – has me mimicking that Salmond Smirk behind my hand.

What pleasure to see the metropolitan clique flapping like headless chickens and hear them reveal what the Union truly means to them – Jocks in a Box.

They thought they were hammering the lid shut on September 19 but, God Bless Old Scotia, the peasants revolted and came out kicking, rusty claymores in hand, chanting: ‘You want us to stay? Well, here we come.’

And they don’t like it up ‘em. Forget all that stuff about lots of devolution if we stay; this time Scots are not waiting for the Establishment to dispense it, but we are ready to take it from them for once by using the very thing they have used against us – the authority vested in Parliament. They have no defence in a democracy except to wail ‘It’s no fair’ which adds to the fun because it leads them into all that deeply embarrassing and anti-Unionist crypto-xenophobia – exactly the kind of wretched name-calling Nationalists were accused of when we were supposed to be narrow-minded, parochial and anti-English.

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When I hear their disgust at the idea of Scots having influence ‘over England’, I think of Carson, the butler in Downton. He had a way of conveying the haughty disdain of the nobs too polite to say it out loud and he could silence a footman with an arch of his eyebrow.

I’ve always known that the London elite didn’t mind us at table so long as we stayed below the salt but the latest outburst of squaking at the exercise of our rights as British citizens says they’d prefer us just to stay below stairs.

The funniest part of course is that this is what the Union is about with all constituent parts contributing, the only difference being that this time it won’t necessarily be the Big Two (overwhelmingly England) deciding who wins. You couldn’t have a better example of the concept of Union and I doubt if it has happened in the previous 300 years. That the top brass in London give the Scots the clearest message that their votes shouldn’t count as much as England’s is a kind of Nationalist Comedy Festival feeding the idea that, if you have a grain of national dignity left, the Unionist gig is over.

I feel for those who don’t want in power a party dedicated to breaking up Britain, but isn’t that to deny the very result delivered by Scots in the referendum? The SNP lost. They are not heading to Westminster to raise the saltire but to rearrange the existing Union – as expressly required by the No campaign.

And what to Unionists say to the likely addition of the DUP to the existing Coalition partners if the Tories and Lib Dems don’t have the numbers? It’s true they don’t want to break up Britain but they had links to paramilitaries, notably the UVF, who killed British citizens in Northern Ireland. Is the party of Ian Paisley more welcome to influence a British government than social democratic Scots?

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It’s is Pythonesque and it’s a luxury we rarely get to know we have upset them so much and that Labour are floundering so badly. It may not last – who knows – but you can’t deny it’s a lot of fun. I see the time now is dead on noon. Too early for the vino?

(I’m heading off to Edinburgh to interview Alex Salmond for Newsnet and to chair a public meeting about his book. It will appear on the site later.)

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It’s the Stupid Economy

Let’s get this right. Before last September, Unionism decreed that Independence was Bad and devolution was Good – just its limits remained ill-defined. Now, further devolution in the form of Devo Max is Bad and, if anything Badder than Independence.

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Devo Max will variously ‘be unsustainable, destroy the economy, lead to huge service cuts, tax rises’…etc. all leading to Armageddon Two. When we proposed unhooking from the UK, it was a stupid idea because, mainly, we couldn’t afford it. Now that we’ve said OK, we’ll stay but would like to take on a significant amount of responsibility for ourselves within the Union, the response is: That’s (also) a stupid idea. You can’t afford it.

When the oil price is high, we should celebrate the Union and be grateful…no need for independence. When the oil price falls…we’d be mad to go it alone.

This is the double-headed monster that is Britain – we’re the place where fair play was born – except we kidnapped people for torture; we have an independent civil service – except when the Permanent Secretary at the Treasury decrees secretly that impartiality doesn’t apply; we’re the family of nations – where Scots don’t qualify to share their own currency; and now we’re the place where the Prime Minister offers Devo Max and then withdraws it when he gets our votes.

In the context of the General Election however, I think the Unionist attempt to undermine the SNP with the Gers figures and the oil price misfires and may be counter-productive. (I’ll come to the economic issues in a moment). One of the seemingly unlearned lessons of the referendum is that you can’t sneer at your own country without arousing antipathy. Yet all I hear from Jim Murphy, Kezia Dugdale and the trumpeting Jackie Baillie is undisguised glee at Scotland’s predicament, parroting the same words that English trolls use in tweets about low income, not enough resources, reliance on bloc grant (English taxpayers) and a background of whoops of delight that our country would struggle economically. Does anybody think this is good politics? Do they ever listen back to their own words and put themselves in the place of a voter? They don’t, of course, and probably can’t, because their whole raison d’etre is to attack the SNP and any wider perspective like an obligation to the nation, lies mute.

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Surely the defining difference between the campaigns was the optimism and aspiration of Yes and the relentless Ye Canny Dae It mantra that actually lost votes for No. And they’re still at it, reliving the campaign as if it wasn’t over and repeating the same errors.

The time for making a case against independence has gone and the voters know it. This time, they want to deliver a bloody nose and they know for certain it can’t lead to independence, even if many of them, possibly a majority, want it to. This is a zero sum game…by voting SNP, the voters can’t lose.

Telling them that the latest figures show a new nation struggling, makes no difference because it’s irrelevant to an independence that isn’t going to happen (any time soon).

I fear something similar may apply to Devo Max. There is no doubt that on the face of it, reduced revenue would hurt a system built on retaining all taxes. But no matter how hard the Unionist bloc of Labour and Tories shout about it, I think their capacity to scare has evaporated. So many scare stories have been told, so many bogeymen have loomed out of the shadows that the trick has stopped working. That’s why Labour people who once felt obliged to tell others that they would vote Labour whatever their misgivings, are now openly SNP. The subtle community pressures through trades unions, organisations, council employers and the like have broken down and working class Scots now feel the freedom of voting they way they wish – and many are using it to give their verdict on those who have failed them.

Another frothing rant by Brian Wilson, a wheedling Murphy sound-bite and even, if they found it, the calmer analysis of Brian Ashcroft, just rebounds off the wall of resistance as if to say: You’ve had your chance. We listened for years and look where it got us.

I have one theme of my own when it comes to Scotland’s resources. It is this: Whatever state the accounts are in, it is the result of Union.

Our entire economy – for 300 years, remember – has been run by people elsewhere, people, who as we now know from Sir Nicholas Macpherson, twisted the rules to make the civil service a political arm of government against the Scots and against every rule of British government. In other words, these are people who will never – never – have Scotland’s best interests at heart.

Another glaring example is their campaign pleading with us to stay because they loved us – apparently – but now we are going further and actually voting to be part of the government, they treat us like immigrants from the sub continent. Britain took over India, ran it, exploited it, made Indians work for them through enslavement and violent threat and got rich off the back of the Indians. In return the Indians got passports but encountered discrimination and obstacles when they got to Britain. Oh, we didn’t expect you to actually come to live here…

If oil rich Scotland with world class universities and highly developed industries covering tourism, food and drink and life sciences, isn’t able to balance its books and have money in reserve – then whose fault is that, because it can’t be blamed on independence, can it?

I like this section from Business for Scotland.

The Barnett Formula will be lauded by unionists as it does mean that Scotland has more to spend in years where revenues drop. However, the key point is that in the years in which Scotland’s revenues have been far, far higher than the average for rest of the UK, the Barnet Formula has severely limited Scottish spending to an amount close to the UK’s.  Peer reviewed research by Business for Scotland has proven that had Scotland had been an independent country for the past 34 years (as the UK debt mountain grew) Scotland’s higher revenues would have meant that we would not have had to borrow a single penny. In fact Scotland would by now have a cash surplus of at least £50bn. All of the UK debt was generated outwith Scotland, and in the 2013/14 figures £3bn or 24% of Scotland’s deficit was driven by interest on that UK debt and the previous year £4.02bn or 33% of Scotland’s deficit was interest on debt. Let’s be clear, the Barnett Formula helps as part of the UK in some years, but has overall massively limited investment in Scotland’s economy.

And why do the people of limited vision never recognise that it is because Scotland lacks the levers to fully utilise its capacity to grow the economy that we are poorer than we should be? The economic model is not appropriate for Scotland – it is London’s creation and yet they are the ones telling us the conditions are wrong even for full fiscal autonomy.

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Let’s take them at their word then. If not full fiscal autonomy, then what? Where is their suggestion? Do they have an insight or is jeering and name-calling the extent of the Murphy Revolution? It appears so.

However, in stark contrast to Murphy’s vacuum, I discovered a report which looks at these issues, although written some years ago. It examines FFA and concludes that it is probably a better solution for Scotland to have a variant of full autonomy, one which is also conducive to harmony with the other nations by retaining an element of Barnett as a form of equalisation. In other words, whatever works…

The authors declare that Scotland should have a considerable proportion of taxes raised in Scotland returned directly to Scotland – income tax, VAT and corporation tax with a package of other taxes too. That’s already further than Smith on business taxes and Smith only assigns a proportion of VAT.

The report also dismisses the idea that a new system would immediately fall foul of the existing economic balance – the very case that Unionists are making today. They say: In embarking on a fiscal federalist system a needs assessment exercise would have to be conducted in order to tie down the size of any bloc grant provided by the centre. We also argue for some form of transition mechanism that minimises the amount of disruption in the system and maintains the level of revenue initially available to the Scottish Parliament at a time of significant change. We are also of the opinion that any legislation creating tax assignment for Scotland should allow scope for further modification of the Scottish fiscal system – much as on the lines of the Spanish system where regional finances under the law are reviewed every five years. For one thing fiscal federalism is currently evolving worldwide, and in several countries is being allowed to pass through several phases. For another thing, it is very hard to get it absolutely right first time – something that we believe the Scotland Act (1998) failed to achieve.

Hardly scary, is it…more measured and considerate, taking careful account of existing conditions rather than echoing the blowhard bluster of Murphy and crew about impending disaster.

So who wrote this thoughtful account of a clever way to deliver real economic powers within the UK without damaging Scotland? Well, its lead author is arch-Unionist and pound sterling adherent Professor Ronald MacDonald of Glasgow University with special mentions for help going to, among others, Wendy Alexander, Brian Ashcroft, Jo Armstrong, John McLaren and Arthur Midwinter. By my book, that’s a Labour pro-Union roster. They wrote this 10 years ago and it seems to me to be way beyond any thinking going on the Murphy’s Better Together staff room. In fact it looks to me like the basis of a discussion – between a Labour government and the SNP, perhaps?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Paisley Pattern

If you have a memory greater than a gnat – unlike the Better Together propagandists at the Daily Record – you’d have a belly laugh this morning at the paper’s political correspondent berating the SNP over Braziergate. (Remember? Three Renfrewshire SNP councillors burning a copy of the Smith Commission in a bin).

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David Clegg was tweeting – and re-tweeting proudly – a piece saying that the reinstatement of the councillors after their suspension was ‘the SNP’s Militant Tendency moment.’ In Paisley!? If you had been around in the 80s when Davie Clegg was in short breeks, you’d know that Renfrewshire was the stamping ground of one Hugh Henry, now Labour MSP, occasional minister and former self-declared member of Militant Tendency. http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/sleaze-row-hits-mcconnell-s-man-henry-1-587106

That’s right, THE Militant Tendency – the one that was based on the Revolutionary Socialist League, a Trotskyist group working within the Labour Party through the tactic of entryism. Better to break the law than break the poor, they used to chant. The group was proscribed (not just suspended like the Nat cooncillors) and members expelled. Hugh declared once: ‘The ideas of Marxism are becoming more relevant to people in the Labour Party. Marxism is now firmly on the political agenda.’ Better still – and aptly for today’s decrepit Labour Party – he said: ‘I want to counteract the impression that it is the Left who are infiltrating the party. I would argue that the real infiltrators in the Labour Party were the academics and intellectuals who used the Labour Party as a vehicle for their political ambitions.’

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Could he mean Paisley buddy Douglas Alexander?

Now, I genuinely like Hugh. I’ve known him a long time and backed him to be Presiding Officer before Tricia Marwick because he’d have done a good job and made sure the SNP didn’t dominate all of Holyrood. He made a conversion to Labour and good luck to him. But you can’t hide your past and frankly I would think he’s quietly furious that the Labour-friendly Record made the Militant reference which to anyone who wasn’t in school at the time is known as an embarrassing period for the party.

During his leadership (of Renfrewshire Council), the council was divided by furious rows over allegations of sleaze and cronyism which led to police being called to the council headquarters to break up the confrontations, reports the Scotsman. I was at one of those meetings and a real Tammany Hall effort it was with threats and chants and a total collapse of order. As local SNP Councilor Colin Campbell said when Hugh emerged in Jack McConnell’s ministerial team: ‘He was Leader of the Labour Group on Renfrew Council at a time when allegations were made about funds at Renfrewshire Unemployed Workers Centre. He was a leading light in the party during the scandal that beset Ferguslie Community Business and he was a central player in the party when the now disgraced Tommy Graham was endorsed as a candidate. Jack McConnell has to explain how it is that a man who was so immersed in the cronyism and sleaze of the Renfrew Labour Party is fit to be a minister in the Scottish executive.’ Now that’s what I call Militant Tendency…

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Paisley of course is a place where you couldn’t have a better contrast between the ersatz Labour Party of today and its roots in industrial Scotland with the campaigning of the weavers who played a key part in the Insurrection of 1820. From the 80’s onwards Paisley became a graveyard of credibility for the party. The list of Labour failures makes grim reading for a place once represented by Norman Buchan.

For the Record’s education, let’s remember the mighty Tommy Graham.

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Following the suicide of his parliamentary colleague Gordon McMaster in July 1997, a long investigation was launched, since in his suicide note McMaster had accused Graham of smearing him that he had a homosexual affair with a 17-year-old employee of Graham’s. In September 1998, Graham was expelled from the Labour Party for bringing the party into disrepute, despite his categorical denials of any wrongdoing. He became an independent and described himself as a Scottish Labour MP. For a comprehensive list of dodgy Labour Party behaviour try this from the Independent in 1997. A Very Nasty Smell in Labour’s Backyard. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/a-very-nasty-smell-in-labours-backyard-1245183.html

In there is a story I covered myself in Paisley when Jack McConnell was general secretary. The paper reports: ‘Mr McConnell thought he had sorted out Paisley in 1995 when three constituency parties – the two Paisleys and Renfrewshire West, represented by Tommy Graham, were suspended following irregularities in membership records. There were claims of pensioners being enlisted without their knowledge and subscriptions paid for 44 trade union members with a single cheque. The object, according to local activists, was to influence selection ballots.’

It was at this time I discovered that the editor of the local paper and the chief reporter were both members of the local party and yet were supposed to be investigating it. I haven’t even touched on Irene Adams and her alleged involvement or indeed her expenses. The Sunday Post reported in November 2014 that Adams had claimed £53,000 of expenses during a period when she did not speak in debate or submit any written questions.

There’s a nice quote from the Herald around the time of the McMaster/Graham affair. ‘Scottish politics should be captivated by the devolution debate, not mired in an urban Labour enmity which threatens to blow out of the water all the work done to produce an electoral system guaranteeing that the worst kind of old-style Labour cronyism did not dominate the Scottish parliament.’

The Daily Record really should have the nous to take more care if doesn’t want to damage further its political bedfellows. The SNP Three, to be blunt, behaved like a bunch of fannies. They were suspended, did their time, and have returned not via Nicola Sturgeon, but via the votes of local members. If you apply the Record’s logic, they should never return and Hugh Henry should be thrown out of parliament. Brilliant…

But the Record can’t help itself. Instead of attacking the councillors, the Record also conflates it with the rise in SNP membership and the odd loony to construct a crisis for the leadership. (Yeah, Nicola’s in real trouble, isn’t she?) I think you’ll find Militant Tendency – the real one – and the corrupt Paisley Labour Party were what real crises are made of and I bet Record readers know that a lot better than the hacks clearly do.

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