Saturday 28 October 2023

It takes two to ceasefire

What is happening in Gaza is horrific. Even accepting that Israel is attempting to minimise civilian casualties, the Israelis themselves concede that there have been and will be significant civilian casualties. 

So it is understandable people want this to stop. And think the best way for that to come about is for there to be a ceasefire. Keir Starmer is coming under internal pressure to make that the declared position of the Labour Party. Prominent Party member, including our leader in Scotland have already made personal calls to that effect.

Except, in truth, they are only making that demand on one side, the Israelis. IF Labour was in power and IF we had any influence on matters, the best we could do is call on the Israelis to cease firing. That might just But we might just have some effect, particularly if similar calls came from other major western governments. But it would have no effect on Hamas. And that's why this whole ceasefire call is a complete blind alley. If Hamas was prepared to release the hostages and undertook to stop lobbing random missiles in to Israel then there might actually  be the basis for a ceasefire. Except they are unwilling to do either of these things.  Hamas not only started the current war, they wish it to continue. 

And so long as they wish to continue fighting Israel then inevitably Israel has to continue fighting them.

That's the problem. The UN Secretary General was right when he said the 7th October events cannot be seen in a vacuum. But Hamas cannot be seen in a vacuum either. They do not want peace on any terms other than the complete destruction of Israel. Yet that is clearly something that could never happen. Nine million people live in Israel, they are not going to go away voluntarily and it is, on any objective view, never mind the "merits" of such a development,  impossible for Hamas to achieve their removal any other way. Yet Hamas by it's very nature has to insist that this outcome will be achieved some how, some day. And to, literally, keep fighting for it. 

So a ceasefire will never be acceptable to them. A humanitarian pause in hostilities perhaps but never a ceasefire. I repeat, those calling for just that ignore this reality.

The Israelis have clearly decided that not just 7th October but the potential of future 7th Octobers requires to be dealt with militarily now. And they are dealing with a foe whose most basic demand could never be conceded by Israel as the basis for any kind of negotiated peace. Yes, there could and should be a two state solution to the Palestine issue but that is no more wanted by Hamas than it is by the most fanatical of West Bank settlers. That's the reality. Hamas are a major obstacle to peace. They need dealt with at some point. A ceasefire doesn't change that. It only postpones that reckoning.

Starmer sees that. So should others

Monday 17 July 2023

May 2026

I've kind of stopped blogging. You might have noticed that. Principally this is because I mainly blogged in the past to outline arguments against Scottish Independence and that ship has sailed without any other lunatic idea appearing over the horizon. So why bother? 

But I retain an active interest in politics. So would like to have some continued readership for my blog. And that's why I write tonight about the Scottish General Election in 2026.

They say the best chess players can think five moves ahead. I'm not much of a chess player but, with due modesty, like to think of myself as someone who can think a few political moves ahead.

Now, in truth, even the best chess players don't really need to think these five full moves ahead. For their opponents next move is probably THIS, in which case they will have already decided to do THAT. And for two or three other moves whatever. Unless their opponent decides to do something unexpected, which might be a masterstroke or simply a mistake. But, either or any way, these are the rules.

And the rules of the political game are ultimately as iron. 

There is not going to be a UK General Election until Autumn 2024. The Tories are going to hold on as long as possible in the hope something will turn up but Autumn 2024 is as long as is possible. Beyond that point their worry about differential turnout is cubed by differential turnout in the depths of Winter. 

And the Tories will lose. That's a conclusion not just reached by current polling. They themselves have essentially given up, barring "events". As, with benefit of the memoirs from a much better group of Tories, they had done so at least a year before the 1997 Election.

And at that 2024 election, the SNP will suffer a considerable reverse. In my view being likely to being reduced to the second Party in terms of Scottish seats, even possibly the third. But let's give them their best conceivable result. Still the largest Party but 20 seats down. That will be a complete game changer. 

Partly this is because people forget (or choose to forget) the 2017 General Election. The loss of 21 seats then severely dented the momentum of Scottish Nationalism. They had long since decided they wanted another go at a referendum but even they then went quiet on the matter for a time. Not just because everything said they would lose again but also because such a demand lacked all credibility. How much more so in the aftermath of a significant 2024 defeat? What happens then within the SNP might be usefully the subject of a different blog but it would surely involve Useless departing the scene in favour of Kate Forbes and the Greens returning to the political wilderness. And that's even without anybody ending up in the jail in the meantime.

But that's just me thinking three or four moves ahead. Let's go to five. 

Labour will win in the UK in 2024 on the basis of no increase in current levels of income tax. That seems pretty certain. But in Scotland we already pay higher rates than the rest of the UK. This is currently, politically, justified on the premis that the Tories are not taxing enough. Forget for the moment whether that is true. It remains a defensible argument between a Tory Government at Westminster and a Nationalist one at Holyrood. But it is not conceivably a defensible argument between a Labour Westminster Government and a potential Labour Holyrood one.

So here is my fifth move ahead. Labour will fight the May 2026 Election in Scotland based on cutting Income Tax in line with the rest of the UK. "Close the Foreign Embassies, stop subsiding STV, shut down the quangos" Never mind whether the economics of this add up. Let the Nats defend them. Unless of course Kate Forbes, a formidable opponent, has already been one move ahead of us.  

Saturday 10 June 2023

A suggested letter

I have a friend, Andrew Nicol who is, or at least was, a Scottish novelist. I however knew him in another capacity, as a political journalist. Away back, I was so determined to get him to write a sequel to his novel, "If you are reading this then I'm already dead" that I wrote the first chapter for him myself. 

It did not persuade him and since then I have abandoned literary pastiche. 

But tonight I am writing again in the name of a Scottish novelist who, no disrespect to Andy, is of somewhat greater literary renown, J.K. Rowling.

It is not an attempt at the eighth Harry Potter novel or even an attempt to finally, and surely, get Strike and Robin together.

It is an simple suggested letter. Written by J.K., who I have never met, to two people I do know. One by reputation only but the other since I "knew his faither".  Copied in to one of my best and surest comrades. Enough introduction

Hogwarts Tower 


11th June 2023   

Dear Anas and Keir,

I trust this finds you both well.

As a long since supporter of the Labour Party and opponent of Scottish Independence, I was delighted to learn of the forthcoming by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. offering a significant opportunity to strike a blow against the SNP, and have been thinking of what I might do to assist.

With due modesty, I would clearly be in a position to offer you a substantial financial contribution, as I have done in the past,  but I understand that money is unlikely to be an issue here. So I thought I might offer something more. 

While I never sought this, I appreciate myself that I have become something of an "international celebrity", My appearances on public platforms attract disproportionate, in my opinion, attention. But they nonetheless do. So my suggestion therefor is that I should make such an appearance at a public meeting to support of your, indeed our, candidate in Rutherglen. I would propose to say no more than encouraging Scotland to play its part in removing the Tories and securing a Labour Government

The event would need to be managed but, with due modesty, would be likely to appeal not only to many members of the local electorate, the important people here, but indeed to a much wider national, indeed international audience. But in some ways ignore the latter. The former are the key players in what I appreciate is likely to be a significant contest. If I can add but a few votes to our tally, I would be privileged to do so. Again, with due modesty, I think that is a role I might play. 

So, subject to my own commitments, I am at your disposal to speak at a place and time of your choosing.

I appreciate that this offer is in itself likely to be of assistance to our cause so I have taken the liberty of copying this letter to the Press Association. 

With every best wish,

See you in Rutherglen,


To: Anas Sarwar MSP

The Right Honourable Sir Keir Starmer MP

cc. Jackie Baillie MSP. 


Sunday 4 June 2023

Is it over?

The polls remain stubbornly good for the SNP. Yes, you read that correctly. Their vote has taken a dent but it has not collapsed. Were there to be a Holyrood election tomorrow they would almost certainly remain the largest single Party, albeit, even with the assistance of their gerrymandering colleagues in the Greens, somewhere short of an Independence majority at Holyrood. Not that this matters anyway for the road to Independence does no run through Holyrood alone. 

Nicola Sturgeon's "brave" decision to ask the Supreme Court to deliver their conclusion to that effect expressly was her parting gift to the SNP. That and a campervan.

It has to be conceded that the prospect of Independence has been a leitmotif through Scottish Politics since 2011. Cameron thought to kill it by conceding a referendum but the Nats came closer in that event than anybody ever considered likely and, in its aftermath, rolled up the large but significant losing minority behind their banner in a formidable wrecking ball. Wrecking the old Scottish Labour Party, ludicrously complacent in its sense of entitlement, in the process.

But in truth 2014 took place in just about the most favourable circumstance possible for the SNP. They could choose a single year in the recent past (not the one immediately before the referendum right enough) to make a just about plausible case that independence would not inevitably lead to the slashing of public expenditure. They could insist they'd keep the Pound Sterling against all evidence to the contrary and portray UK denials of this as "just one more piece of evidence" of English perfidy. They succesfully created the ludicrous illusion that Independence could be grafted on to Devolution with little more than the expenditure of, in Government terms, small change. And as to the border, well if there was effectively no border between the UK and France, since both were in the EU. why would there possibly be a border between Scotland and England? 

But the real genius was not in carrying that off that in 2014, it was in getting people to ignore the fact that within two years this was all proved to be nonsense. That to borrow the phrase of Theresa May "Nothing had changed,"

But never mind that, it also ignored the not unimportant fact that there had been a referendum! And they had lost. Not narrowly, as they insisted, but quite decisively in a binary choice. And that they themselves quietly conceded that the reason they had needed the "Edinburgh Agreement" to have a referendum at all was in the second word there. And that prospect no longer existed. 

But all credit to the smoke and mirrors that has kept this on the road. Even, to some extent, still is. 

But I think this is all coming to an end. That's not just based on the polling or that Useless has nothing like the political skills of Salmond or Sturgeon, although patently he doesn't. It is simply that they have nowhere to go. 

When Alex Salmond set up his vanity project of the ALBA Party, its main selling point was that the SNP, through their elected representatives should be doing "more" to advance independence. There has however been a deathly silence as to what that more might be. The only substantive proposal of any sort seems to have been the suggestion that The Stone of Destiny shouldn't have been sent to London for the Coronation. I'm not entirely sure what this, even if carried off, would have achieved?  In truth, neither are they. "You can't have our Stone unless we have another referendum?" You are reminded of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government."

There is nothing more that can be done.  The strange period of Scottish politics since 19th September 2014 is over. Scottish Parliament elections cannot and will not constantly be run as gigantic opinion polls on whether the Scottish Government should write a letter demanding to have another independence referendum. Westminster elections in Scotland likewise. Devolved Scottish Parliament elections are about who should govern devolved Scotland. In health, education, transport etc. etc. does anybody think that is currently being done well? And Westminster elections are about who should govern the UK. That will, at 18 month intervals, over the next three years, become apparent in spades. 

So it is over. The rest is just process. 

Sunday 21 May 2023

Institutional Capture

The mess the SNP Scottish Government has got itself in to on Gender Recognition Reform is well documented and the reasons for that also well documented. 

In advance of the legislation they gave in to those with loud voices while others were not particularly interested or even noticing. Even if they had been asked. Which they weren't. 

Thus, the idea that the current Gender Recognition process was somehow traumatic or humiliating was established at an early stage as a given. Without any real evidence in support of that. That there were insufficient resources to gain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria was therefor written off as irrelevant because it didn't matter anyway. It would still be "traumatic and humiliating" even if it were the doctors willing to provide a diagnosis waiting for patients rather than the contrary. "Why?" remains the question never asked. Because there had been institutional capture. If you consult only those of a predetermined view, and nobody else, then you inevitably end up with their predetermined view as your own. 

Now, in the marketplace of twitter, that has led me in to allyship with women of strongly feminist persuasion. But tonight I may be about to fall out with them because I fear, in a different context, we may not agree. 

For the proposals to abolish by trial by jury for sexual offences betray a similar institutional capture. 

It proceeds upon a consultation on this matter headed by Lady Dorrian. 

But let us look at who sat on that consultation. The Judiciary (five Judges or Sheriffs) and their support team from The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (another five). Fine. The Polis and the Crown. Fine. Some legal bureaucrats from the Scottish Government and relevant agencies. (Again fine). And, finally three representatives of the defence. Again, up to this point, fine. All professional players with an informed view, even if I might not agree with their individual views. 

But then what happens? We need some lay representatives so who are they. One person from Scottish Women's Aid, one from Rape Crisis Scotland and one from Victim Support. And that's it. 

I respect the work of all three organisations but they hardly represent the totality of opinions here, Where was SACRO (The Scottish Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders)? Where was Justice or any other organisation involved in preventing miscarriages of Justice? Where was anybody to contest that the issue in rape prosecutions was not that 50% of all those accused of rape were acquitted but rather that 50% of people innocent of rape had been prosecuted at all? For that had been the verdict of a jury in each case. And, for what it is worth, where was the space for the conclusion of the defence bar  that, out of external pressure, the Crown themselves are prosecuting rape cases they know have little prospect of success.

I speak with some experience here. Rape is a difficult crime to prove. It involves a crime to which the complainer might have approved. In a way few complainers might ever have conceivably approved to being stabbed or robbed. 

But I want to choose another example Simple theft. If I was sitting on a jury assessing a person complaining of theft, I would undoubtedly give greater credence to someone who reported their loss five minutes after they knew of it rather than five years later. That would not be a theft "myth" other than it would be any other kind of "myth". It is simple life experience. Yet it is the position of those allowed privileged access to the Dorrian review that to hold such a view about an alleged particular type of crime is unacceptable. Just like suggesting that a man in a dress is not really a woman is equally unacceptable, (Sorry sisters),

Likewise and more specifically, I most certainly do not hold the view that rape must also involve other  physical injury but if someone gives an account of events, alongside the rape,  that would inevitably, have occasioned physical injury, and yet there is no such evidence, well I do think that might inform my decision making on credibility. There is equally no evidence of "myth" involved in that process

But even Lady Dorrian had to conclude she was faced with divided opinion on abolishing jury trials for serious sex offending. Quite how divided is a matter on which Her Ladyship remains silent but if it did not include the vast majority of lawyers involved then I suspect I am equally the Shah of Iran. 

And yet. 

The Scottish Government proposes to press on and do so. Not as recommended by The Lord Justice Clerk, as they claim, (for it wasn't) but by post event lobbying by the very lobby groups that sat on her consultation. And, in the process, managed to keep the prospect alive. Institutional capture yet again.

And while we are at it, if you consider the responses of complainers/victims, their main issue about the system is delay. I agree, But, somehow, this ends up in second place to them needing more, publicly funded, support by the very third sector organisations proposing that, Far from it being for me to criticise the Lord Justice Clerk but, in her position, I might have suggested that their presence in the room was to assist potential victims of crime rather than to find reasons to line their own pockets. Instead everybody else seems to have signed this idea off with a sigh,

I am quite a strong advocate of much else that is the current Bill. "Not Proven" should have been long since done in. Reducing Juries from 15 to 12? I shrug, even while thinking that doing so to bring Scotland in to line with England is an odd decision by...... the SNP. 

But on removing juries I have never seen a more united legal profession. It is a fundamental part of our system that you cannot get serious jail time without somebody beyond lawyers deciding that. That is the conclusion of defence lawyers who are free to speak our minds. Male lawyers and female lawyers; unionist lawyers and nationalist lawyers, Bur also prosecutors and judiciary who can't speak publicly but can speak privately. 

For the SNP? To paraphrase John Wayne, this should not be "Remember the Alamo!" but rather "Remember the Gender Recognition Reform Bill."

Here is hoping Angela Constance will. For this time Alister Jack won't be able to ride to the rescue. 

Monday 1 May 2023


Happy May day!

On Thursday night past I went to the selection conference for the next Labour Candidate for the Westminster constituency of Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. In some ways it was an absurd event. Speeches and then questions and then a vote. One member of the audience had decided that she was going to ask the same question of every candidate. "Was it acceptable that people who were working had to resort to foodbanks?" A fair point, except that having announced that she would ask the same question of every candidate, she asked it of one candidate who had made "it is ridiculous people who are working have to resort to foodbanks" a central element of her, already delivered, speech. But the same question had to be the same question, even as the chair knew it would be the same question and yet called it again in preference to others in the room with their hands up. 

And that's not even to get me started on the guy who suggested to one aspiring candidate that the solution to the NHS was more private provision. An arguable point hardly one you would anticipate being advanced by a member of the Labour Party. 

As to the candidates themselves? THey were genuinely all more than adequate to for the position they sought. not just of Labour candidate but Labour MP. Mind you, one of them thought it was a point in his favour that he was proud to have the support of ASLEF, the CWU and Unite. He might as well have sung "Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!". Again a view but hardly one to endear him to anybody who knew the remotest thing about the membership of Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East CLP. Or indeed Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.  Unsurprisingly he got gubbed. 

Since this was a "twinned" selection, gubbed by Frank McNally, who will be our candidate for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. And almost certainly the MP for that seat come the next election.

But my point here is not about Frank's seat. It is about my own. Which was regarded as the consolation prize. For while we should get Coatbridge etc back from the Nats, indeed we did 2017-19, Cumbernauld etc is supposedly a much harder nut to crack. 

Except for something said by the candidate I voted for on the night, Katrina Murray. The old constituency, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth,  was always a bit marginal between us and the SNP. But when the Kirkintilloch East bit was added in it became, at the time, altogether safer. When Greg McClymont succeeded Rosemary McKenna in 2010 he could not unreasonably have concluded he had a seat for life. Except that he went, in a single election, from being 14.000 votes ahead of the SNP in 2010, to being 14.000 votes behind five years later. Through no fault of his own. A swing is a swing. 

But as Katrina observed on Thursday, when you are swept in by a rising tide, you are at least as easily swept  out again as that tide recedes.

The press continue to flog the idea that Scottish Nationalism remains a live thing. And, in advance of that thesis, to maintain that while SNP might suffer some losses to Labour in the 2024 General Election, it will continue to be a live thing. I have written elsewhere why that reporting brings with it a substantial element of self interest but that is not my point  here. It is that the next General Election will not just be about Scottish Labour, if we appear to be on the way to being the UK Government, and particularly if the Nats stick with Useless, picking up 10 to 15 seats from the SNP. Rather it might easily be about us picking 30 to 40. Including Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East . As I readily concede the Nats did to us the other way round in 2015. As even we did not think that possible, in much safer seats  than Cumbernauld etc,  before that traumatic event. For first past the post is brutal for the SNP. Just as at a certain level it has been brutal for us since 2015. Two facts not to lose sight of. In 2015 we still got 24.3% of the popular vote but only one seat out of 59. But in October 2074 the SNP got 30.4% and 11 of 71 seats, while Labour, with just 36.3%, less than 6% ahead, got 41. Because their vote was everywhere, whereas ours was overwhelmingly just in the central belt. Indeed the Tories with considerably fewer votes than the SNP nonetheless got more seats (16) because their vote was also concentrated, albeit, obviously, elsewhere

Could that happen again? Perhaps at least that possibility should be starting to be reported? That the SNP seats might melt away as rapidly in 2024 as comprehensively as ours did in 2015. Perhaps it finally will be after the Rutherglen by election? Bring it on.

Sunday 19 March 2023

Quite a big thing that nobody seems to have noticed.

To say that the SNP leadership contest has been interesting would be something of an understatement. But you won't be short of pieces elsewhere to provide the gory details.

So what I wanted to write about here is the most interesting thing of all but has been little noticed. Even the candidates for the leadership of the SNP have conceded that Scotland is not going to be independent,, at least in the foreseeable future.

What? I hear you cry. All three of them said at the conclusion of one of the TV debates that they were confident Scotland would be independent within five years. And indeed they did. But they were lying. Not to persuade anybody in the wider electorate but to appeal to the apparently eternally gullible membership of the SNP. Or at least what is left of them. Scotland is not going to be independent

For look not at that momentary answer, look at what they are actually saying. Both of the candidates with any chance of winning are conceding that the only way to secure independence is by way of a referendum. And accepting that needs the consent of the Westminster. Which they do not have and in current circumstance are unlikely ever to have, even if the Party in power at Westminster changes hands in the Autumn of 2024. Now, admittedly they assert that Westminster could not defy clearly expressed majority demand for a second referendum and, for what it is worth, I agree with that. Indeed Michael Gove and (I think) Alister Jack have said as much. But, frankly, that is not going to happen any time soon. And they know it.

Since 2016, the SNP have had the most fortuitous set of circumstances: Brexit; chaos at Westminster; Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss!!!!! as Prime Minister on the one hand and the Queenly Nicola, Our Lady of the Pandemic, on the other, with the bonus of only having a sporadically competent opposition. Yet the dial has not moved. Indeed the only occasion recently where Yes led in a few polls in a row was during the BBC's usual ludicrously anglocentric coverage of the World Cup. A quadrennial event that turns a fair bit of Scotland in to 90 minute nationalists.

So, why should that more consistent stasis change?  Ms Forbes thinks it might if the SNP could run Holyrood more competently. It might indeed but that is a long term project before it would show any results. And, even if achieved, raise questions as why it hadn't happened before. Useless, showing his well earned reputation for hard work and attention to detail, thinks it might change just because it might. 

So, in truth, there will be no pressure of public opinion on the Westminster Government to concede another referendum and no prospect of them doing that without that pressure. So, Scotland is not going be independent.

Now what does that mean in the world of politics? Well, I think that depends on who wins. If it is Ms Forbes, who I believe to be sincere in her desire to improve the quality of Government, the public might just be prepared to give her a chance. If it is Useless, I suspect it would be carnage at the 2024 polls and his probable demise before the end of that year. Only, in the latter case, for any successor to have the same problem.

But that's not really my point. My point is that the issue of whether Scotland imminently is going to become independent, which, with the assistance of a press with a vested interest in that "possibility", has dominated Scottish politics for ten years has been settled. It is not.