Thursday, 30 June 2011

Been a bit quiet on the blogging front.  Partly this is because there has been a bit less to blog (is that a verb?  Does it conjugate ? Blogo, blogare: to write nonsense publicly to a very small audience?)  

But mainly it’s been because I’ve been busy at my work. And next week I’ll be busier still when my trainee goes on holiday, ungrateful wretch that she is. Does she not appreciate the career opportunity I have availed her of? Not only is she now expecting to be paid, she is expecting perks as well!

“Who’d be an employer?” as Mr Gradgrind so tellingly observed.

Anyway, enough of this whimsy.

I never did make it to Inverclyde, by way of the new M74 or otherwise, so the big events of the week have completely passed me by. As I write however I believe both are likely to be a success. Turnout is the key.

I’m going to write instead about Labour Hame. Tom Harris issued a mild reproach for my swearing when,  writing on a previous occasion about some of my fellow columnists, I described  them as right wing b............... (I won’t repeat the offence in the hope he’ll publish this.) I did try to persuade him that (the word) was a term of affection but I’m not sure he believed me. The point I was making however was that approaching the same set of circumstances from different political directions we had arrived at the same conclusions.

One of the reasons we lost in May was because we were living in the past.

Since my article for Labour Hame there have been others I would wholeheartedly endorse. Tom writes that if we wish to help those who are looking for a job we need to secure the votes of those who are already in secure employment: I agree. Graeme Downie (who, since I don’t know him, may or may not be right wing b............) says that we need to win over, rather than deride, former (and current) Lib Dems: I agree. But the most perceptive comment comes, almost in passing, from Beth Greene.

most people phone the council and end up speaking to a variety of people without resolution to their problem

Labour has been in power in Scotland for so long that we have become synonomous with Local Government. Many of my Councillor colleagues complain that the ineptitude of the local Council is visited on them even when the Council is actually controlled by the SNP!

The problem is that for most people Local Government is synonomous with inefficiency, bureaucracy and, in consequence, an inability to resolve their problems. As Beth says.

I wrote myself, while defending the Council Tax, that Local Government was not as efficient as Tesco. Even writing on a lefty website, to presumably a lefty audience, no-one demurred. Why however do we take that as a given?

Well partly because we take as gospel that any compulsory redundancy in Local Government, or indeed anywhere in the public sector, has to be beyond the pale. Why?  Surely the people who pay council tax, or any other tax, do so in the expectation of receiving a service in return, not as part of an involuntary contribution to a job creation programme. It may be heretical, although I can’t perceive why, but people who do not actually provide a service to the public are not in fact public servants. 

Progress is progress. We no longer require fettlers, lamplighters, or shorthand typists, essential though these trades once were. As the world moved on, so had to they. Why should we be defending the rights and privileges of layers of time servers in public sector middle management when in the private sector new technology has made these positions, in the proper sense, redundant? And, more so, why do went insist on these rights and privileges when they are invariably  enjoyed at the expense of a new generation anxious to work and to contribute to society but unable to secure any form of employment? And why, by tolerating voluntary but not compulsory redundancy, do we agree to those capable of alternative employment  leaving  (with a wad of our money) while those incapable exercise their right to continue to be employed at our expense?

It’s great no longer having to consider your words with a view to climbing the greasy pole of Labour Party advancement. It frees you to say what you think.

Next I might comment on another hidden heresy: Tom’s willingness to use the phrase “those..............who want to work”.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

John Lamont is entitled to a hearing

Sometimes you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. It is no secret that I was a vocal critic of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill. Nonetheless, as the First Minister observed, he had the votes to put it through and it is to his credit that, albeit late in the day, he listened to the chorus of dissent, not just from the opposition in Parliament but in the wider community, and decided to think again. We are in new political territory with one party having an absolute majority and no revising chamber. It would be a mistake for Labour to gloat, for if we are to have any influence over the next five years we will have to depend on persuading the Government to change their mind and triumphalism when that is achieved will only make such changes of course less likely.

My purpose here however is not to pour over the politics of what happened but rather to look at the inadequate process through which the Scottish Parliament operates, choosing this episode only as an example. And to comment on some of the tangential issues arising.

When the Presiding Officer called Roseanna Cunningham to move the procedural motion to treat the Bill as emergency legislation, her last words before the Minister started were “You have three minutes.” Paul Martin, moving the direct negative was given two. No matter what one thought of the Bill, this was absurd. There were cogent arguments on both side but neither could properly be articulated within such a tight time frame. As the debate continued, speaker after speaker was clearly constrained by the time limits within the Standing Orders required them to operate: having to curtail their remarks; being unable to take, or properly respond to interjections, simply running out of time. Now this would have been bad enough if the reason was that they were dealing with emergency legislation but in fact this is the way the Parliament operates all the time. It’s not good enough.

When the Scottish Parliament was first set up there is no greater illustration of the extent that Labour had not realised the full extent of our achievement than the ludicrous Standing Orders we decided it was to operate under. Never mind the task with which it was charged, the primary objective was not to create a Parliament to serve the needs of Scotland but rather a Parliament to reflect the personal prejudices of the first intake of Labour MSPs.  The Parliament was to be family friendly and there was to be no penalty on the inarticulate so, no matter the circumstance, debates were to last no more than a couple of hours; back bench speeches restricted to no more than six minutes and everybody had to able to get the 5.30 train back to Glasgow. Further, so long as any school, anywhere in Scotland, was on holiday, the Parliament was not to sit. These are rules more appropriate to a debating society than to a National Parliament. A debating society being what too many in the Labour Party hoped was all that we were creating. 

When the Westminster Parliament had its much publicised debate on the Third Reading of the Scotland Bill, Stuart Hosie spoke for 41 minutes. You don’t have to agree with him to acknowledge that he needed every one of these to present what was a detailed and complex argument. Similarly detailed and complex argument is needed in every Parliament and it has to be realised that the price of good government has, sometimes, to be borne by the personal lives of those chosen to serve there. If the need to change the law on football disorder was a genuine emergency then the Parliament should have sat beyond five o’clock to enable proper debate. And if the legislation needed to be in place in a window starting with the reconvening of the Parliament on 11th May and ending with the start of the Football season on  by 23rd July then a good starting point might have been to concede that everyone shouldn’t then  be shooting off on holiday on 30th June.  

We are about to debate great issues in relation to the future constitutional future of Scotland. It serves the interests of no-one, other than the personal comfort of MSPs, for these debates to take place in such a constrained and intellectually inadequate framework.

Which leads me to my second point, which is the most controversial speech made in the debate by John Lamont for the Tories. Mr Lamont suggested, with reference to his personal history, that one of the factors behind the polarisation of west/central Scotland was the division of children along denominational lines from the moment they enter Primary School. The reaction from the other Parties, indeed from within his own Party, could not have been more outraged if he had suggested the free circulation of crack cocaine. This simply illustrated  the fundamental dishonesty of current Scottish politics. One of the factors behind the polarisation of west/central Scotland is the divided school system. It is not the only factor but Mr Lamont did not say it was. And that unintended by-product of denominational schooling does not mean that denominational schools should be abolished but again that was not a proposal Mr Lamont made. He simply suggested that it was a contributory factor that had to be recognised.

Now, I am not a Roman Catholic but I have always been a defender of Catholic Schools because it has always seemed to me that in a free society people should be entitled to a choice when deciding how their children should be educated but I have always recognised that this is not a consequence free situation, as indeed are any number of other policy choices.

The smoking ban was a flagship achievement of Labour’s time in office but it has to be recognised that an unintended by-product has been an increase in people drinking at home, rather than in the pub and that in consequence they are drinking more, because its cheaper and measures are not......measured.

The decision by the SNP to keep open local A&Es meant people had a shorter distance to an emergency hospital but, bluntly, if they were seriously ill, also meant they were less likely to receive state of the art treatment when they got there.

I would have had (some) more time for our knife crime policy at the last election if we had at least recognised that it would have led to a number of abused women and misguided have a go heroes doing six months pokey but been prepared to defend that as the price of the wider objective. (Actually, this is not the best example as it assumes the policy was coherent, which it clearly wasn’t.)

I could however go on to list any number of other examples but my main objective is simply to point out the extent to which the current climate in Scottish politics assumes that some policies, particularly policies such as denominational schooling (or free personal care) which have all Party support, are deemed to enjoy, simply in consequence of that support, the virtue of having no downside. Worse still, those who might try to question that conclusion are treated as if they have no place in civilised company. That’s not the basis for good government. Indeed its not even the basis for a properly functioning democracy.

Which leads me to my final point which is that too often a similar mindset exists within the Scottish Labour  Party itself.  The Scottish Party’s attitude to choice in schooling is immovable in two things. Children can choose to go to a non-denominational school or denominational school. But, unless their parents can pay, they must go to a school run by the local authority. Now, one of the interesting reactions to Mr Lamont’s speech was the spokesman for the Catholic Church drawing attention to how many non-catholic children now go to Catholic schools. This is undoubtedly true. The reason for it is because the parents of these children have looked at what is on offer and made a choice to send their children there. There are many reasons for this but undoubtedly among  the factors are that catholic schools have a reputation both for better discipline and a greater commitment to the comprehensive principle that no child should be abandoned to ignorance or allowed to behave as if they were superior to their fellow students.

Now, many of my teaching friends will argue that this perception is unfair on the non-denominational sector but few would argue that it is not a perception that has wide currency.  My point is however this. If we defend that particular choice, why are we so opposed to other choices that parents might want to make for their children’s education; particularly the choice to choose a school not run directly by the local authority? The crucial issue is surely not bureaucratic structure but quality of education and standard of result.

So, let’s stop looking down our noses at some of the innovations Labour tried down South. They may not be applicable to Scottish circumstance; they may even not produce the results claimed for them but they are surely worthy of debate.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

God Save the Queen

All political Parties have some dodgy history but it has been particularly ironic to see the heirs of Arthur Donaldson and Douglas Young stir themselves into a state of faux  hysteria over Iain Davidson’s description of their behaviour as neo-fascist. Mind you, I am also a great believer in correct terminology and will undoubtedly try to persuade Iain when we next meet that the correct categorisation was surely post-fascist.  

Yesterday’s news cycle was however an interesting  illustration of the sophistication of the current SNP media machine. If there has been a worse performance by a minister before a Scottish Parliamentary Committee than Roseanna Cunningham’s outing yesterday then it has passed me by. Now Roseanna isn’t a stupid person but even she couldn’t make a coherent case for this wholly unnecessary piece of legislation, unnecessary not because sectarianism  does not need addressed but rather because, as I said last week, the existing law is more than adequate to the necessary task while the attempt to “improve” it has left us in the farcical situation where the Lord Advocate has to correct the Junior Justice Minister’s suggestion that you might get five years in the jail for singing the National anthem!

The political wolves were circling until suddenly an obscure Parliamentary exchange at Westminster was pushed to the forefront of political discourse not by virtue of its newsworthiness  but by the emphasis the Nats put into persuading the media  that this, rather than a particularly incoherent  example of the actual “Government” of Scotland was the issue of the hour. All credit to them.

Somebody did after all say that successful  government was 10% achievement and 90% presentation but, since that person was Achille Starace, Mussolini’s Party Secretary, I am happy to take the Nats at their word that this forms no part of their current  thinking.  

Meanwhile, our own Party’s thinking shows some genuine signs of life.

John McTernan and Eric Joyce are right wing bastards. Even in these desperate days, I see no need for our Party breaking its historic predeliction for being rude to each other. I was therefore intensely irritated to find myself nodding vigorously in assent  with much in each of their  recent articles for Labour Hame. For the record, I should say that I still think John is quite wrong, both in principle and in electoral result, when he suggests that  we continue to politicise criminal justice policy , while Eric is wrong about..............well, nothing particularly in this article but since I never entirely agree with him I must have missed something.

It was a strategic error for Labour last month to try to match the SNP’s spending promises and Tax freezes. Until we did, there was an appreciation in Scotland that there was no such thing as a free lunch. Suddenly, it appeared that the people of Scotland’s instincts were being denied not only by the current administration, who at least had the fall back position that if it had to be paid for it was only because we were not living in the Nirvana of an independent Scotland, but also by the Labour Party. I still have no idea how Iain Gray expected to pay for continued free higher education; free personal care; free prescription charges; free bus travel for the over sixties; a national living wage in the public sector;  no A&E rationalisation;  the Glasgow Airport rail link...............oh, and a three year Council Tax freeze as well, not to mention any number of smaller promises. When I say I had no idea, actually he had no idea and Scotland had no idea; it simply added to the impression that this was a Party not really serious about Government. The only savings we proposed were “efficiency savings” but even these were to be achieved without any compulsory redundancies!

Now, you will say, the SNP promised all these things as well, and more, and they won. True. But they had two other factors on their side: firstly, by disguising the fact that this had been delivered during the previous four years through a benign public spending cycle, they created the impression that they might carry off this act of prestidigination for a longer period but, secondly, they knew that when the train did  hit the buffers they, at least,  would have somebody to blame, the evil Tory English “Bankers”. Indeed it would positively suit their agenda to do so. We had no such fall back position, so these were promises that we should not have made in the first place, or at least not all of them.

It was Nye Bevan (more, I suspect my type of Labour politician than John’s or Eric’s) who said that the language of priorities was the religion of socialism. So let’s start preaching that religion once again. I do believe that a different attitude to education pervades between Scotland and England. It is for us a right and not a privilege. So let’s make that a priority but let’s not pretend it’s free. And let’s recognise the equal Scottish tradition that those with an education should put their learning back at the disposal of society  and to help others to follow them. The difference between tuition fees and the Graduate Endowment is not and was not an academic one. And the return of the graduate endowment to enable our great universities to enjoy the public subsidy required to enable them to continue to function properly, without tuition fees, is an argument we should have been prepared to make.  It is absurd that we are maintaining that those fit and well enough to work beyond sixty should nonetheless be entitled to travel about on free buses , picking up free medication on route,  even if their ultimate destination is a day’s work  as senior partner of a blue chip Edinburgh Law firm. And, local government does an essential job: it educates our children, looks after us in our dotage, empties our bins, cuts the grass in our parks and protects from any number of environmental risks. Sure, it might not do so as efficiently as Tesco, but even at Tesco prices do go up. It was an act of monumental cowardice for us not to be prepared to make that argument.

So, starting point for our policy rethink? Money does not grow on trees. It wouldn’t in an independent Scotland, where, in very small print indeed, the SNP themselves concede there would still be a deficit to be addressed, and it certainly won’t in devolved Scotland over the next five years. It will be difficult for us to credibly advance the “We told you so” argument, given that we didn’t, but that’s nonetheless where we need to go. Better late than never. 

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Scottish Labour Party is irrelevant to the Government of Scotland. Not for ever but for the moment. Iain Gray did well at First Minister’s questions on Thursday but the guy who was never truly Tomorrow’s First Minister is now indubitably Yesterday’s man. Real Scottish Politics is all about the Governing Party;  they set, or at least create the agenda.  Last week, they did so as a result of the First Minister’s ill advised and intemperate attack on the legal profession and the independent judiciary. I suspect they will do so  in the week to come as we watch the unravelling  of their ill thought out sectarianism legislation, which, insofar as it doesn’t simply declare to be against the law activity which is patently against the law already, otherwise accidently criminalises freedom of expression. and makes singing “Sheep shagging bastards” at Aberdeen Fans; “All hibees are gay” at Hibernian fans or (my personal predeliction) “soapdodging bastards” at Morton Fans, offences  punishable by five years imprisonment. In the last case, even truth would not be an defence. Now that is offensive. I expected better of Roseanna.

(Such is the sometimes hysterical nature of Scottish politics, at this stage I feel obliged to  point out to the cybernats that this is not, truly, a “prominent member of the Labour Party” suggesting that the residents of Inverclyde are deficient in their personal hygiene. It is a reference to an (sarcastic)  chant sung by supporters of Renfrewshire’s premier club, particularly at the annual County Cup Final.  And while I’m at it is only right that I concede my view that, when the Morton Fans respond in kind, they do so without genuinely believing that all of the residents of Paisley are dependent on Diamorphine.)

However, this blog is not an arbitrary reflection on events and this misconceived legislation is more than capable of falling apart without my assistance. Rather my own purpose is aimed at trying to assist the Scottish Labour Party. And one of the first things any Party needs is a leader.

So where are we now in that process? Well, so far, we don’t yet have any agreement as to the vacancy which will exist when Iain goes; as to who should then be entitled to vote in the contest to succeed him or even as to what the winner’s task should be once elected. We are in a state of complete disarray; that, ironically, is the one matter on which we are all agreed.

Now, I have previously suggested that we should reach a temporary fix by simply electing a leader of the Labour Holyrood group. Suffice to say, this does not seem to be a proposal which is finding favour. “The Party” apparently needs a leader because such is the inadequacy of the activist layer, only a leader can “force through” the necessary changes. Quite who these changes are being resisted by is less clear. It appears to be “them”. Them being those whose current stewardship of the Scottish Party has proved to be such an unparalleled success.

Anyway, it appears from my various contacts that the need for a leader is something which must be taken as a given. A bit like 1920s Italy.

So, what is this person to lead?  It appears to be one of the few of the areas of limited agreement that it should be the whole of the Scottish Labour Party. I concur, pausing only to observe that this must then include those who represent the Party at Westminster. All of them.

And who should select that leader?  The current electoral  college is a farce. It might just be possible to justify a situation whereby the elected members section was reserved to those elected to Holyrood, or even  open to all elected members, including councillors, but a section which will, under current circumstance, give Westminster MPs a majority share in who should represent us in the Holyrood Parliament couldn’t make it up. And it will become more farcical still if some, but not all, MPs voluntarily excuse themselves from the process.

As for the Trade Union section.......... well, as somebody recently said, he who pays the piper calls the tune. But this set up is a hang over from a different age. I simply don’t have time to analyse the numerous ways in which it is now an anachronism. Suffice to say, it is.

No, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be elected by the members of the Scottish Labour Party. That we need a lot more of these members, many of whom should be drawn from Trade Union activists, is a longer term project, although one I would hope the Leader would regard as a priority. But more on that at another time.

So, what should the leader’s task be? It should be first and last, to sort out the Scottish Labour Party. It should not even start to be positioning themselves  to be a challenger for First Minister in Five Years time. There is a film in which somebody, I can’t remember if its Mel Gibson or John Travolta, is struck by lightining and transformed from a car mechanic into a nuclear physicist. Perhaps one of those potentially standing as candidates  will have a similar experience. That certainly appears to be our best hope, if selecting a First ministerial challenger is what we are determined on at this time. There are some good new  people in the Group. But none who could stand credibly within months of first being elected. And there are simply none of the survivors who have all, or even most, of the necessary attributes. There, I’ve said it.

But there are those who do have the right ideas about what needs to be sorted out and who could do a perfectly competent caretaker job while that was accomplished. So whoever is prepared to put themselves forward on that basis will get my support.

Now, that implies a later contest to select a candidate for First Minister. I will return as to how and when that might be organised.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

In Defence of the Rule of Law

Turns out I’m famous. Apparently Eck mentioned me in Parliament today as one of the people who supports him on being opposed to the encroachment of the Supreme Court into Scots criminal law. And that’s true, up to a point.

I always knew that my blog had just the one follower but I never guessed it would turn out to be the First Minister.

The point he misses however is this. There was a time that the SNP was significantly hampered by the manner in which they pursued their own case. Anyone is entitled to believe in Scottish Independence, it always has been a perfectly legitimate aim. But many, too many, in the SNP in the past advanced their argument in language that had no place in a civilised discourse. Not only was Scotland a nation with an entitlement to self determination (which it is, if it wants) but once that  independence had been achieved, they asserted that it would prove to be one particularly blessed in the world:  with citizenry of unique wisdom and sagacity; unparalleled natural beauty and indigenous resource, and a special place in the affections of the Almighty. And the weather would be better as well. And anybody who disagreed with that was a traitor.

The actual people of Scotland didn’t like or believe that. So they didn’t vote SNP.

One of the great achievements of Salmond’s stewardship of the SNP has been to change that rhetoric and, having done that, albeit thanks in no small part to the incompetence of my own Party, electoral success has followed.

Many, and I include myself in this, believed that this might be a genuine change in attitude. That we did indeed have to come to terms with the fact that there was now another social-democratic party in Scotland and that the only real difference between us was a genuine disagreement as to the best constitutional future for Scotland. A sort of left wing version of the politics of the Republic of Ireland.

It was against that background that I was genuinely shocked with the terms of the First Minister’s Holyrood interview. 

To be honest, had I not been assured that the interview took place in the morning, I might have suspected that he’d been drinking. It reads like Nigel Farage crossed with Mel Gibson with a Scottish version of Al Murray, the pub landlord mixed in. “.............and another thing...............what about that Tony Kelly”. 

(I made that last quote up but I didn’t make up the quote “When the Human Rights Act was stuck into the Scotland Act....”  Stuck into! Or indeed his claim that his, hand picked, committee, eminent though they are, are in his opinion “of more prestige than Lord Hope” a judgement in which, even if he was qualified to make it, would be undermined by the fact that he is hardly an )

His remarks are not a reasoned defence of Scottish legal and constitutional particularism, with which, I once again emphasise, I personally sympathise; it is a rant, and an arrogant rant at that.  At the risk of a mixed metaphor, the mask has slipped and we have learned that what has changed is not the nationalist product but simply its marketing. Despite its personalised nature, it is not an attack on Lord Hope, or even indeed the unlikely duo of Lord Hope and Tony Kelly, it is an attack on the very rule of law itself and of the necessity in a democracy of politicians being constrained in their actions by an independent legal system and an independent judiciary.  It proceeds on the assumption that while such safeguards might be necessary in every other civilised society, they are superfluous to requirements in a perfect country like Scotland.

When the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (effectively the Supreme Court under a previous title), first adjudicated on a Scottish Criminal Appeal brought on ECHR grounds, the Court itself expressed some doubt as to its jurisdiction. That issue was only conclusively closed off when the Crown appealed a decision it didn’t like in Scotland to the Judicial Committee. And the SNP said nothing, nothing at all, not because they were short of lawyers in their upper ranks and thus ignorant of what was happening, but rather because they agreed with the ultimate result. That has, I believe, led to a slippage in which we are in danger of creating a routine second  level of appeal in criminal cases but there is a widespread recognition of the need to sort that out and indeed Jim Wallace has published proposals to do just that.

The real issue here is however a much more sinister one. In his acceptance speech after the recent election the First Minister spoke of the SNP having a monopoly of power but not a monopoly of wisdom. That is not the tone of his Holyrood interview and in light of its contents  there will be more than me grateful that thanks to our continued membership of the United Kingdom; of  the European Union (another membership I note some of Mr Salmond’s back benchers, at least, have started to publicly question)and of the ECHR,  Mr Salmond does not truly have a monopoly of power either.

I finish by a few words of appreciation for Lord Hope. I don’t always agree with him but he is one of Scotland’s greatest post war judges and a distinguished member of our highest court, while I am just a wee legal aid lawyer from Cumbernauld....... so I’m sure he can live with my dissent.  Let’s not forget however that Mr Salmond is just somebody who thanks to the ineptitude of his opponents has won one election. If he carries on like this I am confident he won’t do so again. And I’m sure Lord Hope can live with his dissent as well in the meantime.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

I Hate England

In my Kitchen I have a framed gigantic poster. It refers to a demonstration held on  June 12th 1988 by the Scottish Committee of the Anti-apartheid movement under the then ubiquitous slogan: “Free Nelson Mandela.”

It was a wonderful day, when the sun shone from start to finish, and a great demo, not repeated in my experience until the day we all marched against Blair’s Iraq War.

But it was also memorable for another reason. This was a pre-internet age, so, although we were all aware of another important event happening at the same time we were largely isolated from it. When we all finally arrived at Glasgow Green there was a man with a portable radio plugged into his ear who was the subject of repeated approaches, mine among them. “Don’t worry”, he assured his interlocutors, “Ireland are winning one nothing”. In my memory at least he added the further endorsement “It could be a perfect day.”

For, on that very afternoon, somewhere in Sweden, the Republic of Ireland were beating, indeed did beat, England in the European Championship.

Now, let’s analyse this exchange. We were on a demonstration about events in Southern Africa; we were at a time when many of the marchers likely took the view that the demand for a Scottish Parliament was a diversion from the class struggle and we were among a lefty audience, many of whom probably took the view that football took too important a place in our culture. Not for a minute however did the respondent doubt that the news that England were being beaten would add to his questioner’s joy of occasion.


Well partly because all small countries resent their larger neighbours: The New Zealanders support anybody, in any circumstance, against the Australians; as the Dutch against the Germans but then again last Summer the only two Countries rooting for a Spanish defeat in the World Cup Final were the Dutch themselves.....and the Portugese.

But also because there is a particular feature of Sports coverage in this Country where more culturally sensitive politicians cede the moment to the Alan Partridges of this world. "We" does not include me, despite my being televisually addressed in that manner, our boys are not my boys and I am not alone in resenting that while it is appreciated that not all Liverpool  Fans might be heartbroken when Manchester United are outclassed by Barcelona, there is no appreciation that there might be a similar sentiment north of the border when the Germans fourth goal went in last Summer.

To quote from Monty Python however, that is no basis for a system of Government. If Scotland was Independent, English coverage of their own national team be unlikely to become less  partisan. We simply wouldn’t haven’t to listen to it. Unfortunately however the actual performance of our own national team would not get any better.

I was prompted to write this tonight by watching Spain against England in the European under 21 championship and having to listen to the commentary but earlier on I saw the final instalment of Fergal Keane’s history of Ireland. Now Ireland’s relationship with England is quite different from Scotland’s but those who would make that comparison would be well to listen to the words of Sean Lemass, speaking, in the early sixties as to  how, forty years on from 1921, the idea that Independence itself would solve all of Ireland’s problems had proved, over time, to be wholly illusory.

That is nonetheless the proposition that is being sold to the people of Scotland today.

While it is an end that I would in no sense advocate, is there little doubt that a United Kingdom team would have contested more than one World Cup final? Or that if Denis Law had scored a  hat-trick in the process  that we wouldn’t be too bothered by the technicality  that the second goal hadn’t actually crossed the line?

I say this only to highlight that there is a downside to independence, on the football field as it would be in the real world. But at least on the football field we get to hate England as a consolation. 

It would, I fear, be less consolation in the real world..

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Michael Moore is a Numpty

Michael Moore is a numpty. The Scottish one that is. William Hague can’t have a “personal opinion”  about British Foreign policy or Theresa May about immigration. Equally, Mr Moore, as Scottish Secretary has no business expressing personal opinions about matters under his Ministerial brief.

That’s not however why he is a numpty, or at least not the only reason.

Let’s be honest. The SNP never anticipated having a majority in the Scottish Parliament to enable them to call a referendum.  Since they found themselves in the fortuitous (!) position to be able to do so they have been running full tilt away from it.

Firstly ,they declare that maybe even they now might not be in favour of Scottish Independence but only of “Independence lite” (whatever that is). Then they suggest the referendum might have more than one question (Such as “Should Walter Smith have stayed on as Rangers manager?” for example?). Finally they announce that it was never their intention to hold a referendum  immediately anyway. It is this last which is then most absurd. Their official position is that, when they didn’t have a majority in the last Parliament, there should have been a referendum (held long since) but now that they do have a majority there is no rush.

Presumably Eck and his colleagues joined the SNP believing that the sooner Scotland was independent the better. Have they changed their view about that? Is it now their view that independence in 2009 would have been for the good of the nation while in 2011 the nation’s interests are best served by the continuation of the Union? If so, not only have they kept quiet about it but they have failed to explain how, if they had succeeded in 2009 they would then have, almost immediately, been campaigning to put matters back together, at least until 2014.

No, the reason that we are not having an immediate referendum is that the SNP know they would lose. That is all the more reason for Mr Moore to have kept his personal opinions to himself.

To the best of my knowledge no-one asked him for his personal opinion, or any other kind of opinion but in blundering into this debate he has done three things: he has created the impression that he (at least) does not respect the right of the Scottish people  to self-determination; he has created the impression that might be some uncertainty as to the outcome of a referendum held on an honest question and he has simply added to the SNP’s desire to be seen as having an unstoppable momentum which could only be stopped by underhand means.

I’m reluctant therefore to give Mr Moore any further encouragement but, I suppose, you can’t unbreak the egg, so here goes in terms hopefully even he will understand.

Whether or not there is a referendum, normal politics will go on. If there was a referendum in 2014 and the SNP lose they won’t disappear and they won’t stop believing in independence. Certainly they will experience a period of internal party turmoil, they might even split, but at the next Scottish Election there will be some sort of Party still advocating Scottish Independence as soon as possible. So, equally, even if by some as yet unforseeable circumstance, a referendum on an unambiguous question (“Do you believe Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become a completely independent sovereign nation?”, for example), was to produce an affirmative result, Unionist Parties will not go away. They would continue to fight subsequent elections seeking a mandate for the continuation of the Union, and if they won, at any point before independence was a reality, that’s what would happen because no one would have any kind of mandate for anything else.

This is not an academic point. Even die-hard independistas recognise that the dissolution of a political and economic union built up over three hundred years would not be accomplished overnight. There is much talk of the national debt but there are any number of other issues. Public sector pensions, anybody? Who has responsibility for guaranteeing the pension of the civil servant who worked all their days at St Andrew’s House but who has now retired to the Isle of Wight (or Marbella)? Division of military assets? If we don’t want any nuclear submarines, should the English nonetheless compensate us for taking “our share” off our hands? Shareholdings in the temporarily nationalised banks? Would it be OK if RBS was still owned mainly by a foreign government?

These, and literally thousands of other issues will require line by line negotiation and, with a referendum in 2014, these hypothetical negotiations would never be concluded by the next Scottish elections in 2016. And if a unionist party won that election, they would then stop. There is no more obvious example than that the SNP are not really serious about independence. An early referendum might just allow them time to conclude these negotiations before requiring a further popular mandate but, then again, they know better than anybody that an early referendum, even held at the apogee of their electoral pomp, and on a question of their choosing, would be lost by a country mile. So we should all calm down; not least Mr Moore.

There are however two other important points. The first is that a referendum held on another question is patently not a mandate for anything other than the matter referred to in the question put. Some sort of absurd “Do you think the Scottish Government should talk to the Westminster Government about Independence and see how they get on?” question would be a mandate only to expend a whole lot of hot air and public money.
The second is however this. Sovereignty in this matter does lie with the Scottish people. Notwithstanding the terms of the statutory restrictions in the Scotland Act and (with the greatest of respect to him) the decision of Lord President Rodger in Whalley v Watson,  (a decision the SNP welcomed!) that is nonetheless  the constitutional position, in so far as that is possible to determine in the context of an unwritten constitution. It formed the basis of the Claim of Right (both times!) but also the unanimous view of the Court of Session in McCormick v The Lord Advocate.

If there is a genuine popular majority for independence then we will know it when we see it. The SNP would by the have had to have won a referendum on some sort of question and then a second Scottish Parliament election where they have expressly sought endorsement for their interpretation of that result. The idea that an insistence thereafter that some sort of second referendum might yet hold the line for the union is not just constitutionally unnecessary, it is politically illusory.

And I’m still annoyed with Michael Moore for requiring me to have to write about this at all.

Monday, 6 June 2011


Thanks to Tom Harris, who I knew when he was, if not exactly a boy, a very young reporter on the Paisley Daily Express, I am now posting on the new LabourHame Website, to which I commend my one follower.

This is my first venture in that new capacity

"So, Tom Harris and a few like minded souls set up this website and I essentially force my contributions upon them. The problem then is what to say. That’s not a meaningless observation. The interesting thing in the post election period has been how so many people from diverse lefty corners of the blogosphere have been so quick to come to the same conclusions as to the reasons for our defeat. Obviously, there are the exceptions, still trotting or blairing out the old mantras that it was because we weren’t left wing enough or right wing enough. Good luck to them. There however seems to be a remarkable consensus elsewhere that the true reasons were that we weren’t positive enough; competent enough or Scottish enough.

Hopefully, if LabourHame flourishes, it will be in the development of how these shortcomings might be overcome. So that’s where I’d like to start.

Having been given the opportunity of a wider audience, I don’t intend to use it simply to repeat what I’ve already said on my rather sad and lonely personal blog. Those interested can click on the link. Rather, I’d like to address what we might mean by positive.

As a political project, the Labour Party has been a success. Neil Kinnock probably expressed this best when he asked rhetorically why he was the first Kinnock for a thousand years to go to University but there are any number of other examples: people no longer endure serious illness for want of the resources to seek medical treatment; generally, they no longer live in substandard housing or, indeed, enjoy no career opportunity other than that followed by their fathers and their fathers’ fathers. These are our achievements. But it is neither enough in modern times to expect the electorate to support us for fear that such days will return or indeed expect them to support us out of simple gratitude for battles won long before they were alive. I live in a mining area. There are people here who would never vote anything but Labour, as the Party that nationalised the mines, but they are all now over eighty. A majority of the electors, even here, have never seen a coal mine other than on the telly, never mind enjoy an appreciation of what nationalisation meant.

The Scottish Labour Party took a particular perverse pride in never being entirely signed up to the new Labour project but in reality we benefited from it. Patently, we got votes in 1997 that we had not secured in 1992, let alone 1983. I’ve never liked Blair but anybody who suggests that the victory (at least in ‘97) was “despite him” is, frankly, deranged. We also, however,  benefited at that moment from a peculiarly Scottish phenomenum; that Labour in Scotland had become not just the Party of the working class but also, very much, of the educated middle class. Donald Dewar, John Smith, Sam Galbraith, Gordon Brown and any number of others were people who could have been successful, indeed already had been successful, in life without ever having been involved in politics. And who could, in that capacity, have been our colleagues, even our friends. They made it respectable to be a Labour supporter, not incompatible with personal success and, coupling that with their commitment to a Scottish Parliament, allowed Labour to become the national party of Scotland, as it undoubtedly was for the next  ten years.

The problem was that at the same time there was an alternative narrative, and a seductive one, that all of this was because Scotland was a naturally more left wing country than England. It is not.

The demography of Scotland undoubtedly gave it strongholds of organised Labour in greater proportion than those South of the Border (although not, it should be noticed, in Wales). And there always was the inheritance of the Scottish enlightenment, indeed of  Scottish Reformation, whereby there was a liberally inclined middle class with a particular commitment to education with whom it was possible for these strongholds to make common cause.

Nonetheless, Scots were always and have always been economically aspirational in their personal lives. Until the mid seventies, at least, achievement of that aspiration, or even the possibility of that achievement, was regarded as incompatible with continued allegiance to the Labour Party. That was behind the first (“It’s Scotland’s Oil”) surge of the SNP, reflected particularly in the strength of that wave in the new towns. Moving out meant moving up. And moving up meant (politically) moving on.

Now, leftist critics will say, the SNP threw this pearl away by voting to bring down the Labour government in 1979, suddenly revealing to these aspirational voters, that they had been the victim of a “false consciousness” and returning them “back home”. But that is only half the story. The SNP undoubtedly imploded in 1979 but, while Labour did recover, so, indeed so much more so, did the Scottish Tories. And one suspects the latter did so not just because their supporters realised that the SNP were “serious” about independence (and thus therefore not to be trusted with a tactical, anti-Labour, vote) but also because Thatcherism, in its pre-imperial phase, held a certain attraction for a significant section of the Scottish electorate.

By 1983, things had changed again. In the midst of the disaster of that election, we did, admittedly, do ........... alright .......... but, as the slow collapse of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party began,  the big gainers, even in urban Scotland, were not us but rather the SDP/Liberal alliance. Aspirational voters were still, clearly, unwilling to lend us their support, even as they turned away from the deaf ear Thatcher herself had turned to Scotland.

’87 was different. It is not always the economy, stupid. At the high point of Thatcherism, Scotland and England did undoubtedly start to significantly divide in their voting patterns. While at the time many, myself included, attributed this entirely to the National question, with the benefit of hindsight it is clear not just that Labour had benefited from that feature but also that it had positioned itself to do so.

The swing voters of Scotland had not suddenly, woken up to their working class heritage. For that moment at least, those of us them who wished to move on personally nonetheless felt they had similarly minded compatriots in the higher ranks of Scottish Labour. Because while we might not, even then,  been prepared to say so expressly, our leadership was visible example of that being the case.

So we won, and won big, and for ten or more years, through the creation of the Scottish Parliament and beyond, continued to do so. But our own false history contained within it the seeds of our own destruction.
One of my oldest political allies is Francis Aloysius McAveety, who lost Shettleston on May 5th. Quite literally, a child of the working class east end made good. A guy who rose, thanks to his mother, from a very difficult upbringing to  obtain the Highers to go to University; to become a teacher in his own community; to displace an old and corrupt incumbent to become a Glasgow City Councillor; to then sweep out a discredited regime to become leader of the Council itself. And then to become an MSP.

All the while bringing up a family of his own.

Nonetheless, on 5th May he lost one of our safest seats.

He lost not because of any personal failing but bizarrely because of his own achievements and those of so many of his generation. Because his support for the redevelopment of the east end had made it possible that  people who wanted to get on in their own lives, as Frank had in his, could now do so without leaving the east end, living in the new modern, owner occupied, estates. Estates Frank himself had fought to create. Asked to explain his defeat, Frank himself explains that those who live in these estates, people whose personal life path followed a similar path to Frank’s own, didn’t vote for him. Why? Because for all Labour’s own achievements, in our own rhetoric we portrayed ourselves not as the party who had helped them move on but rather the Party that was concerned only with those left behind.

Now, our Party was set up to help those left behind. But for us to succeed their numbers must inevitably get smaller. That is not a cause for regret, quite the contrary, but it does require us to wake up to the fact that victory at the polls has long since moved on from encompassing the simple ability to sing the old songs to the old audience. All the more so when that song only ever worked  initially when sung in harmony.

Ironically, The SNP are still regarded with some suspicion by the established middle class who have a natural distaste for their more braveheartish features. Thus Labour’s survival in Eastwood. The SNP have however secured a virtual monopoly of aspirational working class and first generation middle class voters. That is not their achievement. To accomplish it they simply had to be “not Labour” while at the same time also being “not the Tories”. On any view, that is our failure.

In developing a positive agenda, how to win back these voters is where we need to start.
So certainly we need to be more competent and more Scottish. But the starting point is to be more positive. It is no accident that so many socialist publications, in so many different languages, bear the common title “Forward!” Let’s get going in that direction."