Thursday, 9 February 2012

In praise of Rob Murray

I am a great twitterer.

I know that will, in itself, cause a sigh among some readers but, actually, the twitter community (ugh!) among Scottish politicos is a great entertainment.

It would be fair to say that it contains few "don't knows" but, generally the terms of discourse are civilised, intelligent, and often very funny.

Nobody, well nobody outside some in the SNP, claims a monopoly of virtue or wisdom. Indeed many of the most telling points are scored against one's own side.

And, although it is, of course, all publicly conducted, it nonetheless contrasts favourably with what passes for political dialogue among our elected representatives.

So it is in that spirit that I write in praise of Rob Murray, Tory bastard though he undoubtedly is.

Why? Because yesterday he contributed a single tweet suggesting that one aspect of the Scottish Government expenditure programme might have been better spent.

His target was "active transport", that's cycle routes and walkways to you and me.

Now, I don't agree with him. He is after all a Tory. Even though, personally, I would only ever walk if I had run out of petrol, or roads, and although I cannot conceive of getting on a bike under any circumstance,  nonetheless I am persuaded that it is a worthy objective to encourage others to do as I say, not as I do.

But, the crucial thing about Rob's intervention is that unique among this micro community, he was prepared to say where money might be saved to be spent elsewhere. Or, he being a Tory, not spent at all.

And that is an almost unknown experience amongst Scottish political commentators.

Labour, convinced that the Tories are cutting "too fast, too deep", hide behind that sentiment to identify every single cut as one which is either "too fast" or "too deep".

The SNP, hiding behind their own assertion that Scotland's deficit is not quite as serious as that of the United Kingdom as a whole, then use that as an excuse to proceed as if an Independent Scotland wouldn't have a deficit at all.

The Greens argue for a no growth strategy while floating various new projects, such as, dare I suggest, more cycle routes and walkways, which, in the absence of growth must surely be funded somehow.

Even the Tories, generally, keep insisting on the magic bean of greater "efficiency".

As for the Libs, well anything would be possible for them, apparently, if they were not held back by their Tory allies.

Actually, as err...........Mrs T.......... famously said, to govern is to choose.

I'm for a much greater degree of financial accountability for both Holyrood and local government. It should be possible at both levels of Government to have the ability to propose the raising of more revenue and to take your chances with the electorate on such a proposition.

But, for what it is worth, I do not for a moment then think that the voters would be content that every current penny is well spent and that the only issue would be how to fund the additional "essential" public expenditure out of their pockets.

So let's have an honest discourse. If, as Labour suggests, and I agree, more money should be spent on colleges, let's say where less money should be spent (useless degrees), or could be raised. (a Graduate Endowment). If, as Labour again suggests, and I agree, local government needs greater resource. let's see where that might be reallocated (to fewer Councils) or levied (in higher Council Tax). If. as Labour suggests and I agree, the living wage is a worthwhile aspiration, let's accept that it might mean a longer pay freeze (at least) for those higher up the tree, even if they are members of affiliated Trade Unions.

These are only challenges for my own Party but there are equal challenges for the other Parties, above all for the SNP, who have singularly failed to realise that the assertion that an independent Scotland will be a land of unlimited milk and honey, is not only untrue but, strategically, not even in their own interest should independence ever be accomplished.

We need a much greater degree of honesty in Scottish public discourse. So, the next time a politician of any Party appears on a public platform to denounce a particular cut or propose a particular initiative, let's insist that their interlocutor(s) demand of them that they explain where they would propose to find the money. And not move on until that question has been answered.

There is. in the end, no such thing as a free lunch. Even if it need not be paid for by sacrificing active transport. Only a Tory would ever argue that.

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