Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Upon the Feast Day of St Andrew

Unlike the English, Welsh or Irish, we've got a proper Saint. Mentioned in the Bible. No harm to the Welsh and the Irish but although their patron Saints were clearly real, and Godly,  people, their Sanctitude clearly depends on the endorsement of the Church of Rome. As for the English: well, let's be honest, who has ever actually seen a dragon?

But St Andrew is a proper Saint. Undisputed before or after 1560. Brother of St Peter (and although no doubt Eck would assert the more distinguished brother, most of us would settle for simply brother). One of the Disciples. As I say, a proper Saint.

I do, however, accept that he may not actually have been born on 30th November. Good though the Romans were at record keeping it is probably unrealistic to hope that this could ever be conclusively be established.

I'm also reasonably certain that he never set foot on Scottish soil. Having been born in the Mediterranean, and benefiting from Divine Guidance, for him to have ended up in Fife would have marked Him out not as a Saint but as an idiot.

Now, how can I write all of the above, I hope at least, reasonably wittily.

Because personal history is important. What you learn through it,  but also how you learn from it. So. as someone brought up (baptised  but not confirmed) in the Church of Scotland, I can pick up the distinction between undisputed Saints and.......others. Pick that up even while I recognise that the most Presbyterian of Ministers will never have referred to (merely) Francis of Assisi.

Religion remains important in much more significant and potentially embarrassing terms than we care to acknowledge.

When I first set up my own business my relationship manager at the Royal Bank (whom henceforward I will call "Shug" provided me with a great deal of assistance. I'd never really worked for myself; being a partner in a larger Firm didn't really count. So. getting the balance right between an initial, and repayable, capital loan and a working overdraft was uncharted territory and Shug undoubtedly helped me to negotiate my way through it.

So, when five years later, Shug told me he was leaving the Bank to set up his own business and asked for my help with the legal work I was only too happy to assist.

Until Christmas.

At Christmas each year my Firm sends, I suppose somewhat cynically, Christmas Cards to our most valued clients. Or at least to those not currently in Barlinnie.

But there was a problem with Shug. Because that wasn't (as you'll already have guessed) his real name. It was, and even now I hesitate to confess this, possible to conclude from his real name (and more reprehensibly still, his skin colour) that he was unlikely to be of a Christian confession. Almost as certainly as it was possible to conclude that Patrick O'Donnell from Croy was unlikely to be unhappy when his Christmas card dropped through the door. Particularly if Our Lady featured prominently.

So, shame on me, Shug's contentious card sat on my desk until Christmas Eve. When we received one from him.

Now, in the West of Scotland, the word "bastard" has a much more complex entymology than a mere reference to the legitimacy of one's parentage. Or even to an actual insult.  And it was in that context that I looked at this particular Christmas card. Thinking that I had no opportunity to reciprocrate. Bastard.

So today is Scotland's day. St Andrew's day. And you don't have to a believer to think that. But you also don't need to dismiss the sentiment/history/theology behind it.

So, as a self professed agnostic....

God bless Scotland.

And God bless St Andrew, our Patron Saint.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Strike

I was brought up and lived the first thirty years of my life in Paisley, Renfrewshire.

Now Paisley has a proud Labour Movement history. It elected it's first Labour MP in 1924; Willie Gallacher, Scotland's first Communist MP was born there; in the late thirties its textile workers gave substantial voluntary support to the textile workers of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. In 1945 we elected Oliver Baldwin, Stanley Baldwin's radical son as our Labour representative and his enforced and protesting departure to the Lords on the death of his father paved the way for Tony Benn twenty years later.

Even as I tentatively entered the political scene in the Seventies, its most important local Union remained the National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers, the organised embodiment of the 30,000 who once worked at the Anchor and Ferguslie Mills.

But, for reasons buried in pre-history geology, Paisley, indeed Renfrewshire was never a mining area.

So when, for work reasons, I moved home to Kilsyth in 1991, I was immediately struck by the extent to which people would talk about "the" strike. Events would be dated as happening before or after the strike. Local Labour politicians judged in relation to their activities during the strike. Above all, there was a sense that, in the aftermath of the strike, a world had been lost forever.

I read recently a well argued blog, with which I personally agree, suggesting that the Left would do well not to be seen to rejoice in the demise of Margaret Thatcher, but I am only too conscious that there are people in this community who, frail old lady that she now is, would happily still strangle her with their own hands.

Why do I say all of this?

On the 30th November we are invited to accept we are to witness an event of similar importance. Only we are not.

The miners strike was about defending a way of life. It was, even in its time, complicated because it was a way of life, working all day in perilous conditions underground, that the miners (and, for once without any sexist connotation, their wives) did not wish for their own children but which was still better than nothing at all. And the alternative offered by the Tories in 1984, was, as it has since proved so often proved to be, nothing at  all.

Now the leaders of next week's strike are men of place and time. For all they enjoy the same first decade of the twenty-first century comforts as the rest of us, they would much rather, in their imagination at least, be organising alongside Lenin at the Smolny Institute; or at least Hugh Scanlon and Jack Jones confronting the Motor Companies of the sixties at Halewood and Dagenham; or, best of all, A.J. Cook and Herbert Smith on 1st May 1926.

Only they are not. The majority, probably the overwhelming majority, of white collar managerial workers striking on Wednesday will actually be striking against the Government they voted for, even if their leaders didn't. Voted for in the knowledge that would bring a lot of misery to a lot of people but who wish, nonetheless, to be personally exempted from the consequences of their own actions. And they will be striking to defend pension rights that the remainder of the workforce could only dream about. (Senior Civil servants pensions involve a 24% contribution, on top of income, from ordinary taxpayers, many of whom will not earn £74,000 in five years, let alone one.)

Now, that does not mean they do not mean they are wrong to strike. If I was being threatened with a 3% pay cut and thought I could enlist enough support then I'd be on strike as well. Nor does it mean that they do not have the right to strike, of course they do.

But, for the avoidance of any doubt, the lowest paid in the public sector are unaffected by these changes. So are all those within ten years of retirement.

And if Labour had won in 2010, even the most evil Tory spinmeister would not suggest people would have started dying earlier, which is the real cause of the "problem". Or other than the most dishonest Labour Politician assert that change, of some sort, to public sector pension provision would have been unneccessary.

So let us defend the right of the Unions to get the best deal possible for their members. But let's not pretend their is some sort of "class struggle" going on here. Unless it is a struggle between those in the secure salarariat and the rest of us.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

An Endorsement

I need to start with an explanation.

I was asked to write a guest blog for A Burdz Eye View on the merits of Tom Harris as leader of the Scottish Labour Party and I duly obliged.

In the aftermath of the event, the Burd asked for volunteers to advance the cause of the deputy leadership candidates and, emboldened by the excitement of a much wider audience (Her blog's got SEVENTY SEVEN followers; I didn't know there were that many people in the whole internet) I immediately rushed forward to offer to champion Anas Sarwar, the guy whose clearly going to win anyway. And not just because I didn't want to entirely burn my boats with the future party leadership.

Ah but, implied Ms Higgins, for by now we were on Surname terms, I don't want the world to think that I've only got a few friends in the Labour Party (true though that might be).

I therefor came up with the idea of adopting a pseudonym. Of pretending to be other than I was. I'm surprised none of these other interneters have ever thought of such an idea.

(I know a lot of people think Stephen Noon is Alex Salmond but I've seen them both in the same room. He might however be Kevin Pringle, I haven't ruled that out.)

Anyway, the Burd was obviously outraged at such a suggestion, because I haven't heard a peep from her since.

In the meantime however, I wrote the appropriate enconium. So, here it is.

I chose as my nom de plume Anna Kulischov, who, I am sure you are all aware, was one of the founders of the Italian Socialist Party  Not being dead, a woman, Jewish, Russian, adopted Italian, or medically qualified in any way, I thought this was a pretty deep cover. Obviously not deep enough for the Burd  (not that I'm bitter in any way).

In my initial draft I thought that might give me licence to comment on what an attractive young man Comrade Sarwar is but I've taken that out as unworthy of the learned Doctor. I'm sure it would have formed no part of her considerations as it most certainly forms no part of mine.

So, here we go.

"Sorelle D’Italia,

Le mie scuse per la scrittura in Inglese.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you are persuaded that all of this is not a waste of time.

With the exception of the handful who might join our Party in anticipation that being un membro laboristo del comune (a Labour Cooncillor?) might be the one and only employment for which they are actually qualified, the rest of us join, at least initially, fired with a desire to change society for the better. And join in the hope that we might find leaders to steer us in that direction.

Now, experience is inclined to grind us down. Too many of our  would be leaders are much less well equipped to lead than we are inclined to follow. And too many of us come to accept that this is..... meglio che possiamo sperare (the best we can hope for?).

So we end up with either a hopeless commitment  to a leadership we can’t quite work out how we ever elected, or a forlorn attachment to a choice taken with no regard to electability in any forum external to the Party itself.

But then, just very occasionally, (e chiedo scusa  se il mio inglese e inadeguato) somebody comes along who makes us understand why we joined this Party in the first place.

Anas Sarwar was, with the greatest of respect to him, before the Special Conference on  29th October  perceived in the wider Party as essentially little more than Mohammed Sarwar’s boy.  But in four minutes on that day he transformed that impression.

But, and here I acknowledge il riferimento americano  , in that hall, and on that October day, we realised that change might just have come to Scotland.

We’ve had twelve years of Devolution. But in those twelve years no one has been put forward to lead the nation, from either of our leading Parties, other than the traditional political class.  Not just white, or male, or protestant but essentially mired in the machine politics through which one rises to prominence in Scottish elected office.

That is good enough for our opponents but in our hearts it will never be good enough for us. Labour, sopratutto,  is the Party of those who do not care where people come from, only on where they want to go. And of all the candidates for the leadership and deputy leadership only one person embodies that. As he did to the spontaneous enthusiasm of all of those present in that hall.

Non allontano (I don’t dismiss?)  either the reassuring partisanship of Iain Davidson, or the manifest competence of Lewis McDonald. Such talents have their role to play. Sono entrambi i camerati degni.

Ma  (mi dispiace) but if anybody thought for a moment who might draw a crowd from other than among the ranks of those already converted; who might carry forward to a new century the legacy of those who had gone before; who might say that Labour was not just the Party of a noble past but of an even more heroic future........

Sincero, this is a no contest for the deputy leadership. The only disappointment is that the word deputy appears at all before his nomination.

Rimando la vostra sorella ed la vostra Camerata

Anna Kulischov "

Sunday, 20 November 2011

It's an Outrage!

It is a long time since I was young.

But, when I was, youth involved a vista of limitless opportunity.

When I graduated in the Law, after three years at University, then the norm, it was not a matter of whether I might get a legal apprenticeship, but rather only where.

Today however it routinely takes five years to get even to that starting point and even then this does not actually lead to a job in the law, or at least a job as a lawyer, for almost half of those appropriately qualified.

Now, there is an argument that the Universities are producing too many Law Graduates, and, particularly, far too many holders of the nominally vocational postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice. I agree with that argument but that still does not explain everything that is going on. Nor does, simply, the recession. Times have been hard (really) for a lot of legal firms, particularly those doing mainly property work, but the "Roll" of those holding practising certificates continues to rise, albeit incrementally.

No, in the legal profession, as in many other professions, there is something more cynical going on.

There is a bubble of the population who have been exceptionally fortunate in their history.

Born in the fifties and early sixties, we escaped the hardships of the immediate post-war years. We  benefited in spades however from the long post war boom built on the efforts of our own immediate elders.

In particular, we enjoyed free higher education and easy entry to professions anxious for new recruits to service the requirements of an ever expanding propertied class.

And we then planned, on the back of ever expanding economies, to take what was on offer and then to retire from our labours at the earliest opportunity. We therefore encouraged the recruitment and training of a new generation to replace us at a time of our choosing. We even avoided, as far as possible, having to finance the training of that replacement class. But we also hedged our bets in the freedom to choose the time that we ourselves would depart the stage, entrenching  security of public, then private, sector employment and, latterly, even establishing "age discrimination" in Statute.

Now, all of this would have been fine (probably) had it not been for the recession. White collar workers would all happily have gone at some point between 55 and 60, looking forward to a (very) long and contented retirement.

The recession however changed all of that. Suddenly our own pensions were some considerable way short of what we had anticipated, whether in private funds of potential public enhancements. And, in the private sector, our capital accounts not quite the nest-egg we had once hoped. So, regrettably, if we wanted to retire in comfort, we would have to work a few years longer. Poor us.

Except we were/are not the real victims here. The real victims were largely people we had never met; those whose training to succeed us we had encouraged but whose services we no longer immediately required.

There is a serious generational issue arising from this recession. Obviously, the recession does not affect all classes equally, but, similarly, it does not affect all ages equally.

One of the things that strikes you about the Occupy protests is the extent to which they are the domain of the young. Now that's not just because its a lot less traumatic to sleep in a tent at 21 than it is at 51. For one of the other things that strikes you is the lack of political focus to the protests . This is not 1968, where ideologues of an older generation sought to channel the anger of youth against the system in some defined way, and, even if rejected, were listened to with respect, while picking up a few individual disciples on the way. For the Occupiers, almost all "middle-aged" opinion is equally dismissed, whether it be the stuffed shirts suggesting they be threatened with soap and water, or the Michael Moore's of this world trying to show much they are "down with the kids".

What the protesters want is fairness, and that fairness is as much from their own elders as it is from "the system".

What the no compulsory redundancy policy in the public sector means, in practice, is that, for a period, under employment will be subsidised. More significantly however, when things do eventually pick up, the first consequence will not be fresh employment but rather the fuller utilisation of those already "on the books".

What opposition to the liberalisation of professional services means is a continued regulatory protection of those already in the fortuitous inside.

Now, I can see the arguments for such an approach. Those already employed will have commitments and obligations arising from that employment. But I can also see how things might look very different if I had never had the benefit of that secure employment in the first place.

The most striking example of all is in the question of the state retirement age. There are apparently so many of us impending retirees that the state can't afford to pay everyone a decent pension at 65. So we'll all have to work till we're 67 or 68. That's all very well, except it is no real saving at all if the price comes as a generation fifty years younger unable to enter the job market in the first place.

So maybe the baby boomers have to face up to the fact that they may have to make some personal sacrifice after all.

Monday, 14 November 2011

A wee bit follow up

I wrote yesterday for Scotland on Sunday about the legislative competence of an Independence referendum being legislated for in the Scottish

I just want to follow that up a little but first to acknowledge the debt I owe to (or intellectual theft I ought to admit from) Love & Garbage here and here and the Peat Worrier here .

There is a commentary on the piece on the Scotland on Sunday site which I want to comment on as it helps me develop my own argument, so I set the comment itself out in full.

One of the advantages of this being my blog is that I can choose to insert my comments to my own best advantage. A bit like St Jerome in another context

"So Ian Smart advised Wendy to "bring it on" even though a referendum was illegal". I didn't say it was illegal. I would never advise anybody to do anything illegal. I'm a lawyer! I said that we were aware of the vires issues but had our own strategy to deal with that if required. The whole point is that apparently the Scottish Government do not have a fall back strategy and don't apparently care.  "He and the team around him was unsure that such a move was within the legislative competence of the devolved parliament. But surely he knew that in 1994 Labour-run Strathclyde Region held a referendum into water privatisation - a policy being put forward by the Tory government of the day at Westminster. This referendum delivered a massive NO vote to the Tory policy and so it was not brought forward in Scotland. A local authority, it seems, has greater power than our current parliament. An opposition party was able to hold a referendum on a specific issue of Government policy and affect change". This was, until recently my own, legal view. I've changed my opinion because of the contrary weight of much more eminent legal views. I can't just ignore that. Neither can the SNP. "You know when a lifelong Labour supporter starts upholding the rule of the Crown in Parliament that something has gone wrong in Labour's ranks. A party that once thought of themselves as socialists are now giving a good impression of being Unionists and Royalists". I wrote this article wearing two hats. I'm not defending the concept of the ultimate authority of the Crown in Parliament, I'm simply pointing out that it will be the Law applied by the Courts, whether I like it or not. "And this before they even choose their leader and their future strategy. Or has it already been chosen for the future incumbent? The notion that the people are sovereign was, of course, brought up by Labour and the Lib Dems in the 1980s in the Claim of Right.  It claimed: "We, gathered as the Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount." Labour signed up to that. The Lib Dems signed up to that. It seems still a good democratic basis for modern Parliament - that the people are sovereign, not the crown". I agree! The point is not my view but that of Lord Hope and the late Lord Rodger. In my opinion, Whaley v Watson was a huge missed opportunity but one of the reasons it was missed was because Roseanna, then the SNP Justice spokesman welcomed the decision on the basis that she was opposed to any absolute parliamentary sovereignty, Scottish or British. You can't have your cake and eat it "Ian Smart now wants us to believe that Labour have abandoned their principled stance on the sovereignty of the people because that particular democratic stance is a "reserved issue". We've not abandoned it, we just recognise that it is not the view of the Courts and that this won't change without a revolution. And we have never been very keen on revolutions."No more are Labour the party of democratic struggle but are instead an agent of the establishment at Westminster. There must be many in their ranks who find this galling. If the Labour-run Strathclyde region could hold a referendum against the sitting Westminster government's policy on water privatisation; if the Labour party and Lib Dems could sign up to a Claim of Right that said the people were sovereign; then I'm sure we can carry on with our indicative referendum on independence. And the only schism that I see at present is the one the Labour party are feverishly trying to keep down. How long will the supporters of devo-max toe the Unionist line?" This issue has got nothing to do with Devo-Max. Devo-Max would still be Devo; an agreed division of powers between Holyrrood and Westminster. That's one of the reasons why there is no point in having a Devo Max question. It cannot be acheived unilaterally. Unlike, dare I concede it, Independence.  

Why however is any of this important?

The SNP are not an insurrectionist Party, any more than is the Labour Party. They choose to operate within the rule of law. There is therefor no question of them simply firing ahead with a referendum if such an initiative is declared ultra vires. In the absence of proper legal authority they would anyway  be unable to instruct or secure the voluntary co-operation of the thousands of returning officers, polling and counting staff or police officers required to conduct a referendum.

So, if there is no power under the Scotland Act to hold a Referendum. And to be no request to Westminster to amend the 1998 Act or to legislate for a Referendum directly, then there is going to be no Referendum. I think the Scottish Government know that. I repeat, as I have been for months, that this is deliberate.

If they would just concede that publicly: that they can't, no matter how regrettably for them, win an Independence vote or, better still, concede  that, as they clearly almost did when flirting with  Independence-lite, that full  "Independence" is an illusory concept anyway then maybe we could all sit down and discuss possible improvements to Calman. A start might involve the concession by them that you can assign but not devolve VAT under European Union Law and that, in a unitary State,differential Corporation Tax is a non-starter. A starting point for us that a devolved benefits system, on the other hand, would be a meaningful tool of meso-economic policy and has got to be worth looking at.

Both sides are however trapped by their history so I accept that none of that is going to happen. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Ordine and Ordini

My hobby is Italian politics.

In the Autumn of 1990, wee Mo and I were on holiday in Piacenza, where she had taught English for two years before we met. There was, at the time, a by-election pending in Paisley, my home town, and I was, in a very machiavellian way, trying to be the Labour Candidate without appearing to be interested in the post. As it transpired, I was not Machiavelli.

I was nonetheless amazed by the reaction of our Italian friends to the possibility that I might become a "Deputato". Hands were shaken, and congratulations offered on my anticipated future. For, to be an elected politician was welcomed by them  not as an opportunity to bring about political change but rather as a certain guarantee of my own personal financial good fortune.

This was of course before the "Mani Puliti" outrage that for, just a moment, seemed to promise a better and cleaner politics. What emerged however was "Forza Italia", under the dominating figure of Silvio Berlusconi, and the offer of the illusion of change.

Since that time however I have taken a recreational interest in Italian Politics. Its more interesting than train-spotting, at least to me.

Italy loves illusion. Berlusconi held himself out as an Italian Thatcher, relentlessly moderrnising the sclerotic Italian Public Sector. In fact he behaved in office as a man as immersed in clientism as any of the worst of the Christian Democrats. The only changes that he would accomplish were those in the interests of his own business interests and those of his closest personal and political allies.

But he carried this off nonetheless not truly because of the ineptitude of the left opposition, or even because of his dominance of the Media, but rather because the Italians bought into the illusion in a sort of mass hysteria or group think that simply did not want to hear the increasing voices inside and outside Italy, insisting that this could not go on forever.

It is regarded as bad taste to make reference to Mussolini when discussing modern Italy. Mussolini was however a much more complex figure than one to be forever condemned (as he ought to be) by the Pact of Steel. But he was always also a master of illusion, indeed self-delusion.

The crowds who mobbed the Piazza Venezia to hail the declaration of war on France in Britain, did so in the genuine but wholly erroneous belief that Italy was equipped to fight that war BECAUSE IT LOOKED LIKE IT WAS.

And, indeed, amongst other things, Italy at the declaration of war boasted a quite beautiful array of capital warships. The problem was that that was all they were; beautiful. There armour plating was wholly inadequate; their crews, although magnificently attired, hopelessly undertrained and undersupplied; and the plan for their strategic deployment totally non-existent. Within 18 months almost all of this fleet lay on the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Italy had been there before of course, throughout the debacle of 1848 and the collapse of 1917. Regrettably no lessons had been learned.

Now we live today in Europe in much more fortunate times. Italian illusions today are exposed not with death but with financial disaster.

It has been clear for as long as anyone can remember that the related factors of a declining birth rate and an ageing population demanded serious reform of the notoriously generous Italian Pension system. Berlusconi himself acknowledged that. But he offered not real change but only the illusion of change. It was also clear for a similar period that a major advanced economy could not tolerate the proportion of economic activity conducted without any form of state supervision or tax collection. Again however, Berlusconi only really even pretended to be doing anything about this, largely for external consumption, while nodding and winking to his many domestic supporters steeped in such activity. And it was clear that the restrictive practices of the "Ordini" were wholly incompatible with either the meritocratic society or the open European Economy that Berlusconi purported to support. But real reform was always just beyond his grasp, postponed "a domani".

This was always, one day, going to end in tears and the Euro was ultimately only the catalyst in that process. But the Euro is also mechanism which will guarantee that the Italian Economy cannot be refloated on a sea of illusion, any more than the Warships on the seabed of the bay of Taranto.

The Italians are in the end serious Europeans. The idea that they will leave the Euro is inconceivable. In the end the neccessary sacrifices will be made as they were in the late Forties and Fifties, leading to the Italian growth rate being the best in Europe in the 1960s.

The irony is that this will almost certainly only be possible under a Government of Technocrats, immune to illusion but believed by the people. The Left is simply in no condition to fulfil that role and, in respect of a significant minority, not even greatly interested in doing so. It is sometimes joked that the British Labour Party prefers opposition to government. In Italy for a significant part of the PD and all of the Rifondazione, that genuinely appears to be the case. It is bizarre however that the Italian people will only be prepared to believe in, and accept, the need for action if they are told it by someone other than politicians. And that the Left would be happier to protest against that action, whatever it is, rather than to have some role in shaping it.

There is at least economic material to work with. Italian private personal debt is much lower than that of the UK and personal savings much higher (an important factor when considering the weathering of of austerity and the ability to raise domestic capital). In value added products such as fashion and design, Italy remains a world leader. The Transport infrastructure is magnificent and even the climate a significant God given economic benefit.

The real tragedy of this is that not that the Italians wont  sort all of this; they will and the good times will return. No, the tragedy is that, unless there is a change in the national character, at some point in the future, in some way as yet unforseen, it will all happen again.

That's the consequence of obsession with the bella figura.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


I blogged a bit back about how speechwriting was a transferrable skill between Parties.

I’m today going to try and see if the same applies to policymaking.

Ruth Davidson has just won a notable victory in the Tory Leadership election but even her supporters concede that her central message was that of a new image for the Tories in Scotland and that her campaign was a bit policy light.

On the back of that I dared myself on Twitter to come up with ten new policy ideas for the Scottish Tories.

Initially I anticipated undertaking this as a bit of a joke: Insisting that a picture of the Queen be displayed in every classroom; offering a state guarantee to Rangers finances; making the speaking of French in public a criminal offence.............that sort of thing.

But actually, as I set about the task, I realised that Scotland needs some new thinking on the right. A clash of ideas is essential in a democracy. And, anyway, there are precious few ideas coming from either the Scottish Government or my own Party.

I start with a number of caveats.

Firstly, I should make clear that most of the policy proposals I make are ones which I personally would vehemently oppose. I don’t therefor urge them on the Tories; indeed I would urge the Country  not  to vote for them if offered. They are mainly evil Tory policies. That’s the point really.

Secondly, I have ranted a bit about the SNP presuming to dictate what the policy of the Scottish Labour Party “ought to be” on the Constitution. So, for the avoidance of any doubt, this is just a bit of whimsy. Parties have the right to decide their own policies.

Thirdly, I have ignored things which any proper Tory Administration would presumably do anyway, such as privatise Scottish Water or reform the NHS on the Lansley Model.

Fourthly, although I tried to stick to devolved matters, there has, I acknowledge, been a little drift.

So, here we go.

1. Scotland has too many politicians. The Scottish Parliament’s 129 was based on there being 72 UK parliamentary Constituencies and enough list members to achieve proportionality. There will soon be  51 UK Constituencies so the numbers at Holyrood should come down to 90 or so. The workload could easily be undertaken by the Parliament sitting more than two and a half days a week and beyond 5 pm when required.

2. Scotland has too many Councils and Councillors. Local Government should be re-organised on broadly  a County (or combination of Counties) basis.  The exceptions would be Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. They should be “City Counties”,   with directly elected Provosts.  The target should be to halve the number of Councils and Councillors in the process.

3. The Council Tax national freeze should be ended. Rather, each four years coinciding with the Council elections in each Local Authority area there should be a local referendum on whether the elected Council could vary the current Council Tax during its four year term.

4. The integrity of the Scottish Education system should be restored. Pass rates at each given grade should be a percentage of those sitting the exam. That’s what employers and Universities want to know. How good the pupil is, not how good their teacher was in passing a bar set by other teachers.

5. The minimum wage should be abolished for graduates. The minimum wage is there to protect the vulnerable from being exploited, not to prevent the well informed from making a “well- informed” decision as to how they might best forward their career.

6. Voluntary redundancy should be made illegal in the public sector. If redundancies are required the public is entitled to keep the most talented and not put up with those who won’t  volunteer as they are largely unemployable elsewhere. Employers must be forced to select on the basis of getting rid of those of least use to the public.

7. Free Broadband should be immediately installed on all Scotrail Inter-City services. Short term this should be paid for by abolishing free bus travel for over sixties still in the Labour Market. Long term it should go on ticket prices.

8. Parents should automatically lose all parental rights in respect of a child who has been in the continuous residential care of a local authority for more than twelve months. Any court proceedings thereafter should start with a strong presumption against the child ever being returned to the Parent.

9. It should be possible for Local Authorities, with the agreement of Government to abolish all planning controls over large geographical areas. Planning delays are inimical to enterprise and an unaffordable luxury in current economic circumstances.

10. The prescription of medicinal heroin should be introduced and become a principal tool in drugs sentencing policy.

So, there we are. Small Government, libertarian, business friendly, guaranteed to give large parts of the Scottish establishment heart-failure. I enjoyed that.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Currency is Important

I was for the Euro. By that I mean for British participation. Oddly, in light of subsequent events, one of the main reasons I was for it was because I believed that it might, in time, allow Scotland, in the Euro, to advance a differential taxation and spending approach from that pervailing in England and Wales.

I believed then, as I do now, that an "Independent" Scotland, still tied to a Sterling Currency zone in the control of our much larger neighbour, would be no Independence at all, within or outwith the Union.

And that even a much more fiscally devolved Scotland would have the same basic problem.

If ever however it was ever demonstrated that for the SNP, "Independence" is really only about flags and anthems, then it must be their attitude to the currency. Having been for the Euro, when that was popular, they now have decided that their preferred currency would be Sterling. They seem to have no conception that a Country trading in the currency of the "Bank of England", would not be an "Independent" Country at all. Indeed, as the Greeks are discovering in a different context, it might not even be a true democracy.

But the most revealing aspect of this at all is the reason that the SNP regard continued participation in Sterling as being important. Sterling remains a major trading currency. It therefore remains unlikely that it would go down the tubes overnight. And allows those who control it at least some freedom of action.

At the moment we, the Scots, do not control Sterling, but we have some degree of limited influence over it.  Logically however, if it was not our currency, but only one we were borrowing, then it would not be for us to have even that degree of limited   influence. The illusory "English bastards" might decide to be actual "English bastards". After all, what duty would they then owe to us?

So, if we do not have that influence over the currency, what is the point in having the currency at all?

There was a time when the SNP advanced the idea of a return to the Pound Scots. Indeed, I am old enough to remember when their main alleged reservation about such a currency was that, such would be the oil riches of an Independent Scotland, the value of this currency would make our other exports uncompetitive.

People however didn't believe them. They worried that, if the Nats were wrong in this analysis, then the result would involve the  cost of a fortnight's holiday in Benidorm being suddenly transformed into the price of a single Cerveza. And raise major questions as to why any "foreigner" would want to invest their private pension fund with a Life Company trading in that currency.

So we now have an SNP Policy that would, in their own argument, tie a rich and prosperous Scotland to Sterling, the currency of a foreign country at a time when that foreign country was being rendered almost bankrupt by the removal of the riches of "Scotland's Oil" which they've been stealing from us all these years. Yet despite that shock to the English system they will remain willing to assist in this process. You could not make this up. Even if the SNP have.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

It's not how you start its how you finish

One of the things about this blogging is that it can go to your head.

After I posted my blog "I Despair" all sorts of people weighed in to say what an insightful (cough, cough) piece it was. The problem was that they weren't my people. My people are still living in the fantasy land where either Johann or the other excellent candidate will, given better organisation, sweep Alex Salmond aside in four and a half years time. It appears, in their analysis, that despite Johann and Ken being respectively  the No Change Candidate and the No Hope Candidate, both would nonetheless be more than adequate to that task when the time comes. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I really, really don't like the underlying philosophy of the SNP.

There is probably no Labour figure with whom I have disagreed more, over the years, than Brian Wilson.

But in the new chapters of David Torrance's biography of Alex Salmond there is a quite brilliant insight by Brian.

The consequence of a Scottish Parliament dominated by the SNP has not been radical change but rather no change at all.

Brian makes the telling comparison with Fianna Fail. In pastiche "Until we have a United Ireland then nothing must delay its achievement"

Any since any bold policy initiative is controversial, then, to avoid controversy, avoid any bold policy. More so  still if  you start off in a minority.

We are all familiar with the  sort of newspaper letter that starts "I have always been a supporter of Party A, but because of policy B, I will never vote for them again."

So are the SNP.

Consequently, for the next four years, there will not be a policy B, or indeed a policy C, D or E. Or indeed a policy  F, G, H or.................continue to the end of the alphabet and beyond. Because if  to advance any one of these hypothetical bold policies might lose a single vote from the cause of "Independence" then it is not worth the risk.

The press reaction to the SNP's first post election legislative programme was a snore fest. But the Scottish Government's response was not to address this on its merits but rather to try to move the agenda back on to the national question. Because, for them, that is the only question which is really important.

Now at this point I could happily set off on a list of things which ought actually to be important to the Scottish Government, starting with the poverty of opportunity which afflicts so many of our young people. But that would require me to have opinions and make judgements. And, regretttably, neither opinions or judgements
are the way to prosper in current Scottish politics. As I  fear either Johann or the other excellent candidate might be about to demonstrate to their temporary advantage.