Friday, 30 November 2007

Oh the voices

After my last post pointing out that Wendy Alexander was legally obliged to publish a list of donors to her leadership campaign, I received two telephone calls.

The first one told me I'd missed something out - Wendy only had 30 days to declare those gifts (see the mess that Labour MSP Ken Macintosh got himself into over not declaring an interest in time), and that the penalties can be severe - a year in jail, a £5,000 fine, that kind of thing. I was also told I was right on the call about the effect of the legislation regarding Ms Alexander.

The other phone call suggested something else I should be looking at. More on that later.

While I'm on, though, the claims by Labour members that amount to "it's a muddle not a fiddle" simply don't add up. They claim that they did not set out to get round the law but simply made inaccurate assessments of the law or 'misinterpretations' of the law.

The evidence suggests otherwise -
  • They established a ghost body to try to avoid declaring donations in the Parliamentary Register of Interests - hardly the behaviour of people seeking to stay inside the law.
  • Donations were asked for, by members of Alexander's campaign team, which were just below the declarable limit for regulated donees - they were seeking to avoid scrutiny.
  • They have continued to refuse to reveal the list of donors - avoiding scrutiny.
  • At least one donation was sought from an impermissible overseas donor - a straightforward breach of the law.
  • Those members of her team have been denying that they did anything wrong.
  • They claimed that the donation from Paul Green came from a company registered in Glasgow - which it did not - a lie.
  • It was claimed that only Charlie Gordon knew the details of the transaction but it was revealed that a personal cheque was handed to David Whitton - another lie.
  • They then claimed that the donation came in the form of a personal cheque but that it was a corporate donation - because we're all aware that company cheques don't exist ...
  • The next claim was that Wendy Alexander didn't know that Paul Green lived in Jersey - then it was revealed that she had sent him a thank-you letter to his house in Jersey - another lie.
  • Today the claim was that Wendy Alexander and her campaign team still thought that it was a corporate donation - in spite of receiving a personal cheque and sending a personal letter to Paul Green's house - a lie or sheer stupidity.
  • Now the message is that Wendy will fight on because she has done nothing wrong - but they still want to avoid scrutiny.
Twisting, turning, lying, cheating, dodging, hiding, shifting, knifing, malodorous mendicants.

They expect us to believe they have done nothing wrong?

Wendy is obliged to reveal all of her donors.

Wendy Alexander has refused to reveal the names of the people who financially backed her bid for Laboured leadership.

I can exclusively reveal that she's going to have to name them all - and how much they gave her.

Ready for this?

She structured her bid so that donations went to a body set up in her name rather than straight to her. She assumed that this meant that she did not have to declare it in her Register of Interests in Parliament.

She's wrong.

The Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006, requires that all MSPs publish details of their interests in the Register. Those interests include, at paragraph 6(1) of the schedule,
Gifts
6 (1) Where a member or a company in which the member has a controlling interest or a partnership of which the member is a partner, receives, or has received, a gift of heritable or moveable property or a gift of a benefit in kind and—
(a) the value of the gift, at the date on which it was received, exceeds 1 per cent of a member’s salary on that date (rounded down to the nearest £10); and
(b) that gift meets the prejudice test.

So anything over £530 has to be listed in the Register of Interests. Her defence will be that it was not her nor a company in which she has a controlling interest that received the gift. Personally, I would say that she was a partner in the body that existed solely to get her elected as Labour leader.

Let's turn to the Code of Conduct for MSPs where it says:

3.1.8 Members should act honestly.

3.1.10 Members should be as open as possible about their decisions and actions.

2.6.6 In submitting a written statement in relation to the gift, the Member must provide details of the nature and monetary value of any gift and the date it was made. A Member must also indicate whether the gift was received directly or was given to a company or partnership in which the Member has a controlling interest. Members must additionally provide the donor’s name, principal business address (if not a private individual) and the nature of the donor’s business (if not a private individual).

There you have it - you have to act honestly and openly. Wendy Alexander must submit a statement with the nature and value of the gifts and who they were from - to do otherwise would be breaking the law. Jings, you even used to have to declare gifts you got from your spouse.

Publish the list now, Wendy. Stop trying to dodge your responsibility, live up to the standards expected of MSPs.

Remember your own words in your leadership manifesto:

The voters will give short shrift to parties and politicians who put their own
agenda first.

And remember your mission:
My mission and Scottish Labour’s in coming weeks and months is to win back the trust of the Scottish people.

Wendy says thanks

Nice to see she has some manners right enough.

I think they're catched!

News reaches my delicate ears that Ickle Wendibles knew about the Paul green donation.

No! You say ...

Yes! I say ...

I'm shocked by it too, but I really must tell you the truth.

Paul Green (he of the dodgy donation) has in his possession a letter "I have in my hand a piece of paper" he is reputed to have said.

This epistle is from Alexander the Grate thanking him very much for his donation to her campaign (that'll be the donation she didn't know about then).

Not only, but also:

It wasn't the only donation he made - oh no - he also made a donation of £950 to Labour in Glasgow South - a donation solicited by one Charles Gordon Esq, lately departed.

£950? Hang on - is the Labour Party at the capers? You betcha!

Wee Charlie (why is everyone in the Labour Party so wee?) has said "Ach dammit, made a mess of that one as well, didn't I" - or words to that effect.

Mr Green (of Buchanan Street fame) said he was a tad upset that Charlie Gordon was to lose his career (bless!) but that he regarded this episode as a storm in a teacup. Was that not what Brian Taylor said about Henry McLeish?

Now, both these chaps are in serious soapy bubble as is Tom McCabe (Wendy's campaign manager) who tried to tell us on Newsnicht last night that they received a corporate donation in the form of a personal cheque. "It came from a company, m'lud, never mind that it was a personal cheque, all companies pay for things with personal cheques, yes they do they do they do. I'm going to tell my mum" he said (I'm paraphrasing here). So that's three people looking at big fines or a spell in the big hoose, but spare a thought for Wendy.

Wendy is the regulated donee. She can be fined and go to jail and have a sum equivalent to the donation forfeited as well as returning the donation. See here:

4.3 It is the legal responsibility of a regulated donee, when receiving a donation to take all reasonable steps forthwith to satisfy themselves that the source of a donation is permissible within the relevant PPERA rules. If a donation is received from an impermissible source, it must be returned within 30 days (Sch. 7, Paragraph 8). After this time, it is a criminal offence to retain the donation, with a potential penalty of a fine and up to one year in prison (see Appendix B, ‘Penalties’). Additionally, a sum equivalent to the value of the donation may be forfeited (Sch 7 Paragraph 8). If a donation is returned because it was impermissible, the return of the donation must be reported to the Commission. Regulated donees must have robust procedures in place to ensure that they are able to complete the required checks within the 30-day time frame allowed by the legislation.
Wendy was trying to save her career today by saying that Independence was a damned fine idea (or something similar). When asked how much she liked porridge, she could only say "I'm going to scream" or something like that.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

And so, the time has come ...

OK, Charlie Gordon has agreed to take the rap for Wendy Alexander's dodgy campaign donations.

Let's see - today Labour wheeled Charlie out to take all the blame. He said

I asked for a donation from Mr Green, and he asked me to ensure that it was in line with the rules. I handed the donation on to the campaign team and conveyed to them that it was a donation under the auspices of Combined Property Services and that Mr Green had a controlling interest in the company. Unfortunately I was wrong in both these assumptions. I acted in good faith and I deeply regret the fact that this has happened and that Wendy Alexander has been in any way been implicated.
Unfortunately, last night, Tom McCabe said

Paul Green was invited by one on the Campaign Team to make a donation as
a longstanding Labour supporter. As required by the rules we made inquiries
about permissibility and indicated to him that only a UK resident or UK registered company could donate. The registered donation was a UK corporate one. The allegation that a donation was accepted and returned is untrue. We acted in good faith at every stage. The Electoral Commission has been kept appraised.
So let's see - Tom McCabe - Wendy's campaign manager says the campaign team made inquiries about Paul Green's donation, found out it was dodgy and asked him to make it in a different manner. Labour's most senior people in Scotland are in this up to their necks.

The questions still remain about who donated the rest of the money, what happened to the money when there was no election, and how many people are encouraged to donate to Labour in a similar manner.

Brian Taylor was asking in his blog why the story, which has been running since Sunday, was not nailed down before lunchtime today. Good question Brian - was it to allow them sufficient time to get to Paul Green and ask him to agree to a statement matching the one Charlie Gordon was forced into? This is part of what he said:
In August of this year I was asked by Mr Gordon to donate £950.00 to Wendy Alexander’s campaign to become leader of the Scottish Labour Party. I asked Mr. Gordon if this complied with the Electoral Commission Rules and was told that it did. Relying on that confirmation I made the donation from my personal account. I have the greatest respect for Mr. Gordon who was an excellent leader of Glasgow City Council.
hmmm....

July 18th 2004, The News of the World ran a story about Paul Green and Glasgow City Council (this was before Charlie replaced Mike Watson as MSP for Cathcart - while Charlie was still leader of Glasgow City Council).

In that story, it was pointed out that Green had given Glasgow City Council £1 million - just two weeks after the council had approved his plans to redevelop part of the city centre (Buchanan Street). The deal was expected to net Green some £400 million - and the council would be compensating owners in the area for handing over land for redevelopment.

Paul Green's donation to Wendy Alexander's non-campaign was less than £1,000 out of £17,000 she raised - surely now she'll be revealing the rest of her sources?

Brian Taylor's blog goes on to ask:

Is Charlie Gordon, alone, culpable? Should there not have been closer checks made? By Tom McCabe, the campaign manager? By Wendy Alexander herself?
Mr McCabe says the money will be returned. He says, without offering this as an excuse, that electoral law is now exceptionally complex.
Yes, they were responsible for checking that the donation was allowed, not Charlie Gordon. In fact, they made clear themselves in their earlier statement that they knew they had to check.

Electoral law isn't complex at all - it's very, very simple, and it's explained in simple terms by the Electoral Commission. That's how Labour knew to keep the donations under £1,000. That's how they knew to say they'd used a company based here. That's how they got caught.
From what I was hearing today, there's more to come on this - more will out!

Well done that brave and faithful servant

There are bodyguards around the world who, it is understood, will get between their boss and the shooter to 'take the bullet'.
This is Secret Service Agent Timothy J McCarthy after doing just that (for Ronnie Reagan in 1981).

Until today, though, I never thought of Charlie Gordon as such a hero.Not even taking a bullet in this photo.

Charlie, though, has taken a bullet today - for Wendy Alexander. Here's the tale.

Wendy took a bung for her campaign from an impermissible donor,

Tom McCabe tried to cover it up by saying they arranged for him to get round the law by paying it through a company registered here. It was revealed that that was also illegal (dead easy to check, it's on the Electoral Commission's website)

Today it was revealed that Paul Green (the impermissible donor) gave a personal cheque to Wendy Alexander's campaign. That's a crime.

Charlie Gordon took the bullet, saying it was all his fault. I think you'd better rethink that, Charlie, it's quite serious.

Paul Green is in trouble because he gave the cheque when he wasn't allowed to.

Charlie Gordon is in trouble because he was the proxy.

Wendy Alexander is in trouble because it was her campaign that accepted it.

Tom McCabe is in trouble because he managed her campaign and should not have accepted a dodgy donation (it's his responsibility to check rather than accepting someone else's word for it).


Here are the questions which need answered:

1. Who were all the other donors? Were they legit?

2. Why did they all give less than the declarable limit?

3. Why do you need £17,000 for a leadership campaign for a party with 8,742 members (approximately)?

4. What do you do with £17,000 when the leadership campaign doesn't take place?

5. How many Labour donors are encouraged to make donations which keep them outwith the declaration limits in various ways?

6. How much longer does Wendy have as leader? The book's running - I'm saying 'gone by Christmas', but others are telling me that I'm hardly sticking my neck out with that.

7. Who takes over from Wendy? This week's shenanigans takes out Charlie-boy, David Whitton, and Tom McCabe. Does that just leave Iain Gray or is Margaret Curran coming up on the rails? Can we hear Jackie Baillie's hat being thrown into the ring?

8. Who's spiking Wenders? Who's laying out all the details that are doing her down? That's easy really - follow the money ...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

An Apology

I wish to apologise to scurrilous rumours - in spite of my doubts you have proven yourself true.

At the risk of repeating myself, can I quote the Electoral Commission again:
Donations from an agent of the donor4.29 If the original source of the donation is someone other than the individual or organisation that transfers the donation to the party, the individual or organisation making the transfer is acting as an agent for the original donor. Where a person acts as an agent in making a donation, they must ensure that the party is given all the relevant information as listed at paragraph 5.5 (Section 54(6)). Transferring a donation to an agent rather than directly to a party must not be used as an attempt to evade the controls on permissibility and transparency.

I say, old chap, run that last line by me again, will you?
Transferring a donation to an agent rather than directly to a party must not be used as an attempt to evade the controls on permissibility and transparency.

So if you're told that you're not allowed to donate to the Labour party in person then you're not allowed to nip off and use a company as a proxy. That would be illegal.

Can I hear Solomon Burke singing?

Scurrilous, scurrilous rumours - and true as well -probably ...

By eck - they've got previous

Remember Labour's loans?

Some potential donors to the Labour Party were asked by Labour fundraisers to make loans rather than donations since this would not have to be declared to the Electoral Commission under the rules as they were at that time.

About £14 million (if memory serves) came in as loans.

Labour's Treasurer was not told about this method of laundering money without declaring it, but Labour's fundraisers did.

Now we have Labour's dodgy donors finding a way to donate money without appearing to be giving to Labour, the Treasurer doesn't know about it but the fundraisers do.

Coincidence?

In the first example the donors were coached about how to avoid declaring the money. Who came up with the scheme for getting round the law in the second example?

It's a deeply philosophical question in my opinion.

Lib Dem leadership battle goes underground

Here's a photograph:



You may wonder why I've posted that. Well, it is a record of wanton destruction by Oxford University students in 1973. They were smashing their way into the Indian Institute to demand a student union.


So what's that got to do with the Lib Dem leadership contest then? Well, that chap in the foreground who has managed to pause (in the middle of a demonstration), turn to the camera, comb his hair, polish his shoes, and put on his best David Hasselhof expression is Chris Huhne.


"Huhne's that?" you ask - as well you might. Don't take my word for it, I nicked it from somebody called Antonia but I can easily believe that Lib Dems are hooligans, m'lud!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Rumour - scurrilous and unsubstantiated, but fun nonetheless

A whisper - always the least substantial of creatures - has reached me.

It sidled in the door, slunk up to me, sleazing across the floor as whispers always do, and insinuated itself into my ear.

Look south, it said, as far as David Abrahams where there is a tale to be told about undeclared political donations.

Then look back here, it said, at wee Wendy's leadership campaign. Who, it said, were the donors who kept giving her money just under the limit for declaration?

Must have been people who wanted to avoid publicity...

Personally, I dismissed the rumour as nothing more than disgraceful backstabbing by a Labour MSP intent on causing trouble, and I'd advise you to do the same. Scurrilous stuff it is ...

I feel sorry for Wendy Alexander

I carry no torch for wee Wendibles (although I'm sure she's desperate about me), but I've been thinking -

Since she took over as leader of the Laborious Party (Scotland branch), she's had a right good doing over -

Salmond monsters her week after week in the chamber -
Her staff resign every couple of weeks (look out for more on Gavin Yates soon) -

The research that's done for her is simply not up to scratch -
George Foulkes embarrasses her regularly with his mumbled spoutings -

She has a very shallow pool to choose from for her front-bench team -

So many people have told her she's talented that she's started to believe it despite all evidence to the contrary -

The party she belongs to is falling apart in Englandshire as well as in Scotland so she can get no support -

She has no hinterland to call on when times get tough -

And her own group are knifing her in the back on a regular basis. I don't care whether Labour tears itself apart, but Scotland needs a good opposition and that needs teamwork rather than treachery.

Whether or not Labour MSPs supported her leadership bid (and if memory serves me, there were only 5 who refused), they should be backing her leadership. If they thought they could do a better job they should have stood against her - at least then there would have been a debate and a vote and the winner would have had a proper mandate.

Instead of that principled contest we now have senior Labour 'sources' briefing against her at every opportunity, doing her down and apparently seeking some political advantage for themselves. Lacking the courage to come out into the open and stand up for their opinions, they hide behind the cloak of anonymity which they know journalists must give them in order to be able to write the stories up properly.

Those senior Labour sources will be shadow ministers - Wendy's hand-picked team - appearing grateful for the chance to contribute but wielding the knife in the shadows. At least Zebedee Foulkes has the decency to put his name to his own rambling.

As I say, Wendy Alexander has my sympathy as all her dreams fall apart around her.

Not that I'm going to let up on her, you understand...

Monday, 26 November 2007

Epicaricacy - is it a bad thing?

Nothing wrong with Greek words in my opinion.

On the 21st of November 2007 the Lords Hoffman, Rodger of Earlsferry, Walker of Gestingthorpe, Carswell, and Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood delivered their opinions on a most interesting case.

The Cause was Watt (formerly Carter) (sued on his own on behalf of the other members of the Labour Party) (Respondent) v Ahsan (Appellant) v. Ahsan (Apellant)

Lord Hoffman reached the conclusion that the Labour Party acted in a racist manner when identifying suitable candidates in Birmingham, saying that the party's arguments in the case were similar to "the old plea that you have nothing against employing a black person but the customers would not like it."

He upheld three of the four complaints. The other four fellows on the panel were likewise minded, agreeing with the opinion of Lord Hoffman. I'm not entirely clear what sanction will now be applied since the election in question is now in the past.

Skip forwards a few days and the chap who was cited as the respondent in that case, Peter Watt, has resigned as General Secretary of the Labour Party - not as a result of the court case, but because he was implicated in the money-laundering scheme for Labour donations.

Mr Watt admitted being aware of the money-laundering arrangment but claimned ignorance of the obligation to report it. For the benefit of all, I can exclusively reveal that it is hidden in plain sight in the guidance from the Electoral Commission which parties are supposed to follow and which is available on the Electoral Commission's website.

Turn to page 19 and read this:
Donations from an agent of the donor
4.29 If the original source of the donation is someone other than the individual or organisation that transfers the donation to the party, the individual or organisation making the transfer is acting as an agent for the original donor. Where a person acts as an agent in making a donation, they must ensure that the party is given all the relevant information as listed at paragraph 5.5 (Section 54(6)). Transferring a donation to an agent rather than directly to a party must not be used as an attempt to evade the controls on permissibility and transparency.
Seems quite straightforward. Page 36 is equally interesting - the penalites for non-compliance, £5,000 or a spell in prison.

Honestly - who brought in this legislation?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Broon - where did it all go wrong?

The personal details of 25 million people gone missing

Labour donors looking for ways to dodge the scrutiny of the Electoral Commission

£25 billion to prop up Northern Rock

Opinion polls showing that John Major was rated more competent than Brown and Norman Lamont more capable than Darling.



Alastair Darling telling Parliament that the Northern Rock money was secured against assets while Northern Rock had already hived off the assets to Granite Finance to raise cash for Northern Rock.



Five former Chiefs of Defence Staff saying he has no idea about defence and George Robertson leaping to his defence - by saying Labour isn't spending enough on defence but Gordon Brown has 'been generous' with war spending. With friends like these ...

House prices falling, threatening the teetering tower of debt on which Brown built his reputation.

Oh dear ...

In and out the Wendy House

Gavin Yates has arrived to save the Labour party, galloping over the hill like the cavalry riding to the rescue.

That is, once he's explained the comments he made about Wendy Alexander (abrasive), Andy Kerr (uninspiring), the London Olympics (waste of money), and the SNP (pure dead brilliant). Readallaboutit! Or here. Or even here if you must

His excuse?
“My comments have been taken out of context. I wrote them as a journalist back
in July and they do not reflect my own views."


That's all right then - except he wasn't a journalist in July, he was a press officer for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and is still listed in their staff directory - although his job is now being advertised on the front page of the SCVO website.

That's not all, the writing wasn't all in July either - the article about how good the SNP is and about how Labour is unlikely to develop a positive narrative was written on August 12th. The one slagging Wendy Alexander and Andy Kerr (and the Sunday Mail) was written in July, right enough.

Not a great start - I believe the bets are piling up for him to leave the Wendy House by Christmas and for Labour to have another leadership campaign in the spring of next year - with sharpened knives this time.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Celebrate St Andrew's Day

I can think of only one Government that has its own ringtone - download your St Andrew's Day Ringtone here - http://www.scotland.org/standrewsday/ringtone/

Good reading

Tomorrow I shall mostly be reading The Sunday Post, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Mail and The News of the World. I'm sure they'll be fine journals of record this week.

Some other good reading this week is Robbie Dinwoodie's blog - here's an excerpt:

OPPOSITION politicians are queuing up to get the first minister, but the problem is that their desperation puts them on a hair-trigger. The latest failed sniper was LibDem Jeremy Purves who appeared at the book depository window with Salmond in his sights, got the yips and promptly shot the grassy knoll.


Read the piece, it's excellent humour.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Labour's new leader

Iain Gray - Labour leader in waiting?
Scottish Labour is in real trouble - labouring, one might say (sorry about that) - Wendy Alexander has been a revelation, raising ineptitude to new levels; George Foulkes warbling away and sounding ridiculous; Duncan MacNeil is wondering whether it's too late to go back to his opera career; Michael McMahon has been storming out of meetings in high dudgeon; and Helen Eadie keeps leaving in a huff and a taxi.
The body language in Labour's group tells just how bad it's got. At First Minister's Question Time you can see Labour backbenchers disengaged, not backing up their leader, and the Gray man is sitting there watching and waiting. He'll want to wait until after the UK election to avoid being the Scottish Labour leader in that sandpapering, but he might not have the luxury of deciding when to challenge. The way that Labour is melting he could be having to put up by Easter.
So I thought I'd take a look at this dynamo and see how he measures up. These bits are taken from his speech in Parliament on Wednesday:
The promised small business bonus scheme is part of the strategy and we support it in principle, although in our view it is a missed opportunity. The scheme could have been used to incentivise training or energy efficiency.
That'll be the Small Business Bonus that's about cutting the burden of non-domestic rates that cripples small businesses and is part of the reason that so many small Scottish businesses fail to survive. Getting rid of that burden is about giving Scottish businesses a chance to thrive, not about forcing them to do the Government's job for them. That's the difference between the SNP Government and the failed Labour Executive.
It could have guaranteed that no 16-year-old would be allowed to drift without education, training or a job
Fantastic idea Labour has there -schools as prisons, keeping 16 and 17 year olds in there where they don't want to be, disrupting the education of the rest of the pupils. What level of idiocy have they descended to with this policy - introduced simply because Blair wanted to do it in England?
a council tax concordat that jeopardises progress, even on early years policies such as class sizes.
Let's see, that's the concordat between the SNP Government and Scotland's councils that's designed to freeze Council Tax and give us all a break from the annual rises, drive down class sizes in partnership with councils, free up council spending so they no longer have ring-fenced funds but are free to decide how best to spend their money according to local circumstances, improve care services, address the Care for the Elderly programme, encourage fitness and activity in school pupils, improve public transport, address waste and refuse issues, and so on. How exactly is that jeopardising progress?
Back to school, Mr Gray - that performance is simply not good enough for an opposition leader, not even a Labour one.


Iain Gray - still waiting
While we're talking about that debate on the SNP Government's economic strategy, let's take a look at what Labour MSP David Whitton said:
We are now looking at the result of the labours of Mr Mather, the minister for mind maps, who is the main disciple of the purpose. To the tune of "Wi a hundred flip charts an a' an a", he has eaten his way across Scotland, bamboozling all in his wake with management gobbledygook and an explosion of colour from his PowerPoint presentations. I know; I have seen it. Clearly, he is the David Brent of Scottish politics. However, I did not become a convert.
An incredible display of ignorance from Donald Dewar's former spin doctor. Because he cannot understand the language of enterprise and business he reasons that it doesn't make sense. What a spectacular snobbery and dumbing-down of debate - Jim Mather was a very successful businessman before he engaged in politics, which is a bit different from Whitton's record as journalist and publicist. Interestingly, Whitton's biography on the Scottish Parliament's website has him listed as Special Advisor to the First Minister from 1998 - so that's a year before there was a First Minister then - eejit.
It's not just me who thinks Whitton is a buffoon, though, the Scotsman diary wrote:

ALBA has enjoyed listing the jargon-filled explosions of Jim Mather, the Nationalists' minister For Almost As Many Things As Swinney (actually Enterprise, Energy and Tourism if you care). Yesterday, his love of gobbledygook led to him being branded Scotland's answer to David Brent in a Holyrood debate on economic strategy.

Our favourite Matherisms so far are (when discussing a tourism strategy): "We are not throwing any babies out with the bathwater - we are energising the babies" and (also on tourism) "We got 60 stakeholders together and brainstormed and got some real traction."

Labour's David Whitton alluded to such wonderful phrases during a debate on the government's economic strategy. He claimed Mr Mather had gone across Scotland "bamboozling all in his wake, with management gobbledegook and an explosion of colour from his PowerPoint presentation."

The Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP added: "He clearly is the David Brent of Scottish politics."There is a flaw in the Whitton logic - despite his propensity to lapse into jargon and to talk in his highly individual way, people tend to be impressed by Mather and his command of his brief. While he sometimes cannot talk the talk, he has clearly walked the walk and developed a level of business experience not always common among ministers - of any political hue. Most people would say he is fit for purpose.

The Gray Man Cometh...

Quoting Yeats too.

So, with Wendy Alexander having another horrendous day in Parliament, speculation is rife that she doesn't have long to go.

Her new spin doctor (I think she's more in need of a paramedic myself) has been announced to the world with great fanfare - step forward Gavin Yates! That's far enough, step back again. How long will he last? The Curse of The Wendy has driven out Lesley Quinn - a faithful Labour servant - from Scottish Laborious HQ, she hounded the decent chap Brian Lironi until he left, and her most recent boy wonder, Matthew Marr did a bad thing and had to go down the chute. She's only been in post since mid September by eck!

The question is - can Gavin Yates last more than a couple of weeks? Well, remember that Brian Lironi took unwarranted abuse from Lord Zebedee Foulkes because Brian refused to have Labour associated with Foulkes' 'racist' comments? Here's what wee Gavin had to say on the subject:

I don’t think that bringing up the SNPs use of language was the most sensible move but language matters and Scotland has an anti-English problem.
George Foulkes said he was responding to concerns from a constituent about anti-English racism. From that point he tried to attach this to comments from SNP MSPs. I’m not sure of that completely stands up.

Oh dear ...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A wee rebellion?

There's a rumour - just a rumour, mind - that there was a wee rebellion in the ranks of Labour's Scottish Parliamentary Group today.

They were apparently about 10 short at voting time ...

One can but speculate.

Can you tell who it is yet?

Right then - anybody know who Labour's new lord of spin will be?

Here's a clue - in August this year he said:
Cameron knows that in the current environment - where under Gordon Brown we have the greatest disparity between the richest in our society and the poorest - that large-scale income tax cuts are untenable.

I feel like Rolf Harris ...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Driving out the Wendy Curse

Word reaches my ears that attempts are being made within the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament to drive out the Wendy curse.

With her record with staff being second to none (coughs quickly), other Labour MSPs are muttering darkly in the West Wing of Hobbit Burrows about having someone else choose the new spin doctor. Iain Gray as van Helsing - who'dathunkit?

Rumour has it that Wendy has a chap in mind who seems a decent enough chap, and in the meantime has nicked staff from two members of her group to keep her end up. One of the unfortunates whose head is on the block temporarily is Kezia Dugdale whose fine ramblings on her blog include these gems:

The real game in Scotland is what lies ahead upon the publication of a white paper on independence. Judging on the weekend’s papers, the press have a real appetite for another constitutional convention. I must say I’m warming to the idea

and this too:

there are difficult times ahead for Alex Salmond and the SNP.

He’s been elected to office on the back of a manifesto setting out the SNP’s vision for the next 4 years. Yet with 18 MSPs short of a majority administration, it looks like he’s going to have to do a fair bit of horse-trading to get any of it onto the parliament floor.


It's clear that Kezia is a big fan of the SNP Government, but not as big a fan as the chap who's coming to replace her.

He's been clearing out his websites recently, dumping the content of his blogs over the side in preparation for not having any baggage when he arrives. Has he done enough? Well, remember Brian Lironi was knifed by Lord Foulkes for daring to disagree over Foulkes' ridiculous accusations about the SNP? Who do you think said:

I don’t think that bringing up the SNPs use of language was the most sensible move but language matters and Scotland has an anti-English problem.
George Foulkes said he was responding to concerns from a constituent about anti-English racism. From that point he tried to attach this to comments from SNP MSPs. I’m not sure of that completely stands up.

Will Wendy Strike Again? Can Iain Gray stop her before she destroys them all? Is anyone still watching? Is this better than Home and Away?

Carbon footprint reduction online?

There's a chap I know by the name of Gordon Archer whose business is the cutting of carbon emissions and the off-setting of those that can't be cut (if I've understood it right).

In doing so, he helps businesses show how they're improving the environment - I think.

I haven't quite worked out how it works, but you can have a look for yourself here - http://www.carbonaccountable.com/

Safe in their hands?

ID cards would be safe in the hands of the London government, wouldn't they? Our personal details could never leak out.


Twenty five million children's details, including names and dates of birth along with their parents' details, addresses and bank account details.

Trust them with my personal information? I wouldn't trust them to hold my cone while I paid for it.

Drug dealing and the dollar

An interesting thought meandered its way into my brain last night - with the dollar sitting at a historic low and not looking like it has any intention of taking a shake to itself and getting back to work - are drug dealers now finding the US unprofitable?

Also, if they've got stacks of paper dollars waiting to be laundered, are they diminishing in value?

Obviously I'm talking about serious international types rather than the wee skank who stands on street corners flogging retail amounts.

I know very little about how the drugs trade works (relying for my knowledge on films and bad documentaries), but it's worthy of a wee chuckle to think about your average Mr Big in hard drugs worrying about the profits he's losing because of the international currency markets.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Who can save Uncle Sam?

Och, we live in interesting statistics.

US Federal debt in the Daily Schedule for the 14th of November 2007 was sitting round about nine trillion dollars. Well, $9,096,326,000,000 or so to be more precise.

It was $8,994,638,502,013.99 in the Monthly Schedule for the end of October, so it's grown by more than $101 billion in a fortnight.

It's also been running eye-watering current account and federal deficits for the past five years or so (websites are down just now, but www.bea.gov and www.cbo.gov will give you the gen - or I'll remember to come back and post it). There's been some movement to bring these accounts back under control, but it's hardly been a stunning success. If memory serves me right October's federal deficit ran in about $92 billion (I'll need to check that when the website comes back up). There's nothing wrong with running a deficit - nearly every country in the world does - but the scale of the US deficits are truly frightening.

Add into that mix a dollar that's incredibly weak and the credit crunch caused by corporate greed and you have all the makings of a disaster.

Swinging into the picture is the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC ignored calls from the US to increase production. The US wanted increased production to lower world prices and help soothe an irritated US domestic market, OPEC argued, probably quite rightly, that an increase in production would do sod all to lower world prices because oil is traded in dollars and the dollar is weak so commodities traders are piling their money into oil instead of dollars to wait for a dollar recovery (which is, of course, hampered by the fact that traders are stockpiling oil instead of dollars).

Venezuela and Iran were arguing at the recent summit for the very sensible solution of not trading oil in dollars any longer. Since 2003, in fact, Iran has required payment in Euro for some of its oil in defiance of OPEC rules (although prices are still expressed in dollars). This may help to explain some of the aggression the US is showing towards Iran - it's not Iran's primitive nuclear programme that worries the US, it's the threat to the US dominance of the commercial world and a subsequent inability to support those massive debts they've been racking up. The US has not had to pay for its domestic problems and economic incompetence for decades because it used the Dollar's status to print money to buy its way out of trouble.

A conspiracy theorist looking for evidence that the US is terrified of losing control would point to the decision by Iraq in 2000 to move its reserves and international transactions from the Dollar to the Euro, threatening the Dollar hegemony and the US economy - as well as US oil import prices.

If the world was to swap the petrodollar for the petroeuro there would be no need for nations to hold those dollar assets and they'd start returning them. The US has printed dollar bills like monopoly money in the past and may come to regret that. The Dollar would be hit with what could amount to terminal decline, the Euro would become the stable benchmark for world currency tradings, and the currently precarious state of the US economy would be further endangered.

Is the US frightened by the prospect? Yup. In 2002 the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia told the US Congress;
'One of the major things the Saudis have historically done, in part out of friendship with the United States, is to insist that oil continues to be priced in dollars. Therefore, the US Treasury can print money and buy oil, which is an advantage no other country has. With the emergence of other currencies and with strains in the relationship, I wonder whether there will not again be, as there have been in the past, people in Saudi Arabia who raise the question of why they should be so kind to the United States.'

The economy of the US as a federal beast would be threatened with collapse. There's oil in Texas which might help them survive and there's a massive economy in California which might do the same for them - although there are serious infrastructure problems in California. I simply don't know enough about the US to make any predictions, and I'm not an economist, so the predictions wouldn't have all that much weight anyway.

Should we be worried? We're often told that the US economy dominates the world economy and a slow-down there gives us all problems. There are people who will tell you that a weak Dollar is our nightmare because it makes our exports harder, slows the whole world economy, will be especially damaging to the developing countries in Asia, and so on, but there are voices, not only of dissent, but of outright rebellion to this straitjacket.

Some movement away from the Dollar and towards the Euro has already started - and that trend is only likely to continue, and some moves which would have been unthinkable a few years ago are now becoming commonplace.

With reports from the US now talking about one mortgage foreclosure for every 92 American families, 10% (yes, one in every ten) houses in Cleveland now vacant, family life becoming more expensive with food prices rising , and other nations beginning to see asset-stripping opportunities in the US, it's a wounded country.

This economy will no longer dominate the world - at the very least Europe is now a contender and America sneezing will no longer give the rest of the world a cold.

The biggest cost, though, is the human cost being borne by so many American families - especially amongst the poorest ones. The inability of the US federal government to respond to crises within its own borders was more than amply demonstrated in New Orleans, perhaps the rest of the world should be preparing to lend aid to the US when it needs it.

Hiring plants?

I was interested in the story in the Sunday Mail about the Scotland Office continuing to spend our money but having nothing to do

What intrigued me most was the bit about spending £8,000 hiring plants. Pardon? QUite apart from where do you hire plants - why are they hiring plants?

Brown down the pan?

How many months ago was it that Gordon Brown was invincible? My memory tells me it was only two months ago but it seems longer.

Now he is most definitely vincible. His opinion poll ratings have bombed - down to an approval rating of minus ten points against a rating of plus forty-eight in the summer (maybe he's looking to steal Joe Louis' nickname?)

Not only but also; the Conservatives are ahead of Labour and the Lib Dems are miles behind and can't save him. It looks increasingly like Brown will lose the next election. Even if he confounds that prediction, though, there's a thought that will be nagging away at the back of his mind - what if he's Labour's John Major?

Major's victory in the 1992 election was ever so slightly unexpected but it guaranteed that his government struggled on long after the enfeeblement period cranked in for the Conservatives and the time that they should have spent in opposition renewing themselves was instead spent ripping themselves apart and meaning that the 1997 election nearly destroyed them, handing Blair the platform from which to win three elections.

Brown's nightmare must be that he strings out this Labour government to the point of destruction, leaving Labour facing a similar rebuilding exercise and a Conservative party back in government for a decade. It might even be to the long-term benefit of the Conservatives to lose the next election, turning the election after that into a 'critical juncture' election.

Fortunately, of course, Scotland will be voting SNP, protecting ourselves against the worst excesses of any Westminster government and striding happily along the road to independence.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Battle of the flip-flops

The Lib Dem leadership battle got ugly earlier today - flip-flops at 20 paces.

Huhne's office collated and sent out a document identifying Clegg's weaknesses (titled Calamity Clegg) - I was surprised it only appeared to be a couple of dozen pages long.

Clegg threatened to tell his mum (or Lib Dem big brother) while Huhne was denying knowing about the title of the document (although he was backing up the content) - I almost expected the crochet hooks to come out ...

So we now have the battle-lines drawn; if we can ignore the squealing of the cat-fight, it would seem that the difference between the two contenders is that one would set the Lib Dems up as unilateral nuclear disarmers while the other would support the retention of nuclear weapons on the basis that getting rid of them would weaken the bargaining position in non-proliferation talks!

What is fairly clear is that these two can't work together after the squabbling is over, and for some reason they seem to think that their performance will encourage people to vote for them.

Charlie Kennedy seems to be spot on - the knife truly has passed to a new and less skillful generation. They are more to be pitied than scorned, I can assure you.


The Curse of the Wendy

And so it came to pass - another one bit the dust, the curse of Wendy Alexander strikes again. Two months as Labour leader and she's already shed two chief spin doctors and one general secretary.

The mutterings of discontent in the lumpen proletariat of the Labouring party will surely grow now, and the worry for Iain Gray must be that he hasn't had enough time to establish himself as the natural successor to Wendy Alexander and he might face a contest. Even worse, the leadership contest might come before his preferred date of 2009.

Oh what a dilemma

Friday, 16 November 2007

Another victim

There once was a chap by the name Brian Lironi who learned his journalistic trade in the hallowed lands of Dundee and who became political editor of the Sunday Mail.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Brian gave up that jetsetting high life to take a turn as heid bummer of Labour's media operation at Holyrood. Then Wendy Alexander took over. Labour's treatment of staff is famously bad, leading Robbie Dinwoodie to ask whether working for Wendy Alexander has become the equivalent of having your face gnawed off by rats.

After being called an 'idiot' in public by George Foulkes (surely taking irony to levels never before imagined?) and amid rumours (which were denied) that Ms Alexander had 'gone off on one' at him, Brian Lironi left - an escape that Indiana Jones would have marvelled at - and sought the refuge of Stephen Purcell in Glasgow Council.

Now news is coming through that another victim of the Alexander curse is to be Lesley Quinn who is leaving her employment with the Labour party. She's worked for the Labour party since 1981 and has been General Secretary in Scotland since November 1999, but has called it quits two months after Wendy Alexander took control.

There's also a rumour sneaking about that the curse will strike again and another media advisor will be lost. Well, Ms Alexander did promise change when she became Labour leader.

All we can do is wait with baited breath for the next exciting instalment of The Curse of the Wendy ...

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Arthur Miller - a reprise

The Crucible - an intense play ostensibly about the Salem witch trials of 1692 - is regarded as being a critique of the 'hunt for the reds' (well, Miller even said it was in his New Yorker (I think) article Why I Wrote the Crucible). This, of course, wasn't McCarthyism at the time, he waddled onto the set a couple of years later.

The play came into my head this morning as I listened to the news on GMS. I couldn't help thinking that the heat of a witch-hunt has a remarkable parallel in the "war on terror".

All around are the 'flying broomsticks' of terror while the 'good, god-fearing people' cower below. Gordon Brown, Witchfinder General now that Blair has gone, is encouraging people to do an Elia Kazan and 'out' those nasties in their midst.

The finger-pointing is becoming an epidemic, Goodie Proctor is to be accused, Giles Corey will be pressed to death, not only is Abigail not alone, we are all being told to aid her in her cause.

Perhaps Lord West is the Reverend John Hale and will break the lie, or perhaps this tale, too, will require a John Proctor to make a bell of his name.

It appears that history repeats itself - but with different victims.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Who's done a grubby deal?

I was most upset recently when the Lib Dems put down their knitting and accused the SNP and the Conservatives of doing a dodgy deal over the budget.
They accused Scotland's Party of doing a deal with the Conservatives to keep us going.

You know, I was so cumflabulated that I went and counted the votes - who voted with who. Here's the results:

To date there have been about 69 Parliamentary votes (excluding procedural votes on business and Ministerial appointments).

In those the LibDems have:
Voted with Labour 45 times (65%)
Voted with the SNP 21 times (30%)
Voted with Conservatives 26 times (38%)

In contrast the Conservatives have:
Voted with Labour 33 times (48%)
Voted with the SNP 33 times (48%)
Voted with LibDems 26 times (38%)

It's those damned Lib Dems that are the dodgy dealers!
Someone less charitable than my good self once suggested that they got paid by the hour - when a party which once had some principle is reduced to the fourth party in Scotland and finds itself desperate to please the Labour Party rather than having some principles of its own, it's come to a sad end.

Iain Gray? Surely not!

In a few hours the budget will be revealed by SNP Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney MSP.

Then all the wonderful goodness of a party in Government that actually cares for the country will be laid out for the country to appreciate.

In advance, though, we've had Labour complaining that the budget isn't good enough - in spite of not having seen it yet! Iain Gray (who does the shadow job on just the finance bit of John's portfolio) was on the radio this morning performing the old Labour trick of inventing 'facts and figures' and extrapolating them wildly to come to a conclusion massively removed from reality but scary enough to fleg your neighbour's cat.

The reason, of course, is an inability to do the research properly (witness Wendy Alexander's nightmare at FMQs over means testing) coupled with an overwhelming desire to get one up on the SNP - not because it would be good for the country, just to pour oil on Labour wounds.

It's just not good enough - Scotland needs a competent opposition as well as a good Government and Labour has to up its game.

I like Iain Gray as a person, although I dislike his politics. This morning's outpouring is a perfect illustration why it's ridiculous that Iain is being touted to take over from Wendy Alexander in 2009 - he's not up to it either.

Ach well, back to waiting for the budget ...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Referendum, referendum, anyone for a referendum?

No, not that one, they don't want that one. What they do want is a referendum-tastic policy on the council tax.


Who does? You may well ask - David Cameron (leader, Con). He said today that councils should hold a referendum if they want to bring in a high council tax increase - a referendum for which there would be a trigger threshold of a percentage increase.


Labour, of course, disagrees. Hazel Blears (Communities Secretary, London Government) said it was "just another empty David Cameron gimmick". That's Cameron told, eh?


Well, it might be except that it was actually a Labour plan - Nick Raynsford (local government minister in London) floated it in September when David Davis (Con Shadow Deputy Prime Minister) said: "You can't solve at one stroke, I'm afraid, a problem that has been created over six or seven years, frankly of deceit and incompetence."


Now I think I'm right in saying that Nick Raynsford is Hazel Blears' deputy and David Davis is David Cameron's deputy. You put your left leg in ...


Don't blame me

I was directed to the website of the group the SNP is a member of in the European Parliament (Green European Free Alliance) in my search for information on accidents at nuclear power stations.

I found the front page of the website a trifle disturbing, but that was only a design flaw. The report I was looking for was a little more upsetting.

Residual Risk - an account written by scientist types of events in nuclear power plants since Chernobyl (1986). I know you'll want to read all 116 pages yourself, but here's a couple of highlights (look away now if you don't want to know the score):

There have been some 3,000 events covered in the Incident Reporting System between 1980 and 2002 (I know, they say the report covers the time since Chernobyl and then take information from before). There are only 435 operating reactors covered by the system, so you can call it 136 incidents a year, or almost 7 incidents per reactor, or 1 incident per reactor every three years. Taiwan and Italy do not report on the system.

Of course, we might be safe as houses because there is no clear definition of what 'events' should be reported - just that “Events reported to the IRS are those of Safety significance for the international community in terms of causes and lessons learned.”

There's plenty more information in that report, but I particularly liked the story about Three Mile Island (a reactor famous for a reactor meltdown in 1979)
On Sunday, 7 February 1993, just before 7 in the morning, a vehicle came down the exit road at speed, passed the security booth (no barrier), straight into the Protected Area, smashed through the entry gates, through a corrugated metal door and into the turbine building where it smacked into and damaged a resin liner and the insulation on a steam line.

About 10 minutes later security guards approached the vehicle but couldn't find the driver. A Site Area Emergency was declared

The plant had a phone-based pager system, located outside of the control room in the shift supervisor’s office that could automatically notify State and local officials and the utility’s Initial Response Emergency Organization (off-site emergency personnel) in the event of an emergency, but the shift supervisor on duty in the control room had locked the control room fire doors when the incident started.

They tried to manually make all notifications from a telephone in the control room, but the numbers they needed were in the shift supervisor’s office, so they unlocked the doors, went into the office and picked up the list of numbers to call from the control room *instead of pushing the button on the emergency pager system.

Four hours after he entered the site, the driver was discovered hiding in a small space under the condenser pit in the turbine building which had been searched hours earlier, but was done with a brighter torch the second time. He was a mentally ill man who had recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital and who apparently said before the event that he was “going to do something to become famous.”

The NRC sent an Incident Investigation Team to investigate the event and concluded that
“the event resulted in no actual adverse reactor safety consequences and was of minimal safety
significance.” - so that's OK then.

This event was not regarded as an abnormal occurrence, so it wasn't logged under the ASP programme.

Safe at last, safe at last, thank the atom, we're safe at last!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Who broke that?

That's a question that results in thousands of denials and accusations between siblings when parents ask it - the classic 'big boy did it and ran away' response.


More interesting is when you ask it of political parties, like "who broke their promise that they wouldn't introduce tuition fees?" or "who broke their promise that the removal of tuition fees was non-negotiable?" Labour for the first one and Lib Dems for the second one, since you ask.


Here we are, six months into the first four-year term of an SNP Government, though, and Labour and the Lib Dems are accusing the SNP of breaking manifesto promises.


Let's get that right - those promises were "within the four year term we will ...". Someone's stretching the truth in all directions.


Here's a promise that the SNP Government has been accused of breaking (this is the actual phrasing from our manifesto):

It is essential that we have sufficient police on local streets. That’s why we will set out plans in our first Budget for Scotland for 1000 more police and will encourage Chief Constables to focus these new resources on community policing

The opposition were saying that the SNP Government had broken a promise made six months ago because it wasn't guaranteeing 1,000 new recruits (somehow they seem to think that police officers straight out of the wrapper are intrinsically better than police officers with a few years' experience - personally I'd take either but I'd prefer a mixture of both).


Kenny MacAskill announced today that £54 million has been earmarked specifically for the recruitment of 500 new police officers as a first step. He also laid out other parts of his plan to ensure that police officers are no longer tied to a desk but can patrol the streets and to examine the possibilities for retaining officers who might otherwise be leaving the force while they still have much to offer.


The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland welcomed the statement, but not the opposition. Here's a selection of the tantrums:

Pauline McNeill (Labour)

"This is nothing less than a betrayal of people across Scotland, before the election the SNP said very clearly that they would recruit an extra 1000 police officers. Now less than six months into government they admit they will only hire half of this."

Bill Aitken (Con)

"This is a sham. Today we are told that, after initially promising 1,000 additional police officers, and then backtracking to '1,000 more police in our communities', we are in fact only getting 500 extra officers and the SNP cannot guarantee any of them will be out on the beat. Today they have finally admitted this key manifesto pledge was nothing more than a con."

Nicol Stephen (Lib Dem)

"The Nationalist government has wriggled and squirmed but it still refuses to say how many police officers there will be in Scotland in three years' time. It is dodgy spin and shifty auditing."

Take a look at the manifesto pledge and look at what the opposition's saying - MacAskill's actions are fulfilling that manifesto pledge, the opposition parties are being, if I'm being generous, disingenuous.

Interestingly, the continual accusations by the opposition are beginning to impact on the reporting of the situation by journalists - Robbie Dinwoodie of the Herald says in his blog

When it became clear that the SNP manifesto pledge to hire 1000 extra police officers was going to have to be broken ... the SNP endured a long month of cheap hits on how it reneged on a key pledge

The pledge wasn't broken, it's being honoured. Robbie's quite right when he goes on to say:

Ministers had to wrestle with two things that could never have been known at the time of drafting the SNP manifesto.One is that the Comprehensive Spending Review would produce a real terms increase of less than half of one per cent in the first year.The second is that a minority government could have other spending commitments imposed on it, such as the Edinburgh trams scheme.

I'll wait for Wednesday, though. John Swinney made it clear that he was setting out to ensure that the SNP Government could fulfil its manifesto and match the expectations of the Scottish people in spite of Labour's party politics interfering with Scotland's financial settlement and the shenanigans from the opposition.

Brian Taylor's blog has a similar slant where he says that the SNP Government's determination to freeze council tax in advance of abolishing it is a wheeze:

A popular "forget about police and class sizes" freeze.

Actually, that was a manifesto commitment too - another one being delivered.

In passing, the courage of Pat Watters, a Labour councillor, in telling his party to back off and let local authorities do the negotiating with the Scottish Government on council tax is a good sign - mature politics in action, and I hope the rest of his party learns from his good example.

I've got Newsnight Scotland on in the background and I've just heard Glenn Campbell describing the commitment as being to "new" officers, closely followed by Pauline McNeill and Bill Aitken (again).

If the SNP Government has failed to meet any of its promises by the end of that four-year term I'm sure the people of Scotland will be able to give their verdict in the election. What is certain is that none of them is broken yet, there was no big boy who did it and ran away, no denials, no accusations. The SNP Government is delivering on the promises in the SNP manifesto.

We don't make petty party political points - unlike the other parties.

I'm reminded more and more often these days of the headline to this posting. It was actually said by a candidate during a hustings meeting at an election a few years ago (the candidate was successful in that election and remains elected today), and to be fair to him, he tells the story 'on himself' and claims (and I believe him) that it was said in the heat of battle and he should be excused.

Well, I’ll excuse him; he’s actually quite a good politician and works extremely hard for the people who elected him.

Which is in stark contrast to the people who keep reminding me of his quote:

Wendy Alexander (Labour) saying there’s not enough money in Scotland to pay for the SNP Government’s plans while insisting that Scotland’s got far more money than it needs because there’s £30 billion (actually, that’s the near-cash total for three years’ time) and that she should get more money herself because she doesn’t know how to run her office on the same amount of money as the SNP did in opposition.



Tavish Scott (Lib Dem) saying in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament that he believed in John Swinney’s efforts to freeze Council Tax across Scotland in the same week as he told newspapers that the manifesto pledge was a “cruel deception”.


Nicol Stephen in his speech to the Lib Dems’ Scottish region conference said that Fiona Hyslop had reneged on her promise on student grants when she said
“the operational burden of such a move would be prohibitive”
She actually said that about retrospective cancellation of the Graduate Endowment (tuition fees introduced by the Lib Dems). You can read the Lib Dem Speech here and the Ministerial Statement and questions on the SNP’s decision to abolish the Lib Dems’ Graduate Endowment tuition fees here

David McLetchie (Con) in his February 2006 constituency newsletter:
“Serious question marks are now being raised about the funding of the proposed tram lines following a significant increase in estimated costs to over £700 million. Originally the Scottish Executive had pledged a contribution of £375 million towards the projects and if they are to go ahead as proposed, there will have to be a significant increase to cover inflation in construction costs.
However in itself this will not be enough to bridge the gap and leaves the Council scratching around to raise the balance from developer contributions, land sales or borrowing.”
In August 2007 (Edinburgh Evening News)
“The city council cannot expect the Scottish Executive to write a blank cheque
for trams.”
BBC website, 4th March 2003:
“if we then look at the Transport Initiatives Edinburgh Business Case … it is clear that the business case is dependent on revenue from tolls.
"Public transport initiatives are welcome but trams should not be at the cost of tolls - we already pay enough in taxes."
Why did he vote in Parliament for the continuation of the Tram Project then?


I’ll continue to make party political points because I believe that they’re important for helping people see the differences between parties, but I’ll try to be consistent and keep it honest, and I’ll try to avoid them being petty – other people can judge whether I succeed.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Cruel but true

You know, sometimes I have a guilty chuckle about things I really shouldn't. Conservative MSP Derek Brownlee has provided me with just such an opportunity. Looking back through yesterday's debate, I found this:

Derek Brownlee: I said that Wendy Alexander was not alone in having failed to suggest that we should have such additional debates. I have taken the opportunity of reading every budget debate since devolution. It is the nearest that we get to the collected works of Des McNulty—and it is as near as it should remain.

Cruel but true - and I laughed.

Ah, lovely








The Commonwealth is coming to Glasgow in 2014. Excellent news - that's nearly enough time to tidy up, do the dishes, hoover the carpet and get some scones in the oven.



Well done Glasgow.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Baldrick's politics

A cunning plan .....

Labour had a cunning plan for today's business in Parliament. They thought they could defeat the SNP Government on the budget before the budget was presented to Parliament.

To that end a deal was done (or so Labour thought) with the Conservatives and with the Lib Dems to stitch one on the minority Government. They even tried the Greens but Patrick Harvie stood up to their bullying and gave them very short shrift as only Patrick can.

Then in the chamber when they saw it all going wrong they started accusing the SNP of doing dirty deals to secure votes. Up you could not make it.

Labour got horsed in the end, and the budget can carry on as usual.
Here's a tip, though, keep looking for Labour and the Lib Dems seeking to derail the budget process when John Swinney brings it to Parliament next week - that would fit in well with the negativity they have shown since the election in May.

Euan Lloyd asked the pertinent question today - why is it that the SNP has taken so well to Government over the past six months but Labour just can't work out how to be an opposition?

I look forward to hearing some of Labour's war poetry.

How bizarre, how bizarre

Today in Parliament ...


The Labour Party has brought forward a motion for debate which, if passed, will mean that there will be chamber debates on each of the SNP Government's five Cabinet Secretaries' portfolio areas.


Sounds like a cunning wheeze, eh? Actually, it's another Homer Simpson moment for Labour.


It would do away with the careful scrutiny of the budget currently undertaken by the Scottish Parliament committees, so there would actually be less scrutiny of the budget process. D'oh!


It's another indication of Labour's failure to understand the Scottish Parliament and how it is supposed to work. I find myself wondering whether that's why they have had such a lack of respect for the parliamentary process over the years or that the lack of respect is the reason for the failure to understand Parliament.


Whichever way round it is, it's marked that they're trying to change Parliamentary procedure using today's debate when that's the wrong way to do it. The proper way to change procedure, of course, is through the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee (I think there's a clue in the title of the committee). Surely after 8 years Labour MSPs should know how Parliament works?


Perhaps I expect too much of them?

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

And other bits of wonderfulness

Later in the debate on the Speech were some stunning fun bits:
Angus Robertson: Is it not fair to acknowledge that the current situation falls far short of the most elegant solution, which is, of course, independence for Scotland and independence for England? In the short term at least, Scottish MPs should do what Scottish National party MPs do at Westminster, which is to abstain on matters that are solely English. That would not answer all the challenges in the long term, but it would address the core anomaly, which unfortunately arises when Scottish Labour MPs vote through matters in England when those matters have no relevance to Scotland.

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman has made a moderate and sensible point. That is good advice, but I do not think that the Government are about to take it, because the truth is that they often need their Scottish MPs to vote against the interests of England to drive through policies that the body of English MPs on their own would never dream of accepting for our country.
A Tory acknowledging that Scottish Independence is the way forward, by gum! That the 'elegant solution' of Independence for Scotland and a similar settlement for England is moderate, sensible and 'good advice'. Well done John Redwood!

He went further, too:

Mr. Redwood: The point is that the constitutional argument is moving on. The idea driving Scottish nationalism is to radicalise English voters so that they, too, become Scottish nationalists—by proxy. That is what the Scottish nationalist strategy is all about.As an English MP who has always in the past defended the Union, I am conscious that the political mood in my country of England is moving rapidly in exactly the direction that the Scottish nationalist party wishes for, as it tries to turn England into a battering ram against the Union. As a result, my right hon. and hon. Friends have reached the point of thinking that unless the problem of Englishness receives some recognition that goes some way towards matching the devolution offered to Scotland and other parts of the Union, that problem will get far worse, and the Scottish nationalists are more likely to get their way. The people of England will, effectively, become advocates of Scottish independence because they will want English independence. That is the process on which we are now embarked.
I'm almost tempted to send him the words to Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau...

And just to prove that the Liberal Democrats can step up to the mark, we have Dr Vincent Cable (currently Lib Dem leader until they elect Lady MacBeth)

Dr. Cable: Buried in the Queen’s Speech is the germ of a big new idea—a grand coalition of ideas between the Conservatives and Labour on policy. The Prime Minister was the author of the Red Book, to which I contributed, and has now written the Queen’s Speech in the bluest ink. There are wide areas of policy on which Labour and the Conservatives have exactly the same position. They advocate the same tax policies with the same indifference to widening inequality; they are in the same love affair with the discredited council tax; they are both bidding for the anti-immigrant vote; they are both trying to prove how tough they are on crime by packing prisons with petty criminals, the mentally ill and people with addiction problems; they have both signed up to an energy policy that is centralised and depends on new nuclear power; they are both willing to sacrifice the environment for new airport development; they are both willing to load student tuition fees and top-up fees on to highly indebted students; they both have an obsequious relationship with the Bush Administration, which has led them to support the war in Iraq and new initiatives, such as the star wars programme; and they both sign up to a fundamentally unethical, cynical foreign policy that led them to get together at the beginning of last week for that little jamboree celebrating three decades of corrupt arms dealing with one of the most unsavoury regimes in the world.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman’s lambasting the Labour and Conservative parties, considering the summit that the Liberal Democrats attended in Edinburgh yesterday with those very parties in order to carve up the future of Scotland. Why does one come to this Chamber and say one thing, but say something completely different in Edinburgh?
Dr. Cable: The hon. Gentleman will find that it is the Liberal Democrats who are leading the debate on devolution, as we are on all the issues that I have mentioned and many others, on which we are wholly distinct from those other two parties.
Did no-one tell him about Scotland? All three parties in a grand coalition against those nasty Nats.

Archaic drivel


"open up in the name of Her Maj: tea and Hobnobs for everyone"


Yes, I'm talking about Westminster, the imperial palace, the deathstar, London the Moribund. That's no way to run a Parliament!

I refer, of course, to the Queen's speech. "Wassat?" I hear you say (you really must try to improve your diction). Apparently, those in Westminster need to be told every year what they're going to be doing for the next 12 months. Why they don't just get on with it is anyone's guess - they could learn from the Scottish Parliament (again).

So, when she parades from her wee but 'n' ben to the Palace of Westminster, a wee fella (who gets called Black Rod for some reason) goes and tells those commoner people to come and stand in supplication while those aristocratic people get a wee seat and Her Maj reads out what was written originally by some of the commoner people. Hang on, you say, who got elected here? Quite, but some of them paid quite a bit for their bit of ermine, and they might have reserved a seat at the same time - like getting a train ticket.


Anyway - stop distracting me - she reads out what's going to be brought forward in the next wee while (always with wee qualifiers like "My Government will continue to do this, that and the other", and "Other measures will be laid before you") then the commoners get sent scurrying back to their own hovel while the aristocrats get the place fumigated and settle down for another year separated from the scruff.


Back in the House of Commons the commoners get their toys back out and begin flinging them from the pram. There's a guy in tights (part of the job, not a predilection) who reads out the speech again in case anybody sat humphing republicanism and ignored the wifie with the big jewels, then there's an argument.

Usually the debate has an old fogey and some young upstart (no-one knows why, it's just tradition), and this time the fogey was Richard Caborn. He began his speech in the traditional way - on his metaphorical knees begging permission to say thanks (actually went like this:


I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom and Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament




Spiffing, what? He then went on to do the Oscars:

There are many reasons why it is a privilege and a pleasure to move the Queen’s Speech, and I should like to refer to a couple of them. First, I must mention my family, and particularly my mum. She is 91

Good to see that the UK is in safe hands.

Anyway, all this stuff and nonsense goes on for ages until he's replaced by the cheeky young scamp - in this case going by the name of Dawn Butler - I haven't heard of her, but that's apparently the point (it's Westminster, don't try to understand 'em, just rope, tie and brand 'em).

She pointed to a welcome innovation in the London Parliament of producing a pre-legislative draft of a Bill (they'll catch up eventually - it'll be pre-legislative scrutiny next). She also said

The strength of self-belief, the dignity of truth and the engagement of politics
can turn slaves into free people.


Well said that woman!

Then the beasts were released upon an unsuspecting populace; David Cameron (leader, Tory types) came snarling off the bench and swatted aside the opposition, leaving Gordon Brown shaking.

Watching the exchanges, I couldn't help feeling that Cameron was the most statesmanlike. He acted like he was the Prime Minister and Brown acted like he was the raw challenger.

Brown has to change tack if he wants to have any chance of winning the next election. He has to bring forward policies that don't look as if they fell off the back of a lorry leaving the Conservative conference. That might even mean the horror of taking Labour back towards looking like it's a Party that believes in something. He could signal that nuclear weapons are to be removed from Scotland's waters, for example, or bring forward alternative funding models to undercut PFI/PPP - but he has to do something if he wants to stave off the Conservative revival, and an ideological battle might be just the thing.

He's knackered in Scotland, of course, the SNP's winning here.