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Herald opinion on Tories: Curious way to build an electoral platform

Herald opinion on Tories: Curious way to build an electoral platform | Scottish Politics |

ELECTIONS require political parties to run campaigns in the same way as military commanders devise a war strategy. It is logical not to let the enemy know what you are planning. But the Conservatives’ strategy of keeping the Scottish seats they will target at the 2015 General Election “under the radar” is unlikely to be the deciding factor if the party is to add to its total of one MP in Scotland.


The election razzamatazz of loud-hailers, posters and doorstep canvassers will be banished because such tactics merely advertise the strength of the opposition, according to the Tories, who plan to take a more sophisticated approach by focusing on individuals rather than areas.


It is true that a high-profile campaign emphasises the marginal nature of a particular seat and this is likely to stimulate a higher turnout because people believe their vote will make a difference. Adopting a low-key approach in order not to motivate those likely to vote against them, however, risks handing the advantage to their opponents. With advances in technology, it is inevitable that future elections will be fought out via the internet. Telephone canvassing has already replaced most door-chapping and email and twitter are poised to take over from printed leaflets. Social media has been used to great effect in the last two US presidential elections, while the Liberal Democrats’ success in retaining Eastleigh in difficult circimstances following the resignation of Chris Huhne owed much to identifying and targeting likely supporters. Flying below the radar has obvious benefits for the tacticians but a political party must have a philosophy laid out in a manifesto that appeals to voters.


Unless the parties make their case publicly, coherently and with conviction, only the committed core voters will turn up at the ballot box. Any party that fails to engage with potential new supporters and the increasing number of floating voters will see its share of the vote decline. This will be a particular problem in Scotland, where the Tories are routinely seen as toxic. Their potential targets are former Tory seats, affected by boundary changes or the rise of the SNP as well as postThatcher disenchantment with Conservatism.


It was startlingly clear from the rows of empty seats at the Scottish Conservatives’ conference in Stirling last month that despite an appearance by the Prime Minister, the party’s core supporters are dwindling and that it lacks activists. This poses a difficult challenge for Ruth Davidson, who won the leadership contest with the support of the “old guard” against the radical proposals of Murdo Fraser for the Scottish party. Having initially opposed further powers for Holyrood, she has set up a commission to recommend what form further devolution should take. Strategy for the 2015 General Election will only be relevant if there is a No vote in the independence referendum. The crucial test for the Tories at that juncture will be credibility. Clear proposals and a serious commitment to enhanced powers will gain more votes than canvassing as if they have something to hide.

Jim Arnott's curator insight, July 26, 2013 10:22 AM

The Tories bizarre policy for their campaign to gain support in Scotland.


Vote Yes in the 2014 Referendum on independence for Scotland.

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A nation defined by more than party prejudice

A nation defined by more than party prejudice | Scottish Politics |

THE Scotland of the present is a product of how we understand our past; and the past is always been made, remade and contested.


It is not then, too surprising that in recent weeks Labour figures such as Brian Wilson and Maria Fyfe, in this paper, have laid into what they have seen as the over-promotion of the Nationalist tradition – with both criticising visitScotland for profiling Robert McIntyre’s election as SNP MP for Motherwell in 1945.


What people like Wilson and others are asserting is that the Nationalist history and folklore of Scotland is, somehow, illegitimate. That it is partisan, not mainstream and unworthy of becoming part of the official canvas of modern Scotland. It is a deeply flawed, problematic and pernicious view of Scotland.


Let’s take a very different view of Scotland – one many of us have grown up and are familiar with – the Labour story of Scotland. This has celebrated the life and ideas of Keir Hardie, James Maxton and John Wheatley, the formation of the Independent Labour Party, “Red Clydeside” and Tom Johnston.


The story this weaved was of working people standing up for economic and social progress and reform, campaigning across issues from temperance and land reform and home rule, and the arrival of Labour as a party of government, first in minority administrations in 1924 and 1929, and then as a majority Labour Government in 1945.


This is part of the fabric of what has made Scotland – and one Labour politicians have invited us to accept uncritically as a national story. But let’s be clear: it is a minority account of Scotland. For even at the zenith of its powers Labour never was a majority party of the popular vote.

So it ill-behoves Labour figures who have trumpeted and oversold their own history – which nearly all of us accept as an intrinsic part of the modern Scottish story – to start being so dismissive about Nationalist Scotland.


Nationalist Scotland’s story is a powerful, potent one filled with emotion, idealism and people of principle in its early days standing up for what they believed in against all the odds. Just like the formative period of Labour.

Robert McIntyre’s victory at Motherwell is a significant point in Scottish politics; it doesn’t matter that he was only elected for three months. Keir Hardie’s Scottish legend is centred on him standing in the Mid-Lanark by-election of 1888, winning a mere 617 votes and being humiliated.


McIntyre’s victory gave the SNP hope at the height of the two-party system. Then there is the coming of Polaris to the Clyde in the 1960s, the rise of the anti-nuclear movement and Labour’s first abandonment of it. There then follows Winnie winning Hamilton, Margo and Govan, the watershed of the 1979 referendum, and the Thatcher decade, leading up to present events.


The Nationalists have contributed enormously to the enriching of Scottish public life and for anyone who doubts that, just imagine a politics reduced to a choice between Johann Lamont, Willie Rennie and Ruth Davidson.

And it might even be one without a Scottish Parliament for the electoral threat of the SNP was a huge factor in Labour’s reluctant turn back to devolution in the 1970s. Imagine contemporary Scotland without the bulwark of the Scottish Parliament against Conservative led cuts and austerity.


What seems to get a large part of Labour annoyed is the very existence of the Nationalists who don’t conform to neat left/right distinctions. But more fundamentally, they have threatened Labour’s divine right to rule and the entitlement culture which exists to this day in the heart of the people’s party.


For Labour to ever develop a mature strategy of opposing the Nationalists they are going to have to come to terms with them as a permanent part of Scottish life. Instead of hating every breath Alex Salmond takes, they have to learn to respect and understand him, get inside his psyche, and then begin to make sense of and exploit his weaknesses. It is a better approach than insulting him every day in a scattergun way which has little impact.


Yet if Labour history is only one part of the fabric of our nation, so then the same is true of Nationalist folklore and tradition. The SNP may be a catch-all party with a wide appeal across groups and communities the length and breadth of Scotland, but they are still, like Labour at its peak, a minority force. More people voted for parties other than the SNP even at their spectacular 2011 election landslide.


There is a deeper set of truths at play in this. Ergo that the Labour account was once seen and portrayed as the only show in town – something dangerous and anti-democratic. So the same is true of a Nationalist account of Scotland which becomes too over-bearing and the monopoly of wisdom.


Any political dispensation which becomes too much the official story sends out danger signals for the vitality of democracy. There are many Scotlands. Labour Scotland, is still coming to terms with its diminished status, and is clearly in a lot of pain and denial.


The Nationalist account is now firmly part of the mainstream of Scottish public life and, even in places, the new establishment, but it cannot and must not be allowed to become the only show.


Scotland has to belatedly embrace pluralism and the idea of different, competing visions of our politics and country. There is a politics beyond Labour and Nationalists, a politics beyond politicians, and even ideas of change which aren’t narrowly focused on politics.


Understanding this would be a gigantic leap which could contribute towards transforming the context of the independence debate, but perhaps even more importantly, changing the culture of our nation into one which allows for, tolerates and respects differing and dissenting opinions.

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Scotland - a modern country to live in - and we should all be proud of that.

Scotland - a modern country to live in - and we should all be proud of that. | Scottish Politics |

The Scotland of today is a land vastly different from that of even a few decades ago. Curiously, Scots whether in politics, public life or private conversation, often don’t recognise this.


Many understand that the empire has gone, the rise and fall of the welfare state, and that the Sunday Post isn’t the force in the land it once was. But there is so much more that we don’t seem to understand, including the scale of transformation and its consequences.


The Kirk, once an omnipotent force of theocratic power, has been reduced to a bit player in “civic Scotland”. Discrimination on the grounds of religion has mostly disappeared from employment. And to take another example, the council housing which was such a dominating characteristic of postwar Scotland from Cumbernauld to Dundee has been reduced to a declining minority status.


These and other changes have altered profoundly how we think, act and live. Religion doesn’t determine many aspects of our lives anymore or even shape how we live our Sundays. Sectarian divisions have little resonance outside of the context of ‘the Old Firm’.


The end of the era of council housing has coincided with the demise of all-powerful municipalism – a creed now much derided but which lifted people up, took working people out of poverty, and cleared Scotland of the scar of humiliating living conditions.


Last week another momentous change happened with the publication of the Marriage and Civic Partnership (Scotland) Bill which will legalise same sex marriage. It is worth noting how uncontroversial this was, despite the efforts of Scotland for Marriage, which looks likely to speak for a declining, aging constituency. So far this occasion and debate has given little opportunity to reflect on the degree to which Scotland has changed, and the dark place we have come from where the word homosexuality could barely be spoken. Until this point in time modern Scotland has consistently shown at every opportunity that it has had a problem with the subject.


Take the Wolfenden Report of 1957 which began the process of decriminalisation of male homosexuality. This was a Britishwide process, but a minority report by James Adair, chair of the YMCA and Kirk elder, opposed any reform, and was cited by opponents of any change in Scotland.


The Church of Scotland set up a committee in 1957 which reported in favour of decriminalisation, only to see it overturned by the Church and Nation Committee, a decision endorsed by a subsequent General Assembly.


Labour MPs such as Jean Mann, MP for Coatbridge, talked a language of prejudice and paranoia. Mann saw decriminalisation as part of a gay conspiracy to dominate society and an “evil thread” that ran “through the theatre, the music hall, through the press, and through the BBC”.

TheScotsman invoked the language of the period, declaring in an editorial that it was “no solution to any public problem to legitimise a bestial offence” and, in another piece, compared homosexuality to “perversion and subversion” and fear of communism.


When the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed for england and Wales, it wasn’t an accident but politics that excluded Scotland. Part of the politics was Willie Ross, Labour’s secretary of state for Scotland reading the runes of conservative Labour MPs, the mindset of what he saw as Calvinist Scots, the miners and other traditional unions, along with the Kirk.

Roy Jenkins, home secretary, could not understand the logic of the Scots opt-out – concluding that it was all about avoiding the “wrath” of Scots Labour MPs.


even as recently as 2000 the Scots got stuck in a cultural war on gay issues involving Wendy Alexander, Brian Souter and Clause 28. Senior Scottish Labour MSPs such as henry McLeish, Jack McConnell and Tom McCabe equivocated in their commitment to equality. Donald Dewar proved incapable, as with many issues, of showing convincing leadership.

This is the Scotland of the not so distant past: one many of us have direct experience and memory of – open prejudice, violence, blackmail, and as importantly, of silence and collusion with this state of affairs.

Today Scotland is not a land of milk and honey, but in terms of gay rights we live in a different world. This needs to be widely understood because it tells us some important things about ourselves.


This is a land which gave power and status not so long ago to moral authoritarians and guardians who were our elect and elders, whether family, friends or church. It was a place where people were worried, anxious and felt diminished by authority, and perhaps even more insidiously, always felt they needed to look over their shoulder, worrying about the criticism or scorn of others.


Modern Scotland is a very different place: diverse, messy, pluralist and one in which authority is increasingly being questioned and challenged.

This is history in the making: made by Scottish lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and supporters and advocates of equality in political parties, trade unions, NGOs, churches and wider society.


We have moved from a world with no gay figures in public life two decades ago to one where two of our mainstream political parties (the Tories and Scottish Greens) are led by people who can be “out” and it just isn’t an issue.


Much of this change in Scotland has happened outside of conventional politics by people taking a principled and courageous stand for equality and empathy in their lives, families and work. It provides us with an example of wider social change, rather than just relying on politicians and legislation who have helped, but ultimately have followed rather than led public opinion. Isn’t it time to celebrate the modern Scotland many of us have had a small part in creating?

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Irony as Labour jumps into Tory bed with Tories

Irony as Labour jumps into Tory bed with Tories | Scottish Politics |

LAST Wednesday, Chancellor George Osborne announced £11.5 billion worth of cuts in government expenditure and there was barely a whimper of protest from the Labour Party. Given that a few days before Mr Osborne’s statement, Labour’s Westminster leader had announced that his party would not reverse Tory/Lib Dem cuts, the reticence of the Labour Party to condemn what their leader actually supports is perhaps understandable.


However, we now have the situation where a Labour leader in Scotland (Johann Lamont) openly opposes universal benefits such as free bus passes for Scottish pensioners, free prescriptions and free university education for our young people, and a Labour leader at Westminster who openly states that if his party is elected, it will stick by Tory spending plans. One mainstream party in Scotland, the SNP, is opposed to the Westminster parties’ planned cuts in public expenditure. That party now finds that as well as facing its unionist opponents on the issue of independence, it also faces the same three parties in their shared plans to implement the massive cuts announced on Wednesday.


The irony of the situation may not be immediately obvious to Labour members in Scotland, but when their party lines up in support with the Tories and Lib Dems to oppose the SNP in the referendum, they will also in effect be campaigning against the only mainstream party that is genuinely opposed to Westminster’s cuts. The logic of this situation is that by supporting the continuing sovereignty of Westminster, they are also in effect showing support for the expenditure cuts that all three unionist parties agree they will not reverse.


Baroness Thatcher’s passing this year sparked memories of the struggles of many in Scotland during the 1980s and early 1990s who opposed her economic policies. Who back then from the Scottish left would have believed that, in 2013, the Labour Party would be lining up with the Tories to campaign for the continuance of Tory cuts on the people of Scotland? Like it or not, that is the default position in which the Labour Party in Scotland now finds itself after the past week at Westminster.


Gail Finlayson

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SNP claims MOD suppressing information relevant to debate

SNP claims MOD suppressing information relevant to debate | Scottish Politics |

THE SNP has produced a dossier which it claims shows that the Ministry of Defence is deliberately suppressing information it holds to prevent an informed debate ahead of next year’s independence referendum.


The dossier is expected to be raised by SNP veterans minister Keith brown when he appears before the commons defence select committee this week to answer questions on what the shape of an independent Scotland’s military would look like.


The SNP dossier highlights a number of parliamentary questions on defence assets and a regional breakdown of defence spending placed by the party’s Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson. Each time the response from MoD ministers has been that the information is either no longer produced or is not held centrally.


The issue has been further clouded by the decision of the UK Government to not publish another National Asset Register (NAR) which contained individual values for each item held by the MoD and other departments.

Instead, the government has replaced it with the Whole Government Accounts which was recently criticised by the Public Accounts Select committee for failing to provide enough detail.


on regional spending, despite saying that no figures are produced any more, a recent freedom of information request showed that items are given location of work codes.


Mr Robertson said: “The unco-operative approach of the MoD to Scotland is totally unacceptable. Their tactical efforts are focused on scaremongering about independence together with the rest of the Whitehall machine.


“Just because the facts don’t suit the anti-independence campaign they are using Whitehall to suppress information which is in the public interest.”

The accusation has been denied by the MoD.


An MoD spokesman said: “The accusation that the MoD has tried to withhold information on defence spending in Scotland is categorically untrue. The defence budget is for the whole of the UK and not apportioned on a regional basis. Scotland benefits from the full spectrum of UK defence capabilities and activities that are funded by the defence budget.”

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We need a system that will work for us, not the bankers

We need a system that will work for us, not the bankers | Scottish Politics |

AT last. Bankers are going to be banged up. At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, David Cameron promised to amend the Banking Act to implement the recommendation of the Banking Commission that “reckless mismanagement” should become a criminal offence, punishable by a custodial sentence.


So, could we soon be watching crooks from HBOS, RBS and HSBC being rounded up to spend time at Her Majesty’s pleasure? I wouldn’t bank on it. The 500-page report by the crossparty commission is damning of the sins of omission and commission by bankers and regulators alike in the crazy years of the noughties. Everyone is to blame, just about.


Though rightly the cross-party commission refuses to accept the “Orient Express” defence that because everyone is guilty, no-one can be prosecuted. Banking bosses were guilty as hell, says the report, and should be punished because they were in the front line, knew what they were doing and should accept responsibility not bonuses.


But a question arises here. Why haven’t they already been punished? We have seen MPs and lords going to jail for fiddling a few thousand pounds in the “duck house” parliamentary expenses scandal. But five years on from the banking crash, which destroyed much of the British economy, no guilty banker has been sent to jail. Not one.


Oh, you say, but no-one saw the crash coming. It was just that they got carried away selling those “liar loans” to home-buyers with no income; those 125% mortgages; the “with-profits” endowment policies that left savers with less than they put in. Everyone was at it. Payment Protection Insurance, sub-prime mortgages, “precipice” bonds.


You can’t punish people just for being greedy and paying themselves colossal bonuses for selling dud financial products to people too stupid to read the fine print. (And just in case anyone thought the bonus culture was a thing of the past, it emerged yesterday that bank bonuses went up this year by 64% – largely because the crafty banksters had held over their previous year’s bonuses to evade the 50% tax band that George Osborne abolished in April.)


But wait a minute. This wasn’t just a culture of greed, a culture of irresponsible marketing – there was real and actual fraud perpetrated by the banks. UBS, RBS and other banks were involved in one of the biggest financial frauds in history in the Libor rate-fixing ring. Traders conspired to rig the key interest rate upon which is based, quite literally, trillions of pounds’ worth of financial contracts, not to mention small business loans and mortgages. They lied about the true cost of their borrowing in order to manipulate the markets for their personal gain and to misrepresent the health of their own banks.


This was fraud, plain and simple. If a teller at a bureau de change was caught lying about the rate of exchange on foreign currencies they would be locked up for fraud. If you lie about the interest on a bank loan in your annual tax return, you could be prosecuted. Yet none of the individuals involved in the Libor ring have been jailed; none of the bank executives who allowed it to happen have been arrested.


And this, along with many other fraudulent activities, had been going on since the big bang deregulation in the City of London in 1986. Nor has the Bank of England been investigated for negligence in allowing it to happen.

Forget reckless – some of this mismanagement also involved money laundering. The British-based HSBC helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars of drug cartel money, and gave financial assistance to organisations believed to have links to al-Qaeda and Russian mobsters. It was fined $1.9 billion dollars for criminal activities that put TV show Breaking Bad in the shade.


Yet not one HSBC executive has been cuffed – because the authorities decided not to press charges. HSBC developed its drug habit a long time ago, after the Opium Wars when Britain went to war with China because it was threatening to ban British firms selling the drug. Plus ca change.

It doesn’t inspire confidence that the full force of the law will be applied in future. We were told yesterday “reckless mismanagement” is to be a criminal offence. But reckless mismanagement is already an offence.


Recklessness comes under the heading of what lawyers call mens rea – the legal doctrine that an offence has been committed deliberately and the perpetrator is therefore guilty of a crime. If you recklessly mismanage an NHS hospital or a primary school you can be prosecuted. Why should reckless mismanagement of a trillionpound bank be any different?

The irresponsible lending by HBOS was on an heroic scale, and the banking commission report makes clear the people at the top knew what was going on. HBOS bosses knew they were continuing to trade while insolvent – a heinous financial offence. They just assumed someone else would come along to pick up the pieces when the house of financial cards collapsed. Which they did. Us.


The Bank of England estimated that the bail-out of the banks after 2008 involved £1.3 trillion of public funds. Not all of that was lost money, of course. Most of it was in the form of short-term loans, liquidity injections and swaps – though if you are a small business try asking for similar help through a difficult patch and you’ll find the banks don’t want to know you. But there are still hundreds of billions of dud loans, collateral debt obligations and other toxic waste that has been quarantined by the bank rescue. RBS alone has an immediate liability of £40bn that it wants to get rid of in a so-called “bad bank” – and guess who gets it? It will be handed to the bank of you and me.


That no-one has paid any penalty for these activities is shocking. Even more shocking is that executives of state-owned banks like RBS have continued to pay themselves bonuses. How stupid can we be to allow people to behave like this with impunity.

Why is it that criminals with briefcases seem to be above the law? How can behaviour like this be tolerated in a supposedly law-abiding society? What kind of lesson does this set for the rest of us? If people with great wealth are seen to be above prosecution, how can you expect ordinary people to respect the law? This week we have seen one of the greatest recorded reductions in crime in decades. We are becoming a much more law-abiding society: except where probity and honesty really matter – at the top of our financial system.


Forget new laws. If the old ones haven’t been applied, what hope have we that new sanctions will be applied to these people who have robbed society and continue to rob society today. These people should have been sitting in holding pens in the Old Bailey, like the mafia, while the charges are read out.


Only then will we get a banking system that works for society’s interest instead of the personal enrichment of a banking kleptocracy.

Dirk Offringa's curator insight, June 24, 2013 8:18 AM

Once more..... we can't repeat it often enough.

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We must defend the victims of a relentless war on the poor

We must defend the victims of a relentless war on the poor | Scottish Politics |

And now, bouncing on to the Referendum pitch, the arrival of welfare policy as the latest political football to be kicked around.


For the Yes team, the timing wasn't great. The independent panel set up to look at the technicalities of separating the Scottish welfare system from that of the rest of the UK published its report, advising lead minister Nicola Sturgeon that a two-year transitional period was advised to protect services.


But it did so in the week that the disabled community began its enforced move from disability living allowance to personal independence plan, a device widely believed to involve another deeply flawed assessment process and driven by a determination to cut the benefits bill further, rather than in response to need.


So cue both the No camp and the voluntary sector variously querying the point of breaking up a system without a forward plan, or voicing disappointment at the lack of a post 2014 blueprint.


In truth both are barking up the wrong tree. The small group set up at the beginning of the year to look at welfare in a post independence Scotland had a remit to look at the technicalities of setting up a self standing system, not one to design new policy or comment on the current ones.

And here, as ever, is where the raw politics of the equation do not aid clarity of thought. One of the now-familiar scare stories flagged up around welfare and pensions has been that payment could be chaotic if Scotland takes over the administration of them.


And doubtless the Scottish Government, anxious not to frighten any more horses, accepted the advice to plump for transition planning rather than risk what the panel determined was a "high risk" strategy of going for the big bang on day one. In truth, the way we receive these payments is nothing if not messy in the geographical sense.


There are rafts of Scots whose entitlements are calculated and authorised south of the Border, and English claimants and pensioners on the books in Scotland. Seen from that perspective, a 24-month tidying-up process seems only prudent.


Nevertheless questions about the type of welfare state we aspire to as well as its logistics need to be addressed just as urgently. The UK minister responsible for Iain Duncan Smith's cuts crusade is regularly wheeled out to say the sums involved are rising and not sustainable. The logic of this escapes me. If you have 10 people in a queue for allowances to help them live independent lives, all with the same level of need and incapacity, do you tell the last three that, sorry, you've run out of cash?


When social security was set up the phrase meant just that, security for the citizen when circumstances left them and their families in need of a safety net. In the Duncan Smith new world order this has morphed into a grotesque lottery where people have to jump through ever more elaborate hoops to receive ever more inadequate levels of support.


I was reminded by a friend at the sharpest end of the voluntary sector this week that even in Ireland, no stranger to economic downturn, people on unemployment benefits were given an added 50 euros in exchange for work in their community. Rather more forward thinking, he suggested, than being obliged to tramp the streets for 35 hours a week in search of non existent jobs.


And here lies the nub of the argument. The old adage, to govern is to choose, will be writ large over government policy, whoever is in power in Holyrood come 2016, the first election after the referendum. That government will not be able to magic up funds to create a fairer more secure society, but it will be able to make choices about how it deploys its income.


For an obvious example I doubt if you could locate more than a handful of MSPs of any political shade in Holyrood who think that it makes sense to commit huge tranches of a Scottish exchequer to paying for son of Trident.

Yet welfare is not just about hard cash. The direction of travel pursued by the Westminster Coalition has helped construct a mindset where terms such as "scrounger" and "something for nothing society" have become a dispiriting feature of the debate.


We are entering a period where the full force of the benefit cuts will become only too apparent. We already live in a world where food banks, once an occasional resource for the desperate, are springing up all over the country, and being accessed by families who never dreamt the brave new 21st century would be one in which they couldn't afford to feed their own kids.


Still to come in this relentless war on the poor will be the spectre of disabled people once more trapped behind their own doors rather than being given enough to give them a measure of independence, a modicum of dignity, and the chance to remain a productive citizen rather than a passive recipient.


And once more those people determining the future of an already disadvantaged cohort of Scots will be the private sector clipboard army whose main area of expertise appears to lie in delivering the "correct" level of budget cuts.


That is not a world a modern nation should aspire to inhabit which is why the debate over welfare is a crucial one, one that is deserving of serious examination rather than campaign soundbites.


The mantra should never be how much money we can shake out of the system, but how we can construct one predicated on offering the maximum opportunity to belong and contribute in an equitable society.

I once got a cheap laugh at a conference by reminding the audience that the premises used by ATOS in Glasgow to determine who was fit to work was known locally as Lourdes, since the sick and disabled went in one door in that condition, and came out another, miraculously cured and deemed workforce ready.


It doesn't seem that funny any more.

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Alistair’s big surprise – he’s the Darling of the Tory Party

Alistair’s big surprise – he’s the Darling of the Tory Party | Scottish Politics |

FORMER Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling received an unprecedented standing ovation from the Scottish Conservatives yesterday as he outlined why the UK is better together.


In a first ever appearance at a Tory gathering, the leader of the Better Together campaign addressed a fringe event to talk of the benefits that being part of the UK brings to Scotland.


He also launched a Forces Together campaign, which aims to show that servicemen and women get a better deal by being part of the UK.

Mr Darling’s appearance at the conference drew criticism from SNP leaders, who branded it proof that Labour and the Tories were in ‘alliance’.

But the Labour MP could not have expected the huge ovation he received from about 200 Tories.


One delegate even asked him if his speech had been recorded, as she said it should be distributed around schools.


Former Tory leader Annabel Goldie said: ‘I understand Alistair attending the Conservative conference is a bit like me leading the Bolshoi ballet: unexpected. The SNP are trying to make political capital out of his attendance – Labour in cahoots with the Tories – but the SNP has underlined how important the UK is and how powerful an advocate Better Together has become.’


After his standing ovation, Mr Darling said: ‘One thing that has struck me since I stepped down from frontline politics is just how nice your opponents are about you once they’re absolutely sure you’re not coming back.’


During his speech, Mr Darling said that Scotland was better as part of the UK for ‘three powerful reasons’: the risk to jobs of putting up any barriers – especially since Europe’s big countries call the shots – the emotional ties between Scotland and other parts of the UK, and the UK’s strong economy.


On SNP claims that an independent Scotland would join the rest of the UK in a currency union to keep the pound, he said: ‘Even if they got agreement, there would be terms and conditions. Look at Europe. You could get terms and conditions which you do not like.’ He also warned against complacency, despite the No campaign having a massive lead in the opinion polls.


At the event, a video was launched featuring former members of the UK Armed Forces voicing concerns about a separate Scottish army.

It included subjects such as military pensions and employment for the large number of support staff in Scotland.


Army veteran Nicol Cameron, who appears in the Forces Together video, said a Scottish defence force would have little military capability.

But Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said: ‘Alistair Darling being feted at the Tory conference exposes the fundamental flaw at the heart of the No campaign: Labour and the Tories are joined at the hip in trying to stop independence, but the record of successive UK governments shows that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland.


‘Mr Darling is proving that the No campaign prefers bad Tory government from Westminster to good government with independence.’

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Deputy Leader, Anas Sarwar, tells Aberdeen voters to vote Labour to reject Independence

Deputy Leader, Anas Sarwar, tells Aberdeen voters to vote Labour to reject Independence | Scottish Politics |

oters in Aberdeen Donside face a “stark” choice in a by-election which could send a message to Alex Salmond on independence, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader argued yesterday.

Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar MP, campaigning in Aberdeen yesterday.

Anas Sarwar said the campaign was a two-horse race between Labour and the SNP – and went as far as to suggest that a vote for any other party would be wasted.


The Glasgow Central MP hit the doorsteps with candidate Willie Young yesterday as Labour attacked Nationalist hopeful Mark McDonald’s record as a north-east list MSP.


Mr Sarwar said: “The key thing here is that this election is about Aberdeen and the issues that concern the people of Donside – it cannot become a proxy for the referendum next year.


“Are we going to elect someone who is going to stand up and fight for Donside, or an SNP candidate who has spent the last two years at Holyrood talking about separation?”


The SNP won the seat with a commanding margin of more than 7,000 seats in 2011, but faces losing its majority at the Scottish Parliament if Labour manage to pull off a victory.


Yesterday, Nationalist Mr McDonald insisted that the Donside voters were “savvy enough” to know the difference between the June 20 by-election poll and next year’s independence referendum.


He also rejected the notion that the SNP were avoiding discussing independence on the doorsteps. He said: “We have asked 60,000 voters to fill in a survey, and one of the questions asks if they agree that Scotland should be an independent country.


“We are talking about it, but we are also talking about the issues that really matter to the people of Donside.” Mr Sarwar also argued that the SNP should be more honest with the Scottish public about the long-term challenges facing the welfare system.


Labour was accused of “abandoning” its principles on the welfare state after Ed Miliband pledged to cap social security spending in a speech on Thursday. But Mr Sarwar claimed that the SNP stance on the issue was unrealistic.


Mr McDonald said he has recently been endorsed by former Labour supporter David Forbes, who chairs city charity Future Choices, which helps people with disabilities. He added: “People are backing me because they recognise that the SNP is defending the principles of universalism – while the Labour Party lurches to the right.”

John Hamill's comment, June 8, 2013 5:02 AM
This is Anas Sarwar and not Amer Anwar as your headline suggests. You need to fix this.
Jeff Duncan's comment, June 8, 2013 5:04 AM
Sorted - thanks for alerting me!
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Opponents are accused of looking down their noses at Alex Salmond

Opponents are accused of looking down their noses at Alex Salmond | Scottish Politics |

ALEX Salmond has been underrated by London opponents because they consider him "provincial and lower middle class", according to a new history of contemporary Scotland.


He has also been dismissed as a "scruff" whose off-duty tendency to dismiss a collar and tie persists to this day.


The claims come in a new book by Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter, who says a key reason why the SNP triumphed at Holyrood polls was that the leader was consistently under-rated.


Macwhirter's history will be featured at Glasgow's Aye Write! literary festival and is also detailed in a new three-part documentary starting tonight on STV.


Macwhirter believes class is a persistent reason why Westminster politicians underestimated the SNP leader.

He writes: "One reason I think that there is so much antipathy to Salmond in the metropolitan intelligentsia is that there isn't anything very interesting about Salmond and there is a vague resentment that he has got where he has.


"He must be a devious trickster, a svengali, or live a double life. How could someone so ordinary be a great leader? The one place Alex Salmond really did shine, however, was – to their annoyance – in the debating chamber of the House of Commons.


"Salmond still says that he felt most at home in that chamber, more so even than in Holyrood. He was a natural debater, and loved the sense of being close to power."


He goes on: "Salmond is provincial and lower middle class, his parents were junior civil servants, and he had a very conventional upbringing, going to church on Sunday -


"His father, Robert, supported Labour, and his mother, Mary, was a Conservative. There is almost nothing remarkable to say about Alex Salmond's background – no Oxbridge firsts, or Glasgow University debating honours, or rugby caps.


"He didn't take drugs, attend raves, go on gap-years abroad, climb mountains or get arrested for refusing to pay his poll tax.


"He doesn't speak foreign languages or write novels in his spare time or do anything that might class as a 'hinterland' – except perhaps golf."

Macwhirter's book adds: "Salmond arouses very strong feelings, and seems to generate suspicion wherever he goes. The odd thing is that for all the colourful language, none of his critics seem to have ever actually pinned anything on Salmond.


"He has been one of the most minutely scrutinised politicians in Britain, with unionists desperate to find confirmation of his perfidy, and the national press ever at the ready with its cheque book."


The book says of the FM's cultural view: "He is interested in the arts, in a political sense at least, since like all nationalists he realises how important writers and artists are to any movement for national independence.

"Salmond can recite Burns, sometimes beyond the pain threshold."


Macwhirter speaks of interviews at Bute House, saying: "In the evening, the First Minister will emerge, typically in a polo shirt, belly hanging perilously over a pair of crushed slacks and scuffed tan shoes.


"The smart suits and ties are dispensed with as soon as he gets off grid. You realise that this is probably how he's been dressing since he was an economics and medieval history student at St Andrews University in the 1970s. Informality, in the Salmond circle, is almost a formality.


"When he worked as an oil economist after leaving university, first with the Government service and then the Royal Bank of Scotland, he was invariably described as a 'scruff' and censured for not wearing a tie."

Iain Macwhirter's Road to Referendum is published tomorrow by Cargo Books (£13.99). The first episode of his three-part documentary is on STV tonight at 8pm.

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Danny Alexander's mother setsup a food help the victims of Tory/Lib Dem cuts

Danny Alexander's mother setsup a food help the victims of Tory/Lib Dem cuts | Scottish Politics |

THE mother of a senior coalition Minister has taken it upon herself to limit the worst impact of Government cuts by setting up a food bank in her community.


Jane Alexander, mother of Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey Danny Alexander, is leading plans to establish a food bank in Aviemore, Inverness-shire.


The food bank network, run by the Trussell Trust, already serves more than 3,500 people a year in the Highlands from a base in Inverness.

The news comes after figures released by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty show a surge in the number of people forced to turn to food banks.


The disclosure will be an embarrassment to Mr Alexander, whose key position at the Treasury means he is a vital part of forcing through Westminster’s austerity regime, which has been blamed for the hunger crisis. The Government has capped total welfare payments, increased sanctions for people not trying hard enough to find work and has enacted the ‘bedroom tax’, which cuts the benefit payments of council tenants with spare rooms.


The Scottish Mail on Sunday understands Mrs Alexander also took part in an anti-bedroom tax protest in Glasgow’s George Square in March, despite her son being at the forefront of efforts to force through the measure.


Charities say the soaring levels of hunger are partly due to Government cuts, and called on the Government to monitor food poverty more closely.

They estimate more than half a million people a year now turn to food banks, which provide staple fare such as rice, pasta, soup, tinned vegetables, tuna, potatoes and oatcakes.


The Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty report described the rise in food poverty as ‘a national disgrace’ that ‘undermines’ the UK’s commitment to human rights, as it is leaving so many citizens without food.

Yesterday, SNP welfare spokesman Jamie Hepburn said: ‘Even the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s mother recognises the pain and suffering caused by the Westminster system’s policies.


‘It is not acceptable to continue with these draconian cuts when they are pushing families into poverty and hardship.’


He added: ‘Food banks do a vital service but it is unforgivable that this is the state the UK is in. Half a million people being forced to queue up for food donations as a result of the Westminster system’s draconian austerity measures is nothing short of sickening.’


Mrs Alexander is helping to plan the Aviemore food bank and has been a regular volunteer at the Aviemore Community Cafe, which opened in 2011, where she cooks soup once a week for visitors for £1 a cup.


Lorna Dempster, co-ordinator of the Highland Food Bank, said: ‘ Jane Alexander is working to set up a distribution point in the Aviemore area.’

Last week, the Treasury announced that Mr Alexander and Chancellor George Osborne will chair a public expenditure panel which will persuade Ministers to make even deeper cuts to their departments ahead of Westminster’s spending review this month.


The two Ministers are aiming to force through a further £11.5 billion in cuts to department budgets before the next Parliament, of which only £2.5 billion has so far been found.

Mrs Alexander and a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats declined to comment. 

Jeff Duncan's insight:

Oh the irony!

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SNP demands George Sq cash probe Claims of subterfuge over judges’ expenses

SNP demands George Sq cash probe Claims of subterfuge over judges’ expenses | Scottish Politics |

THE SNP last night called for Audit Scotland to investigate the financial side of the George Square redesign contest after claims Glasgow City Council paid judges thousands of pounds in expenses without receipts.

The spending watchdog is already looking at the £100,000 competition as part of its annual audit of the council’s management.


The contest ended in farce earlier this year after Labour council leader Gordon Matheson announced the revamp of the square had been scrapped just minutes after the judging panel had picked a design he detested, and had ranked his preferred option fourth out of six.

Now it has emerged that the council paid two of the four external judges £6000 on top of their fees as “expenses” without asking for any receipts to justify the expenditure.


David Mackay, the Barcelona-based architect who was the original chair of the judging panel before Matheson displaced him, was paid a flat £5000 on top of his £5000 fee. His fellow judge, Professor Andy MacMillan, the former head of Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and Mackintosh School of Architecture, was paid £1000 in expenses on top of his £2000 fee.


The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), which ran the contest for the city, last night claimed the expenses were, in fact, a face-saving “subterfuge” by the council, after it tried and failed to cut Mackay’s fee, and that Mackay’s actual expenses were paid separately by RIAS.

RIAS secretary Neil Baxter said the council tried to cut Mackay’s £10,000 fee to £5000 when Matheson insisted on being chair, but backed down when threatened with legal action. However, in order to maintain in public that Mackay only received a £5000 fee, a further £5000 was paid under the guise of expenses.


Baxter said: “They were not really expenses. It was a subterfuge to cover the council’s embarrassment over the leader’s behaviour.”


Graeme Hendry, leader of the council’s SNP opposition group, said no blame was attached to the judges, but said the method of payment was symptomatic of the council’s cavalier approach to taxpayers’ money.

The aborted design contest cost taxpayers £ 100,000 and the architects involved £200,000.


Hendry said: “To pay expenses without seeking any evidence to show they were incurred is highly irregular and shows the level of chaos caused by Cllr Matheson’s monumental failures in judgment over George Square. While this figure is only a fraction of the total wasted, I am sure Audit Scotland will be concerned by the practise.


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Nicola Sturgeon challenges Alistair Darling at event

Nicola Sturgeon challenges Alistair Darling at event | Scottish Politics |

NICOLA Sturgeon will ­challenge Alistair Darling to explain why he prefers Scotland’s economy to be controlled by coalition ­government policies he has criticised, at a major event this week.


The Deputy First Minister and the former Chancellor are to debate together on the independence referendum on Tuesday at a Scotsman conference in ­Edinburgh.


Darling, who is leading the pro-UK Better Together campaign, has strongly criticised the SNP’s plan to push for independence while keeping the pound, saying it would mean Scotland’s spending plans being signed off by a foreign ­government.


However, speaking ahead of the debate, Sturgeon drew attention to bitter criticism Darling has laid at the door of the UK government.

She said: “Alistair Darling is on record as describing the economic policies of the Tory/Lib-Dem government at Westminster as ‘a huge gamble’. He has said that the austerity path chosen by Osborne, Cameron and Alexander is ‘dismantling the support millions depend on’ and is doing ‘immeasurable’ damage. Mr Darling has even gone as far as to say that Westminster’s economic policies are ‘utterly mad’.


“With his damning verdict how can the leader of the No campaign possibly claim with any credibility that Scotland’s economic future will not be best served by all the main decisions on jobs, spending and investment being taken here in Scotland?”

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Tories Election Strategy for 2015 - keep low and don't remind anyone we are Tories! You couldn't make it up . . .

Tories Election Strategy for 2015 - keep low and don't remind anyone we are Tories!  You couldn't make it up . . . | Scottish Politics |
Conservatives plan to ‘keep under the radar’ to win seats

THE Conservatives plan to increase the number of Westminster seats they hold in Scotland by keeping “under the radar” at the next General Election.

COSTLY WIN: Despite spending more than £1 million as the party targeted 11 constituencies in the last general election, David Mundell was the only elected Scottish MP.

The Tories famously spent more than £1 million in the last General Election in 2010 and targeted 11 constituencies but failed to get a single extra MP elected.


Conservative strategists found the more they told the electorate the party had a real chance to win a seat the more people were motivated to go out and back their opponents.


As a result, senior party sources plan to keep a lower profile with many voters at the next General Election, due in 2015.


Instead, they will rely on sophisticated election techniques which mean they can target only those who might be sympathetic to their cause.

The system means the party will run less of a risk of alienating voters who still consider the Tories to be “toxic” in Scotland.


A senior party source said: “We have a good chance in 2015 by keeping under the radar.


“New techniques means that we can be sure when we send out messages to voters that it is only going to those who will be open to what we are saying.


“We will not end up accidentally getting our message out to people who are so actively turned off by us they go and vote for our political opponents”.


In 2010 the party only managed to win one seat, that already held by David Mundell in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.

The lack of electoral success has led to jibes from their political opponents that there are more Pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs.


The Conservatives have long struggled with their image north of the Border.

The party has failed to shrug off associations with Margaret Thatcher.

The Scottish Conservatives also failed to benefit from the rebranding as “caring Conservatives” under David Cameron after he became leader in 2005.


Despite this, the Conservatives are confident that they can increase on their MP numbers in 2015.


However, opponents suggest any success in Scotland will be even harder to achieve when the party is in a Government presiding over massive spending cuts.


Many political parties have turned to more targeted campaigning in recent years, using techniques honed in recent American elections.

The Liberal Democrats used such a system earlier this year when they held on to the seat of Eastleigh in England.


This was despite the jailing of former MP Chris Huhne after he admitted asking his wife to take his speeding points.


A spokesman for the SNP said: “It seems the Scottish Tories are desperately hoping they can keep their heads down and continue to rule Scotland from Westminster - no matter how few Tory MPs actually get elected in Scotland.”

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Viewing figures for Gaelic TV channel up 200,000

Viewing figures for Gaelic TV channel up 200,000 | Scottish Politics |

MORE than 200,000 new viewers tuned into BBC Scotland’s Gaelic language channel last year, giving the station its largest ever share of the audience.

BBC Alba’s fifth annual report said the number of Scots watching rose from 436,000 to its highest ever figure of 637,000 on the back of a successful range of programmes.

Viewers were attracted by home-grown programmes and sports coverage, despite a drop in the number of hours of TV produced by the station.

A record number of viewers also watched the channel’s output on computers and mobile devices through the BBC’s iPlayer.

Highlights on the schedule included a documentary on the aid worker Linda Norgrove, from Lewis, who died in Afghanistan in 2010, as well as the station’s live Hogmanay show and coverage of the Mod festival.

BBC Alba al s o screened the first third-division match played by Rangers.

The station, which has a budget of about £15 million a year, produced 397 hours of original programmes, six fewer than in 2012. It also fell short of its target of screening three hours of its own programmes a day, producing only 1.7 hours.


However, Maggie Cunningham, chairwoman of MG Alba, which runs the channel in partnership with the BBC, said it was an undisputed success and that bosses could learn from the success of Danish television dramas in the push to bring minority-language programmes to a wider audience.

She said: “We have been inspired by and admire the global success which has been achieved by Danish dramas Borgen and The Killing.

“Looking ahead, we will continue to share experiences with our fellow minority-language broadcasters such as S4C in Wales and TG4 in Ireland to inspire our commissioning and funding strategies.


“While indigenous-language crime programmes have been a success, we will be looking at all options for developing drama for the channel.”


The report said funding remained a challenge but the station has been boosted by an injection of an extra £1m of funding, due to be in place from 2015.


It also highlighted BBC Alba’s role as a broadcaster during the debate on the independence referendum


Donald Campbell, MG Alba Chief Executive, said plans were in place to develop drama for BBC Alba and also to build on the music and arts programming on the channel


He said: “We would like to see it grow into a go-to channel for these genres.


“The period of 2012/13 was the best ever year for audiences for BBC Alba.

“Weekly reach Scotland-wide grew from 10.6% (436,000) to 15.6% (637,000). Interest in Gaelicspeaking communities also grew.

“The average reach of 79% in quarter four was the highest recorded reach since the launch of the channel in 2008.

“This was also a record year for iPlayer viewing of BBC Alba content with 4.1 million views of our programming, almost double the amount of viewing we received in 2011-12.

“This year also saw a significant shift from traditional PCs to mobile devices as a popular way to access iPlayer content, especially for younger audiences.”

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SNP promises recruits a job for life in new Scottish army

SNP promises recruits a job for life in new Scottish army | Scottish Politics |

RECRUITS signing up to join an independent Scotland's army would be offered a job for life under plans being considered by the Scottish Government.


Veterans Minister Keith Brown told MPs yesterday that men and women risking their lives for the nation in war zones should not be "looking over their shoulder ... to see if they are about to be handed a P45".


The proposal follows recent claims from defence experts that Scotland could struggle to recruit enough personnel to defend the nation.

During evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee on the impact of independence, Mr Brown said the job for life offer would make Scotland's forces more attractive to recruits than the British Army.

Last month the Ministry of Defence announced almost 4500 army personnel would be axed in the latest cut-backs following the 2010 defence review. It has long-term plans to reduce the number of regular soldiers from 102,000 to 82,000.


More than 500 Scottish members of the armed forces have already lost their jobs since the Coalition Government came to power.


The Scottish Government is also looking at "an agreement whereby there was no compulsory redundancies for people serving within the armed forces during the term of their contract", Mr Brown said.

Among the other perks being considered include greater freedom and an improved career development.


Mr Brown faced accusations of a U-turn after he admitted for the first time that an independent Scotland would have to apply to join Nato.

However, his administration's hopes of a Trident-free independent Scotland received a blow as UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warned removing the nuclear deterrent from the Clyde would take at least 10 years.

Mr Brown conceded Scotland would have to apply for membership of Nato and there was no guarantee it would be accepted into the international nuclear alliance.

That statement appeared to be at odds with previous claims by Cabinet colleagues that an independent Scotland's Nato membership would continue and it would not have to re-apply.

In April, First Minister Alex Salmond described the situation as "parallel with the European Union: you notify your intent to remain a member".

Mr Brown told MPs: "There are fairly substantial processes to go through but it has been done relatively quickly in the past with some of the Eastern European countries.

"I don't want to give the impression this is an automatic assumption. We will go through the processes."


Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy seized on Mr Brown's comments, saying: "The SNP's defence policy unravels each time they open their mouth.


"It is little wonder Scotland does not trust the SNP on defence."

Giving evidence to the same committee, Mr Hammond went further, suggesting Scotland's membership of Nato could be blocked by the UK Government.


"The position of the government of the rest of the UK would be one of considered self-interest," he said.


In what amounted to the most detailed outline of the composition of the Scottish military post-independence, Mr Brown also suggested they would not include the Typhoon fleet currently based at RAF Leuchars in Fife.

The aircraft were "beyond the requirements" of the nation, he said.

He said an independent Scotland would require just one airbase, despite the SNP's campaign against UK Government plans to close RAF bases.

Mr Brown said Scottish ministers has yet to decide which ships a Scottish Navy would need or the size of its budget.

For his part, Mr Hammond warned he could not guarantee Sandhurst places to train large numbers of Scottish officers.

The Defence Secretary also said it would be cheaper for the UK Government to commission yards in Spain or Italy to build warships than those in an independent Scotland.


Committee member Thomas Docherty, the Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, also questioned the practicality of guaranteeing no compulsory redundancies within the Scottish army. He said that the British Army regularly had to "churn" personnel because of the need for young, fit staff.

"Are you really going to have a bunch of relatively old soldiers?" he asked.

The proposal follows recent claims from defence experts that Scotland could struggle to recruit enough personnel to defend the nation.

During evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee on the impact of independence, Mr Brown said the job for life offer would make Scotland's forces more attractive to recruits than the British Army.

Last month the Ministry of Defence announced almost 4500 army personnel would be axed in the latest cut-backs following the 2010 defence review. It has long-term plans to reduce the number of regular soldiers from 102,000 to 82,000.


More than 500 Scottish members of the armed forces have already lost their jobs since the Coalition Government came to power.

The Scottish Government is also looking at "an agreement whereby there was no compulsory redundancies for people serving within the armed forces during the term of their contract", Mr Brown said.

Among the other perks being considered include greater freedom and an improved career development.


Mr Brown faced accusations of a U-turn after he admitted for the first time that an independent Scotland would have to apply to join Nato.

However, his administration's hopes of a Trident-free independent Scotland received a blow as UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warned removing the nuclear deterrent from the Clyde would take at least 10 years.


Mr Brown conceded Scotland would have to apply for membership of Nato and there was no guarantee it would be accepted into the international nuclear alliance.


That statement appeared to be at odds with previous claims by Cabinet colleagues that an independent Scotland's Nato membership would continue and it would not have to re-apply.

In April, First Minister Alex Salmond described the situation as "parallel with the European Union: you notify your intent to remain a member".

Mr Brown told MPs: "There are fairly substantial processes to go through but it has been done relatively quickly in the past with some of the Eastern European countries.


"I don't want to give the impression this is an automatic assumption. We will go through the processes."

Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy seized on Mr Brown's comments, saying: "The SNP's defence policy unravels each time they open their mouth.


"It is little wonder Scotland does not trust the SNP on defence."

Giving evidence to the same committee, Mr Hammond went further, suggesting Scotland's membership of Nato could be blocked by the UK Government.

"The position of the government of the rest of the UK would be one of considered self-interest," he said.


In what amounted to the most detailed outline of the composition of the Scottish military post-independence, Mr Brown also suggested they would not include the Typhoon fleet currently based at RAF Leuchars in Fife.

The aircraft were "beyond the requirements" of the nation, he said.

He said an independent Scotland would require just one airbase, despite the SNP's campaign against UK Government plans to close RAF bases.

Mr Brown said Scottish ministers has yet to decide which ships a Scottish Navy would need or the size of its budget.


For his part, Mr Hammond warned he could not guarantee Sandhurst places to train large numbers of Scottish officers.

The Defence Secretary also said it would be cheaper for the UK Government to commission yards in Spain or Italy to build warships than those in an independent Scotland.


Committee member Thomas Docherty, the Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, also questioned the practicality of guaranteeing no compulsory redundancies within the Scottish army. He said that the British Army regularly had to "churn" personnel because of the need for young, fit staff.

"Are you really going to have a bunch of relatively old soldiers?" he asked.

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Powering change one man at a time

Powering change one man at a time | Scottish Politics |

Self-conf ident communities can best resolve social issues, but real success relies on special individuals, writes Lesley Riddoch

AllAn Macrae from Assynt was a man who made history. So was Tommy Riley from Drumchapel. They both died on the same day last week but never met. Yet in many ways they were gentle brothers in the same fight for expression and dignity. They left a mark on their communities – and changed my life.

Against all the odds, 20 years ago, Allan Macrae, Bill Ritchie and John MacKenzie led the Assynt Crofters to the first community land buyout from a private landowner in Scottish history. A big achievement for a wiry, wee crofter, happier shifting sheep round the hill than dealing with media attention or large sums of money.


And yet Allan was full of surprises. He was an old-fashioned orator, belting out fiery, well-crafted phrases at a volume that defied his slight frame and shy manner. like most Scots, Allan knew selling land over the heads of crofters like so many deer or sheep was completely unacceptable.

Unlike most Scots he said it – on public platforms, to lairds’ faces, in bureaucrats’ offices and most importantly to fellow crofters.

When lord Vestey carved the north lochinver Estate out of his massive northern domain and put it up for sale in 1992 – provocatively advertising the populated land as “an unspoilt wilderness [in which] man himself is perhaps the alien…” – he drew up boundaries which coincided with the local Assynt Crofters Union branch.


So people living on this new artificial parcel of “wilderness” already knew and trusted one another and had a shared history of practical deeds, land management, complaint mediation and action. If Vestey had doubled the acreage, he might have weakened the crofters’ resolve. As it was, the main obstacle facing the crofters was their own negative inner voice muttering constantly: “Dinnae get above yourselves.”


Happily Allan was not plagued by such self-doubt. He was a firebrand – and inherited that from both sides of his family. His great-grandfather was cleared from the land but managed to stay in Assynt and his mother was a genuine Cockney. In response to my amazement after meeting her, Allan smiled and said: “Hybrids are the strongest plants.”


That’s very true. Allan lived in a caravan for decades – like many Highland natives – but spent 15 years gradually building a “stone barn” which bypassed planning before he moved in five years ago.


The stonework is a thing of great beauty – not surprising since its owner was a skilled stonemason as well as a hardy crofter and well-read iconoclast. I once watched Allan rounding up sheep in a force-8 gale reading Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed whilst remaining upright and rolling a cigarette (with one hand).


That book was important. Freire’s controversial classic suggests that living without power is an art form that requires vital life skills like spending next to nothing, making do with second, third or fifth-best, leaving instead of speaking out and above all discouraging defiance or ambition. But Freire’s contention is that these “skills” remain and a “second-best” attitude prevails long after conditions improve until they are consciously unlearned.

Freire may have been describing what we call “the Scottish Effect” – unaccountably higher rates of disease and premature death amongst Scots (particularly Glaswegians) compared to UK counterparts. Scotland’s bad health outcomes cannot be explained by deprivation alone – but may result from the crippling disempowerment of living in a society which outwardly strives for equality but fails to back those who sacrifice everything to achieve it.


After the Assynt buyout Allan visited Eigg to advise islanders there. His advice was simple: Buy everything. Buy all the rights. Don’t be fobbed off. Get everything – go for gold. I wonder if he knew how important his words would become. A few years later Eigg islanders were in precisely the position he foresaw – offered 49 per cent control of the island in a deal backed by national Heritage lottery funders. It was more control than islanders had ever known under landowners like Keith Schellenberg – but with Allan’s advice ringing in their ears, they refused.

later – when the people of Eigg bought the whole island, lock, stock and barrel in 1997 – Allan came over for “Handover Day”. Walking around with him was like walking with God. This smiling, unimposing man was known by reputation across the island. His presence was the ultimate validation – from the first famous land pioneers to the next.


I met Tommy Riley about the same time. He was a founder of the Drumchapel Men’s Health Group in 1993 – the architect of a minor social revolution in one of the hardest, most macho parts of Glasgow, with the highest rates of chronic illness, suicide and premature death. Tommy helped set up the Danny Morrison Men’s Health Clinic and soon had waiting lists for aromatherapy, acupuncture, cooking classes and a walking club.

It was funded for one glorious year by Greater Glasgow Health Board before they took fright, axed the funding and left Tommy and the others back on the street where they’d started. Some got jobs – Tommy didn’t. He had been one of the few who didn’t drink before the project began but the stress of pushing, organising, running and losing the centre changed that.


Earlier this year I tracked Tommy down to write about the project for a new book. He had COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and was an alcoholic. Clear-eyed, honest to the end and broken by a system that has used, discarded and crushed thousands of talented people. Men who have tried to fight against macho stereotypes in the face of official indifference and some peer hostility and women who’ve been left to pick up the pieces.


Amazingly, despite current concern about Scotland’s abysmal health record, there is no official interest in Scotland’s first purposebuilt men’s health centre or the part played by men like Tommy Riley. Even though he was the Scottish Effect.


So in memory of these two great, thrawn men I’d make this point.

We can continue to apply sticking plaster solutions to Scotland’s problems – or shift power to communities, because they alone can build the conditions for genuine change.


Charismatic and capable locals have long been ignored as engines of regeneration. And yet, without help from the authorities, they’ve worked to transform unjust situations around them.



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More cuts are on the way, warns Tory minister

More cuts are on the way, warns Tory minister | Scottish Politics |

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has insisted there are “definitely more” government cuts to come on top of the £5 billion in “efficiency savings” set out for the first year of the next parliament.

the tory MP said the government had already saved £10 billion over the past year from “unglamorous” areas such as job cuts and renegotiating services, but he suggested there was still plenty of room to root out unnecessary spending across Whitehall.

Mr Maude admitted some of the ways in which cash would be clawed back, such as halting civil service automatic pay progression, were “not without their controversy”.
He said: “there’s more to come. Frankly, even if it was the most efficient organisation in the world, there would be more to come.

“the best organisations find efficiency savings every single year, because that’s just what you do. the best companies do this every year so there’s definitely more to come and we are nowhere near the most efficient organisation in the world.

“Last year alone, the year to March, we took out £10 billion of efficiency savings. this is from the unglamorous part of running an organisation – it’s getting out of properties we don’t need to be in, it’s by reducing our headcount, it’s by renegotiating contracts with our biggest suppliers, it’s by moving services online so they are being done in a way that’s convenient for the citizen, for the user of the service as well as being much, much cheaper for the taxpayer.”
the £5bn of fresh efficiency savings account for nearly half the £11.5bn in total savings set out by Chancellor George Osborne in the 2015-16 spending round last week.

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Holyrood may vote to censure Question Time

Holyrood may vote to censure Question Time | Scottish Politics |

THE SNP is attempting to force a Holyrood vote censuring the BBC’s Question Time programme for featuring Nigel Farage and George Galloway in an edition broadcast from Edinburgh.


Nationalist MSP Kenneth Gibson yesterday tabled a parliamentary motion objecting to the presence of the Ukip and Respect leaders on the panel, on the grounds that their parties have no elected representatives in Scotland.


If sufficient MSPs back the motion, it will be debated and voted upon at Holyrood.


Thursday’s Question Time, before a studio audience of 16and 17-year-olds, also featured the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Roberston, independence-supporting journalist Lesley Riddoch, Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar.


Mr Gibson’s motion criticises Question Time’s approach to Scotland and claims the programme failed to reflect political reality north of the Border.

It argues the Greens and Liberal Democrats should have been represented on the panel and urges the BBC to “reflect on its choice of Question Time guests and their relevance to Scotland”.


Mr Gibson said: “The programme was perfectly properly chaired, and t he audience of 16 and 17-year-olds was lively and engaged, but in assembling such an unbalanced and unrepresentative panel, the BBC failed to cover the independence referendum properly.


“The panel included representatives of two parties which advocate a No vote – Ukip and Respect – which don’t have any representation in Scotland at any level.


“Yet it did not include the Scottish Green Party, which supports independence, has both MSPs and councillors, and would have helped deliver a more balanced panel.”


He added: “The issue is broader than just one panel on one programme. The BBC is Scotland’s national broadcaster, and parachuting someone as utterly unrepresentative as Nigel Farage into Scotland to take part in a programme which largely focused on independence shows that there is a problem with the BBC’s coverage of the referendum.”


On a recent visit to Edinburgh Mr Farage, whose party wants Britain to leave the EU and campaigns for tight curbs on immigration, was targeted by an angry mob of pro-independence and anti-racist demonstrators.

The MEP was locked in a pub for his own safety before being rescued by a police riot van as protesters yelled “go back to England”.


Alex Salmond’s subsequent refusal to condemn the protests was criticised by Mr Galloway during Thursday’s discussion.


Mr Galloway also used the programme to launch a powerful attack on Scottish independence.


The Scot, who represented Glasgow Hillhead and Glasgow Kelvin as a Labour MP for many years, formed Respect after his expulsion from Labour over outspoken criticism of Tony Blair during the Iraq War.

A spokesman for Mr Galloway, who is MP for Bradford West, said: “This is desperately parochial and rather pathetic by the SNP. Are they saying that only people who are geographically based in Scotland are allowed to comment?


“George was instrumental in the campaign for a Scottish parliament.”

The BBC defended the Question Time panel following criticism ahead of the show. A spokeswoman said it sought to reflect a broad range of political opinion while offering a UK-wide audience a varied and interesting debate.

Gavin Barrie's curator insight, June 15, 2013 4:15 AM

George Galloway Is an English MP. Nigel Farage represents UKIP which has 0.2% of the vote in Scotland and they were both chosen ahead of the Green Party which has two MEPs and council level representation in Scottish politics.

This was wrong, produced a panel with only one pro Indy supporter (albeit within the Program Lesley Riddich came out as 'Yes') in the week that Donside was havin an election and in which the audience was chosen to be 15/16 year olds who will have vote in the referendum in 2014 To be split 50/50 between Yes and No minded people.

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Mike Russell well received by union

Mike Russell well received by union | Scottish Politics |

EDUCATION SECRETARY Mike Russell emerged unscathed from his appearance before the EIS annual meeting in Perth at the weekend, after promising to set up a group to tackle teacher workload.


With delegates having passed motions backing industrial action over the impact of increased bureaucracy and pension reforms, Mr Russell might have expected a less-thanwelcoming reception.


Instead, his speech was greeted with a fair bit of applause and only a few heckles.


Mr Russell said that striking would not be helpful but he sought to offer Scotland’s biggest teaching union his assurance that he was committed to stripping red tape from classrooms.


He insisted that the burdens teachers were bearing were the result of the “misapplication” of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in some schools.

He plans to set up a group comprising teacher organisations, Education Scotland, local authority education directors and a parents’ forum to look at workload issues, with its first meeting expected to take place within the next couple of weeks.


Theeducationsecretarysaid:“TheScottish Government will work closely with the EIS and other key players as part of a group to identify the key issues and come up with ways in which we can reduce needless workload and bureaucracy.


“I can also announce new teacher support materials. We will provide more help for Higher, Advanced Highers and Nationals 1, 2 and 3, along with new resources on assessment and moderation.


“This is on top of the £3.7 million built into local authority budgets this year and next year to support teachers’ work on assessment standards.”

Mr Russell also said it was “unacceptable” that many teachers might have to work until they were 68 and he blamed the UK Government for forcing through changes to pensions.


He also responded to comments made by Michael Gove, education secretary for England, during his visit to the Scottish Conservative conference, in which he claimed that CfE lacked rigour and Scottish schools were struck in a rut.


Mr Russell regarded it as a badge of honour to have been “Goved” and said that attacking CfE was tantamount to attacking everyone who had worked hard to put it in place.


EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said much of Mr Russell’s speech had been well received by delegates.


“In particular, the EIS welcomes the cabinet secretary’s intention to establish a working group to tackle teacher workload and reduce the amount of unnecessary bureaucracy associated with CfE,” he said.


“His comments on pension negotiations were also encouraging, particularly his clear statement that he feels that teachers working to 68 is unacceptable — something that we feel the Scottish Government has the ability to address through workforce planning to ensure that teachers can retire earlier without significant financial detriment.”


Mr Flanagan added: “Overall, although delegates clearly did not agree with everything that the cabinet secretary had to say, it is positive that he was willing to speak to teachers and lecturers directly and also to listen to their concerns about education in Scotland.”

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Lamont told to decide where she stands on regional capped welfare payments

Lamont told to decide where she stands on regional capped welfare payments | Scottish Politics |

JOHANN LAMONT has been challenged to state where she stands on shadow chancellor Ed Balls’ plans for regional caps on welfare payments.

The SNP has called on the Scottish Labour leader to state whether or not she supports Labour MPs in the north east of England who have opposed the idea.


Earlier this week, Balls said the welfare cap of £25,000 a year per household should be higher in London but could be lower in parts of the UK where housing is cheaper.


Jamie Hepburn MSP, deputy convener of the Welfare Reform Committee, said Labour politicians in Scotland “must say where they stand”.

Johann Lamont’s spokesman said: “We wouldn’t support welfare benefits being lower in Scotland than England, but don’t believe that’s what’s being suggested.”

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Tory split deepens as more devo branded ‘appeasement’ to SNP

Tory split deepens as more devo branded ‘appeasement’ to SNP | Scottish Politics |

Deep divisions within the scottish Conservatives over whether to support more powers for holyrood were exposed last night ahead of the party’s conference, which begins tomorrow.


As tories prepared for the annual gathering, which will be addressed by David Cameron, a number of influential figures called for enhanced devolution, arguing it would help the party claw back support north of the Border.


However, the depth of the divisions was underlined by the response of one tory MsP who claimed that giving further powers to holyrood would amount to “appeasement on a grand scale” to nationalism.


The conference is being held against the background of the decision by scottish party leader ruth Davidson to set up a review into the devolution settlement.


Ms Davidson’s move was a major change in tack as she had argued as part of her leadership campaign against giving any further powers to MsPs.

Although there will be no debate on the floor of the conference, the thorny question of extending devolution will be debated at two key fringe events tomorrow when both camps are to set out their stall.


Former MP Peter Duncan, who is addressing one fringe meeting, said the party had to seize the chance to back more powers last night: “What we are seeing within the party is an opportunity to recover some of the ground we have lost over the last 20 years.”


He added:

“The Scottish Parliament is spending money that it doesn’t raise and we will only have a truly accountable parliament at holyrood when it is raising its own money.”


Speaking to Holyrood magazine, former presiding officer and tory MSP Alex Fergusson – who also supports more powers – said that there would be “nothing off limits” in the party review.


Murdo Fraser - who unsuccesfilly stood for the party leadership last year on a “more powers” ticket – added: “Our problem as a party is we’ve always been the back markers when it comes to constitutional debate. this is an opportunity for us for once not to be the back marker and to be seen to be taking a leading line. ”


however, MsP Margaret Mitchell, who also stood for the leadership to oppose further tax powers going to holyrood, said last night: “It seems to me to be appeasement on a grand scale. Alex salmond can just keep saying, ‘no, not enough’ and there is a clamour to give him more powers without the scottish people even being considered.”


Other sceptics have warned that if holyrood were to be made responsible for raising its taxes, it would mean an end to the Barnett Formula – the system of funding across the UK which has traditionally favoured scotland.

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Scottish Mail on Sunday actually complimenting First Minister?

Scottish Mail on Sunday actually complimenting First Minister? | Scottish Politics |
For once, Salmond is getting something right on taxation


ONE of the most baffling aspects of government is the naming of things. The Department of Health, for example, should be called the Department of Illness. The Department for Work and Pensions should be the Department for Unemployment and Benefits.


HAVE AN INNER PEACE OF THAT: Or is Ruth Davidson really just a paragon of tranquil Buddhist serenity?

Some of the most misleading examples are in the taxes we pay (presided over by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, when the Government Tax Collector would be more appropriate).


There is valued added tax (VAT), which is actually a retail tax, and stamp duty, which should be called house sales tax.

The tax that has been exercising politicians in Scotland, corporation tax, is also badly named.


It sounds like a tax for multinational corporations and, given the almighty rumpus there has been over some of these monster companies not paying their fair share of taxes, this has made it a very sensitive political topic.

But that is not what corporation tax is all about. It is the basic business tax. It is paid by all limited companies, however small, including one-man bands.


Clubs, societies and some charities also pay corporation tax, which means it is not the preserve of multinationals that some seem to think. Why does this matter? Because corporation tax is at the heart of the debate about whether an independent Scotland could thrive.


The SNP wants to lower corporation tax in Scotland to a level below that in the rest of the UK; the Labour Party does not.

Alex Salmond argues that if corporation tax in Scotland is three percentage points below the level of the rest of the UK, 27,000 jobs will be created and business will thrive.


Such a low level of corporation tax would attract businesses from south of the Border and encourage more companies to pay tax, rather than avoiding it.


Labour claims lower corporation tax would simply result in less tax being collected and, as a result, less money for health, education and public services.


It also points to surveys which suggest businesses in Scotland do not view cutting corporation tax as a top priority. Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont quoted Mr Salmond’s favourite economist, Joseph Stiglitz, as saying cuts in corporation tax were nothing more than gifts for multinationals.


BUT this is where Ms Lamont and her aides have got it wrong. They seem to assume corporation tax does what it says on the tin – and it doesn’t. If corporation tax was paid only by multinationals, they might have a point. Cutting corporation tax would only provide gifts to them – but that is not what it is all about.


Corporation tax is paid by all sorts of small organisations and companies and cutting the rate THE quiet suburbs of East Renfrewshire have gone all cosmopolitan, if the remark by local Labour MP Jim Murphy last week is any guide.


‘Just had the hair in my ears set on fire at a Turkish barber using a chemical from a B&Q meths bottle: copy of Tibetan Buddhist Life by Don Farber in pride of place in the meeting room she uses in the parliament.

Either that, or it’s to help her subordinates as they struggle for inner peace while their leader demands everything be ripped up and done again. will help them all. There is no doubt it would create more jobs.

I know of one small business in Edinburgh that has taken on its first employee simply and purely because of one small tax break in the Budget this year.


Business tax breaks work at a small, local level. If every business that pays corporation tax was allowed to keep more of its own money, many would be able to take on more employees, cutting the benefits bill and boosting the economy.


This is not about big corporations or tax avoidance, as the Labour Party seems to think. It is about providing a tax break to business – all business.


Mr Salmond is right: cutting corporation tax would create tens of thousands of jobs.


But there is a wider issue here. that thrill & open-razor & haircut – £8,’ he declared. However astonished by the bargain, Mr Murphy might do well to remember there are some things we really don’t want to know about our politicians – and the hair in their ears is one of them. This is more than just a tax spat between Labour and the SNP.


For years, the SNP has had trouble attracting business support for independence – and this one policy might help reverse the trend. By advocating a cut in corporation tax, Mr Salmond is not just coming up with a businessfriendly policy, he is portraying independence as a viable, low-tax, pro-enterprise option.


Labour should respond with business-friendly policies of its own, not an old-fashioned, socialist-inspired, high-tax agenda.


Mr Salmond may be wrong on many things, but he is right on this one. Cutting corporation tax is a good idea.


The Labour Party seems to be suffering from the same affliction as government departments. Maybe it should be renamed the Anti-Business Party, or the High-Tax Party, or even the Public-Good, Private-Bad Party. Any of those would be more accurate than its current title. reveal their despair after Mark Bridger is jailed for murdering their

Charles Patrick O'Brien's comment, June 3, 2013 6:18 AM
I am reminded of the saying keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
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Darling set to speak at Tory conference

Darling set to speak at Tory conference | Scottish Politics |

FORMER Labour  Chancellor  Alistair Darling is to make an unprecedented appearance at the Scottish Conservatives conference this week.


Despite the bitter rivalry between the two parties, Labour veteran Mr Darling will attend the Tory gathering in Stirling to launch a new Better Together campaign group.


The anti-independence movement is launching a new “Forces Together” group for people who have served in the armed forces and their families who back the Union.


But the appearance is likely to anger many diehard Labour supporters who feel the party should not be sharing a platform with their Tory rivals.

Mr Darling — who will speak at the Forces Together event in the official conference hotel — spoke at a recent Lib Dem gathering in Dundee but this is thought to be the first time a serving Labour MP has gone to a Tory conference.


SNP backbencher Annabelle Ewing said: “This is bad news for the No campaign.


“Many Labour voters will be appalled at the prospect of Alistair Darling going along to the Tory conference to get his instructions.“


The Forces Together group which Mr Darling is launching will involve former armed forces personnel and forces families who believe Scotland is stronger as a part of the UK.


The launch event will hear from former soldiers and the group plans to canvass support from the 11,000 army, navy and RAF personnel based in Scotland.


The tens of thousands of civilian workers who work in the defence industry will also be targeted.


Scottish Labour last month launched its own referendum campaign to accommodate party members who are unhappy at sharing a platform with the Lib Dem and Tory partners in the Better Together group.

A spokesman from Better Together said: “Alistair has been going to all of the party conferences over the past year and will continue to do so until we go to the polls next year.


“It is the nature of politics that people disagree with many of the policies of other parties. Alistair is no different.

“There are many things he disagrees with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats on. However, keeping Scotland a part of the UK is so important to him that he is working with the other parties to make sure we win the referendum.”


He added: “The nationalists only need to win once and they only need to win by one vote. Everyone on our side of the argument has to work to make sure the UK stays together.”


Meanwhile, Deputy SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon will use a speech in Edinburgh this week to attack Mr Darling’s record and highlight the former cabinet minister’s criticism of his Better Together partners.

Miss Sturgeon is sharing a platform with the former Chancellor at an event on Tuesday and will use it to try and undermine his credibility.

She said: “Alistair Darling is on record as describing the economic policies of the Tory/ LibDem government at Westminster as ‘ a huge gamble’. He has said that the austerity path chosen by Osborne, Cameron and Alexander is ‘ dismantling the support millions depend on’ and is doing ‘immeasurable’ damage.


“Mr Darling has even gone as far as to say Westminster’s economic policies are ‘utterly mad’.


“Before he claims that the answer is another Westminster Labour government, he should remember that he, as a Labour Chancellor, planned cuts ‘ deeper and tougher’ than Margaret Thatcher.

“With his damning verdict, how can the leader of the No campaign claim with any credibility that Scotland’s economic future will not be best served by all the main decisions on jobs, spending and investment being taken in Scotland rather than at Westminster?”

Jeff Duncan's insight:

Vote Labour - Get the Tories - simples!

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Ruth Davidson on her critics and Conservatism

Ruth Davidson on her critics and Conservatism | Scottish Politics |

SO, RUTH Davidson, whose ­back­­benchers are the ­hardest to handle: yours or David ­Cameron’s?


At Westminster, there is endless chatter over a potential plot by Tory MPs to unseat their leader, the man they still haven’t ­forgiven for not winning the general election. At Holyrood, the whispering campaign against the Scottish Conservative leader hasn’t reached those proportions yet, but is still clear and present. She laughs off the question. “I haven’t been asked that ­before,” she says. “Having been a ­journalist for ten years I am wise to your tricks and I’m not going to answer that one.”


Much like the Prime Minister in London, who faced criticism last week for the treacherous act of taking a holiday in Ibiza, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has not had much to laugh about of late. Less than two years into the job, the mid-term blues that often affect party leaders are hitting her too. Gay, socially liberal and only 34, the hope was that she would offer a new face for the Scottish party as it sought to emerge from its two-decade post-Thatcher slump. But now critics within the party are grumbling. Whatever change she was supposed to bring hasn’t happened, they complain.


Some of the MSPs who backed the front-runner, Murdo Fraser, for the top job have “never accepted she won”, says another MSP. Then, having been elected on a pledge to draw a “line in the sand” on the powers of the Scottish Parliament, she performed a neat u-turn, ­using a recent speech to back the principle of greater powers. Supporters of Fraser, who has long backed the “more powers” ticket, haven’t gone away, note insiders. And, having written an article two weeks ago warning Davidson that she must not kowtow to the “big beasts” in the party who oppose more powers at Holyrood, it appears Fraser is keen to show that too.


Meanwhile, Davidson is facing brickbats for what are seen as sub-par performances within the Scottish Parliament, the one place where she gets the chance to make a dent on the public consciousness. On Friday, the whole party hauls itself up to Stirling for its annual conference, with Cameron among the guests. “It might get quite interesting,” notes one party figure.


As Fraser put it in his article, the selling point for Davidson’s candidacy two years ago was to “elect a fresh new leader who would present a modern face to the electorate, and work harder to try and communicate the message”. The doubters now suggest that hasn’t happened. What has she made of the recent noises off? “For me, when I was elected leader of the party I was pretty clear about the fact that things were going to have to change and you didn’t reverse 19 years of stagnation and decline overnight,” she replies. There has been a lot of work beneath the surface, she says, to turn the party back into a professional election-winning machine. As the first national leader of the party (her predecessor Annabel Goldie was merely leader of the MSPs at Holyrood), she notes there has been a “refocusing” away from Holyrood, with other party figures now involved more in policy and organisation.


“I think it is healthy, but I think that perhaps means that people think they are not being involved in some of the changes, or perhaps that they haven’t liked some of the changes,” she says, explaining the grumpiness on her benches.


That disillusion spiked recently when, after Cameron had been forced to bow to pressure from Eurosceptics over an EU referendum, she injudiciously chose to ask Alex Salmond about Europe. He took her to thecleaners. Was that decision wise in retrospect? “It is absolutely right to challenge the First Minister on assumptions that he makes and brash statements that he has no evidence to back up,” she says. “Whether commentators will make an assessment on whether things have worked in the chamber or not worked in the chamber, well they sell newspapers and that’s fine.”


Then there was a report recently that fewer than half of the 15-strong parliamentary group attend the weekly meeting. “That was one meeting because people sent apologies because they had something else to do,” she responds. Has she felt the need to assert her authority over her MSPs in recent days as the backchat has continued? “What happens in the party will stay within the party,” she says. Does all this chatter irritate her? “I knew when I took this job that it wasn’t an easy job, but it is a hugely fulfilling job and it is a job that I love and I am committed to doing, and I get up every morning wanting to get stuck in.”


But the trouble is, according to her critics, there is no sign that under her leadership the party is close to bringing on any new voters, thanks to its still toxic image (although she disputes this, pointing to a 3 per cent increase in the party’s poll ratings). And until that does change, says one figure, “there will be no change in our performance”.


On Fraser’s solution – to scrap the Scottish Conservative name and replace it with something entirely new – she notes curtly: “That’s his view.” Instead, the party should allow grassroots changes to bed in and allow reforms to bear fruit. That includes trying to bring in fresh blood to the party. She has introduced more rigorous selection procedures for candidates which pit MSPs like her up against newcomers (this tougher job application process might help explain some of the current backbench disgruntlement, her allies believe).


The process meant that a third of the Conservative councillors elected in last year’s local government elections were newbies. And it is likely to mean some of her backbenchers will be signing off at the next Scottish election in 2016. Davidson talks impatiently of the need to get new blood in. “We had a hugely successful Conservative Futures conference in Edinburgh six weeks ago; more than 100 people there were under 25. A really impressive bunch of people who want to get stuck in and do something for a reason. And that’s the sort of people we want. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing but you have to want to put your shoulder to the wheel. I want grafters.”


And, it now appears, she also hopes to rid the party’s image of “anti-Scottishness” by embracing the idea of more powers at Holyrood. Famously, she declared during her election campaign that there should be a “line in the sand” on more powers at Holyrood. But she has set up a review, led by Lord Strathclyde, to examine the case, and argues that if politicians are spending money, then they should be accountable to the public for how it is raised.


Hasn’t she, in doing so, only managed to alienate both the Fraser camp, whom she opposed in 2011, and devo-sceptics who back the stance of former Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth, who has warned Davidson against seeking further devolution? “There has been a lot of movement in the constitutional debate over the last two years since I stood for election,” she replies, as she seeks to explain her own change. Salmond bears “absolutely no responsibility for the budgets he has, every­thing is Westminster’s fault. He holds his hand out for more and says it’s not enough,” she argues. That cannot be allowed to carry on.


If people vote No to independence, she adds, “politics continues after that and what you have to have is a stable situation so we don’t have the Nationalists coming back with referendum after referendum five years, ten years, 15 years down the line. We have to make sure that devolution works for the people of Scotland.” Even if that means left-of-centre Scottish governments using their new powers to whack Tory middle-class voters in Scotland with higher taxes? “We’ve seen from the SNP’s Penny for Scotland campaign [when, in 1999, Alex Salmond unsuccessfully called for an extra 1p on income tax], there isn’t any appetite to pay more taxes than they do anywhere else in the UK. So they are going to have to make a pretty big argument for that.”


Davidson believes Scottish politics is too focused on the constitution right now; certainly air time has been negligible for some of her own policy ideas – such as allowing children aged 14 to pursue vocational education, or increasing childcare provision for two-year-olds. “The debates aren’t happening in this place,” she says, referring to the parliament. “It has been really sad to see a Scottish Government which seems paralysed and is refusing to bring forward issues that matter to people in case it upsets the apple cart before the referendum.”


Impatient and combative, Davidson does not give the impression of someone who has thrown in the towel following the events of the past few weeks. To silence the doubters, she will now have to create the same impression of authority before the Conservative faithful in Stirling this coming weekend.

Is she annoyed by the constant introspection that seems to afflict her party? “What annoys me is that people don’t see or acknowledge the fact that, as a party, we have got our tails up at the moment. We have an issue [the independence referendum] that we can really fight for.” She believes there are many people who vote SNP but don’t back independence who can be persuaded to vote Tory. “But we will only do that if we have a really strong policy platform that will make a difference to the lives of the people of Scotland.”


So no more navel gazing? “No more navel gazing and no more sackcloth and ashes, because sometimes we have been, for me, too apologetic. I am proud of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party. I joined it for a reason. I believe in ­Conservatism.”

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