Thursday, 18 September 2008

The End of Super Squirrel...

About 20 odd years ago, my dad took me into Paisley to open my first bank account, my parents had accounts with the TSB and the Bank of Scotland. In my infinate wisdom, i choose to join the bank which gave nine year olds with a bit of Christmas money the most freebies, so i joined the Bank of Scotland (hence the reference to Super Squirrel, the symbol of the Bank of Scotlands banking for children).

Although my current account is now with another bank, there is a part of me that is sad about the demise of the Bank of Scotland. Their problems did start with the merger with the Halifax. Moving my current account from HBOS was purely down to their Current Account product discriminating against low wage earners. Thats not to say that what has happened to them over the past few days is justified. I feel sorry for the loss that will visit the HBOS employees in the weeks and months to come.

If anything, what we have seen this week, with the collapse of Lehman, and the butchering of HBOS, which appears to have broken every city rule in the book (even Brown has bent the rules by speaking to Victor Blank, the chairman of Lloyds TSB before the takeover), isthe ugly face of capitalism.

Almost as ugly however is the response from our elected representatives. More shutting-of-the-door-after-the horse-has-bolted from Brown & Darling. Some hand wringing from Comedy Dave. Salmonds response takes the biscuit. He described the city traders as "spivs and speculators". Of course the SNP's main priority, which is steadily being revealed to us, is to make Scotland a good place to do business. Obvously not a man who has heard the phrase "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword"

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Conference Time Is Here Again...

In the same way that the Charity Shield and the European pre-qualifiers are the unofficial start of the football season, the party conferences are the start of the political “season” which will take us to the spring elections. These are scheduled to be just local elections and the European elections. However we are now due a General Election within the next 18 months, one which the timing is still very much in the gift of the Prime Minister. These conferences are an ideal time to take stock with where each party is. In the Next few weeks, New Labour will be in Manchester, while the Conservatives will be in Birmingham. This week has seen the TUC conference, but the party conferences begin properly with the Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth.

12 months ago, the Lib-Dems were recovering from a poor showing at the English Council Elections, and more significantly, in the elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Since last year we have seen the resignation of their leader at Westminster, Menzies Campbell (for the reason that his age was damaging the party) and the resignation of their leader in Hollyrood, Nicol Stephen (to spend time with his family). For their replacements, Nick Clegg (top) and Tavish Scott, this will be a key moment for both of them. With the New Labour project unravelling by the day, this is the perfect opportunity for the Lib Dem’s to regain some ground after the advances made on their ground by David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

However, the question remains, and this might just be a key question. What are the Lib-Dems for? For a few years now the debate has been going on about whether the Lib Dems should be about liberal social policies (socialist lite, so to speak) or should they follow a liberal economic path, the route espoused by the grouping behind The Orange Book (a collection of essays about liberal economic policies put together by the MP David Laws). Clegg is known to be from the Orange Book wing of the party (it is not known however where Scott stands). If the Orange Book wing win the argument, this could win votes in England, but would cost votes in the left wing orientated Scotland.

So to sum up, what are the Lib Dem’s aims for this week? For starters, they have to start to marry the two visions for the party & come up with policies which reflect this. Targeted tax cuts to ‘the less wealthy’ would be a welcome start, as would be the restoration (of the potentially vote winning) of the policy on a top rate 50% tax band. Clegg has already mentioned something about this, while Tavish Scott (right) has called for a 2% tax cut in the Scottish Budget, which will be next week. They have 2 years of haemorrhaging votes, in the aftermath of the removal of Charles Kennedy, to make up. As is outlined at the start, there is at most 18 months to do this. If they can’t, Cameron will be Number 10’s next resident.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The Road To South Africa Begins…

There have been qualifiers in most parts of the world, notably in South America, but for the majority of European Countries, World Cup qualifying begins in earnest today, and for the home countries it’s a very mixed start. Wales should have no problems at home to Azerbaijan, while Northern Ireland attempt to carry on the momentum from their almost successful Euro 2008 campaign, with a tricky away trip to Slovakia. For England & Scotland, it is two very mixed starts.

Our qualifying group (of The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland & FYR Macedonia) theoretically should be escapable, compared to having 3 of the World Cup quarter finalists in our qualifying group last time (see below) , however when exactly have Scotland ever stuck to the script. For example, today’s game in Macedonia should be the easiest away fixture on the list. However Macedonia’s ranking is lower than their results suggest, draws in England (twice, during qualifying for the last 2 European Championships, picture below), their star player (Pandev) plies his trade with Lazio while others in the team are with respectable clubs in Belgium, Germany and France. Scotland being Scotland this could be the toughest fixture of the whole campaign, including the fixture in Amsterdam in March next year.

As opposed to the rest of the group, when we have had recent fixtures against the other teams, in qualifying for Euro 2004 and the last World Cup, this will be the first time that Scotland have played Macedonia, and only the second of the former Yugoslavian teams that Scotland have faced (we faced Croatia in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup). If Scotland escape with a draw, it could set us up nicely for the away trip on Wednesday to Iceland. 4 points out of 6 is a must from our opening fixtures.

In sharp contrast, England start away to Andorra, which WILL be their easiest away fixture in their qualifying group, and is also the only away fixture in Western Europe. Their qualifying group is something of a tour of the former eastern bloc, and also a list of banana skins (Croatia, Ukraine, Belarus & Kazakhstan being the other teams in England’s group). With only the top team qualifying as of right (with the second placed team facing a play-off), this looks to be a tough group for England. Ukraine will be smarting from finishing 4th in Euro 2008 qualifying (behind Italy, France & Scotland) and will want to put on a better show, while England’s next game (which is away to…) their rivals from the Euro 2008 qualifiers. Croatia will want to achieve their 4th World Cup finals appearance in a row, and will be confident of doing so after their performance in qualifying for the finals of Euro 2008, and some of their performances in the finals themselves.

In assessing England’s chances of qualifying from their group, you cannot underestimate how difficult this group is. Yet the English media are already doing exactly that, by focusing on how England are playing, the style of play, the absence of Michael Owen from the current squad… anything really than the match in hand. As with Scotland, 4 points from the away games in Barcelona and Zagreb are a must for England.