Saturday, 20 February 2010

A Culture Of Impropriety

To lose one high placed official would be classed as careless, to lose three in a week would suggest that something in not quite right.  The Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, the successor organisation to the highly innovative Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive, lost its chairman on Monday, the New Labour Glasgow councillor Allistair Watson.  This was followed by the Chief Executive Ron Culley and on Thursday by another serving New Labour councillor, Dave McLachlan, who was the vice chair of the organisation.

On the surface this appears to be an Old Labour expenses and junket’s scandal, the councillors who resigned their posts at the SPT do represent very much the old municipalist wing of Labour. This comes a year after the resignation of Transport Scotland’s finance director Guy Houston over his conflict of interest during the extension of Worstgroup’s Scotrail franchise, and the deliberate blocking of any scrutiny by any MSP’s into the decision citing that “the agreement was price sensitive…  public disclosure about the review and negotiations could influence market activity”.

Public transport is still a joke which anyone who uses this service finds anything but funny.  We elected New Labour in 1997, partly because they promised some joined up thinking about public transport.  But that was before the lobbyists and the business interests took hold.  We would like to think that we elected the SNP at Holyrood for similar reasons, but the truth is they aren’t remotely interested in sorting out our useless and at times conflicting public transport infrastructure. Obviously this is the price of Brian Souter's 2006 donation to the SNP.

The high profile corruption at the top of our public bodies overseeing our transport systems shows that much heavier regulation of public transport is required.  It also raises the question of why these people have to go abroad on junkets to see the world.  The most ambitious public transport programme these people put forward was the late, and in some circles lamented, Glasgow Airport Rail Link which was presented to the public as some sort of fait-acompli.  If these people were doing their job they would have put forward proposals which would have been of better advantage to the people of Strathclyde.  Possibly a train line from Glasgow taking in Braehead and Renfrew or maybe a Mono-rail from Gilmour Street.

Like much of Scottish civic life, the Public Transport sector has shown itself a hive of self interest and preservation of the Status Quo.  All the paying public can realistically do in the meantime is continue to swallow the bad medicine.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Something Smells at the SPT

"The chairman of Scotland's largest transport authority has resigned following questions over expenses.

Alistair Watson, who is also a Glasgow Labour councillor, stood down from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) on Monday for health reasons.   It comes after documents obtained under Freedom of Information showed SPT officials claimed more than £100,000 between 2006 and 2009."

Can someone answer this question for me?  Am I right in thinking a grand fromage from the SPT resigned or was found guilty of holding First Group shares about the time WorstGroup retained the Scot-rail franchise?

To lose one high ranking official to corruption is remiss, to lose a second some pople might think of it as endemic.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

You’ve Never Had It So Bad

The Tories don’t like New Labour, New Labour don’t like the Tories, but really can’t stand the SNP.  The feeling from the SNP is mutual.  Everyone thinks the Lib Dems are a bunch of pious tossers.  No body cares what the Lib Dems think, but for the record they think they are the only ones whiter than white.  In the meantime, the electorate are waiting for the battle of ideas to emerge, and glad that politicians have temporarily stopped going into the television studios to say you yes you, I'm going to sack you (or words to that effect).  Can’t think why politicians are so mistrusted myself but there you go.

The moment that really killed MP’s reputations, and to be honest they aren’t really doing anything to repair that reputation, was of course the Expenses Scandal.  The police announced that 3 New Labour MP’s and a Conservative Lord would be charged for this on Friday.  It was not surprising the identity of the MP’s, featuring Livingstone MP Jim Devine who more and more looks like someone who has had a sign saying “Kick Me” attached to his back.

What is surprising is that firstly the Expenses 4 have been stupid enough to quote Parliamentary Privilege in their defence. Privilege has always been about freedom of speech, as witnessed with the furore surrounding the parliamentary question involving the oil trading firm Trafigura and their activities in Ivory Coast. 
The second surprising thing is that only four people are to be prosecuted.  The Former ministers James Purnell, Geoff Hoon and Hazel Blears did not pay Capital Gains Tax on house sales (hilariously, and with no sense of irony, Purnell was behind this little ad…), While the Ball’s flipped their homes 3 times.  Makes Boy George’s claim for £100,000 look like small beer. The examples highlighted (and there is more I could have picked) are probably as bad as those of the Expenses 4, yet there is not a sniff of a prosecution case against anyone except the four charged MP’s.  It could be that fraud is not specifically a criminal offence (which explains the lack of a prosecution against the Four Horsemen of the Economic Apocalypse, we don’t really take white collar crime seriously here, do we?).  Or that the police are living up to their Private Eye name of Inspector Knacker, and are just not doing their job.

Up here though the papers have been full of another type of scandal, one which has Scottish Cringe written through it.  The SNP auctioned off lunches with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon at fundraising events.  These lunches were to be held at Holyrood.  Yes it is seedy, and it is creepy to see our leaders press the flesh for cash, but for the other parties to complain at Holyrood, well isn’t this the sort of grubby, creepy fundraising they get up to?

The papers and the comentariat have missed a story here, after all why exactly are the SNP having a fundraiser just weeks before the General Election?  I suspect that their bid to put their golden boy, the controversial chairman of the Scottish Islamic Foundation Osama Saeed, into Westminster representing Glasgow Central is in a degree of trouble.  The SNP needed a swing of 16.7% from 2005 to take the seat.  Up against a party sitting on a majority of 8531, with deep pockets, the SNP probably feel up against it, though the threat of losing face probably is the stronger emotion.  They don’t meant to but i suspect the SNP have signalled that they will not win their target of 20 Westminster seats at the General Election.

As I mentioned at the top, this mud slinging  is for the time being the only campaigning that is going on.  What we are waiting for is the battle of ideas to begin.  Some of us are beginning to think our politicians are as clueless about the real world as they appear.  Someone should tell them that the best thing to do when you are in a hole is to stop digging.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Airbrushing The SNP From The General Election

While the SNP cognoscenti have been congratulating themselves for getting their third budget through the Scottish Parliament, which might only last until the other side of the next General Election.  The General Election campaign took an interesting twist straight after the passage of the Budget Bill.

There were people handing out flyers outside Glasgow Central train station.  There was no mention of the SNP on these flyers, what it did say was “The Scottish Conservitives (sic) have secured a good budget deal for Scotland for the third year running”.  The flyer went on to point up the Budget plus points the Tories feel they have a hand in, before turning the knife by listing the proposals New Labour voted against.  The kiss off line went something like this “Remember – at a British General Election only the Conservatives can replace this weak and divided Labour Government…”

Surely they haven't forgotten how much people here break out in hives at the merest mention of our favourite milk snatching, hard industry destroying, poll tax inflicting creators of broken Britain.  Not an impressive start.