Wednesday, 27 April 2011

And They All Come At Once

Or if you prefer, leaflet-watch part 2.

To recap, to date one election communication had been received at Dispatches towers.  At least that was the case until Thursday when 4 leaflets came through the door. One of them was in relation to the current referendum about changing the voting system, this leaflet I will return to in a later post.

First up is the leaflet from the SNP.  Last year their pitch was “More Nats, less cuts” – which fell on its arse here in Renfrewshire when people realised that it was an SNP/Lib Dem administration doing the cutting.  This time the pitch is “Re-elect a Scottish Government working for Scotland”.  This leaflet has at least got some policies attached.  What is interesting is the phrases that are capitalised on the middle pages.  “WORKING HARD TO MAKE SCOTLAND BETTER…  FREEZE COUNCIL TAX…  FREE…   NO TUITION FEES…   REDUCE CRIME…   +…   25,000…   PROTECT INVESTMENT…   130,000 JOBS…   NATIONS FUTURE” In the age of the soundbite, this picking out of key phrases highlights the policies that the SNP wish to promote.  Looking underneath the soundbites, one will see problems with these policies.  There’s no mention of a replacement to Council Tax (were your sums wrong Alex?).  “PROTECT INVESTMENT” refers to protecting investment in the NHS.  A better pledge would be to look for value for money for the NHS, especially as there has been no removal of the level of management in the NHS, and to look to plough these savings/cuts into improving treatment and care (some interpersonal skills for doctors would not go amiss).  For example, the RAH (the nearest hospital to here) is managed by 3 managers, 1 suffices – that is a target for cuts straight away. 

As you might have gathered, this leaflet is light on where the preference is for cuts.  Health is out, you would think that Police cuts would be out (“Maintaining the extra 1000 police on our streets - REDUCE CRIME”), except the SNP are apparently minded to follow the Labour policy of merging all nine police authorities into the one large unwieldy organisation.  Strathclyde is ill equipped as it is to tackle crime properly, what makes the prospective politicians think that cutting police budgets will improve detection rates.  Education might be in for cuts (as there’s no repeat of the class sizes pledge from 2007).  However Scottish education is struggling and would struggle with further cuts (thanks to Labour’s expensive second mortgage on every school in the country - £400million per year folks!).  Overall a good leaflet, but one that poses more questions than answers.
Next up is the leaflet from the Scottish Greens.  The key selling points here are “No Fees…  Fairer Taxes to invest in public services…   Cut Fuel Bills – Insulate every home.”  While some of the aims are welcome (looking to restore bus regulation, a renationalised Scotrail and a version of the GARL that is not New Labour’s fait accompli version), there is surprisingly little mention of the Greens flagship policy of the Land Value Tax.

While the phrase is not mentioned in the leaflet, it has been mentioned by their Co-Convenor Patrick Harvie.  The prospect of tax rises is raised here, thus eliminating the game of where’s the cuts.  So the game becomes which taxes are to rise?  Like the SNP leaflet, the Green leaflet poses more questions than answers.

Last up is the election leaflet from Richard Vassie, the former SNP councillor who (alongside fellow former SNP councillor for Glenburn Bill Martin) was ejected from the SNP before the 2007 elections.  Unlike the other two leaflets, there are no policies just a promise – “I’m on your side fighting for the issues which are important to you.  Fighting for you” – which post expenses scandal isn’t really a viable election pitch.  Except the way things are going, this will be the template New Labour will go down.  Vote for us because…  well because.

Monday, 25 April 2011

A Spot Of Common Sense

One of the sure signs that an election is on is the proliferation of election leaflets.  Though there was a lack of leaflets for the European Elections two years ago.  Last years election did see rise in the amount of leaflets coming through the postbox at DFT towers, though it did not reach the peak year of 2007…  It has taken some time but the first election address came through the post last weekend, just before I headed off on a camping trip.  Quickest off the block this election was the Scottish Tories (see below).
The front page urges the voter to “use your regional list vote to bring common sense to the Scottish Parliament”.  They list policies that they pledged 4 years ago – “Action on Council Tax bills”, “More police on our streets” etc etc.  Buy some sheer trick of fate – or rather their ability to support SNP policies that enable these aims to be put into practice (1000 more police officers, the four year freeze of Council Tax bills – after the collapse of the SNP’s LIT policy), these aims can be claimed to have been met.

Regarding the Scottish Conservatives aims for the future, there is no mention of the much vaunted plain speaking anywhere on the leaflet.  No mention of their policies on Higher Education, or any other policy.  In fact their selling point is their past actions.  Not a common sense move for a party still not forgiven for their actions over a period of 20 years from 1979 onwards.

Interestingly they have decided rather than to promote their policies, they have decided to promote their top two regional prospects – Parliamentary leader Annabel Goldie and Jackson Carlaw.  Rather like the campaigning that has happened so far, there is a feeling that any negatives are just not being spoken about (as you can gather, there is no mention of the Tories stance on Tertiary Education funding).  On the evidence of this leaflet, there is no evidence of either the common sense or plain speaking.

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Paisley Hustings: The Derek & Stuart Show

Paisley Methodist Hall: Tuesday

This is the second of these hustings meetings that I have attended.  I have asked a question each at these meetings.  Do you know how many of those questions have been answered – none!  It was a valid question too, about where the cuts are to fall.  So why do I go along?

In today’s election campaigns, the door knocking and leafleting seems to be diminishing.  Meetings like tonight’s are a throwback to what democracy should be like – as opposed to the glossy election broadcasts we get nowadays. And tonight’s meeting was a heated one.  Speaking to one of the participants from last year on the way out, it was put that last years event was much more heated.  Last years was a picnic, compared to this years event.  The main reason was the presence of Renfrewshire Council’s leader, and the SNP’s candidate for Renfrewshire North (& Gallowhill) Derek MacKay.

MacKay’s stewardship of Renfrewshire council hasn’t been great, there have been unpleasant cuts to services, school closures, and inflation busting price hikes to leisure services with the latest being an inflation busting price rise for use of council run football pitches.  There were also a crowd of people intent on asking about the removal of the Death in Service benefit for council workers.  There was also Gary Pearson, a local candidate who is campaigning against “Renfrewshire Council’s Illegal housing policy”.  The first half, it has to be said was a Holyrood free zone.

MacKay actually handled himself rather well, and looked eager to answer any questions relating to the council (much to the annoyance of the chair and the gaggle of SNP supporters at the front, who wanted to press on with Hollyrood related issues).  In this respect he did impress – though he did ignore the shouts about the inflation busting rises in pay for Heads of Service – which with the above cuts is a bone of contention.  I can certainly see why friends of Malc rate him highly.

The strange thing is that most of the panellists are not standing in the Paisley seat.  Representing New Labour was Stuart Clark, their candidate for Renfrewshire North.  He talked about his upbringing “here in Renfrewshire” (actually, here in Glenburn – I think his sister was in my class in school).  He talked of the SNP’s cuts against the background of those inflation busting wage rises for the heads of service, and also of the spectre of unemployment, which as a percentage of the population is higher than the UK average (8.1% to the average of 7.8%).  When the first question came along, Clark became unstuck when he talked of needing an “energy mix – we cannot afford the lights to go out” in relation to nuclear power.  Mackay got a rare cheer with his commitment to no nuclear power stations in Scotland – “The lights will not go out”.

Of the others, probably the best performer was the Lib Dem Andrew Page, again standing in Renfrewshire North.  When responding to the Solidarity line about the deficit and it being larger during the Second World War, he quipped that he “does not want to spend 60 years paying the debt off”.  That aside, he did not come across as being from the Orange Book wing of the party.  Alistair Campbell (no…  not that one!) was representing the Tories.  Just to show how Scottish he was, he turned up in a kilt and declared that he had “Scottish leanings”.  He did concede during the closing statements that he thought Fred Goodwin “should come back to Paisley to apologise”. The 2 for the price of 1 parties were represented by Jim Halfpenny (for Solidarity) and Jim Bolland (for SSP).  Both made interesting statements.  Halfpenny mentioned the £120 million tax avoidance bill (actually, according to the Red book, the estimate for tax avoidance from companies is around £90 million), while Bolland advocated the scrapping of VAT, which I think is actually illegal under EU law.

The second question, about the cuts in DLA, had all of the parties in agreement.  Clark trotted out the Labour line that “We need to be the first line of defence against the Tory attacks (on the poor)”, and with stunning perception told us that “the problem is the Conservatives”.  MacKay – “The Westminster Government has the balance all wrong” – thus contradicting a certain blog that has been running a campaign against MacKay (who apparently said the cuts were “about right”). MacKay did disclose a rather interesting piece of information during questions on health & education.  Renfrewshire Council pay £15 million “and rising” to service their PFI debt (on a capital valuation of £195 million remember).  Considering this, Labour really has a cheek to claim to be the defender of public services – the total estimate of the 2010/11 PFI bill for all councils is £800 million.  Money that rather than going to those services is going to various management consultants and fat cat contractors.  No wonder Scottish education is going down the drain.

That’s not to say that Clark was defeated in this debate.  He held his own, and came across as a left of centre Labour candidate.  Whether he is a genuinely left wing candidate, or was pulling the trick that Gordon Brown was a master of (that of appearing more left wing than he was in the company of comrades) remains to be seen.  Page clearly thought Clark was on his way to Hollyrood as winner of the Renfrewshire North seat.

The last word though should go to the bold Mr MacKay.  When ruminating on Clark’s Send a message to Cameron & Clegg” argument, MacKay replied “Why don’t we have a proper coalition (between Labour & the SNP), one that would scare the Tories”.  I’m just off to see if that was a flying pig that just went past.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Vote For Me, I have No Manners!

So, for my 250th posting, will I write about how swimmingly informative the Hollyrood election has been, will I write about how the banter has flowed to and fro.  Of course not!

Manners in debates is something that has been on my mind for a few weeks now.  Watching various Tory MP’s and cabinet members on Question Time, you can see them itching to have a go at anyone who dares to question them and pulling back for fear of the negative headlines that would follow.  Decorum though does not hold back right wing political commentators.  Two of the nastiest and vitriolic exchanges have involved Conservative supporting panellists, who have just been downright rude to anyone who disagrees.  With a track record like Kelvin Mackenzie’s, you would expect him to be, well not the most pleasant to anyone who disagrees.  But his defence of Nuclear power was just an exercise in rubbishing the opposition.

The other person who has been totally rude on television recently was the historian Niall Ferguson, who seems to have been taking tips from David Starkey.  Ferguson might be one of the most influential people on the planet, but that does not give him a mandate to be rude to people with opposing views, as he was when appearing on Question Time.  He shouted over Ken Livingston when discussing Libya a couple of weeks ago, and tried to belittle anyone who did not conform to his view that Labour were at fault for the deficit (which is true, but there was no tub thumping condemnation for giving approximately £1 Trillion to criminally negligent bankers).

Tempers have really frayed since the set of elections set for 5 May have hovered into view. I can see the AV referendum campaign becoming more fractious – in no small part due to the tetchiness of Sayeeda Warsi, and others within the No camp.  It is here though that campaigning has become really bad tempered.  Iain Gray’s ramrod refusal to talk to members of the public was compounded further by his performance in Sunday’s Leaders set piece on The Politics’ Show.  His arguments consisted, from what I could hear of them, of the Tories are bad, the SNP are pally with the Tories, the Lib Dems are in Government with the Tories so vote for me.  Shockingly, Gray was not the worst offender.

Annabelle Gouldie appeared to take her lead from her English colleagues by starting to talk down to her parliamentary colleagues, the interviewer (on a tangent here, but isn’t Isobel Fraser having a good campaign so far), and anyone who hadn’t turned off in disgust.  Gouldie & Tavish Scott had several heated exchanges, while Tavish brought up the controversy surrounding LIT.  Unfortunatly Scott was so intent on getting at Salmond that we didn’t quite make out Salmond’s response.  As a result, Sunday was as perfect an advertisement for not bothering to vote that I have ever seen.

If, by some sheer trick of fate any politician is reading this, then ask yourself this question.  Do you want my vote?  Well, do you?  When turnout falls once again on May 5th, perhaps those seeking election should think about what they did to engage with voter at large, rather than just the one way conversation that seems to be going on just now.  With three weeks to go, time to pull your fingers out folks.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Report Card For The SNP Government 2007-11

Well, we made it to the end of this government without the sky falling in, or anything else disastrous happening, well at least nothing that can be laid at the door of the SNP minority government.  While there is a sense that the SNP government has been a step up in terms of devolved government, a lot of the policies espoused by the SNP have fallen by the wayside.

"I heard a rumour..."
The three big policies that remain unfulfilled from 2007’s manifesto are the Independence referendum, the replacement of the Council Tax and the cut in class size for Primary 3 and under pupils.  These fell by the wayside for different reasons.  The Independence referendum fell victim to the bayne of the SNP government’s life this parliament – parliamentary arithmetic.  With a rainbow unionist coalition against any referendum proposals, Alex Salmond decided against bringing it to the floor of parliament.  This blog has argued that it may have been in the SNP’s electoralinterests to bring this piece of legislation to parliament to see it voted down.  The time this was scheduled to appear coincided with the SNP suffering from their equivalent of mid–term blues and the announcement of two unpopular decisions that have shaped the second half of the Salmond premiership.

Local Income Tax fell by the wayside when the SNP could not agree with the Lib Dems, the Greens and Margo MacDonald on proposals, while being up against their foes this parliament – adverse parliamentary arithmetic.  While the Council Tax freeze is a popular policy – so popular Ian Gray has half stolen this policy – literally.  The abolition of such an unfair tax system should have been much more of a priority, with compromises made with the other pro-LIT party. The passing of this opportunity seems to have given Council tax a stay of execution as no party is proposing its abolition for this election.  The cut in class sizes for pre-Primary 3 pupils has fallen by the wayside for a number of reasons.  The fact that councils are hamstrung with outstanding PFI re-payments is a factor, while the recession has been another.

So what have the SNP government done.  Well they stopped the mooted programme of Hospital closures and went on to abolish prescription charges, the latter much to the chagrin of the Tax-dodgers Alliance.  There has been that Council Tax freeze and also Tuition Fees were abolished for Scottish Students studying at Scottish universities, the latter much to the chagrin of university chancellors who refuse to look at their own £200,000 wages. They have invested in re-newable energy and snubbed attempts to build nuclear power stations in Scotland, much to the chagrin of the pro nuclear lobby and their friends in New Labour.  Even with that list of achievements, there has been a sense that minority government has been a steady hand on the tiller.

The SNP government will be defined though by two events.  There has been a lot said about the release of Ali Basset Al Megrahi, including some lies by certain Tory cabinet ministers.  The fact remains that he remains the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103, which might not have been the case had his appeal proceeded.  The other event, which Iain Gray tried to highlight before he was “ambushed”, was the axing of the proposed Glasgow Airport Rail Link that the media, prompted by Labour, seem to think would have been a popular service vital to the Scottish economy, as opposed to a vanity project for Glasgow.  However it was the SNP’s failing media management skills here that have let Labour away with this untruth.  Certainly this project is not so popular here in Paisley, where the link was due to be built (wow, adding the link, Stephen Purcell, whatever happened to him?).

They could have done better.  They could have been blown off course.  They could have been engulfed by controversy – over Trumptown and Snowgate.  They could have been engulfed in scandal – their lack of action over Transport Scotland’s  controversial decision to renew First Group's Scotrail franchise.  At the end of this parliament they were still in government.  As I said earlier, the SNP were an unspectacular, but steady, hand on the tiller.  More tellingly they have provided an alternative to perpetual New Labour rule.

Friday, 8 April 2011

A Big Girls Blouse!

You know that sound this morning, you know that sound around quarter past 8 this morning that woke you up. Well that was BBC Scotland's politics elephant Brian Taylor harumphing about the protests that curtailed Iain Gray's plan to campaign in Glasgow Central yesterday.  Taylor didn't appreciate people's right to have their say, especially during an election. Oh the cheek!  Politicians, like comedians, should be big enough and ugly enough to take any flack that comes their way.

What no one has said is that yesterday was an unexpected opportunity for Gray. It was an opportunity to stand firm, to listen to people's concerns and to (attempt to) put his case.  After all (New) Labour policy is now that there should be less cuts with repayment of the deficit over a longer term.  Not a million miles from the aims of Citizens United Against Public Sector Cuts.  In short it was an opportunity for Gray to look First Minister material...  and he and his possee flunked it!  He instead chose to run away from a debate and hide in the nearest cubby hole he could find, like a big girls blouse.

Not First Minister material.