Monday, 31 December 2012

2012: The Year Of The Omnishambles

When I started this blog, I did reviews of the sporting year and what I liked from television.  The sporting reviews live on, this years sporting picks of the sporting year can be found across at this blog’s sister site, Fan With A Laptop.  Doing these posts it occurred that there was a bit of a gap in terms of looking back at the year that had gone on for this site, which is where this post came from.

You don't represent the quiet Bat People in our society, do you?
2012 does though seem like the year of the Omnishambles as both the Coalition government at Westminster and the SNP government at Holyrood  have unravelled to different degrees and for different reasons.  Thanks to the appropriation of the word Omnishambles, 2012 has also made Armando Ianucci look prescient for the first time since “The Day Today” correctly foresaw how rubbish ITV news would end up.

However, back to Westminster as it is the UK Government that has descended the most into shambles.  Osborne’s budget in March was the start, but the signs were there from last years strop at the EU summit at Brussels.  Then there was Cameron’s intervention regarding the Holyrood government’s intention to hold a referendum on Independence, which has lead to there being a referendum on Scottish Independence.  As we will see, Cameron’s blundering here will not result in any damages to his government.  Unlike, say, a botched budget statement.

When the budget statement was made in March, I listed five similarities to those announced by Gordon Brown.  Brown’s budgets did have a tendency to have hidden measures in them that caused them to come apart a bit.  In sharp contrast the unravelling of Osborne’s 2012 budget went so far beyond anything that happened to Brown, that you do wonder how on earth Osborne is still in his post.

If the reasons for the scrapping of the 50% tax rate were proven to be false, then it was the scorn poured on the Chancellor for the Granny/Pasty/Caravan taxes he thought up to prove that we were all in it together.  All of them badly thought out taxes that caused collateral damage to the reputation of the Coalition government.  But most of all to George Osborne, who has seen his reputation as a political strategist plummet alongside his reputation as an economist.  The u-turn budget was bad enough, without the double dip recession.  Oh and the awful growth forecasts.  No wonder Osborne got the bird at the Paralympics.

In theory this should all be (relatively) good news for Miliband the Younger & Labour.  The problem is that while they have a poll lead averaging 9%, they still have a problem in terms of people trusting them on the economy.  Not helped when the perceived architect of the UK’s economic woes (which I find strange, Balls was only Brown’s economic advisor for New Labour’s first term and did not fulfil an economic brief for the rest of New Labour’s time in office) holds the post of Shadow Chancellor.  If your shadow Chancellor is not as popular as an incredibly unpopular Chancellor, then there are decisions that will need to be made about who you would have as your Chancellor in waiting.

Not that Labour at Westminster is the only opposition party with decisions to be made.  Their Scottish counterparts at Holyrood have huge decisions to be made about their future direction, particularly because the SNP Government have shown signs of weakness this year.  The SNP have pressed ahead with Minimum Pricing, and found themselves in the middle of a legal battle.  As I’ve pointed out on more than one occasion (and had a heated debate with one of the local SNP hierarchy over the pages of the Paisley Daily Express), Minimum Pricing will not work as price bears no influence on underage drinkers and people with an addiction to alcohol. 

Meanwhile, Kenny MacAskill’s proposals to reform Legal Aid looks to have met some resistance, this coming less than a year after Salmond & MacAskill’s toys out the pram moment with the UK Supreme Court.  That’s not to mention the various funding issues with the NHS and Higher Education as well as the introduction of a set of new qualifications (phasing out the 25 year old Standard Grades).  If you were being kind you could make the case that they were maybe a wee bit distracted.  After all we will now be getting the much craved Independence Referendum.

Ah, the Referendum.  The Holy grail for SNP activists.  Except since both campaigns were set up, the campaign for Independence – “run” by a group called “YES Scotland” – has essentially fallen apart over two issues.  Europe and currency.

The SNP claimed that I-Scotland would continue to be a member of the EU, as a “successor state” to the UK.  When questioned by fellow Buddie (and currently the most famous person to come from Glenburn) Andrew Neil, Salmond stated that he had sought legal advice on the matter.  Fast forward to October (and several Freedom of Information requests later) and the Deputy First Minister’s admission that there was no legal advice sought, and that there would be advice.  The final hole in that argument was put by the President of the European Commission when he said that any new country would have to apply.

The most common sense approach to EU membership would have been to point out that membership of the EU was an aspiration for I-Scotland and that we would only seek membership if the Scottish people consented.  Except that now, in the unlikely event of Scotland voting yes, the whole of the EU knows how desperate we are to join.  Sturgeon’s arguments for joining the EU are like a poker player giving away their best cards before the game has started.

Rather like Europe, the issue of what currency we use has a common sense answer (a Scottish Pound, tacked on to the Sterling – there are countries around the planet who have their own currency which is tacked to the US Dollar).  Instead Swinney (probably realising that the Euro is so toxic that it would be a distinct vote loser) has proposed I-Scotland entering a currency union with R-UK, with the Bank of England setting interest rates and acting as the Lender of Last Resort. For as long as the SNP fail to square the Winton paradox of asking us to leave a union where we have a little say in the direction of that union to join another union where we have even less of a say in the direction of that union, then a No vote will remain the most likely result come 2014.

Returning to the theme of leaders presiding over omnishambles.  The reason that Alex Salmond will not be losing that much sleep over the many tactical blunders he has made this year will be the knowledge that, like Thatcher, Blair and (to a certain extent) Osborne, Salmond knows that his opposite number does not look like a likely replacement to him at the polls.  From every conceivable angle, Joanne Lamont does not remotely look like the next First Minister of Scotland.  In the autumn of 2012, Lamont even committed her, and maybe “Scottish” Labour’s, biggest mistake.  Lamont attacked the SNP from the right, adopting phrases & terminology more commonly heard in those Labour supporting organs…  the Daily Mail & Daily Express.

Lamont’s series of speeches calling for an end to the “Something for nothing” culture not only read like any speech any Conservative politician would have made since…  oh pick any year from 1983 onwards.  They also confirmed “Scottish” Labour’s drift to the right, which they have been in denial over since the days when Jack McConnell was First Minister.  This means that firstly there is an opportunity for the Green Party to hoover up disaffected Labour voters, there is also an opportunity for the SSP to pick up votes here and get themselves back on the national stage…  if they buck up their ideas and find a way to bury the hatchet with Solidarity.  Secondly, “Scottish” Labour are in serious danger of being in the political wilderness for the next decade unless they change tack quickly.  How to reposition “Scottish” Labour to the left of the SNP should be on their “to do” list in the new year if they have any designs on regaining power in 2016.  I would also suggest that they replace Lamont, as she quite clearly is not First Minister in waiting material.

It’s not just in politics that a shambles has turned into an omnishambles.  Rangers Football Club descended into firstly administration and then liquidation, with the reporting firstly showing disbelief then ignorance of the facts.  The BBC also descended into the world of shambles when ITV disclosed the biggest open secret in British broadcasting by outing Jimmy Saville as a sexual predator, most of the shambles surrounded the broadcast of two tribute programmes last Christmas and the simultaneous spiking of a Newsnight programme that would have outed Saville.  It was during this period of recrimination that saw Newsnight broadcast a report claiming (wrongly) that a senior Tory was a paedophile.  Cue meltdown in the Twittersphere as many people proved Cameron right by showing that too many tweets do make a twit (Sally Bercow, George Monbiot being the chef twits…  innocent face#).

If 2012 was the year of the Omnishambles, what will 2013 bring?  Will next year be the year we descend into some sort of Stewart Pearson hippy hell, or will another of Malcolm Tucker’s expletive ridden asides look remarkably prescient?  As long as I get to retire to the planet of the teddy bears, I’ll be happy…  maybe.

Happy new year to your all and see you in 2013.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Obama 2: The Best Is Yet To Come

You know conventional wisdom dictates that sequels are rarely as good as the original, conventional wisdom also dictates that second term presidents always have one eye on the history books.  The re-elected Barak Obama will have his work cut out if he is to be remembered for his achievements rather than his promise.

Yet for all of the relief and pleasure at the Obama victory (or is that the Romney defeat) in this country, the thought that Obama really should have won this by a larger margin remains.  The very reason that this election campaign came down to a dog-fight could be summed up in four words.  The first Presidential debate.

I had long thought that Obama should have been heading for a comfortable victory.  Obama’s opponents from the other side of the pond look more than divided – with the advent of the Tea Party wing they look more and more like an American version of the Labour Party from circa 1981.  As a result, the list of candidates for the primaries looked rather like a group of zealots and religious fundamentalists exposing 19th century views.  Even with the election of the most sensible candidate, Romney, Obama really should have won much more comfortably.

Yet, Romney had chipped away at Obama’s achilles heel – the economic performance of the USA in the past four years.  What made this election tighter than it should have been was undoubtedly Obama’s poor performance in the first Presidential debate – in the aftermath Romney’s polling experienced what could be called a “Clegg Bounce”.  It is arguable that Obama’s reaction to Storm Sandy certainly helped Obama recover enough of the ground lost in that debate to see him over the finish line in the same way that Brown’s visit to Rochdale (and all that…) saw the momentum steadily swing towards Cameron in the last General Election.

Obama’s victory already guarantees that certain things will not happen.  The USA will not provoke a trade or economic war with China, or worse.  There will also be no disproportionate response to the antics of Israel or Iran.  However Obama’s legacy really depends on how he deals with the supposed “Fiscal Cliff”.  There are though people looking at the lessons that can be learned & transplanted here.

Nick Robinson lists five lessons in his post yesterday.  His first, “Incumbents Can Still Win” obviously resonates with our own government – though there should be caveats attached.  Since the Second World War, only Ford, Carter and George Bush (senior) have lost as sitting presidents – two terms are the norm.  The much bigger lesson, which is one that has been the case in British politics since Thatcher and was clearly on show here, is that opposition parties need to fashion themselves into a credible alternative government in waiting.  Blair did that, Cameron fell just short of that while Kinnock, Hague & Howard all failed to do this.

The other lesson that resonates in British politics is that negative campaigning works.  Labour Isn’t Working”, “Labour’s Tax Bombshell” & “You Can’t Trust The Tories on The NHS” are all slogans that spearheaded negative aspects of election winning campaigning.  Sure the negative aspects were always a part of the main campaigns, but in the United States the negative campaign was the main spearhead.  Anyone who doubts that such negative campaigning won’t work here needs to look at the current Scottish Referendum campaign, where the SNP’s pro Independence message has become undermined by opposition attacks not on the main issues but on what are really fringe and just off core issues.

When Obama entered the White House in 2009, the USA was at its most precarious economic position since the 1930’s.  He hasn’t quite turned things around, partially down to the various “Checks and balances” inherent in the USA government machine.  Four more years gives the US time to cement “Obama-care” into the government and should (mid term elections providing) give Obama the chance to become the reforming president he wants to be.  Unfortunately we have 2 years of Obama the Tory to get out of the way first.

Friday, 2 November 2012

“John Major With An I-Pod”

As wee Dougie Alexander’s described the Prime Minister on GMS yesterday morning in the aftermath of the Government’s defeat in a debate about the EU’s proposed budget.

While I understand why Alexander made the comparison – and it does somewhat hit the spot – a further look at the comparison will show that it doesn’t stack up.  In the 1990’s the Conservatives were genuinely split between supporters of the EU and Eurosceptics – MP’s who initially agreed with Thatcher’s own damascene conversion on the EU, which was outlined in her famous Bruges speech.  As a result the Tory party that John Major led was pretty close to ungovernable, especially given the slender 21 seat majority Major scraped home with in the 1992 Westminster Election.  Nowhere is the dramatic reversal in John Major’s fortunes so evident than in the perception of his biggest achievement after that Election win.

Five months before that election, Major took part in the final round of negotiations which would shape the European Union’s latest treaty.  This treaty was specifically about proposals for a currency union.  From those final negotiations in the Dutch town of Maastricht, Major managed to negotiated an opt out not just of currency union for Britain but also from a series of workers rights known as “The Social Chapter”.  This was hailed at the time as a triumph.  Then came the election that saw Major re-elected but on a much reduced majority.

As a result, Major found it more and more difficult to ratify what was known as the Maastricht Treaty, as a small but vocal minority of Tories aided by John Smith’s Labour Party blocked and frustrated any attempt to get the bill through parliament.  Major managed to get the bill through, but only after tieing the bill to a no confidence vote.  The Eurosceptic genie was out of the bottle.  So why is this different to the circumstances Cameron faces?

For a start, Cameron’s trouble’s are entirely of his own making.  Milliband the younger’s jibe about Flashman strikes as more than a jibe, that there is something there that Cameron believes that he is a much more talented politician than he actually is.  He has cultivated the right of his party in an attempt to keep them onside, despite the fact that the right wing of the Tories hate him – probably for giving up on the Lisbon Treaty.  At the same time Cameron wants to cultivate an image of himself as a pragmatic “One Nation” Tory, despite the fact that the two “images” are completely and utterly incompatible.

Because Cameron has tried to keep onside with the right of his party, he has done things in office which might have appeared to look good to the right but has in reality been executed in a poor fashion.  Most famously, he walked out of last December’s summit because he could not get an opt out from, of all things, more stringent financial regulations.  As I pointed out at the time, neither Brown, Blair, Major or Thatcher would have flounced out of a EU summit at 5am without any quid pro quo.  Then again, and this is probably key, neither of the aforementioned Prime Ministers probably felt that they should have been there and that they were entitled to be there.   Call it work ethic if you want, but i suspect that those four Prime Ministers felt that they had to work at the job and I suspect that Cameron is too lazy at working at his job.

The Government’s defeat, Cameron’s first Common’s defeat as Prime Minister, means that Cameron will now head off to this weekend's EU conference very much between a rock and a hard place.  While most of Cameron’s fellow EU leaders would like to successfully negotiate a real terms freeze (ie rises pegged at inflation) at the very least, our parliament, including the elected SNP MP’s, have voiced displeasure at this and urged a total freeze in the EU’s budget. 

While a lot has been said about Labour’s blatant attempt at…  er… politics (Interesting to see Cameron’s comments on the subject, given he spent 4 and a half years attempting to clamber aboard every passing bandwagon), the SNP’s motives here should fall under some scrutiny.  As has been explained previously, the argument has been that I-Scotland would be allowed into the European Union without having to apply.  What I find strange is that all of this assumes that this argument is popular.  Yet a cursory glimpse of the (admittedly Anglocentric) media shows that not only was the defeat popular, but that Milliband the Younger is seriously thinking about outflanking the Tories by promising an in/out referendum in the EU.

On this issue above most, Salmond looks seriously behind the curve, while most of the political establishment at Westminster race to show their Eurosceptic stripes.  At Westminster, Salmond’s own party has failed to see the bigger picture in traipsing through the same lobby as Bill Cash and Peter Bone.  After all, as a proposed country that would be a net-receiver of EU funds, what do you think the SNP’s response would be towards r-UK if this happened in the future?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Why Scotland Will Vote No In 2014

Watching the edited highlights a couple of weeks ago and catching some of the pro-Independence blogs, there is an air of the first day at school to it all.  The SNP activists all exude the air of being eager to campaign for their cause, and also display some signs of being a bit too green around the gills.  More ominously, like some pupils on the first day of school there is already a sense of destiny, of things will not go to any plan.  Watching the pro-Independence party’s blog and pontificate about Scotland’s future, there is a sense that the die has already been cast and that whatever happens, in two years time Scotland will vote to stay in the Union.

The biggest miscalculation that the SNP have made is in not taking note of the polls.  You would think that a party calling a referendum in an area where they are consistently polling behind (save the odd outrider) the various options within staying within the Union, would have put in some effort in outlining its arguments to the general population.   You would have though that there would have been pre-prepared lines of defence and some though put into how to gain a yes vote.  Except that apart from the line that Scotland would be better off being governed by itself and not by Westminster, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of thought put towards how exactly to overturn a polling deficit and win a referendum.  The fact that Independence for Scotland is just not a mass movement, unlike in Catalonia, has just not occurred to the SNP.

In 2009 I posted on how the SNP could blow apart the following year’s Westminster Election.  They were not going to get the Referendum Bill through the split 2007/11 parliament, so they should have stood (I argued) by putting their arguments to people during the General Election.  Of course, instead they ran on the awfulMore Nat’s, Less Cut’s” – a campaign that saw them, if nothing else, retain their six Westminster seats.  What would have been interesting though would have been to contemplate what would have happened had the SNP gone down the other route.

For starters, the campaign would have highlighted problem area’s to the SNP hierarchy.  As it is, any problems with the case for Independence will only really emerge…  er…  now.  Secondly, the campaign would have put the case for Independence out into the wider Scottish populace.  At the moment the case for Independence hasn’t really been put towards the Scottish people, which means that a lot of pro-Union voters have only heard one side of the argument.  In short, lessons would have been learned, lessons that the SNP would have used to effect with this referendum campaign.

That has not happened and as a result, much of the SNP campaign feels thought of on the hoof, or with the idea that day one of Independence will not be different to any other day.  Much thought should have gone into the launch of “Yes Scotland” – the campaign group formed to press for a “yes” vote in two years time.  The main aim should have been to get people talking, to put out a sort of “opening argument” in support of Scotland becoming independent and generally generate some recognition for “Yes Scotland”.  Instead, ex-pat Scot’s lined up to say that Scotland would be better off governed by itself, without actually explaining how or why while Salmond explained about some sort of petition.  Not the momentum generating lift that “Yes Scotland” needed.
The “Day one of Independence” argument however has seen several of the SNP’s arguments come apart under very little pressure from opponents.  The policy of a currency union with R-UK, which I suspect comes partially from this idea and partially from the acceptance that entry to the Euro would be unthinkable on so many levels at the moment.  This theory also drives the SNP’s argument about I-Scotland starting within the EU as a successor state.  There was two problems with this though.  

Firstly, legal opinion on this position seems to be split.  Some lawyers seem to believe that Scotland would be a member state of the EU on day one of independence and that the EU would have no problems with this.  Other lawyers seem to think that this would be very far from the truth.  That I-Scotland would have to apply to join the EU and would be outside the EU on day one of Independence.  This split in opinion should have set alarm bells ringing among pro-Independence supporters.  Yet the opposite has happened.  Pro-Independence supporters have stuck their heads in the sand claiming that I-Scotland would, in spite of the paucity of evidence, take its place in the EU.  The second flaw is that no-one seems to have asked the Scottish people whether they should be part of the EU on day one of I-Scotland.

Of course, there is now a third flaw.  The SNP government it seems have spent in the region of £100,000 trying to keep out of the public domain legal advice that does not actually exist. 

Where’s the Taxpayers Alliance when you need them?

The policy that started the Scottish Government’s “week in hell” was the reversal of the policy that I-Scotland would not join NATO.  Not really having an opinion either way, I don’t understand why such a divisive proposal was put forward and why it was proposed now.  It seems strange given that this was done on the back of a poll – one poll – that showed support for Independence would increase if I-Scotland was part of NATO.  Like I said, there are some aspects of the SNP’s campaigning that seems to be made on the hoof.

So what should Yes Scotland & the SNP be doing?  For starters they really should be getting on to the main battleground of this debate – The Economy.  While there is an acceptance in the Mac-blogosphere that Scotland can make it as an Independent country, Yes Scotland really need to take this argument out into the real world.  There is polling evidence to suggest that people believe that they would be worse off if Scotland became Independent and that this is the main reason that they will not vote for independence.  As I have said before, the SNP need to tackle this issue.  It does seem though that the SNP are already behind the curve here – Better Together have recently changed their argument from “Scotland can’t survive separated from the rest of the UK” to “We think that it is in Scotland’s best interest to stay a part of the UK”.

I think that unless there are changes in the tactics of Yes Scotland and the SNP, this referendum campaign will be done and dusted very quickly.  A lot of the damage has been self inflicted damage, which must be pleasing for the “Better Together” camp as they haven’t really put forward any arguments.  If all the current indications are correct, and Yes Scotland/the SNP carry on with their tactics (or there is an unknown element), Scotland will vote No in 2014.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Some Thoughts About The Conference Season

With the conference season now at a close (for non Scottish readers, the SNP conference finished yesterday), there are a few things that have emerged that are worthy of comment.
One nation under god...  ah, no... wait... wrong speech.

1)  Referendum…  What Referendum?

Last Monday saw the final agreement between the Westminster & Holyrood governments to hold a referendum on Scotland’s place in the Union.  You wouldn’t have thought that this referendum was happening judging by the political talk at the conferences of the three main Westminster parties.  Indeed, at most Cameron & Milliband the Younger probably devoted around 4 sentences each on how utterly committed they were to defending the Union, before ploughing on with their own self absorbed arguments.

The Better Together group are claiming to take no vote for granted, yet all the party leaders gave only a cursory mention to the dominant political issue in Scotland, as if Independence was some sort of irritant to the real issues (which, thanks to the descent into arguing about something as arcane as the question for months on end, does look very off putting).  One wonders whether as the campaign unfolds, the Westminster party leaders can afford to be so casual towards the views of part of the country.

2) Labour Have Signed Up to George’s “Scorched Earth Policy” – Fact

Anyone who saw some of Ed Balls speeches in 2011 and 2012 will not be surprised by that statement, especially as Labour have done anything but publicise this part to the wider electorate who will have missed this in the edited highlights of both speeches.  Balls reiterated this point in this years speech to conference, that cuts will have to be made – “we cannot make any commitments now that the next Labour government will be able to reverse particular tax rises or spending cuts…  as I said to the TUC, we must be upfront with the British people that under Labour there would have been cuts and that – on spending, pay and pensions – there will be difficult decisions in the future from which we will not flinch.” 

The difference this year is that the “Scottish” Labour leader Johanne Lamont has now made two speeches, the second her Scottish leader’s speech at the Labour conference, calling into question the affordability of certain “universal benefits”.  As I have pointed out in the previous post, her attempt to start a debate into public services has seen her party lurch to the right because of the badly chosen arguments and frankly awful politics at play here. 

Yet, rather tellingly, rather than spin their way out of the hole they find themselves in, Labour have played this with a straight bat and honestly believe that there is mileage in means testing, targeted benefits, Tuition Fees and higher local taxes rather than a more viable alternative of cuts to middle management, pay freezes to heads of service, pay freezes to vice Chancellors and targeted tax rises.

3) The Conservatives have Lurched To The Right

Anyone remember the 1993 Tory Conference?  It was the one where Peter Lilley first blamed single mothers for all of the ills in society, the one where Michael Howard declared that “Prison works” and the one, I think, where the Prime Minister John Major concluded his speech to conference with a call to return to the values of the 1950’s.  In short, Major’s “Back to basics” speech concluded a conference that saw the Tories lurch (disastorously) to the right in short shrift.  There were sighters that the Tories were preparing for a shift rightwards (that reshuffle anyone?), but Cameron’s Tories have now performed a similar manoeuvre to the one performed by John Major’s government.

Those sighters were the promotions of climate change deniers (Patterson) and supporters of a third runway at Heathrow (McLoughlan).  Confirmation of the sharp turn right came with Osborne’s piss poor speech to conference, where he gave us a paper thin defence of his “Scorched Earth" policy of cuts and offered workers shares to give up centuries long hard fought rights. 

Lemmings.  Jumping.  Cliff.

In among the above, Osborne was channelling the spirit of Lilley by promising more benefit cuts, £10 billion of them, while elsewhere there was an announcement relaxing the rules regarding householders confronted by burgulars.  All of which signs that the Tories are moving right regardless of their coalition partners.  Speaking of which…

4)  The Race to Succede Nick Clegg has begun.

While Clegg did enough to see off the immediate threat to his position as Lib Dem leader, the discontent about his position has not gone away.  Indeed it could be argued that the Lib Dem’s performed the reverse manoeuvre to their coalition partners in that they began to move away from “Orange Book-ism” during this conference.

The Lib Dem’s announced some sort of new business bank.  However it is the Lib Dem’s kite flying on various “Wealth” taxes, alongside various announcements about tax avoidance, which has seen the Lib Dems move slightly to the left.  These last measures play into the preferred standpoints of the Business Secretary, “St” Vince Cable, who many believe to be the favourite to succeed Clegg.  Personally, I would urge caution on that front.  Firstly because by the time Clegg goes, Cable may not be so unscathed by life in government, and secondly because Tim Farron (the Lib Dem president) has been quietly and effectively doing his job and also defending the Lib Dem line on certain programmes & media outlets.

5)  That Referendum Campaign Has Now Started

Conference season ended with the SNP conference, which came days after the signing of “The Edinburgh Agreement” (© Alex Salmond, 2012) which commits the UK & Holyrood parliaments to a single question referendum on Scotland’s continued position in the United Kingdom.  Not surprisingly this dominated proceedings at Perth, with the SNP only now starting to make their pitch for independence.

What was intriguing though was that because it seems that the SNP are only now thinking about their arguments, that we now have the proposal (now passed) to end the SNP’s opposition to NATO.  I wonder if, firstly, that this proposal would have been better put last year when Salmond was still (metaphorically speaking) walking on water and, secondly, if there will be a hangover from this vote.  After all, it is a hallmark of left of centre politics in this country that grudges are carried all too easily.

6)  Conferences Should Be More Voter Friendly.

Lastly, this is something that occurred to me on the day of Ed Milliband’s “One Nation” speech.  Most of the the main key-note speeches take place in mid afternoon (when most people are at work).  Surely it would make more sense to schedule keynote speeches to a point in the day when you can get the optimum audience.  I suppose the SNP should probably take note of this too, after all a Saturday afternoon is not really the optimum time to get you message out.  Especially as “Yes Scotland” camp start very far behind the status quo.  Something we should be looking at that happens with the American “Convention’s”.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Yes, Whatever Happened To Labour?

The current poll of polls shows that Labour are an average of 10 points ahead of the Conservatives. Yet a cursory glance of their policies and thinking shows that they are still desperately out of touch.  Indeed Owen Jones asks the above question in his Independent column on Monday.

Jones contention is that Miliband’s Labour are targeting the wrong constituency in their attempt to unseat Cameron in May 2015.  Instead of targeting “Middle England”, Jones argument is that they should be targeting skilled workers where there was a 21% drop in support between the 1997 & 2010 Westminster Elections (as opposed to a 5% drop in “Middle England”).  While Jones correctly chides Ed Balls for fully signing up to George’s Scorched Earth policy, one must wonder what he makes of the mess that the leader of “Scottish” Labour, Johanne Lamont, has got herself into.

In short, last week Lamont turned an attempt to kick start a debate into what are our priorities into a race to bag some votes from Daily Mail readers, and you wouldn’t want votes from the only rag to be firmly in the appeasement camp pre-World War II.  This tone can be encapsulated in three little words – “something for nothing”.

To be fair to Ms Lamont, there is a debate to be had about public spending and the priorities for the Scottish Government.  The problem is that the debate was botched in 2010 when the only discernible difference between Brown & Cameron was in the application of an increase to NI rates.  More pertinently, in 2011 any attempt to debate things was rejected by all parties.  The problem is that the targets that Lamont picked were sacred cows for a centre left constituency, while the first target she picked completely missed the target.

As I have advocated in previous posts, in tough economic times a freeze in council taxes is good for hard pressed parties and people on low incomes.  A council tax freeze also helps the well off too, but that is a symptom of a taxation system based on property values from 1991.  If Lamont was genuinely looking at things from a left of centre perspective, she would have been actively kite flying about replacing the Council Tax, perhaps pushing the SNP into looking again at the much fairer LIT, or advocating the SSP’s own Service Tax.  Instead, she seems to be looking to continue “Scottish” Labour policy in keeping the Council Tax.

Interestingly enough, some of the squeezes on public spending identified by Lamont; “Class size pledges, kinship care allowances, free school meals, all promised by Alex Salmond, but without the money to pay for it” could actually be identified as victims of a “Scottish” Labour policy from the McConnell years – the PFI upgrades to our schools.  This policy has seen millions taken out of the education budget (£400 million in 2010/11) before a single penny is spent on…  er… education.  

One of the sacred cows Lamont attempted to shot was that of Universal benefits – “What is progressive about a chief executive on more than 100,000 a year not paying for his prescriptions, while a pensioner needing care has their care help cut?”. True, but firstly a chief executive is unlikely to be getting free prescriptions anyway and secondly surely it costs money to add a means testing element to benefits, not to mention that means testing will put the poorest off claiming the benefits they would be entitled to.

The one part that Lamont did get right was her assertion that “we can change Scotland now. We have the powers in the Scottish Parliament now, to change radically education, health, public services.” But even here she messed up by claiming that radical ideas were being crowded out by the referendum debate.  Firstly, there are many things missing from any debate.  Good solid radical ideas being the main element missing, however in the second year of the second SNP administration, and six months into the referendum campaign, why has Lamont complained about the crowding out of ideas when “Scottish” Labour had five years to… er… think the unthinkable.

In truth, the problems identified by Lamont are symptoms of the chronic lack of liquidity in the UK economy which is exacerbated by George’s not so marvellous medicine.  Even today, being interviewed on GMS and speaking at the Labour conference, Lamont refuses to recognise how badly she had got things wrong in her speech last week.  In attempting to start an honest debate, she came out with arguments that came straight from the mind of either Karl Rove or Lynton Crosby.  While the MacNew Labour-esque SNP Government will be laughing away at Lamont’s display of foot shooting, there is one party that should really be taking note.

The SSP, who have been in a mess since the whole Sheridan thing, have been presented with an opportunity to make political hay at “Scottish” Labour’s expense.  If they play their cards right, there are votes to be had, both in 2015 and in 2016.  Lamont’s decision to attack the SNP from the right could come back to haunt “Scottish” Labour as it leaves a vacuum in the SNP’s left flank – the natural home to many Scottish voters.  All of which puts Miliband the Younger’s “One Nation” speech in a different perspective.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Referendum Campaign Starts Here...

My own theory regarding elections is that they don’t really start until you either see the paraphernalia go up, you see the candidates or receive campaign literature through the door.  On this evidence, the Independence referendum will be the longest political campaign this side of the Atlantic, as I bumped into campaigners for the no camp, or to give them their Sunday name supporters of the Better Together camp, on the way home from work last Friday.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I do love a good leaflet, so after discussing where I sit in this debate (and trying to plug this blog) I took away a leaflet which attempts to put the case for voting no.  The arguments put in the leaflet can be split into three.  There are the statements of the bleedin’ obvious that are not really relevant to the sense of grievance at the heart of the Scottish psyche, there are the statements that pose a question to “Yes Scotland’s” economic arguments and there are statements that are mischievous.

On the front of the leaflet (possibly tellingly) is a statement that “The UK means that Scots get a seat at the top table at the UN alongside China and America  - prefaced with “Just one reason why we’re better together”.  I don’t know about you but of all the reasons to vote no, retaining the influence of the UK is, I suspect, quite some way down the pecking order of priorities.

That’s not to belittle people who think that it’s great that while the country burns, everything is OK because we (through the UK) have a permanent seat at the UN Security Council because obviously the UK has used their influence well in the past.  Hmmm...  It’s just that there are other priorities.  The same accusation can be made of the argument that “Scots are represented by over 270 embassies as part of the UK”.  There is a thought that maybe these arguments are the equivalent of the filler track. After all the economic arguments aren’t phrased as economic arguments, more like questions for “Yes Scotland”.

Apparently “31,000 workers in Scotland have jobs with the UK Government”.  Reading between the lines, the question posed to the yes camp is how many of these jobs will go under independence.  Ditto, the quote regarding 1,000,000 Scots having pensions guaranteed by the UK welfare system is a challenge to “Yes Scotland” to respond.  Two of the arguments smack of veiled threats.  One in five workers in Scotland are employed by English, Welsh and Northern Irish firms” hints that these jobs would be under threat should Scotland vote yes – a sort of economic blackmail.  Even darker is the claim that “Scots save billions on the cost of mortgages due to the UK’s AAA credit rating” – the justification for Osborne’s scorched earth policy of into the bone cuts.

Those four arguments pose questions of the “yes” camp, questions that “Yes Scotland” have not looked like answering at the moment.  As I have constantly pointed out, the economy will be the battleground for this campaign.  Better Together’s subtle jabs point to a campaign that knows that it is ahead and only needs to limit the other campaign to retain a lead.  The other arguments are mere mischief making, arguments that are discredited after several moments thought, but ones that really should be challenged.

For example “Scottish banks were bailed out with £470 billion from UK tax payers”.  Firstly, aren’t we still UK tax payers therefore we contributed too, and secondly does that include “English” banks like Lloyds TSB (forced into a merger with HBOS by Gordon Brown) and Bradford & Bingley.  Of course, rather like the credit rating argument fat load of good it has done us with the banks refusing to pass on our money to put much needed liquidity into the economy.  If Ms Lamont is seriously a fan of the coalition’s economic policies (rather like comrade Balls), she just had to say rather than give us subliminal messages through her line of blue suits.

The other mischievous argument is that “800,000 Scots live and work in England & Wales without the need for papers & passports”.  So they do!  Of course it’s not set in stone that they would need papers & passports if Scotland votes yes.  Ironically, it would be more likely that they would need papers if Scotland votes no considering some Blaitite’s love of ID cards.

Overall, it’s a strange leaflet.  In a close election, you would seriously question some of the points being raised.  However because “Yes Scotland” have simply not generated the required momentum the strange points will go unchecked.  The leaflet points out that “being part of the United Kingdom is the best possible part of our future” – yet talks about embassies and the UN, hardly the main topic of discussion down at the pub, while making veiled threats about a loss of jobs and immediate economic hardship from the outset.  Defensive is probably the best description I can use, and probably sums up both Better Together’s campaign so far and the stance taken by Lamont, et all when the questions about their support for Osborne’s scorched earth policy begin in earnest.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Most Smackable Face In British Politics?

With politics edging back into the news after the summer break, it returns with a slightly violent streak.

Up here of course, the barely established referendum campaigns are already degenerating into spite filled bitter warfare with very little intelligent debate and lowest common denominator point scoring.  All stuff guaranteed to generate a long and bitter hangover post referendum regardless of the result.  What is new is the new found hatred towards the former teddy bears of the political scene, the Liberal Democrats.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Worse Than Chloe Smith...

At the end of June, we had supposedly an interview that was cringe worthy as much as it was car crash television.  It prompted a post here bemoaning the quality of political interviewers working in Scotland.  One of my work colleagues who saw the post asked why I hadn’t mentioned Isobel Fraser.  Thinking back, I suppose it was because she has only just reached the top rank of political presenters/interviewers at BBC Scotland, so I wasn’t sure of how good she is. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Day Of The Lords

Hmmm, House Of Lord’s reforms. Dunno about you but I am kind of torn over this subject.

The Eric & Ernie of British Politic's
On the one hand, it’s yet another U-turn for a government that makes U-Turns into an Olympic standard manoeuvre.  At the last Westminster Elections, all of the English based parties said that they would enact some sort of reform on the UK’s “Second” Chamber.  Quelle Surprise that the first party to turn against Lords reform are the establishment party.  Clegg has a point in being angry at being stiffed over both voting and Lord’s reform.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Some Thought’s About That Opening Ceremony

Tour De France winner Bradley Wiggins start's the opening ceremony
The Games of the 30th Olympiad opened last night in Stratford with a ceremony which gathered much acclaim.  There may well be posts on the Olympics, but these will appear on the brother blog to this, Fan With a Laptop.

Before I go on I must confess that i thought that firstly Paris should have won the bid for these games.  When London won the bid in July 2005, i thought that the opening ceremony would be a horribly anglocentric affair.  City gents with bowler hats and other symbols of Englishness would be at the fore.  Even the pre-ceremony blurb sounded like John Major’s “Cricket on the green…  warm beer…  spinsters on cycles” speech brought to life.  We were wrong.

Boyle’s vision was astonishing, and somehow managed to be British without very much of a hint of Anglocentricity.  The Pandemonium section had so much going on, that a second look is probably obligatory.  The voguing “corks” (mill owners) were rather surreal, while I'm still trying to work out where the chimney’s came from.  The part with the suffragettes looked similar in style to Paisley’s own “Sma Shot” day, and was one of the many pokes in the eye to our current government. A theme picked up on by the Tory MP Aiden Burnley.

The most “offensive” part for Mr Burnley (and one suspects to the visiting US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney – considering his opposition to “Obama-care”) was the open love letter to the NHS and to Great Ormond Street Hospital – both touted as great British achievements in the teeth of continued opposition.  Burnley’s rant on the twittersphere came after the appearance of the SS Windrush, dubbing the ceremony “multi-cultural crap” and “the most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen”.  This morning he seemed to dig himself into a deeper hole by completely marginalising the biggest selling musical genre in the past decade.  Rap and R&B stars have created the biggest selling records of the past 10 years, our “Grime” stars are making the kind of waves in America that many Brit pop bands failed to do, while American R&B records increasingly sound like British dance records from the mid 90’s.  Why wouldn’t that be celebrated by the guy who worked with Leftfield (on the soundtrack of “Shallow Grave”) and picked Underworld & New Order (among others) for the soundtrack for “Trainspotting”.  Jeez, Danny Boyle even made Mr Bean funny for one night.

Taken as a whole, it wasn’t some sort of lefty paradise, but rather cleverly picked the good things that make us British, it was great to watch one of these things and get the small cultural references, which I think only the French were sniffy towards.  The “Bond with the Queen” skit was unexpected and good (even if Brenda spoiled it afterwards by failing to crack a smile during the rest of the ceremony), while I commented on Bean earlier.  The only duff notes were struck by McCartney and maybe the Arctic Monkey’s – both were slightly out of kilter with the rest of the ceremony.

For a resolutely small p political ceremony, maybe the most interesting thing to say was that it was probably a much better advert for the Union than anything “Better Together” will throw at us over the next two years, and portrayed a cool version of Britishness that the SNP will fail to rebut.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

We Need To Talk About George...

With the summer recess (recess?  Surely break?) coming up speculation is building about  David Cameron’s first planned ministerial re-shuffle.  Among the names being touted for reshuffle is a surprising one.  That of the Chancellor George Osborne.

While I fully expect Osborne to stay in his position up to at least the next Westminster Election, it is however worth looking at the reasons why he should be removed from his position.  It is his own “Scorched Earth” policy (a policy of deep cuts intended to lower the structural deficit but has – as predicted – utterly destroyed any chance of growth) that has done more harm than good to the UK economy.  It is worth noting that Osborne’s main cheerleaders when he became Chancellor now advocate some sort of “plan B”.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Not Another Referendum...

While there is a current lull in the Independence/Union referendum campaign with arguments raging about geeky uninteresting points of order, there has been a call for another referendum.  This time on the thorny subject of “Gay Marriage”.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Unacceptable Face Of Banking

I’m not precisely sure which is the most surprising aspect of “Libor-gate”, that it happened at all or that so much of the Anglocentric press is surprised that it is Barclay’s being found with their fingers in the till – in a metaphorical sense of course.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Chloe Smith & the Quality of Scottish Based Political Interviewers

You have to feel for Chloe Smith.  The Government she’s part of performs the umpteenth u-turn and she is chosen to be the front person for this, and face not just Jon Snow but Jeremy Paxman.  I saw bits and bobs of her interview with Paxman and never thought she was that bad.  That hasn’t stopped people from claiming her moment as the biggest car-crash interview in some time, despite Danny Alexander (for example) performing even more badly any time i've seen him up against Paxman.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Quid Pro Quo?

On Sunday morning, Radio 5 Live’s “Double Take” programme discussed the weeks proceedings at the Levenson enquiry, which saw the current Prime Minister, Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minster appear as well as two former prime Ministers and our First Minister.  The person they had on described the appearance of Salmond as a side show, which probably infuriated most of the MacBloggosphere and pleased Team Salmond in equal measures.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

In With A Whimper And Not A Bang

The bid for Scottish independence got under way officially in Edinburgh today with the unveiling of the 'Yes Scotland' campaign.  Scottish Green, Scottish Socialist and SNP figures mingled with celebrities and Scots from all walks of life as the campaign made its bid to become the biggest community led movement ever seen in Scotland.

The thrust of the campaign will be the message that it is better for Scotland if the people taking the decisions are the ones who live here.  A host of famous Scots have pledged their support for the campaign, including Sir Sean Connery, former BBC Scotland head of news Blair Jenkins, poet Liz Lochead, musician Pat Kane and Holywood stars Brian Cox and Alan Cumming.  Yes Scotland got underway with a quest for one million signatures of support before the referendum takes place in the Autumn of 2014.” – Newsnet Scotland

So the launch of the yes campaign started yesterday, not with a succinct summary of why Scotland would be better going it alone – opening arguments if you will -  but with bland New Labour-esque platitudes about how things will be better for Scotland if decisions were made here - minus the five point paper card.  Excuse me while I don’t rush to sign the online petition just yet.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Ding Dong The Wicked Bomber Is Dead!

…or at least that was the tone that many of today’s newspapers struck.  Including some of the Scottish based newspapers.  Shame on you Daily Retard.

In one of the most left-field news stories to be announced, it’s announcement caught Isobel Fraser off guard – goodness knows what Kate/The Burd thought, the death of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was announced.  Whether you rejoiced, or felt something for him kind of depends on whether you think he was an evil monster or the victim of (by some distance) Scotland’s biggest miscarriage of justice.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A Potted History of The Anointed One’s

We were talking in work last week about the current Rangers crisis, and the phrase “to catch a fish, you must stir the waters” popped into my head.  It is one of the rule’s of power as set down by Machaveili.  Another rule came to mind with Better Nation’s post which argued that perhaps the change from Salmond to Sturgeon should take place sooner rather than later.  While it was presumptuous of Jeff to see Sturgeon win any future leadership election within the SNP, she does appear to be the clear favourite at this point in time.  Judging from history, winning any leadership election will be the easy part.  To quote from another of Machaveilli’s rules “Never step into the shoes of a big man”.

Churchill and his anointed sucessor Anthony Eden
British political history has lots of examples to show that being the anointed successor of a successful leader is not a recipe for success.  Arguably the biggest warning from history comes in the shape of Anthony Eden.  Eden had long been Winston Churchill’s anointed successor, but had to put up with waiting until Churchill retired before taking over the top job.  When Churchill retired he immediately looked to establish his own mandate by calling an election.  The election was won with a majority of 60.  Yet everything achieved by Eden has been seen since through the prism of the disasterous Suez Crisis.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Socialist Experiment

On Sunday, The French went to the polls and elected Francois Hollande as President.  On so many levels this is an interesting and welcome development.

The French equivilant of John Major's soapbox...
One of the key planks of Hollande’s strategy has been the promise to put taxes up for higher earners – to 75% for Euro-millionaires and to 45% for those earning above €450,000.  The commentary in this country has been that this measure, alongside the policy to put up Corporation tax, will lead to people and companies leaving France and becoming tax exiles in the same way that businessmen in this country threaten to leave here if taxes go up.  I do often wonder how much of this is hogwash, particularly as any time the French elections have come up in the news there has been no mention of large scale treats to leave the country.  Mind you it is difficult to think of the French equivalent to Frank Bruno, Phil Collins and Paul Daniels.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The What If Elections

We were told that the SNP would sweep to victory in councils up and down the land.  We were told that they would sweep to victory in Glasgow and Edinburgh.   Perhaps crucially, we were told nothing about Renfrewshire.  But despite picking up over 400 council seats, the SNP may very well look back at the what if council elections.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Is The SNP Backlash Coming?

If Salmond is aware of the history of politics, he will be aware that there comes a point when governments start to become unpopular, and a backlash forments.  Blair got to that point addressing the WI just before the fuel protests.  That point could be just about now with Council elections due next week and some wise sage’s suggesting that the SNP may fail to take their target of Glasgow City Council.

Not helpful at all to the SNP cause has been the news from the Levenson Enquiry, where an e-mail saying that “He (Salmond) will call Hunt when we need him too” has come into the public domain.  While this is a whole lot more damaging to Jeremy Hunt, who has been shown to be the cheerleader for Murdoch we all thought he was when he was given the task of deciding on the proposed take over of BSkyB (NB: The waiving through of the purchase of BSkyB was not the quid-pro quo for support for the Tories at the last Election – the scrapping of OFCOM and the tightening of the leash on the BBC was), this damages the Salmond stock at the worst possible time.  Just before the council election’s and just before campaigning proper begins on the referendum.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Nation At Ease With Itself

There was a quip in John O’Farrell’s book where he predicts that John Major would become some sort of quiz question that everyone would get wrong – in an attempt to predict that Major would be some sort of caretaker Prime Minister between the Thatch and Kinnock governments.  Despite being Prime Minister for 6 and a half years, Major’s reputation is akin to being an extended caretaker, or worse…  Yet at the height of the worst recession since the 1980/81 recession, Major pulled off an election win that is the very description of the phrase “victory from the jaws of defeat”.
Yet when the election was called, 24 hours after a tax cutting budget, many though that the gamble would backfire – that Labour would win. Yet Labour proceeded to make two errors, which was compounded by their non awareness of the power of spin.  Firstly there was the “Shadow Budget”, which contained proposals to raise the top rate of tax to 50% and the removal of the exemption from 9% of NI contributions on higher earners.  The Tories had a campaign already up and running regarding “Labour’s tax Bombshell”, but created another poster “Labour’s Double Whammy” – which became the most successful political poster since “Labour Isn’t working”.  Secondly there was the furore over the PEB designed to push the message about Labour’s plans over the NHS.  Instead “The war of Jennifer’s Ear” obscured and caused more harm than good to Labour’s message.  Both the Shadow City Minister and the candidate for Hartlepool must have been taking notes on how to overhaul Labour’s campaigning techniques.