Friday, 23 December 2011

All aboard for Capt. Osborne of the Titanic

These clever people at Designiscentral have produced the STUC's Christmas greeting, which is a version of James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster "Titanic". (I know, 1997 Is it that long ago? )

"A Flag of Convenience - rearranging the deck-chairs" has Osborne, Cameron and Clegg starring in "a disaster waiting to happen".

It has been described as a "heart and pocket wrenching drama", but it's quite funny too.

I see that my blogsite doesn't do widescreen, so here's the link to the STUC website for the full experience.

Anyway, have a Merry Christmas, and take it away James Horner and the Titanic orchestra...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cameron kippers Miliband at PMQs

Unemployment higher than it has been in a generation, Britain isolated in Europe, the spectre of recession haunting Christmas spending and yet, and yet, the Conservatives are ahead in the opinion polls for the first time in 17 months.

Someone is doing something wrong here, and it ain't David Cameron. The Prime Minister gave Ed Miliband one mighty slap across the chops at Prime Minister's Questions today, on the one issue that voters identify the Labour leader with - doing in his brother.

It was all going so well for Miliband, teasing the mute Nick Clegg by Cameron's side about the problems of coalition politics, as Lib dem rival Chris Huhme smirked away further up the gangway.

Cameron rose fluidly to tell Miliband it would surprise no one that Lib Dems and Tories had their differences. He said Miliband shouldn't believe everything he reads in the papers.

"It's not that bad," quipped Cameron. "It's not like we're brothers or anything."

Game over - another bruising half hour encounter for the Labour leader, which is becoming a regular occurrence. The focus groups tell Cameron that fratricide is all voters remember Miliband for and every few weeks the PM makes sure that one salient fact doesn't slip from their mind.

Nick Watt of the Guardian thinks today was Miliband has had his Westland moment, when Neil Kinnock failed to kill Thatcher when she was there for the taking.

Labour's longtoothed strategists are biding their time, betting that the short term gains Cameron has made with his British bulldog stance to the EU will rebound as the consequences become clear and the economic weather worsens.

It may take more than that to change Labour's fortunes, and they all know it. I hear that one of the oldest Labour beasts in the jungle, the one who talked Eve into eating the apple, thinks that Ed Miliband can eventually be persuaded to eat something that's not good for him too.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Voters urge Salmond to get on with indy poll

Thanks to the Balkanisation of the British press I had to scramble around behind The Times paywall for details of the Ipsos Mori poll on Scottish attitudes to an independence referendum.

The story is the splash in the Scottish edition of the paper and gets not a mention in the London copy I bought at the station this morning.

A large part of the dis-assembly of the UK is down to the London papers regularly slotting Scottish stories into edition silos that are read only by Scottish readers.

Conversely the Daily Record is the only Scottish daily still circulating in London, both the Scotsman and the Herald having withdrawn from the capital. I know there is a news life online but there is still a lot to be said for the visible and tactile power of print and its engagement in a national conversation.

Anyway, that's a personal diversion. As expected the poll shows that two thirds of Scots believe Alex Salmond is wrong to delay a referendum on independence until at least 2014.

The Ipsos MORI poll shows 33 per cent of Scots voters want a referendum as soon as possible. Another 31 per cent want one within the next two years.

That's 64 per cent want a poll before Salmond's "after 2014" pledge, a nine point increase since August.

None of that is likely to change Mr Salmond,'s mind which is set on a referendum in the second half of this five-year Scottish Parliament, meaning not before 2014. Everyone says 2014 - Bannockburn anniversary, Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup - is Salmond's date with destiny. It could be later than that, I reckon, but that option is now backed by only 29 per cent of Scots, down eight points from August.

The bottom line is that Salmond would lose a referendum if one were held early or late.

The poll finds that support for independence among Scots certain to vote has risen by three points since August to 38 per cent.

But a clear majority of Scots — 57 per cent — still believe that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. This has declined since August, again by three points.

Professor John Curtice, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, said the changes might be little more than the variability of all polls.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Cameron takes a bow

David Cameron is due to be cheered from the rafters this afternoon by his own side following his "triumph" in Brussels last week.

Labour's frontbench have found themselves on the wrong side of populism twice in the last fortnight. When it came to the Autumn spending review I think Cameron and Osborne's attack line - "you can't spend your way out of debt" - resonated with voters' own experiences in the last few years.

As any passing Keynesian will tell you, national economies do not behave in the same way as household bank accounts. But the handbag analogy is working for the Tories right now.

Effective as he is Ed Balls hasn't found the same rhetoric to answer back with, regardless of how coherent his analysis is.

Similarly on Europe, by amplifying the Europhobia of his own backbenchers Cameron has tapped into the knee-jerk anti-Europeanism of the electorate. Labour doesn't quite have an answer.

Although Douglas Alexander, and David Miliband this morning, do fine destructive analysis of "the reasons not to", you don't get the feeling that penetrates far beyond the political village.

For now all Ed Miliband can do is hold the line for the long term, which is all opposition is about. In a year the public might see Osborne's plan A isn't working and British business will begin to express discomfort with distancing the country from its' biggest market.

Labour's pre-1997 experience was that Britain's business community didn't like Tory beef wars or the Brussels-bashing agenda of the Thatcherite rump left in Major's Tory party.

It might take a while for Britain to realise the consequences of Cameron taking Britain down a fork in the European road. It looks smooth for Cameron now, but the road gets rougher ahead.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Calum's Road comes home

I went back to Raasay last Friday (I know, twice in a week. Even though the island tried to devour me whole I can't stay away). There was only one place to be that night, come hire car or high water, and that was in the new hall for the last tour performance of "Calum's Road".

It lived up to the billing as an extraordinary night of drama. Theatre and location and people don't come together like this very often. Here's my West Highland Free Press review of the Comminicado/NTS production of Calum's Road

A play is nothing without an audience, but a play becomes something else when it is its audience.

Taking the stage adaptation of "Calum’s Road" back to its island setting demonstrates the inescapable, powerful connection between art and the places from which it springs. Landscape and memory have a pull strong enough to draw people from very far away, and to fill Raasay Hall twice over last Friday.

In fact the National Theatre of Scotland could have taken residence in Raasay for a week and, weather permitting, sold out the run. But a play is essentially ephemeral art, and different each time. Anyway, casting like Iain Macrae as Calum cannot happen twice.

"He had my father to a T," said Julia, Calum MacLeod's daughter in her own review of Macrae’s performance as the islander who defied the world with a wheelbarrow and a shovel.

That’s the real Julia speaking — in front of her eyes, on stage, she is seamlessly represented as a young girl by Angela Hardie and as a woman by Ceit Kearney, who also managed to slip into the role of Julia's mother Lexy.

Fictionalising real people and a real place and projecting that back to the most discerning audience is a pretty neat trick, if you can pull it off. Raasay was lulled and lilted by Alasdair Macrae's score and let itself be carried down the road again.

After their own long journey around Scotland, the cast have honed the parts into a lesson in ensemble acting, so that characters play off each other and not just out into the audience.

While Macrae is as energetic as Calum himself Finlay Welsh, as Iain Nicolson, is a counterpoint in paring back a performance until he delivers the intensity of his emotions with a glance or a twitch.

Gerry Mulgrew’s Communicado Theatre has long experience of successfully adapting Scottish literature for stage. Roger Hutchinson’s book lends him some of the best lines, but it is the dexterous layering of a familiar tale by writer David Harrower that elevates "Calum’s Road", unexpectedly warming a slow-burning tragedy.

The gentle, unrequited love story cocooned in the play and the repeated motifs of the road saga — depopulation, the fragility of family and culture — are, like Calum’s struggle with the barrow against the county council, universal themes.

"Calum’s Road" is not just from our past. The question mark over end-of-the-road communities resonates through modern Scotland all the way down to the inner Clyde.

Even on islands like Shetland and Iceland, where they had money to throw at the situation, people continue to gravitate from the periphery to the streetlit centres.

But that is no reason to give up on places like Raasay. Even the new hall that hosted Calum’s homecoming is a symbol of hope. When it is not converted into an amphitheatre for the National Theatre of Scotland it hosts intense football sessions for the island’s youngsters. One day there will be enough kids for a Raasay 11-a-side team. There is, finally, a new pier in a sensible place, with a beautiful, working fishing boat moored to it. New social housing is being built, hopefully not too late.

And on nights like last Friday — when that rare thing happens and art, time and place combine to make huge emotional demands on an audience — it reveals a very special community at the centre of its own story.

Outside the hall winter’s wind rages and the complaints are all too real-life. They are much the same ones as Calum MacLeod might have made in a strong letter to Inverness County Council. The island’s roads are still awful.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Thoughts from abroad

Cameron's off to Paris today and, coincidentally, so am I. He's trying to shore up Britain's influence on the Eurozone, I just want to spend my remaining summer holiday Euros while they remain acceptable currency.

All this existential worry about the Eurozone must start to be annoying for SNP campaign managers back home. It can't do for people to be distracted by an economic Armageddon and fret about whether they'll have a job or not when there's the serious task of nation building to be getting on with.

Implicit in the whole modern offer of independence was the notion that Scots need not worry about leaving the comfort blanket of their most beneficial monetary and economic union in 300 years, the UK. They would be replacing it with an even larger and more successful EU club. (Mmm, in many ways "Independence in Europe" could have been a more persuasive slogan than the selfishness of "Scotland's oil" which ran against the redistributive grain of many Scottish voters).

Well, given that the Eurozone is on the sliproad to the autobhan to hell (and us with it) the sell of separation from the UK is even harder to crack than that 28 per cent plateau, particularly if the leadership can't sound coherent on the currency or status of Scotland post-separation.

That means it's headscratching time at SNP central sloganising department. Indy in EU, nah, forget it; Arc of prosperity, uh uh; Risk it all on Yes in 2015, em, think again.

When the recessionary riptide is running the other way its hard to come up with ideas that broaden the economic appeal of independence. And on that score the SNP looks weak.

Unfortunately, apart from the welcome adoption of an idea for of a Minister for Youth unemployment, there's not much evidence of the Holyrood government doing much to stem the economic tide or move Scotland forward this week, or any other.

Despite a stonking majority in parliament, a mandate for anything, Salmond appears to be set on a course to becalm Scotland in the run up to the whenever'endum.

The message coming from political masters senior policy makers is that nothing will really be done to rock the Scottish boat in the next few years. Big issues like structural changes to the NHS, which may be electorally unpalatable but acknowledged as necessary, will be avoided. Reform of the education system, don't go there.
Criminal Justice, anything so long as it strikes a fine balance between dogwhistling reactionary retribution (core Labour vote) with liberal echo (soak up remaining Lib Dems).

Environmental policy, the SNP's biggest calumny, veers from "drill baby drill" in the wild Atlantic to somehow magicking windmills on and offshore with a continuing subsidy from the UK consumers even after independence! Check out the latest report from Citgroup for an even more devastating critique of why the Salmond's renewable vision will end up by 2020 in energy dependence on imports and a tacit acceptance of extended Scottish nuclear power generation.

It's unfortunate that in the five lost years of constitutional wrangling the government has decided to substitute hard policy with broad populism. That's deliberate, of course, in order not to upset any sectoral group on the road to i-day, the name campaign managers had been saving up for the Independence app.

But Alex Salmond's focus on a downloadable Gettysburg address actually gets in the way of a real world agenda for Scotland. Instead of mapping out a future he is being accused of putting Scotland's future on hold for another five years.

In a vacuum of political figureheads Scotland likes Salmond and my guess, and that of the polls, is that people would let him lead anywhere, except across the line to separation.

There's a growing tide of opinion calling on Alex Salmond to get on with a referendum to end political and economic uncertainty.
He calls the shots on that but why doesn't he use his considerable personality and political majority meantime to just get on with governing?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Hoots man - who do you think you are?

Which MP is this? His mother was from Glasgow and his grandmother worked as a GP in the Gorbals in the hungry 1930s.

His grand-uncle was the chairman of Fairfields shipyard on the Clyde and was knighted for the company's manufacturing efforts in WWI.

His grand-aunt was a chandler in Oban, her surname was Goodwin and she was probably the only female chandler on the west coast.

Another grand-uncle, whose birthday fell on August 12th, was the one-time chairman of a Highland Distilleries, the manufacturers of Famous Grouse.

His great-grandfather was a Church of Scotland Minister in Avoch on the Black Isle, and he still has his bible (there's a clue to his identity).

He also owns a kilt, once played the bagpipes and went to school in Stirling for a while.

That would be enough burnishing of Scottish credentials for any politician, but there's more. He was also able to pronounce my name correctly first time, because he had an uncle from Skye called Torquil MacLeod.

But it was when he said another relative swam ashore from the Iolaire with the rope that saved over 30 souls from the infamous Lewis shipwreck I thought this MP was pushing it too far.

But as it was a MacLeod, John F MacLeod from Ness, that came ashore with the rope, and given that this politician has MacLeod relatives, the claim is not that fanciful.

So, who is he? Step forward Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda and scourge of News International.

Bryant, former Europe Minister, and a former Anglican priest, was born in Cardiff to a Scottish mother and a Welsh father but has kept the Scottish antecedents hidden under, er, a kilt until now.

Unfortunately, because of his gaydar profile pics from some years back we all know what he's likely to wear under a kilt - but we can look forward to the pictures nonetheless.

Surely he should make more of his background and have a voice in the debate on the Scottish referendum? Just as soon as he's dispensed with the Murdoch empire.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Coastguard closures - "an element of gamble" says Kennedy

Been away for a week, though it seems like more. Amazing weather on Skye and Raasay and now back in harness in the Commons.

Transport Minister Mike Penning, a man we like more and more on the west coast, has just been on his feet in the Commons making a formal annoucement on the closure of coastguard stations around the UK.

As expected, Stornoway and Shetland coastguard have been retained as 24/7 operation centres after a furiously well organised campaign which, the Minister acknowledged, made an "overwhelming" case.

Alistair Carmichael, the Shetland MP, looked tremendously relaxed as the announcement was made - as well he might. There have to be some advantages to being deputy chief whip in the government. Carmichael, I'm told, burst a blood vessel when the original proposal to close Shetland was made and managed to get his station into a face-off for 24 hour coverage with Stornoway.

It took some amount of politicing to get both Stornoway and Shetland retained - though the maritime case is abundantly clear to anyone who looks at a nautical chart.

The Clyde, Forth, Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea stations will all close, to be replaced by a new national network that must be fully tested.

The PCS union has already accused the government of ignoring the people who know best and Charles Kennedy MP, while quick to praise the retention of west coast coverage, issued what could be a prophetic warning.

Kennedy said: "there is a considerable element of gamble involved in all of this".

“Whilst welcoming the sensible concessions that have been made, not least with regard to the west coast, the Minches, the northern waters, because the earlier suggestions just flew in the face of all common sense whatsoever.

“Would the minister nonetheless accept that there is a considerable element of gamble involved in all of this? And given the warnings from the seafarers and the emergency services who have been doing this job successfully for generations, about what may occur, would he at least confirm today that if circumstances merited he would reopen this entire recasting and go back to the drawing board?"

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

It's Halloween, and Freddie's back

It must be Halloween if the man once dubbed as the Freddie Kreuger of Scottish politics has been drawn back into the ring.

Yep, Michael Forsyth is back and the on Halloween eve Scotland's last Thatcherite ran his talons across Alex Salmond's tumshie.

Speaking in the Lords last night Forsyth made the extraordinary claim that the First Minister is ready to sabotage a referendum on independence - that's if Westminster has the temerity to call a vote ahead of the SNP government.

Forsyth, who served as the last Conservative Scottish Secretary, accused the SNP leader of threatening to organise a boycott of an indy referendum if Westminster puts a simple "Yes or No" question in front of the Scottish people.

It was certainly a combative return to form, because Lord Forsyth of Drumlean didn't stop there.

He also claimed the First Minister would order Scottish police and other public authorities not to co-operate with a Westminster organised referendum.

If the FM is ready to issue political orders to Scotland’s police forces, Forsyth asked: “Is the First Minister not getting a bit too big for his boots?”

The Scottish government last night dismissed Forsyth’s claims as “wishful thinking” and goaded the Scots Lord by repeating Salmond's own claim that Westminster had no mandate to hold a referendum on Scotland.

(Legally speaking the opposite is true, but I leave that argument to the noble Lord. Here he goes...)

Forsyth hit back that Salmond was not issuing an outright denial of his claim.

Speaking to the Daily Record he repeated the claim and said that the Salmond had delivered the private message of a boycott to none other than Chancellor George Osborne.

Lord Forsyth said: “In public Alex Salmond is saying he wants a referendum and privately he is saying that if you hold one he will not co-operate. I think people should know about that and that he should explain himself.”

He added: “This is a serious matter as the legal position is that he can’t hold a referendum that is legally binding. Constitutional matters are a reserved power for Westminster.”

Forsyth, in prickly alliance with Labour's Lord Foulkes, has led calls for Westminster to beat Salmond to the draw and organise a simple yes or no to independence instead of the SNP’s confusing multi-question options.

Salmond fears he would lose a simple Yes or No question on separation so is banking on a softer “devo-max” question as an insurance at a date to be decided.

A spokesperson for the First Minister said: “We have no idea what Lord Forsyth is talking about - the reality is that the Scottish Government won a resounding mandate in May to deliver the referendum in the second half of this Holyrood term, a position accepted by the Prime Minister after the election."

The official added: “The UK Government has no mandate whatever on the referendum issue, and no amount of wishful thinking by Lord Forsyth can change that.”

Friday, 28 October 2011

Campbell Christie 1937- 2011

Campbell Christie, the former General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, has died aged 74.

Christie served as General Secretary of the STUC from 1986 to 1998, during the height of Thatcherism, and was one of the key players in the campaign that led to the Scottish parliament.

He also served as chairman of Falkirk Football Club, and most recently he chaired a commission on the future of public services in Scotland.

First Minister Alex Salmond described him as a giant of the trade union movement who “served Scotland to the end”.

The tributes to Christie, who is survived by his wife Betty and his family, were led by Graeme Smith, the current STUC General Secretary.

He said Christie had been one of Scotland’s most outstanding trade union and civic figures whose leadership of the trade union movement in the 80s and 90s gained respect for himself and the union movement across the industrial and political spectrum.

Smith said: “Campbell was comfortable on the shop floor and in the boardroom. He was never afraid of taking the difficult decision, even if he knew it might upset others in the Labour movement. He always saw the bigger picture. Whether it was the myriad of campaigns for jobs, in support of manufacturing or public services or in opposition to the imposition of the poll tax, Campbell’s overwhelming objective was always to place the STUC and the unions at the heart of Scottish industrial and political life.”

“Under Campbell’s stewardship the STUC rose above the exclusion of unions from the ‘corridors of power’ and forged relationships across Scottish society which galvanised opposition to the brutal policies of Thatcher and Major Governments’. Those relationships remain in place today.”

Smith added: “He was a passionate advocate of Scottish Home Rule committed, not only to seeing the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, but to it being Parliament with a progressive purpose, accessible to, and working for the people. While politicians take credit for Devolution, the role played by Campbell Christie and others in civil Scotland was equally important.

“His influence reached way beyond the STUC. He was a prominent figure in the social partnership structures of the EU, in the international peace movement, he was active in voluntary and community organisations and of course”

While Chair of the Board of Falkirk Football Club, the team enjoyed a run in the Premier League and reached the Scottish Cup Final, something in which he took great delight.

Christie remained involved in public life until recently, leading the Scottish government’s Commission on the Future of Public Service.

First Minister Alex Salmond said: “Campbell was loved by many for his principles, his humour and his courage. He was a key figure in the campaign for a Scottish Parliament, a strong voice for democracy in the late 1980s and 1990s when civic Scotland led the movement for change. Salmond added: “He served Scotland to the end, his last public duty to lead the Christie Commission into Public Sector Reform, which he did with great wisdom and diligence. His advice in that report will live on to guide us in these new difficult times.”

Falkirk FC also released a statement paying tribute to their club director and said a minute’s silence will be observed prior to the team’s game against Raith Rovers on Saturday.

The club said: “After a period of illness, Campbell died peacefully at Strathcarron Hospice in the early hours of this morning. Our thoughts are with his wife, Betty, and his family at this time.

“Campbell loved Falkirk Football Club and was a great servant to the club. He spent three spells as Chairman and steered the club through periods of its greatest turmoil and greatest successes. He will be greatly missed by everyone at the football club.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said Christie will be great loss to the Labour movement and Scotland.
"He was one of our foremost trade union leaders and served with distinction as General Secretary of the STUC at a  particularly difficult time for working people and the country. He led from the front in the struggle to defend working people against the ravages of the Thatcherite government as manufacturing industry in Scotland was hammered by the Tories.
“But Campbell was above all a true public servant in every sense and was very active in the civic life of Scotland, serving on many other bodies and organisations, not least his beloved Falkirk FC.”
Born in 1937 in Carsluith, Dumfries and Galloway, as one of six brothers, Christie moved to Glasgow with his family at 12 years of age.

As a youngster he represented Glasgow in football and athletics but went on to join the Civil Service, where he became active in trade unionism.

Based in London,Christie was key to transforming the Society of Civil & Public Servants into a modern and effective organisation with greatly increased membership.
By 1976, he became Deputy General Secretary of the union and a leading figure in the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

In 1986, he left London to become General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the umbrella organisation representing the views of all unions in Scotland.

Christie represented the STUC on the Scottish Constitutional Convention from its creation in 1989. He also served on the European Community’s Economic & Social Committee and as a director of the Glasgow Development Agency for six years in the 1990s.

After retiring from the STUC in 1998, Christie was appointed to the Board of Scottish Enterprise and also to the Board of British Waterways

He was also Chairman of Falkirk Football Club and has held directorships in the health, brewing and transport sectors.

Awarded a CBE in 1997, he was granted honorary doctorates from St Andrews, Stirling, Napier and Glasgow Caledonian Universities, together with Queen Margaret’s University College.

In his tribute Alex Salmond captured the warmth of Christie’s personality.

He said: “Campbell’s life will not just be measured in the offices he held or the achievements he won, many as they were, but also in the generosity of spirit and dignified manner which distinguished all his actions.
I speak for the nation in sending condolences and sympathy to his beloved wife Betty and family.

“For many, Campbell’s warmth as a man and a fighter were evident in his love for Falkirk football club, and I know that all Falkirk Bairns will be mourning today.”

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Happy Birthday Private Eye

It's purile, it's childish, it's 50 years old and no home should be without it. This week's cover shows why we'll relish another half century of the Eye.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Option 3 - "I Can't Believe It's Not Independence"

Here's the Hansard report of last night's adjournment debate on Scotland.

Tom Harris MP, aspirant leader of the Scottish Labour Party, called the debate to get some clarity on the timing of a referendum. No light, some heat, and a witty description of "Devo Max" as "I Can't Believe It's Not Independence"

Constitutional Status (Scotland)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Angela Watkinson.)

10.16 pm
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to lead this important debate about the future of my nation. It will not have escaped your notice that the results of last May’s Scottish Parliament elections were less than satisfactory as far as my party is concerned. We now have a majority Scottish National party Government at Holyrood, a Government who are committed to ripping Scotland out of the most successful political and democratic union the world has ever seen.

Although I disagree fundamentally with the nationalists and the very notion of identity politics—my party has always believed that people are rather more important than borders—I nevertheless concede and recognise that the SNP now has a mandate to hold a referendum on whether Scotland should be a nation separate from the rest of Britain and, consequently, Europe.

I want to take the opportunity of this debate to remind the nationalists that the electorate have given them a mandate, not a blank cheque. I want to know from the Minister whether, if the SNP proves to be incapable of holding a free and fair referendum, the UK Government will have any role in ensuring that the Scottish people are properly consulted about the future of our nation. The SNP manifesto earlier this year stated:

“Independence will only happen when people in Scotland vote for it. That is why independence is your choice. We think the people of Scotland should decide our nation’s future in a democratic referendum and opinion polls suggest that most Scots agree. We will, therefore, bring forward our Referendum Bill in this next Parliament. A yes vote will mean Scotland becomes an independent nation.”

Unfortunately, since unexpectedly achieving an overall majority at Holyrood, the First Minister seems to have decided, rather counter-intuitively, that the manifesto on which he was elected matters less than it would have mattered if he had been forced to govern again as a minority. Even now, many SNP members claim that their party’s mandate is to hold the referendum towards the end of this Parliament. The manifesto says no such thing. The First Minister is entitled to hold a referendum at a time of his choosing, and it could be next year, or in 2015 if that is his preference. He obviously knows when it will be, and it beggars belief to suggest that he and his cohorts have not, at least, narrowed down the time to two or three possible dates. Why will they not share that information with Scotland? Are only high-ranking members of the party entitled to that information?

Whatever one’s view of independence, I am sure we can all agree that this debate will inevitably cause a degree of uncertainty in Scotland. Even if Alex Salmond today condescended to share the date of the referendum with us mere mortals, a degree of uncertainty and financial instability would ensue. The SNP could choose to minimise that, but instead chooses not to do so. More important than the effects on future investment decisions is the simple democratic right of ordinary Scots to know precisely what plans the SNP has for our nation.

25 Oct 2011 : Column 289

Nor does the SNP manifesto feature a commitment to lowering the voting age for the referendum, yet that seems to be exactly what the SNP is planning, since it clearly believes that the chances of the people endorsing their plans for independence would be less if the existing franchise were used. The SNP will, no doubt, point to its long-standing commitment to joining Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador in the group of nations where 16-year-olds vote. Polling suggests that younger people are more likely to support independence, so who can doubt that a one-off reduction in the voting age for one specific event can be anything other than the most cynical move to get the “right” result? If the SNP really cared about enfranchising younger people, why has it made no progress towards lowering the voting age for local authority elections, over which it does have legislative control?

Thirdly, the SNP seems to have a problem with the idea of the Electoral Commission having any oversight of the referendum. I suspect I know why. When the Deputy Prime Minister announced his preferred question to put before the people in the AV referendum, the Electoral Commission said no and insisted on a more objective, more easily understandable question. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister’s preferred question was “AV is great, isn’t it?” To be forced to ask the Scottish people a straightforward, understandable question is something that the SNP, bizarrely, cannot tolerate.

Then there is the biggie: so-called full fiscal autonomy. However long it will be before the referendum, it is unlikely that this option—whatever we call it, whether it is “Devo Max”, “Independent Lite” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Independence”—is likely to be any better defined than it is today; it will still mean whatever one wants it to mean, which undoubtedly explains why it is consistently the most popular option in the opinion polls. Not only is it ill defined, it is not even deliverable, since it would affect fundamentally the way in which whole of the United Kingdom, not just Scotland, was governed. Scotland imposing a form of government on the rest of the UK would be no more acceptable than the other way round.

Moreover, once again, there is nothing in the SNP manifesto, nor in anyone’s manifesto, to justify the addition of a third option on the ballot paper.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Harris: I am tempted; of course I will.

Pete Wishart: I have been listening very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. When does he think that Westminster should take over the whole referendum process? Given that he is so concerned, perplexed and exercised about the third question, what does he have to say to Lord Foulkes, Malcolm Chisholm, former First Ministers and those of his hon. Friends who believe that a third option should be put on the referendum?

Mr Harris: When the SNP starts telling us dates, I will, in turn, give the hon. Gentleman some dates for any deadline that the UK Government might wish to impose.

Even in his typically humble and understated conference speech in Inverness on Saturday, the First Minister gave an opaque hint that “Separation Lite” might yet be included on the ballot paper, but he fell short of clarifying the issue, though his spin doctors had told the press in advance that that was exactly what he intended to do.

25 Oct 2011 : Column 290

Let us be clear that none of these things—the refusal to name a date, the lowering of the voting age, the exclusion of the Electoral Commission and the inclusion of a third, vague option—was in the SNP manifesto, and for a very good reason: fair-minded Scots would have concluded that someone, somewhere, was attempting a constitutional sleight of hand; and they would have been right. Whether or not the Scottish people wish to remain part of the UK, it is of the utmost importance that the result of any referendum cannot be second-guessed, misinterpreted, reinterpreted or undermined. It must not be ambiguous.

In 1995, the people of Quebec were asked to take part in their second referendum on independence. One might be forgiven for assuming that the question on the ballot paper was, “Do you want Quebec to become independent?” That would have been far too honest and straightforward a question. After all, the actual question was framed by nationalists. This is the question that was put to Quebec’s voters in 1995:

“Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the Bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on 12 June 1995?”

Very straightforward, is it not? Given the high esteem in which Scottish nationalists hold the separatists of Quebec, I expect that they looked upon that wording and on the narrow margin of defeat that it suffered with envy and admiration.

It would be a great shame if the nationalists’ posturing, prevarication and cowardice on the referendum were to result in the same kind of solution to which the Canadian Parliament was forced to resort: a Clarity Act to ensure that certain basic principles of transparency and honesty were adhered to in any referendum. That is not a road that I want to go down, but it is something we may have to consider. After all, the sovereignty of the Scottish people and our right to a fair and honest say in the future of our nation trump the pomposity and pride of Scottish Government Ministers of whatever rank.

Perhaps this jiggery-pokery—I do not know whether this will be the first time that that phrase will appear in Hansard—is understandable from a nationalist perspective. After all, politics is about priorities and the SNP priority is independence, nothing else. Jobs, the economy, the health service, schools, the fight against poverty—none of those issues matter as much to the nationalists as the prospect of replacing the words “United Kingdom” with the word “Scotland” on their passports. Perhaps in their minds, the end justifies the means. In my mind, and in the minds of the great majority of Scots, it certainly does not.

It is not too late. The Scottish Government could, even now, rescue their reputation and re-establish their commitment to Scottish democracy by making it clear that the question we were promised—yes or no to independence—will be asked, with no fudging, no cheating, no rigging, and with complete transparency. The Scottish people deserve that at least.

If the SNP Government cannot rise to the challenge of delivering their own manifesto commitment, we may have to accept that the UK Government have a role to play. Alex Salmond is highly thought of in Scotland. [ Interruption. ] He is. He is a substantial politician and I have no doubt—I am not being sarcastic—that he loves Scotland dearly. If he is guilty occasionally of putting his party’s ambitions above those of the Scottish people,

25 Oct 2011 : Column 291

it is only because he too often conflates the two. So what would it say about Alex Salmond if the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), the Prime Minister, turned out to be more capable than he of delivering the SNP’s key manifesto commitment?

10.28 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris) on securing this debate on what is an important issue, and I thank all hon. Members for their presence at it. I note the hon. Gentleman’s participation in the contest for the leadership of the Scottish Labour party. I would wish him well, but I know that that would damage his chances. There is also a contest for the deputy leadership of the Scottish Labour party. As I have already made clear, when a newspaper headline read, “Mundell Backs Davidson”, it did not refer to the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), so that should help his chances.

The Government have been clear that they are totally opposed to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has committed to working constructively with the devolved Administrations on the basis of mutual respect. There are many issues on which the Government have worked successfully with the Scottish Government. However, we do not agree with the Scottish Government in their pursuit of separatism. On that issue, we will give them no succour. Whatever factors played a part in May’s election result, a rise in support for Scottish separatism was not one of them.

However, let me be clear that we are not complacent about the Scottish Government’s call for a referendum on the breaking up of the United Kingdom. We are challenging them. They must answer the substantive questions, to which the hon. Member for Glasgow South referred, about what they mean by “independence”. They have been uncharacteristically shy in setting out exactly what independence would involve and what it would cost.

After repeated questioning, the Scottish Government have now told me that the 2009 White Paper “Your Scotland, Your Voice” and the 2010 draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill hold all the answers. As hon. Members would expect, we are scrutinising those papers thoroughly. However, so far they appear simply to raise more questions than answers. We now also have another glossy SNP pamphlet entitled “Your Scotland, Your Future”, in which, as usual, dozens of promises are set out but there are no facts and no evidence.

The hon. Gentleman raised valuable points about the Scottish Government’s proposed referendum. First, the date of the referendum is crucial. Not only is the current situation unsettling, but many people’s patience is being tested by the lack of detail coming from the Scottish Government on what independence would actually mean. Business leaders are now beginning to say that they are worried about the uncertainty that that is creating about Scotland’s future, which is damaging to Scotland and to the United Kingdom. We are trying to get more detail out of the Scottish Government. At present, all that we have to go on is the vague time line of

“the second half of the parliamentary term”

25 Oct 2011 : Column 292

and no other detail. We do not have to accept that that is satisfactory. As the hon. Gentleman said, that time scale was never a manifesto commitment. In fact, the First Minister revealed the notion only a week before the elections took place. If the case for separatism is so strong, why wait to hold the referendum?

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the referendum question. The First Minister has raised the prospect of “devolution-max”, also known as “independence-lite”, or possibly “full fiscal autonomy”, and is dangling it as a supposed third way. That is a fallacy. There is no third way. The only choice is between separatism and remaining in the United Kingdom.

We can review and update the devolution settlement, as Calman did and as the Scotland Bill is currently doing. The Calman commission, formed through cross-party consensus, recognised the strength and benefits of the economic and social union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Its recommendations are now being implemented through the Scotland Bill, which represents a radical, historic and significant change to the financing of public services in Scotland. We can allow the settlement to evolve, but selling the Scottish people the undefined SNP construct of “devo-max” is selling the Scottish public a pig in a poke. Any referendum question needs to be clear—yes or no to separatism. As the hon. Gentleman said, anything else would simply be jiggery-pokery.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the franchise. The Scottish Government have indicated that 16 and 17-year-olds should be given the right to vote in any referendum. Many people are already suspicious that the SNP is trying to rig the electorate to get the result it wants. Is it appropriate to experiment with changes to the franchise on a matter of such importance as the future of Scotland?

Finally, the hon. Gentleman discussed the role of the Electoral Commission. It is an independent body, respected for ensuring transparency in polls across the United Kingdom. In their 2010 draft referendum Bill and consultation paper, the Scottish Government stated that they intended to create their own electoral commission for any referendum. Questions have to be asked about that course of action. What is wrong with the current Electoral Commission, which has delivered so much in Scotland to date? What is the motive behind the Scottish Government creating their own commission? How many extra costs would that create for the taxpayer?

The hon. Gentleman also made a valid point about the Canadian Clarity Act, and it is worthy of further consideration. Hon. Members will be aware that the Scottish Affairs Committee is holding two inquiries into questions relating to a referendum and what the break-up of the United Kingdom would mean for Scotland and the rest of the UK. I have no doubt that academics and experts called before the Committee will be keen to explore the Canadian Clarity Act and its parallels with Scotland.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister correctly identifies that the Scottish Affairs Committee is looking at aspects of a separation referendum. Will he make the resources of government, particularly civil servants, available to provide information to the Committee? That would help us to clarify some of the

25 Oct 2011 : Column 293

questions that we identify in our current trawl. Those issues will require settlement before any referendum is held, so that the Scottish public can be well informed.

David Mundell: I can give the Committee Chairman that assurance. The Government will do everything we can to support the Committee’s work, because we believe that the people should be well informed before any referendum takes place. We sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will follow our example and be forthcoming with the same level of information, which is required not just by the Committee, but by the people of Scotland if they are to make a decision on this important matter.

Pete Wishart: The Minister does not quite understand that the days of this House determining and dictating what the Scottish do in future are over and gone, and do not matter any more. Does he foresee any situation or condition in which this Westminster Conservative Government will take over the referendum process?

David Mundell: If the hon. Gentleman believed a word of that diatribe, he would call the referendum now and demonstrate what the people of Scotland think.

25 Oct 2011 : Column 294

We share so much in common across the United Kingdom and we have a successful partnership that delivers stability and prosperity for all parts of the nation. I think we will see people across Scotland coming out in favour of the most successful economic and social union ever when they eventually get the chance to vote. It is right to keep the United Kingdom together when so much unites us. The best of the UK is still to come.

Let hon. Members be in no doubt that the Government will not be neutral on the break-up of the United Kingdom. We will continue to argue for a better future for Scotland within the UK. We look forward to continuing this debate and to contributing to the Scottish Affairs Committee inquiries in due course, and to the Scottish Government’s co-operation with those two inquiries, when they can answer the questions raised in the debate. What the people of Scotland need now is not vulgar triumphalism from Mr Salmond and glossy brochures from the SNP, but facts, evidence and answers.

Question put and agreed to.

10.38 pm
House adjourned.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

"Odd Couple" revive domestic double act

As far as I can see the committed Europhobe Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) was the only Scottish MP, though not the only Labour one, to vote for a referendum on the EU last night.

Davidson spoke for a third way - a renegotiation of the European Union, a kind of EU-max perhaps. He doesn't want to be in a position of voting to leave when what he wants is reform.

That argument allowed his old roommate Michael Connarty MP - they shared a flat in a Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon arrangement before the MPs' expenses reforms - to give him a bit of a ribbing later on.

While detailing how article 49 and article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty mean that renegotiation of EU membership is a nonsense - you're either in or out - Connarty noticed with disappointment that Davidson had left the chamber. "He is not so much a friend as an ongoing further education project for me," said Connarty.

You can imagine the chats the pair have had over a cocoa in the old days.

Meanwhile, the well known Europhile Denis MacShane had a rough write up in Hansard, the offical parliamentary report which sometimes inadvertedly captures the mood of the house in its formalised style:

Denis MacShane (Rotherham, Labour) rose —

Hon. Members: Groan!

Nigel Evans (Deputy Speaker; Ribble Valley, Conservative): Order. He has not said anything yet.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Tory EU rebellion limits Cameron on Scotland

The scale of the Tory rebellion on the EU referendum - it looks like 81 MPs - has implications for the constitutional future of Scotland too.

With almost half the Tory backbencher who are not hired as ministers or bag carriers openly defying him, Cameron has entered the nightmare territory for any Conservative leader.

The Tory Party's ability to tear itself apart over Britain's role in Europe is well-remembered, not least by Cameron who as a party researcher had a front-row seat on the "bastards" vs John Major over Europe in the 1990s.

This time it's different - a highly Eurosceptic Tory party and a leader who over-promised the rightwingers on his path to power.

In the next few years Cameron could be wrenched by either arm on the constitutional questions as Salmond on one side, and his own Eurosceptics on the other, try to tear up the UK settlement.

Tonight's Westminster rebellion on the EU must now limit Cameron’s room for maneouvere on Scotland. Downing Street has been mulling over whether to call its own early referendum on Scotland’s future in the UK.

The PM is said to be open-minded on whether to order a simple Yes-No referendum on Scottish independence ahead of Alex Salmond’s plans for a multi-option ballot sometime beyond 2014.

But to call a referendum on one constitutional issue while denying his own backbenchers a vote on another will prove highly tricky.

Neverendum groundhog day

Today the main news is about a political feeding frenzy as a fundamentalist, fiercely nationalistic party pursues it's obsession with a multi-question constitutional referendum while the rest of the country worries about the economy plunging off the edge of a cliff.

Sounds strangely familiar...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Come on Mr Salmond, it's our country too

“There is no one on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, apart from Eilidh Whiteford [SNP MP for Banff and Buchan] that has a mandate to say anything about a referendum, apart from the fact that they are opposed to it. The only ones with a mandate to say or do anything are the ones sitting in the Scottish Parliament.” - Alex Salmond.

I think that's a genuine quote from the First Minister reproduced this morning in the Scottish edition of the Daily Telegraph, itself culled from a Holyrood magazine interview.

Salmond was responding to the idea that the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee is to launch an investigation into his plans for three-question "yes, no, mubee" referendum and the practicalities of what the SNP actually means by an independent Scotland.

It's quite some statement to claim that only signed up SNP MPs, and presumably MSPs, have a right or a mandate to say anything about the political future of Scotland.

It's quite staggering how the First Minister continues to be relatively unchallenged on that presumption too. Come on Mr Salmond, it's our country too, don't forget that.

You don't have to dig too deep to get at what the SNP leader is signalling with his get your Westminster scooters off my lawn rant ahead of his party conference this weekend.

The thing a dominant SNP fears most is a Westminster-organised referendum with a simple Yes or No to the nation, an idea which is gathering momentum across the other parties. He'd lose that one.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Och, here's the news and pass a razor blade

If a nation is the story it tells itself then the PA news schedule for Scotland this afternoon is a depressing tale.

Sectarianism, unemployment, murr-der, impotence, robbery, we've got it all. Even the one film that gets accolades, Peter Mullan's Neds, is the story of a violent, urban Scottish upbringing.

I phone the newsdesk to complain that there must be some good cheer somewhere to report and the deadpan response is: "Listen, that's only the news, you should see the weather."

Here's that full list, unabridged:

Press Association Scotland schedule update at 1600 on Monday October 17.
COURTS Bigot: A man who used a social networking website to post sectarian comments about Catholics and Celtic supporters has been jailed for eight months.

SCOTLAND Unemployment: Scotland is suffering from a "youth employment crisis" with one in four young men out of work, Labour said today.

SCOTLAND Redundancies: Councils have spent millions of pounds on voluntary and compulsory redundancy payments in the last two years, according to new figures.

CITY Philips: Lightbulbs-to-TV maker Philips is to cut 4,500 jobs after announcing its profits nearly halved during the summer.

SCOTLAND Death: A man has been charged with murdering another man who was found seriously injured at a house.

SCOTLAND Jobs: The rate of improvement in the Scottish labour market continued to ease off last month, according to a report.

SCOTLAND Trams: The first tram is expected to be delivered at the newly completed depot on the outskirts of Edinburgh this morning.

ENVIRONMENT Energy: Household electricity bills could be pushed up by around £300 a year by 2020 as a result of a continued reliance on fossil fuels to provide energy, environmentalists claimed today.

SCOTLAND Football: Two men are due in court in connection with football-related hate crime, police have said.

SCOTLAND Pylons: Work gets under way today to remove a string of electricity pylons from the UK's largest national park.

SCOTLAND Impotence: A convenient new drug to help men overcome erectile dysfunction has been approved by Scotland's medical watchdog.

MONEY Pension: Automatic enrolment into pension schemes could create an extra six million people saving, generating £12.5 billion annually to the retirement pot by 2017, research from Standard Life suggested today.

SCOTLAND Robbery: Three men have stolen more than £10,000 from a supermarket during an armed robbery.

SCOTLAND Stags: Male red stags are being snubbed by their female counterparts as they fight for attention during mating, research has shown.

SCOTLAND Burns: A mural inspired by Robert Burns's poem Tam O'Shanter has been unveiled at the bard's birthplace museum.

SCOTLAND Mother: A mother of five who died after a night out at a music festival has been named.

SCOTLAND Dog: Animal welfare inspectors are appealing for information about a starving and injured dog which was found in a "dreadful state".

SCOTLAND Climber: A man died after falling around 1,000 feet while climbing in the Highlands.

SCOTLAND Baftas: The nominees for this year's Scottish Baftas have been announced with Peter Mullan's film Neds named in four categories.

SCOTLAND Bank: Police have been stopping motorists and pedestrians near a city centre bank which was held up and robbed last week.

SOCIAL Funerals: A quarter of people fail to show the proper respect to a funeral procession, according to a survey.

SCOTLAND Pharmacists: The role pharmacists play in helping care for people could be developed in the future, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said today.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Dughlas - a cheud ceum air ais airson na Labaraich

‘S e fear de phrìomh bhall a’ Phàrtaidh Làbaraich an Alba - agus a-measg an fheadhainn as motha a th’ air a bhith an sàs ann an iomairtean Albannach agus aig ìre Westminster.

Ach a-nochd bheir Dùghlas Alexander òraid ann an Sruighlea far an aidich e gu bheil am Pàrtaidh Làbarach air chall agus gu feum cruth-atharrachadh tighinn air ma tha iad a’ dol a thàladh luchd-bhòtaidh.

S e òraid inntinneadh, tuiseach a th’ aig Dùghlas, agus bu chòir a leughadh bho cheann gu ceann. ‘S e a' cheud ceum air ais dha fhèin agus a phàrtaidh ann an Alba, a' tighinn as dèidh do Mhairead Curran dreuchd mar neach-labhairt dùbhlanch air cùisean Albannach a ghabhail.

Sa cheud àite tha e ag aideachadh a-nochd dìreach cho dona sa bha na Làbaraich ann an taghaidhean sa Chèitean. Fhuair iad pronnadh cho cruaidh bhon SNP 's gun tug e gu seo fhèin mus tàinig iad timcheall. "We were gubbed," tha e ag aideachadh.

Tha e a' mìneachadh carson a chaill na Làbaraich, carson a bhuannaich na Nàiseantaich. Tha diofar adbharan ann ach 's e a' phrìomh fhreagairt air sin, a rèir Dùghlas, 's e nach do rinn am pàrtaidh aig e-fhèin ceangal sam bith ri sluagh na h-Alba.

Thairis air na bliadhnaichean, le fèin-riaghladh, le crìonadh ann an aonaidhean ciùird agus seann obraichean tha na ceanglaichean sin eadar na Làbaraich agus luchd-bhòtaidh air briseadh sìos.

Bha sin a' fàgail am pàrtaidh a' sabaid seann chogaidh an aghaidh Thatcherism agus a' feuchainn fhathast an t-eagal a chur air bhòtairean mu dheidhinn neo-eisimealachd.

Feumaidh a-nis am pàrtaidh prìomhachas a thoirt do chuspairean Albannach, a bhith a' maipeagadh cùrsa air adhart airson na dùthich, a tha a' toirt misneachd do dhaoine agus a tha a' bruidhinn ribh mu dheidhinn dòchais agus chan ann mu dheidhinn dorchadais.

Ceart gu leòr, ach chanainn-sa gu bheil gu leòr bhòtairean a bhiodh tòrr nas cruaidhe air na Làbaraich airson nan adhbharan a chaill aid. Agus tha sibh a' coinneachdh riutha, bhòtairean Làbarach a bha cho freagarrach le mar a bha am pàrtaidh a' cur iad fhèin air adhart, agus an ceannard a bh' aca, 's gun do ghluais iad a-null dhan SNP.

'S e a chanas Mgr Alexander gu feum am pàrtaidh e fhèin as-ùrachadh, stèidhichte air na prionnsabalan a tha aca co-dhiù - co-ionnanachd agus ceartas sòisealta.

Feumaidh iad a bhith mar thagraichean airson Alba, ach chan e Alba a tha air a reubadh a-mach às an Aonadh, ach dubhaich far a bheil na buannachdan mòra sòisealta a rinn na Làbaraich fhathast rim faighinn.

Tha e a' cur air an SNP gu bheil ùirsgeul acasan a tha a' cantainn nach urainn dhut a bhith na d'fhear Albannach mura h-eil sibh a' cur taic ri na Nàiseantaich.

Chan eil sin fìrinneach, canaidh Alexander, ach feumaidh am pàrtaidh Làbarach a bhith làn gràdh-dùthcha ach le teachdaireachd gu bheil e ceadaichte a bhith na d' Albannach agus na do Bhreatannach, agus gu bheil buannachd anns gach stàit.

Chanaidh na Nàiseantaich gu bheil e ceart - gu robh na Làbaraich sgriosail sna taghaidhean agus nach eil buannachd sam bith ann dìreach a bhith a' feuchainn ri an t-eagal a chur air daoine mu dheidhinn neo-eisimealachd.

Ach cuiridh Alexander dragh orra cuideachd. Seo cuideigin aig àrd ìre sa Phàrtaidh Làbarach a' tòiseachadh a' mìneachadh nan adhbharan cinnteach, dearbhadh airson Alba leantainn am braoin an Aonaidh.

'S e deasbad a leanas bliadhnaichean a seo ach bheir an òraid seo misneachd dha na Làbaraich gu bheil cuideigin aca a chuireas air adhart gu aragmaidean làidir airson prionnsabalan sòisealta an aoidh neo-eismealachd.

Taing do Eilidh Dhubh

Dr Fox still outruns the media hounds

Simon Heffer (Daily Mail), Jonathan Freedland (Guardian), Trevor Kavanagh (Sun) - the list of columnists calling for the pelt of Defence Secretary Dr Fox grows with each morning's newspaper delivery.

He may well go in the next day or week, but that will be thanks to the money trail that reporters are uncovering. None of the Fleet Street pillars will be able claim the credit.

Trevor Kavanagh's Monday column "..if he hasn't been sacked by the time you read this..." was perhaps the most significant.

A decade and more ago The Sun would have published that kind of column in the sure and certain knowledge that the deed had already been done. The paper would then present the shrill demand as the act that really forced the minister's dispatch.

On Monday the determined Dr Fox did not stick to the script and that tells us two things. Firstly, as we know, we're dealing with one crazy fox here and secondly, the Sun is not the Whitehall power player it once was.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Osborne bonus refunds SNP c-tax freeze

So, Osborne has found £805m down the back of the sofa for a council tax freeze in England for another year.

This, I'm told, will deliver the Scottish government a Barnett consequential of about £67.5m into its general budget. The Holyrood government can use the bonus as it pleases, it is not assigned to specific spending.

The SNP administration has already budgeted around £70m a year to pay for a Scottish council tax freeze for 2012-13. The SNP pledged in their manifesto to keep the charge frozen for the lifetime of the parliament, up to 2016.

Effectively, Osborne could claim he is reimbursing the Scottish government for its popular policy, but the Tories here in Manchester aren't spinning it like that.

On the subject of finding money down the sofa, hats off to the Treasury team for finding -albiet at the very last minute - £3m to keep the two emergency tug vessels on the west coast of Scotland going for another three months.

The contract for the coastguard tugs in Shetland and Stornoway ran out on Friday and was not due to be renewed under the cuts programme. But the Department of Transport has been told, quite directly I understand, to find the means to keep the cover until another funding solution is devised.

Just as well, because it's blowing 70mph out there in the Hebrides today. Had there been a shipping disaster anywhere from the Shetland Islands to the Western Atlantic with no towing vessel available Lib Dem MPs Alistair Carmichael and Danny Alexander would have had some explaining (and possibly some resigning) to do. The pressure will now be on to resolve this lifesaving issue.

With every turn away from austerity the government is, of course, making a rod for its own back. You know what the mantra is going to be for the coastguard tugs and every other crucial u-turn - if they can find £250m for weekly bin collections then surely...

Dave Cameron's sing-along referendum song

The songbook for tonight's traditional Scottish Conservative reception has been published.

All four leadership candidates are expected to make a contribution to the ceilidh but I'm not sure which of them will dare sing this one about David Cameron's options for calling an early referendum on independence. It's not an easy question to answer but it is an easy tune to remember...

“T’was by yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie Braes,
That Wee Eck had a victory so glorious,
But since that day in May there’s been no yea or nay,
On when we get a say on who rules oo’er us.

So You’ll tak the High Road and I’ll tak the low Road,
And I’ll get the Scots votes afore ye,
For me and my true love my bonnie Nicky Lad
We can still stick a ballot box afore ye.

There’s a tribe out the west that the Scots know the best,
But the Gray men went down in the slaughter,
Now they havnae got the crown and they havenae got a king,
And they’re seeking for a Prince oo’er the water.

Oh, you take the High Road and I’ll take the low Road...

On the banks of the Thames the air was stirring warm,
With the sound of the pipes far up yonder,
If Salmond got his plan, there’d be no bawbies and no dram,
It’s the thought made Davie’s clan sit and ponder.

Oh, you take the High Road and I’ll take the low road...

If Eck played in long then the Scots could be gone,
With the folks that were stacking in his favour,
Was it best to cut him short with a vote oo’er the lot
And put a Union yes or no on the table

You take the High Road and I’ll take the Low Road...

Young Danny was sent north to cut the Saltire cloth,
With a nine o diamonds as his callin
Was quite a sight to see, his plaid and finery,
Frayin on Drumossie muir on that morning.

But for all that Libs could yell , Wee Eck said go to hell
For the time o the fight was his choosing,
He’d wait till close of play and he wouldn’t face a crowd
On any day it looked like he’d be losing

You take the High Road and I’ll take the low road...

But the Scots knew the score and their patience it grew sore,
With the flummery he was making of their future,
If the man was ‘frit’ to call then the deal it must be soor
Or was he taking them for fools in their trustin.

So you take the High Road and you take the Low Road
And let us Scots have a vote put afore us
And we’ll tell baith masters then with the power of our pen
That none has a right to rule oo’er us.

(Trad: arrangement Crichton & Kidd)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Things you see when you're out without...

I respectfully stood aside for the Prime Minister and Mrs Sam Cam as they returned to the conference hotel after breakfast tv interviews this morning.

Not so Kevin Maguire, associate Editor of the Mirror and left-wing bane of the Tories.

The cheeky chap met Cameron coming out of a lift in the hotel last night and greeted him with a cheery: "Hello, Dave."

Cameron replied with an equally bright: "Welcome..." trailing to "...ish" as he realised who he had encountered.

Cam-1, Maguire-0

Tory conference opens with Scottish dust-up

And so onto the last lap, the Tory party conference in Manchester, which begins with a bit a Scottish dust-up.

Scotland Office Minister David Mundell, who had stayed above the fray in the Scottish leadership contest, has now thrown his lot behind Ruth Davidson.

Mundell, the Scottish Unicorn of the Tory Party as their only MP north of Carlisle, has spoken out against the Murdo Fraser plan to close down the Tories and relaunch with a new right of centre "Caledonia" Party.

It's an idea that has given Murdo first name recognition in Scotland but also left his campaign crashed on take-off.

Mundell joins Michael Forsyth and other top Scots Tories in backing Ruth Davidson as the kind of fresh new face that will appeal to people who don't traditionally back the party. He certainly doesn't think that a new party is the answer to the Scottish Tories poor showing.

"If I'm elected the next time I'll be taking the Conservative whip in Westminster and not entering coalition negotiations on behalf of some brand new party," Mundell tells me this morning.

"I think we've got to build on what we've got not destroy it. No one denies we don't need significant change but this is throwing the baby out with he bathwater," he says dismissing the Fraser plan.

"I had intended to remain neutral in this election but its not just about the leadership it is about the future of the whole party and about whether people would be able to continue voting Conservative in Scotland. I can't just be a bystander any more."

Mundell and Annabel Goldie make platform speeches today - sticking it to Salmond and Labour in equal measure. There is a lunchtime leadership hustings at the conference tomorrow at which we expect there to be a fight over the sandwiches

So much for the Indian Summer, it's raining in Manchester, the Fort William of England.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Magic darts put Rennie ahead of "Fingers"

The results of the electronic darts competition are in.

Firing a digital dart at a tv screen on an exhibitor stands at the Lid Dem conference is not as easy as it looks, and is in no way indicative of a wasted youth.

After all Nick Clegg scored a lowly 70 but in the Scottish stakes Willie Rennie displayed his leadership qualities with a winning score of 105 from a three dart throw.

Smooth Menzies Campbell, dark horse Alan Reid and Alistair Carmichael shared equal second place with throws of 100 each. Carmichael tried burnishing his thuggish credentials by muttering something about breaking his opponents' fingers before the next round. As Lib Dem chief whip that is something I suppose he's entitled to do.

Wait a minute, I'm hearing unconfirmed reports that Willie Rennie's score was only 100 yesterday and that he must have had a second go. Or is that the Lib Dem equivalent of magic darts? Either way, all eyes will be on the Scottish Labour leadership candidates to see how they score in Liverpool next week.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rennie flexs New Home Rule muscles

We've seen signs of life, if not revival, in the Scottish Lib Dems at Birmingham this week, it has to be said.

The leadership has looked in the mirror and decided it was time to hit the gym. As a result we're seeing a more muscular response from the Lib Dems to the challenge of taking on Alex Salmond and the prospect of a referendum.

Scottish leader Willie Rennie is, in contrast to Cable, very chirpy about the future and getting stuck into the independence debate. Even Michael Moore is moving from quiet man to big man but I feel they’re both to a bit too decent for the short sword fighting that the SNP leader prefers to conduct politics.

I’m not convinced that Rennie’s opening gambit - a commission on New Home Rule, reclaiming devolution max for the Lib Dems - is the kind of chest expanding move that will cause the SNP to lose much sleep though.

Willie Rennie disagrees he says its not just about recapturing fiscal federalism and devolution from the SNP it is about power redistribution to local communities too.

“We can see the SNP wanting to pull power into Edinburgh, we want to go the other way,” Rennie tells me in an appeal to localism.

“In 1998 the biggest fear was that the Scottish parliament would be Strathclyde writ large and that rural Scotland would not be able to shape its own future. Who would have thought the SNP would be delivering Strathclyde writ large.”

Why indulge in navel gazing when the big issue is a referendum, I ask? Salmond offers a vision and the Lib Dems offer us a committee of grandees.You'd have to be an expert on the American Civil War to work out federalism and co-federalism, which is the kind of constitutional wrestle the Lib Dems want to get involved in.

That provokes a wee bit of passion from Rennie. "There is a debate to come on Scotland's future and people need to know what shape the country could take."

He adds: "Salmond is pretending he’s in favour of more powers for the parliament but that is just a stepping stone to independence for him. We believe in Home Rule as the final resting point."

It's not a bad line but it needs a bit more weight training before it can be deployed against Eck.

Cable sets the weather dial to gloomy

If you've never been measured for a coffin while standing up you've never really listened to a Vince Cable speech.

The prophet of doom did his best here in Birmingham to outdo Alistair Darling as the gloomiest man in politics with his predictions that we are all doomed.

Opinion polling suggests that what Vince says is true for the Lib Dems at least. The news this morning that credit rating agency Standards and Poor has downgraded Italy for the second time in four months shows that his grey skies analogy might hold true for the rest of us too.

Cable's dramatic confession that we can expect very little in the way of economic growth sends a shudder through the collective spine and sets the tone for the rest of the conference season and, one suspects, the rest of this parliament.

It has been a bit of a heads down, lacklustre and unenticing affair, the Lib Dem conference. The conflicting platform messages of rowing away from the coalition while emphasising the need to stick to government and the deficit reduction plan just don't add up to a clear narrative.

Simon Hughes and Tim Farron and Evan Harris are causing licensed trouble for the leadership but you don't detect any great rebellion on the conference floor.
The Lib Dems are conflicted, as relationship counsellors would say, and it's beginning to show.

Concreted Birmingham has matched the weather and my mood. I'm trying to like the city but can't find any greenery. There are trees in the far distance, but these sunny uplands seem a long way away.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Alistair Darling...behind every great man

Whizzing through the Alistair Darling book this morning digging for any gems that haven't been excavated in the serialisation and the leaks of the memoir to Labour Uncut.

I'm not struck by anything major so far but the concern I raised about the Sunday Times reducing its serialisation fees seems to have been borne out, according to Nick Watt of the Guardian.

Reading these books as journalists do, via the index, I'm struck by the very generous references Darling makes to Catherine MacLeod, our former Herald colleague, who joined him as media adviser when he became Chancellor.

At every twist in the tale Catherine is there offering the straight-talking advice and wisdom that are her trademark. For example, when it came to the release of the Lockerbie bomber Catherine told Downing Street that Prime Ministerial silence just wouldn't wash. Brown's advisers slapped her down, insisting it was a Scottish story. Catherine said they were wrong (and they were), it was a story that would reverberate around the world.

Darling also confirms in the book that it was Catherine, and his wife Maggie Vaughan (another former Herald journalist), who gave him the willpower to resist Brown when the Prime Minister tried to sack his chancellor in 2009.

I suspected as much at the time and in the aftermath phoned Catherine to ask if it was indeed the Vaughan-MacLeod axis that had seen the Brownites off.

I got a typical MacLeod reply - short and sweet. Catherine quipped back: "Aye it was us, and no Balls between us."

Behind every great man, as they say...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Murdo Fraser shot at the Scots Tory startline

I love the Daily Record editorial this morning (I didn't write it) on the Scottish Tory makeover that Murdo Fraser is proposing.

"To most of us Cif is still Jif, a Snickers is a Marathon, Katie Price is Jordon and the Tories will always be the Tories."

Given the reaction to Fraser's audacious plan it looks like the frontrunner may have shot himself in both feet at the startline.

Just as he was about to launch his candidacy Jack Harvie, the main funder of the Scottish Tories, said he'd go on strike if Fraser won and binned the Tory party.

Fraser says he can find other financiers but suddenly Ruth Davidson, who put in an excellent performance on the Today programme this morning, looks like a good bet.

Whether Fraser's overstated reforms get going is a matter for the Scottish Tories alone, Conservative Central Office says it is staying well clear. But it is hard to see, from this end of the telescope, how a Conservative Prime Minister fighting to save the United Kingdom could go campaigning in Scotland for a party he would no longer be a member of.

With the Independence option inching ahead in the Herald opinion poll today - 39% for to 38% against - Alex Salmond can only be laughing as his opponents split themselves asunder.

Labour shouldn't mock the Tories too loudly given that their own Scottish party might have to go through the same devolutionary transformation in the next month and detach itself from the main UK party. Anyway, Labour prays at night for a Scottish Tory revival to take some votes and some seats away from the mighty SNP.

Right now the SNP is cruising - no date names no questions unveiled - while the other parties try to get their arguments in a row.

The mischievous George Foulkes is making a play tomorrow in the Lords to "seize the initiative" and force referendum on Scottish independence by 2013.

Lord Foulkes, a former Scotland Office Minister and former MSP, is tabling a series of amendments to the Scotland Bill, one of which will require the Coalition to hold a referendum within two years of the legislation being enacted.

Foulkes explains his bold plan thus: "Salmond has been getting away with far too much and should not be making the running. We can do that by exercising our constitutional right."

Friday, 2 September 2011

Cameron's "gearchange" on independence

David Cameron has signaled that he is preparing to take Alex Salmond’s independence challenge head-on with a renewed focus on fighting the SNP.

The Prime Minister could even beat the First Minister to the draw on an independence referendum by staging a simple Yes-No ballot on the future of Scotland long before the SNP’s preferred three-question poll.

The move comes after the government’s most powerful cabinet group - "the quad" composing of Cameron chancellor George Osborne, deputy PM Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander - met this week to discuss the threat of an independence referendum for the first time.

Whitehall sources said there will now be a "gearchange" in the way the Westminster Coalition deals with the SNP and the independence question.

In a speech to business leaders in Scotland last night Lib Dem MP Danny Alexander, the Treasury number two, blasted the idea of an independent Scotland as a busted flush.

The chief secretary to the Treasury said that a separate Scotland would have a national debt would have been around £65bn, without taking into account the cost of bailing out RBS and HBOS.

He said: "Even with the most flattering account of oil revenues, there was a gap between what Scotland raised in tax and what it spent of £14bn in 2009/10. Scotland’s deficit would have been one of the largest in Europe."

These aren't new arguments but the broadside by Alexander, following on an indy-attack by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore the other day, is the opening salvo in a new campaign against the SNP’s separation plans.

Moore sat in on the quad meeting in Whitehall on Scotland and will be part of the process of gauging the appetite for a Westminster referendum on independence. There are senior Scottish Labour figures who are also open to the idea that is being floated as a runner for 2013, at least a year, possibly two, before the SNP's planned poll.

We've also seen the appointment of a dedicated Number Ten staff to dealing with Scotland as Cameron realises that the future of Scotland is to be the biggest constitutional question of his first term as Prime Minister. This will mean more Ministers will be seen in Scotland making the case for "Scotland in the UK".

Cameron has already indicated that he is ready to short-circuit the SNP’s long game by holding a snap referendum with a simple yes or no question on independence.

SNP government wants to hold a multiple choice referendum late on in the parliament, 2014 at the earliest, to allow momentum for an independence campaign to build up.

If the answer was favourable the SNP government would hold a referendum tomorrow.But SNP polling shows the party it would lose a yes-no referendum hands down so Salmond plans to fudge the question by asking Scots if they want a) independence, b)more powers or c) the status quo.

Combining the majority created by a+b is what Salmond counts on to lever the country further towards independence, whatever form that may take.

Last night the chairman of business leaders’ group CBI Scotland, Linda Urquhart, said any referendum had to deliver a clear result.

She said: "It has to be Independence "Yes" or "No" and no second questions which might produce an inconclusive result."

Urquhart warned that the legality of the referendum must also be put beyond doubt . "The constitution is a reserved matter – so the Scottish and UK Governments must work together to ensure legal certainty and a decisive result."

The same message will come from the Conservatives Murdo Fraser and from all the other pro-UK institutions in the days and weeks to come.

Finally, the sleeping lions in Whitehall have woken up to the independence debate. As the provocatively entertaining John McTernan and people like Stewart Hosie, on Radio Scotland just now, show it is going to be robust exchange.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Darling memoirs being killed by slow leaks?

Did Alistair Darling save the banks only to lose his own fortune?

The volume of leaks coming from the former chancellor's memoirs via Labour Uncut must be causing anxiety in the Darling household and at the Sunday Times.

The blat is due to serialise "Back from the brink -1000 days at No 11" this weekend, but one wonders what will be left to print.

Already we've learned Darling's opinion on the "volcanic" moods of Gordon Brown, that he wanted to sack Merve "the swerve" King from the Bank of England and his lacerating assessment of Shriti Vadera. Today it is the turn of the Lords of Finance - the bankers who nearly broke the world.

"My worry was that they (the bankers) were so arrogant and stupid that they might bring us all down," writes Darling, according to Labour Uncut.

The former chancellor earned £75,000 for writing the book but stands to gain a lot more from the newspaper serialisation rights. But the Sunday Times must be poring over the small print of the contract, and the extracts, to see what's left to print.

Who is doing the leaking, and spoiling the pitch for the weekend is the big question? It won't be anyone in the Darling camp, he is very proper about these things, and none of his friends would want to see him lose his fees.

Cui bono? Well those that get stiffed in the book, like some former cabinet colleagues, would be keen to kill the serialisation via slow leaks that would take the sting out of an uncomfortable Sunday read. But how would they get a hold of the book in the first place?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Donohoe declares against indy Scottish Labour Party

Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, has entered the debate on the future of the Scottish Labour party, no doubt after Tom Harris's declaration yesterday that he would stand for the leadership.

Implicit in having an MP as Scottish leader is the case for an independent Scottish Labour Party, something Donohoe and others remembers as a cause for schism and heartache in the late 70s when Jim Sillars was a young maverick.

Donohoe has issued a stark warning against a free-standing Scottish Labour Party, proving, if it needed to be, that there is a strong pro-unionist streak in the Scottish party and no concensus on the future direction of travel.

Donohoe said: “There is no way a United Kingdom party can have a separate identity and people who think the opposite are deluded!”

“I have spent long enough in politics to have had experience of a Scottish Labour Party before which thankfully died on the vine. I am pro-unionist and believe arguments should be presented on the strength of the union not the whim of the separatist.”

Strong words indeed for Murphy and Boyack, and indeed, Tom Harris to chew over.

My morning listening is split between GMS, Athris na Maidne and the Today programme so I contrived to miss Douglas Alexander ruling himself out of standing as a candidate on Radio Four this morning.

He said it was very kind of Tom Harris to suggest him as a future Scottish leader but said he was busy with Libya and pursuing his Foreign Affairs brief.

As I expected Harris's move has opened a gap for Alexander and Murphy to escape demands that they should be the ones turning north.

Alexander said: "I think there are people who can and should offer themselves for the work of rebuilding (the Scottish Labour party) and in that sense if Tom wants to put his name forward that's all to the good."

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Clear the runway, here comes "Bomber" Harris

Good on Tom Harris MP for enlivening the Scottish Labour leadership debate, such as it is, by indicating that he will throw his hat into the ring.

With the Scottish party moribund,and the leadership looking as it might go be default to Joann Lamont MSP, Harris is stirring the pot again.

But quite a few things would have to happen for a Harris candidacy to get onto the runway. Almost all of them depend on Jim Murphy, who is currently conducting a review of the party with the consequence that he is being boxed into answering the question of whether he'll sort out Labour's Scottish problems

Firstly the review of the party structure has to make the leadership post is for leader of the Scottish Labour party, not just the group of Scottish Labour MSPs. Otherwise Harris, Murphy or anyone else with MP after their name just couldn't stand. That one move would logically lead to the Scottish Labour party defining itself as a separate entity from the UK party with all that (positively) entails (Another blog, another time).

Secondly the review, or later the party, would have to find a mechanism for MPs to move easily from Westminster to Holyrood.

The next Westminster elections are due in 2015, the next Holyrood elections the following year. It would be a political high wire act for an MP to stand down and wait a year in the hope that the d' Hondt formula or a patient constituency would grant them their wish to go to Holyrood.

From this I would deduct, the dual-mandate politician, serving a transition term in Holyrood and Westminster, is back on the agenda. No harm in it either, as Donald Dewar, Alex Salmond, Henry McLeish and others would testify. As would many continental politicians who transit between regional and national parliaments.

The most crucial human factor that would have to come into play in the Harris gambit is that Jim Murphy, the former Scottish Secretary and Shadow Defence Secretary, does not stand as Scottish leader. Or Douglas Alexander for that matter, the other MP Harris would like to take up the claymore.

Harris's move on the kingship doesn't quite put Murphy into check but it will force him to declare his hand, sooner or later. Murphy is deft though, and Tom's declaration might have just given him the means to decline the offer.

The leadership question might anyway be settled before any major reform of the party gets put in place.

Whoever wins, whoever stands, has to mark themselves out as the leader of a very distinctive Scottish Labour party if they are to escape the SNP's definition of Scottish Labour being "London Labour"(which is itself natspeak for English).

As Salmond proves leaders of devolved parliaments need a streak of independence (small i) for the electorate to back them. The job, in the eyes of the agnostic voter, is to stand against the central power of UK government of whatever hue. Salmond is very aware that he might be overreaching himself by seeking to define the job as dismantling the UK.

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone before him, show the electoral appeal of being their own man. There are many politically talented male and female Scottish Labour MPs - they won't thank me for naming them - who now find themselves the wrong side of an electoral boundary following the rout by the SNP.

Any of them who thought that Westminster was more important battleground than Edinburgh now has cause to think again.

Referendum, or not, if Labour doesn't re-establish itself as the social democrat vehicle for mainstream Scottish politics then what happened at the Holyrood election could well repeat itself in 2015 UK-wide.

Tom Harris's merits as a candidate are that he speaks the blunt truth about the Labour Party and Scotland. This, of course, also counts against him by the core of Labour membership who decides. He also stuck his neck out against Gordon Brown which for some makes him a brave politician, for others someone to be struck down on sight.

Tom's trouble, and the SNP's delight, is that he challenges Labour othrodoxy. He's centre-right, by that I mean he is more interested in giving a voice to working people who pay taxes to fund social services than he is in defending the recipients of these social benefits. He is not the comfort-zone candidate and defeated parties tend to retreat into the cushions.

But even over the internet, his chosen weapon, Harris delivers a fair payload of incendiaries onto the SNP independence strategy with regular accuracy. On a leadership platform he would give the opposition a good pounding. Against him is that he has bombed his own side fairly often too with his blunt pronouncements.

He's not often accused of being shy but if he really wants to go for the leadership he has to stop being self-effacing. His, I'll do it if Jim Murphy and Douglas don't stand, already has the SNP lampooning him as his own third choice candidate.

If he wants it he should go for it. It would be good if some of the other Labour MPs at Westminster gave him a run for his money.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Coulson and Co in Strathclyde crosshairs

"Wanted man in Mississippi,
Wanted man in ol' Cheyenne"

The claims by former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman that hacking was "widely discussed" at the paper obviously raises fresh legal dangers for Andy Coulson, the editor at the time and latterly David Cameron's communications strategist.

Coulson and the News of the World are in the crosshairs of police investigations in two juristicions - Scotland and England.

I'm told by sources that Strathclyde police have 42 officers working on Operation Rubicon - the force's investigation into perjury, phonehacking, data interception and bribery arising from the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.

Appearing in the witness box at the Sheridan trial Coulson insisted he had no knowledge of illegal activities at the News of the World, like bribing police officers .

That was the day, according to Coulson himself, that he decided he could no longer carry on as David Cameron's communications strategist.

His evidence, and that of other News of the World witnesses, has been subject to complaints to the Scottish police by Sheridan's legal team.

Although Strathclyde won't confirm the numbers officially Rubicon has, by my figuring, as many if not more officers than are working on Operation Weeting, the Met police investigation into phone hacking.

Given that some London officers will have been pulled off the case to help out with the aftermath of the riots, the Scottish inquiry could well be the biggest investigation into the hacking allegations.

The thorough, clean broom, approach by Strathclyde no doubt reflects well on Stephen House, the chief constable of the force, who was approached to apply for the vacant post as the next commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

House is also in the frame to be the first chief of a new single Scottish police arising from the merger of the current eight forces. I suppose that sometimes it is okay to be wanted in more than one place.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Brian Wilson Writes - online.

My goodness, the revolution has reached Mangersta.

Welcome online, at last, to Brian Wilson who joins the world of blogs with his Brian Wilson Writes, an online version of his West Highland Free Press column.

This is as auspicious an occasion as double-width looms beings introduced to the Harris Tweed industry. Although he's moved on from politics Brian's take on current affairs has always been required reading.

It took land campaigner Andy Wightman's patience to haul Brian away from print and into the digital age.

Until now his take on politics has only been available in the Free Press, and I hope giving the column away online doesn't affect circulation.

There's plenty for him to comment on more than once a week and instead of posting facsimiles of the Free Press I hope the blog as platform for more than re-printing the Free Press column

And there are plenty out there who'll violently disagree with Brian's opinions because of his politics and often because of their own insecurities. Provoking the SNP with a meatslicing turn of phrase is one of life's minor pleasures for Brian, and is quite amusing for the rest of us. But mostly he's to be read for his original insights, on the Highlands, Scotland and the wider world.

I expect some cybernats will be rolling up their well-paid sleeves up on hearing the news that they have a new target. But the online nats, like the midges, are always with us if slightly less annoying, so don't let that put you off Brian.

There's no obligation to publish derogatory comments, it's bizarre that furious, online guttermouths don't understand that.

As I keep reminding my own nationalist friends and foes, read without prejudice, and at least read to the end before pouncing on the keyboard.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Glasgow gangs ceasefire lessons for the riots

A bit of a mixed bag of measures there in David Cameron's "fightback" against the summer riots. Everything from insurance claims, bans on balaclavas and closing down social networking sites is to be considered in an attempt to slap down on the social disorder we've witnessed this week.

One of the most significant announcements is that the example of Strathclyde Police anti-gang strategy could be rolled out across the UK.

The operation targeting gangs in Glasgow has resulted in a 50% reduction in violent offending by those taking part. In a city with a stab rate on a par with New York that is some result.

The prosaically-named Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) is itself a copy of the more bling-sounding Boston Ceasefire project which was ran in that US city from 1996 and had success too.

Both schemes made breakthroughs by talking to gang members, offering them an alternative, and getting them to confront the victims, the mothers, the surgeons and the cops that have to stitch back together the slashed lives of gang violence.

Quite simply the young gang members were told if they stopped the gang fights they'd have access to help with training, housing, education and community groups. If they carried on, they'd go to jail.

Four hundred gang members signed up in Glasgow - mostly pressurised through their parents - and violent offending among those who undertook the most intensive programme fell by 73%.

All the gen is towards the end of this excellent Prospect magazine piece on Karyn McCluskey, the officer who brought the scheme to Strathclyde after it had been rejected in London and and West Mercia.

Iain Duncan Smith's social justice think-tank has done a lot of work on gang culture and the Work and Pensions Secretary is working with Home Office on how the Westminster government will respond to gang culture.

We're expecting a report in October, expect Glasgow to feature prominently again in Iain Duncan Smith's thinking.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Why Scotland's neds aren't rioting

The hubris of the First Minister of Scotland over his "frustration" that the riots being described as a UK event, rather than an English one, is beginning to get traction as a news story.

Alex Salmond's comments just remind me of the parochialism displayed during the terrorist attacks of London in 2005, and the attempts on the capital in 2007.

As a London-based reporter I remember trying to engender news desk interest in the failed Tiger-Tiger bombing on Haymarket and the fact that an Islamist terrorist cell was on the run with Wimbledon, Gay Pride and a Royal event all taking place in the city that weekend.

The message came back to write an atmospheric wrap, because none of this really affected Scotland. Boom! A few hours later Glasgow airport was aflame and Scotland was the frontline in the War on Terror. Thankfully no one was killed, apart from one of the bombers, but the event shook Scotland out of its complacency.

You'd think that event alone would have been enough of a lesson for Salmond, who was First Minister at the time. It doesn't pay to be smug or feel that Scotland is somehow different or immune to events that can sweep across the country as fast as it takes to send a BBM.

While Salmond may be playing to his nationalist constituency many have been wondering why the Neds, Scotland's answer to Yobs, haven't been rioting.

Geography has something to do with it, I guess, but not the borderline between England and Scotland.

Scotland doesn't have many inner-city housing estates close to High Street shopping centres. It does do a good line in peripheral urban deprivation, far from the glistening consumer cathedrals.

But for any disaffected youth to get to downtown Glasgow, say, they would have to pass through the territory of rival youth gangs, and get back again once the looting was over. I suspect the police helicopter would be the least of their problems on that booty-laden journey.

Also, there is obviously no black street culture in Scotland, and I can't understand why people have been reluctant to consider race as a factor in this.

There aren't that many black Scottish kids who get stopped and searched by an almost all-white police force. The neds don't complain of being harassed regularly or casually abused by "the Feds" the way black teenagers in London do.

Scottish teenagers might then have less reason to be pissed off in the first place, though they face the same problems of unemployment, lack of opportunities and see the same level of inequality.

That said, the contrast between highly visible wealth and poverty in London is on quite another scale. The pavements may not be lined with gold but a Porsche is one of the least expensive cars you'll see parked on some streets.

It's also worth remembering that before last weekend the most recent event that required a mounted police charge to disperse the mob was the party in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow on the day of the Royal Wedding.

Everyone else in Britain had a street party, Scotland had a ned riot.

Footnote: I forgot the obvious reason why there aren't riots in Scotland - not sectarianism, not national character, just the fact that its raining flat out.