Saturday, January 10, 2009

Got My Mojo Shirking

I can't quite put my finger on any particular reason why, but I've been finding it difficult to motivate myself to blog much of late. Obviously, there's been the holidays and after a year best described as frenetic, the prospect of having a few days over Christmas and New Year having as much as possible to do with family and friends and as little to do with politics as possible, was a very welcome one indeed.

Not even a new laptop was enough to inspire the creative juices to flow. The bottom feeders of the newspaper comments sections elicited little more than a weary shake of the head, although a letter to the Scotsman did almost get me going at one point – for which take a bow Alexander Mackay of Edinburgh.

It's probably fair to describe Mr Mackay as falling into the category of being persistent rather than persuasive or pertinent in his correspondence to the press. In this particular instance, he made the wonderous argument that since the UK was in recession, the Irish economy would suffer too. As Ireland and Scotland were both small countries, independence would therefore be bad for Scotland.

I must admit, it was the first time I'd ever heard a unionist cite British weakness as an argument for continued union. However, the urge to dig out GDP figures and data on trade flows between Ireland and the UK since the 1970's to squish his argument soon passed, since it would have been a bit like dispatching a midge with a bazooka. Instead, it was filed under the category of more bother than it was worth, and I opted to reach for the Quality Street instead.

Still, the prize for idiocy over the festive period must go to Ian Davidson MP, who tried to claim that as far as most people were concerned, Titian was an Italian footballer. Typical inverted Labour snobbery that somehow, 'it's no for the likes of us'. Well, I was lucky enough at my very unpretentious state primary school to be taken on a series of trips to Edinburgh's galleries to see these paintings. The idea that these paintings should sit on the walls of a city traders country pile rather than be available for all to view hardly seems like the essence of socialism to me. Still, it sums up a certain Scottish mindset very well – keep your head down, don't admire anything or any one, never raise your sights and be grateful for what is bestowed upon you by those who know better. Scottish municipal Labourism in a nutshell.

Elsewhere, the Lib Dems continued to bemuse. In Scotland, they want a 6p cut in the basic rate of income tax (2p at Holyrood and 4p at Westminster). If such a cut would be a good thing, I don't know why they don't argue for a 3p cut in Scotland in the first instance, rebalancing matters if they were ever to get their way at Westminster. However, at the same time as calling for these cuts, they refuse to say where the axe should fall. In addition, the party in the North East keeps calling for additional public spending, again without explaining where the money is to come from.

Mike Rumbles' reported theatrical storming out of a pre-budget meeting with John Swinney really does seem to put the tin lid on things. It's pretty clear they didn't want a coalition with the SNP in May 2007, but now, it seems they don't even want to exert any influence over the budget process. Did someone mention the politics of 'grudge and grievance' there? Having hitched their wagon to Calman, it'll be fascinating to see how they cope with being shepherded into the minimalist outcomes which it seems most likely to report.

Then we have the Forth Road Bridge. It was disappointing to see the Treasury appear to rule out the prospect of allowing the Scottish Government to stage the repayments for the replacement bridge over an extended period out of capital allocations which we know will take place in future. With PPP/PFI coming on balance sheet, there is now no advantage to this method of procurement. It'll be interesting to see what stance the Treasury takes in the talks it has offered with the Scottish Government – will provision for long-term borrowing be made, will there be an element of reprofiling, albeit over a timescale shorter than that proposed by the SNP, or will the obstacles to bond issues by the Scottish Government be removed?

I can see a few potential options which might satisfy both Whitehall and St Andrews House, but time, as they say, will tell. However, it's been thoroughly depressing to hear the same old records being played about 'picking fights'. It seems that there's a preferred narrative out there but that regardless of the facts or how ridiculous the accusation is – think Lockerbie, the Glasgow Airport attacks, Council Tax benefit, gaining access to Climate Change Levy funds – some unionist commentators and politicians will do their damnedest to try and crowbar the facts to fit the charge.

Anyway, it's not all been ennui and head shaking. I've also been getting my head down to scribe a book chapter on models of civic nationalism. I'm pleased to report that the (extended) deadline was met – now it's a bit like waiting for the exam marks to be up outside the departmental office. As for this evening, I'm away to an end of festive season party at the home of my election agent. 'Bring your fiddle and a bottle', was the instruction. Given my pre-Christmas drink drive message to the good people of Gordon, I'd better add a sleeping bag to that as well!


Jeff said...

Well Richard, you certainly made up for lost time with about 5 blog posts in one!

I don't know if I could take another blogging retirement these days though; my list of real time links has a rather depressing lack of Scottish titles in them at the moment.

Good luck with the book chapter, I fully expect a suitably shameless plug once the literary masterpiece is avialable in all good book shops.

Richard Thomson said...

Cheers Jeff - guess the Christmas/New Year dam just burst :-)