Saturday, March 31, 2007

Endorse... It Confuses People

I'm not usually too bothered about celeb political endorsements, but I'll make an exception for Banff quine Sandi Thom, who has announced that she'll be backing the SNP and Alex Salmond in May's election. As well as quite liking her and admiring the shrewd way she honed her craft and got herself signed in an industry full of wannabees, it also gives me a gratuitous opportunity to include a couple of pictures of her on my blog :-)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

End Of Term

Today sees the end of the second term of the Scottish Parliament. With the Executive going into 'Purdah', Labour will no longer have access to the Scottish civil service, or have a legion of Executive press officers to highlight their triumphs and bury their mistakes. Instead, they'll have to rely on their own people and a campaign machine which seems increasingly creaky and rudderless.

There's a funny atmosphere about Holyrood today. Jack McConnell is turning in a shouty, beleaguered performance at FMQs, assailed from all sides over broken election promises, health, crime, council tax, nuclear power and the performance of devolution. His rants about the SNP seem even more heated and lacking in humour than usual. All told, his demeanor is not one of a man brimming with confidence about being returned to his position in May.

The next parliament seems set to be very different indeed. 12 MSPs are standing down of their own volition, but a wee glance at the polls suggests that there could be more than a few new faces about the place come May. Both The Times (yesterday) and the Daily Mail (today) have carried polls putting the SNP ahead of Labour, both in terms of support and likely seats in parliament. The solitary thread of comfort which Labour spokespeople have clung to for dear life has been the apparent fall in support for Independence, down from 50% plus earlier in the year to just 27%.

Proof that the Labour campaign is working at a certain level, perhaps? Well no, actually. The difference is in not just the question asked, but the number of questions asked. You see, when the question of 'Independence - yes or no?' is put, there's a roughly 50/50 split. However, throw the rather nebulous option of 'more powers' into the mix and unsurprisingly, the numbers change. In fact, we find that in addition to the 27% who want 'independence, nothing less', some 52% would like more powers, perhaps as a further step towards sovereignty.

Game, set and match for the union then, and vindication for the Lib Dem stance that there should be no referendum on independence? Again, no. No-one takes the trouble to set out what these 'more powers' might be - would they include full fiscal autonomy, for example? The right for Scottish Ministers to represent us in Europe? Control over broadcasting regulation? The simple fact of the matter is that no-one knows. You'd get as worthwhile an answer by replacing the question with one asking whether you are in favour of fluffy kittens and nice sunny days.

The Lib Dems justify their anti-referendum stance by citing such polling data and by highlighting their support for federalism. In this way, they argue that there can be a 'middle way' on the constitution, whereby Scotland gets more powers and can stay happily in the union. That would be an honourable position, if it weren’t for the fact that they've supported federalism for over a century, yet still don't have a viable plan on how to bring it about.

All they have in their locker is to call for powers which Westminster would have to cede, over which the Lib Dems would have no leverage. And let's be brutally honest here - the only leverage for getting the powers worth having will be a strong SNP vote in May. Westminster might cede more powers to Holyrood, but only if Independence looks like it will be on the cards and even then, as with devolution V1.0, only as little will be ceded as they think they can get away with in order to dissipate the SNP 'threat'.

This is where it gets interesting. With any referendum likely to come towards the end of a 4-year term, there will be ample opportunity for Westminster to make its play. However, the SNP has already set out a little shopping list of powers it would like for Holyrood, such as control over North Sea Revenues and that right to lead negotiations, such as over fishing, in Europe.

If it can be shown through the rejection of some fairly modest requests that further reform of the British State is either impossible or won't come until many years into the future, won’t that make voters more inclined than ever to demand a referendum on independence? And where would that leave the Lib Dems, other than on the wrong side of the argument?

Support for independence down? It all depends on the question you ask, as well as the number of questions you ask. Alex Salmond could be unwrapping the mint Viscounts at Lancaster House yet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Strange Happenings at Holyrood Towers

The Scottish Parliament goes into dissolution this week, which means that from Thursday until after the elections, there will be no MSPs. Accordingly, every corridor in the MSP block is strewn with packing crates at the moment, while members decide what to throw out, and what to keep in case they find themselves re-elected.

All mundane stuff. So why, then, have the Solidarity staffers chosen to 'black out' the windows in their resource centre with binliners and sellotape, while they undertake this process? What on earth could they possibly be doing that they don't want the rest of us to see? Maybe more to the point, would we particularly care even if we did?

Guardian of My Concience? Not Today...

One of the advantages/drawbacks of my job is that most days, I've read all the Scottish newspapers worth reading by 11am. This leaves me with the problem of which one to buy at lunchtime. Usually, the Evening News wins out if I'm in Edinburgh. Today, however, I opted for the Guardian, which due to the amount of tedious crud in its pages I managed to get through at near flickbook speed. That said, 2 articles jumped out for long enough to tee me off.

The first was a feature in G2 on Whole Foods, a US food store chain which is about to open its first UK outlets. Now, I quite like food shopping in the US - just 10 minutes walking round somewhere like Harris Teeter shows up many of our own supermarkets. Whole Foods, though, is in a different league - a bit like a reasonably upmarket deli the size of a small supermarket. If they are going to be any like the ones in the US, then as far as I'm concerned, they can't get to Edinburgh fast enough.

Surely then, this is just sort of enterprise which would get your average Guardianista hugging themself with delight. But woe and alack, you will be horrified to learn from G2 that there is a dark side. Trade-offs between what consumers want and the high ideals the company started out with; frozen TV dinners for sale alongside the organic produce; happy employees but only because they get high pay(!).

I'm sure you get the picture. All that's missing in the critique is a particularly graphic description of a dark Satanic mill, even though its Satanicness or otherwise would only be measured in comparison with the ideals set for it by the über-green Birkenstock wearers of California. Anyway, I'm lucky to have an old-fashioned high street and the time to shop there, but in the absence of same, give me a Whole Foods any day of the week.

But today's prize for putting the cart before the horse goes to George Monbiot, who makes the frankly bonkers claim that biofuels are causing 'more harm than good'. Eh? Causing more harm than their mineral-based equivalents? Pull the other one...

Apparently, our demand for biofuels is contributing to deforestation, and will lead to farmers growing more crops geared towards biofuels instead of providing food for those without. At a certain level, the argument has appeal - an apocalyptic paradox that by doing good, you end up doing more harm. In truth, it's well suited to the messianic 'I know better than you lot' tone that he seems to have as his stock-in-trade.

But there's 2 big problems with this thesis. The first is that since there's no shortage of agricultural land in the world, there's no reason for anyone to lose out as a result of increasing biofuel production. The second is that by trying to make a causal link between issues like all deforestation and all biofuel production, he damns the very considerable levels of potential production which can take place on currently fallow land.

All in all, if you're feeling miserable, I can recommend today's Grauniad for being chock-full of the sort of self-flagelatory, ill-informed 'we're all doomed' prose guaranteed to keep you that way. If you're in a reasonable humour, though, then steer clear. It's a lovely day, after all, and life is short.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Zip-i-dee-doo-dah, Zip-i-dee-ay...

I've been in an exceptionally good mood today. There was a wee bit of a hangover following yesterday's post-match celebrations, but that was soon forgotten about. I've even managed to sail serenely past Lord George Robertson's latest shroud-waving drivellings in the Sunday Times about the SNP.

The reason for my good mood? Well, ever since my old car got taken away to see what could be done with it after my accident, my hallway has been strewn with the general detritus from the boot. Fed up of stepping round it for the last couple of weeks, I determined that today was going to be the day I'd start deciding what to keep and what to throw out.

Rewinding a week or so to when I actually bought the new car, the salesman offered to fit a CD autochanger to it for me at a cost of c. £300, an offer which I felt more than able to turn down at the time. So you can no doubt imagine my delight to find this morning, when putting my first aid kit under the passenger seat that, unbeknown to me, a CD autochanger had already been fitted to the car!

Did the salesman already know this and was trying to sneakily screw the £300 cost back out of me? I don't know and to be honest, I don't really care either. Normally when I look down the back of my car seats, all I ever find is loose change and fluff-covered polo mints. This was a very pleasant surprise, and coming in the week that the insurance cheque came through, it's a nice and unexpected coda to this particular drama!

Friday, March 23, 2007

None Of Their Business

Usually, this blog has quite a bit of admiration for the institution that is the Royal Bank of Scotland. Although I'm not a customer of theirs, through their sponsorships, expanding branch network, free cash machines and mobile banking, they play a role in the community which suggests to me that despite now being the 5th biggest bank in the world, they haven't forgotten the essential values which have helped make the company what it is today.

Today, though, I'm going to give them a well-deserved slap. This follows the news that some jumped-up 'executive', doubtless puffed up with his own sense of self-importance and desire to please those above him, has issued a tablet of stone memo 'reminding' staff that they could face disciplinary action if they do not get their monthly salaries paid into a Royal Bank account.

Now, I don't have too much of a problem with the idea that staff should show some commitment to the organisation they work for. Nor do I have any difficulty with the idea that if you want to benefit from some of the perks of working for a bank, like getting a cheaper mortgage, you need to toe the line and use their products. However, where I draw the line is when it is made compulsory to order purely personal affairs, which do not impede your ability to do your job, in such a way as to please the whims of management.

Despite being the most dynamic part of the Scottish economy, the financial services sector can still be a hotbed of reaction and old-fashioned attitudes. I still remember with bemusement the attitude held by local management at one employer where those working 8-4 were regarded as hard workers; 9-5ers were solid and dependable; while 10-6ers like me were idle, scrimshank malingerers. Flexitime, yes, but only if you use it to suit conventions. From another employer, I can remember horror stories from the past of staff being summonsed to get a dressing down from their line manager, simply because they hadn't paid their bank credit card bills in time.

Luckilly, data protection law and more enlightened employment practices mean that for the most part, these intrusive, paternalistic and ultimately self-defeating attitides have died out. Increasingly, as lifestyles change, there is a realisation that the only way to attract and retain the best staff is to be flexible in the benefits you provide as an employer, and to drop any intrusive aspirations of having social control over your staff outside of the working environment.

Quite frankly, this 'executive' has crossed a line and deserves to be dumped on from a great height for turning this into a mini-PR disaster for the bank. Ulitimately, where RBS employees choose to place their business is none of the RBS Management Team's damn business. On this occasion, the affected staff should tell the bank exactly where they can swipe their Cashline cards.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mr Cock-Up Comes To Town!

On Monday, wee Jack was clenching his fist with fury at SNP plans to 'wreck' the union (which on closer inspection, just meant he wasn't happy that the SNP wanted to discuss things like getting more powers from Westminster). However, in today's Scottish Parliament Business Bulletin, a motion appeared in the name of the Scottish Executive, calling amongst other things for more powers for Holyrood.

Embarrassing enough, you might think. However, not content with shooting a hole clean through one foot, this afternoon, they took careful aim at the other, then fired by amending the part of the motion which called for more powers for Holyrood 'where appropriate'.

Since it was an Executive motion, Jack would have known all about it at the time he was in full rant mode against the SNP (wouldn't he?), and presumably, was therefore in favour. He can therefore stand accused of rank hypocrisy, but now that it's been pulled, we can surely add rank cowardice to the charge sheet as well.

Who at Westminster, do we think, might have pulled his strings to get the motion amended? Where does Labour really stand on more powers for Holyrood? Who on earth is running their campaign - Gordon Brown, or Jack McConnell? And perhaps more importantly, will Scottish voters manage to emerge from their convulsions of laughter in time to cast their votes in May?

You couldn't make it up. Would the last strategist to leave the Labour party please turn out the lights? :-)

I Always Know When You're Lying, Darling

Alasdair Darling has some neck on him. Interviewed as part of BBC Scotland's post-budget coverage, he had the effrontery to claim that Labour was trying to cut income tax by 2p, while the SNP wanted to increase it by 3p.

What he forgot to mention, of course, was that under Labour you would continue to pay Council Tax, whereas under the SNP, you wouldn't pay a penny. Expect more similar Labour untruths between now and polling day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Another Lord a' Leaping

The indescretion! Lord Turnbull, a former Head of the Civil Service who spent 4 years at the Treasury as a Permemant Secretary, has chosen to lift the lid on the M.O. of the Chancellor. And, comble de malchance!, has done so just in time to spoil Brown's budget speech tomorrow.

Brown's Treasury, we are told, surprises by "the more or less complete contempt with which other colleagues are held". Brown himself takes a "very cynical view of mankind and his colleagues"; does not allow "serious discussion" with colleagues; and in enhancing Treasury control over domestic policy, had done so "at the expense of any government cohesion and any assessment of strategy".

The Chancellor also has a "Macavity quality - he is not there when there is dirty work to be done". He also uses denial of information as an instrument of power. And just to make sure we all get the message, Turnbull goes on to conclude that "You can choose whether you are impressed or depressed by that, but you cannot help admire the sheer Stalinist ruthlessness of it all."

It's a devastating critique, all the closer to the bone for its echoes of what Brown's opponents in the Labour Party have been saying about him for years. Given Milliband's reluctance to challenge for the leadership , perhaps Blair's favoured successor really is the man charged with responding to, rather than delivering, tomorrow's budget speech.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Conference Dispatch - Sunday

Rather surprisingly for being the morning after the night before, delegates seem unusually invigorated today. However, that might have something to do with the gale force winds and near-horizontal hail which scoured us all as we arrived at the conference this morning. A few intrepid smokers are huddled outside, looking thoroughly miserable as they get blasted by the elements – I suspect they may not be the most enthusiastic of attendees at this afternoon's health debate!

The papers seemed mostly favourable for the SNP this morning, a few amusing brown-trousers-and-bicycle-clips pieces aside. The Sunday Herald has, disgracefully in my view, tried to stir it up over Brian Souter's donation, despite the fact he got no favours at all from the SNP during the repeal of Section 2A. What inference are we being invited to draw? That the SNP is tainted, while Labour and the Lib Dems, who started the Section 2A repeal process then ran and hid from the ensuing brouhaha instead of making their case, are worthy of our continued support? Eejits.

The main event this afternoon will be Alex Salmond's speech. It's being spun that he will be unveiling the SNP's proposals for government, but it wouldn't be a Salmond speech if he didn't have at least one rabbit to pull out of the hat. The actual conference hall is a bit too small for all of the people here, so I suspect I'll end up watching it on the TV in the breakout area instead.

Overall, there seems to be a sense, even amongst the most hardened of SNP-sceptics in the media, that this might really be it. The polls are all good for the SNP; the party is winning big-hitting endorsements left, right and centre; while Labour are left to fight a relentlessly negative campaign, torn tactically between wee Jack's gang on one side and the 'Brownies' on the other. I have to confess that the grim faces of Labourite journos Angus MacLeod of the Times and Magnus Gardham of the Record have been an absolute joy to behold! 46 days and counting...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Conference Dispatch

I've made it through to Govan, and despite the greyness of the skies and the awfulness of the result from Ibrox, there's a lot of cheer to be had at the SNP conference in the Glasgow Science Centre. The conference, already on a high thanks to yesterday's endorsement by George Mathewson, has been positively buzzing with the news that long-time supporter Brian Souter has donated £500,000 to the SNP election fund.

This matters on two levels. First, it represents yet another endorsement of the SNP's policy stance, albeit from a long-standing and high-profile supporter of the party. Perhaps as significantly, though, it will put the SNP on an equal financial footing with a Labour campaign which will be heavily bankrolled from London.

There's more conference business tomorrow, and rumours have persisted all day of yet another big announcement to come. However, it wasn't in Nicola Sturgeon's generally well-received address to conference, so if it's coming we'll have to wait now until tomorrow to find out if there's anything in it.

Sadly, there'll be none of the usual après-conference shenanigans for me, since rather foolishly I've already taken a gig to play at a wedding tonight in Fintry. Easy enough to get to from Glasgow, of course, but with a midnight finish I'll be lucky to see my bed by 2am. Nothing unusual for an SNP conference, I'll grant you, but tomorrow will doubtless be spent looking like a half-shut knife and facing allegations from friends of drunken excesses which won't have taken place. The joys...

Friday, March 16, 2007

By George!

Sir George Mathewson, former Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the old Scottish Development Agency, has on today's Scotsman letters page come out in favour of independence and an SNP-led government post-May. It's a timely contribution, since Labour, a bit like a child which has learned a new word, has discovered that a lot of Scots work in financial services and now opts to try and tell them at every opportunity that their jobs would somehow be 'at risk'.

Total garbage of course, and Mathewson, who transformed RBS from a struggling local outfit to the 5th largest bank in the world, is clearly having none of it. I can't wait to see how Labour are going to try and spin this one!

'There are several reasons why I shall vote SNP at the forthcoming Scottish election, the foremost of which is that I believe the SNP offers Scotland the best chance of escaping from the dependency culture that is currently all-pervasive at every level in Scottish life.

'I do not share the fear of independence which is currently being fostered by those who have most to lose by a change in the status quo and those who see Scotland as a source of safe seats, thus guaranteeing their rule over the United Kingdom.

'In addition, comments that have been made on access to the English market are patently absurd. Currently, a huge proportion of the English financial services market is supplied by companies in the United States, in Holland, Germany, Ireland, etc.

'Globalisation is here and Scottish companies have embraced it and indeed have benefited from it.

'Finally, our votes will choose the new First Minister of a parliament which has consistently disappointed since its creation, partially due to the lack of high-quality leadership. The outstanding candidate must be the SNP leader, Alex Salmond'.

(SIR) GEORGE MATHEWSON, Ballintrium, Perthshire

UPDATE: We didn’t have long to wait. Blair has resorted to claiming that RBS is somehow not a ‘real business’, and that Mathewson’s contribution is ‘self indulgent and absurd’. What a deluded fool Blair has become.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

£9bn... Do I Hear £12bn?

Having just come out of a horrific accountancy exam this lunchtime, I'm loathe to start talking about numbers. However, with today's confirmation that the official cost of the 2012 London Olympics has hit £9.3bn, I'm afraid I can't help myself.

When I last blogged on this and mentioned a figure of £10bn, the official cost was still £2.4bn. Nonetheless, the following day (21 November 2006), it was announced that costs had increased by £900m to £3.3bn.

Appearing before the Commons culture, media and sport committee, Minister Tessa Jowell told us that this rise was partly due to a doubling in the price of steel, along with a decision to revise transport costs to take into account inflation (!) in the years to 2012. It also included an extra £400m to pay "delivery partner" CLM to make sure the games came in on budget and on time.

Jowell duly gave assurances to the committee that 'This project is under control. Cost control is a daily part of the rigour'. Yet just four short months later, another £6bn has been added to a figure which, according to Jowell, already represented a project 'under control'.

This is just one project amongst many big infrastructure projects due to come 'on-line' around 2012, including the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link, an Edinburgh Tram Network and the start of a replacement Forth Road Bridge. Since the date of the Olympics can't move, the only variable that can be altered is the amount of money we throw at the project, doubtless to the detriment of the costs on other projects - and don't the contractors just know it.

'Dripping roast' doesn't even begin to describe the bonanza that awaits the construction industry at our expense. Most public sector projects seem to run over budget and behind schedule, but the shower of blisteringly incompetent Panglossians we have in government right now seem determined to set some new kind of Olympic record of their own. Quite frankly, I wouldn't even trust them to sell union jack tat to spectators outside the games.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Keeping Hold Of Nurse

I enjoyed this wonderfully mischievous letter in today's Herald from SNP MEP Alyn Smith. I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories, but even Scottish Tories would have to admit there might be a certain logic to this one.


If noted intellect David Mundell MP sees fit to grade his Tory MSP colleagues then the Tory gene pool must be gey shallow right enough. More of a paddling pool, or perhaps a gene puddle.

But am I being too cynical in wondering why a paper that has existed since the summer was only leaked just before their turmoil-by-the-Tay on the eve of David Cameron's speech to the hushed faithful?

I spend time in Brussels, and this week in Strasbourg, talking to a number of colleagues, from all parties. The younger English Tories are almost unanimous in their view, at least in the bars and coffee lounges, that it is only a matter of time until the Tory mother-ship cuts the Scottish Tories loose as a bad job. They bear Scotland no particular ill-will, if they think of us at all, seeing us as the "near abroad", a convivial place to hunt and fish, and the source of the battalion of knuckle-draggers padding out the Labour benches at Westminster.

They see their party soft-pedalling on the Barnett Formula, the West Lothian Question and the, as they mistakenly see it, squillions in subsidies we ungrateful jocks fleece from the English taxpayer, not to mention the Scottish Raj running their government. They think their party in England could go after these issues harder without the need to shield their Scots colleagues from friendly fire. They view independence as a matter for us to decide and, increasingly, as a potential advantage for them.

So, is this leak in fact the opening salvo of covert friendly fire from Tory Central Office? If so, how should the Scots Tories react? I would have loved to be a fly on the wall as David Cameron headed back south having brought his cheery vacuity north to be greeted by Bill Walker and views more at home in Jurassic Park than Cool Britannia. Surely he must be tempted along the same lines as he looks towards his next Westminster election, probably facing the self-proclaimed Great Briton but irredeemably Scottish Gordon Brown.

I know a number of decent Scots Tories, and if it comes to it there are competent ones as well, looking to get a decent result for the people of Scotland, same as most Scots politicians of other parties. But is the party as a whole going to allow misty-eyed illogical sentiment for the Union to destroy them? Not least when their own UK party views them increasingly as at worst a hindrance and at best a slightly embarrassing mad old Scots Auntie Morag who sits at family gatherings dribbling into her soup muttering about the Treaty of Union?

In the European Parliament, there are dozens of modern centre-right political parties of the Christian Democrat model from large countries and small. Would the Scots Tories not do rather better to put sentiment to one side and embrace independence? The Tories right now are a de facto anti-Scottish party, so the SNP currently has a policy of not entering into coalitions with them. If they wised up they could reinvent themselves as the only party promoting a centre-right, pro-Scottish agenda. I disagree with the "centre right" but I'd work with them on the "pro-Scottish".

That does, of course, presume that they will change, though I suspect the change is going to be forced upon them anyway. Something for them to think about. Perhaps David Mundell could write us a memo?

Alyn Smith MEP, SNP Europe spokesman, European Parliament, Strasbourg.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Train Kept A Rollin'

I'm on my way to London just now to spend a couple of days out on the lash with an old friend of mine from Scottish Widows. We both bailed out at around the same time, myself to go and work for the SNP, while Rich moved to London to be a mortgage broker. As he's just bought a house in deepest, darkest Beckenham, I'm guessing he did the right thing by moving on when he did too!

The idea was that we would go to see the England-Scotland women's international, which was due to be played on Sunday at Wembley. Although the English FA got the keys to the stadium today, the game has been moved to Wycombe Wanderers ground instead, which would be a bit of a hassle for us to get to. For that reason, the girls will just have to do without our support while we go out and get trashed instead. Ochone, ochone etc.

Anyway, I'm on the train in a first-class carriage, getting free coffee refills; getting online thanks to GNER's free wi-fi; no-one caring if I've got a set of nail clippers or a bottle of water in my bag; sitting in a big comfy seat with plenty room to stretch my legs; and in less than 3 hours time will be delivered slap-bang into the centre of London and all for under £40. I'm racking my brains just now to come up with a good reason why I used to always fly down, but right now I'm damned if I can think of one.

Get the Edinburgh-London rail journey time down below 4 hours, and I can guarantee that the airlines and their shareholders will start cacking themselves. Now, remind me again, why was it again that former British Airways Chief Executive Rod Eddington thought high-speed rail travel was such a non starter? All answers on the back of an airline boarding pass, please, to the usual address.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

With friends like these...

The capacity of the Scottish Tories to self-destruct never ceases to amaze. After the wipe-out of 1997; David McLetchie's little confusions over expenses; Annabell Goldie's reluctant leadership and persistant attempts by a grassroots minority to throw the current MSP group overboard; it was difficult, although by no means impossible, to see how they could slip any further.

With an election coming up, the party high-heidyins must have been praying that everyone would just stick to the script and stay gaffe-free until polling day. The last person they would have been expecting to pull the plug on their campaign would have been Shadow Scottish Secretary, David Mundell MP. Alas, on the eve of their Scottish Conference, the Daily Record (I feel nauseous linking to this) has obtained a memo sent by Mundell to party leader David Cameron, which contains a damning assessment of his erstwhile Holyrood colleagues.

According to Mundell, the MSP group suffers from a "simple lack of thinkers". They are 'incapable of coming up with new policies', while "there are more obvious problems than solutions emanating from Scotland from a party point of view." The replacement of Scottish party chairman Peter Duncan should be an "immediate priority". And while "key personnel need to be identified to take on strategic roles...nobody obviously comes to mind".

With friends like these... there are conflicting views amongst Tory bloggers, with Ian Dale supportive, while Conservative Home demands his head on a stick. I think if I were a Tory activist, though, I'd be arranging my holidays to coincide with the elections so I could be as far away as possible from the impending carnage in May.

There's a place for a party of the centre-right in Scotland - but the prospects of anyone being able to hew it from the rotten timbers of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party now look not so much slim as positively skeletal. Independence and cutting the apron strings to the party in London must now be their only hope for recovery.

UPDATE - Widespread praise in the canteen for Annabell Goldie's riposte to Jack McConnell's use of the above memo at First Minister's Questions. 'At least, First Minister, my party's internal memos don't end up being scrutinised by Scotland Yard'.

Splat! Who said that Holyrood had banned bloodsports? :-)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Age Shall Not Weary Him

'What is the point of Menzies Campbell?', is a question with which I've been wrestling for quite a while now. In many ways, it's a question I never thought I'd ever be asking myself, since I'd long had a kind of sneaking regard for him. Sure, whenever matters SNP reared their head, I'd always found his knee-jerk patrician sniffiness to be absolutely insufferable. Otherwise, though, he earned my respect for both looking and sounding like a thoroughly competent MP who knew exactly what he was talking about.

I see in retrospect that mine was quite a rose-tinted view. That sure-footedness, demonstrated in matters of home and international affairs, has never quite been there when it comes to the equally important arenas of economic, health and education policy. In fact, it seems that the very qualities that made him appear so well cut out to be a Home or Foreign Secretary - his dispassionate aloofness and cultivated appearance of somehow being above the vulgar posturing of lesser mortals - are the very same qualities which are now rendering his stewardship of the Lib Dems such a becalmed and uninspiring affair.

Oddly, he seems to have diminished in stature since assuming the Lib Dem leadership. His perceived lack of support for Charles Kennedy tainted him from the start, as did his many fluffed appearances at Prime Minister's Questions. But never mind the recent fuss about whether he'd dump PR to get into government with Labour. To me, it is his apparent inability to connect with voters or to articulate any kind of coherent policy agenda, which should be causing the most discontent in Lib Dem ranks just now.

They are dropping, slowly but surely, in the polls. Where people liked Charles Kennedy even if they didn't necessarily respect him, Campbell seems to suffer from the reverse. Concerns about his age are raised, to which he now responds with an unbecoming prickliness. Watching him try to address this irrelevant jibe is becoming an increasingly painful sight. Like Gordon Brown trying to convince Middle England that he would make a good Prime Minister, the more Campbell tries to stress his youthfulness, the less it convinces.

Let's be clear, his age is largely irrelevant if we regard it as being an attitude of mind rather than a physical characteristic. In fact, I get the feeling that Campbell was probably middle-aged by his early twenties. And as one of the many politicos spawned by the Glasgow University Union Debating Society in the 1950s, it would have been surprising if he'd turned out any other way.

For all his protestations of having grown up in a Glasgow tenement, Campbell is a politician from the upper-middle classes, imbibed with a paternalistic and slightly patronising sense of noblesse oblige. But what once reassured about Campbell now just grates. And it is this, I think, which is what is hampering him and his party, rather than any questions about age. Like Gordon Brown, a section of voters has decided that they don’t particularly like him. And while voters cite Brown’s ‘Scottishness’ as being his prime draw-back (something which doesn’t seem to affect John Reid), it is Campbell’s age which is being held against him.

Highlighting the most obvious perceived flaw of someone we dislike is an instinct we develop in the playground. It might not be fair and it might be as base as it gets, but as Neil Kinnock, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith all found out, if the voters won’t take to you then electorally-speaking, both you and your party are toast.

The Lib Dems, while often confounding the pundits, have for the past while seemed like a party in search of a role. The charisma of a Paddy Ashdown or a Charles Kennedy has always in the past allowed them to escape the scrutiny they deserved for being all things to all people. With a revitalised Tory Party in England under David Cameron, also no slouch at appearing to be all things to all people, the days of the Lib Dems being able to hoover up the votes of the disenchanted now look to be numbered.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Well, I phoned the insurance company this morning and regrettably, my car is going to cost too much for them to fix. It was still driveable, though, so maybe somebody might be able to put it back on the road. Hopefully it's not for the scapyard quite yet, and someone else might be able to get the good of it.

It's a nuisance, because the car was reliable, comfortable and I'd planned to hang on to it for at least another year. Anyway, that's all out the window now, and since my courtesy car is due to return as soon as the cheque arrives, it was out for a piece of unscheduled car hunting this lunchtime.

I've fancied getting a poor man’s Volkswagen Skoda turbo-diesel ever since I got a shot of my cousin's partner's one last year (taxi drivers seem to rate them too, which must count for something). The one I was after seems to be in short supply just now, but luckily, the garage down the road had a pre-registered one on the forecourt with just 27 miles on the clock.

Anyway, after taking it out for a blast with the salesman, we completed the paperwork and as of Monday, it will be mine, as, sadly, will be the paying of it for the next five years - ouch. It should be a lot more economical than my old car, mind, but since it's quite a bit smaller I suppose I'm going to have to learn to keep a boot tidy again!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

And As If By Magic...

Once more, Holyroodbelle is first off the mark with a sneak preview of Labour's latest campaign poster :-)

Scorching the Earth

Well, at least we can't say we weren't warned...

McConnell Starts Dirty War

"There is nothing that Labour can say that will change peoples' minds about Labour. There is no point in having a positive campaign because it doesn't wash. There isn't a bit of evidence to suggest that going positive will make any difference. They don't know Jack and they don't like Labour." - Labour Campaign Source.

Sir Menzies hits out at opponents

The Liberal Democrat leader questions Gordon Brown's "courage" to lead and attacks David Cameron.

So there you have it. Since Labour and the Lib Dems (the original Labour saving device?) have little good to say for themselves, they'll try and scare people away from their opponents; play the man rather than the ball at each opportunity; drive down the turnout and then hope for the best. Anyone fancy a sweep on how long it is before Lakshmi Mittal is paying for posters round Scotland of Alex Salmond with 'demon eyes'?

UPDATE - just found this excellent post by Will Patterson, saying much the same as me, but with far more eloquence than I feel like attempting just now. Read and enjoy.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Legal Weasels

I've just had a 'courtesy call' from the legal team attached to my car insurers, following my accident at the start of the week. They asked me how I was, to which I answered "fine". "Are you sure?", they then asked, "no aches or pains or anything? Because we can get you examined".

"Quite sure", I said, before joking that I had no plans to sue anyone over the accident if that was what they meant. And without so much as a pause for breath, the caller went 'OK Mr Thomson I'll just put that on your notes thanks for your time goodbye', and hung up.

I know they're on my side, but even so, what a bunch of ambulance-chasing, unethical weasels! How many folk are now pursuing claims for damages, on the grounds of non-specific back and neck pain 'resulting' from minor car accidents, I wonder? And how many settlements are made out of court, not becuase of the merits of the case, but because it's the cheapest way to make it go away?

'Courtesy' call my foot. Grrrrrr.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Worth a Laugh

This is good. Well worth a look.


Can anyone explain to me what business Network Rail, an effective state monopoly masquerading as a private company, has in donating any money at all to the regional franchise of the governing party?

Scottish Labour

Network Rail Ltd status: Company
company reg no: 04402220 40 Melton Street, London NW1 2EE
28/02/06 £ 5,000.00

Scottish Labour

Network Rail Ltd status: Company
company reg no: 04402220 40 Melton Street, London NW1 2EE
31/12/06 £ 6,000.00