Monday, April 30, 2007

Just Who Does He Think He Is?

Straight from the horse's mouth - Gordon Brown rules out working with any SNP-led administration in Holyrood!

So, if the Scottish people don't vote the 'right' way on Thursday, Brown will take a giant huff and refuse to co-operate to improve our schools, grow the economy or help deliver social justice. Just who the hell does he think he is?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday Herald and SoS back SNP-led Executive

Are my eyes deceiving me? Apparently not, since with varying degrees of enthusiasm, both titles are backing an SNP-led Executive post May 3 with Alex Salmond as First Minister :-)

Let's not be churlish about deciding at the last minute to back what looks increasingly like a safe bet. Fairness, not favours - that's all the SNP has ever asked for from the Scottish media!

Sunday Herald Editorial

Scotland on Sunday Editorial

UPDATE: The Sunday Times and even the Sunday Express (!) are getting in on the act as well:


Time for a change

“The Sunday Times has always been a Unionist paper. It may seem strange therefore that we should now come out for an SNP-led coalition. Yet that is our position . . . The choice now is not between the Union and independence, but between a Labour party that has run out of ideas and the SNP which promises more vigorous and imaginative government. We need a change of government, and only the SNP can provide this. Within the confines of devolution, and in the awareness that there will be another opportunity to vote for the Union, we have concluded that an SNP-led coalition is the best option for voters.”


It’s Time

"Thursday’s poll is all about change, not independence. In his party’s manifesto, Alex Salmond offers ‘fresh thinking’ and there are few who would disagree that this is exactly what the country needs.”

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Goldilocks Weather

Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. That summed up today's weather as I went out to campaign in Edinburgh Central for the SNP's candidate, Shirley-Anne Somerville. We've been friends (and occasionally rivals!) for the best part of a decade, but having worked so far in Stirling, Dundee East & West, Livingston and Argyll, it was time to clock up a few more hours in my 'home' constituency and help a friend to hopefully get elected.

So, off I went, delivering leaflets in and around Ravelston. It's not a place you would normally expect the SNP to do well in, but the returns from our resident canvasser (a QC, as it happens) have been pretty exceptional, and back up the polls which show that the SNP currently has a lead amongst all socio-economic groups in Scotland. (Apropros nothing, I'm told there's been a steady stream of pupils from Fettes College coming in to SNP HQ to buy party badges - we live in interesting times!) And with no entryphones, quiet streets and lots of well-kept gardens, it's without doubt one of the nicest and easiest parts of the seat to work.

But back to the morning. By the time I arrived in Gorgie we were already set up, with the Labour Party close by. For all the disagreements and occasional banter we have with them, there's never any nastiness between ourselves and Labour in Edinburgh Central. Both parties seem to recognise the sincerity and good intentions in each others' people, and as such when paths cross there's always been a certain amount of mutual respect, even when for example we ran them fairly close in 1999.

Would that I could say the same about the local Lib Dems. Having had no presence in the seat since the days when Donald Gorrie was a Councillor, they had what was for them a unusually good result in 2003, when weel-kent face Andy Myles was once again their candidate. But even on what was a fairly grim night in Edinburgh for the SNP, the seat was still in effect a 4-way marginal, with the Greens actually winning the regional 'list' vote in the seat.

Seemingly undaunted by the fact that this time round it's the SNP which appears to have 'The Big Mo', the Lib Dems and their new candidate have resorted to some pretty questionable tactics. I've mentioned one of their letters before (and this from a party which once squealed like a pig when a 'Literal Democrat' polled 10,000+ votes and cost them a European Parliament seat - how short some memories are). However, they've surpassed themselves with their latest wheeze - a letter which claims that the SNP are urging their voters to back the Lib Dem candidate in order to turf out Labour!

The cheek of them! Of course, the SNP has done no such thing, since even if we weren't the ones on the way up and the Lib Dems becalmed, we'd still be fighting for every vote. This sort of stunt requires no skill or guile - only a willingness to get lower and dirtier than a snake's belly. If the Lib Dem candidate feels that she is justified in attempting to swindle voters to try and get into Holyrood, then God only knows how she'd conduct herself if she did manage to get in.

But then, maybe this is just a variation on the sort of campaigning which the 'Northern Scot' newspaper apparently failed to understand during the Moray by-election, when editor Pauline Taylor took exception to the Lib Dems' doctoring of quotes from her newspaper, to show their candidate in a favourable light. After being accused on live TV at the count by Lib Dem MP Malcolm Bruce of running a "rural newspaper which does not understand robust campaigning", she hit back with a pithy: "Being a rural newspaper, we recognise bullshit".


Thursday, April 26, 2007

An Arresting Tale

This has to be a mistimed April Fool story, right?

Blast From The Past

Looking back through my recent blog posts, I've noticed to my discomfort that while I'm quick to criticise others for fighting a negative election campaign, I've not exactly been adding a huge amount here myself that's particularly positive.

All I can say in my defence is that it's a busy time just now. I've never made any bones about where my allegiances lie politically and there are some things which just shouldn't be allowed to pass unremarked. However, with any similar long-held allegiance comes the danger that you begin to obsess about the 'game', losing sight in the process of what it was that led to you holding these views in the first place.

To try and remedy this, at least in part, here's an article I wrote back in 2004 for 'The Flag In The Wind', the online offshoot of the 'Scots Independent' newspaper, explaining why I joined the SNP. The last paragraph, I think, still remains relevant, even though it does refer to an earlier set of elections. Fortunately, it looks like the SNP might be on course to do a little bit better this time round!

Why I joined the SNP - Flag In The Wind, May 2004

Anybody who joins the SNP does so for one reason above all others – to secure Independence for Scotland. But I think we can all point to different reasons why we decide to support Scottish Independence.

For me, I suppose it was a number of factors which just came together. I was the first in my family to go to University. When I went to study, it was a period just after the industrial turmoil of the Thatcher Years and the Poll Tax. The Iron Curtain had collapsed and all over Europe, historic nations had reunified or were emerging from the stifling power politics of the Cold War era. Amidst this, it was hard for me not to think, if Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia could do it, then why not Scotland?

At the previous election in 1992, Scottish voters had rejected Tory policies overwhelmingly, yet Tory Ian Lang was still returned as Secretary of State off the back of the Conservative victory in England. Not unreasonably, but against my developing beliefs, Labour increasingly saw moving to the right as the best way of beating the Tories in their heartlands. I saw how Labour’s George Robertson tried to play down the significance of the 20,000 who marched in Edinburgh in 1992 in favour of home rule at the European summit in December that year. I was also disgusted at how these dignified and respectable people were smeared by Mr Lang, as he accused them of disgracing themselves in front of the European leaders who had arrived for the summit.

Watching Scottish Questions at Westminster made me realise just how much of an old-boys club it really was. It didn’t really matter which of the 2 UK parties Scotland had voted for, because by and large that would be decided by the votes of our much larger neighbour to the south. It also didn’t matter who the Secretary of State was – with Scottish Ministers coming under scrutiny once every five weeks whenever Westminster happened to be sitting, the Scottish Office could obscure far more than was healthy – certainly more than was healthy for a department spending around £20bn of taxpayers money each year.

It seemed self-evident to me that Scotland was a prosperous country – yet all around there was ample evidence that not everybody shared in this. We were told by Conservatives and Labour that Scotland prospered under the Union – yet they argued simultaneously that somehow we were too poor, too small or too stupid to manage for ourselves. What was worse was the sheer number of fellow Scots who without a moment’s consideration were happy to accept this as gospel and parrot it endlessly to their fellow countrymen. In contrast, I found the belief of those who mounted the vigil for a Scottish Parliament on Calton Hill vigil inspiring and would often take detours in the car on my way home from work so I could ‘toot’ for Scotland and show my support.

For me, all of this made for a potent combination. It gave me a cast-iron belief that the best people to govern Scotland were those who had chosen to make their lives here. But what really hit home was that whatever we tried to achieve in Scotland for our people counted for nothing, unless we first had the power to do something about it. John Major and Malcolm Rifkind could talk all they liked about Scotland punching above her weight in the world as part of the UK. It counted for nothing if we weren’t even in the ring in the first place.

Recent figures show that Scotland is the 8th richest country in the industrialised world, yet it is a country where 1 in 3 Scottish children are growing up in poverty. A country where 600,000 adults have difficulty reading. A country where hundreds still sleep rough every night. A country where we still have fuel poverty amidst energy plenty. A country where has one of the lowest life expectancies in the western world. To my mind, the economic, social and moral imperative for Independence has never been greater.

Nearly 15 years on from the political revolutions in Eastern Europe which woke my interest in politics, many of those countries have just joined the European Union as member states in their own right. After all this time, I still find it hard to reconcile the way the Labour party rolls out the red carpet for these nations, nearly all smaller than Scotland, yet still tries to slam the door in the face of demands for Scotland to enjoy the same status.

Yes, we have a parliament now. But it’s only a job half done. Our politicians and civil servants are now much more accountable. But when it counts, as it does over the common fisheries policy, the war in Iraq or running the Scottish economy in our interests, we’re still the invisible nation.

On June 10th, we have another chance to start to change this when we vote in the European elections. These elections, of course, will include the new entrants to the European Union. A vote for the SNP can help to ensure we join those dining at the top table. A vote for any other party will continue to leave Scotland a bit like Banquo’s ghost – the phantom at the feast.

You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round

Another day, another 'turning point' in the Scottish election campaign according to Labour's strategists.

So far, I've counted at least four such 'turning points' being hailed in this way. Now, unless they are happening in increments of significantly less than 180 degrees, what does this birling around say about the state of Labour's campaign?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tesco And Small Countries

For some strange reason, when I heard that the Chairman of Tesco had organised a newspaper ad backing the union (but not Labour), the memory of this clip from the BBC's 'Time Trumpet' shot into my head...

For a company which operates in multiple countries, it seems a very strange stance to be taking. Somehow, I think I'll still need cat litter in an independent Scotland!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lib Dems Economical, But Only With The Actualité

My parents have received a letter from the Lib Dem candidate for Edinburgh Central, Siobhan Mathers. Nothing unusual about that during an election, except for the fact that there was no obvious Lib Dem branding, and for way she chooses to begin her letter:

Dear XXXX,

As Secretary of the Scottish Green Liberal Democrats....

Now, a quick Google has revealed that the Scottish Green Liberal Democrats do exist, but as an affiliated organisation of the Lib Dems. However, does anyone else think that using the name of another party in this way at election time is just, well, a little naughty? I mean, it would be like me choosing to describe myself as a Scottish Labour National Party candidate off the back of a membership of the SNP's trade union affiliate.

Frankly, I think I preferred them when they confined themselves to dodgy bar graphs and the usual 'can't win here' porkies about the other parties.

When Scotland Calls...

No doubt timed to coincide with the SNP unveilling an advert showing 100 leading business people who endorse the party, today's Sun carries an advert from a few ex-footballers and managers, speaking out against independence and in support of the union.

Their ad begins with the assertion that 'We are proud Scots', alongside the claim that 'When Scotland calls, we answer'. A touch self-regarding, perhaps, but all fair enough. But I did laugh when it was pointed out to me by a friend that a signatory to this missive was one Walter Smith Esq, erstwhile manager of Scotland. Now, this couldn't possibly be the same Walter Smith who decided to put club before country by walking out on Scotland in the middle of a European Championship qualifying campaign, could it?

It would seem that it could. Aye, Scotland's a great wee place right enough, just providing we keep it confined to the sports pages :-)

Whoopdedoo For Standy, Pointy, Lib Dem Leaflets

Blogger Whoopdedoo has plenty to say about the standard of the political leaflets she's received so far in Edinburgh South. Very amusing!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

More In Sorrow - Reprise

Hand-wringing Observer columnist admits he'd rather give legitimacy to an illegal war than support an SNP administration or independence.

Oh, well, at least I can't say I'm surprised...


Thanks to Thames Water, it seems that currently, there is 100 million litres of s**** floating down the River Forth past the end of my street...

Thank heaven, then for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which is offering the view that a 'major solution' is needed. But apart from stopping any more from leaking out, what can they do? Stand on the coastal defences at Seafield and whistle for it to start swimming back?

(Frank Boyle cartoon from Edinburgh Evening News, 23/04/07)

Gigha's A Break From Canvassing

I've spent today in the company of my mate Russell, his sister Vivienne and his friend Jen, campaigning for his mother in her bid to become one of the 3 councilors for the Kintyre and the Islands ward on Argyll and Bute Council. It seemed like a great idea in the pub last night (back in Leith...), but this morning was a bit of a fankle getting bins emptied, dishes washed, windows locked and the cat dispatched to her regular sitter, Richard.

To save him the hassle, I set out to buy both food and cat litter before we left. This led to a bizarre moment in the Tesco on Great Junction Street, when the assistant told me that she had litter, but it was still in the delivery crate so could I come back later in the afternoon? I wonder if she tells cross-legged customers the same thing when they run out of toilet roll? Anyway, all such minor niggles behind us, we duly hit the road at about 11am, only an hour behind our planned schedule.

We reached Tarbert in under 3 hours, which was reasonable going given the number of dawdling Sunday drivers about the place (we wouldn't have got there at all yesterday, thanks to a lorry spilling Formic Acid all over the road). And after a cup of tea and a sandwich courtesy of Russell's mum, we all piled back into the car and headed off to catch the Gigha ferry. There's only about 60 houses on Gigha, so given the size of the ward, it would have been an easy place for candidates to overlook. However, suitably armed with our leaflets and a couple of SNP umbrellas to advertise our presence, off we went round the houses.

It was my first visit to the island, and for all that the day was dull and dreich, the beaches were still the equal of anything I've seen in the Caribbean. There's been a fair amount of development there too, with a number of new houses around the jetty area, many of them by the looks of things being occupied by young families.

All to the good. I'm sure it would be an idyllic place to bring up children, and with the community recently having bought the island, there seems to be a real spirit about the place. It was epitomised for me by a man who having earlier offered to deliver our leaflets to the rest of the island, popped into the hotel we were having a quick drink in before the ferry came back. His outlook was straightforward - having campaigned for the 'independence' of his island, he said, he was now going to do exactly the same for his country. Fair play.

The evening ended in the back bar of the Tarbert Hotel, perhaps predictably in a debate about politics. I got involved in a fairly robust exchange with one punter, in which he expressed his extreme dislike of Labour alongside his continued scepticism over the SNP. My parting shot that if he wasn't going to do any good, that he should at least avoid doing any harm, seemed to touch a nerve. But having listened in to all this badinage, I just wonder how the Finnish barmaid, who claimed that the discussion was 'educational' for someone 'uneducated' like her (aye, right!), will decide to cast her vote?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

'Scots and Independent' Banned In China!


Perhaps the pen is mightier than the sword. Still, it makes you realise how fortunate we are...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies and Labour Party Leaflets

I was the recipient this morning of no fewer than three leaflets from the Labour Party. Sadly, two of the three are glossy (or should that be Panglossy?), so they have few alternative uses around the home. However, the one which really stuck out was the party’s official Election Communication for the Lothians.

It’s printed on a piece of very flimsy 1/3 A4 card, and says not a word about what Labour has achieved in office or what they plan to do if returned. Instead, they give an example of an ‘average family’ (Question - why does their ‘average family’ always seem to consist of a firefighter and a nurse cohabiting? Does their publicity guru have a thing for uniforms or something?), whom they contend would be £913 per year worse off if the SNP were to win power.

That seems an unusually precise figure, although sadly no-one in the Labour team has seen fit to explain how they have arrived at this amount. It’s also significantly at variance with the £5,000 per family figure they have on their billboards and party political broadcasts currently. To make things even clearer, there is considerable confusion amongst Labour spokespeople as to whether this £5,000 figure relates to alleged SNP spending commitments; or to the supposed ‘borrowing requirement’ identified by the now discredited GERS report, divided by the number of households in Scotland.

So far in this campaign, they’ve tried to terrify us with ‘deficits’ of £6bn (Labour’s North-East Scotland leaflet), £7bn (their analysis of supposed SNP spending commitments), £11.9bn (GERS), and £13bn (Labour press conference). Quite clearly, they are just making it up as they go along. Perhaps more to the point, though, if I were to speak to their economic team (assuming it even exists), would I even get an attempt at an explanation for all these competing figures, or would they all be too busy sitting around on what they think are their elbows to give me a proper answer?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Curiouser and Curiouser

Over the last few days, The Scotsman has been running an online poll to ask readers whether they think Jack McConnell or Alex Salmond would make the best First Minister. It had been chugging along fairly slowly since it started, with Salmond enjoying a consistent 84%-16% margin over McConnell, albeit with fewer than 2,000 votes cast.

You can probably imagine my surprise then to find out this afternoon that McConnell had turned things round. From a position of trailing heavily, McConnell now led Salmond by 70%-30%, an achievement which had seen nearly 8,000 votes piled on in just in a matter of hours!

It seems that I'm not the only one to be surprised by this Lazarus-type comeback. So, where has this sudden rush of votes come from? Has Jack perhaps learned how to use the internet at last?

For Whom The Bell Tolls

It's been a busy weekend (one party, a visit to Stirling and a Scots Independent article which needed written in a hurry). However, in the meantime, here's an interesting article written by broadcaster Alex Bell for, on the curious approach of the Scottish press to the current election campaign.

This afternoon, though, the bell tolling may be for Defence Secretary Des Browne, who has the unenviable task of explaining to the Commons why he allowed the 15 captured Royal Navy personnel to sell their stories to the press. The decision was wrong on so many levels it's difficult to know where to begin. However, it's hardly the worst strategic choice ever made by this government, so it's hard to fathom why Tony Blair has allowed the pressure to build up on him in this way.

Maybe to shaft one of the Chancellor's allies before he departs this political life? Who knows, but it seems unlikely. Browne is a fairly dull and dilligent politician about whom it is difficult to have any strong feelings. However, even less fathomable is the behaviour of Gordon Brown, who has refused conspicuously to stand up for his ally.

Is he now so terrified of alienating anyone on his way to Number 10 that he can't even muster up some basic loyalty for a friend in need? We all know that Brown has made a lot of enemies on his way to the top. But if he won't even ride to the rescue of Browne, just what sort of slippery, gutless, spineless creature are a small cabal of Labour MPs set to inflict on us as Prime Minister once Blair rides off into the sunset?

As Jeremy Thorpe once remarked, 'Greater love hath no man, than that he lay down his friends for his life'.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Labour Campaign Grinds To Halt

Says it all, really.

(With thanks to Holyroodbelle for the pic).

SNP Manifesto Launch

I spent this morning at the SNP manifesto launch, held up at the Lindsay Stewart Lecture Theatre on Napier University's Craiglockhart Campus. It's a striking building from the outside, offering an equally striking view over Edinburgh from inside. It's just as well that there's window blinds installed, otherwise I can imagine the attention of students wandering away from their lecturer to the city skyline instead!

There were no such problems today, though, as the media packed in to question the man who looks increasingly as if he will be the next First Minister of Scotland. Grilled by a press corps determined to barbeque him on any number of issues from local tax to the economics of independence, an entirely unscripted Alex Salmond turned in a thoroughly assured performance. There might have been a change in style in recent months commensurate with the SNP's lead position in the polls, but there was still room for a piece of vintage Salmond tail-tweaking, when he remarked about how his relationship with Gordon Brown would probably be better than that which Brown shares with Tony Blair.

After Labour's disastrous manifesto launch and the Lib Dems' hapless efforts yesterday, it was important for the SNP that this passed off without a hitch. That's exactly what happened, and all those involved can give themselves a huge pat on the back. Sure, the Daily Record will carp tomorrow and there'll probably be a bit of bad-tempered harumphing from The Times, but if they were being honest, no-one could have left without at least a grudging respect for how professionally the whole affair, and indeed the whole SNP campaign to date, has been conducted. Just 21 days to go...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Jack - 'Out Of All My Top Priorities, This Is The Top One'

So now we know. 'Education, education, education', the infamous pre-1997 Blairite mantra, is to have yet another comeback tour if Labour get back in (watch out Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt). After jostling with a range of issues to be the 'top priority' for Labour over the past few years, it will now take pride of place, even ahead of health, with, according to McConnell, all other departments being forced to 'cut their cloth' in consequence.

But we've been hearing this for the past 9 years, so what is Labour planning to do that it couldn't have done earlier? What's that, Jack? Get more children to learn modern languages? That sounds like a good idea, but tell me Jack, wasn't it your Executive which removed the requirement for Scottish pupils to learn a language up to the age of 16, leading to a 13% reduction in the numbers presented for examination? So would that mean that your promises on education are a case of déjà vu, or when it comes to delivery, perhaps even jamais vu? Oh dear, Jack, and you a former maths teacher and all. Go to the bottom of the class...

But licking her wounds this morning must be Cathy Jamieson. Given the task of explaining how Labour's plans to introduce extra council tax bands might work on Newsnight Scotland, she turned in an excruciatingly abject performance. She couldn't give elementry answers on how many people would be affected at each end, or explain how the numbers would add up. As it happens, by introducing a new top band and a new bottom band, Labour are expecting 11,000 householders to bail out nearly 500,000 others.

In the Orkney Islands, for instance, there are only two homes in Band H, so the entire burden will fall on either one or two householders! Labour's position yesterday was a bit of a mess, but to describe it today as shambolic would be an act of irrational charity.

Newsnight Scotland clips only stay online for 24 hours. Get it while its hot, and marvel at how Cathy could ever have been let loose on the government of Scotland. Remember - she's one of the better ones!

UPDATE: Now that the Newsnight clip has disappeared into the ether, here's a transcript of the exchange between Cathy Jamieson and presenter Gordon Brewer. My commiserations to the poor SNP press officer who drew the short straw and had to type this out!

UPDATE 2: Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, her performance has been saved for posterity!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid...

...if you are an AC Milan or Bayern Munich supporter.

Maybe a UEFA Cup spot for Aberdeen next season isn't such a bad option after all!

Taxing Times for Labour

The Labour Party has been scathing in recent weeks about the SNP’s proposals to scrap the Council Tax and replace it with an income based alternative. It’s been described variously by Labour spokespeople as a tax rise for low earners (Not so - 90% would pay the same or less); and as a tax against small businesses (Again, not so - businesses pay separate business rates, not council tax or the SNP’s proposed replacement).

The argument for a local income tax is a simple one. Essentially, the value of your property bears little or no relation to your ability to contribute towards meeting the costs of the local services we all use. And if you are on a low income or live on your own, despite the various ‘reliefs’ which exist, the tax can still represent a very large proportion of your overall income.

Labour knows this, which is why wee Jack is waffling at the moment about including ‘extra bands’ for the Council Tax, in order to make it fairer. The trouble is, including more bands would do no such thing, since the general rise in house prices since the last revaluation would move only a small number of homes up or down a band relative to where they sit currently. It would do nothing to counter the ability to pay argument which is currently driving the debate forward. And the killer for Labour is that as history shows, property tax revaluations are about as popular with the voters as a fart in a space-suit.

Labour’s arguments don’t seem to be cutting much ice just now, since according to SNP polling, 71% of voters want to see the Council Tax gone. This is most likely why the Edinburgh Labour Party has made a very welcome concession in its local manifesto, where with commendable candour, it states that:

“The other big expense for everyone is Council Tax… …we know that Council Tax, as it is organised at the moment, isn’t always fair, with poor people paying a larger proportion of their income than rich people.

Sounds like an argument for a local income tax to me. Trouble is, notwithstanding this display of local disquiet, Edinburgh Labour is running on the same commitment to keep the Council Tax as wee Jack and the rest of the Labour Party. Despite this plaintive plea for mercy from Labour’s Embra Cooncillors, the fact remains that the only way to get rid of the Council Tax is to get rid of Labour. Period.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Independence Dealt A Trump Card

Who’d have thunk it? Donald Trump, New York property developer extraordinaire and star of ‘The Apprentice’, has given his views on Scottish Independence to the Sunday Times. Amidst dire warnings from the Chancellor of ‘instability’ leading to a ‘flight of investors’ if anyone other than Labour ends up running Scotland post-May, the man behind a planned US$500m leisure investment in North-East Scotland has signaled that he would feel equally comfortable doing business in an independent Scotland:

“I think Scotland is an amazing place and the people are incredible’, says Trump. ‘ I think if they set their minds to do something, they can do whatever they want. The biggest people in New York are from Scotland. They are a tremendous success. Scotland will always be a success, whether it is independent or not independent.”

Whoops! There goes another rubber tree plant. However, the politics of fear and uncertainty remain to the fore. Edinburgh’s Ian Rankin, author of the Inspector Rebus novels, has spoken out in recent days against independence, on the grounds that he feels the Scots are ‘too chippy’ as a nation to make a go of it. He’s entitled to his view, but I find his ‘we’re not worthy’ argument a very strange one indeed. (That said, he does offer this today).

Scotland and her people, like any country on the planet, are not without their flaws and foibles. But I wonder what sort of ‘purity test’ of the national character, such as it exists, we would have to pass before Rankin would change his mind on this point. I’m assuming he doesn’t intend to include himself amongst those he deems to be too chippy to make a go of it, but amidst the barrage of statistics and claims driving the debate at present, it does seem a rather eccentric contribution to have made.

It’s almost like the ‘subsidised Scot’ argument. They must exist, because Labour and the unionist-minded press never tire of telling us they do. However, confront those making the argument, even amongst voters, and it is never they who are subsidised personally. Oh, no, it’s someone else who’s on the scrounge. They earn every penny and have worked hard for all they've got.

As they probably have, which makes tracking down the subsidised Scot an elusive business indeed. A prime example of the same argument was used on one of the Scotsman message boards today, where one Jeremiah claimed not to understand how the 2.5m Scots in work could ever be able to support the 2.5m Scots not in work (that’s presumably the young and the pensioners as well as the unemployed).

Well, I’ll stick my neck out here and suggest it would happen in much the same way as the 29m Britons in work manage to support the remaining 30m who are not. I’m willing to bet that said punter has never met this fabled subsidised Scot, any more than he or she has ever met their English or Welsh counterpart, who logically must also exist in similar numbers.

I’ll finish with this observation. I went out on Friday night and was quizzed at length by one of the company (an SNP-sceptic) about the current state of political play and on why I thought Scotland should be independent. In the end it was a case of ‘no sale’, but on the grounds that he just didn’t see what independence would do to change things for the better, rather that it was somehow difficult or unviable. A bit like Ian Rankin, but minus the chippiness argument.

That sort of view I can respect. I hadn’t gone out to the pub with the intention of converting anyone, but if I failed on this occasion, it was down to me and me alone – I’ll just have to do better with my pitch next time I get the chance. What puzzles me is why so many capable Scots, Ian Rankin included, seem to set a bar for Scotland that they would never dream of applying to any other nation on the face of the earth?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Vacancy - Proofreader Required

This is taken from a Lib Dem campaign freesheet in Penicuik:

I think this is even better than the leaflet they put out in the same seat back in 2001, which committed the Lib Dems to improving 'pubic transport'. Now, that would have been worth voting for...

(With thanks to Anastasia Beaumont-Bott for the pic)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Right for Scotland?

The right wing of Scottish politics seems agog at the prospects of the Scottish Tories withdrawing themselves from the UK Conservative party and going it alone. Fraser Nelson, he of the irritable vowel syndrome, appears to be acting as a conduit for the idea through the pages of the Spectator. Perhaps tellingly, no-one in the Scottish Tory hierarchy is running a mile from the notion.

I’ve blogged previously about my feelings on an independent Scottish Tory Party. While any such venture would play an important part in making Scottish independence a success, it’s something which I would have expected to happen after any vote for independence, rather than in advance. Nevertheless, I sense that this is all kite-flying at the moment and nothing more. If it's going to happen at all, it won't be until after May and until after Annabel Goldie has decided to spend more time with her petunias.

However, the perennial question of ‘independence for what?’ remains. The Strathclyde Commission, held after the 1997 wipeout, gave the Scottish Tories a set-up which allowed them considerably more autonomy from London than Labour, but they've conspicuously failed to use any of it. For that reason, even if they did cut adrift from the English Tories, it would still be the same people with the same tired old ideas trying to run the show, insisting that 'virtual' apron strings remain in place.

Although the Tories would still nominally be unionist under any such arrangement, administrative and policy independence would shoot right through that argument – after all, if you need independence from Westminster to run your party properly, why shouldn't Scotland have independence so the country can do the same? Nonetheless, if there’s anything in this story, it looks like the Scottish Tories might finally be being dragged kicking and screaming into the mainstream of modern Scottish political life.

However, you don't change the culture of a party overnight, so they’ll need to do much more than simply copy the Bavarian model to prove their independence from London. Otherwise, people will rightly conclude that the whole thing is just a cosmetic con trick, a bit like when Windscale was repackaged as Sellafield. Another hiding at the polls is just what the Tories need if any mood for change is to be suitably galvanised.

The Best Wee Numpty in the World ( updated)

I'm a bit behind some others with this, but who cares? It's times like this I wish I could play the guitar as well :-)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Press and Journal Lost At Sea

I finished today up on Dundee Law, the extinct volcano which towers over the city, giving magnificent views in every direction. Even high up, the mercury was reaching 20C (70F) in the early evening – a minor miracle for Scotland in early April.

The occasion was a flying visit by Alex Salmond, for a photo-opp to unveil the Tayside and Fife breakdown of a recent YouGov poll on the forthcoming Holyrood elections. Even allowing for the enhanced margin of error, it still puts the SNP the proverbial country mile ahead of every other party, including Labour, which once had this part of Scotland in its pocket. I’m not going to post the figures, but let’s just say tomorrow’s Courier should make for interesting reading!

The Courier’s north-eastern stablemate, the venerable Press & Journal, carried a frankly daft and febrile feature today based on a straw poll of local businesses. From a total of 21 responses, most of which represented nothing more than a polite refusal to become involved, the P&J claimed to have found 6 businessmen who had said that independence would represent ‘a social and economic disaster and a colossal backward step’.

Trouble was, most of the six had said nothing of the sort, with at least one complaint about the way their comments had been represented landing on the editor’s desk during the afternoon. Of the most outspoken, Maitland Mackie, the P&J did at least have the grace to point out that he had stood unsuccessfully as a Lib Dem against Mr Salmond as recently as 1999. However, the biggest belly-laugh came in the editorial, where they appeared to suggest equivalence between the business success of Mackie and that of George Mathewson, the former chairman of Edinburgh-based banking giant RBS who recently endorsed the SNP and independence.

Let me say that coming from a farming background myself, I have the utmost respect for the ice cream business Mackie has built up over the years. As the employer of 70+ people, he's without doubt a serious enough figure in his own right. However, surely comparing his achievements to Matthewson’s stewardship of RBS to take it to being the 5th largest bank in the world, really is taking things a bit far.

Monday, April 02, 2007

More New Links

I've added a few new links. On the SNP front, my good pals Chris Stephens and Anne McLaughlin have recently joined the small corner of the blogosphere that is forever Scotland, as have Lachie MacNeill and an unknown (to me at least) member of the party’s student wing, who goes under the moniker of ‘Waxing the Lyrical’.

A blog which I’ve dipped in and out of for a while is that written by Doctorvee, who is also a leading light in the Scottish Blogging Roundup. Elsewhere, Bill Cameron writes a good blog covering a wide range of subjects. Living between Scotland and Spain, he also intersperses his conservative-leaning political observations with some impressive photos from his travels.

Finally, on a more general note, two new Scottish election blogs have started, written by the respective political editors of BBC Scotland and Scottish Television,
Brian Taylor and Bernard Ponsonby. While it will be interesting to read their thoughts as the campaign develops, I hope that they choose to run them as blogs rather than as diaries. As any party activist will tell you, the best people to drink with at any political conference are the journos. A wee bit of banter and indiscretion now and again helps keep the wheels moving!