Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An Inconvenient Irony

I've just received a copy of 'Green' through my door. Never heard of it? Tsk, tsk. It's 'The Green energy magazine for you', brought to you by Scottish Power.

Inside, it's packed full of the sort of third-rate, self-congratulatory B.S. which afflicts corporate communications everywhere. And interspersed with the fascinating articles on energy saving lightbulbs and how important it is to switch off appliances, there's a big feature on how the film 'An Inconvenient Truth', made by 'creator of the internet' Al Gore - a man so wooden you'd probably be arrested if you tried to cut him down - is to be shown in our schools. Haud me back, as they say.

My flat is double glazed. My lightbulbs are all energy efficient and never burn unless needed. I never leave anything on standby. My Skoda Asbo does 60mpg if I behave myself. I telecommute two days each week, put on a jumper when it gets cold, and will be replacing my energy inefficient boiler as soon as I have the readies to do so. I wash clothes on the lowest temperature I can get away with, spurn products with excess packaging and am about to get involved in the Edinburgh kerbside recycling scheme. In short, I certainly don't need to be told how to save the planet by Scottish Power's PR agency.

I've blogged before about the cornucopia of keech which arrives in the mail at the Scottish Parliament. That might be fair enough in the context of lobbying an MP or MSP, but being a serial opter-outer of all marketing bumph at both point of sale and through the Mail Preference Service, it really does nark me to get this sort of unsolicited, preachy pap through my door.

Want to help me save the environment, Scottish Power? Then please stop sending me junk like this.

Quick Question

Q. What's the difference between Alex Salmond and 'Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution', Colonel Gaddafi?

A. One leads an oil rich country which enjoys 'strong co-operation' with the British Government, and with whom Tony Blair is happy to be pictured. The other is First Minister of Scotland.

Maybe this is what Blair meant when he promised us 'big tent' politics...

Monday, May 28, 2007

It's Early Days

Well, that's two weeks into an SNP government and the sun still rises in the east; the earth still turns on its axis; no-one's been forced to sell their first born son into slavery; and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem curiously absent from the horizon. More prosaically, business confidence appears to be on the rise, exposing those who claimed to foresee a flight of business from an SNP-run Scotland as the charlatans they always were. With no-one leaping out of the top floor windows of a burning Standard Life building, or running for the first shuttle to London (Michelle Mone's gone awfy quiet, don't you think?), it looks like another demon has been exorcised.

I had my doubts about minority government, but thus far, the signs look reasonably promising. Having to build up consensus for policies instead of being able to railroad them through, might spare us the legislative diarrhoea which afflicted the first eight years of devolution. Fair enough, after 300 years of being a legal afterthought, much needed done. But banning fur farms which don't exist or getting into a fankle over fox hunting? I mean, come on.

Although it will probably take the Lib Dems a while to get used to not being in government, oddly, it seems to be the Tories, the last bastions of FPTP winner takes all absolutism, who have best grasped the possibilities offered by minority government. Sure, the potential is there for the other parties to bring everything to a grinding halt, but with a 2/3rds majority needed to bring down the administration and the SNP having over 1/3rd of the MSPs, it ain't going to happen unless a few SNP MSPs decide to vote against their own side in a confidence motion.

No, while Labour still chunters away as if Scottish voters have somehow conspired to cheat the party of its birthright, the Tories are the ones bringing forward proposals to the SNP on which they'd be prepared to co-operate. Together with the Greens on ship-to-ship transfers, and potentially the Lib Dems on council tax, a coherent program for government should be possible with sufficient give and take on all sides. Only Jack McConnell is left arguing for a demolition derby of unamended manifesto proposals.

There's been a marked improvement in the quality of ministers, and so far partisanship has been at a premium. Keeping Elish Angiolini as the Lord Advocate but out of Cabinet was a shrewd move, allowing the SNP to retain a talented member of the government while responding to concerns about the politicisation of the prosecution service. As Iain MacWhirter writes in today's Herald, it might come back to bite the government later, but it was still the right thing to do.

It's not all good, though. I'm still trying to stifle a yawn at the myriad 'conflict with Westminster' stories which have cropped up to date (is it too cynical to wonder if most were drafted in advance?). If revisiting the issues of attendance allowance; fishing representation in Europe and reminding people that nuclear power is neither economical nor necessary in Scotland can be seen as provoking 'conflict', it just goes to show how unambitious previous administrations must have been.

Nothing that the SNP has said so far in government would have raised so much as an eyebrow in Flanders, Bavaria or Catalunia. But the relationship between Edinburgh and London does need to be tested, if only to establish some ground rules on how the two governments will deal with one another in future. Labour's informal networks could allow differences to be resolved privately in the past, but with both Blair and Brown apparently refusing to lift the phone to the First Minister, some government protocols and political lines of communication need to be established.

Conflict for its own sake is a waste of everyone's time and energy. However, honest dialogue which establishes boundaries, clarifies relationships and resolves areas of contention, can only be of benefit to Scotland and Whitehall. Having government ministers who won't always feel compelled to keep their counsel when differences appear between Holyrood and Westminster is a huge step forward for the good governance of Scotland. Handled properly, it can be a maturing process for both parties.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot

In today’s debate on the future of government in Scotland, sundry Labour backbenchers started taunting their SNP counterparts. A particular bugbear appeared to be the SNP’s desire to secure 1.5% efficiency savings in each year of government, which prompted growls of ‘how many wurkurz ur yez gonny sack?’, and ‘whit services ur yez gonny cut?’.

Their faces were a picture when Wendy Alexander, responding for Labour, instead chose to criticise the SNP target of 1.5% for not being as ambitious as the 3% savings targets set by the government in Westminster.

Has ever a leadership campaign sunk so catastrophically before even leaving the harbour?

Glug, glug, glug…

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You Couldn't Make It Up

Nuclear power is needed to help reduce carbon emissions and to ensure that the UK has secure energy supplies in the future, Tony Blair has told MPs.

BP has abandoned plans for a £500m UK carbon capture power plant at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, it has emerged.

'The energy company said the decision was a major disappointment but blamed Westminster delays over support. About 1,000 jobs were expected to be created if the green project was ultimately given the go-ahead'.

Some are fond of asserting that the lights will go out unless we build new nuclear power stations in Scotland. If this is anything to go by, the only way to keep the lights on will be to get rid of the sclerotic museum piece that is Westminster government.

Bloody idiots.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Power Play

The Hunterston 'B' nuclear power station in Ayrshire has come back on-line, after being out of commission for nearly a year. However, in reporting this, BBC Scotland has just repeated the commonplace claim from the pro-nuclear lobby that nuclear stations generate half of all Scotland's electricity.

This is rubbish, and so it can be proven. According to these Scottish Executive/DTI figures, Scotland's total electricity output is 45,517 GWh. Of this, nuclear accounts for 15,863 GWh, or just under 35% of total output. A lot, but nothing like half of Scottish output. It's not even half of Scotland's requirements, as you find if you delve further into the figures.

Of Scotland's total electricity output, just 32,068 GWh is consumed in Scotland. Some 5,208 GWh is lost (mostly in transmission); while 8,034 GWh is exported to England and Northern Ireland through the two interconnectors.

Hunterson 'B' itself produces something like 7900 GWh, or just under 50% of Scotland's total nuclear output (the remainder coming from Torness). In other words, when Hunterston closed, it would have been enough to reduce exports to almost zero, unless the 'slack' was taken up by excess capacity elsewhere.

But common sense should tell us that if nuclear accounts for half our requirements, and Hunterston accounts for half of our nuclear output (which it does), then Hunterston alone would be responsible for meeting some 25% of our needs. Therefore, the outage would have reduced Scotland's capacity to just 75% of normal levels, which would have meant the nightmare of the lights going out becoming a reality.

Did you notice that happening last year? Me neither. This 50% from nuclear figure only holds if you assume that unlike every other form of generation in Scotland, nothing is lost in transmission, and further that it's only coal, hydro and wind power etc which we export.

Lies, damn lies and statistics, eh?

A Scottish Olympic Team?

Not being one of life's natural athletes, with the exception of football and occasionally rugby, sport is something I find it hard to get too worked up about these days. I go to the gym, I occasionally play football, I like to swim when I can find the time, but nowadays life just seems to get in the way.

It's not that I don't admire the dedication of our athletes or their physical prowess, it's just that, well, in general I'm not very interested. Frankly, I'd rather go to the pub or read a book or stick on some music or phone a friend. But for some reason, regardless as to the sport, my interest level increases when it's a Scot that's competing.

There's nothing particularly logical or rational about it, it's just the way it is. Consequently, a lifetime of complete indifference towards cricket melted away when Scotland competed in this year's World Cup. Similarly, my disdain for tennis in general and Wimbledon in particular disappeared when Andy Murray came on the scene.

Suddenly, I started to see that men's tennis could be about much more than simply hitting the ball as hard as you could. There was, or could be, an artistry in there too, allowing brains to beat brawn. More interestingly, I began to see that each point was about manoeuvring your opponent into a position where you could play your winning shot, while trying to get them to run around so they would tire first. I saw subtlety where before I had seen nothing but brute force. And if I were 13 instead of 30, I'd probably be out on a tennis court right now, determined to be the next Andy Murray.

I'm racking my brains just now to think of any non-Scottish sports stars who've ever had that same sort of effect on me when competing at national level, and you know what? I'm really struggling. I used to be an alright sprinter, but neither Carl Lewis or Linford Christie did it for me in the way that Alan Wells did. Steve Redgrave's achievements in rowing are beyond compare, yet somehow I still feel more pride at the all-Scottish curling team wining Olympic Gold. As I said, there's nothing logical or rational about it. It's purely an emotional thing.

I was 10 when the Commonwealth Games last came to Edinburgh, and it inspired all the kids in my street to get into badminton, bowling, running, cycling - anything. It was happening in our city, in our country - there were friends of friends of big brothers competing; people from your dad's bowling club in the Scottish team - it was exciting, it was inspiring, and made all the more so for us because the athletes were competing as a Scottish team.

Like I said, there's no logic or reason for why we should have felt that way - it's just the way it was. In the 1980's, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe might have had their titanic battles over the 800m crown, and Steve Cram might have been the golden boy of distance running. However, it was Tom McKean, Yvonne Murray and Liz Lynch as she then was, who got us putting on our trainers and running round the park in our little corner of Edinburgh.

Does wearing a Scottish shirt put an extra spring in your step; a British one make you run with the psychological effect of wearing divers' boots, or vice versa? I don't know. What I do know is that you could make Morris Dancing an Olympic Sport and I'd stay up till half 4 in the morning to watch the Scottish team. However, while I'll sit glued to the 6 Nations playing rugby, I'll switch over when the British Lions play, not because it offends me as a Scottish nationalist (it doesn't), but because I just don't care. There, I've said it. Go away and shoot me.

Individual talent is no respecter of national boundaries, and the best talents train at the best facilities all round the world. That's why I find the argument that athletes competing in a Scottish Olympic team would be shut out from British facilities that we'd helped to pay for, such a bizarre argument. Similarly, the idea that our athletes would win fewer medals than they would as part of a UK team is utterly risible, epitomising all that's worst about the 'awww, we're rubbish!', 'expect the worst and you'll never be disappointed', loser mentality that stifles so much talent and potential in Scotland.

Ultimately, the arguments for a British Olympic team hold the same force as arguments to scrap the 'home' nations' football and rugby teams to allow us to compete as a bigger entity. Shared facilities, no duplication of taxation to pay for it all, everyone working as part of a team, the shared camaraderie as we all come together as one, the pride in our collective breast as our flag runs up the pole to the sound of 'God save the Queen'... aye, right. There might be a logic in there, somewhere, but even if there is it still leaves me completely cold.

We rightly celebrate the individual talent, but what is it that inspires the talent to reveal itself in the first place, or develops the enthusiasm for sport which lasts a lifetime? If I and my friends from 20 years ago are anything to go by, it's from seeing people just like you, who come from places like you come from, competing and winning at the highest level. The way to ensure that is probably a Scottish Olympic team, which everyone can support, regardless as to their politics. But let's not fall out over it. It's only sport, after all...

UPDATE: Just found an opposing view from ex-Labour candidate Kezia Dugdale. Each to their own.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wendy 'Ready To Run'

From Scotland on Sunday:

Another leading candidate for the post, should McConnell quit, is new shadow justice secretary Margaret Curran. Speculation is growing within the Labour Party that the two may sign up to a 'joint ticket'.

Both, however, are understood to want to dampen down speculation they will challenge McConnell. A source close to [Wendy] Alexander added: "The person who makes the wrong move at the wrong time will come unstuck, because they will come across as disloyal."

Whoops... that'll be no marks for courage or for loyalty, then.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

TFI Saturday

The wheels are moving. We have a Presiding Officer, we have a First Minister, we have Government Ministers. MSPs' staff even have new offices to move to, although to be perfectly honest, I was quite happy where I was on the first floor. But, status appears to have been attached to the offices on the top floor, so instead of just moving everyone along, Labour are moving down and our lot are moving up. Symbolic, perhaps, but a pain in the arse nonetheless.

For one thing, it's meant that there was no point in anyone unpacking anything from our sealed crates this week. Even simple tasks like taking a phone message or writing a letter became like a scavenger hunt, as rumours of supplies of stationery sitting somewhere swept the building. Hopefully, that will sort itself out next week, but there's been altogether too much of the pioneer spirit about things this week for my liking.

Since Shona has been appointed as Minister for Public Health, her office is now over in the Ministerial Block. Apart from the large window which looks onto the Calton Cemetery, it's identical in most respects to the one she leaves behind. It's not clear who'll be sitting where yet, but I'd imagine that the floorspace will be made up of MSP staff, their new Private Secretaries from the Executive, and much of the old SNP press & research team. The banter could be pretty fierce at times where we used to sit - I guess those of us on the move will have to learn to tone it down a bit now we're amongst 'civilians'.

Anyway, I'm away to do something I haven't done in months - go to the gym. Then I've got a ceilidh to go to later tonight to celebrate a friend's wedding. I might not be able to walk tomorrow, but now the election's over, it's time [shudder] to get back into some good habits...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Into Orbit


A Moment In History

In the end, it was almost unceremonial, mundane, matter of fact. The various party leaders set out their stalls, were applauded by their own sides, before MSPs cast their votes. There were no surprises - each MSP did as they were expected to, voting for their own leader, then abstaining once their favoured candidate had been eliminated. And at the end of it, with not a particle of smoke to clear, Alex Salmond, to no-ones great surprise, emerged as the Parliament's nominee for First Minister.

In the speeches which followed, each leader was keen to stress their desire for a new, consensual style of politics. In truth, they'll have no other option. All are minorities now, and the fact that there's no automatic coalition of 65 votes to railroad through proposals will have to mean debate, discussion and compromise replacing assertion and the comfort of fixed positions. Having never before held power at this level, perhaps it will be easier for the SNP to adapt to the restrictions of minority government than it would have been for others. Time will tell.

But for all the quiet dignity and understatement, it was never going to be possible to overlook the significance of today's events. It hit me for the first time when I saw the Labour group taking up position in the chamber where once the SNP group had sat. There were grown men crying - SNP members who have toiled for decades without the slightest expectation of any reward; who have sacrificed career opportunities; balanced their family lives precariously - all having to pinch themselves to make sure it was happening for real. And then came the real confirmation, as Alex Salmond was greeted on the steps of St Andrew's House by the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Executive.

A day that many nationalists thought they'd never see, and which many unionists hoped would never arrive, has come. It's not independence, but it is a significant milestone on the way. Voters, in an almost peculiarly Scottish way, seem to want to see what the SNP are made of, but without giving the party too much free reign. The hopes of a great many people now rest on the shoulders of Alex Salmond and his chosen lieutenants. It's a huge challenge - I hope we're equal to it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Heart Of Stone Not To Laugh

To get just 8 votes from your colleagues in trying to become one of the Deputy Presiding Officers really does take some doing, not least because of the complete lack of self-awareness it implies.

Take a bow, then, Jamie Stone MSP. I salute your courage and indefatigabilitly!

Those Presiding Officer Results in full:

Presiding Officer - Alex Fergusson MSP
Deputy Presiding Officer - Alasdair Morgan MSP
Deputy Presiding Officer - Trish Godman MSP

Many congratulations to all those elected, and commiserations to all those who were unsuccessful.

UPDATE: Whatever possessed the Lib Dems to put forward two candidates? Presumably, they knew that one strong candidate like Margaret Smith would stand a better chance of success if a no-hope candidate like Jamie Stone simply kept his beak out.

Did someone in the Lib Dem group want to stymie Margaret Smith's chances? Was it all just a big mix-up? And what would either say about the current level of cohesion in their MSP group? Don't miss the next exciting episode...

Chinese Torture

Well, well. Who'd have thought that a few Labour MSPs getting together for a Chinese takeaway and a couple of bottles of Lambrini could have caused such a stushie?

Anyway, in best Private Eye fashion, the comments section is open for you to report that McConnell Menu in full. Was it by turns 'sweet and sour'? Is he seen as a lemon, a chicken or perhaps both? Or did they push the boat out and go for the Lame Peking Duck? You decide...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Lib Dems' Big Huff

Tom Gordon, in today's Sunday Times, has lifted the lid on the fatuous posturing from the Lib Dems about why they can't sit down and talk with the SNP re a coalition for Holyrood. Now, Tom is not always the easiest guy to deal with, but he's certainly not in the habit of printing anything which he knows to be untrue. For that reason, pay particular attention to the quote attributed to the Lib Dem present at their first Holyrood group meeting since the election:

'The decision to rebuff Salmond's overtures to support the SNP in a coalition was swift.

'Amongst those most fiercely opposed to a deal were Tavish Scott , the party's deputy leader, and Mike Rumbles, an influential backbencher. "If Nicol had made a deal with the SNP, even if the referendum was off the table, there was a fear that Tavish and Mike would have walked," said one of those present. "There was a power struggle going on between Nicol, who wanted another coalition, and Tavish, who wanted no deal at all costs.'

So there you have it. If that's the true state of play within the Lib Dem group at Holyrood, then they've probably done the SNP a favour by walking away from a deal. The question for the future is, once the Lib Dems have ensconced themselves in fourth party obscurity on the backbenches, will Tavish have the guts to take Nicol out, or does he just want the power of leadership without the responsibility that goes along with it?

UPDATE: Here's a typically erudite and reasonable, albeit slightly different take on events, from veteran journalist (and, for what it's worth, former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate), Neal Ascherson.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Lib Dems and SNP Agree Coalition

But don't get too excited... it's for Edinburgh City Chambers, rather than the Holyrood Chamber. However, it does mean that Labour is out of office in Edinburgh for the first time since 1984.

A lot has changed since then, most of it for the better, even if some things have happened in spite of the varous councils rather than because of them. However, Labour has been dining out on Council ventures like the Gyle Centre, the EICC, the Festival Theatre and the Exchange financial district, for far too long now. The glory days were the best part of a decade ago, and since then, a smug, complacent, 'we ken best' mentality has been allowed to set in, particularly over transport, which I can't say I'll be sad to see the back of.

So the capital, along with East and West Lothian, becomes yet another Labour citadel to fall. At this rate, they might not even be left in charge of COSLA. Now that would represent a new broom indeed!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Aitken Drumming Up Support

Latest word on the slow race to become PO is that Glasgow Tory MSP Bill Aitken is emerging as a potential candidate who would be acceptable to all.

As a JP, he's spent a lifetime sitting up on high, issuing fines to assorted unfortunates for breaching the peace and peeing in the street. He'll be just the man for the job, then!

Hail! The Vanquished Leader Comes!

As the Great Helmsman prepares to let his bottom lip wobble for perhaps the final time, maybe this gem in the New Statesman, scribed by NuLab's favoured pollster, Phillip Gould, will help you overcome the urge to wail and gnash your teeth at our impending plunge into eternal spiritual darkness.

In my case, it lifted my despair so much that I may have ruptured several of my organs in the process. I'll miss you both, Tony and Phillip, but not for the reasons you'd like to think :-)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A New Term and A New Time

It was back to Holyrood for me today, as the MSPs were all sworn in. The SNP has a group of 'new', but still very familiar faces about the place. There's many individual stories to tell, but I am particularly pleased to see Dr Ian McKee finally elected as a member for the Lothians. Having campaigned for him back in 1999 in Edinburgh Central, I'm delighted to see someone of his calibre finally make it. He's a weel-kent face around Edinburgh, and will garner a huge amount of cross-party and non-political goodwill across the city.

While on the subject of the new intake, I must say that it's terrific, if still a little strange, to see so many of those with whom I came through the ranks of the FSN and YSI, taking their seats in Parliament. We might all be better dressed and better fed today than we were back then, but the sense of a new generation in the SNP coming to the fore, is both compelling and wonderfully tangible.

If the glum faces at the swearing in ceremony were anything to go by, today seemed to be the day it sank in for Labour that they are no longer in the lead position in Scottish politics. I was told of an (almost) poignant moment, when Alex Salmond was whisked outside for a TV interview. Looking on as he passed by was one Jack McConnell, perhaps being confronted for the first time with the reality that the incessant clamour of journalists seeking his views on the great issues of the day, is likely now a thing of the past.

With the election of a Presiding Officer now being re-scheduled for next week, even more than usual the Garden Lobby acted as an impromptu clearing house for journalists, MSPs and their bag-carriers. As Holyrood doesn't really do quiet corners, the cacophony slackened off in the afternoon, doubtless so the informal politicking could carry on elsewhere, lubricated by a glass or two of wine and liberated from the prying eyes of others.

The faces might have changed somewhat, but the urge to make deals and build alliances, the very currency of politics anywhere, lives on as strongly as ever at Holyrood.

In For A Nicol

The world and his wife can see that there's no majority in Holyrood for a referendum on independence. So why, then, are the Lib Dems insisting on this being dropped, as a precondition to even sharing a cup of coffee with Alex Salmond and Robin Harper?

Could it be that they don't really want to be in government at all, but don't have the courage to say as much?

(High cartoon from today's 'Scotsman').

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tangled Up In Blue

The Scottish Parliament is due to reconvene tomorrow, for the swearing in of the MSPs and, theoretically at least, for these new MSPs to elect a new Presiding Officer. At Westminster, there is a quaint old ritual that the person elected Speaker is ceremonially dragged to the chair, feigning reluctance all the way. At Holyrood, though, it is beginning to look like the reluctance is very real indeed.

Due to the excruciatingly tight parliamentary arithmetic, neither Labour nor the SNP are keen to let any of their number take the position. However, the person whom all sides agree is the stand-out candidate, Conservative Leader Annabell Goldie, is also ruling herself out at this stage, emboldened by what she sees as her achievement in having led her party to a better than expected result last Thursday.

I've said before that Goldie had a good campaign. Having taken over her party in difficult circumstances, she steadied the ship and saved them from meltdown. In gaining one constituency from the Lib Dems, but losing two on the list thanks to a slightly depressed regional vote, all things considered it was a reasonable night's work. But that really is about all you can say for them, since the harsh reality is that they remain no further forward than they were four years ago.

I'm afraid that this is as good as it's ever going to get for Goldie as Tory leader. She'll be safe for a few months, but then the vultures will start to circle, as others look for someone who might be able to kick-start the Scottish party's fortunes in time for the Westminster elections. There is a huge gulf between the appeal which Cameron's Tories have in the south, and the performance of their Scottish brethren. As admirable an individual as Goldie is, it's hard to see how she, Dave's favourite auntie or not, is going to do anything to revive her party's fortunes by trotting out another four years of dreary slogans about 'bread and butter'.

For many Scots, the Tories are, whether fairly or unfairly, still seen as being beholden to the party in London. The way forward for the Tories is to re-examine their relationship with the London party and to begin to crystalise their professed desire for more powers for Holyrood. Both will likely require the slaying of some sacred cows, and as a member of the old school, die in the last ditch of the union variety of Scottish Tories, it's a task for which Goldie is almost certainly psychologically unprepared.

Whether she realises it or not, the greatest contribution Goldie could make to her party right now is to stand aside as leader, receive the gratitude of her party for services rendered, and thereby allow the reinvigoration of Scottish Toryism which her presence currently inhibits. However, having done so, a greater contribution still could then be hers to make, providing she allows herself to be elected as PO.

Although Tories no longer routinely apologise for their existence in Scotland any more, for many Scots they are still on something of an extended penance. Albeit for different reasons, they face similar issues of trust and competence to those faced by the SNP only a few short years ago.This is where they might find it instructive to look at George Reid and the SNP.

While George Reid resigned his SNP membership upon becoming PO, people never forgot that he remained a nationalist. By common consent, he was an outstanding PO, helping steady the Parliament and entrench it at home, while building a profile for Scotland overseas. I would say that during his period in office, he probably did more to dissipate the ridiculous image of Scottish Nationalists being the hairy-arsed haggis munching mouth-frothing impossibilists of unionist nightmares, than just about anyone else. For that reason alone, the SNP owes him a particular debt of gratitude.

Goldie as PO could perform a similar rehabilitative role for the Scottish Tories, bringing them back firmly into the mainstream in the eyes of the voting public. Since they have already no desire to be in government in Scotland, the Tories have nothing to lose from allowing her to take on the PO position. Even leaving aside the fact that she's far and away the best candidate for the post, if the SNP experience is anything to go by, then arguably the Tories would also have the most to gain by so doing.

Monday, May 07, 2007

New Brooms

Leaving aside the current tango between the SNP and Lib Dems over whether a Holyrood coalition will be possible, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the outcome of the local government elections:

SNP – 363 councillors (29.7% of the total)
Labour – 348 councillors (28.48%)
Lib Dems – 166 councillors (13.6%)
Conservatives – 143 councillors (11.7%)
Others – 194 councillors. (15.9%)

Much of Labour's power base in Scotland came from the local authorities, and the subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle control which this allowed them to exert. Thanks to PR, Labour has now lost 161 (almost a third) of their councillors, sweeping away their one party client states in all but the most unreconstructed parts of West Central Scotland. Even there, they will now face scrutiny from a new cadre of SNP, Conservative and Lib Dem representatives, who will doubtless be keen to subject their local administrations to unprecedented levels of accountability.

Scottish politics was changed utterly and forever last Thursday - I'm just not sure how many of the politicians yet realise how different things are going to be.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Put Up, Or Shut Up

I posted earlier tonight about one Labour candidate's apparent threat to challenge the outcome of last Thursday's Scottish elections, but took it down again since the only outlet carrying the story at the time was the BBC News 24 Headlines. However, since it's now on the BBC website, I'll go ahead.

Let me say this - if anyone from Labour does decide to challenge any result from the Scottish election, then they'd better have two things:

1. Compelling evidence that the result was flawed.

2. A very good explanation as to why the result was not challenged with the Returning Officer concerned before a declaration was made.

If any would-be challenger lacks these, they should think very carefully before invoking any legal processes. Quite frankly, the last thing Scotland needs now is a prolonged period of Florida-style brinkmanship, simply because someone doesn't like how the vote went and sees a possible party advantage from creating uncertainty and instability.

Any allegation of this nature should not be allowed to hang around and for that reason, Labour should state their intentions immediately. If they neither put up or shut up in the next few hours, I don't think I'll be the only one who suspects darker motives than personal disappointment at work.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Was It The Sunday Times Wot Won It?

It may have taken until the last declaration, but with the SNP topping the poll in the Lothians regional ballot, giving the party 3 additional MSPs to Labour's 1, it was the nationalists that finished the election ahead by a nose, with 47 MSPs to Labour's 46. Hardly resounding, but taken with our superior share of the vote and gains at the expenses of both governing parties, it's mandate enough to start putting together an administration.

The big question for me, though, is: 'how many more seats would the SNP have won had it escaped the final two weeks of monstering it received in The Sun and the Daily Record?'. Both rags carried 'features' this week, which urged electors in certain seats to vote tactically against the SNP. Although most would either have ignored the request or reacted with anger, I'm sure that it still had a certain effect on some readers, which may go some way to explaining why the SNP missed a few of its 'easier' target seats, but picked up so many unexpected ones along the way.

I'm told from the Edinburgh council count that our local candidate stormed the New Town, of all places, coming top amongst the first preference votes cast. Maybe the valedictory headline for this election, then, should be that 'It Was The Sunday Times Wot Won It'. Certainly, it can't be comfortable right now to be editor of the Scottish Sun, waiting for that call from Rupert Murdoch so you can explain exactly how you got your call so badly wrong.

And for what it's worth, I've nae sympathy for David Dinsmore at all. If his head is in any kind of noose right now, it'll be one he's tied for himself...

Shagged Out

I've managed about 2 hours sleep in the last 30, which means that as I listen to the remainder of the results as they trickle over the airwaves, I am now doing so somewhat narcoleptically. It's been a great night for the SNP, although the result is looking as tight as the proverbial duck's arse right now, since every FPTP gain for the SNP increases Labour's likelihood of compensation on the lists.

This election has seen two firsts for me - not only did I see my first SNP parliamentary gain in the flesh last night, but I also might now have an SNP MSP in my home seat of Edinburgh East. That means, unless I'm very much mistaken in my sleep-deprived state, that the SNP represents either all or some of every Scottish city - a bit of Glasgow, a bit of Edinburgh, a bit of Aberdeen, most of Inverness, all of Dundee, all of Stirling (and all of Elgin, Brechin & Dunblane as well!).

Another interesting bit of trivia is that each seat that our intern campaigned in (both Dundee seats, Stirling, Western Isles and now Livingston) has now fallen to the SNP. She flies back to Washington DC tomorrow - if that's the effect she has, we should be moving heaven and earth to get her back for the next election :-)

Moving seamlessly from the sublime to the ridiculous, it appears that my old friend Dr Richard Simpson, he who once memorably described striking firefighters as 'fascist bastards', is back in for Labour on the Mid-Scotland and Fife list as well. This means that there might be hope for George Foulkes yet... I bet Labour are now regretting preventing their constituency candidates from standing on the lists.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Waiting Game

It’s 8.30pm, and that’s my part in Dundee SNP's version of 'operation get out the vote' as good as finished. Turnout in both city seats was by all accounts reasonably healthy, even before the expected evening rush. On the whole, SNP voters in the city appear to have been turning out and as such, everyone in the campaign team seems fairly chipper at the moment.

After their poisonous front page today, we’ve been hearing some anecdotal evidence of piles of Sun newspapers being left unsold in some Dundee newsagents, and even of one supermarket taking them off the shelf completely. I really don’t know what to make of their frankly ludicrous ‘Alex Salmond ate my Hamster’- type coverage over the past fortnight. Will people who were swithering about who to vote for be swayed by this sort of crap? I’ve no idea, but I’d like to think that more than a few eyebrows were raised amongst the Record readership by their favourite’s demand that people vote Tory to keep the SNP out.

If the SNP triumphs tonight, it will have broken 2 of the supposedly iron rules of politics: firstly that negative campaigns beat positive campaigns, and secondly that you can’t win a campaign with the tabloid press against you. I’m pleased with the campaign that the SNP has fought – every one of the MSPs the SNP has after tonight can hold their heads up high for getting elected from an honest and principled campaign. Will others be able to do the same?

The very fact that 4 of the ‘quality’ newspapers – the Sunday Herald, Scotland on Sunday, The Sunday Times and The Scotsman - came out for an SNP–led government, speaks volumes for the political shift that there has been in Scottish opinion recently. Whether this is the SNP’s 1992 or their 1997, Labour can’t keep fighting this sort of scaremongering, campaign of diminishing marginal returns indefinitely. However it has expressed itself today, there is a tide for change out there and it can’t be quelled forever.

Some Light Relief

I'm on a break just now from harassing people to get out and vote. For some light relief, though, I thought I'd post this Aberdeen goal from the weekend, which will doubtless be appearing on more than a few compilation DVDs this Christmas!

All together now: 'Oh I'd rather be a brush than be a Combe...'

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Well, that was the campaign that was. I'm too tired right now to do a detailed retrospective, however, as a quick snapshot, in my opinion the SNP had its best campaign ever; Labour fought the most negative and uninspiring campaign I can remember; Annabell Goldie should win the award for 'most improved' leader for playing a poor hand extremely well and with no little grace and style; while Nicol Stephen will probably get an undeserved reward for fighting what must have been the dullest Lib Dem campaign in history.

Our American intern, Michelle, managed to sum their campaign up rather tartly yesterday afternoon in the car. Hearing Stephen string together one of his stock soundbites about being 'really positive about young people' and how people apparently 'want to hear about the issues that matter to them, not have another debate on the constitution', she exploded with: 'They're smart enough to do both, dumbass!'. Hard to argue, really.

My hopes for tomorrow? Mainly that the final result, whether that's win, lose or draw for the SNP, sees Scotland embark on a more adventurous and positive path. The last eight years have been positively stultifying. Where there is no vision, the people perish. Another four years of the Best Wee First Minister of the Best Wee Country in the World is a torture that no thinking Scot should wish to inflict upon their compatriots. I just hope that with the last polls of the campaign looking tight, all those who want change actually get off their backsides and vote for it in the best way they can.

Anyway, it's nearly 9pm, and I've still got shoes to clean, shirts to iron and an overnight bag to pack. Tomorrow's going to be a long stint, and while I'll try to blog something if I get the chance, I'll make no promises. Enjoy polling day and make your vote count - whatever the result, here's hoping for a better Scotland in the next four years.

Speaking Pish Unto Nation

That was me on Radio Scotland this lunchtime, being interviewed for the 'Scotland Live' programme. If you have the urge to hear my dulcet tones, myself and fellow SNP footsoldier Roddy Oliphant appear about 26 minutes in. And the 'Best Wee Numpty in the World' gets a mention too!