Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On The Stump

Blogging may be lighter than usual over the next few days. Having got through the SNP candidate vetting process successfully, I'm heading back to Scotland tomorrow to spend a few days hawking myself round constituencies.

Originally, I was going to be on a plane headed for Washington DC tomorrow to take a holiday amongst some friends out there, but that was before the SNP accelerated its selection processes. I suppose I'd have been travelling for c. 8 hours either way - it just probably won't be quite as warm in Scotland as it would have been in Virginia :-)

As Ithers See Us

Last month, Professor Tom Gallagher, Professor of Ethnic Conflict and Peace at Bradford University, hawked several variations of a nasty and vicious little article which appeared originally in The Spectator magazine, around the Scottish and English press. His thesis, such as it was, was that in having the temerity to win the affections of a great many of Scotland's Muslim voters, the SNP had done so only by pandering to extremism.

It was total rubbish, of course, and he attracted a great deal of criticism for his troubles, with many people choosing to accuse him of being little more than a Labour stooge. While seeing no reason to defend him from the charges of writing a skewed, incendiary, ignorant, vindictive and misleading (whether willfully or otherwise) article, I did baulk at the 'stooge' bit, and defended him accordingly on the Herald comments board:

"For what it's worth, he has managed to write with insight and sensitivity before on the subject of the SNP in a book called 'Nationalism in the Nineties', to which he contributed a few years ago. His, as I seem to recall, was a fantastic article - balanced, fair and critical to boot, but also quite respectful for someone who was [at the time] clearly a Labour supporter".

I freely admit that Professor Gallagher puzzles me. His recent attacks on the SNP and individuals within seem bizarre, and I don't think it's a cheap shot to question why his obsession over Muslim involvement in the SNP seems to have coincided with a drop in support for Labour, alongside a notable reluctance in Scotland to embrace the current fad amongst the English liberal-left to proclaim the death of multiculturalism and assert a top-down 'Britishness' [2nd article down].

That said, he has an article in this month's Prospect, which echoes much of what was good, relevant and insightful in his 'Nationalism in the Nineties' article referenced earlier. Sure, the pejoratives fly thick and fast - 'separatism', 'provoking fights', and the commonplace confusion of identifiable spending above English levels with 'subsidy' - old favourites every one, all crop up. But skip over the ad hominem stuff about the SNP and take in the overall flavour of what is, otherwise, a pretty good article. Nats like me might not find a huge amount to agree with, but it's sometimes good tae see ourselves as ithers see us. Professor Gallagher has deservedly lost some credibility over the last few weeks, but that doesn't mean everything he says is always going to be wrong.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back Home

I was back in Edinburgh this weekend to be vetted as a potential parliamentary candidate. It's been a while since I last stood as an SNP candidate, so this time I got the full treatment of an assessment session and interview alongside other hopefuls.

It was all good fun, though I will admit to a certain sense of relief at being excluded from the 'here's a random subject - go and talk on it for one minute, starting now', section of the day. I've done it many times before, but for me, it still falls into the category of a cruel and unusual punishment.

Anyway, it was good to get home for a bit, and to spend a bit more time with my friends than I managed when last up a fortnight ago, when I spent most of the weekend in a lecture theatre. I also managed to get a decent Sunday breakfast with the papers down at the Iso-Bar in Leith (a favourite haunt during the day, never been so keen at night). It defies all probability, but I still haven't found anywhere in London where its worth doing the same. Obviously I've been looking in completely the wrong places so far.

Family and friends have been saving the Evening News cheap GNER fares promo vouchers from the Evening News for me. I'm sure they'll come in very useful, as I've a feeling I'm going to be spending quite a bit of time in Scotland over the next few weeks as the SNP candidate selection process begins to get underway. Time to start hitting the phones and seeing into which rings it might be worthwhile throwing a hat...

Oh, yes. Almost forgot. I know I'm just adding in my own small way to the man's publicity machine, but any pangs about missing out on the Festival were dulled quickly when I saw Ricky Gervais' billboard above the Rutland, informing us all that he'd sold out his show at the Castle. I used to think his acting in 'The Office' was pretty good, but now I realise he was just being himself all along. What a pointless, obnoxious, irksome, seemingly unflushable excrescence the man truly is.

(Pic filched shamelessly from Bruce Dessau's blog on the Evening Standard site)

UPDATE: Since I posted the above, Ricky Gervais has apparently announced that any profits from the gig in question will go to MacMillan Cancer Relief, which makes me feel a bit bad for unloading on him like that. I'm sure he has quite a few reasons for so doing, none of which should detain us here, but credit where credit's due.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wendy Wind Blows

So, as Labour welcomes its fourth Holyrood leader, we bid farewell to Jack and extend a warm welcome to Wendy. There's no doubt that she will present a different set of challenges to the SNP than did her predecessor. However, with the SNP now setting the agenda from the Holyrood Ministerial Tower, it's also the case that she and her MSP colleagues have some new and awkward terrain of their own to negotiate.

This is the first time Labour has been in opposition to anyone other than the Conservatives in Scotland. There's a new dynamic of a Scottish government at work, which doesn't take its lead from London. Consequently, the old Labour trick of playing the Scottish card just isn't going to work any more – after all, as the advert asks, why have cotton when you can have silk?

A psychological rubicon has been crossed. The SNP is in power, and as I've remarked before, no-one has sold their first born son into slavery, the plagues of boils and locusts have yet to arrive, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse seem curiously absent from the horizon. Even the SNP's sternest doubters have been forced to admit that in government, the party has shown a maturity and sure-footedness with which few would have credited it previously.

In her post-coronation pronouncements, Alexander was quick to spell out to anyone who might have missed it that the SNP had won the election, not by some fluke, but by embracing an agenda of hope and aspiration. To that end, she set out 4 broad headings where she wanted Labour to change: developing Scottish solutions for Scottish aspirations; empowering people and communities rather than institutions; having consumer not producer-focused public services; and delivering a competitive yet compassionate economy.

In our post-ideological age there's probably not much there from which anyone would demur. Labour can lay claim to all the intellectual conceits it wishes, but for many Scots, if there was a stifling political 'consensus', Labour and its patronage networks were the problem. Labour became a byword for a proprietorial, top-down, boring, managerial and oft-times not even particularly competent style of government. As such, the ability of the party to overcome its own hard-wired producer interest is at best highly dubious.

Nevertheless, its a patronage network to which Alexander owes much herself. Hers was a gilded path, with her links to Donald Dewar and Gordon Brown predestining her for a place amongst the elect. All good for her, but it does mean that she missed out on developing some of the more fundamental skills needed by a politician. After all, why waste energy on anything so vulgar as winning people over with persuasion and skill in debate, when you can bludgeon them instead with repeated assertion before letting the party machine do the rest?

As part of the Labour ascendancy, she has formidable support amongst the Scottish chattering classes. Marriage and motherhood have mellowed her, they tell us. Well, perhaps, but the memory lingers of her undermining Henry McLeish, bringing government to a shuddering halt in protest at his attempts to hand her responsibility for Scottish Water as part of her ministerial brief. And who could forget her ludicrous 'Hungry Caterpillar' speech, as John Swinney took on a similar sized portfolio without breaking so much as a bead of perspiration?

It's a series of similar vignettes that have built up the perception of her being somewhat other worldly and near-impossible to work with. This perception is itself put down to her apparently 'formidable' intellect and the inherent misogyny of Scottish society. Again, perhaps. It still doesn't explain how Susan Deacon, who wears her postgraduate learning rather more lightly than does Alexander, managed to be infinitely more effective in office yet never attracted either the same opprobrium or gushing praise.

And that in the end is her biggest problem. If she is seen solely as an abrasive mouthpiece for someone else, will she be able to take her Labour colleagues to where she says she wants to go? How can she rebuild a parliamentary group still suffering from its Stalinist purges of the candidate list back in 1998? And will she be able to engage in the 'more powers' debate without reverting to her default pre-election demonisation of independence and the negativity which turned so many voters away from her party?

Alexander really is Labour's last chance to prevent the SNP from establishing itself as a long-term party of government in Scotland. If she fails, and Labour lose power at Westminster, who seriously expects Scotland to hang around in the union? That's how high the stakes are, and that's why we're going to have it rammed down our throats by Labour supporters in the press and civic society, whether its true or not, that Wendy is the best thing to happen to Scotland since, well, the SNP government.

Unionism might appear to be in disarray right now, but as any hunter knows, the beast is at its most dangerous when wounded and cornered. We've no reason to not be confident at the way matters are progressing, but we should never forget that Alexander has some very powerful allies and is likely to work much more closely with her colleagues in London than did Jack McConnell. For that reason, the SNP would be wise to watch her and hers very carefully as Labour begins to pick itself up from the canvass.

Getting Caught Off-Balance

A column written for last month's Scots Independent. Not exactly hot news any more, but still something we're likely to hear a lot more about in the years ahead.

Edinburgh’s transport woes never seem to be very far from the front pages. Over the past decade, there’s been uproar over ‘Greenways’, a guided busway, traffic re-routing, road charging and now, trams. Say it quietly, but despite our superb bus network, many Edinburghers cast envious eyes westwards towards Glasgow and southwards towards London – both cities which had the good sense to keep their overground and underground train networks intact after they had been built.

It’s been a while since I took a trip on the ‘clockwork orange’, but now that I’m working in Westminster, the London Underground is one engineering marvel with which I’m becoming increasingly familiar. However, even its undoubted Edwardian charm and convenience, can’t blind you to the shortcomings of the system.

In summer, commuters are crammed face-to-armpit, in conditions which you would be forbidden to transport cattle. Wires hang out of exposed service ducts, escalators jolt, signals fail, trains jump over gaps in the rails… Altogether, with the exception of perhaps a couple of lines, the impression is of a mass-transit system kept working with twine, gaffer tape and a collective crossing of fingers.

Realising that something needed to be done if London was to secure its position as a key economic centre, a massive upgrade to the system was unveiled back in 2003. However, even once the will had been galvanised, the question still remained of how to pay for it all. In the end, despite the best efforts of Mayor Ken Livingstone and his ex-CIA transport guru Bob Kiley, the then Chancellor Gordon Brown rejected their proposals to fund the upgrades through bond issues, insisting instead on a convoluted PFI arrangement.

Of course, the biggest attraction of PFI for the government is that it it allows the resulting capital investment to be kept 'off balance sheet'. It doesn't cost any less, and in fact over time usually ends up costing the taxpayer significantly more. However, a succession of useful idiots can usually be found to defend PFI, on the spurious grounds that it means a new school or hospital for their constituency, which, we are invited to believe, could not be delivered any other way. And with Gordon Brown sailing perilously close to the edge of his self-proclaimed 'golden rule' of only borrowing to invest over the economic cycle, PFI again won out for the London Underground projects.

One of the successful bidders was an outfit called ‘Metronet’, set up by a consortium made up of Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier, EDF Energy, and Thames Water. Together, they
won a 30 year, £30bn contract to run and upgrade parts of the network. Last month, it went belly-up, asking Ken Livingstone to call in the administrators. Amidst accusations of inadequate cost controls and poor value from the contracts dished out to the parent companies, the future of the upgrades for which they were responsible must now be in serious doubt.

Think this doesn't affect Scotland? Well, think again. Between them, Transport for London and the private sector will doubtless scrape together the cash necessary to complete the upgrade over time, although having already had their fingers burned once, the City will probably have some tough questions to ask second time round. No, money won't be a problem, if only because the one thing the authorities no longer have on their side is time.

The reason for this is one with which we're likely to become depressingly familiar in the years ahead. Let's rewind to 2005, and the London bid to win the 2012 Olympics. Here's what the report of the IOC Evaluation Commission had to say with respect to the transportation aspects of London's bid:

“During the bid process, substantial London rail transport infrastructure investments have been clearly confirmed, guaranteed and accelerated. Provided that this proposed programme of public transport improvements is fully delivered on schedule before 2012, the Commission believes that London would be capable of coping with Games-time traffic and that Olympic and Paralympic transport requirements would be met”.

In other words, if the programme is not fully delivered, London would not be capable of coping. Failure is unthinkable for the UK government. And since Gordon Brown very generously agreed that the UK government would underwrite any financial overspend incurred by the 2012 games, guess who will be expected to dig as deep as anyone else to make sure it all happens on schedule, even if not on budget?

Yep, that's right - us. Doubtless London will be festooned with Union Flags come 2012, but somehow, I suspect that having been sent a bill but not an invite to share in the goodies, the corresponding reaction from Scotland will end up being less than supportive. It doesn't seem like much of a Union dividend to me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Strange Morning

I found out this morning that I've mislaid my weekly travelcard somewhere. Not in itself a huge problem, but a bit of a nuisance when you only discover this at the London Bridge ticket barrier. Many thanks to the kind revenue protection officer who advised me of the usual fine, but decided to let me through regardless.

Anyway, the morning has just got even stranger. Browsing through the papers, I've found an article by Tim 'nae' Luckhurst - an unlamented former editor of The Scotsman, who now churns out base, boilerplate criticisms of Scotland and the Scots more generally for the madder fringes of the English press. This time, his target is Scottish Labour leader presumptive Wendy Alexander and to my surprise, despite being intended as a 'polemic', I actually agree with most of what he says.

In the meantime, congratulations to Ms Alexander on her elevation. I dare say I'll blog a bit more on her and her party over the next day or so once my own thoughts are a bit clearer, but for the moment, I'll leave you to Mr Luckhurst and his newly found clarity on such matters. Mind you, doesn't even a stopped clock manage to get it right twice a day?

Monday, August 20, 2007

They Walk Among Us

I'm against the BAA monopoly over our airports and the expansion of Heathrow, although for very different reasons to most of these people. That said, you have to wonder if this lady was infiltrated into the ranks of the climate change protesters so as to discredit their cause irreparably...

Anne Notley, of West Sussex, also came along for the day. "I feel that middle-class professional people have to make a stand because we are among the worst culprits. I have been a culprit too," she said.

"We were going to fly to Greece to adopt two dogs but now we have decided to take a driving trip instead.

"It's not much but I'm making a change."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Only Living Boy In New Cross

I have an exam tomorrow morning, so I've been trying to spend the weekend quietly, with my head stuck in the books. My nemisis, however, has been the box-set of 'Family Guy' DVDs sitting in the front room, belonging to one of my new housemates out here in Sarf London.

Everything seems much better than the previous place, even though it is just 2 weeks in. Basically, I've gone from an antiseptic yuppie flat with pictures of Johnny Wilkinson's arse on the wall [shudder], to a place where DVDs of 'Yes, Minister' and 'The West Wing' take pride of place and there's a 'Viz' annual in every bathroom. Maybe I've moved from Frasier's apartment to something more akin to 'The Young Ones' house, but we all need to find our own level... :-)

Which Family Guy Character Are You?

You are Brian. You are smart, sophisticated, and somewhat of an alcoholic.
Find Your Character @

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Choosing Scotland’s Future

Due to appear in 'The Flag in The Wind' - published online each Friday

Last Tuesday saw the launch of a Scottish Government White Paper on the powers of Scotland’s Parliament. Unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond, the document sets out 3 potential futures for Scotland: no change, greater devolution or independence.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, former Labour Minister Frank Field accused Alex Salmond of being ‘rather cheeky’ for so doing, on the grounds that “devolution for Scotland was meant to put an end to any further discussions on the political shape of the United Kingdom”. Oh dear. Naughty us. We’d better just pack up and go home then, hadn’t we?

Actually, the best retort conceivable to Frank Field is printed on the inside cover of the document itself, where it quotes Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell: “No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has a right to say to his country, “Thus far shalt thou go and no further””. It’s a declaration of principal which the other parties, which seem to be swithering at present over whether to take part in the conversation if independence remains an option, would do well to take to heart.

Cathy Jamieson, Labour’s acting leader in Scotland, burbled after the launch that: “We do not support independence. Everything in this paper is about independence”. Well actually, it’s nothing of the kind, as she would know if she’d bothered to even glance at it before parading her ignorance in front of the nation’s television cameras. Similarly, the Lib Dems should beware of making the same mistake as they made post election: that of insisting on the SNP’s repudiation of independence as a precondition of political talks.

The more that the other parties try to portray independence as being somehow illegitimate; as some kind of 1984-esque ‘thoughtcrime’, if you like, the more likely it is that they will be swept into irrelevance by the resulting public contempt. It’s also not good enough to say that since the SNP took 1/3 of the vote, that 2/3 therefore oppose independence. People vote for a variety of reasons, and independence, or indeed the ‘more powers’ agenda, deserves to be considered separately from the other issues of the day which might influence how people cast their votes.

Still, the ground has at least shifted. No longer does Labour argue that there should be no more powers for Holyrood. Instead, the debate is about which powers the parliament should now have. In that, the SNP has a clear advantage, in that independence is easy to define. The pressure is now on the other parties to define what their preferred option of ‘more powers’ would actually mean in practice.

In the interim, voters will be able to read the White Paper and give their views online. The most significant part of this, though, is that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories are no longer in charge of the debate. The people are, and that might be what’s disconcerting the unionist parties the most.

Cheney '94: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire C-SPAN

So, Dick, what changed?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

So, Farewell Then...

To no-one’s great surprise, Jack McConnell has decided to stand down as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. His decision was seen as inevitable following his party’s defeat at the hands of the SNP in May. It is believed that he had decided to stand down several weeks ago, but had taken the summer to ‘reflect’ – something interpreted widely as code for waiting for a Peerage or a similarly prestigious sinecure elsewhere.

Regular readers will know that I have a pretty low regard for Jack McConnell, and it would be hypocritical for me to try and pretend otherwise now. Most politicians, whatever they say about their opponents on the stump, are usually able to sink their differences in private. In my personal experience, McConnell was different. Too often, his seemed to be the demeanor of the small-time party fixer. Despite the periodic purple rhetoric, the role of national leader never seemed to sit particularly comfortably with him.

My own memory of dealing with him is when he rather cack-handedly tried to bully me over the choice of chairman for a debate I was organising between himself and Nicola Sturgeon back in 1996 (prescient or what?), when he was General Secretary of Scottish Labour and Nicola was merely a ‘rising star’. As a student, I wasn’t short of self confidence, so had no hesitation in telling him exactly where he could get off. The arrogance of youth, etc, but it seemed to have the desired effect. More amusing was his assertion at the debate itself that he had once been a member of the SNP, but had seen the light… just seconds before he managed to accidentally hit the light switch and plunge the entire lecture theatre into darkness!

That said, he did manage to sort out the Scottish Qualifications Agency as Education Minister. Having taken over as First Minister at a time when the howls of the anti’s threatened to being the whole project into disrepute, he did manage to restore some stability. ‘Doing less better’ was a sensible aim in the shorter term, but despite laudable initiatives such as tackling sectarianism, the smoking ban and raising Scotland’s overseas profile, somehow the overall package never seemed to catch the public imagination.

In his more reflective moments, he did seem to have a genuine passion for education, and took up the cause of the people of Malawi with some aplomb. His impending appointment as British High Commissioner to Malawi is a job which will probably suit him quite well. As Alex Salmond has said, McConnell leaves Scotland in a better state than he found it. For that at least, he deserves our thanks.

A National Conversation

The Government White Paper, 'Choosing Scotland's Future', is now online. You can join the debate at the National Coversation 'blog' site here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Just Fancy That!

2 November 2006 - Responding to a Scotsman poll showing 51% support for Independence and 32% support for the SNP, Scottish Office Minister David Cairns asks: "What is it about the SNP that is so unattractive that it has lost 20 per cent of people who say that they actually believe in the SNP's main policy?"

11 August 2007 -
Responding to a Daily Mail poll showing 31% support for Independence and 48% support for the SNP, Scottish Office Minister David Cairns describes the figures as "A massive embarrassment to Alex Salmond".

Oh, well. At least if the Scotland Office does get the heave-ho, there'll always be a job for Mr Cairns with this outfit.

Scottish Enterprise?

I'm on the train just now, somewhere between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Lindisfarne (i.e. Englandshire), on my way back to London. However, to my great astonishment, I've just spied an outhouse, on which the wall facing the railway has a very carefully painted message of 'Vote SNP'!

Sadly, I couldn't get the camera out in time. Does the SNP have some particularly enterprising activists down Roxburgh and Berwickshire way, or is it a Northumbrian farmer who wants shot of us? All explanations are welcome, including those as to why when I use GNER's wi-fi, Blogger's default language changes from English to Swedish...

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Following On...

Since it backs up some of the points I made in my previous post, here's details of an opinion poll showing the state of play as the Scottish Government approaches it's first 100 days in power:

If a Holyrood election was held tomorrow, which party would you vote for?

SNP 48%
Labour 32%
Tories 8%
Lib Dems 8%
Greens 2%
SSP 2%

How satisfied are you with the SNP's performance to date?

Very satisfied 10%
Quite satisfied 30%
Neither 25%
Quite dissatisfied 7%
Very dissatisfied 5%
Unsure/don't know 23%

Would you approve or disapprove of Scotland becoming independent?

Approve 31%
Disapprove 49%
Unsure/don't know 20%

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Where Might It All Go Wrong?

There’s been some further flutters in the Scottish Labour doocot over the last few days. This time, the cause has been the apparent leaking of a memo written by Adrian Colwell, a former Special Adviser to Jack McConnell, in the aftermath of the SNP’s defeat of Labour in May’s elections.

Colwell seems to suffer from appalling luck where his private memos are concerned. However, from what I’ve read of his analysis, it all looks pretty well spot on. Perhaps predictably, though, given their current state of denial, Labour figures are busily dismissing Colwell’s views, painting him as a ‘peripheral’ figure, somehow ‘distant’ from the campaign.

No-one should underestimate how traumatic an experience the last few months has proved to be for Scottish Labour. Nevertheless, if Colwell’s memo can be dismissed in such a summary fashion; with any campaign post-mortem being held in private; with a simple coronation of Wendy Alexander as leader to follow; and with the party grassroots continuing to be treated with disdain, it seems to me that Labour is extremely unlikely to experience any kind of recovery any time soon.

Quite simply, their self-inflicted organisational, political and financial problems are far too deep-rooted to be tackled in such a cosmetic fashion. Rather than gloat, though, it did set me thinking, about how people have reacted to the SNP government since May, and how its fortunes might fare as political criticisms, as they almost certainly will over time, begin to build in credibility.

So far, the SNP has been doing well in government. Labour’s criticisms of the SNP prior to the election – over the economy and seeking conflict with Westminster – have been shown to be little more than mendacious, self-interested scaremongering. These pre-election boilerplate criticisms have sapped Labour’s credibility, which means that their post-election critique is falling largely on deaf ears, at least for the moment.

Their discomfort is palpable. After all, Labour’s response to the SNP from the 1960’s onwards has always been to stress its ‘pro-Scottish’ credentials as the real national party of Scotland. But that starts to look like empty posturing when you always have to look over your shoulder to Westminster for guidance. Post-devolution, this became a conjuring trick that was increasingly hard to maintain.

Previously, Labour had the Scottish Establishment so stitched up with members of its own Nomenklatura that most nationalist sympathisers in public life opted for a quiet life, telling only as much truth as the times allowed. However, as it began to look like there might be ‘regime change’ in Scotland, more and more figures in business and public life began to raise their heads above the parapet. Civil servants now relish the opportunities to think more freely – a dynamic which is not necessarily nationalist, but is one which most unionist politicians always tried to keep tightly under control. As Alexander McCall Smith writes here, this change has left us with a ‘politically healthier society’.

How can Labour tackle this? Put simply, they shouldn’t even try. If the spirit of the times is running against you, you need to find a new vocabulary; a new frame of policy references with which to express your values. It took the SNP years to learn this, and despite the periodic explosions from certain donors and frustrated careerists, it’s a lesson which the Tories in England only now look like they are beginning to take on board.

However, some people will take the right course of action only after trying every possible alternative. So in attempting to counter the present Zeitgeist, we hear Labour continue to accuse the Edinburgh government of stirring it with London. They tried it over the case of the Lockerbie bomber, and fell flat on their faces. Some, like Jim Devine MP, even tried to do the same over the Glasgow Airport attack, blaming the SNP for ‘politicising’ the terrorist threat – a charge spoiled only by the public praise for the Scottish Executive response offered immediately afterwards by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

By relying on freelancers? We’ve had Professor Tom Gallagher, a lefty internationalist (to be contrasted with all those reactionary tartan tories like me, of course), claiming that by embracing the Moslem community in Scotland the SNP was somehow pandering to extremism. And let’s not forget the ‘Bleak Midwinter’, who now decries the ability of the government at Holyrood to set an annual budget as “profoundly undemocratic” - a constitutional nicety which never appeared to trouble him unduly before now, not even when Jack McConnell first made noises about running a minority Labour administration.

By accusing the SNP of arrogance for wanting to introduce policies for which there does not appear to be a majority in parliament, such as a referendum bill on Independence? Possibly, but didn’t the other parties shun government to allow the SNP to form an administration, and wasn’t it Jack McConnell himself who was arguing recently for parties to bring their forward their manifesto pledges unreformed? How outrageous that those dastardly nats, havng been placed in government, might then actually then try to govern! That wasn’t in the script!

By criticising proposals to alter Scotland’s international role? Well, that would also take some chutzpah, given the determiniation of Jack McConnell to crowbar his way to the fore each year during Tartan Week and to carve out a role for the Scottish Executive in Malawi. And wasn’t it the late Robin Cook who once appeared before the European Committee of the Scottish Parliament to claim that there were ‘no no-go’ areas for the Scottish Executive in the EU?

By accusing Alex Salmond of using power for the financial gain of himself and his party? The accusations about taking ‘two cheques’ always seemed very tawdry and personalised, especially coming as they did from the Labour and Lib Dem parties which drafted between them the Scotland Act, which of course says nothing against having a Westminster/Holyrood dual mandate. The whiff of bitterness from the Lib Dems in particular was exceptionally unpleasant. Surely nothing at all to do with Alex having turfed them out in the Gordon constituency?

And what to make of the latest blusterings of George Foulkes, a man who has never knowingly passed up a free dinner in his life, claiming that Alex Salmond hosted a dinner at Bute House to reward high-profile SNP supporters like Sir Tom Farmer, Sir George Mathewson and Sir Sean Connery? It’s a great theory, I’ll give him that. What a shame, though, that it’s foiled only by the attendance of pro-union tycoon David Murray, and the invitation extended to House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin. Better luck next time, George…

Well, is it then about accusing the SNP of neglecting the ‘bread and butter’ issues, by deploying constantly the coma-inducing, debate-closing mantra that all that matters are ‘the real issues that matter to ordinary hard working families on their doorsteps in their local communities from day to day in their daily lives’ (c. Cathy Jamieson/Nicol Stephen/Annabelle Goldie)? Well, you know, in the long run, actually it might very well be.

All of the above mentioned hoop-lahs are of themselves exceptionally trivial – most of the headlines have already been used to wrap fish suppers and are now blowing away down the street into someone’s garden. This is just the currency of trying to discredit a so far popular government. And since it’s something the SNP developed to an art form in opposition, it would ill-behove any nationalist to start complaining too vehemently about how unfair it all is now. It comes with the territory, and we’d better get used to it. Fast.

However, the Teflon coating which allows all of this to slide off harmlessly starts to wear down after a time, and can only be replenished by an ongoing perception of competence. People are prepared to indulge the SNP a little just now - most seem quite happy to watch Holyrood spreading its wings a little, and if it eventually flies off to the high veldt of independence, then so be it.

However, this acceptance will wear off pretty quickly if things start to go off the rails domestically. It was SNP figures like Kenny MacAskill and George Reid who previously made the argument that an SNP administration would first have to prove itself in government before any more powers would reach Holyrood. These attacks are bouncing off harmlessly just now, but should serve as a constant reminder of what we need to do and keep on doing if we are to make progress on that higher agenda.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Roundup The Usual Supects

At the kind invitation of doctorvee, I took a shot a compiling this weeks 'Scottish Blogging Roundup'. It's now live, and available for your delight and delectation here.