Friday, April 25, 2008

Rock Bottom?

Intermittent web access meant I wasn’t able to see much of yesterday’s proceedings at Holyrood. However, after seeing Brian Taylor’s blog afterwards, I caught up today through the Official Report and the BBC’s iPlayer.

Let’s deal with Nicol Stephen first. Clearly, Grangemouth was and remains the story of the day, so he asked a question about fuel supplies and forecourt prices, to which he received an honest and intelligent response. He then went on to, well, read the rest for yourself. I know that every politician wants to grab the headlines, but sometimes, shouldn’t the urge to exaggerate in aid of a headline be suppressed by a higher motive?

And then there was Wendy. Fresh from her indifferent reception at the STUC conference, she decided to continue in what must have seemed like a relatively successful vein. However, accusing the government of offering ‘special access’ to SNP donors was, frankly, beyond pathetic.

The leader of the opposition should be holding the government to account but every week, we seem to end up instead with a display of inept questioning, petulant sneering and post-match foot stomping. She should learn from Annabel Goldie, who manages to get the best out of Alex Salmond week after week, whether she attacks him or, as yesterday, concentrates on a bigger picture.

Someone really needs to have a word, because even the neutrals are starting to remark on her lack of judgement and poor performances. Make no mistake, she owes her position entirely to Gordon Brown. If he were to be thrown out tomorrow, her colleagues at Holyrood would be making sure she wasn’t far behind him.

The afternoon saw a debate on the alleged wrongdoing of Scottish Ministers over proposed Trump development at the Menie Estate, something on which I’ve commented before. However, given that no evidence of wrongdoing could be found anywhere, the cheap innuendo, mud-slinging and partisan language of those behind the report really did leave a bad taste in the mouth. Such brazen playing of the man rather than the ball would have seen a flurry of red cards had it taken place on the football field.

As a measure of the significance of this silly attempted witch-hunt, the story was buried on the BBC website on the Scottish Politics pages, and even then, featured only as an addendum to the story that Aberdeenshire Council had voted to back the project when it came before the forthcoming public enquiry. Which really does sum things up – ‘The dogs bark’, as they say, ‘but the caravan moves on’.

In fairness, the Tories and the Lib Dems were in on the act yesterday, but did at least manage to maintain a veneer of propriety. I’d like to think that yesterday’s display of mindless carping and throwing of vitriol represented Scottish Labour hitting rock-bottom – a point from which they could only improve. These days, though, they quite regularly cease to amaze me…

New YouGov Poll

There's a poll in today's Daily Telegraph which makes grim reading for Gordon Brown. However, I've just got hold of the Scottish breakdown (It's a Westminster poll), which runs as follows:

SNP - 35%
Labour - 28%
Con - 22%
Lib Dem - 12%

Usual health warnings about small sample sizes apply... but the high polling for the Tories aside, they're not so very out of step with recent trends. It may not be the actual numbers which are so important, as the direction of travel with Labour's ratings rapidly heading South as the SNP continue to do well.

Electoral Calculus makes for interesting reading if you plug these figures in. The SNP take 25 seats; Labour would be on 21; there's a mini-Tory revival taking them to 7; while the Lib Dems plummet to 6. Interesting times... :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

S&I Elsewhere - destiNATION

I'd like to tap the side of my glass and bring you all to order for a brief moment, for I have a couple of announcements to make.

First of all, a happy St George's day to one and all. With any luck, there'll be roast beef in the canteen, and I may even sink away a pint or two of Boddingtons, or London Pride if I can't find any of that, after work as I watch Manchester Utd take on Barcelona in the Nou Camp.

Now, the main business. My good friend and former colleague, Julie Hepburn, she of the 'Bid for Freeedom' blog; SNP Westminster Candidate for Cumbernauld & Kilsyth; wife of Jamie Hepburn MSP and all round good egg, has embarked on a new project. As if she didn't have enough to do already...

It's a website called destiNATION Scotland, which in her words is intended to be "an online forum for progressive political debate from a pro-independence perspective". The idea being to pull together articles, and prompt an online policy debate in Scotland, without having to pay over much heed to the restriction of the present powers of Holyrood.

If you have time, go take a look. If you can bear it, I've contributed an article on local taxation - some of my arguments you may be familiar with from previous posts, but don't hold that against it :-)

I've also been busy writing for the 'Scots Independent' newspaper, this time on the 10p tax rate fiasco. I'll post it here once the paper comes out, but in the meantime, do please go and read what Labour blogger Kezia Dugdale has to say on the subject. I admire her for regularly sticking her head above the parapet, but would it be uncharitable to suggest that for all the spit and fire, there's maybe just the hint of an element of her trying to persuade herself here that it isn't as bad as it seems?

Anyway, here's a quote from the 1997 Labour manifesto, which is worth dwelling on for a moment:

"Our long-term objective is a lower starting rate of income tax of ten pence in the pound. Reducing the high marginal rates at the bottom end of the earning scale - often 70 or 80 per cent - is not only fair but desirable to encourage employment. This goal will benefit the many, not the few".

Couldn't have put it better myself...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Echo Chambers

I'm sat backstage in the press room at the SNP conference at Heriot-Watt university. The auditorium is packed right now, in anticipation of Nicola Sturgeon's big speech.

My only gripe is that we don't have a closed circuit feed from the hall, which leaves us somewhat reliant on BBC Scotland's webcast of proceedings. While our internet access is much better than it has been at similar events in the recent past, we're kind of struggling a bit trying to keep up with events on our laptops.

All our laptop speakers are puny, and the webcast feed is a bit on the erratic side, occasionally cutting out and always reaching different computers at different times, leading to a bizarre echo effect round the room. I wonder if there's time to run back to my room to pick up a set of headphones?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gordon Brown - A Stranger To The Truth

This little clip sums up everything I dislike about Gordon Brown. Remember, it was while he was Chancellor that he took the decision to sell British gold reserves, at what turned out to be the bottom of the market:

That patronising 'correction'; the passing of the buck (it was those evil Tories again); the refusal to accept responsibility; the deliberate confusion of the facts (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here - if it's not deliberate, then it's simply worrying that people in his own party have allowed someone with such a tenuous grasp on reality to get this far unchallenged).

There really is nothing there, is there?

H/T Iain Dale

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

S&I On The Stump

Been out and about in Aberdeenshire the last few days, sorting a few things for my campaign in Gordon, preparing for the upcoming SNP Conference, and knocking some doors for a local by-election in the Troup ward in Banff and Buchan. Not much to report, other than that much as I wish this particular campaign weren't necessary, the response has been absolutely rock-solid.

Anyhoo, tonight we were out in Gardenstown, and in between knocking doors, I managed to snap off a pic on my phone:

Stunning doesn't even begin to describe it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

For Fox's Sake

Jackie, one of my housemates, found a dead fox in our garden about 20 minutes ago. I phoned Lewisham Council to ask whether anyone from environmental health could come round to pick it up. 'No', came the answer, since it's Saturday afternoon and that's out of hours. However, they would see if someone from refuse collection could come round instead.

About 10-15 minutes later, a bin lorry drew up outside and yes, it was in response to our call. Impressed doesn't even begin to describe it - despite the published response times, there might be occasions when you'd struggle to get an ambulance that quickly if you'd dialled 999!

Well done Lewisham Council. Have a gold star :-)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Gordon Brown - Robin Hood In Reverse

As I said last week, I gave Wendy Alexander's Aviemore Conference speech a miss in favour of an afternoon in the pub watching the Celtic-Rangers game. It's therefore with thanks to the Man About The House Blog I stumbled across earlier today that I am able to offer you this little gem from her speech:

“And when you strip away the spin its clear where the SNP stand. It is not on the side of those who believe in progressive taxation and public spending - but with those who favour tax cuts for the rich and what’s left for the rest”.

Now, remind me again… what happened to income tax rates effective 6 April? Oh, yes – the starting rate was doubled for the lowest earners, and cut by 2p for everyone else.

So, that's a tax cut for the rich, and what’s left for the rest earning below £18,500? A higher tax bill…

Does Labour's hypocrisy and willingness to tell porkies about their opponents know no bounds? At least the SNP's local income tax would put some of the money back in the pockets of the least well off that Gordon Brown has just swiped away.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Court Circular

I might as well be the first...

"As the lawyers tell their tale,
Fisher's face at first just ghostly,
Turns a whiter shade of pale..."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Duff Luck

I was asked last night what I thought of Duffy, the Welsh R&B singer who's been top of the album charts for the past 4 weeks. Truthfully, I said I knew who she was, but admitted I couldn't think off the top of my head how any of her stuff went.

Idiot. Given that I was sitting with 3 Welsh people at the time, the reaction was restrained - except for one individual, who accused me of being more like 51 than 31. Ouch!

Anyway, after bursting out laughing (it was a good line), the best retort I could come up with was that I could have said I thought Duffy was great and no-one would have been any the wiser. Stung by the continued scoffing (and the fact I was coming off a clear second best here) I tried to salvage what was left of my credibility by pointing out that my old band, the Canongate Cadjers, had played at 'T in the Park' in 2004 and 2005.

OK, not strictly relevant, but it took the heat off a bit. Anyway, I've no idea if my tormentor from last night reads this blog or not, but just to prove to the rest of the world I wasn't lying, here's some of the evidence:

OK, it was the ceilidh tent and not the main stage, but it was still one of the best things I've ever done - particularly the bits where we got 300+ folk to sing along to our take on the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's version of 'Delilah'. I'm even nostalgic about getting a tennis ball thrown at me just before I was about to take a solo, only to find out afterwards that it had a six-inch nail pierced through it. Rock and roll, as they say...

So, there you are. I might have been a bit too honest for my own good last night, but history still records that the Canongate Cadjers once shared a bill with Franz Ferdinand and the Scissor Sisters :-) Thanks to Alex (the guy playing the box) for mailing me the pics and reminding me of two of the best days of my life.