Thursday, May 29, 2008


Please read this - not only is it a hoot, it really tells you all you need to know right now about the integrity of Scottish Labour's spin operation, the woeful standard of their research and the sheer contempt in which they appear to hold our collective intelligence.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Electoral Commission's New Broom

Is it just me, or has Douglas Fraser, Scottish Political Editor of The Herald, missed the real significance of his story from this morning?

"A referendum on independence could lead to unfair and unbalanced campaigning by political parties if it were called by Holyrood, it has emerged".

That part of it isn't a new story, I'm afraid. Under the direction of Prof. Sir Neil McIntosh, the Electoral Commission in Scotland had a public position, perhaps one born of diplomatic politesse towards the former Lib Lab coalition but a public position nonetheless, that it was outwith its scope to oversee any Independence referendum organised by Holyrood, meaning that any rules over campaign expenditure would not be enforceable. This I know, because I once asked Prof. McIntosh that very question when I worked at SNP HQ.

No, the big story is surely that in interviewing Prof. McIntosh's successor in Scotland, former BBC Scotland Controller John McCormick, there appears to have been significant movement from this earlier position on oversight of a referendum. Viz and to wit:

"If the Scottish Government came to us for help, advice, or to run the referendum, then we would be willing to do that," he explained.

That's quite a departure, though no less welcome for that. Nonetheless, this is liklely to have two very significant outcomes. Firstly, following their contortions regarding the bringing it on or otherwise of a referendum, Labour spokespeople have been spinning frantically that they support a referendum - it's the SNP which doesn't want an immediate vote, but that anyway, the SNP's proposed question would be unacceptable, so they won't commit to supporting a bill.

Labour has yet to say what would, in its collective view (assuming such a thing exists right now), constitute an acceptable form of wording for the question. Now that the Electoral Commission is happy to get involved, including over the wording of the question, they really are running out of excuses not to back whatever emerges.

Secondly, and potentially even more significant, is that if the Electoral Commission were to oversee the referendum at the request of the Scottish Government, both sides would then be subject to spending limits. Now, Wendy Alexander's erratic nature notwithstanding, who would have thought a year ago that a minority government would have looked this likely to get a majority in parliament for an independence vote, far less make sure that the campaign couldn't be drowned in floods of cash from South of the Border?

That, my friends, looks like a bit of a result for the SNP. It also looks like Douglas Fraser has underplayed what would have been one of the political scoops of the year - but than again, that's probably why I don't have a job as a mainstream political journalist.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Caption Contest

Busy week ahead on just about every front, so in lieu of proper blogging, here's a caption competition for you all:

Fire at will...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tom Harris Is Back

Delighted to see that Tom Harris MP has made a return to blogging. His used to be one of the blogs I visited most frequently (often partisan, but quite funny and always well-written), before he pulled it last year after, if I remember rightly, landing in a wee bit of hot water for something he'd written about the SNP.

He sometimes used to dismiss the SNP as being anti-English (which is a real peeve of mine, particularly when it comes from people who should know better) and on that basis, I was prepared to thoroughly dislike him when I came down to work at Westminster. It was pleasing then, if momentarilly disconcerting, for me to find out that when the cudgels are put away, he's a genuinely nice guy. It doubtless says more about me than it does about him that this should have have surprised me even slightly - I suppose that's why you should always try to seperate the argument from the person making it.

After being introduced by one of the SNP MPs in the Strangers Bar a few weeks ago, I asked him if he'd any plans to restart his blog. He didn't quite say no, but expressed a bit of regret that time pressures had meant he'd had to stop. So, I don't know if I'm in any way responsible for his starting back again, but a blogging minister who genuinely writes his own posts, as opposed to the bromide served up by certain of his colleagues in the name of blogging, has to be a good thing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wendy and Douglas - Right All Along!

At the last election, Wendy and Douglas Alexander claimed that an SNP Government would cause chaos and confusion over an independence referendum; would force the ‘average family’ to forfeit nearly £1,000 more of their hard-earned income to the government; and would split families apart north and south of the border.

One year on, I see now that it was all true. Only, who would have sussed that the Alexander siblings were describing their own impending fate and that of the Labour Party, rather than that of Scotland?

Scottish Blogging Roundup

I took a shot at compiling this week's Scottish Blogging Roundup. There's some cracking posts for you this week - please go and visit.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye!

A big 'thank you' this evening to National Express East Coast and to South Yorkshire Police. Why? Well, I'm on a train just now to Kings Cross (spent the weekend in Gordon, got to be in the Commons early tomorrow morning, can't afford an early flight). At Durham, a shower of tanked-up Manchester City fans from Colchester (??!) got on, sore from an 8-1 cuffing from Middlesbrough. They then proceeded to spend the next hour or so cursing, passing wind, regaling us with tales of their mates who got lifted earlier, and urging a fellow passenger to expose herself for their gratification, all to the general annoyance of everyone else within ear and nose shot.

Even after the guard gave them a couple of warnings to pipe down, they refused to take the hint, except perhaps for the one who had already passed out. Anyway, come Doncaster, there were half a dozen of South Yorkshire's finest waiting for them. So, a night in Doncaster beckons, even for the comatose one, who when he came to, showed commendable solidarity and got off as rest of his mates were ejected.

Have to say, I loved the tannoy announcement afterwards, which apologised for the delay and referred to the ejection of some 'unruly characters'. Anyway, the comments section is open... what is there to do in Doncaster after 10pm on a Sunday night when you've got work 200 miles away the next day? :-)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Focus Leaflets: Fibbing All Year Round - Guaranteed!

My folks have been trained to keep back all the political leaflets they get so I can have a read of them whenever I visit. The Lib Dem 'Focus' leaflets (delivered free to every home!) are always a favourite, and since the area my parents live in has been treated as something of a 'makeweight' down the years, shunted between the Murrayfield, Corstorphine and Stenhouse areas of Edinburgh to make up the voter numbers as and when needed, we've had more than a few from the various local Lib Dem 'personalities' over that time.

Anyway, the latest 'Focus on Murrayfield' has plopped through their door. Page 1 brings us the glad tidings that "The first Liberal Democrat-let council budget for the city has been approved". However, before you cheer too wildly, inside there is a dark tale of political skulduggery, the likes of which you might use to terrify young children who won't eat their Brussels Sprouts. You see, the Conservatives voted with the SNP in Holyrood to pass the Scottish Government's budget! And by so doing, they "have done what they said they would never do and have played fast and loose with the union".

Clearly, then, it's only the stout-hearted unionists to be found in the Lib Dems that can be trusted not to deal with the dirty nationalists. But hang on - who is it that's in coalition with the unionist Lib Dems in Edinburgh, who allowed them to get that budget through that they were so proud of back on page 1? Why, it's the SNP of course...

So, Lib Dem principals remain intact when they do a deal with the SNP in the City Chambers, but when the Tories support the SNP budget, that's them undermining the union? Honestly, just how stupid do the Lib Dems think people really are?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Fun For All The Family

A few more thoughts on the Labour Independence referendum fiasco...

Firstly, there's no good way to look at this for Labour. Basically, Wendy Alexander and Gordon Brown's positions are mutually irreconcilable. Something's gotta give, and as Alex Salmond says, it's most likely to be Wendy.

Secondly, Brown, by claiming at PMQs that Wendy had said that which she hadn't, and that the SNP were at fault (t'was ever thus...) for 'breaking' a manifesto pledge (we haven't), he's 'inadvertently' misled Parliament.

Thirdly, how can you call for a referendum on Scottish Independence (even if you now say that's not what you were doing), and justify not having a vote on the Lisbon Treaty?

Fourthly, Brown got hosed in last week's local elections in England and Wales. The very last thing he wants to be doing now is talking about the Scottish constitution.

Fifthly, all of this feeds right into the 'Wendy and Gordon are rubbish' narrative, which is taking root to a quite remarkable extent in the country at large.

There's probably more (only 10 minutes til the fun starts on 'Scotland at Ten' and 'Newsnight/Newsnicht') but that's your lot for the moment. There really is something for everyone in this story!


I’ve been keeping schtum about Wendy Alexander’s screeching hand-brake turn on an Independence referendum. Not because of any unease or lack of ‘bottle’, as some would have it, but simply because it was such a seismic and unexpected political event, that I thought it would take at least a few days to get a measure of what some of the aftershocks might be.

I was wondering how the referendum u-turn might affect the Calman Commission, set up to try and derail independence. I was curious to see how the Tories and Lib Dems might react once the enormity of the change sank in. I was intrigued as to whether Calman’s recommendations would be put to the vote, or whether they would be left as the fallback in the event of a ‘no’ vote to Independence. It would be fascinating to find out whether Wendy would support a referendum in 2009, but revert to opposing one in 2010. Most of all, could Gordon Brown, the arch control freak himself, really have consented to such a ploy?

Well, now we know. Courtesy of Prime Minister’s Questions, we have learned that when Wendy Alexander called for a referendum on independence, what she really meant was that she was content to wait for the report of the Calman Commission. When she said she had the support of Gordon Brown for her move, she really meant that he didn’t support it at all. And when Scottish Labour MPs said that this was a decision for Labour in Holyrood to take, they meant exactly the opposite.

Shambles, meltdown, burach, farrago, car-crash, fiasco, debacle, SNAFU – choose your adjective or acronym as you wish. The clunking fist has clunked down on Wendy’s head – she can either tell him where to go, or back down compliantly. Either way, she risks losing Brown’s patronage or losing what remaining credibility she has within her MSP group, the wider Labour party and the country at large.

First Ministers Questions should be interesting tomorrow…

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Airbrushing History

In The Scotsman of Saturday 3rd May, there were some very strange remarks from Malcolm Bruce MP, my opponent in the forthcoming Westminster election. This was to the effect that following his triumph last year in the Gordon constituency, Alex Salmond had somehow behaved ‘gracelessly’ in his victory speech – a charge Mr Bruce backed up with an accusation that Mr Salmond had neglected to thank the other candidates, or even the voters who had just elected him.

Unfortunately for Mr Bruce, if anyone cares to watch the clip in question (embedded -about 2'00" in), they will find that the First Minister in fact thanked all of the other candidates within 10 seconds of taking his place at the lectern, with his thanks to the voters of Gordon following very swiftly afterwards.

It’s possible, of course, that Mr Bruce’s continued discombobulation at the Gordon result has in some way clouded his recollection of that particular moment. I can only hope he will suffer from no such further confusions with the facts in our exchanges to come.

What The Gord Giveth, The Gord Taketh Away

As threatened/promised, this month's article from the Scots Independent newspaper on the 10p tax rate.

Those who pay close attention to the deductions on their pay slips will likely have noticed a bit of a difference this month. Although it's been long in the pipeline having been announced by Gordon Brown in his 2007 Budget, as of 6 April this year, the basic rate of income tax was cut from 22p to 20p, with the 10p starting rate of tax being abolished to pay for it.

Overall, the effect to the UK public finances was fairly limited. The move from 22p-20p will reduce revenues by roughly £9.6bn, while the abolition of the 10p band – which doubles the starting rate of tax - is expected to bring in £8.6bn. However, the impact on the lowest paid will be anything other than limited. Overall, it's estimated that some 5.3m people – 500,000 in Scotland, including some 324,000 Scots who paid only the 10p rate - will be made worse off by the change.

The main winners according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, will be anyone earning over £18,500. The main losers will be anyone earning less than £18,500 and who either doesn’t claim or is ineligible for tax credits. By way of an example, the changes will see a Labour MP who voted the measure through some £300 better off, while a cleaner earning £7,500 would lose out to the tune of £150 each year. Avanti popolo... it’s a wonder, frankly, that any Labour MPs feel able to look many of the House of Commons staff, who serve them daily, in the eye at present.

Yet in wrapping herself in the red flag and presenting herself as the socialist 'first line of defence', Wendy Alexander stood up at her party's Aviemore shindig to claim that “when you strip away the spin it's 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”. Ladies and gentlemen, from that single sentence, I think we can diagnose with some certainty that even in opposition, Ms Alexander continues to suffer from the most acute of irony deficiencies.

The disconnect between her words and the actions of her party is jaw-dropping in its audacity and shamelessness. So consumed seem to be some in the Labour party with their own sense of righteousness that they believe themselves incapable of doing anything unjust. ‘We are the people’s party’, they say. ‘Our historic mission leads us to believe in social justice. Therefore, everything we do is, by definition, socially just and for the good of the people’.

In fact, listening to the Prime Minister, he’s even using his proprietorial demeanour to justify the fact that some people may be left worse off by the change. Graciously acknowledging the “debate” his change has provoked, Brown told the STUC in Inverness that "We have done more as a Government in the last 50 years for poverty than any other government”. Leaving aside the fact this sentence can be taken in two very different ways, the attitude seems to be that what the Gord giveth, the Gord can taketh away.

Luckily, most of Scotland moved on from that sort of tribalist mindset last year, leaving Labour to gnash its gums and weep and wail in the burning lakes of growing electoral indifference. Luckily also, at least for viewers in Scotland, is the fact that there’s an SNP government determined not just to deliver improvements in services, but also to let people keep more of their own earnings in their pockets.

While prescription charges go up by 25p in England, they’re coming DOWN by £1.85 in Scotland. Council tax has been frozen for the term of the Parliament. Payments for free personal care are being uplifted in line with inflation. The iniquitous ‘graduate endowment’ tax of £2,289 has been scrapped. Tolls have been removed on the Forth and Tay Road Bridges. A £73m tax cut is in the pipeline for 150,000 of Scotland’s small businesses, which will promote economic growth and help revitalise our town centres. All of this has been delivered in the first year of an SNP government, in the teeth of bitter opposition from the self-proclaimed people’s party.

So, while one party huffs and puffs about social justice and prosperity, there’s a party in Scotland getting on with actively delivering it. Judging by the opinion polls, it’s an approach which is finding favour with the Scottish public, in terms of approval ratings and support for both Holyrood and Westminster elections. Crucially, people now seem to be more open than at any other time in recent history to consider the arguments for Independence. That doesn’t make independence inevitable by any means, but it does mean that there is a momentum building towards further powers which will be increasingly difficult for anyone to stop.

I’m sure that scrapping the 10p rate must have seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, very few politicians would press ahead with something they knew to be a rotten idea. However, this measure has finally undermined for all time the argument that a Labour government in Westminster is in any way a guarantor for the interests of the lowest paid in Scotland.

Wendy Alexander’s argument about the Labour party being a ‘first line of defence’ has been completely shot through. How ironic it would be if, set against the achievements of the SNP government in Edinburgh, this measure were to be the spur for Labour’s remaining pro-independence voters to take the final step towards the SNP. This is a potent retort to a perennial unionist question which few of their number ever want to hear an answer to. It’s 10p, it’s arrived on a payslip near you - it’s the cost of not being independent.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Minimum Rage

There's a debate taking place right now in the Commons on child poverty in Scotland. I fully expect everyone to declare themselves to be very much against it. However, Anne MacGuire has just claimed, yet again, that the SNP didn't vote for the National Minimum Wage.

This didn't tally with my recollection, so I went back to check. And lo and behold, would you Adam and Eve it, she's not being entirely straight with us! When it came to the 3rd reading on 9 March 1998, where the bill was due to be rubber stamped, it would seem that it wasn't only the SNP MPs who were elsewhere - according to the list for the division, the following were absent also:

Let's see... in no particular order, there was no Anne Begg, Jimmy Hood, Tony Worthington, Tom Clarke, Rosemary MacKenna, Brian Wilson, Russell Browne, Ernie Ross, Adam Ingram, Gavin Strang, Malcolm Chisholm, Linda Clark, Nigel Griffiths, Michael Connarty, Mohammed Sarwar, Maria Fyfe... right, that's enough - I'm getting bored now.

But not so bored so as to miss the following. There was no Donald Dewar, and no Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary of the day either. Nor was there any sign of present Chancellor Alastair Darling. Or for that matter, a couple of characters by the name of Tony Blair and, er, Gordon Brown. Let alone the newly elected MP for Stirling, one [ahem] Anne McGuire!

Now, I'm sure they all had good reasons for not being there. In that spirit, can Labour people please stop using this exceptionally silly jibe to try and damage the SNP? If I was a parent of one of the 20% of Scottish children currently living in povery, I'm not sure I'd be very impressed by such a transparent and ludicrous attempt to point-score as we've just heard from the Minister.