Monday, June 30, 2008

Brass(ic) Flunkeys

Further to DougtheDug's link in the comments of the previous post but one, I've been boning up on how Scottish Labour goes about selecting a leader. In the past, it's been possible for a narrow 'selectorate' to pick a candidate, who has then become the party's nominee for First Minister within the 28 day deadline as set out in the Scotland Act.

However, having been released from that particular time pressure by the Scottish electorate last year, there's no longer any particular hurry to select. And with at least 4 candidates purported to be weighing up their options, it looks like there will, for once, be a contest which relies on the whole electoral college for its outcome, rather than as a North Korean-style affirmation.

The Labour electoral college gives 1/3 of the votes to their parliamentarians; 1/3 to party members, and 1/3 to affilliated organisations (Labour Trade Union members). That means sending a ballot paper and a reply paid envelope to each voter. At the last count, that was over 400,000 ballots. It also means hiring an organisation, like ERS, to supervise the ballot.

None of this comes cheap, and there's one big problem - Labour is skint. Brassic. Potless. With a by-election to fight in the next month and major donors refusing to stump up while Brown remains in post, can the party really afford to fork out the £200,000 plus this contest is going to cost them?

The Writ's In The Can...

The writ for the Glasgow East by election will be moved in the Commons tomorrow. That makes the date likely to be the 24 or 31 of July.

Bet you won't be able to move in Easterhouse in the next month for Labour leadership hopefuls...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wendy and Labour - Bitter To The End

I can't say its a huge surprise, but Wendy Alexander has this morning quit as the Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament.

Throughout, she and her aides have twisted and spun to try to put the best possible gloss on what was, let's not forget, a deliberate attempt to keep campaign donations secret. The law was broken, and while I think it merited only the sort of token admonishment she received from the Standards Committee on Thursday, even then, Labour seemed unable to accept fault.

Instead of bluster about honesty and integrity and lack of 'intentional wrongdoing', she should simply have put up her hands and accepted the hit. Had she done so, she may have started to show a human side which hitherto has often seemed to rather drift in and out of focus.

Labour is trying to blame the SNP for this - everyone, in fact, but themselves. This is cant, pure and simple. Wendy and her team were the architects of their own misfortune, and the briefing against her came from within her own party throughout. I've no doubt that she's pretty bright, certainly by the standards of her colleagues, but ultimately, it's her unfortunate personal style, lack of attention to detail and inability to take others with her that has been her political undoing.

This is a personal tragedy, but it's also one of her own making. My sympathy would be complete and entire, if only there would be some recognition in Team Wendy that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't the horrible nasty Nats who turned her over. The answers, as ever in Labour, lie much closer to home.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Anyone in Holyrood know if there's any truth in the rumour of a minor fracas between a certain spin doctor and a gentleman of the press, and if it was caught by STV, who were apparently interviewing Wendy Alexander at the time?

Where There's Brass There's Muck

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is today taking a pop at the Conservatives and the 'unanswered questions' over their finances. Namely, the tax status of major backer Lord Ashcroft and the extent to which his money is bankrolling campaigns such as the by-election in Henley, and the Crewe and Nantwich contest just past.

Reasonable points both. However, wasn't Michael Brown, the Lib Dems largest ever donor, non-resident for tax purposes? Isn't there a suspicion that the company he funnelled the cash through, 5th Avenue Partners, never actually traded in the UK, which would mean, however unwittlingly, that electoral law had been broken by both the proffering and the acceptance of the donation? Isn't he currently serving time in one of Her Majesty's more secure establishments for the crimes of perjury and obtaining a passport by deception? Isn't it the case that the Lib Dems have still to repay a single penny of this cash to the creditors of 5th Avenue Partners? And isn't it also the case that this £2.4m windfall allowed the Lib Dems to fight a much stronger election campaign in 2005 than they otherwise would have been able to do? Just as they, er, accuse the Tories of being able to do with Ashcroft's money?

Don't get me wrong - Ashcroft's status should be questioned, just as should that of Lord Laidlaw, the Scottish Conservatives' Monegasque sugar daddy. The rules about non UK-registered donors are pretty clear, and although the suspicion remains that they were only introduced to try and stop one individual in particular donating to the SNP, they apply equally to all parties and should be enforced as such.

Michael Brown is on trial this coming September, where he will face a string of charges 'relating to obtaining money transfer by deception, transferring criminal property, theft, furnishing false information and perverting the course of justice'. Which, depending on the outcome, may be the trigger which finally forces the Electoral Commission to insist that the Lib Dems repay that £2.4m. With interest, hopefully.

How does the proverb go again? Something about persons residing in vitreous constructions who might be well advised to refrain from hurling heavy projectiles...

Friday, June 20, 2008

'mon the GERS!

Oh, looky there! The latest edition of 'Government Expenditure and Revenues in Scotland' has been published and with heed having been taken of many of the criticisms levelled at previous editions, the methodology seems to have been refined somewhat.

Nothing too dramatic, you understand. Just minor details like including a geographical share of oil and gas revenues to Scottish accounts; trying to identify Scottish spending as accurately as possible and improving the estimates of Scottish tax revenues. And guess what? While the UK ran a budget deficit in 2006/07, on these estimates Scotland ran a surplus of £800m. Since the price of a barrel of oil has doubled since then, I can't wait to see what next June's figures hold...

By a country mile, this is the most comprehensive and rigorous analysis yet undertaken of Scotland's finances. Maybe now, we'll start to hear a more articulate and intelligent unionist case for Britain based on the argument "Scotland more than pays her way, and here's why she should continue to do so"

Nah. It'll never catch on... :-)

Showing Bottle?

The Scottish Government's consultation on alcohol seems to have ruffled a few feathers in blogland this week, not least because of the suggestion that off-sales may be restricted to those over the age of 21. For what it’s worth, here’s my tuppence-worth…

Firstly, I think there's much in the Scottish Government’s consultation to welcome. Like many other north European countries, Scotland has a troubled relationship with the bottle. Any proposals which make it harder for under-agers to get access to alcohol, and which help foster a more mature attitude to drink, have to be worth consideration in my book. Hopefully, careful consideration is exactly what they are going to get over the next few months.

While it’s the proposed age restriction for off-sales which has attracted the greatest attention, there’s much, much more to the consultation than this alone. Despite some of the attacks on the Scottish Government from south of the border, there's actually a great deal of overlap with what's being proposed by Whitehall. According to last Wednesday's FT, proposals for a minimum price per unit of alcohol are on the agenda south of the border as well. For those reasons, most of the criticisms I’ve heard to date, particularly in regard to legislative competence, seem rather weak and misplaced to say the least of it.

Now for the ‘but’. I've remarked before that I'm generally uncomfortable with the instinct to ban things whenever a social problem rears its head and I have to admit, preventing 18-21 year-olds from buying alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences is something which ordinarily would chafe with my generally libertarian instincts. However, I freely admit to being in two minds on this one.

Firstly, here’s my ‘leave-things-as-they-are’ argument. The main argument in favour of raising the age for off-sales is to reduce under age drinking. However, under age drinking is already against the law, as is the sale of alcohol to anyone under age. There is already a pretty broad package of measures which can be used to tackle alcohol related problems, including laws which allow for dispersal of crowds and confiscation of alcohol; by-laws which can be introduced to ban outdoor drinking; ASBOs which can restrict behaviour; and the more usual charges of being D&D, or the catch-all breach of the peace. As such, the authorities have substantial powers already to deal with the particular problem being identified. If it’s felt that the problem is not being dealt with vigorously enough under current laws and regulations, then why would tougher legislation necessarily aid matters?

Now, here’s the more nuanced case for change which is gnawing at me. The argument about getting married and going off to fight for your country has been done to death in recent weeks in connection with the votes at 16 debate, an initiative which I support, incidentally. I’ve met 16 year olds who know more about politics than many 60 year olds, but even then, I’m not sure I’d want to see a 16 year old behind the wheel of a car. Ultimately, lines have to be drawn somewhere, and given the different prohibitions we have in society and the different rates at which we mature, it’s not always necessary or desirable in my view for those lines to be consistent.

So how should this apply to drink? Well, in truth, we already have different legal drinking ages in Scotland. For instance, at 16, you can buy alcohol in licensed premises to accompany a meal, but not to drink in a bar. The amount which can be consumed is limited to the duration of the meal. It’s also delivered in a highly regulated and supervised environment, which means it’s not possible to drink as much as it would be in a pub. As a public introduction to civilised consumption of alcohol, it has much in my view to commend it.

At 18, the delights of a pint in the local pub are open to you for the first time, legally at least. Again, this can have a socialising effect on alcohol use, since barstaff, bouncers and other customers generally can be expected to keep amateur topers in some kind of order. According to the existing laws, it’s also illegal to serve someone who is already intoxicated. While that’s often a highly subjective measure, it does at least in theory mean that drinking yourself into a complete stupor isn’t an option.

So, why might we benefit if off-sales were treated differently? Well, let me continue with the ‘socialisation’ argument. A parent might buy alcohol in the full knowledge that an under-ager is going to drink it and while that may be an offence, in the privacy of your own home, there’s little the law is likely to do about it. However, if it’s bought for a group of young people to drink together, that supervision/socialising element is often absent. Under those circumstances, consumption tends to increase and with it, the chance of injury, illness, and anti-social behaviour, particularly when it happens outdoors and in relative seclusion.

Now, I know perfectly well that drink fuelled anti-social behaviour isn’t the sole preserve of the under 21s. When I lived in Portobello, my flat was just a few doors up from a (now closed) pub. It was also just up from the beach and promenade, which was something of a magnet for under 18s, who regularly used to sit down there at night to have a smoke and pass the flagon round.

Given that their tipples of choice seemed to be alcopops, cheap spirits and mixers or white cider, the objective seemed to be to get drunk as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Nonetheless, more often than not, the kids used to clear up the cigarette butts, put their bottles in the bin and then slope off home reasonably quietly. The pub, on the other hand, would spew out nightly a noisy and clearly intoxicated middle-aged clientele, some of whom thought little of kicking over motorbikes, separating cars from their wing mirrors and peeing in doorways on their way back up the street.

With that, I realise I’m in danger of contradicting my argument about the socialising effect of drinking in licensed premises. However, I believe the main point – that young people drink more responsibly when supervised and in suitable locations and that off-licences can be a hindrance to that - remains substantially accurate.

So what difference would it really have made to me between the ages of 18-21? I suppose the bars of Stirling and the Student Union would have got even more of my custom than either Victoria Wine or the campus shop. Kitchen parties in 1st year halls would have more or less become extinct… older students would have bought the booze for house parties or pre-clubbing… I might never have felt the need to sample the epicurean delights of Thunderbird or MD 20/20 before hitting the dancefloor.

All things considered, though, an off-sales restriction probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference to me – I’d just have gone out to different places and probably drunk slightly less when I did. However, what it would have done is made it a good deal harder for me as a young teenager to get a carry-out to take up the golf course, or for a sneaky house party when someone’s parents went out for the night. I also can’t say I’ve ever noticed a shortage of under-21’s in most supposedly over-21 establishments, although the higher age limit does make it harder for the very obvious under-agers to get in.

All of which leads me to suspect that when it comes to off-sales, most 18-21 year olds will probably still find a way to either get served or obtain their carry-out by other means, while most under 18’s will find it that bit harder to do likewise. That, though, means both purchaser and vendor breaking the law, which clearly is not a desirable situation for either party. Even having more lenient penalties for those selling to those under-21 but over 18 would send the wrong signal.

Which leaves me in something of a quandary. Alcohol and its excess consumption, for better or worse (largely worse, I would say), is synonymous in Scotland with adulthood and rights of passage and therefore, is always going to have an added appeal to those denied it by law. The main question for me, which I hope the consultation will help with, is whether increasing the age for off-sales should form part of the approach to tackle problem drinking, or whether, alongside some of the other measures proposed, we should simply better enforce the laws we already have in place.

It's a tough one, and I'm not as certain as I would have been at 18 that I know the answer...

Monday, June 16, 2008

In Sleepy London Town There's Just No Place For...

Another weekend on the stump - I spent most of Thursday on a train to Edinburgh then in my car to get to Lumsden, where the local Post Office is threatened with having its opening hours cut back to just 6 hours per week as part of an 'outreach' service. There were over 50 people at the meeting - nearly a fifth of the village. I spoke, briefly, from the floor, but was there primarily to listen. What impressed me most was the determination of those present to work with the other villages affected, Rhynie and Kennethmont, to try and get a better deal from the Post office - no mean feat in a process which seems almost custom designed to pit community against community. How ironic that in an age where we're being told that public services will be reformed to fit our lifestyles, that some communities are now being told to fit their lives around drastically reduced Post Office services.

Friday was spent mostly in Ellon, for reasons I'll return to later, as was Saturday afternoon. Saturday morning was in Kintore meeting with an energetic couple who are trying to set up a community cafe. The afternoon was at the music festival and continental market in Ellon, mostly on the SNP branch bottle stall. I was intrigued to see that the headline act at the evening dance was an outfit called Big Vern and the Shootahs - I remember as a Stirling University fresher, dancing away to them at the ball in the Dunblane Hydro c. 14 years ago. I didn't stick around for the evening's carousing, but I'm sure a great time would have been had by all.

Over the last year, I've become quite adept at throwing stuff in a case for the weekend, but there are the occasional mishaps. Right now, for instance, I'm on a southbound train while my mobile sits obstinately in the hallway of my parents' house in Edinburgh. On the way up, I got to Edinburgh before realising that I'd left my black shoes back in London. Cue a quick stop-off in Perth for Thursday late night shopping so that I could avoid the indignity of turning up for meetings in brown shoes and a black suit. Anyway, no more, as all this travelling back and forward between London and Scotland is about to come to an end for me, at least for the moment.

Much as I've enjoyed London in the year I've been there, it's time to head back and get the Gordon campaign going in earnest. It's hard trying to fight a campaign from London - something I expect my Lib Dem opponent knows full well already and of which I intend to take full advantage in the months ahead. As others have observed, this is a highly winnable seat for the SNP, but the only way to turn good polls and local goodwill into votes is for the candidate to be living locally and bursting a gut - the sooner that happens, the greater will be the chances of success.

I dare say I'll have more to write about my year in London before I head back. I've had a fantastic time, made some great friends, and learned a lot more about Westminster and indeed myself. The move South gave me a shake-up I badly needed but wasn't going to get where I was and I'll be sorry in a lot of ways to leave that new life behind. However, I'm also quite excited at the prospect of the move. The hassles of viewing and buying a house I could see far enough, to be honest, but there's nothing I'd like more than to be the next MP for Gordon, and there's nothing like having the smell of possible success linger in your nostrils to get you psyched up!

So, it promises to be an eventful few weeks. Thanks to my efforts on Friday, I've also seen a couple of nice flats that might be in my price range. All I need now is the number of a good solicitor...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Origins Of The Specious

Predictably, the debate over 42 days detention bubbled up into Prime Ministers Questions today. I thought Gordon Brown turned in an unusually strong performance, even if his arguments for 42 days detention were, in the opinion of this scribe, a lot of specious nonsense.

Much has been made of the ‘safeguards’ which will be put in place for 42 days detention without trial, including the need to bring each case before Parliament. But how can you discuss the specifics of a case in Parliament without prejudicing any future trial? It’s a good point which has been made several times already today and as yet, remains unanswered. Fundamentally, if you can’t discuss the specifics, then Parliament merely becomes a rubber stamp and the ‘safeguard’ is rendered worthless.

Another good point so far unanswered came from Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim. Namely, if you want to deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity, why is the government prepared to commit to discussion of individuals each time their period of detention without charge means their case has to come before Parliament? It didn’t sound like warm-blooded support for the government to me – could we be looking at DUP abstentions this evening?

Ah, but the Government has the support of the authorities, we’re told. Really? MI5 hasn’t called for 42 days detention and neither have the prosecuting authorities, including the Lord Advocate, the Director of Public Prosecutions and a former Attorney General. All we have is vague assertions of a complex threat from ministers along the lines of “If you could see the evidence that I get to see”. Except, of course, we can’t.

Everything this government says or does is about triangulation, only Brown’s version involves a form of political navigation without reference to any fixed point. But then, Brown is a man obsessed by tactics but devoid of principle. He posed with Baroness Thatcher on the steps of Downing Street, not to invite a predecessor to tea, but to try and draw a contrast with David Cameron’s attempts to distance himself from her in ‘modernising’ the Conservative party. He threatened an election, not because one was needed but simply because he thought it might yield an advantage. With 42 days, it’s now about trying to show how much tougher he is than his predecessor, who failed in 2005 to secure a similar measure. He’ll be a good and tough leader, because he’ll have managed what Blair couldn’t.

At its heart, this is a completely unnecessary spat. If Brown wins, he will have used up much of the dwindling goodwill which exists towards him on the Labour backbenches. It’s also hard to appear tough when throwing money around left right and centre to try and buy support. After all, next time there’s a tight vote looming, backbenchers will rightly start asking ‘what’s in it for me?’. Good old WII FM – the most listened to radio station in politics…

And if he loses? Expect more guff about ‘taking the right long-term decisions for the security and prosperity of Britain’, as well as a fresh outing for my current favourite Brown soundbite: ‘I will listen and I will lead’. The problem is, on planet Brown, the before always represents the 'right long term decision' at the time, just as does the contrary position he’s invariably forced into afterwards.

I really can’t fathom why Brown seems so determined to take this one to the wire. After all, if I were a Labour backbencher sitting on a majority below 5,000, a call from the whips telling me that the future of the Prime Minister was at risk tonight if the government were defeated might only tempt me to give him a shove, in the hope that someone else might take his place.

There is another possibility. Brown may be so sick of it all that he feels he’s nothing left to lose – win, and he can portray himself as a strong leader, at least temporarily. Succumb to defeat, and it may bring the blessed relief of a hastened end. It’s going to be an interesting 48 hours.

UPDATE: So, Brown squeaked it 315-306, with the help of the DUP. Hope they got something nice for their trouble.

UPDATE 2: £1.2bn - the total cost to you and I of Brown buying the support of the DUP and his internal would-be rebels. Nice to know our oil windfall is being spent so responsibly.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

S&I Elsewhere - An Invisible Giant

Maybe unusually for an SNP economics anorak, I don't write all that often about the North Sea. However, with oil prices and the UK public finances as they are, and in the aftermath of this BBC Scotland documentary, it's an issue once more creeping up the agenda.

This was written for the Scots Independent newspaper a week or so before 'Truth, Lies, Oil and Scotland' was broadcast north of the border (It's on the BBC iPlayer for a few more days for anyone who missed it). In the event, the programme was no-where near as incendiary as its title. However, when you've been told as I have by middle aged oil workers that despite the decades of production to come from the North Sea and into the Atlantic, that there's a shortage of young people coming into the industry because they all think the oil's going to run out tomorrow, you begin to realise what a good job people did in the 70's and 80's of persuading Scots, against all the available evidence, that this was just a transient windfall.

The first 30 years of revenues have been peed up against the wall. The kneejerk reaction to Alex Salmond's call for just 10% of the current North Sea windfall (not 95%, not even a percentage of the total tax take) to be invested in an oil fund for Scotland, should tell us all we need to know about how important the resource, and its revenues continue to be to the UK Treasury. It should also tell us why so many of the British political classes are so opposed to Scottish Independence - the cheek of some in continuing to claim subsidy as an argument for Union while raking in the taxes, still takes the breath away.

An Invisible Giant

What is it about the oil industry that causes many otherwise sentient minds to shut up shop? To some, North Sea Oil has been about to dry up imminently for the past 30 years. To others, it would have been ‘selfish’ to see the revenues as being anything other than British. Some, meanwhile, prefer a zero sum view that because a resource is finite, no benefit can arise from its use.

Ill-informed negativity masquerading as insight and wisdom isn’t only a feature of Scottish politics, but with oil and gas, it seems to be the default position for many. Although the wealth brought by the North Sea is clear to anyone who works in the industry, its economic significance has routinely been played down, leaving many in Scotland with a false impression of how big the industry actually is.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because with one or two very obvious exceptions, the onshore signs of the industry are few and far between for the majority of Scots. It’s simply never become part of our iconography in the way that Ravenscraig or Clyde shipyards did – remarkable, when you consider that the offshore industry is worth something like a sixth of total Scottish economic activity.

[Scottish GVA without oil = 96% of UK GVA including oil. Scottish GVA including oil = c. 110% of UK GVA including oil]

Figures from the UK Offshore Operators Association show that in 2006, the industry invested more than £5.5 billion in the North Sea; spent a further £5.5 billion on operations; and contributed £9 billion in direct taxation to the Exchequer. It employed, either directly or indirectly, some 480,000 people across the whole UK – with 380,000 jobs related to domestic production and a further 100,000 to the export of oilfield goods and services.

That latter number is of particular significance to Scotland. Thanks to the experience gained over the past 40 years, Scotland is now a major provider of oilfield goods and services throughout the world, with exports growing at 10% per annum and worth some £4bn every year. Like financial services, this is another Scottish industry with a truly global reach.

But it's not just onshore that our visibility of this giant is restricted. When it comes to UK economic data, North Sea revenues are always included in overall UK accounts, but excluded from the Scottish accounts as 'Extra Regio'. This means that when a Scotland shorn of oil and gas revenues is compared with a UK figure which does include these revenues, Scotland is made to look relatively less prosperous than she actually is.

One of the most flagrant examples comes when measuring the size of the Scottish public sector. We’re often told that Scotland enjoys Scandinavian levels of public spending, yet pays only UK levels of taxation. The statistic used to back this up is that Scottish public spending exceeds 50% of GDP, while UK spending is sitting at 43% - a statistic from which we are then invited to believe, entirely falsely, that the Scottish public sector is uniquely inefficient and further, that Scottish public spending is being subsidised from elsewhere in the UK.

Let’s leave aside the fact that even if resources were being transferred to Scotland by the Treasury, present UK debt levels mean it would be being done with money borrowed internationally. Let’s also leave aside for a moment the fact that with 1/12 of the UK population being spread over 1/3 of the UK landmass, it’s always going to cost more to deliver the same quality of government services in Scotland than it would in more densely populated parts of the UK.

When you include the 90% plus share of North Sea revenues which would accrue to a Scottish Treasury, Scottish spending isn’t above 50% of GDP – it’s 41% - lower than the equivalent UK figure. In fact, pull the same stunt of removing those North Sea revenues out of UK accounts completely and the UK would have failed even to meet the Maastricht Eurozone convergence debt criteria from 2003/04 onwards.

It was in 1999 that the late Donald Dewar stood before the Scottish Grand Committee and intoned gravely that the $10 barrel of oil would be with us ‘for the foreseeable future’. Today, with greater competition for resources and increasing consumer demand, high energy prices and the challenges which flow look like they are here to stay. With our surfeit of renewables potential, and with as much to come from the North Sea as has already been extracted, Scotland is almost uniquely well placed to ride out the transition to this new world of energy insecurity.

We’re looking now to the second age of the North Sea, founded not on the prodigious rates of extraction of the early 1980's, but based on the high prices which make development of smaller resources worthwhile. However, the capital needed to maintain this success is both finite and highly mobile. To make the most of the remaining opportunities in the North Sea, government is going to have to focus on how to maintain an environment that makes Scotland at least as attractive to investors as other fields throughout the world.

Labour, with little or no affinity for the industry or those who work in it be they 'fat-cat' or 'roughneck', has only ever seen it as a convenient source of cash when the books won't balance. A Scottish Government could never afford to be so cavalier. This surely bodes better for the long-term future of the industry than the erratic behaviour of Whitehall debt junkies, desperate only for their next fix of corporation tax revenues.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Some Blog Love

Having been tagged by Jeff in his recent ‘Top Blogs’ post (and since I’m now able to get my head through the door of the house again after receiving such a lofty accolade), it’s time to continue the chain. After all, break a chain-thingy like this and as any fule kno, not only will you lose your job, all your hair will fall out as well, with further misfortunes too gruesome to describe following in short order.

This is by no means a list of my favourite or most read blogs, since if you’re Scottish and into politics it’s probably a given that you already have people like Brian Taylor, Mr E and Guido on your blogroll. There’s also a fair bit of overlap between Jeff’s choices and what some of my own would be were I to conduct the same exercise, so I’m deliberately avoiding duplication. Finally, I’m leaving out favourite blogs either defunct, on hiatus or in the early stages of a transition, which sadly, at present excludes Scottish Patients, Reactionary Snobs and people exclaiming Whoopdedoo, wherever they may be.

With that understood, and in no particular order, here then are ten blogs which in my view, are examples of the genre which rise above the ordinary:

Calum Cashley (SNP)

I’ve know Calum for years, and his idiosyncratic sense of humour often as not chimes well with mine. Not only that, he’s a smart cookie, frequently digging out the nuggets of information which become tomorrows’ newsprint. Without doubt, the best connected SNP blogger in Holyrood.

Cllr Andrew Burns (Lab)

One of the good guys. An opponent of mine at the local elections in 1999 (I lost), he makes his points well, avoiding the ad hominem which plagues the blogs of many elected members. Hints of a life outside politics as well.

Tom Harris MP (Lab)

For my money, the best blog written by an elected politician in the UK, never mind Scotland. Pithy, personal and pleasingly indiscrete. I hope he’s keeping a diary…

Scottish Futures (Ind Nat)

Über-thoughtful blog, hosted by Scottish polymath Pat Kane. Home to articles from sundry McChatterers like Prof Chris Harvie, Gerry Hassan and Ian MacLaren. Never less than thought-provoking.

Normal Mouth (Lab)

Another Labour blogger, this time from west of Offa’s Dyke. Cerebral, not afraid to criticise their own side when they see fit, and takes an interest in Scottish politics to boot. Essential for anyone interested in Welsh politics, especially when read alongside….

Adam Price MP (Plaid Cymru)

Highly rated Member of Parliament for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Bilingual posts - a bit serious but worth reading.

Burning Our Money

Frighteningly well informed commentary on matters Treasury related - clearly has far too much time on his/her hands. Number of default attitudes towards Scotland which inhibit objectivity from time to time, but don’t let that put you off.


If she’s not already on your blogroll, add her immediately.

Man About The House

Family, politics, life in general – the musings of a stay at home Dad.

Richard Havers

Former airline executive with a dislike of windfarms, now living the dream as a writer and guest house owner in the Lammermuir Hills. Seemingly exhaustive knowledge of post-war music and counts a Rolling Stone amongst his friends - would be on my fantasy pub-quiz team for those reasons alone.

And that’s my duty done. Except for a sneaky reference to two other sites I’m involved with which don’t really count as blogs, but which merit a mention for the contributions of others – Destination, set up by Julie Hepburn, and The Flag In The Wind, the online presence of the ‘Scots Independent’ newspaper. Here endeth the plugs :-)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Something From The Weekend

Just back from a very productive weekend out on the stump. Let's see... on Friday, there was the SNP golf day in Ellon, which as well as letting 11 teams have a great day out, looked like it raised a tidy sum for the Gordon campaign; I took a trip to Rhynie during the day to visit a post office which is in danger of having its working hours cut back from 37.5 to just 8; then at night, there was the chance to meet some of the movers and shakers of the Collieston and Slains Community Trust, who are seeking to build a new Community Hall for their village (please take a look at their site and read about how much they've achieved so far - it's really quite remarkable).

On Saturday, there was the Ellon Fire Station Fun Day, where one of the highlights (apart from the BBQ) was a demonstration of how a casualty is cut free in the aftermath of a car accident. It was good to meet the high-heidyins of Grampian Fire and Rescue; to run into fellow Blogger Cllr Mark MacDonald who sits on the Grampian Fire Board; and also to spend some time with another chap whom you may recognise if you watch to the end of the second video :-)

Almost every time I'm in Huntly, it seems like there's some kind of big event on and this weekend was no exception. Today, it was the 'Music in the Square' festival, which as the name suggests, saw the town square being given over to music and dancing.

It was great to run into folk whom I've got to know over the course of the campaign so far, and also to meet new people like fellow fiddler Paul Anderson for the first time. I remember hearing him absolutely walk away with the seniors competition at the Strichen festival nearly 20 years ago and hoping that one day I might be able to play to his standard. I think I've done allright music-wise since then, but that may be an ambition permanently out of reach! He was performing later in the day - sadly, I didn't have my fiddle with me to join in the sessions promised for afterwards, but there's always next time.

We had to knock the music and dancing on the head for a couple of hours to have our monthly Gordon SNP Constituency Association meeting in the ex-Servicemen's club, but afterwards, we went for a walk round the square with the First Minister. He gets a tremendous reaction wherever he goes but this was truly exceptional - he could barely walk 10 yards without being stopped for a chat or to have his picture taken on someone's mobile phone... manna from heaven for the candidate seeking introductions when given the task of walking around with him!

Anyway, this weekend saw the culmination of a rebranding of Huntly, which has seen the town get a clever, stylised variation on its traditional stag's antler crest. However, the highlight of the afternoon was a communal rendition of the Waterboys number 'Room To Roam', inspired by Huntly-born George MacDonald's poem of the same name, which has been adopted as the town's 'anthem'. You can get a sneak peek here:

If you look closely, you might even catch a glimpse of Waterboy Mike Scott himself, resplendent with red guitar in the middle of the stage, leading the performance.

All in all, it's been a great weekend. Flying back south tomorrow and going back to work is going to be a bit of a grind...

Off The Rails

Hmm... maybe it was a good weekend to be away from London!