Wednesday, March 31, 2010

'Picking Fights' - Part XVIII


Warning - for the benefit of Lib Dem blogger Stephen Glenn, the following paragraph contains traces of irony...

We all know how the SNP Government picks endless fights with London - it's all the party exists for. Manufacturing endless conflict where previously there was nothing but a well-oiled Rolls Royce of a home civil service machine, all with the aim of fostering division so as to aid the nefarious process of splitting up the most perfect form of governance yet known to mankind.

It's certainly what a monstrous clamjamfry of lazy journos, intellectually moribund talking heads and shrilling unionist pols in search of a decent argument would have you believe. However, today sees a report published, from the most unlikely of sources, which surely once and for all places a hermetic seal on this argument before burying it 200 feet down a concrete-lined shaft.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee, stappit fu' of dangerous and insidious Scot Nats like Ian Davidson, Lindsay Roy and David Mundell, has today published a report entitled "Scotland and the UK: cooperation and communication between governments". It finds as follows (emphasis mine):

  • Daily communication between the UK and Scottish governments at a ministerial and official level appears to work well. Problems only tend to occur where civil servants in Whitehall are less used to dealing with devolution issues.
  • A devolution champion within each UK Government department at senior level should be introduced to maintain higher levels of devolution awareness amongst staff.
  • The Committee says it is important that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish government work together to improve communication where possible.
  • Robust debate and discussion between Ministers is healthy and the resumption of Joint Ministerial Committees is to be welcomed. However, greater transparency of proceedings is needed to allow scrutiny of intergovernmental cooperation.
  • Opportunities for participation by Scottish Ministers in European Council meetings should be provided by the UK government, where appropriate and where there is agreement on the negotiating line.
  • An updated Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and the devolved administrations is long overdue; the 2001 version did not provide adequate guidance on how disputes should be resolved – as demonstrated during communications between the governments on the UK's negotiations with Libya on the Prisoner Transfer Agreement.
  • Communications between Whitehall and Scotland at an earlier stage during the negotiations between the UK and Libya could have produced a more satisfactory outcome with a possible carve-out of the prisoner transfer agreement for Mr al-Megrahi. Lessons should be learnt from this.

So there you have it. Given a gilt edged opportunity to hammer the Scottish Government and by extension the SNP just weeks before an election, the Committee opted not to - because the evidence which they gathered did not for a moment support the preferred narrative of 'picking fights'. Notable also is the support for what the Scottish Government has been saying all along re Lockerbie and the attitude of the UK Government - particularly Tony Blair - who refused even to respond to letters from the First Minister on the subject of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement.

The report, if you fancy reading the whole thing, runs to a healthy 126 pages. It should be compulsory reading over Easter for Her Majesty's loyal opposition, whether they happen to be members of a parliament - or even members of the press corps.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Universe, Dark Matter and Labour

This is brilliant:

I watched a very interesting programme on BBC2 this week- Horizon. It took me back to the days when the BBC could be relied upon for quality, informative and entertaining programming.

The subject matter of the Horizon programme was the cosmos and the observations by cosmologists that our universe seemed to defy the accepted laws of physics.

To paraphrase; heavenly bodies appeared to behave in a fashion that was at odds with how they should have been behaving. All scientific theory, mathematical formulae and accepted wisdom predicted that objects were orbiting at speeds that should have resulted in them being thrown about like the contents of a food mixer spinning without the lid. Also, the universe was expanding at ever increasing speed when in fact the gravitational pull of its constituent components should have now arrested this acceleration.

So, what was holding the universe together?

Well, the scientists had a theory for this, that there must be some kind of force influencing the universe that we can neither see nor detect. This strange phenomenon was termed 'Dark Matter'.

‘Dark Matter’! eureka I thought. For this theory offered an explanation as to how Labour in Scotland have managed to escape the Purcell affair pretty much unscathed. The world of Scottish politics must contain an equivalent force, a force that can lessen the effects of otherwise devastating revelations, gaffes and scandals – I have termed this hitherto unknown force 'Disnae Matter'.

Go and read the rest here on Newsnet Scotland.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nats, Cleggs and Blank Screens

Having managed to catch a bit of the Politics Show Scotland on the iPlayer and get a good old chuckle at Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander contradicting eachother over the thorny issue of fuel duty, I freely admit that my appetite for hearing more of Mr Clegg last night was, well, sated to say the least of it.

However, I learn this morning from a flurry of outraged Lib Dems (okay then - four of them) tweeting to eachother that apparently, their man was given a setpiece interview last night which was carried on ITV. Except for viewers in most of Scotland, that is, where STV found something different to show instead.

Now, I should say that if you're looking for even the slightest shade of Schadenfreude here, you're going to be sorely disappointed because democrat that I am, I'm inclined to agree with them. You won't find here partisan accusations of egotism being thrown at Mr Clegg just because he's been given the rough end of the stick by a broadcaster. He's entitled to be heard, and I can't think of any good reason why his interview was pulled from Scotland, unlike others with David Cameron or Gordon Brown.

Of course, the tempting response would be to point out that since there's going to be a televised election debate between the leaders of the Scottish parties, Lib Dems should just quit whining and accept that Tavish will get his chance to put their case then. However, that would be unworthy and cheap on my part. As it happens, I've got a much better idea for redressing the balance. And if you can imagine a drumroll in the background, here it is...

In order to make up for this democracy-debilitating deficit of Nick Clegg on Scottish screens, why not have a televised debate in Scotland which involves Clegg, David Cameron, Gordon Brown and, let's think now... a representative of the SNP? That way, the Scottish dimension of the UK election can be adequately addressed, Scottish Lib Dems get another opportunity to see their man without having to rely on YouTube or Sky Plus, and the vexed issue of impartiality over the so-called 'Prime Ministerial' debates in Scotland can be laid to rest once and for all.

I think its a winner, and I'm sure it's an issue which can unite Lib Dems and nationalists against the arrogance of broadcasters who ignore the plurality of our great British political system. How's about it, guys? :-)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"After The Crash" - Available Now

Available free for download, via all good internet connections now...

After the Crash - re-inventing the the left in Britain
Edited by Richard S.
Grayson and Jonathan Rutherford

© Soundings 2010

We believe that now is the time for a new coalition of ideas and action on the centre left, working together to find common ground for change. At the heart of such a coalition is the belief that social democrats, liberals, greens and civic nationalists share a wide range of concerns. We all want to build a society in which individuals have more life chances, and we all fear for the future of the planet. We all believe that a more equal society is absolutely essential to secure these aims, and we all believe that greater democracy is crucial in giving people power, voice and the ability to secure more freedom and a sustainability economy.

Although Labour remains a central part of the progressive future, there are also tens of thousands of members of the Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP, along with progressive people in no party, who are prepared to discuss this kind of coalition politics. After the Crash is intended to help begin a conversation between these constituencies, so that we can find better solutions to the problems we face than are currently on offer from the mainstream of the major political parties.

Jointly published by Soundings, Social Liberal Forum and Compass, in association with the Media Department at Middlesex University and Department of Politics,
Goldsmiths, University of London. Supported by the Lipman Miliband Trust.

Contributors: Jon Cruddas, Caroline Lucas, Steve Webb, Neal Lawson, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey, Richard S. Grayson, Jonathan Rutherford, Alan Finlayson, Jonathon Porritt, Leanne Wood, Richard Thomson, Stuart White.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Problems For Union Square - And Shopping Centre Not Very Happy Either

Some sad news from Aberdeen:

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott was told by security staff to leave the grounds of an Aberdeen shopping centre yesterday.

Mr Scott visited the city to lend his support to the party’s Fair Deal for Aberdeen campaign, which aims to secure additional government funding for the local authority.

Less than 20 minutes after arriving outside the Union Square shopping centre in Guild Street, the Lib Dem leader was, however, asked to stop canvassing members of the public.

Oh dear. I wouldn't like to be an aide in Tavish Scott's office...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Daily Fail

One side effect of the lack of proper regular opinion polling in Scotland is that whenever a sample of opinion does appear, even if it is just a sub-sample of a UK-wide poll, our rune-readers leap upon it like hungry jackals on a scabby carcass.

I should add a caveat to this - that is whenever the poll represents 'bad' news for the SNP, the particular aspect of the poll being used to justify this slant is picked over relentlessly in our glorious Scottish meeja. Meanwhile, whenever it represents a good result, by comparison, it is nearly always downplayed. Add to that the obligatory comments from the political parties, and no matter what the poll says, good or bad, you have the SNP putting a positive spin on it, and three other parties which go on to rubbish the SNP regardless.

There's a rather self-serving agenda at work here, which is being punted right now for all it is worth by some powerful forces. This agenda is that the choice for Westminster is a binary one between Labour and Conservative – the aim of which of course is to squeeze out alternatives as far as possible in the public mind.

Opinion polls are often used to try and lead opinion. Think on the polls which the Daily Record always come up with from some outfit called 'Scottish Opinion', which always show Labour way out in front after the first week or so of election campaigns in Scotland. Even though the polls never bear any relation whatsoever to the final result, the conclusion we are invited to draw at an early stage is that all other parties are out of contention, and only Labour can win the contest in question.

It's rare, however, to find a newspaper trying to rubbish the findings of its own poll, yet that's exactly what the Daily Mail seems to be up to. In the face of some decidedly unlikely-looking recent sub-samples which showed the Tories apparently neck-and-neck with the SNP for Westminster, the Mail commissioned a full-scale poll from Ipsos-MORI. Unfortunately for those who would see the forthcoming Westminster contest in those exclusively 'yookay' terms, this poll not only showed the SNP well ahead in Holyrood voting intentions, but also breathing down Labour's neck for Westminster.

Rather than relay this information on voting intentions, though, the paper – trumpeting the “more reliable data than other online polls produced in recent days” - found reason to try and portray the data in the worst possible light for the SNP:

Now, you could rejoin at this point that I really shouldn't expect anything better from the Mail and you'd be right to do so. How strange, then, to find that just a day after finding the SNP out in front for Holyrood and in contention for lead spot in the Westminster contest, the Mail was backpedaling, trying to claim that since their numbers were so “at variance” with the small Scottish samples of UK-wide polls, that this poll would now “arouse suspicion it may turn out to be a 'rogue' survey”.

The only 'evidence' of this being any kind of 'rogue' poll is that the Mail would dearly like it to be, so it can present the Tories as being on the up and the SNP as being on the way down. Nice try, chaps, but this goes down as an epic fail on your part.

For the record, and just to irritate the Mail, here are the poll numbers in question, based, lest we forget, on what they described on Monday as representing “more reliable data than other online polls produced in recent days”:

Labour - 34%
SNP - 32%
Tories - 17%
Lib Dems - 12%

And just in case you prefer things this way, here they are again, this time in glorious technicolour: