Sunday, 30 October 2011

There is an advert at the moment for Jamie Oliver's new series "Tasty Britannia". The Nats should watch these adverts for they demonstrate how easy it would be  for the "unionists"  to win an Independence Referendum. As Jamie boasts that he will go round the country sampling regional and national cuisine, we, in Scotland all sit and watch this silently insisting that when he comes here he will find our curries are a match for anybody's. Nobody for a moment thinks we should tell him to f off to his own country.

For we don't for even five seconds think of Jamie Oliver, cheeky Essex chappie  that he undoubtedly is,.... we do not for five seconds think of him as an evil English oppressor.

There has been a lot of talk as to who might lead the "No" campaign. Various cosmopolitan Scotsmen are suggested: Billy Connolly; Lorraine Kelly; Euan McGregor. That would be daft. Popular sentiment insists that "proper" Scottish people would live here and be as miserable as the rest of us.

No, the No campaign should be led by an English person. Obviously not just any English person. The likes of Sir Clive Woodward or Nick Faldo would clearly be a mistake.  As would, I regret to inform my Tory readers, either Nick Clegg or David Cameron.

I myself quite fancy Alesha Dixon.

Anyway, getting back to the politics, my number one choice would be Peter Kay. Let's see even Eck try to persuade us that we are living under his yoke, or indeed the yoke of anybody he's ever met. Or that we should look forward to regarding him as a foreigner.

Now, I'm just an amateur, with no access to current private polling or focus group work. Yet even I can put this idea together since the end of tonight's Downton Abbey, (A programme which, being about English Toffs, the STV hierarchy once thought would be of no interest to Scots).

The problem about the current political situation in Scotland is that the SNP, in a desperate attempt to keep together the coalition that delivers even a 34% vote for Independence can't do anything bold at all. And yet aware that this sort of vote is the best they can do without any sort of coherent opposition, they can't even  move forward on the National question.

So the result is atrophy. Not atrophy on the constitution. Atrophy on any sort of public policy initiative.

I keep banging on that there is not going to be a referendum. I simply cannot conceive of the circumstance in which it would advantage the governing Party to hold one they would lose.

But something has to happen. An unelectable opposition facing a stalemated Government is a recipe for disaster. That's not my opinion as a member of the Labour Party. It is my opinion as a resident of Scotland.

I Despair

If the French Bourbons had been partial to Party Conferences and had decided to hold a 1790 event in response to the events of the previous year it would still have struggled to match yesterday's Labour Party event in its combination of complacency and misplaced sense of injustice.

The problem with the Scottish Labour Party is that it is the Scottish Labour Party. Like the Bourbons, it believes in Divine right and it simply cannot come to terms with the fact that others do not share that view. If the people no longer support Divine Right then it must be because they do not understand it; it is simply inconceivable that they might actually disagree with it.

I will illustrate this with reference to the questions put to the leadership candidates.

Asked why they wished to be First Minister, all three candidates replied essentially that if they were First Minister then patently Alex Salmond would not be First Minister. That was more than enough answer for the people in the hall and therefor evidently would be enough for the people of Scotland.

Asked where they stood on "Devo Max" all three dismissed it for no other reason than that it was being proposed by the SNP. Not one commented at all on their view of what powers the Scottish Parliament should actually have. After all, who is interested in that?

Asked where they stood on Gender balance in candidate selection not one even paused to observe for a moment that the principal problem with our candidates was not their gender but the fact that they weren't getting elected.

Asked what they would do about youth unemployment, all three assured us that they would oppose it! Honestly, that was their answer, as if it was obvious that Alex Salmond, or even Ruth Davidson/Murdo Fraser was actually in favour of youth unemployment. Or that anybody outwith the hall believed them to be.

Most bizarre of all one of the other questions amounted to "Do you think Social Justice is important?" One can only assume this was to give the candidates the opportunity to commit public political suicide.

And as for the Council Tax Freeze question. No answer even started to acknowledge that this had been such an unpopular SNP Policy that we, in a panic move, had adopted it! Or why anybody might have thought, even wrongly, that it was a neccessary move? Even the Deputy Leader who had, presumably, approved it!

And then their was the final staged question on disability rights. Even the question was not: "what would you commit Labour to doing on this subject?" but rather "Would you repeat the experience of 2011 by having a Manifesto on the subject?" All gave the obvious affirmative answer. Not one observed that Labour having a Manifesto on this or any other subject would achieve f..k all for the disabled or anybody else if we weren't the actual Government.

Yesterday we didn't  try to work out why we lost. We just chose to pretend it hadn't happened. Margaret Curran's earlier speech summed it up perfectly. Having started saying that we had to face up to some harsh truths, she then mentioned not a single one and proceeded to attack the Coalition, roping the SNP in with their actions without a single even attempted justification for doing so. If the SNP were not Labour then they must be Tories. Simples.

And despite the quiet private recognition that part of our problem is that we are associated with  being the solely the Party of the feckless, the public sector and of local government bureaucracy and inefficiency; far from confronting this, all three, indeed all seven, candidates chose to give all three groups their enthusiastic pledge of further unconditional support. And to offer not a hint of a policy offer to anybody else.

There might just have been some tendentious basis to proceed after 2007 on the basis that if people hadn't heard us properly, we simply needed to raise our voices. Surely now somebody standing for the Leadership must have the courage to recognise that it is not that people don't hear the message. It is that they don't like what they are hearing.

There were two good speeches yesterday. Iain McNicol, the new General Secretary, gently pointed out that in organisational terms, we needed to start living in the 21st century and, more significantly, Gordon Matheson gave an excellent combination of a defence of our record in Glasgow and a series of positive reasons for a renewed mandate.

Unfortunately neither of them would even be eligible to stand for the leadership.


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

In praise of the Cavaliere

I've said before that one of the advantages of having abandoned the ambition to elected office is that I can say what I think.

So, I can understand why people vote for Silvio Berlusconi. I accept that to advance this view you have to "get" Italy. It is, South of Bologna/Florence/Rome (delete to taste) not an entirely serious Country. By that I mean that it does not enjoy the understanding that loyalty to the state is anything other than a voluntary sentiment. You can pay your taxes, if you want, but, in the end, it's up to you. What matters is not order but "life!" And life can be sweet or beautiful or both according to your taste. Whatever, it is never entirely serious.

Who would not wish to live comfortably and contentedly from day to day, paying little attention to what might come tomorrow? And who would not vote for a man who assures them that this can go on forever? Is that not why we so enjoy holidaying there?

Of course, we holidaymakers know that at some point we will require to return to the real world: the world of jobs and mortgages and sleet in October. But why, if you are assured that this need never be the case, should you not vote for the man who provides that assurance? Vote for him even if you do have some reservations about his personal conduct, which, regrettably, many men of a certain age do not? Vote for him if only because he has an undoubted personal charm?

I felt for Italy this past week when Sarkozy and Merkel  engaged in their body language dismissal of the Presidente del Consiglio. It spoke of a certain northern European superiority that I found distasteful. But, more significantly, I was aware that Italian Civil Society, even Italian Civil Society of the Left, recognised that there was simply nobody else. That they had made their bed and now had to lie in it.

The key thing is however that there is nobody else. I cannot start to express my irritation at the Rifondazione, who continue to proceed on the basis that a government of the Right is no worse than that of the Centre/Left, but I cannot wish them away. Any more than I can wish away the history that prevents the only potentially stable Government in this time of crisis, an alliance between Fini and the PD.

In the end I come back to the main argument of Berlusconi's people. There is no alternative. He might be living in a fantasy world of low taxes and high public expenditure, and somebody else picking up the bill, but there is simply nobody else. And he does have a certain degree of personal charm.

Now, what has any of this to do with Scotland? I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Wee Eck has a heart

I've got a fair bit of speechwriting experience. 

Its partly my job "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, would you wish to be sent to prison on the word of this drunken man?" etc..etc; but it is also a political task with which I have been tasked, on others behalf, from time to time.

Since that speechwriting has been in the cause of progress, I have undertaken these tasks for love not money but, to be honest, if paid enough, it is probably a task I could undertake for any cause or any political Party because, as you learn it, you become aware that there are certain set formulae for  platform speeches.

Generally, opposition politicians are for change, for who could be against that? That however allows them greater liberty of discourse.

For Governing politicians the task is both more difficult and the form more restricted. You always have the occasional other example: continuing to run running as an outsider while actually in power or, in extreme circumstance, appealing for popular absolution as the victim of events but these are not the norm. The norm, has five elements: 1, A topical  introduction of some sort related to the place or time; 2. an attack, ideally involving humour, on the opposition; 3. a list of your achievements in Office; 4. what is, or at least purports to be a new initiative of some sort and inspirational peroration. It is possible to reverse elements 2 and 3 but only at the price of restricting the humour to the introduction. You can also "baroque" it a bit by putting in trills from different bits out of sequence as you go along or even, if your really on the ball, have a recurring leitmotif  but the basic structure might as well have been set out by Isaac Newton.

So, paid enough, I could have written such a speech for David Cameron or Danny Alexander,or, as somebody else clearly did, for Alex Salmond. The point is however that in the speech delivered, if not the speech written, for the First Minister, the fourth part was missing.

If you know the trade its actually quite easy to spot the cut. It's here, three quarters of the way through:
"If Murdo Fraser thought such a notion was conceivable then he would’t be trying to disband the Party!
In contrast fiscal responsibility, financial freedom, real economic powers is a legitimate proposal. It could allow us to control our own resources, introduce competitive business tax, and fair personal taxation.
All good, all necessary but not good enough."
The cut is almost certainly before the middle para but just conceivably immediately after it.
And it's a last minute cut. I say that because speeches are written for two audiences. Those who hear it and those (opposition politicians and journos) who only read it. For the latter it must make narrative sense so an early rewrite is gone over to ensure that the speech still "flows". Here however the FM offers no previous or subsequent reference to "financial freedom, real economic powers....". There is accordingly no narrative sense; the sure sign of a last minute cut.
But you also don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out what has been cut. The Papers were clearly heavily briefed in advance that the First Minister would be committing the SNP to a second question in their legendary Referendum. Indeed, they were clearly so heavily briefed that a lot of the immediate press reaction declared that to be what the speech was about. In fact, it is not even mentioned! That is clearly what was cut.
Now, as all readers of crime literature will know, the real question is not what happened, but why.
The SNP are entitled to have a triumphant conference. Most of their senior activists have spent their whole lives being kicked to (the point of) death by the Labour Party. In May they had their revenge. 
So they've all turned up in Inverness in Party mood. I suspect very few of them will have surfaced as I am writing this. I hesitate to be a party (should that be Party) pooper but the problem is that they, if not, to be fair,  their leadership, are labouring under the misapprehension that they are on their way to Independence.
The leadership however know that they won for any number of reasons but, regrettably for them, a popular desire for independence was not among them. Had it not been so, Independence would have taken up more than one page of their sixty-two page Manifesto and indeed they would be hurrying now to accomplish it.
Now, I don't like Eck, but he is not a heartless man. 
What had been written in the original version of the speech was that there was to be a second question in the referendum. And even if he wasn't to state it expressly, the subtext of that statement was that he had concluded that they couldn't win the first (previously only) question. The question whose asking, in unequivocal terms, was the one towards which most of these people had devoted their lives.
So that part of the speech was cut. At a human level, I applaud him for that. Unfortunately for him however, the shattering of dreams will have to come some time. As a consolation, unless we get our act together, there is no reason the SNP will not be able to continue as the Goverrnment of Scotland and have another great day out while persuading themselves Independence is imminent when they gather for their 2016 Conference.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Process, process, process.

What is the point of the second question?

If the second question involves an improved devolution scheme which Westminster is content with, what's the point of asking the question? So we can vote it down anyway out of sheer thrawnness?

If it involves an improved devolution scheme which Westminster won't concede what's the point of asking it then?  Nothing will happen even if we cast a hypothetical yes vote.

Power devolved is power retained. You can't have a unilateral declaration of devolution. Within the last ten years nobody made that point with more force than the SNP.

You could of course then threaten the nuclear option of Independence referendum, but you can't do that if you've already asked the Independence question in the same referendum and got a negative answer.

And if you've asked the Independence question and got a positive response?

What's the point of the second question?

Ach, I've said all this already. There's not going to be a Referendum. If there was then those proposing to hold it would be being more serious.

Monday, 17 October 2011


I am grateful to Angus McLellan for his comment/correction on my last blog. Alex Salmond did indeed, belatedly, say just before the election that the Referendum would not be held until the second half of the term of the Scottish Parliament. He did so in the final leaders debate, four days before polling, and he said it then, as Angus's own cited press report confirms "for the first time".

I am therefore wrong in my previous assertion that it was never said at all, although not wrong in my assertion that it is not what was in the SNP Manifesto; or as wrong as SNP blogger, Laurence McHale who claims that this is not what the SNP ever said prior to the vote, then or now or indeed SNP twitterer @AlisdairStephen who challenges me to " Provide proof Salmond ever said it was in manifesto. He said we campaigned on second half referendum, which is true."

Only it's not true one way or another. Even if I ever made the first assertion, which I didn't. Anyway, Angus McLellan is good enough to concede that it is an assertion which I might have made legitimately about others in the SNP.

The central claim which I make is that the Referendum taking place "in the second half of the Parliament" is not only not what is in the SNP Manifesto, it it is not, until the very last minute, what anybody in the SNP even actually said during the campaign. I do not have the time to trail every possible internet source but here's Eck himself on Newsnight on 20th April, thanks to SNP partisan Moridura.

(For those of you without the time to watch the whole thing (or even the 2 Minutes from 1.57) Eck is repeatedly asked when the Referendum takes place and repeatedly answers "(With)in the Five Year term".)

Now, as Angus McLellan corrects me, at the very last minute, four days before polling, this was changed by Eck himself at least, to a commitment to hold a Referendum (only) in the second half of the Parliament. With respect to Mr Stephen, that hardly consists of a campaign.

Here I want to say two complimentary things about the SNP.

Firstly, that it is actually quite a democratic party, certainly more democratic than the Labour Party (although that may be damning with faint praise). I blogged on LabourHame some time ago about an Independence referendum being, in the words of the First Minister, a once in a generation event. I was pulled up immediately, by various SNP internet commentators, that while this might be Eck's personal view it was no more than that. The members made SNP Policy and Eck did not overrule them. If I accept that however, which I do, then surely I, and more importantly the public, must accept SNP policy to be what's in their manifesto rather than an unauthorised concession made (even) by the candidate for First Minister in the course of a last minute TV Debate.

Secondly, and here I side with Mr McHale, I concede it is entirely a matter for the Government as to when we have an Independence Referendum. That's what their Manifesto said and that's the basis on which they were elected. So if they want to have a Referendum a week before the 2016 Elections, they have broken no Manifesto promises to anybody. I don't like the SNP but even I concede they are not Liberal Democrats.

I'm not going to played for a mug here however. Why did Eck's position on the timing of a Referendum change between the Gordon Brewer interview on 20th April and the TV debate on 1st May?

Because on 20th April the best outcome for the SNP was perceived to be returned as a minority administration with no majority for a Referendum in the Parliament; by 1st May however an absolute majority, or at least a majority with the assistance of the Greens, was being perceived as a possibility. So between 20th April and 1st May, an Independence Referendum moved from being an aspiration to being an actual possibility.

And the First Minister was then faced with an "Oh F**k" moment.

I'm a great believer in honesty in politics. The SNP can't win a referendum on Independence but they are quite good at being the Government of Scotland and they'd quite like to continue in that capacity. The former however mitigates against the latter.

They depend for their electoral success on a coalition between, on the one hand, those who like their technocratic competence within a devolved settlement but who would fear for their personal prosperity under Independence and, on the other hand, those who would be happy to peril everything in the cause of "Freedum!"

Holding that coalition together in the context of a Referendum that would inevitably consign these two wings into opposite camps is an impossible task in a way that would be difficult to mend. There is however a solution and that is not to actually have a Referendum at all; better still, not to have a Referendum while claiming to the "Freedum" lovers to have been frustrated by others (ideally English others; absolutely ideally posh English Lawyer others) in pursuit of that never intended goal.

We all know that's what going on here but politics is politics. You can't ignore your base. Our  base insists on proceeding on the assumption that either Johann or the other excellent candidate are remotely fit to be First Minister because to recognise otherwise would lead to Party Reform in a way too upsetting to vested interest. Equally, (an important section at least of) the SNP's base must be deceived into trusting that the leadership remain remotely interested in risking their Ministerial Offices, and their quiet but effective stewardship of Scotland, in the cause of that self same "Freedum".

I am appreciative of the interest my most recent blog has provoked but I'd like to refer to an earlier missive.

I accept entirely that the timing of a Referendum is a matter for those who won the election but, given the likely legal challenge to the competence of any Referendum, why have the Government not introduced the paving legislation in this session of Parliament, enabling that challenge to be disposed of well before 2016?

Think on that Freedum lovers.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Surprise Discovery

I set off earlier today to write a blog about Same Sex Marriage. It occurred to me that it would be helpful to have a wee look at what the SNP Manifesto had to say on the subject.

The answer is not a sausage. I have no criticism of that except to note that it is surprising to note that a Party holding itself out as being to the left of David Cameron finds itself now running so hard to catch up. Still, I suppose, they did need Brian Souter's money

However that is not to say that I did not make a surprise discovery in the process.

It was of course the Queen of Hearts who famously observed that "What I tell you three times is true".

Since the Election in May, I have seen the First Minister questioned on numerous occasions as to why the SNP are not immediately proceeding to hold an Independence Referendum. On each occasion, he has assured his interlocutor that this was because the SNP said in advance of the election that the Referendum would take place "In the Second half of this Parliament.".

Now, I have heard this so often that I assumed that I believed it to be true. Only it's er........................not.

The SNP Manifesto has remarkably little to say about Independence or an Independence Referendum. Indeed, it has less to say on the latter subject than it has on the topic of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

What it does say is this (at page 28 of a 42 Page Document.)pg30.jpg

I have consciously provided every word so that there is no prospect of being accused of selective quotation. Those able to negotiate the inspirational prose, let alone the contribution of Angela Constance, who, being an SNP backbencher, is, unsurprisingly in favour of Independence, will have noticed that there is no mention of the second half of the Parliament as being the anticipated timing of this event. Nonetheless, since the election, the First Minister has repeatedly made this assertion in a series of interviews and been accepted at his word by journalists of different political perspective, indeed nationality, presumably on the basis that, no matter what their personal scepticism about the SNP, they did not believe the First Minister would be telling them a bare faced lie.

(By way of diversion at this point I urge you to consider the commitment to cutting excise duty on whisky in an Independent Scotland which sits oddly with the minimum pricing commitment elsewhere in the document but which taken alongside the commitment to the European Union, also elsewhere, would involve a commitment to an Independent Scotland cutting excise duty on all spirits. You obviously don't win a landslide without being all things to all men.)

Anyway, to move on. The suggestion that the referendum was never intended to take place until the second half of the Parliament is, quite literally, made up. I trust that someone else, charged with the task of interrogating the First Minister around his conference this week might actually put that to him.

Now I'm on the trail, I'll return to the issue about there being questions in the Referendum relating to different matters entirely and what, if any, mandate exists for that. As you will have seen for yourselves, it certainly doesn't exist in the SNP Manifesto.

Before I was Distracted

I set off to write a blog about Gay Marriage. In the process I made a surprise discovery so I might blog about that later. But first, my originally intended discourse.

I was led to this subject by the fact that two of our most senior political commentators cover this territory in their columns today. While I agree with their ultimate conclusions, that Same Sex Marriage should be allowed in Scotland, I feel both are not sufficiently sensitive to the Scottish tradition of the separation of Church and State.

For all practical reality we already have Same Sex Marriage in Scotland since the introduction of Civil Partnerships. It is not simply that Civil partners have exactly the same legal status vis a vis each other as is enjoyed by traditional husbands and wives.  I don't know anybody who has ever referred to going to a gay "Civil Parnership Ceremony." The common usage is a gay wedding, or even to a wedding with the gay added as an afterthought. Equally, after the event, most gay people, of my acquaintance at least, refer, not to their "Civil Partner" but rather to their husband or their wife or occasionally, their spouse. I recently even had a fellow family lawyer referring to dealing with their first gay divorce. It wouldnt have crossed their mind to have cited the matter as relating to the dissolution of a Civil Partnership. That sounds more like a job for a commercial lawyer!

But the word marriage has two different meanings. One, the one at use in civil society, refers to an exclusive commitment by two people one to each other, with certain legal consequences. For that purpose it does not matter whether the actual establishment of that status takes place in a Church, a Registry Office or even a garage in Las Vegas. And, in relation to that civil understanding of the word, the married state, while intended to be permanent on its foundation, can nonetheless be brought to an end if the wishes of one or other participant changes. These circumstances in Scotland being as simple, in certain circumstances, as one year's voluntary non cohabitation.

The second meaning however has a religious significance. In this context, the married state is of a more permanent nature and is at least intended primarily for the procreation of children within a particular family environment. (I pause only to observe that even the most strict of religions departs in practice from this when it approves marriages involving those long past child bearing age or deathbed ceremonies). I am no theologian but I accept that for those of certain religious belief, such Unions are nonetheless peculiarly blessed by God.

The problem with the religious opposition to Gay Marriage is that by the same logic one should be opposed to those current marriages solemnified in a Registry Office and one should certainly be opposed to divorce. Now, I accept, some of those opposed to gay marriage are consistent in their views in that regard but they've come to live with  the inconsistency between their own religious views and the Law of the Land.

But, and there is a but, why then is the current proposal from the Scottish (and, incidentally, British) Government causing such outrage? Partly, and cynically,  as I say,  because some of the opponents would probably be opposed to civil marriage and/or divorce were the Government proposing to introduce these one time innovations for the first time. But also because some on my side of the argument have failed to make it clear that they respect religious space.

If the Catholic Church is free to refuse to remarry divorcees in Church, then surely they are free to maintain a similar opposition to same sex unions? I might not agree with them but then I don't agree with the Catholic Church about a lot of things. That's why I'm not a Catholic.

This is, of course, the position of the Governments both sides of the border and it is a position supported by the European Convention on Human Rights. Its enemies, who may, in reality be more illusory than real, are those who are assumed at least to seek to impose supposed civil rights on the territory of legitimate religious dogma.

It would be a fatal error for either the First Minister or the Prime Minister to retreat in the face of a vocal minority to the Same Sex Marriage proposals. It might however do no harm for them to make it clear that they are concerned with civil rights rather than state intereference with religion. A resistance to the latter is, in Scottish History at least, just as important as the promotion of the former.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Second go

I wrote half a blog earlier on today, pressed the wrong button and consigned it to the dustbin of history.

It's been a pretty boring weekend. Saints didn't play; England got beat but so early in the morning that it felt inappropriate to be unduly ecstatic; Scotland won, but even the most blinkered patriot would find it difficult to be  overenthusiastic about scraping a result against Lichtenstein.

And as for politics............................

The Sunday Herald ran a "story" about Christine  Grahame. Apparently, somebody she has sacked has made complaints to the Police, The Corporate Body, The Standards Committee, and.....................failing anybody else paying the slightest bit of attention, the Sunday Herald.

Now, I don't particularly like Christine Grahame. She is an SNP politician of long standing and she is, in my opinion, a bit of a crank. But I have no reason to think she is a crook. She's just somebody I disagree with politically.

The Herald however seems to be seized of the idea that all politicians are bent. Two or so weeks ago it was a disgruntled employee of Frank McAveety who had made a complaint to the Police, via the Sunday Herald. Further back still, it was David McLetchie who had, we were told, questions to answer.

All of these stories, of course, actually come to nothing. Indeed, in a much less prominent way the Herald reported on Saturday that the Police have absolutely no interest in Frank, as they didn't have in Mr McLetchie, and  as I'm sure they will in due course indicate that they have nothing to investigate regarding Ms Grahame.

The problem however is that our political class haven't worked out that in feeding these stories (and I use the word story deliberately) they damage not just their political opponents but democracy itself. Some, unnamed, "Labour Party Spokesman" is quoted as demanding answers from Ms Grahame, just as some unnamed SNP Spokesman was alleged to have demanded answers of Frank and, no doubt at some point in the past,  unnamed spokesmen for one or other Party (or both) demanded answers of Mr McLetchie. Answers to what? Unspecified allegations from people who have lost their jobs as a result of their own alleged inadequate performance would appear to be the only conclusion.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will rule on the legality of Damages (Asbestos Related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009. There is a widespread view that this legislation will be struck down as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. This will be a big story. It would, if Scotland was a remotely sentient democracy, lead to questions as to why nobody in the Parliament raised the question of this being retrospective legislation at the time.  More probably, it will lead to another spat between Salmond and the Supreme Court and a somewhat awkward tutorial being required for those Labour MSPs who should not have allowed their hearts, and, regrettably, their election expenses wallets, to rule their heads when they supported the legislation in the first place. On any view it will have major implications for whether the SNP can actually conduct their much trumpeted Referendum within the current constitutional settlement. Given the amount of ink already expended on this latter subject, and the fact we are assured it is the only real issue in current Scottish politics,  one might have thought that the same journalists who have written so much of this might have been paying attention.

That's not, however, really my point. This was not the story that the "political" desk on the Herald chose to run today. To do so might have involved some actual research, indeed some actual journalism. Why bother with that when a disgruntled employee of a minor politician provided them with so much easier copy?

And who the f... authorised an "Labour Spokesman" to legitimise that?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Few Points of Clarification

Usually, I like my blogs to follow a certain pattern.

I start with a anecdote or at least a reminiscence. I then ask, rhetorically, what the possible relevance of this anecdote/reminiscence might be? I answer my own question and then move on to develop an argument based on that answer. And then I reach a (by now) obvious conclusion.

Now, I would like to claim this to be a unique form of discourse but I suspect that all three of my followers have already long since that it is worked out from lessons (of a different sort than those intended) learned through a youth spent listening to sermons preached in the established Church; the only difference being that the starting point there was/is not a personal reflection but rather a Biblical Text.

In the USA, where religious affiliation is not a heritage to be disowned but rather an essential precondition to elected office, they merge these influences brilliantly. The President most brilliantly of all.

Tonight however I do not have time for such devices.

My blog, yesterday appears to have stirred up a (very minor) internet storm.

Brevity has never been a fault of mine so I hesitate to admit that I may have unduly restricted my previous remarks for lack of space.Nonetheless, it appears that I may have left scope for misinterpretation of my earlier hypothesis regarding  there actually being an Independence Referendum.

I am in no doubt, both morally and legally, that the Scottish Parliament can call and indeed conduct, in terms of financial appropriation,  an advisory referendum on any subject it likes. The moral right is simply a matter of politics but the legal right does, in the end, turn on whether one accepts that Whalley v Watson represents the decided law of Scotland and thus supersedes McCormick v The Lord Advocate. I don't, even if, somewhat bizarrely the SNP do, at least in terms of their last public utterance on the subject.

I've already commented on that anomaly however so that is not my objective tonight.

Suffice to say, not every lawyer shares my opinion on the legality of a referendum. Any legislation "enabling" an Independence Referendum is thus likely to be subject to legal challenge and that challenge will take, at least, months, more likely years, to grind itself through the judicial system.

If then one was a First Minister with a solid Parliamentary Majority determined to hold such a Referendum in 2015 or 2016, would not the sensible course be to introduce the enabling legislation now? Of course it would. Any legal challenge would then be well out of the way before the actual intended event. And, assuming the legal challenge was seen off, there would then be legislation permitting the referendum sitting on the Statute Book, simply awaiting a Statutory Instrument being made by Ministers fixing the actual date.

Why, indeed, would any calculating individual, determined  on Independence, choose to proceed otherwise? Unless of course their calculation was aimed not at having a Referendum but rather in not having one. Aimed at not asking the question because one already knew (and didn't like) the answer.Aimed at finding an excuse to avoid a humiliation.

So, let me ask a simple question. If the SNP are determined to have a Referendum, at any point in this Parliament, why haven't they introduced enabling legislation?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A strategy for Labour whether led by Tom, Johann or the other excellent candidate

Tony Benn used to repeat ad nauseam that it is not about the personalities, its about the issues.

And somebody else, I can never remember if it was Marx himself or only, much later, Eric Hobsbawn, observed that all history is economic history.

It was certainly Marx who, in the "18th Brumaire" most decisively turned the left against the "great man" theory of history, while at the same time, and more tellingly, warning against its dangers.

Nonetheless, the best observation in this sphere belongs not to any political theorist but to the Bard:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

Sometimes a set of circumstance, economic or otherwise, conspires to provide a situation conducive to decisive leadership: Lenin at the Smolny Institute; Napoleon on joining the Army of Italy; dare one say it, Caesar himself on crossing the Rubicon. Sometimes circumstance is not enough, leadership is required  for real change.

I am an amateur student of the Risorgimento. I even once spent an entire holiday in Marsala partly so that I could see the very point where the Thousand first stepped ashore.

But for all the efforts of the Red shirts, that delirium of the brave; for all the life work of Mazzini; the brilliant manouvering of Cavour or even the stoic determination of Victor Emmanuel, it is impossible to imagine the unification of Italy, even at 150 years distance without the contribution of that singular heroic figure, Giuseppe Garibaldi.

He didn't create the idea of unification but he embodied it.

The idea of leadership is not a bad thing in itself; the evil is when it leads in the wrong direction as it would subsequently be by Garibaldi's mini-me, Mussolini.

So, for not the first time, I disagree with Marx. Gramsci gets it much better but that's for another time.

But what, if anything, you might ask, have any of these ramblings got to do with current Scottish politics?

Is this lunatic about to compare Tom Harris to a latter day Garibaldi? Not, I reassure you in any sense.I doubt he has ever owned a red shirt, although I don't rule out the possibility that, like Garibaldi, he might at some time be shot by his own side.

No, rather I want to talk about the First Minister. He is a would be great man of history and, frankly, he is up to that task.

People talk about Labour bringing in a "big beast" to take him on but, to be honest, even our current big beasts are pretty small in comparison. Donald could and did; so could John Smith; so could have Robin Cook or, had he not broken himself on the wheel of higher ambition still, so could Gordon. But they've all got one thing in common: they're all deid, except the last, who I fear is fatally wounded. Those who are left will, at best, have to follow the strategy of another hero of antiquity, Quintus Fabius Maximus,  and await the all conqueror overstretching himself.

The problem is that I don't know if this latter day Hannibal is going to overstretch himself in the way we currently expect.  I return to my starting point and to my Gramsci if not my Marx.

There are circumstances in which other incohate forces are susceptible to decisive leadership. These incohate forces have however to exist in the first place.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, seriously thinks Scotland would vote for independence in a properly held and clearly worded referendum. Not a single serious activist privy to the private polling in the higher reaches of any of the political Parties; not a single opinion former among the intellectual class; not a single newspaper; nobody. Not even the cybernats who keep insisting that such an eventuality is imminent while defending the decision not to hold such a vote "quite yet",

There is however an assumption nonetheless that such a referendum will take place.

So let me into a secret.

Alex Salmond has no intention of holding a single question referendum for, if he can't win the actual vote, what could he possibly gain from such an exercise?

It's aftermath would almost certainly split his Party between the realists and the irreconcilables; any cards those still in the game might once have held in their game of bluff with Westminster would have been shown to be a busted flush; most importantly of all, the First Minister's own career would be over.  There might still be some honour in departing the stage as a tragic hero but, somehow, I don't see Eck as personally wanting to play that role.

Clearly his original strategy was to use minority government as the excuse for being unable to stage such a vote.

That obstacle having been removed, there now appears no doubt that his first fall back plan was to trick the devolutionist forces into coming up with some sort of second option (any second option) which might have allowed the SNP to claim some sort of partial achievement (any sort of partial achievement). Unfortunately for him, even our leadership, such as it is, have not proved to be quite so naive (although what Willie Rennie might yet do is anybody's guess).

I suspect therefor that the SNP's revised fallback plan is for late legislation introduced in the reasonably certain knowledge that a legal challenge will prevent the actual vote taking place before the 2016, at which election the SNP's backwoodsmen will be kept happy by blaming the Judges or at least those shortsighted enough to have brought the challenge.

So here's therefore what I suggest we do. Ignore them. Let's say to the Nats that we take them at their word. If they think there is no need to discuss Independence before 2015, or 2016 or whenever, then let's tell them we're quite happy to agree.

And let's get on with  scrutinising the day to day government of Scotland while we wait.......................and wait...............and wait. Like Quintus Fabius Maximus.