Sunday, 23 November 2014

Some poetry

The poets were at it again yesterday in the cause of Scotland. No-one obviously could compete with the achievement reached in such masterworks as Alan Bissett's "Peoples Vow" which in striking metaphor and pathos can only really stand test beside the likes of Paradise Lost.

I link to it here in acknowledgement of the scope of its achievement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZrtOM7CicM
I urge you to watch it. No really I do. Just don't do it with a full bladder.

But I like a bit of poetry myself so I was delighted to come across the newly published poem below by a little known Scottish Poet. It is my great pleasure to give it wider currency. And it Rhymes.

THE BATTLE OF FINNIESTON
by Bobby Northey

It was an Autumn evening
Wee Shuggie's work was done,
And he, his feet up on the couch,
Was reading that day's Sun
When he was disturbed by the strains
Of crying coming from his weans.

He joined them in the other room
To see what was afoot,
"It's Jimmy" said his elder sprog,
"His toe banged that big book".
For engaged in some childish caper
The boy had tripped....... on a White Paper

And looking down upon the tome
A tear came to Shug's eye,
And through the dust that layer'd it now,
He felt years past flash by,
"It was that very book" mused he
"Caused lots to join the SNP."

"And what was that?" the weans inquired
With little comprehension,
"It was a really curious thing"
Said Shug, pleased for attention,
"There was a time that lots you see
All rushed to join the SNP."

"But why and when and where was this?"
The children asked wide eyed,
"It was a long long time ago"
A wiser Shug replied
"Before you ask, I now know not
Why quite so many lost the plot".

"Their leader then was Black Bitch Eck,
His deputy from Govan,
For quite some time they fooled the mob
They knew the route to heaven,
And though they lost quite heavily
Still, many joined the SNP"

"They sometime claimed their movement then
Was something really new,
They claimed a great awakening
And in fairness woke a few,
But, on reflection, lots and lots
Were just the same old loud mouthed Trots."

Though Eck had failed, they each avowed,
"Where Nicola leads then I go",
And Eddie Reader sang them songs
As they gathered in the Hydro
So it was plain for all to see
That lots had joined the SNP."

"They sang, they danced, they heard wee poems
They lauded Alan Bissett
And all the time ignored the fact
They'd had their chance and missed it,
For ev'n the hated BBC
Said lots had joined the SNP"

"It was a time of dreams back then,
Though few could comprehend them,
But when the dreaming had died down
They'd still lost the referendum,
But it was all alright you see
For lots had joined the SNP"

"And everybody praised Great Eck
Who this great fight did lose,
"But what good came of it at last?"
Inquired Shug's infant two.
"Why that I cannot tell" said he
"But lots had joined the SNP"

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Speed



I am sure I was not alone in anticipating the first SNP Conference after the referendum with some relish. After all, a fair section of the fundamentalist wing of the Party had spent most of the campaign predicting that Salmond's wishy washy version of Independence would unravel in the full glare of public exposure and lead to electoral disaster and, jings, that was exactly what had happened.

Independence was off the agenda for at least a generation and indeed, if you thought about it for five minutes,  it was now less than clear what the SNP's purpose in life now exactly was? Was it as a technocratic career structure to the limited levers of power in a devolved Scotland? Was it indeed, and instead, as a vehicle to secure the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism? Could a movement only now really united by gripe and grievance really sell that long term to anyone but the wildest anglophobe?

All of this being addressed in public view boded rich entertainment for the well disposed spectator and even richer fare for those less charitably inclined.

And yet it never happened. The Nats have come and gone from Perth leaving behind not the slightest splatter of blood on the walls of that fair city's conference centre. How was this possibly achieved, I hear you ask? How did they achieve such unanimity in the aftermath of an epochal defeat?

It was easy, they pretended it hadn't happened.

So, in a brilliantly choreographed (reduced) two day event their disgraced and departed leader left the stage without so much as a polite mention of the reasons for his going. Their new leader then inherited the throne and announced that she was confident Scotland would one day be independent. No-one was rude enough to point out that Scotland had had the chance to achieve just that state a mere six weeks past and, despite campaigning in the most fortuitous of circumstance, the nationalists had singularly failed to convince the majority of the population of the merits of that course of action.

Why they had lost was not discussed at all and indeed it wasn't even clear that they all accepted that they had lost. Jim Sillars went so far as to assert they had [only] lost arithmetically! It was as if they expected Eck one day to imitate that member of the other famous Ewing Family,  Bobby, and step out of the shower to announce that the horrific events of 18th and 19th September had all just been a dream. Except, of course, Eck had gone for some reason. It was Nicola now...................but she was just as good. She'd soon have another referendum..... or something. Anyway, here are two men in kilts and with bagpipes to lead us all in Scots wha hae.

And that was it.

Insofar as there was a a way forward it appeared to consist of trying to win as many seats as possible at the 2015 UK General Election. In the light of which putative achievement "Westminster" had better listen or........something.......... will happen. Not entirely clear what but it's early days. What it certainly won't be is support for a Tory Government. Most certainly not! Only a Labour Government would ever get the support of the Nationalists. Although we in this hall are all agreed Labour and the Tories are just the same anyway. Which does rather make you wonder why we would support a government formed by either of them? Their supporters all hate Scotland, particularly the Scottish ones. Although I suppose, when you think about it, in an essentially binary Party system, failure to support a Labour Government would look, to the uninitiated, awfully like support for a Tory Government? Ach well, Christmas is coming, I vote for a bit of early Turkey!

And so the delegates went on their way and my own televisual viewing shifted from the Perth Conference hall to watching Slovenia qualify as the most recent nation to prove a disappointment to Scotland.

But, later yesterday evening, @andimecbandi expressed a desire herself for an early festive experience and we stumbled upon Ms Sandra Bullock in While you were Sleeping buried away in our movies on demand.. I like a good romantic comedy and am a great admirer of Ms Ms Bullock's oeuvre. 

But as I watched the action unfold I realised what the SNP Conference had reminded me of and it was one of Ms Bullock's other films: Speed.

You will recollect the storyline. A bomb is planted on a bus and is primed to explode should the bus's speed drop below a certain velocity. For reasons I can't now recall, Ms Bullock ends up driving the bus. ( I know this is ridiculous but it's a movie!). This being Hollywood, there is a happy ending but the tension of the preceding plot derives from the knowledge that if the bus stops everybody on board gets blown up.

And that was the SNP Conference. Nicola was at the wheel knowing that if they conceded they had stopped going forward then they'd all get blown up.

The problem for Nicola and her partisans is that in this case we are in the realm of Holyrood, not Hollywood. Of fact not fiction. The bus already crashed on 18th September. No amount of dreaming otherwise is going to change that.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Homage to Catalonia

This weekend past saw the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This was an epochal political event in more than one way. For, quite aside from the symbolism of the end to the division not just of Germany but of Europe it was then followed by an entirely orderly transition to a new constitutional settlement, again not just of Germany but of Europe, all carried out within the continuity of the rule of law.

The Germans voted for re-unification and the GDR effectively became part of the Federal Republic inheriting in turn the European Union membership of the latter. This was then followed by the orderly transition into EU membership of the other former countries of the Warsaw Pact and the, more or less orderly, dissolution of the Soviet Union.

It seemed at the time that we were seeing a new order in Europe where disputes were settled not by force of arms but by force of argument. Crucially, I repeat, then encompassed into a legal continuum.

Now, as it transpired in Yugoslavia and more recently in Ukraine, not everyone is yet signed up for this. But undoubtedly the states of Western and Central Europe are. And that has very real consequence for Scotland. 

Here, you need to go back a fair bit in the process that lead to the September 18th Referendum past.

There was, to say the least, considerable doubt whether the Scottish Parliament in May 2011 had the legal vires to hold an Independence Referendum. The Scotland Act 1998 proceeds on the basis that the Scottish Parliament has legal competence in all areas not reserved (legally) to Westminster. But in the areas that are so reserved it has no legal competence at all.

And that lack of legal competence is enforceable in court. Any attempt to legislate outwith the competence of the Parliament can be challenged in court and the decision of the courts (not, crucially, of the Parliament) is final. 

For example, the legislation passed by the Parliament in relation to minimum pricing of alcohol is currently under court challenge as incompatible with the Treaty of European Union. Any legislation incompatible with EU membership being specifically beyond the legal competence of the Scottish Parliament

Suppose the ultimate decision, probably by our Supreme Court having taken advice from the European Court of Justice, is that the legislation is in fact incompatible? Legally then there is no legislation. It's as simple as that. And that has consequence.

Suppose further that the Scottish Government, even with the unanimous support of the Scottish Parliament, announced that we did not accept that legal outcome? That this measure had widespread both cross party and public support and in that knowledge that they were instructing the Police still to arrest those selling alcohol below a certain price and the Crown Office to "prosecute" them?

It simply would not happen. There would be no "law" being broken and no "crime" to be prosecuted. The "legislation" would be no more than a piece of paper. The Police would not arrest; even if they did the Crown would not prosecute; even if they did the courts would not convict. That is what is meant by the rule of law.

Now in terms of Paragraph 1(b) of Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (the legislation creating the Scottish Parliament) "The Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England" is a matter specifically reserved to Westminster. It is an area therefor where the Scottish Parliament has no legal vires.

But of course Scotland did have a "legal" referendum. Never lose sight however of the fact that this occurred not because the Scottish Parliament acted illegally but because the Westminster Parliament acted to give the Scottish Parliament temporary legal authority to hold such a vote despite the fact that the vote was clearly about "The Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England". Temporary legal authority negotiated as part of the Edinburgh Agreement and given legal effect by virtue of an Order in Council made under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998. Temporary authority which, there having been a vote, has now expired.

It seems to me that in the kerfuffle that has followed the vote on 18th September this has been completely lost sight of. The newspapers and the SNP leadership hustings are full of discussion about whether there should be an SNP Holyrood 2016 manifesto commitment to another referendum but, with respect, the issue is not when Holyrood might call another vote. Holyrood cannot call another vote unilaterally. The issue is when Westminster might allow such a thing and that's got nothing to do with the SNP. As I say, that was the more or less unanimous legal view prior to the Edinburgh agreement and any lingering doubt was surely resolved when, by seeking the Edinburgh Agreement, the Scottish Government themselves effectively conceded that they needed Westminster permission to act. And in asking the question of Westminster again no-one should expect any answer short of "not for a generation". That, after all, was the basis on which the Nationalists secured their agreement to the referendum just past in the first place

Now, I just want to make clear what I'm saying here. I am not engaged in a political argument over where sovereignty ought to lie in these matters, I am engaged in making a simple legal one. Holyrood has no unilateral legal authority to hold an Independence Referendum. And that means that any purported Holyrood legislation to achieve such an event would be a fundamental legal nullity. Returning Officers would have no legal authority to incur expenditure publicising such a vote, let alone to incur expenditure conducting or counting one. If they were inclined to act illegally (a most unlikely event) they would be interdicted from proceeding by the courts. If they breached the interdict (an even more unlikely event) they would be locked up. That's what the rule of law entails.

But most importantly of all, even if the nationalists somehow got to the end game of a vote and even a vote overwhelmingly for Independence, "everybody" could just ignore it. 

You don't need to take my word for it for that's exactly what has happened in Catalonia this last weekend.

The Nationalist controlled Parliament there announced they were going to hold an Independence Referendum and passed "legislation" to this effect. The Spanish Supreme Court ruled that this legislation had no legal effect as it contravened the Spanish Constitution. That Constitution, adopted after the fall of Franco and endorsed then by all parts of Spain in a referendum, specifically prohibits the unilateral secession of any one part of the Country. A referendum about precisely that proposition was therefor ultra vires of the Catalan Parliament and could not go ahead decided the Supreme Court. After a bit of mucking about, the Catalan Nationalists announced they would accept that outcome but would have an "unofficial" vote, conducted legally (in both senses of the word)  independently of the Parliament but with majority political support from within it

Which the Catalan Nats duly did yesterday when in a derisorily low turn out event the nonetheless differential enthusiasm of the separatists delivered them an 80% Yes vote. But so what? Is Catalonia Independent this morning? Can its Parliament levy any taxes other than those it is allowed to do so under the current constitutional settlement? Can it raise its own army, police its own borders, require anyone at the EU or the UN to consider its application for membership? Is anybody even in Madrid paying the slightest attention?

Now of course there is an alternative but that alternative involves the repudiation of the rule of law and the resort to the use of armed force. But that brings me back to where I started, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. That course of action is not likely to be acceptable not just to Spain but to any other European democracy. It is not how things are now "done" in this part of the world. So even if the Catalans achieved some sort of military victory what they would be left with would be a pariah state excluded from engagement, never mind co-operation, with the rest of democratic Europe. And utterly financially ruined in the process. Which, to be fair, is pretty much the conclusion the Catalan Nationalists have reached themselves. Without progress within the rule of law there can now be no progress. Their referendum has given them another excuse to gripe and moan and....that's it. 

And that's where Scotland is now. Independence outwith the rule of law is just so......... 19th Century and Independence within the rule of law has had its chance. No doubt we will have to put up with our own griping and moaning for some time yet but slowly that will sink in even to the most died in the wool Yesser.

 The vote recently past wasn't just for the moment, it was for keeps. Unless the Nats can somehow explain otherwise. Which, although they continue to put on a brave face for the moment, they know they ultimately can't. Hopefully once we've finally got a competent leadership back at the head of the Scottish Labour Party that will be made clearer to everybody else. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A bit more about the Leadership

On the morning of polling day 1997 I had to do a few hours at my work.

There, just as I was leaving, I was told there was somebody on the phone from the Labour Party. I took the call to realise I was speaking to the agent for the Labour Candidate in a nearby constituency.

"Are you still the Labour Party's lawyer?" he inquired. I told him I still was, as far as I knew.

He went on to advise that the SNP were standing inside the grounds of a local polling station, that he had complained to the returning officer to no avail and so, he concluded, he wanted to go to court. Immediately.

I was not attracted by this course of action. Certainly the rules appeared to be being broken but, frankly, given that we were talking about a constituency where we had enjoyed a five figure majority even in the dark days of 1983, it seemed to me that this minor infringement was unlikely to have a material bearing on the 1997 result.

This was typical New Labour pusillanimity, I was informed. Give them an inch and all too soon it would be a mile. If I was not prepared to get involved he would just find himself a lawyer who would. And with that he rung up.

I thought about things for a bit and decided that some sort of petty court action of this nature was not the sort of thing that would do the Party any good. So I decided I had better get somebody in authority to phone this guy and tell him not to be so bloody stupid,

At Keir Hardie House , Lesley Quinn, the Scottish Organiser was "out on the road" and unavailable. I asked who was there and was told "only Jim Murphy" who was then the Party's research officer.

Jim having assured me that he would sort things, in signing off I thought it only right to ask why he was not in Eastwood, where he was the Party's candidate?  He'd been and was just going back, Jim advised me. But there were other things to be done and, if we were being honest with each other, while Labour was going to win the national election big, in Eastwood the Tories had a majority of more than eleven and a half thousand with nearly fifty per cent of the popular vote, We might be going to win big but we weren't going to win as big as Eastwood.

Twenty four hour later Jim Murphy was an MP. The landslide had reached even a seat where in past elections Labour had really only been in a contest for second place. Even then a consolation prize we had more often lost than won.

The immediate Party reaction was of course delight but once the dust had settled the consensus was that for Jim personally winning Eastwood was a bit of a disaster. 1997 would never be repeated and the inevitable, even minor, Tory recovery would see Jim back to a less elevated existence.

That, after all had been the fate of Donald Dewar whose prize for winning marginal Aberdeen South in 1966 had been eight years in the political wilderness after the pendulum had swung back in 1970.

And indeed, come 2001, while William Hague went down again to defeat, nonetheless many of the "Were you still up for Portillo" seats went quietly back to their more natural allegiance. Except, you noticed the next day, Jim Murphy was still there. And still there not with a 1997 majority of  three thousand but with one of nearly ten. He still is there today.

And during that time he has built the Constituency Party from a band of local diehards into one of the most active and well funded in Scotland.

But that's not all.

In 2007 Labour got gubbed at the Scottish Parliamentary Elections and in keeping with the Party's best traditions marked this reverse by a massive internal rammy involving leaders and policies coming and going on an almost daily basis.

The polling was appalling. Scottish politics had changed forever we were told. The SNP was the new natural Party of government. At the very least the Holyrood seats we were now down to them would be followed by their Westminster equivalents at the earliest electoral opportunity.

Except that never happened. Instead,by the end of the 2010 campaign Salmond was in hiding and the SNP,  far from challenging Labour, ended up only just scraping more votes than the Tories.

Now, don't get me wrong, there was more than one reason for this but among the decisive factors was the coming of Murphy to the post of Secretary of State for Scotland. His quiet, reasoned ability to dismiss the wilder claims for the merits of Independence, more it seemed in sorrow than in anger, simply highlighted the extent to which these were based on little more than bluff, bluster and wishful thinking. Don't take my word for that, look at the actual election result.

So, people are entitled to have a go at where Jim Murphy stands on the internal spectrum of Labour politics but those who assert that he wouldn't be a vote winner for Labour are, I think protesting not only too much but in the face of all the evidence.

That's all very well, I hear some say, but he's a Westminster MP. That, I readily concede initially, looks not ideal. Except that if you start by recognising that part of Scottish Labour's problem is that we are perceived as having our A Team in one Parliament and (at best) our B Team in the other then at one point surely somebody has to move from one to the other to overcome that perception?

And, anyway, the public does not have the same affection for Parliaments that seems to infect the politicians in either place. The public looks for a convincing candidate for First Minister or Prime Minister.  Certainly, part of that convincing requires a visibly competent circle of deputies to fill the ministerial offices but without the right person in the lead role the rest can't make up for that absence on their own.

Just before Johann's departure John McTernan wrote in the Scotsman with considerable frustration at Scottish Labour's inability to take advantage of the any number of open goals the referendum result had provided to us. Not least Salmond's own departure, it appears, to a life of opening supermarkets,

But there is a wider use of that sporting analogy. All football teams need someone capable of putting the ball in the net. Look at the fate of the teams led by John Swinney or Michael Howard.  Yet, in both cases, with a change of striker the same midfield players were transformed from journeymen pros into...........well at least they looked much better players.

So at this time Labour can't make do with an Anthony Stokes or a Lee Griffiths. Players perhaps good enough against inferior opposition but who are found out at the top level.

We have a political Henrik Larrson available on the bench. It's time to get him on the pitch.