Sunday, 15 November 2015

Aux armes, citoyens!

Over the last two days there has been much singing of the Marseillaise.

It is a unique national anthem because, long before Friday's tragic events in Paris, it belonged to much more than its native country. It was composed as newly revolutionary France was menaced on all sides by the Armies of reaction and lost its original, rather literal, title, War song for the Army of the Rhine, in favour of its now much more famous appellation, when it was sung in the streets of Paris by volunteers (volunteers!) arriving there from the port of Marseille in 1792 to defend the revolution.

It was banned outright on the Bourbon restoration but whenever 19th century insurrection was in the air, initially in France, but later much widely across Europe, it became a rallying song of the forces of progress. It was even played at the Finland Station when Lenin arrived home there to herald the October Revolution.

But it also became something more. A musical shorthand for the aims of the (first) French Revolution; of liberty, egality and fraternity.

Its most famous cinematic rendition is in of course in the 1942 film, Casablanca. When Victor Laszlo instructs the band it be played to drown out the carousing Germans, it is both insignificant and very significant that Laszlo isn't himself French and it is not just the patrons of Rick's CafĂ© but cinemagoers the world over who find themselves metaphorically rising to their feet. Roy Hattersley once wrote of being strangely moved to tears by a National Anthem that is not one's own. Except that it is our own. It belongs to all of us. All of us who embrace the values of the enlightenment.

But the Marseillaise is something more as well. It is a war song.

It's final lines are these:

Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

For sometimes it is not just necessary to sing about your values. Sometimes you have to be prepared to fight for them.

And this I suspect may prove to be a matter of great significance for the internal politics of the Labour Party.

On the 12th of September 2001, in the NATO Council resolved that "if it is determined that the [Twin Towers] attack against the United States was directed from abroad, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington [NATO] Treaty".

It was ultimately so determined and as a result NATO as a whole took action against Afghanistan.

That action might have been led by the United States but it was the treaty obligation of all NATO member states to assist the "member state" so attacked. As the United Kingdom did.

But there was another, very much minority, view at the time. That there was no reason or at least purpose to an attack on Afghanistan. That, in any event, to some degree or another, the United States had brought this assault on itself.

This body of opinion coalesced around the Stop the War coalition. It was that war,  not the later Iraq War which brought it to much greater prominence, that is referred to in the organisation's title.

And there was at least a logical conclusion to the organisation's position. A conclusion that the UK should abrogate its NATO treaty obligations and, by implication at least, leave its framework of collective security altogether.

Now, at the time, this organisation had as one of its immediate leading lights, indeed later as its Chairperson, one Jeremy Corbyn MP. Within nine days of September the 11th he had declared himself opposed to any retaliatory military action whatsoever. And he remained thereafter consistent. As recently as September 3rd 2015, asked at the final Labour leadership debate if he could see any circumstance in which he would support the deployment of British troops abroad he replied that, while he was sure there were some, he couldn't think of any for the moment.

Well, that might have been a hypothetical question but this is not.

One of our oldest allies has been attacked. The home of the enlightenment, with, although this should be no more than incidental, one of the few socialist governments in Europe.. Attacked by people whose motivation appears to have been in part disgust at liberated women and whose specific targets at the Bataclan Theatre appeared to be particularly the disabled patrons in attendance. Attacked without warning and in the minds of almost all people of liberal opinion, without reason. In any sense of the word reason.

It appears Article 5 of the NATO treaty is again to be invoked and that, further to that, France is likely to take direct retaliatory military action against the places from which this outrage was planned. Action which we are treaty bound to assist.

So, Jeremy, is this finally a circumstance in which you will support the deployment of British troops abroad?

I suspect on the answer to that question will depend either the future of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Or, alternatively, the future of the Labour Party itself.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Blue Remembered Hills

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

A.E. Houseman (from) A Shropshire Lad

I started off intending to write about the debacle last weekend's Labour Party Scottish Conference.

Except I really did begin to think what was the point.

There remain two questions about next year's Scottish Parliament Election. The first is whether the SNP will secure a second overall majority. That's more of an issue than some realise. I might come back to that on a future occasion.

But the second is increasingly the question of the day. Will Labour even be second?

And that begs the wider question. Can Labour ever win again, in the UK or in Scotland?

And while the events of the three days past, last weekend, lead to the conclusion that both of these latter questions have an increasingly worrying probable answer, that in turn suggests that it is perhaps time to take wider stock.

For maybe it is over.

Not just for 2016 and not just for Scotland.

Maybe the whole idea of a "Labour" Party has had its day.

I joined the Labour Party between the February and October General Elections.

Then,  elections were both more common and less common. More common because there was a burgh election (in rotation) every year but less common in that, notwithstanding the exceptional year in which  I joined, "big" elections came along only occasionally.

And big elections, in Paisley at least, were always won by the Labour Party.

For Paisley read Falkirk. Or Dunfermline. Or Kilmarnock. Or Barnsley. Or Tredegar. Or Bethnal Green.

Labour places.

The "campaign" at these big elections was not really a campaign. It was more a general reminder to everybody that there was an election on. So they'd better get out and vote. Vote Labour didn't even really require to be expressly stated.

Public meetings were even then regarded as a waste of time: a magnet only for Trots, or Nats, or cranks, more or less the same thing to our mind, but factory gate meetings were a different thing. At Babcocks, and Rolls Royce and at whatever the great Linwood car factory was being called that year. The "stewards" would be asked to suggest a date and as thousands of men (an intentional use of gender here) rushed either in to their work or out to their tea, or to the pub, or to wherever, leaflets would be pushed into their hands, stickers pressed to their clothing and in a brief stump speech listened to, at least, by the stewards themselves, the working men were reminded that a week on Thursday was polling day. "Don't forget to vote! And don't forget to get your wives to vote as well!"

And on polling day you stood outside polling stations to thank people for their support. Alright, some of them hadn't voted for you, but you thanked them as well. It reassured you that you were living in a democracy and that your victory was genuinely merited.

At close of poll, those then not going to the count, retired to a safe zone. In Paisley, at that first election, to the Labour Club on the Renfrew Road; in future years to the AEU Halls in Incle Street. Elsewhere in the country to a Miners' Welfare or a factory social club or a Co-op Hall. To await the result. Delivered on a portable television with a dubiously functioning inside aerial. Not your own result, for that would be inevitably a Labour hold, but the result from around the Country in the places where the election was actually decided. Then not just in the commuter belt around London or in the sprawling West Midlands but in Glasgow Cathcart, or Edinburgh Central, or Aberdeen South.

But win or lose the big election you woke up the next morning knowing that there would always be a Labour Party. For there would always be places like Paisley and Dunfermline and Kilmarnock and Barnsley and Tredegar and Bethnal Green. That was as certain as that there would always be factory gates, and Miners' Welfares, and Co-op Halls. And indeed that there would always be portable televisions and the AEU.

It is all gone, or going.

Only the Labour Party remains.

Except maybe it has also gone. Like the pensioners struggling with ever decreasing bar takings in a "works" social club, attached no more to a "work" itself long departed, perhaps we are deluding ourselves that, one day, the good times will return. That the factory will reopen, that young people will work there again, and that on a Saturday night no-one will have anything better to do than turn up for a few pints while being entertained by Lena Martell or the Alexander Brothers.

I watched the Party Conference from afar. Kez made a good speech. Although you can't help feeling that to have someone who, at a stage in their career, should be getting marked down as "one to watch for the future", instead being sacrificed to a future likely to end at five past ten on the first Thursday in May next year, is merely indicative of how desperate things have become.

But beyond that the whole event was just so ridiculously anachronistic. If you had brought back smoking in the hall and black and white telly you might well have been watching archive footage from the nineteen sixties. Except that, at least, in the nineteen sixties the generals on screen spoke for an industrial army offstage. Now they speak only for a phantom army and, more importantly, speak in a language long since fallen into misuse among the general population.

Party conferences get on the telly. So sensible Parties, Parties interested in power, see them as an opportunity to persuade people who might vote for them to actually vote for them. That calculation, Kez's speech aside, played no part in the Labour Party's deliberations in Perth.

It wasn't just the ludicrous Trident debate. Where, as I observed on twitter, we chose (chose!) to debate something over which we had no control so that we could adopt an unpopular policy while demonstrating how divided we were. It was even more the tone of both the TTIP debate that preceded it and the TU Bill debate that followed.

These might be worthy matters but, frankly, they are of no interest at all to more than 95% of the population. And the remaining 5% either vote Labour already or are irredeemably lost to the ultra left or the flag eaters.

There is no point in protesting that "They ought to be of wider interest!" They are not. And, equally frankly, worthy speeches, delivered with whatever amount of indignation, to a hungover Labour Party Conference are unlikely to persuade anybody otherwise.

I have watched all the conferences now. I am no Nat and no Tory. But each of these Parties reached out to speak to, albeit different, nations. Labour didn't even content itself with speaking to itself. It spoke to itself of forty years ago. Prior to the compromises that gave it any chance of being elected in a modern age. Indeed, in active denial of them.

There is no going back. Co-op Halls and Miners Welfares are not going to re-open, any more than are the pits or these huge industrial factories. The AEU is not going to re-form, designating time served men as always slightly superior to their brethern.

And, overall, that is a good thing. For it means no more industrial deafness, or pneumoconiosis, or contact dermatitis or, possibly worst of all, mesothelioma.

It is a good thing that working conditions today are much better. That housing conditions are as well. That the consumer now outranks the producer. But increasingly the Labour Party behaves as if it regrets its own achievements. That we would like to turn the clock back to a golden age of clearer hardship but also clearer class struggle.

That is not how it should be. The great socialist philosopher R.H. Tawney famously observed that, for the left, if there is a golden age it lies not in the past but in the future.

We seem to have completely lost sight of that. Bizarrely, the Party most in tune with the modern age is now the Tories, who have adopted a different maxim, this time from Lampedusa.: "Things will have to change if we want them to stay the same", while the most conservative Party is now, even more bizarrely, Labour. Fearful of change, fearful of modernisation. Positively wishing it could turn the clock back.

Maybe it is just all over.

Except that only the Labour Party itself fails to realise that it has gone.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hatred and Fear

So, the SNP have had their biggest Conference ever to round off their most successful year ever.

Congratulations to them

But the really big thing that happened was what happened at the Conference's start. Nicola ruled out having a commitment to a second referendum in next year's SNP manifesto. That means, for the avoidance of doubt, before 2023 at the earliest.

The last referendum took so long that you forget how it started. With a lengthy negotiation between the Scottish and British Government over the terms on which Holyrood would be given the legal competence to hold a referendum. That power was ultimately ceded only for a time limited period, now expired, so this process would require to be repeated even if the SNP won in 2021 with a clear commitment to re-run the vote. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, that legal competence is critical. Anybody who thinks otherwise should ask the Catalans. And even if consent was given, there would then need to be another Referendum Bill passed.

So, eight years at the least. Which is a lot of conference time to occupy in some way.

For some it appears they think they'll be able to pass it with an annual hate fest. The hatred of all things English is never far from the surface within much of the SNP but other hates don't even need to be concealed. Hatred of the press in general and the BBC in particular. Hatred of the Tories, which might at least have some logic, were it not that it is accompanied by hatred for the Labour Party as well, just because. At some points during the debate over fracking it even appeared to extend to hatred of the entire modern world.

Who knows, maybe it's possible this will do for the next eight years but somehow I doubt it. However in attempting to find something else to talk about the Nats would have to actually do something about their increasingly obvious failure  to use the powers of the existing Scottish Parliament to address the developing crises in our public services.

Yet reform requires change and change always makes enemies. And in maintaining their fragile coalition which delivers them their electoral successes the SNP can't afford to make enemies. So the easy solution is to avoid reform.

Which kind of gets you back to where I started. With not having much to talk about. For eight years.

And to the second emotion which wasn't far away in Aberdeen.


What have the SNP got to fear, I hear you ask? They are commonly believed to have more or less already won next year's Scottish General Election. The Labour Party is currently in disarray and while the Scottish Tories may be experiencing a modest revival the adjective modest remains well justified.

Well here's what they have to fear. If now, with a uniquely popular leader, with no effective opposition, with virtually every Westminster MP and a more or less nailed on return to Government at Holyrood. With the army of the 45 defeated but still far from demobilised and with a UK Government virtually closed to Scottish influence. If with all these advantages they still can't risk a second referendum then when are they ever going to be in a position to do so?

Maybe 2023? Who knows.

Which kind of brings me back to hatred. The hatred the Nats are only slowly realising that even they possess. Hatred for the people of Scotland for failing to rise to the historic challenge fate had offered them last year

I suspect this won't end well. Hatred and fear together rarely do.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Follow the money

Sometimes longevity in politics allows you a bit of perspective and I've now been in this game a very long time.

At some point in the Autumn of 1976 I went to the Kelburn cinema in Paisley to see the film "All the President's Men".

This was in a different age. A "big" film had to be seen on the big screen unless you wanted to wait three years to see it on the telly. No Sky, no Netflix, no You Tube.

And this was a big film. And certainly one I wanted to see. Not just big in its cast and in its staging but big in the story it told. Of how two junior Washington Post reporters, sticking to their story like limpets, eventually brought down the President of the United States himself.

But even in 1976 I was sufficiently cynical to doubt the neat, feature length, version on offer. So I bought the book.

It remains an influence on me to this day.

It is a worthy tribute to probably the greatest piece of political investigative journalism ever undertaken, written by the practitioners themselves. But it also has a third hero, their editor.

Woodward and Bernstein have got a great story, but Ben Bradlee is the man who insists they properly stand it up.

And he, Bradlee, is correct to be cautious. This is not a casual piece of gossipy political reporting. It concerns a story so important, if true, that it must be capable of unimpeachable verification. In the end it is verified and the rest is history but the crucial qualification comes before that, "if true".

For the story Bradlee is initially presented with is this. That the President has, first of all, condoned illegality and then conspired in its cover up. Much as Bradlee himself, no less than his enthusiastic reporters, is no fan of President Nixon,  he doubts whether even Nixon would be so crooked. Indeed, for the sake of the system, he almost hopes his scepticism to be justified.

But there is something even beyond that that bears on Bradlee's consideration. This is such a big story, such a scandal, an event with such potential repercussions that, surely, it can't be true?

Now, nostalgic though I am, you would be right to speculate that I am not here just writing about the reading habits of my youth.

For two weeks back I wrote a wee blog about the significance of the previous day's Sunday Times story regarding the business activities of Michelle Thomson, one time leading light in the group Business for Scotland and the then, two weeks ago, SNP, but now independent, Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West.

I say with due modesty that it had something of an impact, not least in Ms Thomson's now "independent" status.

Yet at the time I did not appreciate the can of worms I had opened.

For something approaching panic then broke out within the ranks of our governing Party, despite their currently enjoying a 30 point lead in the polls. And panic is seldom an aid to sensible decision making.

But such a decision was made, by somebody. A decision to throw Ms Thomson to the wolves. The chosen mechanism the disclosure of internal emails from the Yes Campaign revealing that her participation in the referendum campaign was not the unalloyed triumph it had previously been maintained to be.

Indeed, in a momentary lapse of judgement that will have a tail so long that I suspect that we might well still discussing it ten years from now, it was revealed that Peter Murrell, the Chief Executive of the SNP, had decided, mid referendum campaign, that Ms Thomson was no longer worthy of remunerated employment by Business for Scotland.

A not insensible view. Indeed quite the opposite. Except that, from the perspective of the law governing the referendum, Mr Murrell was not entitled to have any view at all as to the activities of Business for Scotland, let alone to be deciding who they should or should not be remunerating. For he had his, the SNP's, money to spend on referendum campaigning, which he was proceeding to do more or less to the legal limit. Meanwhile Business for Scotland was repeatedly maintaining itself to be completely independent of the SNP, and indeed of Yes Scotland. It needed to be so if it wished to incur election expenditure separately, and in addition to, either. It was, after all, registered as an "independent" permitted participant in the referendum.   If the SNP, through Mr Murrell, was controlling the expenditure of another "permitted participant" then that had to be declared as part of the SNP's permitted referendum expenditure . And if that control existed and if it was not to be disclosed, then Mr Murrell would be breaking the criminal law. A breach significantly aggravated by it meaning that the SNP intended to exceed the money they were legally permitted to spend overall during the referendum campaign.

These are not trivial matters.

The law in this matter takes a bit of digging but it eventually found in Schedule 4, Paragraph 24, sub paragraph 5, sub sub Paragraph (b) of the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. By virtue of that provision,  a person who "knowingly or recklessly" makes a false declaration [as to election expenditure] commits an offence bringing with it the potential penalty of a fine or even of a term of imprisonment "not exceeding twelve months".

Now, in conclusion, if Mr Murrell was merely some minor Party functionary then he, like Ms Thomson, could be disowned by the SNP hierarchy, consoling himself that, if no-one else, at least his wife would stand by him if he was prosecuted. Except of course Mr Murrell is not some minor Party functionary. Dare I say it, perhaps I am not wrong to be reminded of Ben Bradlee's initial reaction these forty years past. Surely this can't be true?

Monday, 28 September 2015

Mortgage Fraud.

It's the September weekend and for once it isn't raining.

Better still, for once I've actually had the whole weekend off. I was meant to be doing a jury trial last week, tailgunner on a wee stabbing, but as it turned out the case ahead of it overran so I spent most of the week unable to make client appointments, in case my trial started,  but with time on my hands to clear my desk.

So really, really, the last thing I wanted to be having to do today was write a blog about mortgage fraud.

But needs must.

A week past on Sunday the Sunday Times carried an article about the business activities of Michelle Thomson, one time front woman for Business for Scotland and now the SNP Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West. It was unattractive stuff, highlighting how her property company had bought up houses and flats from distressed and desperate sellers at knock down prices. These were hardly the actions of a leading member of a supposedly social democratic Party. So the hypocrisy was enlightening but hardly unique in Nationalist ranks.

And, on the other hand, that is of course capitalism. Those with lots of money regularly can, and do, exploit that position at the expense of those who have little. That's certainly not something even the current Labour leadership is proposing be made illegal.

But there was something in that initial article that seemed to the informed eye a bit more sinister. That was the suggestion that, in some of the transactions involved, the price actually paid by Thomson was less than that declared to the Land Registry. "That looks very like mortgage fraud", I thought to myself but to be honest that was as far as I went. I was more focussed on preparing for my stabbing.

But then, yesterday, the Sunday Times suddenly put much more flesh on the bones.*

For they had found the anonymised findings of a case before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal and had lifted the cloak of anonymity.

Now here I am going to have to get a bit (even more) boring and explain how various types of mortgage fraud work and who and how the perpetrator benefits.

The first relates to "false deposits".

As you will probably know, in the aftermath of the banking crash, the conditions attached to mortgages tightened considerably.

In particular, purchasers were required to fund considerably more of the price from their own resources, a sum commonly referred to as the "deposit". This caused considerable difficulty in the market. There were good numbers of people, particularly first time buyers, interested in buying property but without the ability to raise the deposit.

So, I might be able to afford an £80,000 mortgage, but that didn't mean I could afford an £80, 000 house. For the lender, typically, at he height of the crash, would be prepared to lend no more than 80% of the price. So to buy my £80,000 house I could borrow no more than £64,000. I would need to find another £16,000 from my own resources.

But of course I could afford an £80,000 mortgage. So, here is the thing. What if I didn't buy my £80,000 house for a declared price of £80,000? What instead if I bought it for £100,000. Then, of course, I could use my full £80,000 mortgage. But, I hear you ask, if you didn't have £16,000 for a deposit how did you suddenly get £20,000? And, anyway, why would you pay £100,000 for a house only worth £80,000?

The answer to these two questions are, respectively, I don't and I haven't. I propose, with the assistance of a third party, either the seller themselves, or an intermediary looking to make a profit in the process, to commit a mortgage fraud.

For one or other of these is going to "lend" me the deposit and once the money, combined with the mortgage funds has been tendered as the price, the seller is going to give them their deposit back.

To do this I must commit a fraud in two ways: Firstly, I have to fraudulently mislead the mortgage provider as to my possession of a £20,000 deposit and secondly I have to deceive them as to the true price I am paying, giving them in turn an inaccurate impression of the property's true worth. Meanwhile those providing the deposit, although not directly involved with the lender have almost certainly committed conspiracy to defraud, particularly if, as an estate agent or property developer, they were the instigators of it.

But of course this type of fraud has one major drawback, it requires the knowing participation of the seller.

So that is where "back to back" fraud comes in. It requires more than one principal participant but in this circumstance the seller is completely ignorant and innocent.

Again I will use the an £80,000 deal as an illustration although generally this operates with higher value properties. Mr innocent wishes to sell his property for £80,000. Fraudster one offers precisely that. But, with settlement on the same date, fraudster two then offers to purchase the same property  from fraudster one at a price of £100,000. Fraudster two then gets an 80% loan. Fraudster one never has £80,000. Indeed he or she never has any money. Fraudster two however hands over the full  £100,000 from which fraudster one pays Mr Innocent his £80,000 and proceeds to give Fraudster two the other £20,000 "back". Again fraudster two has committed the frauds outlined above but in this scenario fraudster one, although again never directly in touch with the mortgage lender, has also nonetheless participated in a conspiracy to defraud.

Now there are two essential elements to both these frauds. The first element can be innocent. You need a valuation of the property at the level of the nominal price paid. For a percentage loan is always provided as the lower of the declared price or valuation. At the height of the slump however that wasn't difficult as for a considerable time surveyors continued, sometimes wishfully on other overvalue property.

The second element however can't be innocent. You need a bent solicitor.

For mortgage lenders aren't idiots. Or at least since the crash they haven't been. Any solicitor handling mortgage funds must comply with the standard conditions imposed by the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Two of these are particularly germane here.

The first is that the solicitor must inform the lender and get their agreement to proceed if they know that the deposit is not being provided by the purchaser themselves. Obviously this can be entirely legitimate, where for example it comes from the purchaser's parents but where it is less easily explained, it is highly unlikely that the mortgage provider would release their funds. They intended to provide an 80%loan only. That's where we first came in.

The second is that the solicitor must inform the lender if the seller has owned the property less than six months. Again, there can be legitimate reasons for this, most commonly a catastrophic change in the sellers personal circumstance, but, again if the mortgage provider was informed that the seller had bought the property only that day and for a considerably lower price then again release of funds would be inconceivable.

But of course the lenders rely on the solicitor telling them. If at the behest of his client he fails to do so it is highly unlikely they would ever know.

Unless it is picked up by a routine Law Society inspection.

Which is what happened to Christopher William Hales, formerly a partner with Grigor Hales solicitors, Edinburgh.

As a result, it appears, of a Law Society inspection Mr Hales was found to have assisted in mortgage fraud in no less than thirteen transactions for which he ultimately appeared before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal on 13th may 2014 and was then struck off as a solicitor.

It's all in the judgement which, despite its length I encourage you to read in full. Numerous examples of failing to inform lenders of undisclosed deposits, including examples of Mr Hales personally returning these to the purchasers, and several examples of back to backs, all equally undisclosed to the lenders.

But Mr Hales was not the principal actor here, he was simply the facilitator.

The principal actor, time and time again, was a woman referred to in the judgement as Mrs A. Sometimes she acts directly, on others she provides a third party deposit in exchange for a "fee".

And, thanks to the Sunday Times we now know that Mrs A is Michelle Thomson and from there, on reading the judgement, you can deduce that the others involved in the frauds include her business partner, their joint company and, occasionally, her husband.

Now, in May 2014, when the Tribunal decision was issued, Michelle Thomson was something approaching a national figure as one of the public faces of the SNP front organisation Business for Scotland. Indeed, at first appearance, one of the few genuine business people involved with that organisation, most of the others being little more than jumped up PR men. If her up to the neck involvement in mortgage fraud had come to light just three months before the referendum this would have been disastrous for Yes Scotland, for the SNP by association, but most of all for the economic credibility of the Independence cause.

I've got a bit of knowledge however of how solicitors get drawn into mortgage fraud. It usually starts with agreeing to "bend the rules", for a valued client, "just this once". The problem is that once done there is no way back. For, once done, any future reluctance can invariably be met with the response from the client "it would be a pity if the lender, or the Law Society, found out about that first matter". After all, the client could probably maintain they didn't realise they were doing anything wrong. It's not the sort of thing the solicitor would have been likely to have confirmed to them in writing.

And that can be a problem in other walks of life. For example, a political Party reluctant to enrol an individual as an approved candidate could hardly face down a response that they had known of that person's character when the self same person had performed a previous valued service for them. Nor indeed could they take immediate disciplinary action once matters became public. "It wouldn't look very good if Paul Hutcheon got to know how long you've known about this".

But unless the findings of the SSDT are wholly inaccurate, and you will note that the facts were agreed by Mr Hales, Thomson personally is toast. The sentencing guidelines are here. It qualifies for what is commonly known as exemplary sentencing so she'll probably get several years in jail giving rise to an interesting by-election.

With Bill Walker the SNP got away with murder. I wrote about that at the time here and here. It was simply unsustainable on the known facts that they were unaware of his history at the time he was selected as a parliamentary candidate. But the Nats simply stuck to that line and somehow got away with it.

This time, once the dust settles, there must be a more thorough investigation as to who in the SNP knew what and when. The only pity is that this is unlikely to be before next May.

*Unfortunately the Sunday Times second article doesn't appear to be online.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015


In 2010, I voted for Ed. Well, actually, I voted for the other Ed, for I was a Broonie to the end. But by the time I did so it was clear that my second vote, for one bro or the other, was the important one.

To be honest I didn't cast either of my Eds votes with any great enthusiasm. It was more that neither was David. For David was Blair. And Blair was Iraq.

And Iraq was unforgiveable.

I read with interest the Lord Ashcroft focus group report. Patently it reflects that Corbyn has no chance of winning a General Election. Which is why I didn't vote for him.

But, let us be clear. Sure there were lots of £3ers whose loyalty to the Labour Party, or anything,  is, at best, ephemeral. Sure there was some dodgy dealing when it came to affiliated members. But Corbyn won among full members of the Labour Party. Peter Kellner's research seems to indicate that he probably won among Party members of more than five years standing. Even if he might have, among that group, ultimately faltered after transfers, nobody doubts that he won a plurality.

And the reason was Iraq.

Not actually Iraq but what Iraq represented.

The vast majority of Labour Party members knew Iraq was a mistake. Obviously we have within our ranks a peacenik cadre who think any war is a mistake. That appears to include our current leader. But most of us don't take that view. We are certainly for the use of military force. But only when it is for a justified purpose and reasonably clear as to its objectives.

And we simply could not see the justified purpose of Iraq. Or, in so far as it seemed to have objectives, agree with these objectives.

But even that wasn't the point. The point was that something opposed by the vast majority of Labour Party members; that something opposed in their hearts by a majority of Labour MPs; that something which the second most important figure in the Party (Brown) could send coded signals was not his doing; that this something happened anyway.

For the iron grip of New Labour was such that the Party's view was irrelevant. And worse still that for anybody even at the very top of the Party to dissent was instant political death. When Robin Cook resigned he did so in the certain knowledge that he wouldn't be back. Any back bench MP, no matter how able, joining the rebellion, knew that doing so would end their career. Forever. You can't help feeling the younger Miliband was only saved from this fate by not being an MP. That is, of course, assuming he would truly have voted with his conscience if he had actually been there.

It would be an interesting exercise, if you could, to go back to that 2003 PLP and ask them, unattributally, how they would have voted in a genuinely free vote. Not hiding behind the "if we knew then" formulation but, truly, what was their view at the time. My feeling is that even among the "Red Tories" there was nothing like a majority for participation. For all of these people had been elected as Labour MPs. And nobody achieves that imprimatur without some feeling for our Party. And the Party's view was more or less unanimous. But they knew that dissent was suicide.

In Scottish terms there was the march. I was on that march. It was a great day. Possibly the last great march of my lifetime. NUS Scotland reunited over several generations. And now able to afford a good lunch afterwards. But where were my comrades of twenty years standing? Jack, Wendy, Frank, Pauline, Jackie and so many others? They were at the march's destination, inside the SECC. For Blair was there and as MSPs they were expected to stand beside him. Or die. Who knows, perhaps if I'd been an MSP I'd have made the same call. Although I can't help feeling that last September the 15% who got the blood and soilers to their 45% were incubated that day.

And then of course we, Party majority opinion, after Iraq, were proved right. And yet, under the iron diktat of New Labour, even that could not be acknowledged. No matter how patently true subsequent events proved it to be.

But, and I emphasise the but, the long term significance of this was not really about Iraq. It was about the disconnect between the leadership of the party and the opinions of the thousands of activists who had worked to get them elected which that represented.  Iraq was just the lightning rod.

And, twelve years on, Corbyn has proved to have been the earth to that lightning rod.

Almost all the post election analysis has been about why Corbyn won. But, at least as importantly to those of us who haven't given upon the Labour Party altogether is why the others lost.

None of them offered any role to the wider Party except followship. To the right for Liz; straight on for Yvette and whatever the day of the week the polls suggested for Andy.

Corbyn, if not perhaps many of his ultra left allies, suggested that we let a thousand flowers bloom. It's hopeless politics in the real world. But he wasn't appealing to the real world. He was appealing (as it turns out very appealing) to the Labour Party.

He won't last.

But let us be clear. If next time round any of the contenders stand on a platform of "I'll be your leader and you'll shut up" then they'll suffer the same fate as Andy, Yvette and Liz.

For we remember Iraq.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Refugees Welcome?

I've been a legal aid lawyer all my life.

And what goes with that is a lot of interaction with homelessness.

Not just in relation directly to "housing" matters. To people losing their home for reasons related to the house itself: its uninhabitable condition; its occupants inability to meet the continued cost of living there or its owner's unwillingness to allow their occupation.

No, homelessness also arises for other reasons: domestic violence; pathologically antisocial neighbours; vigilantism against certain types of offenders; chronic private debt; failed business ventures.

It is all part of my "daily grind".

And I do what the law allows me to do to help while recognising that, to some degree at least, many of the clients are the partial, or more, authors of their own misfortune. And regrettably, even some of those who are not, would not be people with whom you would wish greater familiarity.

But, every so often, you do get a case where you have someone who seems a genuinely decent individual, or family, who is facing uncertainty as to where they would be sleeping that very evening.

And here is the thing. I've got a big house. Until Maureen became ill, we had three spare bedrooms and one spare bathroom. We even have a largely unused garage that could be used for storage. Arrangements that have, now that we have to accommodate Maureen's illness and the carers who go with it, proved to be a Godsend but which were, for many years, a middle class indulgence. We bought the house perhaps in anticipation of kids who never came but we stayed in it because we liked it and we could afford it. Simple as that.

But for fifteen years I dealt with all these homelessness cases without once considering that, as a final resort, these clients could come and stay with me.

Now, you can rationalise this in any numbers of ways. That individual acts of charity only excuse the failures of the system. That there is "no point" in helping help only some when you can't help more. That it is patronising to select the deserving case(s). Less charitably, that perhaps there is something, on wider acquaintance, that might reveal them to be not quite so deserving.

All of these things might have a grain of truth although similar arguments have never stopped me making any number of charitable donations to domestic causes that I properly believe should be funded by general taxation. Or indeed stopped Maureen, before she was ill and in a way I have continued, sponsoring individual African children, through a charity of her choice.

No, the reason in the end I never took any of these people in was selfishness. I like where I stay and I have no desire to share it with anybody else, no matter how deserving.

So, if I had been a politician asked to take in a Syrian refugee, my answer would have been "Sorry, but no."

And it is utterly delusional to suggest that this would not be the similar response of the vast majority of other British people asked the same question. Not just to their home but to their Country.

So why are we pretending otherwise?

Because no-one wants to admit being selfish. Or at least no decent liberal, let alone socialist, does.

Britain is proud of the 0.7% of GDP we spend on foreign aid and it is to he credit of the Prime Minister that he has maintained that New Labour commitment in the face of siren calls from his own right wing. But could we do more? Of course we could. A 1% increase in the basic rate of income tax could significantly enhance that commitment and, yet, even then, the poorest British citizen contributing to that would remain infinitely better off than every single recipient of that aid.

The right might trot out their arguments: "too much would be diverted to corruption"; "it would still be a drop in the ocean"; "the Lord helps those who help themselves"; etc, etc. But the left should be more honest. The British people wouldn't vote for this. Nor would the Scottish people. The Scottish Government does have devolved competence to develop its own aid programme, notably to Malawi, but why is it not much larger? Because Scots would rather have no tuition fees. Here. And free prescriptions. Here. And, it would appear shortly, to have reduced Air Passenger Duty. Here.

I say all of this only to expose the hypocrisy of those whose response to the Syrian Refugee crisis is apparently "let them all come here."

The one thing you can say about the Greens is that they have a, sometimes unworldly, honesty. Caroline Lucas last week pointed out that if Britain took our share of the Syrian refugees currently wishing to resettle in the EU then that would amount to "only" 240,000 people. A figure Ms Lucas, with commendable consistency, suggested we volunteer to accept as it was "only" 0.4% of the UK population. Although presumably as she trotted out her "we've got room" message she wasn't proposing them housed anywhere in the green belt. Despite that being where the room is.

Nicola, never wishing to be outflanked by the evil Tories, has largely stuck to suggesting Scotland could take "more" than whatever Cameron is suggesting but the only figure that she has actually given is "at least 1000". Which is actually less than our share of Cameron's belated figure of 20,000. But Scotland's share of Ms Lucas's figure would be about 20,000 for us alone. Maybe another 19,000 is implied in the First Minister's "at least" formulation but somehow I doubt it. It seems improbable anyway that the leader of a Party predicated on getting back the money "the English have been stealing from us" wishes to do so only to give it away to people of some other nationality.

For all of these people would need housed; their children educated; their health care needs attended to and, not least, they themselves ultimately found employment. Now, all this could be done. We live in one of the very richest countries in the world. Taxes could be raised; money could be borrowed; the world scoured for the professionals to come here to deliver the support services required

Except that there is no sign at all that the electorate are prepared to make such a sacrifice to address poverty and disadvantage here. So, really, are they going to do so for people from half way across the world?

We should stop kidding these poor refugees on. "Refugees Welcome" might give a warm feeling to those expressing that sentiment but even most of those asserting that are not truly proposing to welcome them in the numbers remotely necessary to solve the problem within these shores alone.

The evil Tory Government is right. Not because they are evil Tories because they are the Government. Any British (or Scottish) Government. Not just people holding up signs. We can only do so much here. Because that is all the electorate will be prepared to fund. The solution lies not in misleading people risking drowning off the Turkish coast that if they are persistent enough they will one day find themselves in comfortable British suburbia. In the short term it can only be by mitigating the conditions in the refugee camps on Syria's borders. And in the longer term by somehow resolving the modern Hell that Syria itself has become.

For the British people are selfish. So, for what its worth, are the peoples of all other Countries in the West. There might be a small minority among us who, genuinely, would make the financial sacrifices involved to make a difference. But it is beyond cruelty for them to ignore their own minority status and, in the process, to give desperate people utterly false hope.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

It's Still Over.

And so, almost exactly a year on from the last one, we have an opinion poll indicating that Scotland would vote Yes in an Independence Referendum.

Now, logically, this should be a problem for those of us who oppose Scottish Independence. Our majority is apparently slipping.

Except it is not. For an instant answer to an unspecific proposition is of course very different from what would be involved were there to be another referendum.

Ironically, the people for whom this poll is a problem are the leadership of he Nationalist movement. Not the common herd, who even now are no doubt seized with a spirit of "one more heave". Hope over Fear as they would have it. Hate over Sense might be a more accurate description. Whichever, not much thinking is involved. But the Nats do have a thinking element.

That thinking element went for broke last September. Until late on, they hadn't ever really thought they had a chance. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm of their tartan clad foot soldiers, they had read all the polling data. More to the point, they knew that they were walking an intellectual tightrope on the economic argument; that the truth was that an Independent Scotland would lead to an immediate reduction in living standards. Some genuinely thought that in the medium to long term this would be reversed. Others that, even if it wasn't, the sacrifice was nonetheless worth it for a flag. But, of course, neither scenario was the proposition being put to the electorate. Although that was covered up as best as possible the thinking element feared at one point the curtain would be pulled back to reveal not the Wizard of Oz but an old man with a trumpet.

Then suddenly and unexpectedly they thought they might actually win. And these people, the thinking Nationalists, genuinely believe in independence. So they thought "to Hell with it!" and allowed themselves to become allied with a complete absence from economic, even factual, reality.

So we had tens of thousand of Yes leaflets issued maintaining there were secret oilfields whose existence would only be revealed after the vote; we had the nonsense of an entirely invented "export duty" which allocated much of the value of the Scots whisky industry to its English ports of export; above all we had fantasy spending promises predicated on a price of oil that bore no resemblance to any respectable independent forecasters view or even the affordability of these spending promises no matter what the conceivable price of oil. All of this then whipped up into a hysteria over the failure of the "Main Stream Media", and particularly the BBC, to "reveal the truth".

All of this would inevitably have unraveled had there been a Yes vote but the Nationalist calculation then was that it would be too late to go back. As I pointed out before the vote, the stated intention that independence would have been achieved by March 2016, before the next Scottish Parliament elections, was precisely to rule out any opportunity for second thoughts then on the part of the electorate.

Now the problem with this was what happened if the Nats didn't win. As they didn't. It is clear now there are no secret oil fields; export duty no more exists today than it ever did and oil is now trading at something south of $50 a barrel as compared to the"predicted" $113 in the White Paper. Any early rerun of the referendum would therefor start with it being clear, not based on simple opposition assertion but by by now established fact, that the proponents of independence in 2014 had been proven to be, at best,  lunatically optimistic and, at worst, actively deceitful. Yet it would be the same people who would be asking the electorate to "trust" them with their support in any re-run.

It is for that reason alone that there will be no cast iron commitment to a second referendum in the SNP's 2016 manifesto. Not that they couldn't win the election on that basis but rather that they would simply lose any Referendum again. Memories will need to have faded a bit before this problem goes away. The same thinking Nats know that.

But there is something else that would need resolved before a second referendum but which cannot. Cannot ever I'm afraid. That is the issue of currency.

There is an emerging consensus on the Nationalist side that they were badly damaged in 2014 by their adherence to the Pound and events since in Greece have demonstrated in spades the illusory nature of suggesting that a significantly different economic policy could be pursued, within a currency union, against the wishes of the larger partner(s) to that union.

So, the nationalist argument, is shifting to suggesting that an independent Scotland should, at any re-run referendum, be proposed to have its own currency. With one bound they would thus be free, they claim.

But say what you like about Alex Salmond, he is not daft. Would he, in an ideal world, have preferred to have fought in 2014 on the proposition of a separate Scottish currency? Of course he would. He's a nationalist and proper nations don't use another nation's currency Why didn't he then? Because, as I say, he is not daft.

If there was the proposition for a separate Scottish currency that currency would immediately have a shadow value on the international trading exchanges. And if that shadow currency was predicated on Scotland emerging into the modern world with a massive public spending deficit and no governmental proposals to address that, (the current SNP proposal), then you can be guaranteed that the value of the shadow Pound Scots would trade internationally at significantly less than the value of the Pound Sterling.

Now what would that mean in base politics? It would mean that the proposition being put before the electorate at any future referendum would be that anybody in Scotland paid by the Government (pensioners, Civil servants, the chronically sick and the unemployed) would, immediately on independence, suffer a significant cut in their own standard of living. The Scottish Government might tell them that their payment in Pound Scots was worth as much as their former payment in Pound Sterling but that assurance would last no further than a trip to Tesco to buy an imported banana, never mind the outcome when they tried to convert their currency to pay their (still Sterling denominated) mortgage or car loan. This was why, in the end, Syrzia realised that they couldn't "end austerity" by leaving the Euro. The value of the New Drachma wouldn't be simply what the Greek Government said it was worth. It would be what the World was prepared to pay for it. But private and public debts owed in Euros would still be payable in Euros. Even if the debtor only had Drachmas.

And that's why Eck stuck so firmly to Plan A a year ago, even when it clearly was damaging his own cause. It was still doing him less harm than any alternative.

This problem won't go away. And there is one other new factor and that's the Tory majority government. When Osborne, Balls and Alexander ruled out a currency union, there was at least something to the bluff the Nats pulled. I paraphrase: "Osborne might be a Tory Bastard but Labour and the Libs are Parties with big supports in Scotland. If it comes to it, they'll prove more flexible".

Well, Balls and Alexander are no more, alongside their big supports in Scotland. There is only the Tory Bastard now. When he says no it will lack all credibility to insist he doesn't mean it.

But between the Scylla of the redundant plan for a currency union and the Charybdis of a devalued free floating currency, there is no electoral safe passage for the good ship Independence Referendum II. And there never will be.

So it is all very well for the Bravehearts to demand another go as soon as possible. As indeed it is all very well in a random poll for people to answer Yes to an unspecific proposition. The thinking Nats realise that before you can request a meaningful answer however you need to have framed the question. And they are scratching their heads how to do that in a way with any realistic prospect of success.

I'll save them the bother. As I say, they can't.

The problem for the thinking Nats is that it isn't entirely clear a majority of the SNP membership appreciate that. After all, thinking and nationalism have seldom been easy bed fellows and this poll only strengthens the internal hand of those not particularly given to the thinking. So the poll might indeed hasten an attempt at a second referendum. The problem, as the thinking Nats know, is that it wouldn't unfortunately affect the inevitable result.

To lose one Referendum might be unfortunate but to lose two might look awfully like carelessness.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

In Partial Defence of Corbynism.

"Now we're far from that valley of sorrow,
But it's memory we ne'er will forget,
So before we continue our reunion,
Let us stand to our glorious dead."

That is the final verse of Jarama Valley, probably the most famous song to emerge from the International Brigade who fought for the cause of the Spanish Republic.

It's original lyrics were actually written by a Scotsman although it was thanks to Woody Guthrie that the song became truly well known.

Anyway, the version of the song now sung in Scotland traditionally starts with Jarama Valley and then as the valley of sorrow is left in its final verse, segues into the much more upbeat Bandiera Rossa. The reason for that is that this is how the two songs are linked at the end of The Laggan's 1978 folk Album, I am the Common Man and there is virtually no Labour activist of my generation who doesn't possess somewhere a copy of that work. It is almost now a part of the traditions of the Scottish Labour Party.

Now the reason I am telling you this is that Jarama Valley/Bandiera Rossa was sung lustily last Friday night at the conclusion of the rally that Jeremy Corbyn held in Glasgow.

And, although I wasn't there, it seemed from the footage that I saw that a large majority of those present already knew the words.

I'm not voting for Jeremy, I never was, but I am getting more than slightly annoyed at some of the spinning against his supporters. The vast majority of these people were members of the Labour Party before the General Election. Never forget that as recently as December last year, Neil Findlay, Corbyn's Scottish Campaign manager, secured nearly one third of the votes of individual members in the contest to succeed Johann Lamont as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Patently, none of these members then voting joined only to support the Corbyn surge and, with respect all round, this was despite Findlay being a much weaker candidate than Corbyn, while Murphy was a much stronger opponent than even the combined efforts of Burnham, Cooper and Kendal.

And a good further chunk of Corbyn's support seem to me to be people who had at one time been members of the Party, who had lapsed or consciously resigned, but who have been lured back by the prospect of change. Corbyn is the mechanism for that change but contrary to some of the mockery of these supporters he is NOT seen by them as a messianic figure. These people certainly want to change the Party but they have not taken leave of their senses and it is still, legitimately, their Party as well.

Now, that's not to say that Corbynism doesn't have its lunatic fringe, conspiracy theorists up there with the zoomiest of Scottish Nationalists; entryists from the ultra left and the devious right; keyboard warriors blind to the absurdity of those who paid £3 to become only associate members, even now, calling on those who have been in the Party all their adult lives to "JOIN THE TORIES"!

But it would be a critical mistake to tar the whole of the Corbyn movement with this brush.

A lot of longstanding members of the Labour Party: Election Agents, Branch Secretaries, local Councillors of many years service, have decided to vote for Corbyn. Good grief, today, he has even been endorsed by the Daily Record.

Some of these people genuinely think he can get elected as Prime Minister but I suspect most, in their heart of hearts, know he can't.  But I think there are three or four other things going on here.

Firstly, as I pointed out in my penultimate blog, they really doubt that any of the other current candidates can win the big election either. Certainly the utterly inept  way they have conducted their leadership campaigns hardly fills you with confidence in their ability to go head to head with Cameron or Osborne in 2020.

Secondly, Party members did not want the internal debate about why we lost immediately closed down, yet that was/is what is on offer from each of the other three. "I'm the leader now, we can't afford internal strife, so just leave it to me." That was essentially what happened in 2010 after Ed won and we then sleep walked to disaster. Certainly, if you phrase it that bluntly, it is absurd to say that the electorate gave the Tories a majority mandate and voted in huge numbers for UKIP because they thought the Labour Party was too right wing. But equally, things were altogether more complicated than it simply being all down to Labour's lack of economic credibility. Yet in many ways to install any one of the other three within four months of our defeat would be to be seen to have effectively endorsed that conclusion without it first being rigorously tested. A period of debate is sometimes a good thing and only Corbyn offers that.

Thirdly, I should say that I depart not one sausage from what I said in last blog. Many of Corbyn's supporters are confusing what is unpopular with them with what is unpopular in the Country. But, at the same time, we can't simply give up on what the Labour Party is meant to stand for: First class public services funded by progressive taxation and a continued concern for those at the bottom of society. Even if that is not universally popular. Kez said this week that people in Scotland no longer understood what the Labour Party stood for. It wasn't just in Scotland. I agreed almost entirely with Brown's attack on Corbyn at the weekend but amidst the repeated quotations from our great leaders of the past he missed one of the most important: "The Labour Party is a Crusade or it is nothing." The man who said that remains the only Labour Leader to have won four General Elections.

And finally there is this. Once installed, it is very difficult to remove a Leader of the Labour Party against their will. That was the problem with Ed. We knew in our gut (and from our canvassing) that he wasn't going to sweep the Country about two years out but he wasn't for shifting. And neither, once installed, would any of the other three candidates this time be for shifting.

But Corbyn is in a different position. He could fall at any time, for assembling the necessary Parliamentary votes to trigger a challenge would not be difficult. More to the point, he is nearly seventy. I suspect if they had known how things would develop he wouldn't have been the candidate of the Party's left at all. It is entirely credible to see Corbyn leading his coalition of the angry till 2018. We would have our debate and we would see where his leadership and that debate had got us. It might be messy, it would be messy, but would it necessarily be worse than the false, to use a quote from another former leader "unanimity of the graveyard" that  prevailed from September 2010 until May 8th 2015?

And in 2018? Hopefully the centre of the Party would have more credible candidates than those currently in the field.

So, do I want Corbyn to win? Certainly not. But would his victory be the utterly unmitigated disaster some predict? Perhaps not.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Is Austerity Unpopular?

I spent almost all of my young adult life hating Thatcherism.

Mrs T came to power just before my twenty first birthday and departed only after I had turned thirty two.

From start to finish she was incredibly unpopular with me and with just about everybody else I knew.

And we didn't bother to hide our disapproval of just about everything she did: the sale of council houses; the attack on Trade Union rights; the privatisation of basic public services; the emasculation of local government; the tax cuts for the rich; the abolition of exchange controls; the cold warmongering; the mealy mouthed attitude to Apartheid South Africa; Cruise Missiles; the imperial governing of Scotland; the destruction of deep coal mining................and that's just the start. Every single one of these things was an outrage, something up with which "the people" would not put.

And against each and every one I protested, I campaigned, I threatened an electoral reckoning. And that's just the examples which come most easily to hand. Not only was I against all this, millions of us were. These policies were incredibly unpopular.

And so they were. With a minority.

For it slowly dawned, following election defeat after election defeat, defeat even after the lady herself had departed the stage and we faced only her mini-me successor, that our problem with Mrs Thatcher and her philosophy was not that it was unpopular but rather that it was actually very popular indeed. So popular that it kept winning elections and actually almost split my own Party over whether it was necessary to reach some sort of accommodation.

Sometimes (actually always) you lose elections not because of the malign influence of the Tory press tricking the working class into a false consciousness as to their objective interests but rather simply because the other side's policy offer is more attractive than your own. That, rather than any more Machiavellian explanation, is really why Mrs T roared up record majorities in 1983 and 87. It's also why the Tories held on in 1992. More people supported the Tory Manifesto (in the broadest sense) than those who supported our own. That's all. The rest was just process.

The fact that our side were outraged about this, much more outraged than we'd ever been about Harold McMillan or Ted Heath* counted for literally nothing. There are no extra votes in being "really, really" opposed to the Tories.

And I wonder if we are making the same mistake over "austerity". "Everybody" is apparently opposed to austerity. Well actually, not everybody. Certainly not those who voted Tory: probably most of those who stood by the Liberal Democrats and certainly not those who voted UKIP in the belief that the Tories were too left wing.**

But what actually is austerity? In the proper sense it is neither left wing or right wing. It is not for nothing that Attlee's second chancellor was known as "austerity" Cripps. Austerity per se is simply an economic strategy based on living within your means. That can be done by lower government expenditure (Osborne austerity) or higher taxation (Cripps austerity). And living within the Country's means is the responsibility of every government.*** If you don't you do end up like Greece, or Argentina before it.

And some of even Osborne's austerity is presumably supported by the left. The reduced Defence expenditure; the de facto widening of the 40% tax band; the limited targeting of Child Benefit.

No, what in reality is meant by the shorthand condemnation of "austerity", is condemnation of two specific aspects of how Osborne proposes to balance the budget: Firstly, by cutting the benefits received, and placing increased conditionality of their receipt at all, by the long term unemployed**** and, secondly, by attacking the wages and conditions of public service workers.

Now, these two things are incredibly unpopular with those affected. But, and this involves some hard reality, are they really unpopular with everybody else?

Well, actually, no.

The "benefit cap" is really a Housing Benefit cap. And, do you know, do I think that lots of taxpayers are happy to subsidise the rent that allows others to live in parts of the country where the self same taxpayers could not possibly afford to live themselves? Somehow I doubt it. Actually I don't doubt it. The polling is clear. Just as it is equally clear that, excepting those who have made that choice themselves, virtually nobody supports unemployment at public expense as being a legitimate lifestyle choice.

And, while I know that some, even most, public sector workers work very hard for little reward, do even I think that is anything like a unanimous condition? Or that outrage, on the part of the self same public sector workers, to a freeze on unnecessary recruitment or restrictions on annual increments provokes widespread sympathy with their outrage? To be honest, I suspect it provokes rather a reverse outrage as to why unnecessary recruitment was being contemplated in the first place or indeed why anybody, in this day and age, gets a guaranteed pay rise for doing nothing more than serving time at their work, irrespective of their performance in the job or of the ability of their employer to pay

The Labour Party for good and historic reasons attracts into its membership those more naturally concerned for the condition of the poor. And the pattern of decline of industrial Trade Unionism is such that those working in the public sector are now hugely disproportionate among our affiliated membership. So, for obvious reasons both "wings" of our movement are self selecting when it comes to opposition to this "austerity". If we were in office and did not have to worry about getting re-elected these things would not be happening. Since some attempt would be needed to get the deficit under control I suspect other pretty unpalatable things would be happening but it wouldn't be these things. Actually, I suspect that internally within the Party there would be a majority for solving the problem by an increase in general taxation. There remains however a dim realisation that this would be electorally toxic. So we are left with the only option of pretending that increased and indefinite borrowing is not equally electorally toxic because "everybody" is opposed to "austerity". Unfortunately that's not true. No matter how much we would like it to be. The polling on that is equally clear. Day to day living is equally clear.

Now, it is possible to build an impressive rainbow coalition of the angry, around bleeding heart liberal professionals and (insofar as they vote) their clients; around public sector trade unionists and around that small part of the youth vote with any interest at all in politics. The problem is that this rainbow is several colours short of the full spectrum necessary to win an election. And that the priorities of its limited membership are positively repellent to any other refracted light.

That's the realisation that seems lost on those swept up in Corbynmania. They cannot grasp that what is unpopular with them is not what is unpopular with the Country. That just because it is very unpopular with them and (some of it at least)  only half heartedly popular elsewhere (and then only still) with people NOT REALLY INTERESTED IN POLITICS AT ALL! or ONLY INTERESTED IN THEIR OWN POCKET! or INDIFFERENT TO THE MISERY OF OTHERS! that this really makes any difference at all. Everybody only has one vote. Our job is to attract it, not to write it off. That's democracy.

So let's be clear. It may be that fighting "austerity" is morally the right thing for Labour to do, that's almost a different argument.  But anybody who thinks that this will be popular with the voters we need to attract to actually get elected is to confuse the views of these voters with the views of those arguing with them.

And would you vote for someone who starts off  wanting to argue with you?


*Actually, I was quite outraged at Ted. I'd probably have been outraged at McMillan as well but I was only three at the time.

**I appreciate that's not the totality of the UKIP vote but it's a fair chunk.

***Even Keynes thought it necessary to balance the budget over an economic cycle. Even Syriza do. They just think (probably correctly) that, starting from here and without default,  this is impossible for Greece to do without debt relief.

****Cutting benefits for the working poor is a different matter entirely in the popularity stakes. As the Tories may learn to their cost in due course.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

An utterly depressing piece. (After a brighter start)

I've been really busy.

Andi and I were away for three weeks, initially with her folks in Hungary and then, a first even for me, in the Abruzzo. Can't recommend the latter too much as a holiday destination. The Adriatic remains as azure as ever and the sea food better than even my memory from further south recalled. And the hilltop towns inland, now restored, are the equal of much of Tuscany or Umbria. Two hours from Ciampino, straight across the peninsula on the A24, although not perhaps a road to be driven by anybody who suffers from vertigo.

And on our return we've bought a new wee house! Which needless to say, despite being in "move in condition", hasn't actually proved to be in move in condition to Andi's satisfaction. So, walls have had to have been scraped, perfectly good carpets dismissed from further use, and plans made for patio doors, decking and even canopies to be installed at some indeterminate future date.

And then there's my work. Trials held back for my return to be actually conducted. Ridiculously impatient clients demanding appointments to discuss their affairs with their lawyer who has, after all, only been unavailable for a mere three and a half weeks. None of this helped by my secretary of thirty years having decided she is going to retire. And to top it all, a coincidental Scottish Legal Aid Board "peer inspection" where even files in which the Crown unconditionally abandoned proceedings are sent off in fearful anticipation that some distant colleague might observe that this was an inadequate result.

So, I'd have had plenty of reasons for not doing much blogging.

But, to be honest, its not just that.

I'm really wondering what is the point to current Labour politics.

I've always kind of thought that the principal purpose of the Labour Party was to advance the cause of working people. Not just to complain about it but to actually do something about it. And for that, be in no doubt, you need to get elected.

Other than at a local government level, and then only within the constraints of a Council Tax freeze over which we have no control, Labour has not done any advancing of the interests of working people anywhere since 2010.

It is easy to blame/get annoyed with Jeremy Corbyn and those intent on voting for him for the way the leadership election has unfolded. "This man could never win a General Election" is an easy charge to make. And a true one.

But the real villains of this piece are not the Corbynites. Most of them readily concede that their man can't win anything other than an internal election. But it is not fair to say that (most of them) don't care.

It seems to me rather that much of the momentum for the Corbyn surge flows not from a desire to write off electoral success by choosing the man but rather from a rather fatalistic belief that none of the other candidates in the field would bring electoral success either. Given that starting point, there might even be some logic to deciding to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. Who would "remember the Alamo" if Davy Crockett had conceded Santa Anna had a reasonable claim to the fort and reached terms on a negotiated surrender?

Now, whose fault is that?

I started with little enthusiasm for any of the declared candidates and as the campaign has continued if anything my enthusiasm has waned.

It is all very well for her partisans to try and project Liz Kendall as the new Blair but she is not. Blair certainly had a successful political message but he also had other merits:

  • He was far from a political unknown before he was elected
  • He sought the leadership, thanks in part to the Granita deal, with the support of pretty much all of the Party's other front line representatives
  • He inherited, anyway, a pretty united and determined Party from John Smith so he himself did not have to strive to build that unity
  • He genuinely seemed something "New". It cannot be emphasised how much new Labour needed that. If Brown had stood and won we might still have claimed to have been "New" but we would never have done so as convincingly.
  • Sometimes you also have to be honest in politics, he also benefited from being an attractive man physically, with a clever wife and three young children. He struck you (and I was no great partisan of his, far from it) as somebody who would have been successful in life no matter what he chose to do.
  • He did not seem to be obsessed with personal ambition or even, particularly, politics.
  • He did seem to be somebody with a clear idea of where the Country (and not just the Labour Party) needed to go.
Now, Liz Kendall doesn't have any of these advantages. She was a pretty obscure figure before she declared and since then her usp seems simply to be "I've got the same politics as Tony Blair; Tony Blair won elections; vote for me". Possibly, I accept, as a result of the Corbyn factor, nobody could regard her as a unifying candidate. But in some way most importantly it is not really clear what she is for other than fiscal rectitude and a realistic assessment of the Country's toleration of Welfare. These might, I agree, be obstacles to us winning that have to be confronted, but people also want to know what you are actually seeking power for. People ultimately in the Country as a whole but initially at least people in the Labour Party contemplating voting for you. No-one is ever going to win an internal Labour election on a platform of fiscal rectitude alone. Even Tony Blair couldn't have done that. 

If that is a criticism of Liz Kendall however it is magnified in relation to Yvette. I wanted her to stand last time. I'll probably end up voting for her this time. But the Corbynite critique of New Labour is not without some merit particularly in relation to our latter period in office. We drifted into a sort of managerialism which did lead you wondering a bit about what we were achieving other than (I accept not unimportantly) keeping the Tories out of power.  The only excitement was of the wrong sort; the collapse of the Banks and the occasional terrorist outrage.

Our loss of power should have been an opportunity to reflect on that, to look at how we might create a new offer to the electorate in a digital age where the divide between the relative comfort of educated white collar workers in the private or public sector increasingly drifts apart from the life experience of those, largely uneducated, sectors of the workforce in marginal employment or no employment at all. An offer based on the realisation however that political power cannot be secured based on the support of the latter group alone.

That just never really happened. We went along with Ed's 35% strategy and kind of sleep walked through our five years in opposition until rudely awoken, one would have hoped, on the morning of May 8th.

Except Yvette still doesn't seem to have woken up. You don't need to subscribe to Liz's shock therapy to believe that the Party needs a pretty major rethink, yet I simply haven't seen or heard from Yvette, never mind what that rethink needs to be, even a recognition that a rethink is needed at all.

She's just there, competent and, insofar as I understand her distinctive pitch, a woman. 

And then, finally, we have Andy Burnham. Of those standing, I was inclined initially to give him my support. But his campaign has been all over the place. Everything from "more Blairite than Liz" (consistent with his time as a Minister, at least) to "Shoulder to shoulder with Jeremy Corbyn, just more electable". He just comes across as a complete chancer prepared to say anything to get elected. The problem with that is that such a reputation sticks.

My favourite Labour leader in my lifetime was Neil Kinnock. He inherited a Party in tatters and rebuilt it to the point where, had there been any justice, we would have won in 1992. I could see where Kinnock wanted to go but the pace at which he could proceed was hampered, particularly originally, by internal Party considerations. So, what I and others internally saw as a consistent direction of travel, others, in the wider electorate, saw as inconsistency. And that stuck. Fatally.

Andy Burnham is in danger of acquiring a reputation in three months that it took Kinnock years to achieve. Ask him if he thought Ed was too left wing or too cautious you get the distinct impression that he'd want to know a bit about the questioner before giving his answer. Big politics doesn't work like that.

But I kind of come back to where I started. Whoever wins will get my vote in the general election. As Tony Benn famously observed after the debacle of  1983, "Eight and a half million people voted for Socialism". So, even if it is Jeremy, I won't be entirely alone. But do I think, if they come from the present field, any of these candidates is capable of winning a General Election? I'm afraid I very much doubt it. 

That's why I'm so fed up. Ten years is a long time in politics.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Just (another) book review

I love  Iain M. Banks' Culture Novels. Read every one, often twice. Consider Phlebas at least three times. And I still cry at the end.

But, if you were being hyper (favourite Banks word) critical there is a certain repetitiveness about the plot(s) as the novels continue. Mere (very future) pieces of flesh and blood living out the narrative at the indulgence of more immortal artificial intelligences.

Nonetheless you keep reading, certainly because the storytelling is so good but also because of the added extras of worlds so different, so fantastically different, from our own that you revel in their description.

To that degree Banks was a true descendent of Sir Walter Scott, who described a historical time and place as precisely as Banks described a future time and place, Great plots but with an added bonus.

Well, now we have Andrew Nicoll. I have to confess he is a pal of mine. And we now have his fourth novel  The secret life and  mysterious death of Miss Jean Milne.                                         .

It is an odd synthesis of Banks and Scott. A historical novel, or more properly novella, set in an almost recognisable Scotland of our, almost, living memory but then describing that "almost recognisable" place as if it was one of Banks ring worlds on the edge of the known universe.

Broughty Ferry, the posh suburb of Dundee, where, in 1912, Police Sergeant Fraser of the Broughty Ferry Constabulary (total compliment 16) suddenly finds himself a key investigator, or at least key witness to the investigation, of the murder, in her own home, of the local spinster Miss Jean Milne.

As a police procedural, of time and place, the book more than holds its own. The same again as a (mere) whodunit. But this is not the book's real achievement. That is not so much to conjure up as to recreate a lost Scotland. A Scotland where professional men were invariably "Mister", unless they were "Doctor", even among themselves. Where Policemen always told the truth, no matter how inconvenient. Where the "cars" (trams) were the height of transport sophistication and the electric telephone as wondrous a thing as the modern internet.   Where local rivalry and distinction, in this case between Broughty Ferry and Dundee, but just as easily as between Glasgow and Rutherglen or Edinburgh and Leith, was a matter of almost vital importance to the junior partner involved.

I won't even really start to summarise the plot, for the book itself moves forward quickly in that regard. There's a murder, no obvious perpetrator, then too obvious a perpetrator and then.........

But the plot is not the star of this production. That lies as I say in its evocation of different but vaguely familiar world. I paid 49p for it on the Kindle. Or 9/11d in the old money. Worth every penny.

Sunday, 7 June 2015


In a democracy, the principal purpose of like minded people gathering together in a political party is to fight and win elections.

And, on any view, historically, the Scottish Labour Party has been very successful at doing that.

Until last month we had won every UK General Election since 1964. Of the four Scottish Parliament elections to date we had won two and effectively drawn a third. Even at the one Scottish Parliament election that we did decisively lose we actually started the campaign as favourites to win.

None of that is in any way to ignore the crushing defeat we suffered on 7th May past.

It is however to query why so many in our Party seem to have already decided that we might as well write off 2016.

Now, I've not taken complete leave of my senses. For us to get back to the golden years of majority (albeit coalition) Government such as we enjoyed between 1999 and 2007 would require a recovery not just by us but by our potential Lib-Dem allies which it would, I accept, be unrealistic to see occurring within the next eleven months. But even in that terrible defeat a month past we still had the support of 24% of the electorate. That could, I accept, be little more than a dead cat bounce but, on the other hand it could indicate an irreducible core vote, even at the worst of times, of something approaching a quarter of the electorate.

And, if it is, let's consider some of the other things that are likely to happen over the next twelve months.

Firstly, Labour will have a new UK Leader. On any view one of the major problems Scottish Labour has had over the last couple of years has been, I'm sorry to say, Ed. He simply lacked.......... authority.

And Scottish Labour's response to this was almost to admit our embarrassment about him. It was clear months out that Scotland would be a decisive battleground at the General Election yet our response to that was not suggest the UK Leader should be up here as much as possible. Instead it was the complete opposite. To suggest that he set foot here only as much as absolutely necessary. That wasn't accidental.

Well, no matter who takes over that will change. And I suspect with it there will also be a very different approach to the rabble the SNP have recently deployed to try and disrupt our Party events. Potential Prime Ministers do not get sneaked in back doors. They arrive at events expecting that the Police will be responsible both for their safety and for the maintenance of public order.

It is difficult not to look like you are on the run if you are (literally) on the run. That will change.

Secondly, the fighting fifty-six will prove useless. That's not a personal criticism (even of the ones who are useless) it is simply an observation that all oppositions are useless except in their capacity as alternative governments. Well, the Nats have won virtually every seat in Scotland and yet they are not, and never will be, the alternative government. Once the novelty of playing musical chairs and sardines has ended, all that will be left will be the day to day grind of debating, voting and losing. Forever. Even if they can maintain their discipline, I suspect before long the electorate will begin to wonder what they are for. That shouldn't, logically, have any impact on a Scottish election but logic doesn't always currently feature in Scottish politics.

And then, thirdly, we have "Independence". It's clear that the SNP Leadership plan some sort of manifesto fudge on whether a 2016 victory would mean a second referendum. There would be one if their was "a change of circumstance". There are three problems with this. The first is that there is no indication that an early second referendum is anything like as popular with the electorate as it is with SNP activists. The second is, if anything, more difficult. If the SNP still believe Independence is such a great idea why wouldn't they want another referendum? The third however is the biggest problem of all. If a vote for the SNP in 2016 is not a vote for independence then what is it a vote for? To date the appalling actual performance of the SNP in devolved government: in health; in education; in policing; in energy policy, and in so much else has been obscured by a lot of flag waving. Once the flags stop waving however we seem increasingly in all of these areas to be falling behind the performance outcomes achieved by (even) the evil English Tories. Facts are chiels that winna ding.

And then, finally, we have the referendum that is actually going to happen. On the EU. That will dominate the public arena for the next two years. Now, the SNP would like this to be framed in terms of Scotland voting "in" while England votes "out" and that will at least be part of the debate. But there is one thing that even at this distance can be guaranteed. Certainly a third and most probably significantly more of the Scottish electorate will vote to leave the EU. And since half of Scotland voted SNP a month back then inevitably an awful lot of these people will have been SNP voters. Given the Nats harvesting to date of the malcontented, I suspect a disproportionate number. Now, we have a recent example of a Party campaigning monolithically in a referendum in Scotland against the inclination of a significant part of its electorate. Suffice to say it shakes things up. Yet at the moment at least that appears to be where the Nats are headed. And if they do? There is simply no logic in being unwilling to share sovereignty with your closest neighbours while being madly enthusiastic about sharing it with lots of other people. It was not for nothing that the Nats felt their assertion of Scots enthusiasm for the EU would best be tested by us not being asked directly. Now that it is however, I suspect the intellectual acrobatics required to hold the Party line will prove beyond the abilities of even the formidable Ms Sturgeon.

Now, none of these things guarantee that Labour will recover ground next May but they do at least suggest that things are not quite the foregone conclusion that seems to dominate the thinking of our high command. It should certainly not be Kez's pitch, to either the party or the Country, as I fear that it sometimes seems to become, that she is engaged in a five (or six?) year strategy as part of which next year's objective is mere survival and a clear second place.

For at the very least there is one very realistic goal. We have a PR Parliament and it is very difficult for one Party to secure an absolute majority. Certainly last month's election repeated would bring that result. But even in our pomp, at the high tide of New Labour and led by the irreplaceable Donald Dewar, the very electorally successful Scottish Labour Party I started with never achieved that. It would still be an exceptionally good result for the SNP to get 42% or so next May but it would mean that the Nats had lost their absolute majority. And then, I think, we would be entitled to quote with approval Alex Salmond who famously announced on the  morning after the 2007 contest "It might not yet be clear who has won this election but it is certainly clear who has lost."

When outlining matters changing in our favour I started by identifying a new Party leader. If I concede Ed was a major problem, it is only right that I acknowledge that, conversely, the Nationalists greatest asset was their own plausible and personable front woman. If you accept that, and who truly would deny it, a Holyrood Parliament in which there was no majority to re-elect Nicola to the post of First Minister would be a significant victory for the Labour Party and the Union and, even if it opened up no other more immediate opportunities, at the very least a major milestone achieved on any five year strategy to return to power.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Sometimes you are just screwed.

Before yesterday, I was genuinely not sure about the fate of Jim Murphy. I had supported him for the leadership and while it is always possible to find fault with minor aspects of any campaign, even successful ones, the strategy that he adopted was essentially the strategy I would have commended myself.

That this strategy changed was because each approach tried in turn didn't work.

Initially, we argued that the referendum was over and that the choice on May 7th was between a Tory Government and a Labour Government. This should have worked, not least, as was demonstrated by the result itself, because it was true. Even the SNP obliquely conceded this by stating that an SNP vote was not a vote for independence or even for another referendum. Essentially it was a vote to prop up a Labour Government. Logic surely dictated to the electorate that if you wanted a Labour Government the best way to get that was to vote for it directly.

It didn't work for two reasons. The first, bluntly, was because Scotland, actually, was no more enthused by the prospect of Prime Minister Miliband than was, as it turned out, the rest of the Country. Not very much Jim, or anybody else, could do about that.

The second was because, since just dumping on Ed directly was out of the question, we were almost obliged to buy into the myth that Labour's ongoing problem with the SNP in Scotland was that we weren't sufficiently distinctively to the left of the Tories whereas the nationalists somehow were.  I say myth because, with the exception of Trident, the SNP and Labour manifestos were almost identical. Before we went there, nobody was attracting any votes at all from being to the left of the SNP. Indeed nobody was even seriously contesting the election on that basis.

But, since strategy one wasn't working, and since we had nowhere else, it appeared, to go, that's where we had to head. And so we ended up with the period of "Red Jim". Whatever public spending the SNP offered we'd offer more. And, .......well there was no and. That was just it.

The problem with this is that it not only did it run directly contrary to the message of fiscal rectitude we were (correctly) identifying as essential to actually winning the (UK) election, whatever anybody knew of Jim Murphy, the idea of him being some new Red Clydesider simply lacked any credibility. Anyway, since nobody really doubted that the SNP would spend as much as they could, in offering "more", Labour was either offering to act irresponsibly or, more likely, just..........lying.

So, unsurprisingly, that didn't work either. But given the limited options I suppose it had to be given a try.

And that then left us with strategy three. The endgame. The one glimmer of hope in the face of otherwise uniformly grim polling and focus grouping was the realisation that, even among many Nationalist voters, there was no enthusiasm for an early re run of the referendum. In parallel it was also clear that for non-Labour but non-nationalist, voters, stopping a re run was their single most fervent desire. A desire even beyond the election of a government of their preference.

So we went for that in Spades. Ostensibly to strip off soft Nats but in reality also in the hope of attracting a tactical vote.

The problem with this (always you will note the recurrence of the word problem) is that the Nats had the same polls and focus group results and headed us off at the pass by declaring, long and loud, that the May 7th vote had nothing to do with another referendum. Then, with the iron discipline which can only bring admiration, they enforced that line on even the zoomiest of their candidates.

So vote Labour to stop something which isn't going to happen anyway proved, in the end, not to work either. The rest is history.

At this point, reviewing what I've written already, it occurs to me that it comes across as unduly critical. That's not my intention. For in truth, starting from where we were back in November, WHAT ELSE COULD ANYBODY ELSE HAVE DONE?

Sure, Neil Findlay might have played the red more convincingly than Jim. Sarah might have been a more attractive magnet for tactical voters but in truth they would each have ended up exercising the same options without, and I mean no disrespect to either here, the manic energy Jim brought to the role.

So, personally, it is unfair to lay the blame for our defeat at Jim's door. And, given that, would have been unfair to call upon him to go. But sometimes politics isn't fair and, before yesterday, I was hesitating between fairness and realpolitik. On occasions you have to do something because the public expects something to be done.

As it turns out, all of this is academic now.

Except that, as with the departure of every leader since Wendy, the circumstance of their going has actually left us worse off than we were before.

The public calls for Jim's head seemed motivated not for the most part by those who had come down on the side of realpolitik but rather by those who had never been reconciled to his leadership in the first place. Whatever caused our defeat a week past on Thursday it had nothing whatsoever to do with the manner in which we went about selecting a candidate for Falkirk  (a "safe" seat which, I note in passing, we lost by 19,701 votes). Yet for some his role in that process and in other internal Party battles was never to be forgotten, or forgiven. This is the politics of the madhouse.

The idea that the Labour Party has ever, internally, been an entirely happy band of brothers is a wholly fallacious one. Never mind the great betrayal of 1931 we've seen the enforced deposition of Lansbury; the Bevanite/Gaitskellite feud rumbling on long after both were dead; the Bennery of the 1980s and, most recently Blair v Brown. Even under our greatest ever Government, when Ernie Bevin had it suggested to him that Herbert Morrison was his own worst enemy, Bevin famously replied "Not while I'm alive he isn't."

But the Murphy/Unite dispute is of a different order. For the leader of our largest affiliate to arrive in Scotland during an election campaign unwilling to encourage his members to vote Labour is an outrage. For that same affiliate then to decide that the moment of an existential crisis for the Party in Scotland was simply the opportunity to settle scores surely calls into question that affiliate's commitment to the wider cause altogether.

But that is what happened and we are now utterly adrift: leaderless; directionless; hopeless.

Yet we must rise again.

Be in no doubt, the recovery of the Scottish Labour Party is essential to the very survival of progressive politics in the UK. No matter any amount of wishful nationalist thinking it will always be unacceptable to the people of England & Wales for their Government to be in office at the whim of a Party who don't really want to be in their company at all.

So the card Cameron played so successfully in the last days of the election campaign past, that the only possible stable government is a Conservative government, will remain on the table so long as current electoral circumstance remains. It is all very well for my side to say, logically, to the Scottish electorate that so long as we remain in the United Kingdom we must participate properly in that Country's political process, not sitting on the sidelines in the huff. The problem is that for the moment logic isn't much of a force in Scottish politics.

So Labour in Scotland needs a new offer. And not just in the interests of Scotland.

Perhaps understandably, some nationalist commentators think the answer is an independent Scottish Labour Party which would, strangely enough, look remarkably like their (imagined) view of the SNP. Ideally, indeed, this Party would actually be in favour of independence which rather gives the game away. The same commentators often offer a similar prescription to the Scottish Tories. Independence is, it seems, to their mind the answer to every question.

Well, that's not going to happen. The Labour Party is not in favour of independence. In our opinion it would leave Scotland economically impoverished and culturally crippled. You don't have to agree with that opinion but you can't (yet at least) force us to think otherwise. The point can't be made often enough that the SNP exists at all only because its founders could not persuade the Labour Party of the merits of separation. If that changes, the logic is not a separate Scottish Labour Party, it is the winding up of the Scottish Labour Party altogether. Ask Jim Sillars.

We have a devolved Party structure and we should keep it but the idea that Scottish members shouldn't get a say in the selection of the Labour Candidate for Prime Minister is a non-starter.

Others think the Scottish Party needs a new programme. But what would that be? At this point it all becomes a bit hesitant. Sure we need another one of these ubiquitous "policy reviews" but the idea that our problem, other than very much at the margins, is about policy................really?

No, what we need is a fresh face in a meaningful way. And that should start with the realisation that none, literally none, of those eligible and willing to stand for the leadership under the current rules is a viable candidate for First Minister.

There are only forty one people in that category. The one MP, the two MEPs and thirty eight members of the Scottish Parliament.

The first three can be discounted as presumably can the two MSPs who have already had a go. A number of senior people who might act in a caretaker role to get us beyond 2016 show no enthusiasm for the task and much of the rest of the Holyrood group are, to put it kindly, not leadership material.

There is always Kez by default and that's kind of where the momentum (sic) currently is but seven months ago she herself concluded she wasn't up to the top job yet and I really doubt that the electorate will conclude that an intervening period participating in a disastrous election campaign has somehow filled that gap in her CV.

No, what I suggest is this. We rip up the list of already selected candidates. That might be easier than you imagine since virtually none of them have a chance of getting elected anyway. We select of new based on a system of constituency primaries where anybody prepared to declare an intention to vote Labour next May gets to have a vote. We could look to the Daily Record to assist in this process.

We do all that by 31st December. Then from anybody capable of getting fifteen (?) candidate nominations (even if they are not a constituency candidate) we select our FM candidate by means of a national open Primary conducted by the end of February. Whether or not they have a constituency, they go to the top of a list of their choosing

As for who then goes where on the list? The leader chooses. Simple as that.

Not a magic bullet but at least a visible fresh start. If instead, as I fear we might, start from the objective of trying to salvage the careers of those, by fortune rather than calculation, still clinging to elected office we will deserve all we get. And anyway, we would not be bringing them a reprieve, just a stay of execution.