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Leaderless?

I was asking the other day who would front the NO campaign in a Scottish referendum on independence. The dearth of any credible opposition in Scotland is so obvious to be almost palpable.

What then about the UK? Have you heard yon Ed Miliband bumping his gums about what a hopeless twit Gordon Brown was? Meanwhile Ed’s brother David is issuing denials that he’s plotting against him. I think we can take David’s denials with the same level of scepticism that we apply to Ed Balls when he says he didn’t plot against Blair.

I could be wrong of course because politics is a strange business but I really can’t ever see Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister*. He exudes mediocrity from every pore.

In the last week the Tories have been forced to ditch many of their election pledges in key areas from health and immigration to student loans and even bin collections. The folly of simultaneously cutting military spending whilst getting involved in a boys own adventure in Libya is becoming more evident by the day.

So what does the Ed man do?

He turns his guns on his predecessor – that’s what. “Under Gordon Brown we were the party of the benefit cheats and bankers” he said yesterday, in a speech.

I seriously wondered for a moment if it had been written by David Cameron!

It’s probably his way of getting back at his brother, but the whole thing is reminiscent of 80s Labour who gave Maggie Thatcher a free ride by making themselves completely unelectable and squabbling amongst themselves.

I feel that we are in for a long series of stories about David Miliband plotting against his brother instead of stories about the alternative policies that Labour would put in place were they in government.

The Tories’ main opposition seems to be coming from their own coalition partners.

Blimey even the discredited band of the Libdems and Nick Clegg seem to be more effective opposition than Labour.

The situation in the Labour party, den of foxes or nest of vipers as it is, will suit Dave and Nick (and for that matter Eck) just fine.

It isn’t good for the countries (UK or Scotland) that there is such mediocre, rudderless, almost leaderless opposition and for democracy’s sake that has to change.

*For the record David Miliband doesn’t strike me as PM material either.

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Keep Well – Stay Out of the Sun

I’m certain that although the SNP seem to be moving in the right direction in the polls, Eck will have very mixed feelings about the Scottish Sun’s front page this morning:

The certain thing is that just as the last time the tabloid supported the Nats (“Rise Now and be a Nation Again”) this will be a temporary tactic because it suits the paper’s agenda for one reason or another. For every action by Rupert’s organ, an equal and opposite reaction can be expected somewhere down the line.

On the other hand I suppose it is refreshing that the traditional media antipathy towards the SNP in Scotland seems to be abating somewhat. Even the party’s most vehement of critics seem to be laying off a bit and it appears that the good old Pavlovian Daily Record are the only ones left to cheer lead for Scottish Labour.

Maybe this will be the time when Scotland finally splits with it’s curious blind loyalty to the party.

The Sun also damns Labour with this article. I’m sure that readers who know the area will puzzle as to why Howattshaws Rd in Dumbarton has been pinpointed. Knowing the town as I do, I’d be amazed if Howattshaws Rd was in the top ten poor streets in Dumbarton/Vale of Leven area let alone the top fifty in Scotland. It could be that the ‘high flats’ there have skewed the equation somewhat.

Poor old Iain Gray though. Here, two chaps called Fin and Geishy pay homage:

“Feel the rain like a Scottish summer
Hear the notes from a distant song
Stepping out from a back door Subway
Wishing life wouldn’t be so dull

Ah, we fade to gray, fade to gray
Ah, we fade to gray, fade to gray
Ah, we fade to gray
Deperir a gris
Ah, we fade to gray, fade to gray
Deperir a gris”

The Scottish election is by no means done and dusted but the support of the Sun, despite all the baggage and the almost inevitable pie in the face somewhere down the line, could be a pivotal moment in the campaign.

True Election Story

This one is from the 1992 election but is indeed true.

My wife’s grandmother was in her nineties at the time and relied on a car to come and collect her and take her to the polling station. My father in law had gone to visit her that day and when she was out he realised that she must be away to vote. When she arrived back, Bill, a died in the wool Tory, was delighted to see his mother return in a car driven by a man in a blue rosette.

“I thought you always voted Labour mum” he said. “I’ve always voted Labour and always will” she replied. “It’s just that the Conservatives have nicer cars” she added.

Progressive?

The first things I think of when I hear that word are Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Tangerine Dream and Spinal Tap.

Yet yesterday Progressive Alliance was the catchphrase on everyone’s lips. Also spreading like a virus is the phrase “That decision is for those above my pay grade” which was highlighted to me by Alastair the other day as being a Tory creature. Yesterday I heard two Labour MPs using it.

Depending on which wing of the press you care to follow, Gordon Brown’s setting out of a timetable to quit as leader of the Labour Party is variously a bold move to unite the “progressive parties” in general and the Lib Dems in particular or it is a cynical ploy to distract the Lib Dems from finalising a coalition deal with the Tories. The Mail article really is that paper at its whingeing, reactionary worst.

The Lib Dem dilemma can be crystalised by a quick shuftie at the following map:

It’s easy to miss the one Tory seat in Scotland but if you look very carefully, it’s just above England there on the left. Crikey! Dumfries and Galloway IS almost England!

Anyhoo I’m completely struck by the hypocrisy of the whole thing. The Tory cry of “coalition of the losers” is just not on. Every party lost. In the first part the post system to win you have to get more votes than all other parties combined. This is the system which every governing party in the UK has endorsed and supported – because it has suited the governing party of the time to do so. You can’t support such a system so wholeheartedly and then cry foul when it doesn’t deliver the result you want.

There could be a downside

And the Liberal party is not exempt One wonders when their conversion to proportional representation began? Probably after they’d been out of government for a while!

The bottom line is that if (sorry it’s a big IF) as now looks more likely the Lib Dems team up in this progressive coalition with Labour and the other minority parties, they’ll have somewhere around six million more votes at their back than the Tories. Of course a similar thing could be said about a Tory Lib Dem arrangement but really that would be an arrangement borne out of political expediency and ambition rather than any common ground.

Most of us know that the Lib Dems would dovetail much better with Labour than the Tories. This would make another quick election less likely. The two parties governed Scotland in coalition with nary a problem for years.

Whatever happens will be the result of tough negotiating and arm twisting.

In the meantime here are Spinal Tap.

The Purcell Strings

Reading the papers and blogs over the last couple of weeks, there was always the underlying theme that there was more to Glasgow City Council leader Steven Purcell’s resignation than simply stress/exhaustion/cocaine addiction. Alarm bells started ringing when one of Scotland’s most expensive solicitors was appointed as Purcell’s spokesman in the wake of his resignation, first as Council Leader and then as a councillor.

So it was really no surprise when the Sunday Times this morning published a story involving Purcell, multi millionaire businessman, Willie Haughey, Scottish Enterprise, former first minister Jack McConnell and even the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

There’s a rule of thumb, don’t know if it has anything more than apocryphal basis, that if there is a  Labour political scandal, there’ll be someone somewhere caught with their fingers in a till, whilst  a Tory political scandal will mean someone has their fingers caught in someone else.

There’s allegedly a few fingers in a few tills HERE

Independently Minded

The Scotland I grew up in had a fairly simple political landscape. In those days it wasn’t just TV that was in black and white. Politics, religion and class were strictly monochrome.

Were you one of us or one of them? (which had more than one meaning!)

The Conservative party vied with Labour to be the main political force in Scotland and the SNP and Liberals were peripheral sideshows.

Then came an upsurge in SNP support in the (October) 1974 general election which returned 11 MP’s to Westminster.

Labour panicked and realised that the old unionist v separatist rhetoric which had previously successfully rubbished the SNP would not do any more.

The party which had previously stood shoulder to shoulder with their partners in crime (the Tories) as a party of UK unity, suddenly introduced two new words into the political vocabulary – devolution and assembly.

The Scotland act of 1978 provided for an assembly in Edinburgh. The proposed assembly would have no tax raising powers and many saw it as an unnecessary additional tier of bureaucracy, a talking shop.

A referendum was held on March 1st 1979 in which on a 60% turnout, 51.6% voted yes and 48.4% voted no.

Hardly a ringing endorsement for devolution but a majority nonetheless and first past the post being the accepted democratic system in the United Kingdom meant that the majority carried the day, right?

Wrong. A provision in the act meant that 40% of the electorate and not just a majority of those who voted would have to vote yes for the devolution dream to become reality.

This effectively meant that even before the poll, the act was dead in the water (a phrase I’ll return to)

In the wake of the referendum result the SNP withdrew its support for the Scotland act, brought a motion of no confidence in the Callaghan government which the government lost by one vote thus giving us a general election and…………………..

Thatcher.

Despite the anger in Scotland over the reslult and fall out of the devolution referendum, Maggie and her government set their collective face against devolution of any kind.

She and they treated the Scots with utter contempt. The proud nation which as a constituent part of the UK had been a significant contributor to Britain’s pre-eminence in invention, literary, manufacturing and military fields amongst others were now to accept the role of mendicant serfs in Thatcher’s brave new Britain.

All serious support for the Conservatives in Scotland evaporated. This culminated in the UK general election of 1997 when not one Conservative MP was returned to Westminster from north of the border.

By this time (1997) of course the Scots were slavering for devolution and one of the very first pieces of legislation brought forward by the Blair government was for a Scottish Parliament (not an assembly).

Another referendum was called and again the turnout was 60%. There were two questions relating 1) to a yes/no for the establishment of a parliament (the result of which was 74.3% yes 25.7% no)
and 2) a yes/no for such a parliament to have tax varying powers (63.5% yes 37.5% no)

The parliament thus became a reality and sat for the first time in May 1999 with Labour and the Liberals forming a coalition executive under “Father of the Nation” 😉 First Minister Donald Dewar.

At the time Labour’s George Robertson said that the establishment of the parliament left the SNP and independence “dead in the water”.

I remember thinking about this remark.

Quite how setting up the machinery and infrastructure for independence when the only effective opposition (and therefore alternative government) in Scotland was the SNP, would leave independence dead in the water was a mystery to me.

And so to the present. At the SNP’s spring conference yesterday and Alex Salmond, now SNP’s leader and first minister of Scotland, unveiled a new slogan “We’ve got what it takes”.

I strongly believe that in my lifetime Scotland will be an independent country.

The supreme irony here is that it was the SNP’s motion of no confidence in 1979 which gave the UK Margaret Thatcher.

Her government’s subsequent treatment of the Scots undoubtedly finished the Conservative party in this country and paved the way for devolution and possible eventual independence.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a rather nice living room an elderly man sits. George Islay MacNeill Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen KT GCMG FRSA FRSE PC (for it is he) mutters “Dead in the water I tell you” before once more drifting off to sleep.