Tag Archives: Scotland

General Election 2017 Fallout – What Now for The SNP?

It was only 10 years ago that the SNP took control of Holyrood for the first time. At that year’s Scottish Parliamentary election the SNP edged out Scottish Labour by 47 seats to 46 and went on to form an Alex Salmond led minority government. This result shocked Scottish politics to the core. For most of their history the SNP had been seen as a fringe party. A party of by-election success and a party of protest. Their call for Scottish Independence was supported by perhaps 25% of people on a good day and independence was not really looked upon as a serious discussion for debate. Despite that breakthrough in 2007 the SNP only won 6 seats at the subsequent 2010 General Election. We then come to 2011, and that’s when things really changed.

For those who don’t know, the Scottish Parliament is based on Proportional Representation i.e. a mix of first past the post and list, or “top-up” candidates. The theory is that this should ensure that no party can possibly get over half the seats and gain an overall majority. However, in 2011 the SNP “broke” the Holyrood PR system with 69 seats and a seemingly impossible majority. The momentum gained from such a crushing victory left the SNP with no choice, they had to take this opportunity to go for independence. As such the 2014 indyref was scheduled. History of course shows that the Scots chose to reject the chance for full independence by 55% to 45%. A bitter blow for many, but the country had spoken. Pundit after pundit predicted a rapid demise of the SNP at this point, but instead the exact opposite happened. Over the coming months their membership rocketed to over 100,000 and at the General Election of 2015 they won all but three of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. A year later the SNP retained control at Holyrood with 63 MSPs, having just failed to break Holyrood PR for the second time, by a mere three seats.

Not long after the 2016 Holyrood elections came the EU Referendum. This was PM David Cameron’s gamble to put an end to the In/Out question brought to the fore by the Tory enclave otherwise known as UKIP. Like most I went to sleep that night not even bothering to watch the results. It was assumed to be a certain win for “Remain”. Unfortunately for the second referendum running I was to be on the losing side as “Leave” won. The campaign was decided largely on the back of English fears and smears over immigration south of the border. This was something which barely touched Scotland who as a result voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. As a consequence the SNP government decided to put a bill to Holyrood to timetable a second independence referendum. The justification was that their election winning manifesto had clearly stated that any major changes, particularly constitutionally, would entitle the call for the Scottish people to revisit the independence question. Leaving Europe certainly qualified as a trigger and so a bill was introduced and subsequently passed with support from the Scottish Greens. At the time polls were favoring independence and many previously hostile commentators agreed it was a perfectly valid path to take.

Nicola Sturgeon announces plans for a second independence referendum

After all of this excitement politics began to settle down. The earliest “indyref2” would take place would likely be 2019. It would only happen once the outcome of the negotiations around UK exiting the EU were defined. In essence it was designed to give the Scottish people the chance to remain in the EU within an independent Scotland, or stick with the UK outside of Europe. We then entered a period of relative calm with only the 2017 Local Council elections on the horizon. Then the unthinkable and unforeseen happened. On April 19th the UK parliament, at the behest of the Conservative government decided to call a snap election. The purpose was to gain a meaningful mandate ahead of the EU exit negotiation process i.e. a mandate to clear up a mess the Tories themselves had created. More than likely, the real reason was to crush Labour who languished 20+ points behind in the opinion polls. On June 8th the second General Election in two years took place. The full result and some high level analysis can be found here. The SNP went into this election with 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. They left it with only 35, a loss of 21 seats and 400,000 votes.

Disappointment as the 2017 loses mount up

So now we are up to date, we can return to the original question – what now? Firstly some perspective. In winning 35 seats the SNP still has 11 more seats than the other parties combined. It was the second best result in SNP General Election history. If you’d said after the 2014 referendum that the SNP would have 35 seats in 2017 you’d have been laughed out of town. However, because 35 is 21 less than 56 any sense of perspective has been lost. Not even the most ardent of SNP supporters expected us to retain 56 seats. That election was a night where all the stars aligned and anyone who had the smallest of reasons to vote SNP did so. This time that wasn’t the case. This time the opposition parties beat us into submission with joint agendas which demanded a second referendum be taken off the table. In the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum opposition from Labour and the media softened towards a second indyref. This was undoubtedly due to the polls favouring such a move. However, over the months which followed the polls slipped back to roughly 2014 levels. Therefore old battle lines were redrawn and once more it was the SNP against the rest. It wasn’t a fight we seemed ready for and it meant we got stuck on the back foot and were rarely able to go on the attack. Tory leader Ruth Davidson was barely questioned on actual UK Tory policy, most of it divisive and unpopular. Instead she and the other Scottish leaders simply stuck to the “No Referendum” line from pillar to post. This resulted in tactical voting, a rise in Tory support as “saviours of the union”, which allied with SNP core vote not turning out led to the results we had. Reality is Both Labour and the LibDems barely moved – they won seats with less votes than 2015 because the SNP vote dropped and the Tory vote rose.

In the aftermath of the result there were the usual calls from both ends of the spectrum. We should talk about independence more. We should shelve indyref2 and get on with governing Scotland. Well, what do I think we should do? Well for one we shouldn’t panic. As things stand the SNP have 35 MPs, 63 MSPs and 431 Local Councillors. We remain the largest and most successful political movement in Scotland. Ten years in government, while not perfect, have shielded Scottish voters from the worst excesses of UK Tory policy. Scotland would be a lot worse off it it wasn’t for the SNP in government.

I’m no political strategist but as someone who is sick of the SNP being on the back foot I’d say we need to go on the attack. We may never again be as strong as we are now. As such we need to be defiant. Show passion. Show we’ve had enough. Stop taking shit from our opponents. Lay it out in Blue and White. Indyref2 is not coming off the table, in fact It’s being nailed to the table. It’s staying. Deal with it. Why should the Scottish people burn the only  lifeboat we may have as the once previously unsinkable UK is about to hit an iceberg called Brexit? The only people who want a second independence referendum off the table are Unionists. The reason they want it scrapped it simple – they think there is a good chance they’ll lose it. Even if polls aren’t necessarily in our favour at this moment, we’re not talking about having the vote now, we’re talking about having it once we know EXACTLY how the UK is to leave Europe i.e. summer 2019. There are no more elections between now and then. No more predicable debates where the opposition are allowed to ignore policy to simply play the same old no referendum tune. Once the grim facts are laid bare voters will then know the true cost and risks of leaving Europe. By then the SNP will have a fully fleshed out plan for independence in Europe. No confusion over currency. No argument over EU membership. No doubt left as to how much staying in the UK will cost the Scottish economy.

For now I’m not going to look beyond indyref2. That’s precisely what our opponents want us to do. To take our eye off the ball and to let slip possibly the best chance we’ll have to be free to run our own country. We can’t afford to do that. If it does all crash and burn at least we’ve gone down fighting the good fight. I’d rather that than stay passive and watch a chance to be a proud independent nation pass us by.

Thanks for reading.

General Election 2017 – Scottish Leaders’ Debate

Sunday night saw BBC Scotland hosting the first (not sure if only) debate featuring the Leaders of the main Scottish parties, and, err, UKIP. For those reading my blog who aren’t perhaps up to speed with Scottish politics, we essentially only have one wholly Scottish party, the SNP, who stand just in Scotland. The other party leaders could be looked upon as

(L to R) David Coburn (UKIP), Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Labour), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservatives), Willie Rennie (Scottish Lib Dems), Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

heads of their respective Scottish branches. Not meant in a disrespectful way, but you get the picture. Currently the 59 seats up for grabs are split as follows: SNP (56); Tories (1); Labour (1); LibDems (1). While it’s probably unlikely that the SNP will get as many seats this time, there is little doubt that they will win the election in Scotland, with anything from 45-50 seats being predicted. The Tories are expected to bite back in a few marginal seats as the Unionist parties continues to trade votes to lessen SNP numbers.

As for the debate it was along standard lines. An opening 40 second salvo from each of the panel followed by a Q/A with an invited audience. I won’t get into the “audience” in this piece, but suffice to say it was the usual array of interest groups, plants and those who clearly had no idea of the difference between a Scottish and UK election. What then followed was a rather confused broth of Devolved (ruled on by Scottish Parliament i.e. Health, Education) and non-Devolved (ruled on by Westminster i.e. Defence, Foreign Policy, Brexit) policy questions. For reasons unclear the BBC decided to allow effectively irrelevant questions on devolved policy for the reason that “those were the questions people asked”. My response to that would have been to find other people who were prepared to ask relevant questions i.e. ones meaningful to a UK election. However, it is what it is, and as really pretty much any forum involving Scottish Leaders inevitably ended up focusing on the Scottish Parliament and in particular the job done by the SNP government.

Scotland’s Woman Leaders – Kezia, Nicola and Ruth go at it

The expected “No to second referendum” line was trundled out early doors by all concerned. It’s something the Scottish FM has heard a million times before and dealt with it comfortably. Really Nicola had a fairly easy night, and it was her Conservative counterpart who posted one of her weakest performances on television. Fact is Ruth Davidson has been cosseted by the Scottish media but in the last couple of weeks the gloves have finally come off. Last night she was actually treated as a Tory and asked questions a Tory (the UK Govt) would be expected to be asked. Ruth isn’t at her best when being put under pressure and she quickly resorted to shouting and looking extremely angry. Kezia Dugdale didn’t input much. I sort of admire Kezia for taking on the challenge of Scottish Labour leader but she just doesn’t have the substance to match any potential style. Willie Rennie was placid by his usual standards and saved his most savage attacks for the Tories, a change from his usual tirades on the SNP. Green party man Patrick Harvie spoke well. Not perhaps the most riveting public speaker, but he is passionate and did a good job. Not going to comment on David Coburn. He simply shouldn’t be there as he and his party are utterly irrelevant.

My overall feeling when it finished was one of frustration. While I enjoy politicians having a tear-up there was just too many areas and questions not pertinent to the up coming vote. Bit of an opportunity lost – a feeling shared by some in the post-debate spin room section. The only real loser on the night was Ruth Davidson who crumbled under the unusual sensation of pressure. All the rest stood their ground and can be happy with their night’s work. Sadly for Ruth, her national leader has also just had a day to forget with an interview by Andrew Neil being particularly grim viewing for those of a Tory persuasion. Things are definitely beginning to get a bit more interesting.

Thanks for reading.

General Election Countdown – Vote SNP, Vote Mairi

On Thursday the 8th of June the United Kingdom will once again open up its polling stations. It may have been only two weeks since the local council elections, and two years since the last General Election, but in those two years something fairly significant happened. It was called the EU Referendum and the result was a Tory contrived disaster which led these Islands out of the European Union. Having made this mess the typically opportunist Conservatives are now looking to get a moral and practical mandate to clean up an unholy mess they themselves created. To that end a snap election was called. The Tories clearly hope to seize on apparent Labour weakness to build a bigger majority.

However, I’m not going to get into too much, if any, detail today. All I wanted to do was kick off my General Election pieces with an introduction to the candidate I will be voting for, Mairi McAllan. At the moment I live in a constituency which has the only Conservative MP in Scotland. His name is David Mundell, and not surprisingly being the only representative of the UK Govt in Scotland he is our Secretary of State. His majority is only a few hundred but you can expect a heavily funded Tory effort to keep him in his seat.

Now, as much as at any other time in recent history, there needs to be tough, unflinching opposition to the Tories. That is something only the SNP seem capable of doing. If elected I’m sure Mairi will carry that fight as much as anyone else on the opposition benches.

Thanks for reading.

Adieu Europe

diceGot to be honest and say I wasn’t really watching the EU Referendum hustings that closely. Why? Well, two main reasons. Firstly I didn’t appreciate there was a serious chance we would actually vote to leave. Naive perhaps, but for me Europe has simply never been an issue. Secondly, it all felt like an internal Tory squabble (most UKIP are ex-Tories) – a squabble that has been brewing for years and needed to finally vent steam. Well, vent steam it did, and driven by the racial intolerance currently rife in our politics, the voters of the UK took the frankly mind-numbing decision to cut themselves adrift from our European neighbours.

What now? Well, that’s a good question. However, I wouldn’t waste time asking the ‘Leave’ campaign as none of them seem to know. Unlike the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, where there was a 670 page white paper outlining the transition, in this referendum there has been nothing but soundbites and rhetoric. On the news of a Leave vote the UK markets crashed to the point where we dropped from the 5th to the 6th biggest global economy. Hot on the heels of share values being decimated the first lie of the Leave campaign was then exposed. Leaving the EU would apparently allow an extra £350m to be spent on the NHS, each week. As it turns out that was, err, “a mistake” according to UKIP leader, Nigel Farage. Conveniently it was a mistake plastered all over battle buses, hoardings, flyers and television interviews. As I type I’ve just read that Cornwall residents (who voted 57/43 to leave) want their current EU subsidies to be matched by the UK Govt. I wish them well with that request. There will be a long queue of people wanting their lost EU income protected.

Of course, I’m Scottish and a passionate supporter of my country and it’s right to become an independent nation once again. Many people will now be asking where this result leaves that dream. The answer is probably best summed up by this post-EU Ref map.

ukeu

The yellow bits voted to remain; the blue bits voted to leave. As you can see there is a rather large, unspoiled, yellow bit north of the Scotland/England border. In more detail, there are 32 council areas in Scotland. Of those 32, erm, 32 voted to ‘Remain’. Sad fact is if everyone who voted in Scotland had voted to ‘Remain’ it would have made absolutely no difference i.e. we were, as we always are, outnumbered by our fellow islanders in England and Wales. The net result is that despite an overwhelming desire to remain in the EU, Scotland is on the way out. With it will be an end to the EU funding so vital to many Scottish organisations. However, I’m sure we can expect the UK Govt to cover the shortfall, or more likely not.

Unsurprisingly this outcome has triggered talk of a second Scottish Independence referendum. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, made it clear during the recent Holyrood elections that only a “significant and material change” would bring “indyref2” onto the table. There can’t be much argument that being dragged out the the EU against our will more than qualifies. It looks like being an interesting year or two ahead on the UK political scene.

Thanks for reading.

Election Aftermath 2016

SNP_LOGOmed_copyYesterday the Scottish electorate went to the polls to cast their votes in the 2016 Holyrood elections. In 2011, Alex Salmond led the SNP to a historic, and apparently, all but theoretically impossible majority considering the constraints of the De Hondt voting system. Last night, the SNP, under the inspirational leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, came within 2 seats of breaking the De Hondt system for a second time. However, the overall result was never really in doubt. The SNP are re-elected as Scotland’s party of Government for the 3rd term in a row.

FM Nicola Sturgeon

A quick look at the numbers shows the SNP winning 59 of the 73 “first past the post” constituency seats with over a million votes – a record, and more than Labour and Conservative combined. However, despite over 950,000 votes on the Regional Lists, this only garnered the SNP an additional four seats. That’s the De Hondt system for you – it sometimes fights back and actually stops the thing it was designed to prevent i.e. a majority. In some respects this election was all about who would come second. Much to the on-going disappointment of Labour in Scotland, it was the Scottish Tories who now form the second largest grouping with 31 seats. This includes a constituency seat for the abrasive but undoubtedly media friendly figure of Ruth Davidson. Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale failed to win her seat and instead was once again elected via the top up list votes. Elsewhere LibDem leader Willie Rennie won his seat in Fife and the Greens did well on the list to move ahead of Willie’s party in number of seats.

Moving forward, despite no SNP majority, there is a natural pro-independence majority with the SNP and Greens having 69 seats between them. I can’t begin to speculate what horse-trading may go on over the next few years, but the SNP have governed before in a minority scenario (with many fewer seats) and I’m sure they can do so effectively again. Just as interesting as how the SNP perform is what will become of Labour in Scotland. It should now be clear to even the most blinkered Labour supporter that their party was well and truly used and abused by the Tories to save the union. The price they paid for that toxic marriage has been reflected at the last two national elections. Labour in Scotland need to move ground, reinvent, put distance between themselves and the Tories. Until they do I can’t see any way back. Until then the Tories will revel in Labour misfortunes – misfortunes of their own making.

Thanks for reading.

Moving House: Part 1 – Getting Ready

Pushed-into-Moving-HomeBack in 2003 we moved into our current house with the plan on staying for perhaps five years before heading onto somewhere new. Well that plan has finally come to fruition – albeit seven and a half years behind schedule. It’s not without a hint of sadness that we’re on on the move, but that’s only to be expected after so long in the one house. However, were excited to be starting a new chapter in our journey through life. It’s one we’re both looking forward to, and it’s also one I thought I’d tell the world about via my blog.

First thing to mention – where are we moving to? Well, the answer is a small town on the fringes of the Scottish Borders called Biggar. We currently live in Larbert, in Central Scotland, and the map below shows our move:

Moving1

It takes around 75 minutes to get from our old house to our new one. While it may not seem that far to some, to us it’s a big change. Biggar is a much smaller community with a completely different – more countryside – feel. It’s also much further from my work in Glasgow, but home working will mean it’s a journey I don’t need to undertake every day. The house we’re moving into is a new build. For details of the development, please click here.

Our moving in date is 04/03; however, we need to vacate our current house on 26/02 i.e. a week before. This will mean seven nights in a hotel before we can actually call Biggar our new home town. On 26/02 our removal people will take our belongings and place them in storage. A week later they will transport our possessions from storage down to Biggar. Between now and 26/02 it’s just a process of getting everything as it needs to be for moving day. Today we emptied the shed; next we will start to take some of our living room furniture to pieces.

Probably time I stopped writing and got on with something else. Hopefully this short blog gives you a picture of what we’re up to. Regular updates will be added over the coming couple of months – before, during and after the move.

Thanks for reading.

General Election Footnotes

New Political Map of Scotland

With the votes counted, the ballot boxes packed away and the tears of both winners and losers all but dried it’s time to put a wrap on the General Election of 2015.  A campaign which for so long seemed to be leading towards a hung parliament, and ensuing minority government, instead ended in a clear cut victory for the incumbent Conservatives. The Exit polls which beamed out of our televisions at 10:00pm on Thursday were initially met with scoffs and collective shaking of heads from most politicians. Sadly for them, and happily for the Exit pollsters, and David Cameron, the figures were all but bang on.

In my own constituency of Falkirk I spent several afternoons and evenings leafleting for the SNP candidate, John McNally. As it turned out I could probably have saved on shoe leather as he romped home with an incredible majority of nearly 20,000. However, I wanted to be part of the process, and even if just one person was persuaded to vote SNP because of a leaflet I delivered then I’m more than happy. In Scotland as a whole the SNP captured 56 out of the 59 seats. In years to come the names of Emma Harper, Neil Hay and Danus Skene will probably be an answer in pub quizzes. The question of course being which three SNP candidates failed to get elected at GE2015! However, let’s not dwell on negatives. Prior to the election, the SNP had six MPs; their record was 11. These unprecedented numbers make it clear what a momentous result this was for the inspirational Nicola Sturgeon and her party.

However, the net result of it all is that David Cameron and the Tories are back for another five years. Some had hoped that the SNP might align with UK Labour to prop up a minority government with Ed Miliband as PM. For that to happen Labour had to make ground in England. Having failed to do that the results in Scotland meant nothing to the overall picture. Even if they had won all 59 seats in Scotland, David Cameron would still have been back inside No 10. Downing Street. The reality is of course that Labour could never actually win all the seats in Scotland. Unlike the SNP they aren’t able to take on LibDem and Tory candidates in rural areas.

So what now?

For the 56 SNP MPs there is the task of standing up to a Tory Government undoubtedly cock-a-hoop at getting re-elected. However, the scale of the SNP vote surely makes it implausible, if not impossible, that David Cameron won’t realise that the Scottish people have spoken for change. We therefore wait to see what emerges over the next few days, weeks and months. Let’s not also forget that as the 3rd largest party the SNP will now get unprecedented access to the mythical “corridors of power” i.e. on more committees, even chairing committees, plus two questions at PMQs etc. It’s up to the SNP to make best use of this advantage. Under Nicola’s stewardship I’m sure they will

As for Scottish Labour, well,  it’s a case of asking where it all went wrong – a process which might take a lot of soul searching and uncomfortable truths. Bottom line is their capitulation on election night has been a long time in the making. They have been out of government in Scotland since 2007 and their alliance with the Tories as part of Better Together sealed their fate. The hapless LibDems were also all but wiped out in both Scotland and the UK. For Nick Clegg it was a clear thanks, but no thanks from the voters for their decision to go into coalition with the Tories.  As for the Tories themselves, they’ll keep on doing what they’ve always done. Govern for their own self interest and interests of those who back them. Some things just never change.

Thanks for reading.

Scotland Takes Centre Stage

Today saw the launch of the Scottish National Party’s manifesto for the 2015 General Election. Now, as best I can remember this sort of event normally takes place in front of the media pack and that’s about it. The politicians sit at the top table, show their slides, sip water and get their spin across. A few questions follow and then it’s off to the pub. Let’s remember the SNP only stand in the 59 Scottish seats, can’t win a UK Election and at best aspire to have some influence in a hung parliament. In the past this would have seen their manifesto launches restricted to the hardened hacks of the Scottish press corp. Those days are clearly over. For now, at least, the whole of the UK has their eyes on Scotland.

The video below contains all 62 minutes of today’s event. This is made up of roughly 20 minutes of presentation, followed by a 40 minutes Q and A with the assembled press.

I don’t deny I regard Nicola Sturgeon as the UK’s best politician, by a distance. However, as I’ve said before, no matter your allegiances it’s hard to not give at least grudging respect for the way she handles this sort of occasion.Not once was she remotely flustered. Her demeanor remained positive and only rarely did she show any signs of understandable irritation.

manlaunch2

The questions asked covered all the expected areas i.e. another independence referendum, Full Fiscal Responsibility, Ed Miliband and of course the big one, “Why is England scared of you?”. In truth the last type of question is a gift as it gives her the chance to reassure voters in rUK that there is nothing to be scared of, unless progressive democracy and Scotland having a voice frightens you.

manlaunch

I was feeling really buoyed having watched today’s event. However, my mood has darkened somewhat since. The expected trail of xenophobic and misogynistic bile flowing up from Westminster and Fleet St has actually surpassed my worst fears. Some of it is truly shocking. I won’t repeat any of it on this blog. The part which my poor brain is struggling to cope with is this: the UK pleaded for us to stay, we stayed and now they complain when we take part in the very system they wanted us to remain part of. The reality is the UK establishment has misjudged the mood for change in Scotland. Their current approach is to insult us rather than to work with us. Any short term gain will surely be more than matched by a continuing decline in Scottish respect for a system creaking at the seams with corruption and self-interest.

Thanks for reading.

Translating A Soundbite

They’ve said it so often I’m sure some of them actually believe it. However, most, I presume, know it to be intentionally misleading. What I’m talking about is this:

voteconfusion2

Now, as far as I am concerned what Labour want us to read into this soundbite is:

‘Vote SNP and there will be less Labour MPs, therefore more chance of a Tory government, as Labour are the only party who can stop them!’

However, the idea what voting SNP will improve the Tories chances of getting back into Government is patently false, as not a single SNP MP would support such a scenario. By returning an SNP MP you will simply get an anti-Tory MP who isn’t Labour. Hence why they don’t want you to do it.

Let’s face facts. If polling is to be believed, the only way SNP beating Labour to seats in Scotland will keep David Cameron in No. 10 is if UK Labour leaves him there. Surely even Labour aren’t daft enough to do that.

Thanks for reading.

Divide And Conquer

Had something on my mind and I was struggling to get it over in a tweet. So a small blog entry is needed to give myself more room – but not too much more i.e. I’ll be brief.

Ok, my feeling is growing that the ‘Establishment‘, and by that I mean:

  • Conservatives
  • Labour
  • Lib-Dems
  • UK Government Civil Service
  • Almost all newspapers
  • BBC

Are hell bent on trying to turn every election into a re-run of September 2014. Debate after debate, headline after headline, interview after interview plays the Scottish National Party against the rest. Everything gets spun around YES/NO. I could understand that if we were in the run up to a Holyrood election, or another Independence Referendum – but we’re not. The only possible reason for this is to maximise support against the one party, the SNP.

ns2Let’s cut to the chase. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP could win all 59 seats in Scotland, and still be frozen out of Government decisions. This election will send either David Cameron or Ed Miliband to 10 Downing Street – not Alex Salmond or Stewart Hosie. The only people who can, and will likely continue, to create “black holes” in the UK economy post 7th May are the same people who have done it all their days i.e. Tories or Labour. The role of a large contingent of SNP MPs is to make Government accountable to the people of Scotland: to give us a voice, and to put an end to the Labour/Tory closed shop (with occasional meddling from the Lib Dems).

The latest Labour campaign tactic of showing weakness in Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland is a clear attempt to tell people we don’t really want “Devo Max“. We’re too wee, too stupid. Classic “Eat your cereal” claptrap. In short, no reason to vote SNP as there are no more powers to give. Bizarrely Labour have made it known they actually want to attract YES voters. Their way of doing this is to rule out another IndyRef as well as reneging on “The Vow” of real powers for Scotland in the Union i.e. Devo Max. This is of course being lapped up and echoed around Scotland by their Establishment colleagues.

In truth I’m uncomfortable with the wedge that the UK is trying to drive between Scots for their own narrow aims. They need to stop it, and furthermore stop denying what’s staring them in the face. The old days and old ways are over. Attempts to alienate, ridicule and demonise half of the Scottish Electorate (and growing) is not only insulting, but it’s plainly not working.

Thanks for reading.

Leader’s Debates – A Scottish Double Header

ge15As the credits rolled on BBC Scotland’s Leader’s Debate it’s probably fair to say that those of us who watched all three recent debates are in need of a timeout. Five hours of televised political jousting over just a few days has certainly left me drained. That’s not to say I’m not up for some more, but let’s have a wee break to recharge the batteries. In the meantime here are my thoughts on the two debates held in Scotland.

Rather than look at each of the debates separately, I’m instead going to give my views on the contributions of the candidates involved. I’ll start with the two party representatives who only featured on the Aberdeen panel:

sld2

Aberdeen Debate Line Up: Top Row (L-R) Patrick Harvie, Ruth Davidson, Jim Murphy; Bottom Row (L-R) Nicola Sturgeon, Willie Rennie. David Coburn

Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

Despite colleague Natalie Bennett being part of the UK wide Leader’s Debate, Patrick Harvie, was omitted from the first Scottish debate held in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Have to be honest and confess I haven’t heard Patrick speak as often as some of the others gathered in Aberdeen. His contributions were passionate but perhaps a bit rough and ready. In an understandable eagerness to make his voice heard some of his comments felt a bit rushed, even slightly flustered. That said he’s clearly a politician of substance, whether you agree with his policies or not.

A solid contribution, but not one that would have blown anyone away.

David Coburn (UKIP)

Lived down to expectations. Had nothing to say aside from the usual UKIP rhetoric. Thankfully he was by and large sidelined during the hour long debate. I have no problem with UKIP being on election panels; however, they would have been better served with a Scottish representative more in control of their subject matter, and perhaps less excitable, than David Coburn. Does such a person exist? I doubt it, as most people now see UKIP for what they are – an extension of Nigel Farage’s ego. He likely despairs of his followers as much as the rest of us do.

…and now onto the four representatives who appeared on both nights

Scottish Party Leaders Participate In A Live STV Debate

Edinburgh Debate Line-Up: (L-R) Willie Rennie, Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson, Jim Murphy

Willie Rennie (Lib Dems)

Softly spoken lad. Seemed nice enough, if a bit lightweight. Unfortunately on both nights he became extremely repetitive and predictable. His stock response contained a reference to the referendum as well as lauding the economic revival his party, in cahoots with the Tories, had begun. In fact he rarely answered a question without reminding us that Scotland voted NO in the referendum – he does seem particularly proud of that. To listen to him speak you’d think the result was 99/1 and not 55/45, with a vote today likely to achieve a different outcome. Scotland is moving on while Willie and the Unionists want us to remain forever locked into 2014. Not sure that’s a winning philosophy.

Like most LibDem’s he seeks credit for their part in the Coalition, while at the same time attacking their Coalition partners. That said ‘attacking’ is probably over playing it as there was very little antagonism between Ruth Davidson and Willie on either night. If anything, Willie gave the impression he’d happily have another five years in Government with the Tories. His main target on both nights was not surprisingly Nicola Sturgeon. He wasn’t alone in that strategy. In summary he was competent enough, but largely irrelevant to the main debate.

Ruth Davidson (Conservatives)

Every time I see Ruth I can’t help but picture a young Tory student speaking at a party conference. It’s not that she’s particularly young, she just has that wide-eyed, innocent, and ready to convert the world to Conservatism look, whether it wants it or not. Thatcher is nothing to do with her, as she reminds us. Ruth can’t be held accountable for that. Handy. Like her partner in the Coalition she obsesses on the Referendum. The Union is her ‘red-line’ coalition issue, despite the fact that her only likely partners in Govt (Lib Dem and UKIP) agree with her on that subject. If at any point she started to struggle, a quick return to the referendum guaranteed a burst of applause from the loud-clapping Unionists in both venues. Policy wise I thought she struggled. Yet nonsense like bringing back prescription charges, even though it would cost as much to administer as it would bring in, went largely unchallenged.

In fairness I think Ruth has the potential to be a decent politician – she is a fairly skilled debater. Just don’t think she will ever do much in Scotland where a career as an also-ran List MSP in perpetual opposition awaits. I think she should head South and aim for an English Tory seat at Westminster. She needs to know what it’s like to have constituents i.e. be a real MP. Until then I’ll always view her as a rather empty shell who only represents herself and a Tory party almost extinct in Scotland.

Jim Murphy (Labour)

Jim started on Tuesday with a tale about a woman who couldn’t afford any shoes. He ended with some strange waffle about mental health being about broken spirits. In between we had football puns, Messi, horse-racing and an impression of Kenny Dalglish. This was all delivered in a calm, relatively composed, almost hypnotic manner. He sounded extremely rehearsed – as you would expect. Throughout it all though it didn’t feel natural or comfortable to me. He didn’t look at home on this sort of stage. His habit of shouting over the top of people suggested someone used to having his own way. As with Davidson and Rennie his ire was reserved almost exclusively for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Considering Labour are battling Conservatives for 10 Downing Street, he spent very little time grilling Ruth Davidson. In some ways not surprising as the main challenge for Jim in Scotland is the SNP, not Tories.

The ‘Largest Party forms the Government’/’Vote SNP Get Tory’ mantras featured heavily, as expected. However, Jim point blank refused to answer the question which is rapidly turning into Labour’s very own “Plan B” debacle i.e. what happens if Ed Miliband has less MPs than the Tories, but Lab and SNP combined can lock the Tories out? He insists Labour are aiming to win, just as Alex was planning on a Currency Union. What happens if Labour don’t win remains foggy in the extreme. Of course the likelihood is some of deal with the SNP, but as this would play into Tory hands he can’t admit it. In summary, Jim was Jim. I for one remain unconvinced that Jim being Jim is where Labour needs to be in Scotland at this time.

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)

In the UK wide Leader’s debate last week Nicola was largely able to smack down the opposition with barely a glove being landed on her own chin. This was undoubtedly because her fellow debaters knew decidedly less about Scotland than she did of the UK. Wasn’t quite a freebie, but it was an excellent chance to impress, and she didn’t disappoint. The two debates in Scotland were totally different. Firstly it very quickly became a three-on-one rerun of the BetterTogether campaign. Nicola was the target for Tory, Labour and Lib-Dem froth alike. Secondly in Scotland, SNP are the party of power, so she has a record which can rightly be challenged. When you factor in that both nights became bogged down in Holyrood politics and the referendum, instead of focusing on Westminster, it became an even tougher ride. However, she was up for the fight and more than held her ground.

At times it felt to me that because YES/SNP had lost the referendum, Nicola wasn’t allowed to have opinions any more. Are Lab/Con/Lib expecting the SNP to drop their founding principles and simply become a left of centre party who exist only in Scotland? It feels that way. The reality is though very clear. This election is about getting the maximum powers from the Smith Commission/Vow/Vow Plus etc. The majority of Scots want more powers. Whether they want full independence is something we’ll find out, if and when, the Scottish electorate have the appetite for another referendum i.e. vote for a party who will offer one. As the FM said, people will decide Scotland’s future, not politicians.

Overall the First Minister more than held her own, despite the unionist bullying on display from her opponents. The problem the other leaders have is that Nicola Sturgeon is better at her job than them. While the rest rabble on incessantly about Westminster, the Union etc, she sticks to her guns on Scotland, and Scottish issues and concerns i.e. Trident. Whether you agree with her or not you can’t help but admire her for that.

As for Jim, he had two chances to make a dent in the SNP lead. At best he treaded water, at worst people who didn’t really know him will have been turned off. In my view there isn’t going to be much change in the polls between now and May 7th, and the debates so far haven’t altered my view on that.

Couple of last points. Have to be honest and say I enjoyed the UK Leader’s Debate more than the Scottish two. Manchester was more controlled, less ranting over other speakers, more polished. The crowds in Scotland were more involved but at times to my ears didn’t really represent what the polls tell is the mood of the country. Also feel audiences are duped too easily by untruths, but this isn’t a problem exclusive to a Scottish crowd!

Thanks for reading.

Leader’s Debate – A Review

MAIN-Election-2015Anyone with even the remotest interest in UK politics was likely tuned it. That said, viewing figures of barely over 7 million perhaps points towards a disenfranchisement of people from politics, and politicians. In days of yore a program like this would have easily pulled in twice that audience. However, I freely admit that I sat glued to it for the entire two hours, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The lack of audience reaction jarred slightly, against the lively action on the debate floor, but it would seem that was intentional to avoid a sense of bias in favour of one candidate or another. Just the one heckler, shame, but in these santised times, perhaps not surprising. Like a lot of other people, I want to see Ed Miliband and David Cameron in a real ‘head to head’, alas it would appear that particular delight has been denied us by Cameron’s refusal to take part. Pity.

Like others who watched, I had my favourites before it started. I don’t pretend that I’m not a Scottish Nationalist, but I was willing to give everyone a chance. Here therefore is my placings for each of the debaters. Before I start I would add that none of the candidates ‘bombed’. Each was probably happy that they connected with those they felt the need to connect to. Saying that, some did better than others.

7th. Nigel Farage (UKIP)

Don’t like the man or his politics. UKIP in Scotland barely register in opinion polls. Yes, we unfortunately have one UKIP MEP, but we all have our crosses to bear. Nigel did what he does i.e. pretends to be different, blames everything on immigration, acts as the people’s voice. He is of course no such thing. His nose is as deep in the trough as any of the Euro politicians he continually ridicules. His ‘jack the lad’/’Arthur Daly’ wide-boy impression has never worked on me. However, it seemingly does work on a certain strand of English/Welsh opinion. His supporters will be pleased with his showing. The rest of us cringed, and at times just got plain angry at the things he said. Nope, not for me I’m afraid.

6th. Nick Clegg (LibDem)

His job on the night appeared to be to put clear blue water between himself and his coalition partners, the Conservatives. Fairly obvious strategy, and to an extent it was successful. Problem for Nick and the Lib Dem’s is that the electorate won’t forget his party’s role in the last five years as easily as they would like. That said, Nick himself does seem happy with what his party has achieved. Must admit to being confused by his ‘let us finish the job we’ve started‘ mantra. Is he suggesting the ConDem coalition get another five years? Is he suggesting we vote Tory? Surely he can’t be seriously suggesting a Lib Dem majority. In fairness there was the odd spark of the old Nick Clegg in there which flashed at what might have been. For me though his ship has sailed. He had made his bed and needs to lie in it. His thoughts should quickly turn to somehow saving his own seat, and with it his career.

5th. David Cameron (Con)

Dave clearly doesn’t like this sort of platform. He looked the most uncomfortable of the seven. A sweaty top lip in the opening statements suggested he was feeling the heat, in more ways than one. His plan was, unsurprisingly, to attempt to engage directly with Ed Miliband as much as possible. Seems he’s ok tackling Ed if there are other’s around – Head to Head he’s not so keen. I’ve always viewed Cameron as a poor man’s Tony Blair i.e. style and soundbytes over substance. Tends to prattle on about the past, his children and make vague future pledges which mean almost nothing. He is the classic empty suit of a politician. On the night he held his own, although he clearly dodged any questions with tough answers. In his defence it was a bit of ‘six on one’, but as PM that’s the way it should be, so he can’t really complain. Didn’t do terribly, didn’t to overly well. Treaded water but that’s what he does.

4th. Natalie Bennett (Green)

Have to be honest and say I had no idea who she was until very recently. She looked the most nervous at the start and was the only one who appeared to have to read her opening remarks from her notes – everyone else looked straight out, presumably at an autocue. After her nervy start she warmed into it. Her Australian accent took me unawares, but it gave a slightly different tone to what she had to say. In my view her performance wilted a bit through the two hours. Towards the end she became too stuck on big green issues. Nothing wrong it that per se, but the point of this debate was to appeal to the voters on a wide range of issues – especially as another coalition could be on the cards. By the end she had reverted to a cliche of what you might think a Green candidate would be. Bit of shame, but this must have been a tough assignment for her. Overall she did fine but could have done better, and may well do with more experience of the big stage.

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…and now onto the top 3!

3rd. Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru)

Along with Natalie Bennett, I thought Leanne was the most nervous, perhaps even more so at times. The Welsh Nationalists aren’t anywhere like on the same scale as their cousins up here in Scotland. As such Leanne simply won’t have had exposure like this before. However, for taking on Farage when the Tories, Labour and Lib Dem’s seemed afraid to, earned her kudos in my book. She should have addressed more UK issues, and where her party could fit in with them. Yes, she is the leader of PC and Welsh politics is her area; however, as I’ve mentioned before a hung parliament is in the offing and as such all parties need to think outwith the box, and their comfort zone. She didn’t stumble or get figures wrong at any point. It was a competent performance, even if I think she could have pushed herself more onto the UK agenda.

2nd. Ed Miliband (Lab)

Ok. Tory press say he did badly; Labour press say he did well. I’m not a Labour or Ed fan, but I thought he did well. There appears to be low expectations of Ed Miliband in debate, and at times it was a bit forced/fake i.e. appeals directly into the camera, cow eyes etc. For all that I thought he showed a good grasp of his subject and was able to score some direct hits on Cameron and Farage. Main negative for me was that he almost ignored the three women. His focus was on the camera and Cameron. I’d say he ‘appears’ much more genuine than David Cameron. He admits mistakes, too many in truth, but that makes him feel more human. Less soundbytes too which is a bonus. He didn’t win the election with this performance, but I seriously doubt he lost ground either. In truth I was surprised at how well he did.

ns21st. Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)

Ho hum. I’m an SNP member so I would say that. Fine, I don’t deny it. However, the fact that the YouGov poll of over 1,000 viewers gave her the win, as did most of the serious political pundits, I think I am justified in my selection. It would seem watching viewers in Scotland were particularly impressed as nearly 2,000 of them joined the SNP during, and after the debate. Nicola’s task was two fold. Firstly to appeal to Scottish voters ahead of the vote on May 7th. Secondly she had to appease voters elsewhere in the UK that she was not the tartan devil the mainstream media painted her to be. Instead she made it clear that the SNP, if elected in good numbers, would be good for other parts of the UK too i.e. seeking to protect the NHS from privatisation in England, Wales and NI.

Nicola is just an outstanding politician, and no matter the colour of your rosette it’s hard to deny her qualities. Oh, and one last thing she nailed was that she, Nicola Sturgeon, and not Alex Salmond is the leader of the SNP.

Thanks for reading.

Fear of Democracy

fearLately I’ve been limiting my thoughts on the General Election to a maximum of 140 characters. However, there are moments when the confines of a Tweet simply won’t do. Now, is one such moment.

For the last few weeks Electioneering, on both sides of the border (by Labour and Tory), has focused on the Scottish National Party. The line in Scotland from Labour is that if you vote SNP you’ll get a Tory government, which is a myth so easily debunked I’ll leave it to Google. Down south the Tories are saying Vote Labour and you’ll get the SNP in a coalition (formal or informal, vote by vote…whatever) enabling “the separatists” to influence UK wide decisions – a UK they would like to “break up”.

Fine. I get it. Political parties need to do what they have to do.

In Scotland Labour are in danger of a wipe-out at the hands of the SNP, so they attack them, paint a supposed nightmare scenario of another Tory government. Thing is to most Scots the difference between Red or Blue Tories in power is neither here nor there. What matters to Scots is to have MPs down on the green benches who will truly hold the government to account, irrespective of its colour. As we saw in the referendum, when push comes to shove Labour and Tory watch each other’s backs. The Scottish electorate is cannier than many perceive and they know the game now. They won’t be fooled again.

In England to play the SNP card, to raise the spectre of the Alex Salmond (even though he’s not even the leader) marching into Westminster, to casually wander into racist/xenophobic waters is the chosen Tory party, and supporting press route. We’ve had Alan Massie and his River Thames foaming red hysteria as well as Bruce Anderson suggesting parts of Scotland effectively being partitioned off if they vote NO in any future referendum. This morning we even had the unedifying sight of a Tory MP Anna Soubry admitting to being quite literally “terrified” at the prospect of the SNP having any influence at Westminster.

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Thing is, the UK begged Scotland to stay. “Don’t Go” they pleaded. “We love you” they cried. “Play your part in a United Kingdom” they said. “We’re Better Together” they repeated ad nauseum. Ok. So we stayed and as such we’re going to play a full part in the democratic process. If Scotland can be ruled by a Tory government with one single MP, the United Kingdom can surely have no complaints if 40-50 democratically elected SNP members have their say on UK matters now and again.

Let’s be clear, Unionist parties want Scotland, they’re just not to keen on the people in it. We can come to Westminster if we play the game according to their rules. Well, we Scots are bored of the old game, so we’re starting a new one. You want us, you’ve got us – warts and all. If you don’t like it then you know what to do i.e. let us go and get on with running our own country, and you yours.

Thanks for reading.

The Passing of Time Changes Nothing

hviii1A couple of nights ago I read a passage within the pages of Margaret George’s superb ‘The Autobiography of Henry VIII’ which stopped me in my tracks. Not long after the death of Catherine Howard, a conversation is taking place between an aging Henry and an ambassador sent forth from the Court of King James V of Scotland.  Within it was a brief exchange which I quote verbatim:

[Henry] ‘let us state it plain. Here is what I wish: that Scotland and England unite, preferably through marriage. That we cease these hostilities, which are nonsensical, if you consult a map; for we are one country. All else flows from that.’

[Scottish Ambassador] ‘Now you understand me,’ he said, and his voice was burred and edgy. ‘I care not what your maps say, or what your logic tells you. We Scots are a different people, entirely different from you. That you understand us not is of no concern to us. We are people of our land, and our land is as different from yours as is Spain’.

Now, I have no knowledge of whether such a conversation took place, or whether it was simply Margaret George using her artistic licence. However, if she did make it up she’s comprehensively nailed the reason why us Scots should have had no qualms or fears about voting YES in the 2014 referendum. It encapsulates entirely why those who seek to bind us are doing so despite the deep rooted cultural differences which will always exist.

You may accuse me of going all ‘Braveheart’, but I’d respectfully disagree. Scotland has been an independent country for most of it’s history. Only when a greedy few sold us out for English coin did we join with England. The above conversation, even if fabricated, is undoubtedly what was felt in Tudor times. For many nothing has changed.

As Scots we should never forget our history – it made us who we are. I remain convinced that one day we will be an independent country again. I just hope I live to see it, even if only for my final breaths.

(A more detailed review of Margaret George’s book will be posted soon – I’ve nearly finished it!)

Thanks for reading.

Skippy Bounces Back To The Beanos

Skippy2Just a brief addendum to the Blog, this Sunday lunchtime, to make large the news that Stirling Albion have announced their new managerial line-up. Following the departure of Greig McDonald and Marc McCulloch, after the 4-0 home reverse to Stenhousemuir, the club set about the process of finding their replacements. After two weeks of sifting applications and hosting interviews that process is now at an end. The result is that former players Stuart McLaren and Martyn Corrigan have returned to the club.

http://www.stirlingalbionfc.co.uk/2014/11/02/new-management-team/

As the above piece on the SAFC official organ proclaims, Stuart ‘Skippy’ McLaren is to become manager with Martyn ‘Kaiser’ Corrigan his assistant. Including nicknames may be overkill on my part, but it shows they were well enough liked the first time to earn one!

This blog, and I’m sure all Albion fans around the globe will wish Stuart and Martyn the best of luck. Based on the evidence of the match at Hurlford, they’ll need it.

Thanks for reading.

(Pic courtesy of Stirling Albion FC)