“THEY HAD LEARNED NOTHING AND FORGOTTEN NOTHING”…
What Talleyrand thought of the French monarchy might equally apply to our politicians. Is it really six years since the expenses scandal? Have Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind really not taken on board what the public thinks of them?
Quick off the mark was Mike Small for Bella Caledonia – “After being stung in the latest Cash for Access ‘scandal’ at Westminster that’s been making all the headlines, Jack Straw has said he had fallen into a “very skilful trap” while Sir Malcolm Rifkind said his comments had been “silly”.
Silly is when you pour coffee down your front, run out of the petrol on the M74 or forget your packed lunch. Silly isn’t scrabbling like a political whore for £5k or selling your democracy to the highest bidder. It’s venal, deceitful or corrupt, not silly”.
Quite. Enough said…
IN SPRING A TORY’S FANCY TURNS TO RUTH…
An election looms and Spring conference season kicked off last week with the Scottish Conservatives gathering in Edinburgh’s Conference Centre, screened off to hide a lack of numbers in the cavernous interior. Dave came amongst them, but as Saturday’s Herald leader points out, there remains a gulf between the PM and Davidson.
Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph says being on the winning side in the referendum has put a spring in their step and leader Ruth Davidson has become more accomplished and “her increased confidence is also showing in her parliamentary performances, where she’s long been at her least effective and where she’s been heavily criticised, most often by me.
“She was never happy against Alex Salmond’s appallingly patronising attitude but she is handling Nicola Sturgeon, his replacement as First Minister, in much more assured fashion. However, it’s not just her style that’s improved – it’s the policies, too…
With the SNP and Labour competing for the left-ground, says Cochrane, all Davidson has to do is hang on in there.
Gerry Hassan in the Sunday Mail agrees – there is room for a centre-right party in Scotland, he argues, with both the SNP and Labour having conservatives with a small ‘c’ in their ranks, “who have given expression to a very different politics to their centre-left official party aims…as the Scottish Parliament takes on more responsibilities for raising the money it spends, politics will become more centred on the relationship between tax and spend.
“That will make an agenda of cutting taxes attractive to some, particularly affluent, middle-class, older voters. That is a terrain the Scottish Tories could make their own”.
Meanwhile, James Walsh in Saturday’s Guardian looked at readers’ responses to the paper’s request to Scottish voters who were changing party allegiance in May to get in touch. The largest swings, as polls predict, are from Labour and LibDems to the SNP and Greens. The Tories don’t figure here, but then, this is the Guardian. Nothing we didn’t already suspect, but interesting to hear it from the horse’s mouth…
Muir Dickie in Saturday’s FT went to Argyll and Bute – a rare thing in Scottish politics, says Dickie, a four-way marginal, where in 2010 only 13% points separated the LibDems at the top from the SNP in fourth place.
Leader of the Commons, William Hague is reported by Simon Johnson in yesterday’s Telegraph as having delegated the decision about the inclusion of the SNP in pre-election discussions to the head of the Civil Service, Sir Jeremy Heywood.
Nicola Sturgeon has, according to the paper, written a letter to Sir Jeremy ‘demanding’ to be included; it would be the first time the SNP had been in a position to be considered to be a credible opposition party. You can read the full text of Ms Sturgeon’s letter here, courtesy of an SNP press release.
UKIP – the party more hated than Marmite – staged its Scottish election launch this weekend – with varying degrees of success and without leader Nigel Farage, whose reception north of the border has not always been the most hospitable.
But bad news in the polls, as reported by politics.co.uk , where UKIP appears to be behind the Tories in seats that they have to win to get a good showing.
Meanwhile last week Channel 4 broadcast its UKIP: the First 100 days mockumentary – which received an equally hostile reception in many quarters. Brendan O’Neill in Spiked argued that far from exposing the bigotry of the ‘numbskulls’ who would vote UKIP, the programme actually exhibited the prejudices of the chattering classes – “the self-styled progressive sections of the politically switched-on classes, whose visceral contempt for the white working class makes every other prejudice in 21st century Britain pale into insignificance in comparison.
“With a couple of months of election-talk to go before we vote, you couldn’t have asked for a better insight into the minds of the upper echelons of society than this drama…this ugly drama, with its dehumanising caricatures of whole sections of Britain, was merely a more extreme version of what increasingly passes for mainstream politics.
“The elitist treatment of the swarm as incomprehensible, as unknowable, as potentially volatile and given to poisonous ways of thinking, informs pretty much all mainstream political thinking and commentary these days.
Worth reading all the way through just for O’Neill’s home truths…
A COUPLE OF DRINKS ON A SATURDAY…
Jim Murphy’s campaign [does the man never stop? – ED] to allow alcohol at Scottish football matches after years of dry terraces continued with a summit at Hampden, but is falling on stony ground with Police Scotland – and with Ian Bell in the Sunday Herald. In the paper’s essay of the week, Bell says Murphy, and Ruth Davidson, who is also calling for change, are too young to remember what it was like pre-ban.
“Perhaps”, says Bell, “I can help. It was disgusting; it was vile; it was shaming. Never mind riots, brawls, or local hatreds: those were just the headlines. If a definition of the opposite of “family-friendly” is needed, it was the average crowd at an average match on an average Saturday.
“In those bygone days getting drunk was your best hope of tolerating the drunks who added nothing at all, beyond floods of steaming body fluids and landslips of empties, to what Murphy terms “the experience”. And of course, there’s the matter of extra money for the clubs.
What Davidson and Murphy are proposing would only be a pilot at ‘non-contentious‘ games, so there is still an element of doubt. Quite right, says Bell, because the problem still persists.
He does not, as Murphy did, argue that it’s a class matter, since alcohol’s now allowed at rugby matches.
KEEPING THE HOME FIRES BURNING…
First Minister Sturgeon has written to the PM asking him to intervene in Scotland’s energy market. Former Labour minister Brian Wilson in his Saturday Scotsman column took the SNP – and in particular former FM Salmond – to task for its handling of the projected closure of Longannet power station since Iberdrola, its Spanish owners, have decided not to invest further to keep it going to 2020. Salmond, says Wilson, was hand in glove with Iberdrola chairman Ignacio Galan, and they had a “mutually profitable relationship”.
Scottish Power and SSE were, and continue to be, given preferential treatment, claims Wilson, yet they have imported jobs and materials for their renewable arms and rate low in customer satisfaction. Perhaps Sturgeon needs to look more closely at how these giants operate, suggests Wilson…
Sill with energy, Lesley Riddoch wrote in the National, and later posted to her website, this piece about the unfairness of the Big Six towards loyal customers who lose out on the best deals.
She would like to see privatisation rolled back – in Scotland, at least – “Change is long overdue in an electricity market that hasn’t worked for customers since Thatcher privatised leccy almost thirty years ago. We need the balance tipped permanently in favour of citizens – not more help shopping around. Most Nordic countries have state control of energy and energetic councils provide district heating. It works. Wouldn’t that model be better for Scotland too?”
Stop and search – particularly of children under 12, is still hitting the headlines. The Sunday Herald had major articles on Kath Murray’s academic PhD research that led to the policy coming to public attention.
Investigations Editor Paul Hutcheon revealed the ways in which Chief Constable Stephen House and government officials tried to hinder the research and the demand that it be submitted for review by Police Scotland before presentation, and how another academic who backed the policy was in close liaison with the force in the days before. The paper’s editorial calls for the Chief Constable to “change or go” – describing him as ‘prickly and unimpressive’ and with ‘an obvious distaste for being challenged’
On Thursday the Daily Record reported that Mr House had been ‘hauled over the coals’ last week by MSPs when he appeared before Holyrood’s policing sub-committee, admitting that the force had lost relevant data and had a huge communication problem with the public.
Despite this, a poll conducted by the Sunday Herald found that 56% of those asked were in favour of stop and search, with only 31% against.
SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN…
Dani Garavelli in Scotland on Sunday pointed out the paradox that exists over the Scottish government’s ‘Named Person’ policy. Citing yet another case of the abuse and death of a young child at the hands of his nearest and should have been dearest, Garavelli says it is doctors, teachers and social workers who get the blame when something goes wrong – and only sometimes the parents.
Yet when the Scottish government introduced its Children and Young People Act last year, it faced a wall of opposition from parents and those who saw it as state interference.
They’re wrong, says Garavelli – it isn’t designed to catch parents who are doing fine, “but in the naive hope that we never have to look at a photograph of another dead baby and ask what more we could have done”.
It’s the moral superiority she finds distasteful – “So, analyse the named person provision by all means, criticise the government for rushing it through and point out the loopholes in the hopes they can be closed. But don’t act like your parental rights trump the rights of the children in your own and other people’s care. However wonderful you are personally, parents do not always know best. That’s the whole, depressing point.”
COFFEE BREAK TIME
No, not you gents, you carry on working. This wee offering from DonnaLou Stevens is for us ladies – those of us already at a certain age, and for those of you not quite there yet, don’t worry, you will be – almost before you know it…
In Wednesday’s edition of The Conversation, Professor David Bell of Stirling University looked at the Smith Commission’s proposals on devolving welfare provision to the Scottish government.
The Professor wonders why some benefits are being transferred and, given that Holyrood will have the power to introduce new benefits [remember the Brown Murphy proposals for pension top-ups], where the money’s coming from if Barnett is still in place and Scottish spending relies on that in the UK remaining high.
Jessica Blair of the Institute of Welsh Affairs followed up Professor Bell’s article. In the IWA’s online arm Click on Wales she looked at Welsh reluctance to assume responsibility for welfare, citing the retention of the Barnett formula, so possible lack of finance if the consequentials reduce, and Civil Service capacity as reasons. There’s a podcast on the website and some interesting BTL comments, including one from the Gerald Holtham, Chair of the Commission on Welsh funding and finance.
SLOWLY, SLOWLY, CATCHEE…
Still with Wales, Martin Kettle in Friday’s Guardian said the principality could become the model for UK constitutional reform, rather than Scotland. Welsh public opinion fights shy of independence, says Kettle, but is slowly moving towards an acceptance of greater self-government.
“Wales has a claim to be the one part of the UK in which the three principles of progressivism in public policy, patriotism about the nation and its culture, and a real constructive readiness to make a reformed union work better, all still co-exist. The same, alarmingly, cannot be said of England or Scotland. As such, Wales could be the petri dish for a reformed Britain’s future”.
In support, Kettle cites “an important new report” published last week by the Institute for Government think tank.
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE
… to go back on the capital’s streets, Alastair Dalton reported in Scotland on Sunday that the SNP government is executing a nifty U-turn on the trams, threatening to extend the existing line and –horror of horrors – put more of our money where its new mouth is.
Reading between the tram lines however, it becomes parent that what Transport Minister Derek Mackay has in mind is more Glasgow-orientated and the previous hard stance on the York Place to Airport line remains in place. Ah well, nice try…
ONE MAN’S PLANNING…
Like the poor, it seems tax avoidance will always be with us. Tim Black in last week’s Spiked looked at how legal avoidance and the right not to pay any more tax than is legally required of you has been turned by recent governments into a moral issue – “Such has been the moralising mood music around the tax affairs of wealthy individuals and large, largely unpopular corporations, such as Starbucks and Google, that it is now almost taken as a given that how much tax one pays is a moral issue.
“Those who are not playing fair, those who are exploiting tax laws to reduce their liabilities, those who are ‘aggressively’ paying as little as legally possible, are now ripe for vilification.”
But, says Black, things may not be quite as clear cut as politicians would like them to be- “there is nothing morally worthy about lining the state’s coffers.
After all, while the state uses tax revenue to provide many vital public services, it also spends billions on the latest weapons of mass destruction and, yes, bank bailouts. Perhaps, just perhaps, those avoiding paying more tax than legally required are spending their saved cash on something more worthwhile than an Apache helicopter”.
In Bella Caledonia John Warren also put the blame for tax avoidance and evasion on successive governments’ fudging and their complicity with business and tolerance of home-grown tax havens like the Channel Islands and offshore financial centres [OFCs] like our Overseas Territories. It’s a long article with a wealth of detail and references, as well as good graphics – settle down with your last PAYE slip and a wee dram…
PLUS CA CHANGE…
Aylin Orbasli of Oxford Brookes University advises those cities applying for World Heritage status to think again. In Thursday’s Conversation, she likened it to a poisoned chalice, citing Edinburgh as a prime example of where development and UNESCO have not exactly had a meeting of minds. And not just Edinburgh – Liverpool and Dresden have also withdrawn applications in favour of their preferred developments says Orbasli.
Why? “One of the reasons for this escalation of conflict and sense of frustration”, she thinks, “May be the way the nomination process, evaluation, management guidelines and subsequent monitoring of the sites prescribed by UNESCO is more or less a one-size-fits-all package.
A closer look at the designation of historic towns and UNESCO’s expectations for their management reveals a framework that is probably much better suited to neatly fenced and managed archaeological sites than the complex nature of a functioning city”. In other words, bureaucracy versus dynamism; ‘twas ever thus…
WHEN ROBIN HOOD COMES CALLING…
Saturday’s Telegraph sport pull-out had a wonderful rags-to-riches story about the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the down and almost out rugby league team rescued by Hollywood’s Russell Crowe competing on Sunday night with St Helens in the World Cup Challenge. The Rabbitohs are, against all the odds, Australian champions and the Saints the English champions.
Crowe, a South Sydney native, has been a life-long follower of the Rabbitohs. How very fortunate then that he scraped together enough money in films to be able to take over the club in 2006. Jonathan Liew recounts how he went about it – it’s fascinating reading. Clearly a league zealot, Crowe, says Liew, “is the sport’s single most precious asset … he is the evangelist who can never stop evangelising. He is the entrepreneur who will not take no for an answer. And like the very best actors: when he says something, you believe him”.
In case you missed it, the Rabbitohs walloped the Saints 39-0. Crowe should be one happy bunny!
On a half-nelson and a prayer: Here’s a gem from across the pond, on Friday’s OC Weekly blog, although the BBC also picked up on it on its Radio 5 Live website. We thought at first April 1st had arrived early, but no, this story of Grado the Scottish wrestler and his spat with Madonna over his choice of gladiatorial entry is very real and earnest.
So much so that it’s reached Holyrood with MSPs supporting the #SayYesMadonna Facebook campaign. As a plus, OC Weekly has a couple of Grado videos for you to engage with.
Grado, aka Graeme Stevely, looks like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with in a dark alley, but actually sounds quite sweet ….