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Tuesday April 9th : A Buzz Round the Media with Honey McBee

Margaret Thatcher 1925-2013.

All other news is overshadowed by the death of Lady Thatcher. Whatever we think of her politics -amongst Scotland’s chatterati she is universally vilified - she was Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, and the longest-serving.

Amid all other tributes comes this initial response from the First Minister on the Scottish Government’s website

"Margaret Thatcher was a truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation.  No doubt there will now be a renewed debate about the impact of that legacy.

Today, however, the proper reaction should be respect and condolences to her family."


Trident stays, shipyards go…

The Prime Minister was in Scotland last week to let us know that if we vote Yes next year we can still keep our 12,600 defence jobs.  

Before we celebrate, in January the Scottish Affairs Committee published a report – The Referendum on Separation for Scotland : Separation Shuts Shipyards. As Thursday’s Scotsman explained, the UK Government’s response to this report was published late last month. It considers the EU exemption to competitive tendering that allows defence contracts to remain within national borders - "As this exemption is currently applied, Scottish shipyards would not be eligible to bid for contracts to build complex warships for the Royal Navy if Scotland was to become independent”.

However …”If at any time the UK Government were to decide not to apply an Article 346 exemption to the procurement of a complex warship, it would be obliged to adhere to the rules governing open competition. In these circumstances, if an independent Scotland were a member of the EU, the MOD would be legally obliged not to discriminate on the grounds of nationality and would therefore treat all potential suppliers from EU member states on an equal basis. If an independent Scotland were not in the EU, suppliers established in an independent Scotland would have no right to participate in defence procurements under EU procurement law; the policy of open competition would mean that we would only do business with the wider defence manufacturing industries in Scotland where they demonstrated that they offer best value for money. While we are sure that companies based in Scotland would continue to make strong bids for MOD contracts, it is important to note that they will be pitching for business in an international market”. 

All clear on that one? Good. Moving on…

Hitching a lift on a nuclear sub, Mr Cameron, backed up by NATO, went on to assure us that Trident is here to stay and with North Korea threatening Armageddon at any moment we are all Better Together. Ian Bell in Saturday’s Herald was fairly scathing – “A talented boy is Kim Jong-un… One minute he has the running dogs of American imperialism whimpering in terror, the next he's helping David Cameron to win a defence policy argument and a Scottish referendum. We should ask the overgrown adolescent to take a crack at the economy. Who'd know the difference?  In the paper’s Sunday edition, Iain McWhirter was equally damning – I'm not sure it was entirely wise to suggest that we might be on Kim's target list. Are we to assume that our Trident missiles are now potentially targeting Pyongyang? Residents of Scotland's largest conurbation might wonder if it is a good idea to have weapons of mass destruction – which are illegal under international law – on our doorstep if they are liable to attract the attention of rogue nuclear states”. Like Bell, McWhirter sees the renewal of Trident as just one of a number of policies that Scots don’t want and didn’t vote for.

The PM did not impress For Argyll, in whose bailiwick Trident operates, nor indeed, former Defence Secretary Michael Portillo as reported by the Huffington Post.  And this is the Telegraph sketchwriter’s attempt (failed IMHO –ed) to interject some levity into the topic of nuclear weaponry.


A Phoney war…

Almost as a throwaway before he retreated to the safety of the south, Mr Cameron declined the opportunity of a pre-referendum debate with the First Minister. It would be a ‘phoney’ debate, he declared according to the Herald, saying it is for Scots who want out to debate with Scots who want in. "He [the FM] spends most of the time telling me to butt out of Scotland's business, now he seems to want me to butt back in again”. Hard to argue with that.


Follow the money…

Better Together has published a list of its bank-rollers.  Tom Gordon covered it in the Sunday Herald, concentrating on the £500,000 cheque handed over by Ian Taylor, a “Scots oil trader with a major stake in the Harris Tweed industry”, apparently after a meeting on Lewis with Alistair Darling.  The Sunday Herald gives Mr Taylor an opportunity to explain why he has donated such a large sum ; unfortunately the chief executive of Vitol Plc  will not be able to put his cross where his money is, since he does not have a vote in Scotland.

The Herald’s political editor, Magnus Gardham followed up in yesterday’s edition with the news that Yes Scotland will be publishing a similar list in days. 

Andrew Whitaker in the Scotsman says the legacy of Machar Edwin Morgan and the £1million donation of lottery winners the Wiers are thought to be still in the coffers of the SNP. And the Yes campaign may well come to regret its decision to accept donations over £500 only from those eligible to vote in the referendum.


Mountains to climb?

Yesterday’s Herald editorial and the Scotsman both point out that despite the flurry of recent activity on the part of the FM and the pro-independence group, public opinion is stuck at 30%, well below the level needed for referendum success, with the No camp, though also down, still 21 points in the lead.

Perhaps the SNP would do well to take the advice of historian Michael Fry in Friday’s Scotsman to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the thoughts of Nobel prize-winner Sir James Mirrlees  - it might, says Fry, be a vote-winner.  Sir James, one of FM’s economic advisers, is an advocate of tax simplification, who looks with horror on the complexities of the UK system. An independent Scotland, Fry think s, would have a blank canvas and could start again.


A rock and a true blue hard place…

In case you missed it, one of the best political columns of the week came from Ian Bell in Wednesday’s Herald.  He looked at the problems besetting Ruth Davidson, trying to steer the Scottish Conservatives into a viable electoral position, while at the same time being tied to support for UK coalition policies that do not play well in Scotland. David Cameron, on the other hand, has nothing to lose in Scotland other than David Mundell.

The problem isn't going to go away”, says Bell.” Patently, there is a conservative vote (lower-case c) in Scotland. One part of it still votes Tory, but it is a part so insubstantial it barely allowed Ms Davidson's election – by default, but that's another story – to Holyrood. She can talk until she is deep blue in the face about Scotland First, but as long as she remains yoked to Mr Cameron's Coalition amid a brutish attack on Scottish society it will do her no good. Why should it?... A Yes vote in the independence referendum would amount to an existential crisis... the problem of how to cope with devolution under the shadow of the Coalition would be solved, but a bigger problem would be created. What kind of Scotland do those small-c voters really want. Are committed Scottish Tories able, never mind willing, to meet the demand?”


The witch-finder general rides again…

The miscreants of HBOS were in the sightlines of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards this week. We hold no brief for Messrs Hornby, Stephenson and Crosby (forget any titles – they probably won’t have them much longer despite the PM being unwilling to intervene) but there is a certain feeling abroad in the media that the august members of the PCBS may have gone a tad OTT. Fraser Nelson in Friday’s Telegraph argued that the report -‘ An Accident Waiting to Happen: the failure of HBOS’  was “not so much a post-mortem examination as an 88-page j’accuse, one which concludes that all three should be barred from the industry”. Judge for yourself - a summary of the thoughts of the PCBS appears on the Parliamentary website.

Nelson (former Scotsman political columnist, now Editor of the Spectator) maintains the blame should be shared with the government of the day who were ‘infatuated with bankers’.

"Financial greed is always dangerous, but when paired with political vanity it becomes lethal. By working hand-in-glove with the financial sector, Labour ran a form of crony capitalism … Brown’s government was so dazzled by the tax haul, so swept up in the party spirit, that it left the teenagers with the car keys and a case of tequila. The crash was inevitable."

Writing for the Adam Smith Institute, Dr Madsen Pirie took much the same line- They [the politicians] did this because they were addicted to spending and stood to gain personally from the electoral support that it helped to produce.  They tried to manipulate the economy by 'smoothing the Business Cycle' to avoid the electoral unpopularity that an economic downturn would have engendered.  Gordon Brown and Ed Balls and others stood to make personal gain of popularity and office from their actions, and certainly failed to show due diligence for the welfare of the nation and of its citizens”. 

Neither does the present crop of politics escape Nelson’s wrath – “Government still thinks it can rig the banking system. It still places its faith in dangerously underpriced debt. It still thinks that the remedy for our hangover is some salt, some lemon and another round of tequila. Even bankers are looking on aghast. The financiers, after all, did not cause this downturn. They added to the drama, but the basic problem was (and remains) one of overspending."

Yesterday’s Scotsman reported that Business Secretary Cable has now launched an official investigation to see if the HBOS three can be banned from holding any further posts as company directors. All three have moved into other companies – Hornby at Coral and Stephenson at Waterstones – and it remains to be seen whether their tenure at HBOS constituted ‘toxic’ and ‘wrongdoing’, or whether it was merely gross incompetence. Kate Devlin in Saturday’s Herald reported that according to ‘sources close to the Financial Conduct Authority’, such an outright ban was unlikely.

And what of the regulator – the body charged with overseeing the conduct of the banks and bankers that the report termed “not so much the dog that didn’t bark but the dog that barked at the wrong tree”. With exquisite timing, the over-bureaucratic and unlamented Financial Services Authority closed last weekend.


And finally…

We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns… up to a point. 

There used to be three well-defined classes in Britain – upper, middle and lower (and yes, we are old enough to remember TW3 and Cleese, Barker and Corbett). Now there are apparently seven, according to the BBC Great British Class Survey.  They range from the Elite at the top to the Precariat at the bottom, and where you are on the spectrum seems to depend very much on who your friends are.  If you haven’t already, you can calculate where your love of opera and consorting with lorry drivers puts you.

Sociologists may take it seriously; we suggest you dress it with a quantity of salt….