Saturday, 14 March 2015

It will never happen again - I PROMISE

 Listening to Jim Murphy repeatedly telling us that that Scottish Labour has changed makes me feel like I'm listening to a broken record. It's the broken record of a guilty man, the liar caught cheating, the wife beater saying "It will never happen again. I love you. Don't make me go. I LOVE you."

Like the faithful wife of an abuser, We've stayed too long. We've been loyal too long. We trusted you too many 'one more time's'. We've had our loyalty strained beyond breaking point. You've broken our hearts and betrayed our trust, not just once but over and over. You're a junkie addicted to power and the dealer's in Westminster. We've had all we can take and no amount of pleading will change that.

Like that abuser, you can't accept that we're going to walk. If you can persuade us just one more time to give you just one more chance then it will all be ok - for a while at least. As long as you get what you want then everything will be fine. Just the way it's always been, eh no? A change for a while at least until those urges begin to niggle again. Cold turkey in this unimportant wee Scotland before you start twitching and aching. How long before the sweats kick in and you can't resist any more. You know you NEED it. Is it fair that we deny it to  you. Isn't it our fault anyway? We MADE you that way. We've never given you what you truly want. It's our fault really that there's never been enough to satisfy you. We've never been that good to you. We're not enough for you. We've never loved you the way you deserved. Westminster is a sexier mistress, better dressed and with that undeniably heady scent of power. It's so... intoxicating. So addictive.

It's just not reasonable for us to expect that you should stay here is it?. Is it realistic of us to expect that we're your only love and your only focus? No - of course not. You've never promised that anyway. You never said you loved us or that you would stay forever. Yes, you made A VOW but it was never really about 'for richer, for poorer, until death do we part.' You only said you'd changed and you have. You said you'd made mistakes but you wouldn't make them again. You said you'd stopped listening but you'd realised that  and you'd changed. You're different now. Yes, if you stay and things do get better then we might give you our undying love. We might put you on a pedestal, make you First Minister and listen breathlessly to every utterance.

 You deserve nothing less after all.

But at the end of the day. We're just a wee wifey sitting in the kitchen making you your breakfast. We have weans to look after and washing to get done. And there's shopping to do. Not easy on our household budget when so much is out of our control. But we work hard to try and make it right. It's not glamorous work and it's taken its toll over the years. We were never supermodels. And we're no as young as we used to be that's true.

But we're still us Jim. We're just the same wee wifey we've always been. We need you. We need the things you promised and to be listened to. We need to be respected and we need you to put as much effort into this as we've done. There's so much to do and never enough time or money.

What's that Jim?

You say you've changed?

You say you're sorry?

What do you mean you can't do this any more?

What do you mean there's SOMEONE ELSE?

Oh Jim, I've met someone else too - and she's lovely: a great listener, we have so much in common, she makes me feel - important - like I haven't felt in years.

Your bags are packed and the divorce papers are in your jacket pocket.

Don't slam the door on your way out.

Porage anyone?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Red Sails At Sunset, Compass faulty, Navigator AWOL


Watching the conference of The Labour Party In Scotland - or 'The Scottish Labour Party/Scottish Labour' - whatever they'd prefer to call it, two things came to mind. It was overwhelmingly sad and overwhelmingly missing the bleeding point.

Overwhelmingly sad because it was a fairly small venue barely more than half full and because so many people in the audience looked as if they'd spent the night before in a serious bevvy session and had been dragged out of bed to go somewhere they really didn't want to be. I can understand that. With the latest in a long line of disastrous polling results staring them in the face so close to an election - even though, yes, yes, yes, the only result that matters is the result on election day - but as I said, with poll results like that they have little to be cheerful about. There's a mountain ahead and someone's just mentioned no-one thought to pack the hiking boots or the Bovril. And its cold. And raining. Hard.

Overwhelmingly sad because despite the evidence staring them in the face for the last seven years of an SNP Government in Scotland, despite two elections in that time when their vote share first declined, then crashed, despite that shocking crash being blindingly reinforced over the two years of campaigning in the referendum, they truly don't seem to get what's happened to them. It's like they've been decapitated but the head just keeps on talking, not realising it's disconnected and those legs aren't taking them anywhere anymore. Jim Murphy, their new leader, addressed his first conference in that familiar quiet, serious tone that seems to be the only one he has these days. To be honest as I listened I zoned out much of the 'poverty background/ man of the people/why I understand what is needed/ pearls before swine' speech filling and was transported back to sitting in the pews of my childhood Sunday Kirk, sermons droning interminably on with little for me to engage with, to catch my attention and keep it, Nothing to enthuse me. Nothing memorable, just the same as last week and predictably just what next week was going to be like as well. No wonder I jumped ship once I was told I was old enough to make a choice about attending for myself.

Overwhelmingly sad because there was no sense of responsibility for this. No accountability taken for leading supporters straight into a foreseeable, avoidable, catastrophe, for taking Scotland's vote for granted for forty years. No apology for that sense of entitlement, either here or down in Westminster , for betrayal of the fundamental principals of the Labour Party's existence, for abandonment of people's hopes and aspirations of a fairer society for the pursuit of power and influence, for scandal, sleaze and corruption. No reflection, no recognition and absolutely no apology. Only an underlying sense of desperation about 'How do we get back?' It's a good job the stage was bare, so much is there to sweep under the Labour carpet.

In a pre-conference interview Jim Murphy was asked if, as a Tory ex-Prime Minister had said, Labour should rule out a coalition with the SNP to gain power at Westminster. He responded dismissively that "We don't need to be told how to run Scotland." There it was yet again. All those feckin attitudes that have led to this point. You're not there to 'run' us you absolute twit. You're there to serve us. SERVE. US FIRST. US ONLY.

Overwhelmingly sad. After all this you just won't or can't see that Scotland has changed. The labour party is going to become insignificant. We're not going to lie down and let this happen to us anymore. Not by you, not by the Tories and not even by the SNP. If you won't represent us honestly then we will reject you. We will abandon you. We will not trust you and we absolutely will not vote for you.

Scotland understands what Labour should be. We understand its roots absolutely. We understand what it's values should be. The problem is that we don't believe that's what you or it stands for any more.

You have to find those lost principles, that missing integrity. You are in charge of a ship that has lost most of its passengers and most of its crew. You stand on the bridge and order a tweak here and there, a slight turn of speed and an adjustment in direction of a compass point or two to port . You need to grab the rudder and yank it around and you better set full steam ahead while you're at it. The lifejackets have been issued and people have abandoned ship. Shouting "Don't Panic! Don't Panic!" isn't going to work Cpl Murhy.

And so to Capain Mainwaring - sorry - Mr Miliband.

So much of the same from him. A professional speech by a professional politician. But no fire, no inspiration. No sense of belief. No clue. Yes, he spoke more of heritage and principles, of social justice and working families but without the conviction he actually held any of those principles at heart himself. He spoke like he knew he's stuffed. {"Let's not mention the SNP. Let's just make it about us and the Tories."} And worryingly too no recognition of the problem that 'Scottish" Labour faces. How do you square the circle of the clear difference between Scotland and England by voting for Labour. It's not enough to say that 'A vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories'.

 A} It's not true.


 B} In case you missed the polls - We don't believe it


Setting aside all the problems of  principle, integrity and conviction and lifeboats all at sea, lets talk about the blooming obvious when it comes to getting elected as Scotland's representatives.

How do you square getting working class Scotland voting for you when you have to win a majority of middle class voters in England at the same time, especially with Ukip pushing working class votes to the right too? If Scotland did vote for you how would our voice be heard? How much would Scotland's weight carry within the national party?

{Although it's the bleeding obvious don't expect any BBC interviewer to ask the question.}

The bleeding obvious fundamental of this election is that it's not going to be won in the centre ground of politics. In Scotland it's about the left but - and here's the rub of the matter - in England it's about the right.  Over the last thirty years English politics has shifted to the right considerably more than Scots politics and to get elected any party HAS to win a majority in England. It just will not work if that's not the case. That's why no matter how we have voted our voice doesn't get heard. Scots voters are looking at Labour and finding they don't believe a left-of-centre Scots MP contingent within the wider UK party makes a difference when UK Labour are chasing right leaning voters.


That left-of-centre vote is from SNP MP's completely independent of Labour Central Party, completely and solely focussed on Scotland's interests.


 if those independents are within the context of a hung parliament at the election......

Pass the porage please.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Tidal Wave or Tsunami?

In case you may have missed it, Tory peer and pollster Lord Ashcroft released more poll results yesterday. His last polls in Scotland set the heather on fire by suggesting that there was a swing in voting intentions for the Westminster elections of more than 25% towards the SNP. These polls were taken mainly in Scottish  marginal constituencies and where voting in last years referendum had shown high levels of YES voting. It showed that 15 out of 16 were likely to be taken by the SNP - a result which if reflected across all Scottish constituencies would almost wipe out the traditional Labour vote and its dominant representation at Westminster. In the likely event of a hung parliament this significantly increases the influence that SNP MP's might have over national policy as they wring increased concessions on devolved power promised but baulked at through THE VOW and the Smith Commission proposals.

This month he's followed up by polling a smaller number of constituencies thought to be strongholds of establishment parties, where there were predominantly high levels of NO votes during the referendum. This shows that, unexpectedly, the swing towards SNP voting intentions is equally as strong in those constituencies as elsewhere and that even strongholds held for generations in some cases are either likely to fall or are on such a  knife edge as to be unpredictable. Of the eight constituencies polled six are likely to go to SNP with swings equal or even greater than in those weaker seats. Of eight seats covered by this latest exercise, five are in Labour held seats where the Yes side lost – Ayr, Dumfries, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh SW, and Kirkcaldy.  He finds that the SNP are ahead in four of them, including in Gordon Brown’s Kirkcaldy seat, which had the second largest Labour lead over the SNP in 2010. Only in Jim Murphy’s East Renfrewshire seat are Labour put narrowly ahead – by a statistically insignificant one point. In fact the greatest swing recorded in any poll so far, 28.5% to SNP, shows in Gordon Brown's constituency. In short, the SNP tide appears to be more or less every bit as strong in No voting Labour areas as it was previously shown to be in Yes voting ones.

Meanwhile, if the Conservatives think they can afford to gloat about Labour’s troubles, they should think again. For, as some projections from Scotland wide polls have suggested, the SNP advance could also sweep away the only Tory seat north of the border. Lord Ashcroft has also polled in David Mundell’s Dumfriesshire seat, and here too the SNP vote is apparently up by as much as 23 points. Together with a four point drop in Mr Mundell’s support, this means the Tories and the SNP are estimated to be tied on 34% each. Another seat too close to call.

Voting intentions may change by the election but there's a sweeping move away from that two party hegemony so entrenched for so long. The SNP is set to become the third biggest party in the UK. Not bad when they can be voted for by only 8% of the UK population The Lib-Dems look almost certain to lose every seat apart from Orkney and Shetland. That explains then why both Labour and Tory parties have been desperately repeating ad nauseam that " A vote for the SNP is a vote for Tory or Labour", depending on which fearful mouth it trips from.  If the almost rabid hatred of the SNP displayed in recent rhetoric is played out in Parliament and results in Scotland or her elected representatives being seen to be disadvantaged or treated unjustly the consequences back here could be so anti-Unionist that Tory and particularly Labour, would almost certainly lose any hope of regaining any increased vote here for the foreseeable future at least and could possibly tip the scales in favour of another referendum with probable independence the result.

That raises the question of: Would that truly matter to the Tories? Are just too troublesome? Independence would actually make absolute Tory power in England that more certain and make governing the rest of the UK much simpler.. {Remember however Scotland votes, the UK gets the government England votes for} That would then beg the question of English Tories: What's more important to you - The Union or The Power? I'd put a bet on The Power almost any day of the week.

I feel a wee porage might be in order........

Monday, 2 March 2015

Gordon Brown’s oil fund – the ultimate contradiction

By Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp
Gordon is founder of Business for Scotland where this was originally posted.

Gordon Brown is the man who once promised us an end to boom and bust and then presided over the biggest bust in living memory. He made a promise to the Scottish people on a timetable for new powers for Scotland if there was a No vote, and then championed a petition saying that Westminster hadn’t delivered to his own timetable. Brown, who as UK Chancellor and then Prime Minister refused steadfastly to invest in a sovereign oil fund to help deal with volatility in oil prices, has today called for an oil fund to be set up to deal with the current volatility in oil prices.

Two things jump out at me immediately from the story on STV news tonight. No, I am not talking about the obvious contradictions above, or even the fact that in every political debate I have ever had with a Labour politician (including the Shadow Finance Minister – twice) they have claimed outright that you cannot start an oil fund when you are operating a deficit. The UK is still operating a deficit and the national debt is still going up, but now suddenly an oil fund has become a good idea. First of all, listen carefully to the interview above; Brown is not calling for an oil fund to protect spending public services in Scotland given the tax revenue fall from the oil sector, he is calling for public spending to be diverted to the oil companies. This is a subtle change from the role of a sovereign oil fund that Business for Scotland and others have been calling for. He thought a fund was a bad idea when the purpose was social, but now that its purpose is protecting big business it’s a good idea.

 There certainly should be funds from the UK Exchequer to help the industry, and that should not have a knock on impact on Scotland’s block grant. Revenues from the oil sector are classed as being from from the UK continental shelf, and not as Scottish revenues, and the money goes straight to the UK Treasury and not to the Scottish Parliament, so it is only right that the money flows the other way when the oil sector needs help – and not just from the Scottish Government’s block grant.

The second thing that jumps out from the reporting is that all the channels are still wording the price drop in a way that makes it sound as if the oil price is still below $50.00 a barrel. Its not. Today it hit $62.58. Ok, so that’s not a great price nor is it long term sustainable for deep sea oil wells under the current tax regime, but it does represent +25% over the low and surely any appropriate reporting would mention that, just as they would if it had dropped a further 25%.

                                                   Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 21.07.46

 There absolutely should be an oil fund set up, a Scottish oil fund, and the fund’s main goal should be to invest in renewables and innovative energy solutions that will replace oil and gas as a driver for the North East and for Scotland’s economy over the next 40 years as the oil reserves do start to run out. The price will come back, so it’s short term help that is needed, but we also need to think longer term and a new policy approach based on stewardship rather than just seeing the North Sea as a cash cow is needed. OPEC is predicting $200 a barrel in the foreseeable future, and if that happens then having started an oil fund now will look very clever in hindsight, indeed so would co-investing in oil fields. Gordon Brown isn’t a late convert to the idea of an oil fund, he simply wants to score some half credible soundbites and as always seems completely unaware that so many of his stated positions are completely contradictory.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Message from the Dept for the Dereliction of Duty

By Robin McAlpine
Originally posted at Bella Caledonia

This time of year brings two small joys – the evenings are getting lighter and the fields around our house are filled with lambs. But lying in bed a couple of nights ago, the sound of howling wind hammering rain against our windows wasn’t enough to cover the anguished bleats of the fluffy little things. Imagine being only a couple of days old and being stuck on that exposed hillside with no shelter from a storm that felt like it hadn’t let up for three days.
Which is my point – I can’t. I can imagine what it would be like for me to be stuck in a field without shelter in the dark in a storm. But having lived in a rural area for much of my life I know perfectly well that every sheep that ever lived (in Scotland at least) was born amid storms and raised in the driving rain. A sheep doesn’t experience cold in the same way we do. They’re designed to repel rain. I don’t know how a sheep is feeling. I hear them bleat and I guess. Perhaps in the morning I’ll take the cheekier, nosier ones some carrots to ‘make up for’ their dreadful night. Will they understand the gesture? Do they prefer carrots or apples? It’s a lot to infer from a bleat.
As with me and the sheep, so with Malcolm Rifkind and the citizens of Great Britain. Sure he hears us bleating, but he seems to have no idea how we feel, how we experience the world. He does not seem capable of interpreting what the noises we make (to him distant and indistinct) are supposed to be communicating. So he guesses. And his guess is that we are concerned about his low income and applaud his efforts to better himself. Us outside in the storm, him warm indoors, entertaining the rich at our expense.
Jack Straw, meanwhile, has emerged from this all much more as sheep than shepherd. While Rifkind met the revelations of offering himself for hire to private lobbyists with outrage and indignation, apparently unable to see what the fuss was about, Jack Straw at least appeared immediately to grasp the seriousness of his position. Which seems to me an almost perfect encapsulation of his entire political career – to be fully aware that what he was up to was basically crooked but to proceed anyway on the basis of expediency and the belief that he was probably going to get away with it.
I fear that these are the two poles around which Westminster politics now revolves – utter cynicism and complete detachment. I spent a year working in Westminster in the 1990s and I quickly came to despise the place. Everything about it felt strangely unconnected to everything I knew. The language – they were always talking about ‘shooting each others’ fox’ and ‘having the whip hand’. I sat through many meetings wondering if I was every going to understand Westminster and its endless country gentleman, slave-owner metaphors. I one proposed a media stunt based around sending voters a ‘bill’ for what the lack of devolution had cost them. I pitched it to the Scottish Labour front bench team. Someone said that it wouldn’t work because people would think we meant a parliamentary Bill. I looked round the table to see who was going to jump to my defence and point out that probably no-one receives a bill through the door and thinks ‘ah, must have got through its third reading’. But all the politicians seemed to accept that the punters probably would be thinking about them as they opened their post in the morning.
It was a narcissistic world then – and that was before Blair and Mandelson let rip with their doctrine of intense comfort at people becoming stinking rich. In the Blair years Parliament weakened its internal watchdog (the most effective of whom was removed for being the most effective) and weakened or removed the rules about former Ministers with specialist knowledge being able to trade on that knowledge from the moment they left Parliament. This is a club that was caught out in the most blatant of expense rigging, clearly ripping off the public for personal gain. They showed contrition for what must have been weeks. Before they swept it under the carpet. (And its a decidedly lumpy carpet, harbouring beneath it the inquiry into the cause of the financial crisis of 2008, the inquiry into the Iraq war, a string of unsavoury accusations of paedophile rings and much more.)
We have a system in which parliament can find itself not guilty of almost anything. Sure, if it comes to it, the occasional politician may have to walk the plank for getting caught. Individual politicians are not immortal, but it seems that the system is. Again and again the same scandals recur. The public gnashes its teeth. The media shouts for a while. But the media stops before any real damage is done to the system and the public gradually forgets.

And we return once more to government by corporations with a parliament that seems focused on stuffing its pockets. Rifkind and Straw are selling out the people of Britain not because they think they’ll get away with it but because they always have in the past. The Daily Mail might be annoyed this week, but next week they’ll be back to filling pages with columnists complaining that not enough corporate CEOs will become elected politicians because the pay is too low. Of course we want politicians with ‘other interests’, the wealthy (which is to say the media) will agree. ‘Other interests’ make politicians more like them, less like us. And the less politicians feel like us, the better it is for the corporations.
The failure of a politics of empathy in Britain is petrifying.
I have talked to people in political parties who really do believe that a single mother on benefits who has those benefits sanctioned ‘must’ have another option. The possibility that the only option she has is for her and her child to starve is not considered, not felt. It is assumed that there ‘must’ be a relative that can help (possible a parent that sexually abused her, possibly the brother who has also just been sanctioned) or that there ‘must’ be work. I project my feeling of cold onto a sheep; Tory politicians seem to project their extensive and wealthy support networks onto the poor. They do not understand the lives of the people they govern.
I have believed for some time that the single biggest problem with UK politics is that the lives of politicians have become so far removed from those who elected them that there is little or no chance of the politicians running country in the interests of the many. Being an MP immediately puts you in about the top four per cent of the population by income. It supplies you a pension and other perks that give you a level of security few of their compatriots have. Politicians fear neither the present nor the future. That, in itself, makes them nothing like most of the population of Britain. Having achieved a sort-of bullet-proof social security for themselves they seem little interested in exploring how they might achieve social security for everyone else.
Usually when I write something of this sort I would at this point stress that most of the politicians I have come across get into politics for the right reasons and do, generally, believe that they are doing the right thing. I would caution against simply writing off all Westminster politics as dirty and grubby and corrupt. But I think I have reached a point where that caveat no longer feels like a comfortable response. If Westminster believes that every Muslim in Britain has a responsibility to police the behaviour of ‘their community’ then it is time to expect the same of politicians. Every Westminster politician that votes for a pay rise when the rest of the country is struggling is part of the problem. Every politician who defended the expenses system is part of the problem. Every politician who had their Christmas card sponsored by a corporation with commercial interests that could be influenced by that politician is part of the problem. Frankly, after Britain’s dark decade (the one that started with the Iraq war scandal in 2003 and ended with the emerging paedophile scandal in 2013 and encompassed the expenses, phone hacking and financial scandals among many other failures, none of which have been put right), a politician who thinks Westminster is ‘OK’ seems to me to be part of the problem.
This is a problem that was understood as far back as Plato. In his Republic, the lawmakers were kept in basic comfort – but not too much comfort. They were forced to live ascetic lifestyles which gave them no opportunity to put their own venal interests above those of the people they were to represent and govern. The current view is that this would put off the ‘dynamic entrepreneurs’ who might otherwise step forward and take a public role for the good of us all. Hallelujah say I – how often must these ‘dynamic entrepreneurs’ turn out to be money-grabbing chancers before we realise that personal gain is the enemy of good governance. To serve your country you should be paid a fair wage. And if that is not enough then you are not serving your country, you are serving yourself.
Holyrood is not perfect; the house-flipping and mortgage support scams from the early years were unedifying. But it is substantially better than Westminster, a parliament which seems almost under permanent siege by commercial interests. I have concerns about governance and accountability in local authorities in Scotland but less so Holyrood. This is above all a failure of one institution, not the institution of politics or democracy. This is Westminster’s shame and Westminster must act.

In China they have a Department of Dereliction of Duty. Had Rifkind and Straw done nothing other than reveal that they have nothing to do all day, I would have liked to see them paid a visit by someone from the Department. Of course, there is little confidence in the Department in China. So a campaign is growing for a ‘Sunshine Law’ to cast light into the murky shadows of a dodgy system. I have come to believe that we need a ‘Sunshine Politics’ in Britain, a new era in which what politicians think they are ‘for’ changes radically and what Parliamentarians believe is their ‘dues’ is substantially rethought.
Because in the end my anthropomorphic misunderstanding of the lives of sheep may be foolish, but it at least comes from my humanity (and my love of new-born lambs). I fear that Westminster’s misunderstanding of what the people expect from it comes from something that looks a lot more like contempt.
I shall now file this article properly. I’m absolutely sure there will be a perfect opportunity to use it again sometime soon.