Category Archives: Political witterings

The burd’s views on the hot potatoes of the day/week/month

We need to talk about Labour

If you’ve not read Euan McColm’s piece in today’s Scotland on Sunday, I’d recommend that you do.  Though you might want to grab a mug of strong coffee and a pen and paper first.

That’s because he sets out the intricacies of the tangled web of Scottish Labour politics.  And how it really is all about them and not about us.

Euan explores Labour’s current inability to get its story across. He concludes that the party needs a new storyteller, one who can not only craft a narrative the electorate will buy, but also sell that narrative to voters coherently and convincingly: “Scottish Labour’s is a tired old story which meanders along, punctured by moments of pathos and unintentional comedy. Anyone who believes that Johann Lamont is going to change that now (after three years in charge) is either mad or deluded. Or both.”

He lays bare the extent and scale of Labour’s problem but fails to highlight the glaringly obvious; that Labour in Scotland is so focused on its own machinations that it cannot see the extent of its problems. The very fact that all this internal manoeuvring and calculating is going on during the most important debate in Scotland’s history shows how far Labour has drifted from its founding principles, values and purpose.

People like Jim Murphy – and even Douglas Alexander and a few others besides – are weighing up the ifs, buts and maybes of outcomes from not only the referendum, but also the 2015 UK election.  For Labour it is all about power for individuals and the party: the fate and the future of Scotland and her people are but pawns on the chessboard.

I’ve listened to a fair number of very decent Labour folk try to articulate why Scotland should vote no in September. They sing yesterday’s song, harking to the past and what was achieved particularly in the postwar years.  Which is fine and I agree with much of what they say.  But this debate isn’t about the past, it’s about the future, Scotland’s future.  And on that, their cupboard is largely bare.  They have a string of soundbites which sound plausible but which go nowhere.  Their arguments fail to frame their opposition to what the independence offer means for families and communities.  Let them talk long enough and they disagree with themselves, ending up far from where they began. I’m not even sure they believe what they are saying half the time.

When their devolution-plus proposals are more timid and offer fewer powers being transferred from Westminster to Scotland than the Conservatives, then the game’s a bogey.  Their Devolution Commission final report offered less than was touted because it was a shoddy compromise, finalised within a framework of hoping to win the UK election in 2015.  What that means is that if Labour is in charge of the UK in the next five years, they’ll be putting precious little Scotland’s way in terms of further devolution.  Because if they’re in power, they don’t want to be handing it over to us.  It really is that simple.

And if they lose, then MPs hoping for UK Ministerial office start to look elsewhere. After years of ignoring Scotland’s wee pretendy parliament and playing with the big boys, some of them might set their sights on Scottish leadership and the possibility of First Ministerial or other Ministerial office in Scotland.  I’m sorry but if Jim Murphy is the answer, then someone, somewhere is asking the wrong question.

Already Labour is working towards winning in 2016: that’s why it has selected most of its parliamentary candidates to run already. Forget the referendum, that’s just a sideshow: the real focus is on regaining what they see as their rightful place in Scottish politics. In power, in control and in charge.

Which is not to say that there are not good and decent Labour people whose hearts and minds are much less calculating than that. Some of them really do believe in the Union. Some of them do believe that what they offer is best for Scotland and her people – the best of both worlds is more than a slogan. I – and many others I know – share common values on fairness and equality in particular.  It’s just that those core beliefs are being obscured by naked ambition, particularly at leadership level.  And yes, I agree that power is needed to put into effect the policies you believe will change people’s lives.

But what are these exactly?  Scotland will get control over housing benefit, the rest will stay at Westminster.  It will get all income tax levers but not the ability to cut tax, only raise it. A UK Labour government will stick to the Tory public spending plans – that’s familiar.  So the £5 billion cut to Scotland’s block grant, putting at risk key public services will go ahead in the next two years.  The freeze on energy prices is good but takes no account of the disproportionate impact of high costs on rural Scotland. Worse, freezing bills for a limited time gives the energy companies a continued opt-out on investing in providing outlying areas with greater choice of cheaper energy. It’s a short term fix.

And in the absence of a positive offer to stay in the Union beyond the notion of family and a shared past and the hint of a Labour government to come, Labour is resorting to the scaremongering tactics so expertly practised by their Tory counterparts in the Better Together coalition. You might not put border controls up but we will, cries Ed Miliband.  Thus, he would treat us differently from a completely foreign, neighbouring country across the water.  I’ll resign if the Treasury allows a currency union, whines Ed Balls.  Who cares, shrugs most of Scotland.

The very fact that Labour is selecting candidates not just for the 2015 UK election but also the 2016 Scottish election tells its own story.  The fact that it is having these internal conversations in dark corners about who is best placed to lead the party in Scotland tells us all we need to know about where the party’s priorities lie.  And it ain’t with the people of Scotland.

It’s why more and more Labour party members and supporters are not just moving from no to yes but also getting involved in the Yes campaign.  They want to talk about the future of us all, not just their party.  They want to be part of this exciting, big conversation that individuals, families and communities are having about their future and their country’s future.  They want to talk about how best to end child poverty, to protect and nurture our NHS, to raise incomes, to create a fairer society for all.

And that’s a narrative we can all get behind.



In September, we vote for Scotland, not Salmond

Today will see the demolition of one of the last totems of Thatcherism left in Scotland.  When right to buy is abolished, gone – at long last – will be the perfidious policy which attempted and nearly succeeded in dismantling our infrastructure of social housing.

It wasn’t wrong then and it isn’t wrong now for people to want to own their own home.  What was wrong was the way the policy was constructed:  taking houses, built with public money to ensure everyone had access to a decent home, out of public ownership and into private hands at knock down prices, leaving local authorities drowning under a sea of construction debt they could no longer afford to service, never mind begin to pay off.

And which is the government in Scotland to remove this blot from our policy landscape?  A Labour one, which had 8 years leading an administration in which to attempt the feat?  Labour, that fabled creature which works for the “working people”, which in its time in office built only a handful of council houses and only a handful more of housing association ones?  No. An SNP government is what’s done it.

Actually, scratch that. It’s Salmond’s government what’s done it.

Now, readers who’ve been with this blog over the last three years will know that I’m not always our First Minister’s biggest fan.  I’ve criticised him here when I’ve felt criticism was due.  And like any leader or politician, he has his weaknesses and foibles. He is after all only a man, a person like all the rest of us.

But he also has outstanding strengths.  And those are the reasons why he’s been SNP leader not just once, but twice.  And also Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister to boot.  Nearly half of the Scottish electorate (or at least the half that voted) voted for him and his party in 2011.  Clearly, the old guard Labour figures returning to the Scottish fray after decades of plying their trade at Westminster, now besmirching the SNP and what it stands for, trying to take us all back to the 1970s in a political timewarp, appear oblivious to this not inconsequential fact.

The pace of change might have irked many (including me) since 2007, but there is no denying that Alex Salmond has been a radical and reforming First Minister, leading a government which has improved the lot of Scots everywhere. Free prescriptions, free tuition, the council tax freeze, lower class sizes, the abolition of bridge tolls, ambitious climate change targets, laws to protect children from online abuse, to protect our shores and marine life and to better protect women against domestic abuse, and policies to extend childcare provision, to give all children a better start in the first years of their lives and a free school meal until they are eight.

All this and more.  That’s what Alex Salmond has done for Scotland as First Minister.

So, when I hear from some in this referendum campaign that they’re not that keen on voting yes (they’re not a definite no either) because they “don’t like that Alex Salmond” or they wonder what “he’s ever done for us” or the mantra “he’s just like all the rest, they never do what they say they will“, I find myself not only wondering why a no vote matters so much to Scottish Labour that they will lie to their own people to achieve it but also in the most unusual position of rushing to Alex Salmond’s defence.

What’s he done for you?  Some of that list above has made your and your family’s life better.  Didn’t he put all that in the manifestos you voted for?  They said they’d abolish prescriptions, maintain the free bus fare scheme, keep the council tax freeze and get rid of tuition fees – hasn’t his party done that?

And then I give a very recent example.  This Scottish Government under Alex Salmond’s leadership has kept the wolf of Westminster cuts at the door, carefully managing the money they get every year to limit the cuts and the impact of the recession.  Seeing an issue with youth unemployment, Alex Salmond and his government determined that the Tories were not going to get their way in writing off another generation to joblessness, hopelessness and lost life chances.  So a Minister for Youth employment was created and funds found to guarantee every young person leaving school in Scotland training, further education or a job even.

And it’s worked.  Six months after they left school in 2013, 90% of Scotland’s young people are in positive destinations.  That’s more of them in higher or further education, in training or in work.  And where they are not yet in these destinations, more of them are actively being supported to find something that suits them.  That 90% is the highest ever rate of positive destinations.  The SNP is doing better at giving our young people a decent future than previous Labour-Lib Dem administrations – and they were working when we lived in a land of plenty – and doing better than they’re managing in England.

Not bad for a man that doesn’t do anything for folk or apparently doesn’t do what he says he will. And as I also point out to these folk, you don’t have to like a man to respect that he’s the right man at this time to lead our government and to respect that he’s actually pretty good at it.

Why? Because he cares about what happens to the people of Scotland and about making Scotland a better country for us all to live in.  And that’s his number one priority.  The SNP has made a pretty decent fist of things in challenging circumstances.  This has been a government which has been good for Scotland because it has worked for Scotland’s good.

And isn’t what we’ve got a decent starting point in September to take our country forward?  Look at what we’ve done with the powers we’ve been given, think what else we could do with all the powers and resources we need and a government focused primarily on what is best for us, our families, our communities?

Ultimately, though, what I tell folk is this.

The vote in September isn’t for Salmond, but for Scotland and for us.

It’s not really even about him either, but about us.  All of us.

He won’t be First Minister for ever – he is after all 59.  And the point of voting yes in September is that it then gives us – all of us – the chance to always get the governments we vote for.  And if we decide that we’ve had enough of the SNP and a better offer comes along, then that is what we can vote for.  And get.

And would you really rather vote no and have David Cameron, Ed Miliband or even Johann Lamont in charge?




An easy way to bury good news

So, the Sabbatical has begun and officially entered day two.  Time to get down to some serious blogging then.

I had intended to add my tuppence worth of perspective to the Gunn show or Lallygate – why has no one named it yet?  But frankly it’s all been said.  I’m on the Sillars’ side of things here, right down to believing in the conspiracy theories of infiltration: I am nothing if not my mother’s daughter.  We oldies in this campaign might induce eye-rolling from younger activists as a result but to dismiss the role that we can and do play is pushing it a little. But then that was always the arrogance of youth and long may it continue.

Hugh Wallace makes some fair points in his riposte but he is wrong on the idea that the “leadership” should be urging us over the barricades on the flotsam and jetsam of this campaign.  The media was always going to be biased against independence: it is an entirely conservative institution which is part of the problem not the solution to Scotland’s democratic deficit.  To pour resources into fighting it would be futile and counter-intuitive. As the last week has shown, everyone trying to do this on the Yes campaign’s behalf sucks up energy, people and time – crucially, time when the clock is ticking down to 18 September – of those left to clear up the mess.

And as to others’ involvement in it all, well Edinburgh Eye does a majestic take down which is both comprehensive and brave.  Because of anyone has been guilty of creating a climate in which critics are to be silenced (after being abused and insulted of course) it is that blog.  Those wordles are mighty interesting and worth a look, if only to determine which blogsites are spending more of their time talking about the cause, the campaign and reasons to vote yes and which are not.

There are three things to add to it all.  First, an oldie but a goodie: when the storymaker becomes the story or the messenger becomes the message, it is time for those individuals to go and find something more interesting and useful to do instead. The First Minister’s loyalty was admirable but misplaced. He should have allowed Campbell Gunn to resign and accepted it with the usual equanimity which accompanies such setpieces.  Now, the thing plays on.  How can a media advisor advise if he can no longer engage with everyone he is expected to advise without having the credibility of his advice questioned?  The same rule of thumb applies for Wings over Scotland.

Secondly, a much wiser burd than me suggested a litmus test for any engagement on any issue in the run up to September. Does what you are about to say, write, tweet, post, share, ask, posit or pronounce help deliver a Yes vote in September?  Will it help those who are currently undecided but interested edge towards voting yes?  Go on, try it yourself.  Look at anything written about Clare Lally or J K Rowling by some supporters on the Yes side in the last week and then ask yourself how those utterings might convince someone to vote Yes.  And then go and read Andrew Wilson’s brilliant piece on J K Rowling and contrast and compare.

Thirdly, morale counts in this campaign more than any other, just as impressions do in all campaigns.  Thankfully, few beyond the anoraks tune in every week to First Minister’s Questions but it is a key arena in the battle for morale. The First Minister last Thursday was in the trenches, on the backfoot, being made to defend a situation not of his own making nor choosing, having to answer issues that weren’t in the script for the week.  And every week, he is seen to be rocking and reeling not only drains his energy and saps life from the narrative arc around him and his leadership role, but it puts a spring in the step of the No camp.  He is pivotal to this campaign and it is one reason why the other side is so keen, week in week out, to make the campaign about him and not about the issue. We really shouldn’t be helping them do so.

Finally, every time the Scottish Government and the Yes campaign are having to rebut, the good news, the news we want people in Scotland and especially, the undecideds, to hear and take on board, is buried. Yes, the media would try to do it anyway but why would we want to make that job an easier one to achieve?  If we are all talking about stushies – and we are – then no one is talking about the positives.

Which allows us at last to arrive at the point of this blogpost.  To shine a light on good news stories wiped off the headlines and the schedules last week, which No and the media are happy to bury but which we should all be shouting from the rooftops.

Drilling is about to begin in a new North Sea oil field with potential to produce 96 million barrels of oil.  And no, the story isn’t that the UK Energy Minister misappropriates the term country but that here is evidence that there is plenty more oil in the sea yet and that is good news for the future economic prosperity of an independent Scotland.

Statistics show that there are now more women than ever in Scotland in employment. There are 1.2 million now employed, the highest since records began in 1992 and an increase of 35,000 since last year.  Now there might well be issues with pay, with job security and even the nature of these jobs if we scratch below the headline figures. Yet, some of the levers we need to address these things currently sit with Westminster.  Look at what we have achieved – are achieving – for the women of Scotland with the powers we currently have and think about what more we could do with independence.

It’s not every day the Daily Record would describe a poll as a bombshell but that is indeed what happened this week. Its latest Survation poll found that the gap between Yes and No continues to narrow, with Yes up to 39% (up 2 points on the previous month) and No down to 44% (down 3 points). Better still, the survey findings suggest the gender gap is also narrowing and also that young people are now more likely to vote yes than no.  That in itself is a major turnaround. The poll also shows that the SNP and Yes’s instincts right at the start of this long campaign were right – the risk of more Tory governments Scotland did not vote for in the current constitutional set-up is a key consideration for many.  A majority would vote yes (44 to 38%) if they thought the Conservatives would win the 2015 General Election and form the next UK Government.

So, if you want to be saying anything negative at all or having swipe at anyone anytime soon, feel free to unleash your worst on the Tories and the fact that the Union gives us governments we neither vote for nor want.  I find highlighting the devastating impact of austerity on the incomes and quality of life of women and children goes down well.



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