Category Archives: Political witterings
The burd’s views on the hot potatoes of the day/week/month
This week sees the debate on equal marriage in Scotland gather momentum, with the whole chamber debate on Stage 1 of the bill. It will be the first time we get to see the size of support among parliamentarians for the measure, and conversely, the scale of the opposition.
So let me let you in on the worst kept secret of the debate so far. SNP MSP John Mason and SNP Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, won’t be in the aye lobby.
They are likely to be joined by a range of others, including Labour MSPs Elaine Smith, Michael McMahon and Paul Martin as well as several of the Conservative group and a smattering more from the SNP, including more Ministers unless they can find pressing reasons to be absent from the Chamber. Michael Matheson might be one such and possibly also, Fergus Ewing. Indeed, only the Liberal Democrat and Scottish Green groups are likely to vote en masse in favour of the bill. (I’ve checked the Equal Marriage website and apologies to Michael Matheson, he’s a supporter. Shouldn’t have assumed that he’d oppose this based on previous voting.)
I blogged last year on my ambivalence on the whole venture. But it matters to the LGBT community – though there’s a suggestion it matters rather more to the G force than the L wing of that same community – and it is an issue of equality. Good enough for me, as it should be for the SNP. This is an equal rights issue on which there is agreed party policy. It simply shouldn’t be a free vote.
But alongside this, sits an uncomfortable juncture with human rights. I’m not the right blogger to enter into an extensive analysis of the complex relationship and interplay between various articles in the European Convention on Human Rights: for that we need the Peat Worrier. But suffice to say there is friction on this issue for individuals and public authorities between article 9 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion; article 8 on the right to private and family life and article 12 on the right to marry.
Thus, as other legislatures have done before it, Holyrood is allowing a free vote on equal marriage. Let’s hope then that the math has been done, and we get the right result. There will undoubtedly be a larger number of no voters than we might anticipate, but the majority in favour of the general principles of the bill is likely to be a substantial one. The organisations, The Equality Network and Stonewall Scotland foremost among them, which have campaigned for the law to be changed will, after Wednesday, be in sight of victory.
For some though, the prospect of winning by itself does not seem enough. Thus, this weekend, the Equality Network and a few of its supporters, have decided to call out those who will be opposing the bill. And get this, one is John Mason and – shock, horror – another is Roseanna Cunningham. And while I cannot agree with the reasons John Mason cites for his opposition, there is something to be said for him having bothered to write to bill supporters explaining himself. You don’t have to respect his opposition to respect his courtesy.
Roseanna appears to cite her long held faith, as well she might, given her human right to do so. It hasn’t gone down well. I hold no brief for the Catholic Church and some of what its representatives have said in this debate has been shocking and unforgivable. There is no doubt some of the teaching from the church has had harsh consequences for many LGBT people, particularly those who still believe or practise their faith. It might be wrong-headed, misinformed and difficult for some of us to accept: no matter. Living in a rights based society and democracy, as we now do, means tolerating everyone’s beliefs. Or at least, accepting that they have a right to hold them, just as you have a right to hold yours.
Crucially, when you’re winning, it’s important to win well. Just because some of your opponents – as you perceive it – might have little regard or respect for your rights, should not encourage bill supporters to respond likewise. Some of their behaviour and comments have been shrill, unedifying, unnecessary and potentially alienating.
And focussing ire on those who have made their opposition plain deflects energy from the task at hand: knowing where all the opposition sits and wooing those yet to be persuaded. Few with doubts and questions are likely to want to come forward to seek answers if they risk opprobrium for doing so. And that might be enough to persuade them to abstain. Surprises at Stage one wouldn’t be in my game plan.
Wednesday promises an historic moment in our Parliament’s short history. They don’t come around often enough and that in itself, should be enough to persuade the supporters of the Marriage and Civil Partnership bill to raise their game and raise their sights. Hold your heads high, go for the classy win and earn respect from all quarters in the process.
2013 has, in many ways, been a transition year. It’s not over yet, of course, but November always seems like a good point at which to pause and reflect, before the hurly burly of the festive season takes over and we are then cajoled into looking forward to the year to come.
In many aspects of public life, this year has been a stepping stone, a bridge from the past towards the future. Moving forward requires leaving some stuff behind. Occasionally, we don’t get to do that voluntarily.
It’s been that kind of a year for Holyrood with the passing of three MSPs who were initiates of the Parliament when reconvened in 1999. The deaths of Brian Adam, David McLetchie and most recently, of Helen Eadie remind us that nothing stays the same.
There have been serious illnesses too for others in that original intake this year, with worried whispers and heartfelt goodwill transcending tribal loyalties. Most, thankfully, are on the mend and back in their rightful places. It’s good to see and to have them back and it will be even better when the others make it back too.
The award for lifetime achievement at the Herald’s Politician of the Year Awards to George Reid was an overdue acclamation for another of the 99 group. I’m not sure the SNP, at least in its modern guise, ever truly got George and what he brought to Scottish politics. His years at the International Red Cross – in my view – made him into a quite different politician, one who could see the need for consensus and yes, compromise. His term as Presiding Officer was instrumental in sorting the building problem but more importantly, in putting oor Parly on the world stage. Delegations still come and go but more fuss seemed to be made of them under George’s tenure. That mattered in terms of signalling our arrival in the family of nations with a bona fides democratic institution that crucially, other nations and states were prepared to take seriously.
And there’s still a role for politicians like George post-referendum, whatever the outcome. We’ll need elder statesmen, and women, to either negotiate and help signpost our way, particularly beyond these shores, or to soothe divisions and promote reconciliation so that devolution doesn’t become a standstill process. Hearteningly, George still has appetite and fervour to be part of the future and that’s a most welcome sign.
But there is definitely a sense that the old Parliamentary guard is passing. Brian Adam, David McLetchie and Helen Eadie were all MSPs who were good to me, on a range of professional matters, at various points in the last thirteen years. They were all always kind, thoughtful, courteous and assiduous, even when they were politely declining the opportunity to be hitched to whichever cause I was exhorting.
It’s worth noting how relatively young they were, all of them dying in their sixties. Being an elected politician for years is a hard shift. For all the paid hours – often upwards of fifty week in, week out – there are the unpaid ones as political party supporters and activists too. It takes a toll and their passing, and the illnesses of others, should remind us that politics is a far from easy game.
Even though David McLetchie enjoyed a brief moment in the sun and Brian Adam earned a place in the SNP Cabinet, mostly this trio were parliamentary workhorses. All Parliaments need them. Indeed, they are essential, for without backroom people prepared to do the heavy lifting, largely eschewing the limelight in the process, Parliaments would grind to a halt. Often, it’s working away quietly and behind the scenes which achieves results.
These MSPs might not have been noted for conspicuous moments nor will they be remembered for such, but sometimes, it truly is the sum rather than the parts which count. And while it’s true that not everything can stay the same, nor should we want it to, it’s important to acknowledge the contribution and role made by those left behind. The footprints of Brian Adam, David McLetchie and Helen Eadie will remain in the Scottish Parliamentary sand for a while yet, I hope.
Two contrasting opinion pieces on all things Clyde-built this morning. Euan McColm takes Nicola Sturgeon to task, suggesting that her assertion that post-independence, of course Clyde ship builders could still make frigates for the Royal Navy, was rash and unfounded. “Sturgeon’s handling of this issue began so well. But today her argument is destroyed and her personal credibility damaged by that trade union attack. I wonder how she’ll get out of this one. I don’t see an obvious route.” Ouch. In fact, more than ouch, for McColm seems to think this might well be a hit which sinks the good ship Sturgeon.
And then we have Kevin McKenna in the Guardian denouncing the behaviour of Unionist politicians who used the job losses at Govan and Scotstoun to foretell impending doom if Scotland votes yes next September. “Last week in Scotland showed that there are still many in our midst who loathe and fear their own kind. There are those, including Davidson, Robertson and Carmichael, whose hatred and fear of independence is such that they would punish their own country by destroying part of its industrial infrastructure.” More ouch, this time for those on the No side.
So, which opinion is right?
There is no doubt that talking in certainties when the future of Scottish shipbuilding is anything but, is dangerous: why politicians persist in it is a puzzle.
What’s also a puzzle is that despite apparently spending the last twelve months squaring off the difficult questions about life post-UK, someone in the SNP inner circle forgot to include the defence manufacturing industry. Angus Robertson’s Powerpoint presentation at a fringe meeting ahead of last year’s great NATO debate at SNP conference – and indeed the motion setting out what a post-independence defence function would look like – should have addressed all this. Perhaps it did and we’ve all forgotten. That’s what happens when you allow carefully crafted policy to be hijacked by a totem issue.
Also perplexing is why those what lead the rest of us yay-sayers persist in shaping the future of an independent Scotland around our continuing relationship with rUK. It instantly allows those who’d rather we stayed whole to rebut any claims about how that relationship might be founded; they, after all, as the larger partner reckon they hold more of the cards – and how does that sound familiar?
Yet, earlier in the week, Nicola Sturgeon was quite brilliant in holding up the Norwegian example as one that might provide a blueprint for Clyde shipbuilding post independence. Far from gaffing as Euan McColm suggests, I thought the Deputy First Minister was first class standing in at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday. She expressed sympathy for jobs lost, including at Portsmouth, and relief at those saved; she brought Johann Lamont into the conversation, talking of what they shared as neighbouring MSPs; she highlighted the Norway example – again; and she called out the UK Government for daring to suggest that if Scotland votes yes, the Clyde won’t get to build those frigates after all, by quoting the UK Defence Secretary’s musings on collaboration with Australia on future defence procurement contracts. A vital contextual matter which Euan McColm conveniently ignores in his opinion piece.
In fact, the one criticism I would have of the Cabinet Secretary for Capital and Infrastructure’s handling of this situation this week is that she hasn’t fully exploited the failure of UK elected representatives for Govan and Scotstoun to do anything to diversify the order book and create a sustainable future for those workers. Could someone, somewhere please ask Ian Davidson what exactly is it that he has done for those shipyards as the MP for the area for 21 years, other than appear like Banquo’s ghost whenever there’s bad news?
I share Kevin McKenna’s distaste for the behaviour of UK politicians this week: if anyone has treated Scotland’s shipyards like a political football, it’s them. And I’d also call out the GMB Official John Dolan for talking down the prospects for work post-independence.
In a week in which GMB Scotland declared its support for a No vote in the independence referendum, based on a series of consultative meetings but no workforce ballot, his remarks have surely to be qualified politically. After all, he’s speaking as a paid official of that union, not as an elected office-bearer from the workforce to either GMB Scotland’s regional council or indeed, its manufacturing branch. If, as he says, he’s speaking up for the workers, where’s his critique of successive Labour and Tory UK Governments which have allowed the prospects of Govan and Scotstoun to wither to the extent that their very future hangs on orders for two frigates that are still at least two years off having a rivet bolted on to them?
The crux of the matter boils down to this: who do Scots and indeed, the Clyde shipyard workers, families and communities trust to speak up for them and stand up for their interests more? An SNP Scottish Government or a Conservative-Liberal Democrat UK coalition government or even, Labour opposition politicians? The polls all suggest the former but such is the fear-mongering going on in the referendum debate, the Scottish Government and its Ministers have been pushed onto the defensive again. This despite the evidence plain for all to see that a once mighty industry and workforce has been allowed to wither away almost to nothing by the failure of UK Governments to generate a blueprint for a sustainable future.
They need to find a way to stop this happening. There are no certainties for Govan and Scotstoun either in the UK or as part of an independent Scotland. There are only opportunities, possibilities and yes, threats and challenges. The SNP has already pointed out the positive example of Norway’s thriving and vibrant shipbuilding industry as one which could be mirrored here with a Yes vote. Now put the ball back in the UK parties’ court: beyond two frigates, what else has the UK got to offer the Clyde? And what is it that Labour would do differently if elected in 2015?