Old war horses dragooned into service for the Union

So the Tories go to Troon and launch Friends of the Union.  A little like the Village Green Preservation Society but without a decent choon or chorus.

And who should they haul out of retirement to lead the shebang but Auntie Bella?  She made the best joke of it herself so I won’t even bother trying.  And it’s a role she’ll be well suited to, given that she spent years trying to flog a hopeless cause to an indifferent and unresponsive electorate.  If anyone can save the Union, it won’t be Annabel Goldie.

The Liberal Democrats have also unveiled their secret weapon.  Charlie Kennedy, another former leader of these parts, will be leading their line just as soon as he can make it back to Scotland on a plane.  Something he’s had a little difficulty managing in recent weeks.

And apparently, in the red corner for Labour will be Alistair Darling.  Another of mature years with plenty of experience and time on his hands, now he’s not running the country’s finances into a black hole.  Oh and Gordon Brown has deigned to put in the odd appearance, which is more than he does at Westminster these days.

Of course, all the Scottish leaders are saying that actually they will be in charge.  That’s enough Chiefs for a war council;  in fact, they could end up with more chiefs than indians at this rate.

But isn’t it all so predictable?  Where are the fresh faces to lead the charge to defend the Union?  Or rather the anti-independence campaign, for while they might like to think they are pro-Union I’ve yet to hear a decent argument to be made for staying put.  Instead, what we’ve had is the sad, old usual scare stories and some soundbites amounting to stronger together.

And this lot come with baggage, tonnes of it.  Every utterance and appearance might remind people of their past successes but also of their failures and their parties’ failings too.

I want – and wonder if I’ll wait in vain – for a surprise.  Yes we have a long way to go and yes they are all only getting going.  But go on, just this once, spring one on us.  A name.  Someone new.  Someone with something positive to say about the cause of preserving the old ways. Please.

Already the SNP has its campaign in place and is starting to roll out the supporters.  For sure, it will be the same old at the forefront but the difference is that Alex Salmond is not yesterday’s man, he’s the current leader of his people (all of them, that’s in his party and in the country at large).  He and his team are weel kent faces because they have a role to play in running the country.

But there is a strategy in place to make their yes vote campaign look more like a movement, gathering momentum and people as it goes, rather than a raggle taggle bunch playing their old instruments largely out of tune.  There is no sense of coherence about the anti-istas’ message or theme or how they are going to go about it.  Instead, there appears to be a smug reliance on the current poll ratings, showing just how much work the SNP and others who are pro-independence have to do to get to the mountain top.  Not big, not clever.

So while they rest on the poll ratings, the SNP is getting on with it.  There are new folk pledging allegiance to the independence cause.  Shiny ones too.  Ones that make some of us ooh and ahh, or at least raise our eyebrows.  A steady trickle of folk crossing the rubicon and coming out in favour of going our own way.  Cameron MacNeish was first out of the blocks, joining a pretty starry cast already lined up.  There’s big Sean of course, Elaine C Smith, Alasdair Gray and David Hayman.  More recent converts (or at least, declarers) include James Cosmo, Martin Compston, David Greig, James Robertson, Liz Lochhead, Iain Banks and Lou Hickey.  Even Kyle Falconer – the lead singer of Dundee’s finest, the View – has come out in support.

The thing about all these celeb supporters is that they actually say why they support the cause.  In Falconer’s case, it’s because he thinks it will be good for Scotland’s music industry.  People and purpose:  it’s an intoxicating mix.

Unlike the old war horses who think because it’s aye been that this will be enough.  Of course, a group (groupie?) of celebs and artists does not a mass movement make.  But expect more new faces to pop up between now and 2014 to pledge allegiance to a yes vote.  Some of them might even be ordinary voters, and it will all contribute to the big mo’.

Meanwhile, those arguing for the status quo increasingly look like their namesake band – yesterday’s men, trudging out the tired old hits, trying not to look out of place in among the bright young things on stage, and stretching those waistcoats across their expanding waistlines in the hope that they can make it through one last gig without popping a button. Or worse.


Annabel for DFM!

No sooner have you had a pop, but along comes an election junkie, nay superior anorak, to rain on your parade.  A first class guest post from Anon Anorak setting out why the burd is woefully wrong.  Enjoy!

Annabel Goldie, Scotland’s next Deputy First Minister?

Many people may laugh at such a suggestion, but I think it is a very serious possibility and this is how it might come about.

It’s May 6th, the election is over and the results are in.  As all the latest polls have predicted, Labour and the SNP are neck and neck.  There are only a few seats in it. The Lib Dems have been reduced by at least half and there are only a few Green MSPs around.  There is a return for Margo and another independent, newly elected MSP George Galloway.  The Tories have seen their share of the vote fall, but have hung on to about a dozen MSPs.

On the face of it, it looks like another bad night for the Tories in Scotland and a damning indictment on the coalition Government in London.  I am sure many people (including the Burd) would be expecting Annabel, in such circumstances, to be drafting a letter of resignation.  However, she has a major card left to play and one that could turn it all around for the Tories in Scotland.

Annabel and her party hold the balance of power, as John McTernan pointed out in his article in yesterday’s Scotsman.  A Lib Dem, Green and Independent alliance with either of the two parties is far from viable, leaving just the Tories.

So how could it work?  Annabel and her team need to play hardball.  They need to make it clear that they want to be in coalition and nothing short of.  The obvious partnership is with the SNP.  The Tories and the SNP have worked well together over the last four years, especially with the budget.  With the Tories holding that crucial role as king-makers in much the same way as Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems did in 2010, then both Labour and the SNP will have to listen.  Alex Salmond is not going to give up his job without a hell of a fight and Iain Gray will not concede as easily as Jack McConnell did in 2007.  They will be prepared to do a deal.

It would seem extremely unlikely that the Tories and Labour would work together in a coalition, but Annabel only needs to use Labour as a bargaining chip in her negotiations with the SNP, the more likely partnership. If she demands full coalition partnership with the SNP and they wobble at the idea she can motivate them by threatening to give Iain Gray supply and confidence in return for Ministers and a first budget.

Faced with this possibility, I am sure the SNP and Alex Salmond would swallow an SNP-Tory coalition. They’d also find a way of fudging their party policy of not formally working with the Conservatives. They’ve been working with them in councils up and down the country and loosely in the Scottish Parliament.  I doubt the majority of the general public would notice.  The SNP would spin it in a way as to say that this is the only way for Scotland to move on.

You might be asking why the Tories would be so desperate to be in power.  There are a number of reasons, firstly twelve years in opposition in Scotland have got them nowhere.  They have fewer seats than in 1999 and a falling share of the vote.  They need to prove to the people of Scotland they are not Thatcher’s Conservatives and eradicate the toxic stain that still sits on their brand as a result of that era.  The only way they can do this is by being in power and passing legislation that is seen to have a positive impact, developing trust in the Scottish people.

It works for David Cameron too.  It gives him a chance to say that the Conservatives are in power in Scotland, something few Tories thought possible following 2010 election.  It would also deny Ed Miliband the opportunity to lay claim to a Labour revival.

Finally, it would probably save Annabel Goldie’s job as Scottish Conservative Leader, something that would be very much in doubt if they were confined to another 4 years of opposition.  Annabel Goldie, Deputy First Minister? Looks a good bet.

Scottish Tories failing and ailing under Goldie

An interesting footnote from the series of YouGov polls commissioned by the Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday has been the performance of the Scottish Conservatives.  Or the lack thereof (despite my efforts to talk up a supposed revival).

While the Liberal Democrats’ decline has been dramatic and sudden, that of the Tories has been more incremental.  In October 2010, YouGov had them sitting at 14% on the constituency vote, and at 15% on the regional vote; they are now polling at 11% and 12% respectively.  If that holds true on 5 May, the Conservatives stand to lose both constituency and regional seats. 

According to ScotlandVotes, they would end up with 14 seats, down 3 from 2007, holding Ayr and Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, gaining Eastwood and losing Galloway and West Dumfries and Edinburgh Pentlands to the SNP.  However unlikely these predictions, there is no denying that the trend for the Tories is downwards. 

No matter how much Annabel Goldie trumpets a common sense approach or how often the Tories like to tell us they have delivered for Scotland through a strategy of constructive opposition, the Scottish electorate ain’t buying it. 

Even a standstill performance on 5 May must surely raise eyebrows and suggest that her time as party leader is up, with little in the way of legacy to bequeath.

During a time of growth and rebirth for the UK Conservatives under David Cameron’s leadership, Scotland has remained stubbornly resistant.  Scottish Labour is playing the Tory fear card in this election because it still makes people pause for thought.  Annabel Goldie has had six years as Scottish leader to detoxify the Conservative brand:  not only has she failed to do so, she has not even attempted to begin the process.  Her inactivity in this vital area has contributed to the ongoing decline in electoral fortunes. 

Yet, there is a need and place for a progressive right of centre party whose ideas would find favour with a significant minority of the Scottish electorate.  If the Tories could find a way to decouple the party they are now from the one led by Thatcher, they would reap the benefit.  Unless or until they do so, they will find themselves increasingly at the margins of Scottish politics.

Recent difficulties with candidates and members suggest other deep-seated problems.  They lost the top ranking  Tory on the Glasgow list in some controversy at the start of this election campaign; they remain reliant on controversial figures for funding; worst of all, they risk losing one of their best Holyrood performers, Derek Brownlee, if they do not pick up South of Scotland list seats (which may, ironically, be a receding threat if they lose Galloway).  Annabel claims she is only the parliamentary, not the party leader, and therefore, has no say in such matters.

It all adds up to a curious, kamikaze approach to leadership and internal party activity, brutally illuminated by the Sanderson review, which shows just how antiquated and shambolic the Tory party set up is in Scotland.   The Scottish Conservatives are decades behind the SNP and Scottish Labour in terms of modern party structures and organisation.  To be a truly effective electoral machine, with a diverse range of potential candidates for all elections and a broad membership base requires radical reform and a willingness to engage and include.  One wonders why Annabel Goldie has not attempted to create this.

Despite having a coherent policy offering at this election, some of which if the electorate could be persuaded to listen, might find favour, the platform has been swamped by the personality.  Operating like a mini-me version of the SNP’s promotion of Alex Salmond for First Minister, the Scottish Conservatives are trading on the personality of Annabel Goldie, buoyed as she herself points out, by poll ratings that place her as the nation’s second favourite and most recognised party leader.

But this is an inevitable consequence of being the second longest-serving party leader who has had several elections and one and a half terms in Parliament to gain vital televisual recognition.  And as the only woman in the pack, she has an obvious advantage in the recognition stakes.  The persona she has carved out for herself of the matronly auntie, chiding the “naughty boys” who lead the other parties is wearing thin.  It might entertain and beguile the Scottish media, but the burd doubts it goes down well with voters, particularly other women.

Moreover, her cover was blown when she refused point-blank to distance herself from Bill Aitken, nor demote him as Justice spokesperson, allowing him to continue to represent the Tories in that role at early hustings and debates.  His comments to the Sunday Herald on a series of rapes in Glasgow city centre caused a furore:  here was a genuine issue deserving a robust response from the party’s leader;  instead, we got silence.  David Cameron would not have made the same mistake.

While the promotion of Alex Salmond might be construed as a strength in the SNP armoury (not least because he has a chance of being First Minister again), it must surely be seen as a weakness in the Scottish Conservatives election campaign strategy.  A party which has become a one trick pony is in trouble.

No, Annabel can bluster all she likes by claiming that constitutional niceties mean a leadership contest cannot be held until 2012, but if the Scottish Conservatives are to begin the long, overdue process of modernisation, the sooner she goes the better.  Under her leadership, the Scottish Tories are ailing and failing, becoming increasingly irrelevant and unattractive to voters.  Without a new leader and an overhaul, they may find themselves reduced to single figures in MSPs at the next Holyrood election.