Wanted: a political Super Nanny

Oh, where is Nanny McPhee when we need her?

In quick succession, we’ve had Ian Davidson (Labour) threatening to give Eilidh Whiteford (SNP) a doing, or telling her she’s had a doing, but not, like, in a sexual way.

Followed by an SNP National Executive member burnishing her rising star somewhat with an over-zealous appeal to the sisterhood to protest against Mr Davidson’s supposed history of bullying and intimidation.  Mr Davidson threatened to sue, his Holyrood colleagues demanded the SNP hold an internal inquiry.

We’ve had the Scottish Liberal Democrats dissing the prospect of an independent Scotland in a “cartoon” poster by suggesting that gay rights would be suppressed and the death penalty introduced for crimes against the state.  While Willie Rennie, their leader, was having a day off, no less.

Elsewhere, a very important SNP yoof person reckoned Lord Foulkes was probably “drunk again” and Labour reacted with “fury”.  Another internal inquiry was demanded.  Better that, I suppose, than a public flogging.

And in an astonishing valedictory address to the Scottish Labour faithful, Iain Gray threw his toys, and reason, out of the pram, warning his successor of the alleged “poison politics” of some SNP supporters.  I’m amazed none of them folded before nominations officially opened.

Spats, spats and more spats.  All of it puerile, none of it productive.  A bad dose of politicians behaving badly.  As @aidanskinner wailed on twitter, “it’s looking like a very long four and a half years”.  Indeed, only one set of council elections, a European election, a UK election and possibly/probably a referendum to go.  What fun awaits us.

Enough already.  Scottish politics is in dire need of a political super nanny to pull them all into line.  Auntie Bella, who is redundant come Friday, suggest the Tories?  Eh, no.  We need a nanny not a matron.

Imagine.  She/he could instil a little discipline and order to proceedings.

A naughty step, where all the miscreants could be parked – a minute for every year of life, meaning Ian Davidson could be on there a while – until they’ve learned their lesson and said sorry.  Like they mean it.

Time out.  Is a little silence from everyone too much to hope for?  No utterances, no emails, no pressers, no tweets, no retorts.  Golden indeed.

How about a reward chart?  A little shiny sticker for every politician who manages to say something nice about one of their colleagues.  And a great big smiley face for every courteous exchange with an opposing member.

Finally, seeing as how we’ve had twelve years of weekly Chamber sessions in Parliament being opened with prayer and faith-based homilies and appeals, I suggest we replace it – or add to it – with circle time.

For the uninitiated, circle time isa time for children to gather together to share their personal feelings and ideas about anything that is significant to them“.  It’s billed as a “very practical resource for creating positive behaviour“.  Good enough for bairns; could it work for brattish politicians?

It’s not like there aren’t a few pressing issues demanding our politicians’ fullest attention.  Remember the economy, stupid?  A Eurozone crisis recently narrowly averted, now increasingly looking like it’s back on?  Cuts?  Strikes?  Welfare reform?

It’s all far too depressing.  While our world threatens to crash and burn, politicians and their followers fiddle, making mischief with each other, when they should be much more focused on the stuff.  that.  matters.

Like this:

When my youngest daughter turns 5, I have been told I must attend an intervew on her birthday at the job centre and I will then have 2 weeks to find a job or I will lose my money for 3 weeks.  But there are no jobs and how do I live with 2 kids with no money for 3 weeks?… I cry myself to sleep and have now lost 2 stone in weight with worrying about how I will live with no money. I’ve been cutting back and we have been living on only beans and candle light for 3 months. I have turned all hot water off in the house so I can save money for when they stop all my money as i can’t get a job…”

Does Scottish politics really need a super nanny?  Of course not.  It just needs our politicians to grow up and get on with doing the job we pay them handsomely to do.



#sp11 – it’s going down to the wire

I’d like to be able to say I told you so with that blogpost about the Royal Wedding, but the latest YouGov poll for Scotland on Sunday was conducted before the big event.

These findings, the last in a series of polls stretching back to October 2010, show a tightening at the top.  For whatever reason, voters have paused for thought.  It’s as if we’re in a communal changing room, unable to decide between the golden yellow and the poppy red.  Which suits us best?  Having opted for the yellow, a last minute wobble has got us trying out the red, one more time, just to be sure.

What’s caused the SNP to slip several percentage points in both votes and Labour to gain?  Could be any number of things.

Labour’s much pilloried re-launch might just have hit the mark with Lib Dem and Conservative switch voters.  Until now, they were prepared to plump for the SNP but that was before a stark reminder that a near majority for the Nats would result in a referendum for independence.  Seeds of doubt will have been sown with some.

Or could it be that with the election losing top billing to the big wedding build up, the SNP’s ability to dominate the air war was dented, allowing the effective ground battle being fought by Labour to gain a little traction at last?

Labour is now piling resources into key seats, and even in some much less winnable ones on paper.  This week, this household received a very good candidate leaflet, hitting the right note on all the local issues.  It was delivered before 8am, by a big team with Geordie accents.  We also received two target letters – one for me, talking a lot of tosh about Tory policies that only apply south of the border, but deliberately included to appeal to me as a *hard working family* type;  and one for the Big chicklet, talking about key Holyrood pledges on youth issues.  This, dear reader, is voter targeting at its most sophisticated.

As this is nowhere near a target seat for the SNP, it’s hard to know if they were matching Labour’s offensive.  One hopes so, because this kind of bombardment and ratcheting up of momentum in the last ten days of the campaign counts.

More conjecture: the narrowing of the SNP’s poll lead might be down simply to all those don’t knows making up their minds at long last.  Or perhaps it is the arrival of April’s payslip that is finally focusing minds.

I’ve banged on before that Scotland has been in a phoney war in relation to the cuts and would only start to get it when the first UK budget changes kicked in.  Well, now they have.  Increased National Insurance contributions, benefit changes and reduced tax credits combine this month with pay freezes for many and whacking big rent rises for others, as well as other council fees going up.  Suddenly, we are in real economic time.

One final possible reason – and this one’s a googly – the Scots like an underdog.  For much of this election campaign, the SNP has rolled through town in a Panzer tank demolishing everything in its wake, pushing Labour on to the defensive and making them look incompetent all along the way (though they also managed to do a fair bit on the incompetency front themselves).  Now, this is not to suggest that folk have decided to vote Labour because they feel sorry for Iain Gray and his party.  But Labour is the home that Scots love best, and just as the Scots reacted badly to the doing Gordon Brown got day in, day out on the stump in the 2010 General Election, could there be a similar kind of reaction going on in the final denouement of this Scottish election campaign?

Whatever, it’s now going down to the wire.  Yes, the SNP are still ahead – and it should be pointed out that the Mail on Sunday poll by Scottish Progressive Opinion has them ahead by a country mile, and only a handful of seats short of an overall majority – and that is where they are likely to stay.  Especially as we have two leaders’ debates between now and polling day.  If Alex Salmond is on as good form as he has been all campaign, he’ll wipe the floor with the other leaders and not even get out of second gear.  He and the SNP thoroughly deserve the endorsements received today from the News of the World, Scotland on Sunday and Sir Tom Farmer (UPDATE – and Scottish Sunday Express)

But staying just ahead ain’t enough to win this election.  The SNP has to win on the constituency vote to hold the seats it has (or needs to retake, thanks to boundary changes).  As was seen in 2007, a narrow win will do and returning 21, and maybe one or two more, constituency MSPs sets the party on its way back into government.  An eight point lead is nice to have but doesn’t translate into a big enough swing to start toppling Labour’s dominoes across the central belt.  The majorities are just too big in most seats.

Which is why a convincing and resounding lead on the regional vote is so necessary.  A two point lead on the lists will ensure enough MSPs are returned to increase the majority.  But it’s tight – well within the margin of error tight.  If Labour picks up regional MSPs at the expense of the other parties, that is not good news for the SNP.  Not only will the SNP have more MSPs but so will Labour.  Moreover, it might even mean that Labour wins the popular vote which some in their ranks will interpret as a good enough mandate to seek a coalition deal.

There are still four days of campaigning left:  whisper it, but Labour could still be gaining ground.  As one of the SNP’s dream team, Stephen Noon, tweeted tonight:  *it’s the numbers on Friday that matter most.  Got to turn good polls into votes.*  Indeed.

For once, every vote really will count.

What women want… #4

The lates, brilliant instalment in this series of guest posts is from Kirsty Connell.  Kirsty worked in the Scottish Parliament during and after the last Scottish elections, before standing as a Labour Party candidate in the 2009 European Election.  She now work in the arts sector, is a Tech and Culture contributor to www.wowdewow.com and has a personal blog at Bread and Roses .  You can follow Kirsty on Twitter at @kirsty_c.

Politics works in threes.

Three main parties.  Three primary colours to distinguish them (for which, to fit this into Scottish politics, I assign the Liberal Democrats to blue). Three stages for a bill to pass through in the Scottish Parliament. Three soundbites in a speech.

And while the What Women Want series asks us to think big, and to think better, about what we want from politics, I’m going to stick to the concept of three. It brings me a sort of comfort, as I emerge myself from an immersion in politics, to start to cast a critical eye on today’s Scottish political scene.

So my three points are this.  People.  Policy.  Priority.

I want better people to represent me and to represent women across Scotland, from all the parties. Weber Shandwick’s ScotlandVotes published a run-down of likely new MSPs to be elected next week.  With the exception of Gillian Dykes, the Conservative candidate for Dumfriesshire, every likely new MSP in a constituency seat is a white middle-aged male.  Everywhere in Scotland, from my local boozer to the terraces of Hampden, will have a greater diversity of inhabitants than the next Parliament will.

I want all parties to stop treating the list system as a top-up for equality, where women and BME candidates can have their place, and to start using positive action to select more diverse candidates for constituency seats, to bring real equality in political representation to the Scottish Parliament.

To complement the better range of candidates and hence calibre of MSP, I want to see the Parliament start to enact real policy, and forget the politicking.

I don’t care who wins First Minister’s Questions from this week to the next, who delivers the best line, who lands the knock-out punch. Instead, I want policies and parliamentary Acts that don’t just think about the next three weeks of headlines, or the coming three years to the next Scottish election. I want legislation that starts to think about what Scotland should be like in three parliamentary terms’ time.

I want to know how my healthcare and my workplace will make it easy for me to have children in a few years time. I want to know what our state education system is going to look like when my children start to access it, and I want to know how the Scottish Parliament is going to make it easier for me to not only juggle work and childcare, but to be able to afford to be in a position to juggle both.

I want to know if I should start saving now so my child can benefit from a university education in two decades time, or whether the Scottish state will continue to ensure higher and further education is free at the point of access for all who want it. And if my child wants to enter a trade, I want to know that if I have a daughter, it’ll be as easy for her to take an apprenticeship in construction and engineering as it should be for my son to access apprenticeships in care or administration.

I want the same commitment that I’ll give to my family and their life chances from the people who seek to represent me.

In fact, I want more.

I don’t want to waste the next few years I can spend freely sipping mojitos in trendy bars in Edinburgh worrying about whether I can even afford to have a baby and to raise a child. I want those elected to the Scottish Parliament to be worrying about it for me, to be drafting legislation and planning outcomes, thinking ahead to what Scotland and her people need, now just in the here and now, but in the years and decades ahead.

Better people as parliamentarians, creating better policies for the long term. But in the short term, there can only be one priority. And that has to be finding a Scottish alternative to the Tory-led coalition’s cuts agenda.

There is a better way to get out of the recession, rather than slashing public spending and cutting public services. It needs real investment in our people and our economy, to grow our way out of the economic crisis, to create jobs and to boost trade. The SNP and the Labour Party have edged, in their announcements and manifestos throughout the election campaign, towards this alternative, but neither has grasped it.

Both parties are held back from truly opposing the coalition’s shameful cuts by faults within themselves.

I want the SNP to stop just blaming ‘That London’ as the default position, and to take the next step from that starting point towards finding better, imaginative, alternative ways to help Scotland escape the brunt of the Tories’ slash and burn policies.

I want the Labour Party to cease its relentless opposition of the SNP and all their ideas as their default position, and to start to find ways to work within the Scottish Parliament to build and to strengthen the nascent social democratic spirit that resides within most Scottish parties and which will be the bulwark against the destruction the Westminster government is unleashing on Scottish public life.

Whether it’s Salmond or Gray occupying Bute House next week, I want both men to start to really think about how Scotland can be better.

Better throughout the Coalition’s rule in Westminster.  Better not just for the next term, but for the next decade and beyond.  Better in how the Scottish Parliament works, how it acts, how it legislates, how it debates.  Better in who it is that fills those 129 seats.

Better, because there’s a lot of people out here, now, and in the future, who deserve it to be so.