Autumn signals politics as usual

Apparently, the Liberal Democrats are still here. Holding their annual conference in Glasgow, this will be their 4th? 5th? day of deliberations.  What on earth have they found to talk about?  How have they managed to find enough delegates to keep it all going?  As images taken on Saturday showed, Women for Independence managed to muster far more women for its event in Perth on Saturday than found their way into the Lib Dem conference hall.

Nick Clegg has already spoken, but he is speaking again.  Oh goody.  This time, he’s talking about mental health provision in the health service, which is a fitting topic worthy of a wider airing.  But as it’s not relevant to a UK wide audience and pertinent only to English voters, you wonder why he couldn’t find a headline subject for his big conference set-piece that mattered to us all.

Perhaps they’ve given up on trying to win Scottish seats at next year’s UK election?  Or maybe they think they are in the bag and holding on to their largely marginal bolt-holes down south has to be the focus. Whatever, they’re proving their obsolescence in Scottish politics all by themselves.

Elsewhere, in the Scottish arena, the day is dominated by Scottish Labour’s call for the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill to go. The party claims that he has presided over a series of crises in Scottish policing, the latest resulting in a climb down over the routine arming of police on our streets.  The Scottish Government responds with a well thought out cry of rubbish, pointing to MacAskill’s wider track record: crime rates at a 20 year low and record numbers of police employed. Am I the only one to suspect they doth protest just a little too vociferously for the Justice Secretary’s comfort?

The Lib Dems and Tories look set to support Labour’s motion and depending on what the Greens and Independent (formerly SNP) MSPs do with their votes, this could be a tight one.  I’m not sure the left-leaning John Wilson, human rights-focused Jean Urquhart and former Secretary General of the Police Federation, John Finnie can be relied upon to vote for the Justice Secretary but I’m not sure they’ll want to hand the scalp of a Scottish Government minister to the opposition either.

Elsewhere, the franchise for the East coast rail line appears to have been awarded to – shock, horror – foreigners.  This has prompted Laboury types to call for re-nationalisation of the railways or at least, such contracts going to Scottish companies.  This is political chancery at its worst (or best, depending on your viewpoint) given that the ability to do either is somewhat constrained by the constitutional set-up which does not give us powers to fix things like this.  A settlement which Labour was campaigning to keep, only a few short weeks ago.  Natch.

Practically, it will make little difference to the staff in the short term, whose jobs will all transfer to the new franchise holder but that means little in the long term for conditions of employment.  We can expect the RMT to be busy.  Personally, if we cannae have some sort of public ownership of our railway provision (and I’m not sure the old large state model is appropriate in the 21st Century but there are other, not-for-profit alternatives available) then maybe an injection of European efficiency could be a good thing.  I’ve been on Dutch trains:  they’re a darn sight better than ours.

Tomorrow, we get the draft Scottish budget – the first to incorporate some of the new powers wished upon us by Unionists through the Calman Commission.  What difference will landfill tax make to our public purse?  I doubt it will do much to plug the gap created by the several billion being taken out of the block grant by UK austerity measures.  What will be interesting when the cuts that are a-coming, arrive is where the finger of blame will be pointed, not by the politicians, but by the voting public.

There’s a definite sense of being back to the business of politics as usual.  The round of party conferences, high winds, heavy rain and flooding, and the low-hanging, harvest moon dominating the sky all signal the arrival of autumn.  Yet, there’s an undercurrent too of something not ever being quite the same again.

The enthusiasm of Yes supporting folk for politics and in particular, politicking in the community shows no sign of abating; there’s an intriguing deputy leadership debate unfolding in the SNP; each day that passes, the Unionists’ vow seems to offer less of the wow folk were looking for.  The high and the low politics is definitely where all the interesting people are to be found.  The jam in the middle that is spread by Holyrood seems rather thin and unappetising for the moment.

Yet, here too, there are hints of change to come.  Nicola Sturgeon will be setting out her stall as First Minister either before or just after the festive break. Johann Lamont’s backroom team is getting a shake-up with a change of personnel but every time she protests she’s going nowhere suggests even she is beginning not to believe she has staying power.  Ruth Davidson will bask in the glow of approval from Mr and Mrs Cameron a while longer but that won’t necessarily win her party more votes in Scotland next year.

Underneath it all remain big, thorny political issues.  The STV Appeal this week will see a renewed focus on child poverty – expect the politicians to have plenty to add.  Maybe they could all just read this report, out today, about what consigning 1 in 4 of our children to poverty actually means to their life chances. Maybe, we could have a debate on this in Parliament?  Maybe, we could have debates too in every council chamber?  And maybe, we could have politicians uniting to find the solutions, to apply their collective will to put resources in – real resources – to addressing the causes and symptoms of lack and blight in children’s lives.  Or agree to devolve the powers to Scotland that give us a real chance – a fighting chance – of doing different from Westminster, for all our children’s sakes.   A girl can dream. Still.

Aye, we live in interesting political times.  Tumultuous even.  It’s just a shame that one of Scotland’s finest political journalists, Angus MacLeod, is no longer here, with his quizzically owl-ish stare, to help prise them apart, to find the story beneath, to document what was really going on, to unspin the narrative, to apply his trademark wry analysis and humour to it all.  A big shame indeed.




Respect? My arse!

Whether we like it or not, never mind want it, we’re getting it.  So much for the sovereignty of the people.  Or even the settled will of the Scottish people.

Apologies for the profanity in the title but the news that we are to get five year Scottish Parliamentary terms released my latent Jim Royle.  Apparently, the ConDem Government are prepared to gift us five years of the next Scottish Government and group of MSPs because of their “respect” for we Scots and our devolved institution. 

And all because they want to move to a fixed term parliament for Westminster – not before time mind you – and doing so would make the UK General Election in 2015 clash with the end of the four year cycle for Holyrood.  So the solution?  Move over darling, this bed ain’t big for both of us. 

No matter that the Scottish Parliament four year term is enshrined in the Scotland Act, as is the day on which Scottish elections must be held.  No matter too that only a few years ago, the idea of tinkering with this Act was anathema to our politicians. And even had they wanted to, there would be no available Westminster parliamentary time.  Amazing what a difference political self interest makes.

The burd can understand why the Scottish parties are going along with the suggestion;  there are, after all, bigger fights to pick with Westminster these days.   But what is interesting is that no one is suggesting that the Scottish people be asked for their view on it all.  I’m not talking about another pesky referendum but even just a wee bit consultation.  It’s not a perfect mechanism by any stretch of the imagination, but community councils could have been asked for their view through an online survey?  Or would that come uncomfortably close to giving the people a say in how long we get stuck with our politicians for?

Apparently Clegg and Cameron making this decision for us is about showing “respect” to Scotland.  Clegg was at his most sonorously insincere when speaking about it on the radio the other day and Ms Goldie – glad she has found her voice on something – trumpeted how this was the UK government treating “Holyrood with respect“.  Indeed, it may be. 

But it shows darn little for the Scottish people, whose Parliament this is, after all.

The burd gets the impression oor politicians forget this weeny fact – here’s Annabel again:  “As a group, we will take decisions shortly over when the date of that election should be”.  How nice, our political parties in a wee huddle sorting it out amongst themselves.   We, the voters, are very much an afterthought and such pronouncements simply confirm what the burd increasingly believes, that elections are far too important to be left in the hands of the politicians.

But let’s not get too cynical or upset.  Here is a golden opportunity for them to resolve a few other matters pertaining to Holyrood elections.  Voting on Thursdays – why?  Like many parents I really resent having to use up a day’s precious annual leave to facilitate the electoral process.  Other countries vote at weekends, why can’t we? 

How about introducing some methods that make it easy for folk to vote – red button, onlne, by text even – instead of marching us up and down hills to our nearest community centre or primary school (particularly when with all the closures about to happen in the next few years, that will actually be some distance away for many voters).  It all might actually, you know, improve voter turnout which would surely be a good thing for democracy?

No, of course not.  This would involve putting the needs of the people before those of the political class.  And we couldn’t possibly have that.

Respect?  My arse!

The peril of ignoring the purpose behind Nick Clegg’s Alarm Clock Heroes campaign

Alarm clock heroes to keep Britain ticking, eh Nick?  It has had opprobium heaped upon it by lefties.  The piece by the Deputy Prime Minister explaining it in the Sun has caused folk to guffaw or fulminate or both. 

But I kind of think we are all missing the point.  Because we weren’t supposed to like it.  It’s not aimed at us, and our reaction backs that up.  In fact, Nick’s team can be pretty pleased with themselves in having secured the very reaction they anticipated.

It’s an extremely crude piece of political messaging but it is designed to be.  And we should not allow our inner prejudices to cloud us to its purpose. 

For the whole gimmick does have a purpose:  it is designed to speak to C2s in particular.  The classic voting switchers, the skilled manual working class who once voted Thatcher,  who have aspirations but also an authoritative streak.  And the nasty undertone to the messaging – that the UK government’s cuts are designed to flush out the feckless and the lazy ie lone parents, disabled people, families with disabled children who refuse to get out of bed to go to work as you do – will appeal to them.  Sadly.

These are the same people whose votes Labour once counted, nay weighed in elections.  Especially in Scotland.  But as their brief flirtation with the BNP in towns and cities like Oldham, Bury, Stoke and Dagenham shows, they have long felt abandoned by the left.  You can see why the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are making a pitch for them in such crude terms. 

The Labour party hierarchy has been eerily silent on it.  Which means they are either ignoring it and hoping it goes away – bad move.  Or concentrating on the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election – possible and entirely understandable.  Or working out how to ambush it – I hope so.  But they will have to come up with a clever alternative to do so and stop the Liberal Democrats – the Lib Dems for goodness sake! – from stealing a march on voting territory that they need to hold on to or in many constituencies, win back if they are to have a chance of regaining power.

Here in Scotland, we might see it as irrelevant but I don’t think so.  I’ve met voters like these, countless times, who have agonised about the impact of immigration on their jobs, yet live in towns where not a single immigrant could be found.  Who condemn the benefit cheats and junkies, blithely ignoring the fact that some of their family members would qualify for such an epithet. 

But I’ve also met genuinely aspirational, hard working individuals upon whom so much of our daily life depends – absolutely alarm clock heroes – who get out of bed way before the rest of us to clean, to make, to serve, to open and close, to stack, to sweep, to empty, to care and to do it all for a pittance.  They are as angry at the bankers as the rest of us.  But they are also angry at the bloated public sector, at those who earn a comfortable living and have a decent pension to look forward to.  Their anger has been stoked, wrongly and callously, against those that they see – erroneously – as having a feather bedded life at their expense.  Newspapers like the Sun, and in Scotland, the Daily Record, have played their part.

Indeed, there are some in Scottish Labour who play to these galleries, acting tough on young people, lone parents, drug addicts and people on disability benefits, particularly when they were in power at Holyrood and Westminster.  Let’s hope no one seizes on this initiative as something worth replicating for the forthcoming Scottish election campaign.

Nick Clegg’s attempt to tap into working class voters’ anger, and to get them on side in the months and years to come, might involve politics at its nastiest but don’t be surprised if it works.  Which it will, unless the left gets its act together and offers a credible alternative.

And no, the irony of a wealthy, privately educated, upper class bloke who will enjoy a gold plated pension and whose whole career has been paid for by exactly these kind of voters is not lost on the burd.  Let’s hope it’s not lost on some of our alarm clock heroes either.

(For a superlative piss-take on how ridiculous a proposition Alarm Clock Heroes is, visit the very excellent Chicken Yoghurt blog).