Sunday, August 31, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I do have proof of my claims
Brian Taylor: "You are fairly rude in the Guardian about a couple of colleagues - you think Wendy Alexander is unlikeable."
Alastair Darling: "I have got the utmost admiration for Wendy and the problems she went through."
BT: "But you don't like her very much?"
AD: "I didn't say that at all."
BT: "You said she's unlikeable - are they quoting you wrong?"
AD: "No, I have the utmost respect for her and I thoroughly enjoy her encounters whenever we have them."
BT: "But you said she's unlikeable?"
AD: "No I didn't."
BT: "You didn't say that, The Guardian are misquoting you?"
AD: "Brian, I have the utmost regard for Wendy and I will continue to have it and that remains my position."
Paying the bill for petty-minded MSP
DO George Foulkes MSP and his publicly funded staff have nothing better to do with their time than ask pointless questions about how many journeys First Minister Alex Salmond has made by train? I don't know which is more annoying, the pettiness of Lord Foulkes and his determination to find fault in the SNP Government, or the fact that as a taxpayer, I'm having to foot the bill for this nonsense.
Gavin Fleming, Webster's Land, Grassmarket, Edinburgh
Indeed, in the 2 or 3 days since I wrote that post, Lord Foulkes has wasted even more time and money with his "nonsense". Indeed, he asked 30 questions on the 28th August alone (see below for some examples).
Is there no way to stop this man!?
S3W-15851 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive which race courses the First Minister has visited since May 2007 and on how many occasions.
S3W-15844 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive which agencies it uses to deliver its international development programme, broken down by country and excluding Malawi.
S3W-15845 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive which primary schools have been visited by the First Minister since May 2007.
S3W-15846 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive which secondary schools have been visited by the First Minister since May 2007.
S3W-15849 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive what changes it proposes to the 2011 Census questions compared to those in 2001.
S3W-15831 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive what representations it has made to the UK Government about separate Scottish representation at future Olympic Games.
S3W-15832 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions ministers have had with ministers in the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland about separate representation at future Olympic Games.
S3W-15830 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive whether proposals for a separate Scottish Olympic team have been considered by any of its agencies or bodies with a remit for sport and what the responses have been.
S3W-15829 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions ministers have had with sport governing bodies about the First Minister’s suggestion for a Scottish Olympic team and what the responses have been.
S3W-15828 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will list for each sport that was competed at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (a) whether it has a separate Scottish governing body, (b) how much its governing bodies received from the Scottish Government or its agencies in 2007-08 and (c) how much its governing bodies are budgeted to receive in each year from 2008-09 to 2011-12.
S3W-15852 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive which hospitals the First Minister has visited since May 2007.
S3W-15853 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S3W-13362 by John Swinney on 9 June 2008, what the particular responsibilities are of its most recently appointed Special Adviser and how these relate to those of Kevin Pringle and Stephen Noon.
S3W-15872 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S3W-15237 by John Swinney on 25 August 2008, how many of the 218 full-time employees in its directorates and agencies aged between 60 and 64 are men.
S3W-15854 - George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab) (Date Lodged Thursday, August 28, 2008): To ask the Scottish Executive how many complaints were referred to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman about local authorities in 2007-08 and how this compares to the previous year.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Granted this impact amounted to a relatively limp story regarding the veracity of a claim made by Kezia Dugdale that Nicola Sturgeon had been thrown out of a Shopping Centre but, nonetheless, the first tangible link between inane internet chat and actual political relevance had been made.
Indeed Kezia was involved in another story from the campaign even if she wasn't named directly. It turned out Kez spent a lot of time with undercover Times journalist Brendan Perring who wrote this piece on the Labour campaign. This allowed Kez to, quite rightly, put her side of the story and shoot the article down to some degree.
Further to this we had regular updates on polling day from ASWAS and a surreal photo from the election count from Indygal
So, with so many of the political activists who are on the front line of campaigning being bloggers these days then one can't help but wonder if Glenrothes will see more of a linkage from what appears on blogs with what makes up the daily news.
I fully plan on taking part in a bit of canvassing or leafletting or spreading margarine on sandwiches for Team SNP and I know that in the last campaign there were appearances from J Arthur MacNumpty, ASWAS, Mark McDonald, Bellgrove Belle, Julie Hepburn, Jamie Hepburn. Jings, it was top blogger Indygal that was running the show!
For the other parties, Kezia as I said before was heavily involved and Scotland's favourite blogger, Tom Harris, did the rounds too.
With this particular election being a bit closer to home for Stephen Glenn, Scottish Tory Boy, Two Doctors and Malc in the Burgh, the number of footsoliders may even swell for this looming political battle.
So who knows what may lie ahead. I'm probably getting way, way ahead of myself here but since I believe it inevitable that blogging in some way, shape or form is destined to be an integral part of the political system in the future, there's no reason why someone in this blogosphere won't be creating the headlines rather than merely commenting on them over the next couple of months as the heat of the Glenrothes byelection battle begins to boil.
I appreciate these words of Obama's were written by some of the finest speechwriters on the planet but, well, I have a couple of criticisms.
For a start, the opening paragraph has a bit of a gaping flaw:
"Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest - a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours - Hillary Rodham Clinton."
If I was a feminist I would actually be a bit put out by the idea that Hillary Clinton can only inspire America's daughters or the inherent suggestion that Barack Obama doesn't inspire females. For a country so keen to break down the racial bias, America should perhaps get working on the gender bias that's seemingly going nowhere fast.
My next criticism comes in all this "the next Vice President of the United States" and "the next First Lady" stuff. John McCain is doing it too but you can't both be right. I know it gets the crowd going and you can guarantee a lot of "whoops" but look how silly Al Gore and John Kerry looked after they finished runners up in the last 2 elections.
I can understand that if you keep saying you'll be the "next" something you can almost force it to happen. Alex Salmond managed it by promising a political earthquake in Glasgow East despite being faced by sniggers and sneering that he had no chance.
But even still, it smacks a little of arrogance so I'd much rather people stick to what they know.
That said, Obama is of course the real deal and I remain almost entranced by his dramatic rise to stardom and political importance. There are some great lines in the speech which, for me, sum up why I hope that Barack beats John McCain on November 4th:
"America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this."
"Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle class as someone making under $5m a year?"
"Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work." (I'm guessing, if real life is like the West Wing, there was a lot of debate over that "who's willing to work" phrase!)
"And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. Washington's been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years, and John McCain has been there for 26 of them."
"Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible healthcare for every single American. If you have healthcare, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most."
"And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79bn surplus while we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war."
"The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America."
There is still another 10 weeks of these speeches, 10 weeks of debating America's place in the world and 10 weeks of considering how America can fix its domestic problems. I for one do not expect to grow tired of hearing much, much more of the thoughts of Barack Obama and John McCain.
That's why I, SNP Tactical Voter, and the next husband of Maria Sharapova, approve this blog entry.
The Daily Express reported yesterday that Gordon Brown had spent a week in Cowdenbeath* in order to prepare for directing the campaign.
However, in the Dundee Courier yesterday, we have an actual Labour quote which presumably trumps the Express:
A Labour spokesman said, "We are not sure where this story came from but, as Prime Minister, Gordon will be focused on running the country and the party will be focused on running the by-election."
So, that's it then. The Prime Minister has too heavy a workload to be running a byelection. Sorted out in yesterday's press, no?
Well, seemingly not. Today we have a huge story in The Times:
"Gordon Brown has come under intense pressure from Cabinet colleagues to break with prime ministerial convention and campaign in the crucial Glenrothes by-election."
"Gordon got the flak for Glasgow East even though he did not go there. He is going to get the flak for Glenrothes even though he goes and we lose. He might as well go," a Cabinet minister told The Times.
One MP said: "There's no question about it. He has to go and campaign this time because this is his home political territory. By going, he would lift morale. By not going, he would be sending a terrible message to Labour people on the ground that the seat isn't worth fighting for."
Gordon's even dithered so much on the question that he's left the door wide open for David Cameron to brazenly taunt him about it.
"I hope that Gordon Brown will rise to the challenge of campaigning in his own backyard, so that the voters can see for themselves the choices on offer," the Tory leader said. "It is time for him to stop running scared and to stand up and be counted. I will be in Glenrothes. Will he?"
Not quite Braveheart but close enough.
So what's it to be Gordon? Focussed on running the country or focussed on running a by-election? According to your spokesman, you'll be unable to do both and your cabinet are intent on you doing the latter...
*You can park underneath, that's the wonder........ of Cowdenbeath.
Lib Dems vs Tory or, on a more personal note, Harry Wills vs Maurice Golden (Crikey old bean, is that not the poshest face-off you've ever heard? Not that I'm suggesting there's a class culture remaining in the UK, of course.)
Personally, I think there will be a repeat performance of the Glasgow East byelection in the 3rd vs 4th battle aswell as the 1st vs 2nd. Lib Dems squeezed out and beaten into a distant 4th. They might hold on to their deposit this time though. Every cloud and all that....
The Tories may not quite be on the charge north of the border but they are on a gentle trot upwards and I think that with the pressure well and truly off them in regard to their chances of winning it releases them (in a strange way) to cast off the bow lines, be who they wish and say whatever the cat's cojones they want.
The Lib Dems, on the other hand, are constantly feeling the pressure. Afraid of their own shadow and constantly on edge. How else can one explain Tavish Scott's erratic performance on Newsnight the other day? Their burning desire to be Scotland's 3rd party and to eventually dislodge SNP's popularity is severely hamstrung by their distinct lack of policies and sheer aimlessness.
I suspect Harry Wills (for all his dubious experience) will be going into this contest somewhat punch drunk before it begins and perversely Maurice Golden will have a spring in his step.
So, what ho fellows, let the jousting begin in earnest….
Thursday, August 28, 2008
This long delay in passing the writ from Labour is an interesting juxtaposition with the Glasgow East by-election where the writ was rushed through as quickly as possible as:
David Cairns and Gordon Brown claimed this rush was due to a need for the area to have their MP as soon as possible. It begs the question why the same does not apply in Glenrothes?
Regardless, it's Labour who gets to choose the date and they are clearly doing so to bury the bad news of an expected defeat in with the American elections. It kind of defeats the purpose when you know they're doing this ahead of schedule but so be it.
Labour - Candidate not yet selected. Due to be selected on Monday.
Lindsay Roy CBE - Strong rumour
Mark Hood - Rumour
Kay Morrison - Rumour
Claire Baker MSP - Rumour
John Park MSP - Rumour
Helen Eadie - Faint rumour
Ian Rankin - Faint rumour
Christine May - Ruled herself out
Alex Rowley - Ruled himself out
Henry McLeish - Ruled himself out
Dougray Scott - Unlikely
Gordon Brown has decided to take personal charge of the byelection but still will keep his distance from the campaign. I'm not entirely sure how that works but that's the mixed messages coming out of Labour at the moment.
I have to also wonder about Lindsay Roy's 'moral compass'. He moved to Inverkeithing High as recently as February in order to turn around falling exam results and unruly behaviour. I guess his sense of duty is not as strong as those in Fife would have hoped.
SNP - Peter Grant (leader of Fife Council selected)
Tories - As far as I'm aware, candidate not yet selected. UPDATE - Maurice Golden is their candidate. (Thanks to D Thomson)
Lib Dems - Harry Wills selected
I don't know much about the candidate but Calum Cashley has a great post casting aspersions on some of Harry's claims. It seems there's a few classic cases of Fib Dems going on there.
SSP - Morag Balfour
UKIP - Kris Seunarine
Previous result - 2005 (Westminster)
Labour (John MacDougall) - 19,395 votes (51.9%)
SNP (John Beare) - 8,731 votes (23.4%)
Lib Dem (Liz Riches) - 4,728 (12.7%)
Tory (Belinda Don) - 2,651 (7.1%)
Previous result - 2007 (Holyrood)
SNP (Patricia Marwick) - 11,920 votes (44.2%)
Labour (Christine May) - 10,754 votes (39.9%)
Lib Dem (Liz Riches) - 2,288 votes (8.5%)
Tory (Maurice Golden) - 2,003 votes (7.4%)
Everyone except for Malc in the Burgh is predicting an SNP victory so it is the Nationalists' to lose at the moment. They seem to have a safe candidate, another John Mason dare I say, and Labour need to be more decisive than last time in picking theirs.
The SNP abolished the bridge tolls in Fife and are well underway in planning the building of a 3rd crossing over the Forth. No doubt this will come up a lot when the army of activists work their magic on the streets of Glenrothes, an army that I plan on being a part of though more for the craic rather than any real pressing desire to break my way into Politics.
One serious note of caution for the SNP that I think is worth raising is related to this line which is fast becoming a mantra: "Last month people in Glasgow East voted to send a message to Gordon Brown - now it's the turn of Glenrothes."
I worry that, reading between the lines, the SNP are justifiably concerned that those in Fife will feel they don't need to give Brown a kicking as Glasgow East did it for them, that they can't bear to see Gordon take too much more abuse irrespective of the rising bills and stuttering economy.
It would be a difficult message for Labour to take to the voters but a wounded puppy approach might prove to be Gordon's best chance of victory.
My day yesterday was perhaps a case in point.
7am - My commute involves a Lothian bus ride shared with a true Edinburgh mix of people, including a couple who were quite clearly recovering heroin addicts. Cheek by jowl the 22 picks up residents from the plush Waterfront developments aswell as the rougher council house neighbourhoods of Leith. If there's significant tutting or raised eyebrows or argy-bargy, I've not noticed it in the 4 or 5 years I've travelled that route.
8am - Stop in for a coffee to ease into the day and notice that our Deputy First Minister is there reading the papers and having a caffeine fix. I mention this to a non-political friend who works in this particular coffee house and she remarks that Nicola Sturgeon is "very elegant". (Her words, not mine.)
9am - 6pm - A typical working day; people of all backgrounds sit yards from me. Looking around here at lunchtime there are Scottish, English, Polish, Hungarian, Kiwi, Australian, Indian workers. Most, of course, are university graduates but by no means all of them and there are crisp public school accents intermingled with the thickest of Glaswegian/Manchester/Newcastle (arguably more 'common') accents. The huge differences in background is never an issue and are never remarked upon.
7pm - Head to Bruntsfield Links to catch up with my bro's (that's my brothers, I'm not in a gang). They're playing a bit of a pitch and putt. Golf, being for so long the preserve of the upper class, was clearly being enjoyed by anyone and everyone on that free 36 hole course.
9pm - Step into Ye Old Golf Tavern pub for a wee pint and to watch the end of the Queen of the South UEFA cup game. (It feels strange typing that.) Good mix of people; all different backgrounds and accents once again.
So that's a fairly arbitrary (albeit narrow) showing of why I have formed an opinion that class is dead.
I do think however there is one man who typifies the absence of class strata, that man is the French footballer Zinedine Zidane.
An Algerian immigrant, Zidane experienced the deepest poverty. His is the classic tale of the shoeless boy wonder who played his way out of the streets and into professional sport.
He went on to be France's and indeed one of the world's greatest ever football players, he mixed in the highest of circles, meeting with Presidents, celebrities and the upper echelons of French culture.
He also always had that red mist, that aggression that took hold in his youth when life truly was a battle and you had to fight your own corner. Red cards were as regular as spectacular goals for this sporting genius and of course his notoriety as a bruiser reached a peak after his world-famous headbutt in the World Cup Final of 2006. The man is fascinating, is he a footballing prince? Or is he a common thug blessed with natural talent?
While I'm on it, I always thought Zinedine showed a certain class in allowing the making of the documentary 'Zidane' (which, honestly, I still don't know is worth 5 stars or 1 star. Very bizarre film, but the music from Mogwai is ace.)
Anyway, me, my pitch and putt brothers and Zinedine Zidane aside, there are, of course, people who will try to maintain the class system for their own ends but they are a dying breed. The whole "Tory Toff" approach in the Crewe & Nantwich by-election spectacularly backfired and, as this was a supposed proposed pre-cursor to similar attacks on Boris Johnson and David Cameron, it is welcome to see that this tack has been quietly dropped by Labour.
Closer to home, the lack of class warfare in the Holyrood chamber is pleasantly notable by its absence. There's no talking down to others, there's no snobbery (inverted or otherwise) and there's no casual, small-minded disregard between fellow MSPs if they went to the wrong school or talk a bit funny. Well, we had the Socialists for 4 years but they were just a bunch of neds.
Class is deid, long live the 22 bus.
It seems that this question has only arisen on the back of Hoy's 3 golds and if Team GB had finished out of the medals then there would be no chat on this matter whatsoever.
It strikes me therefore that with so many medals accruing to Team GB in cycling, be the competitors Scottish or English, we are doing rather well in this discipline and should perhaps focus our efforts and our resources on a sport in which Scotland suck at.
So, with cycling covered (thanks to our friends in Manchester), curling on the up and elephant polo out of the way. Who will join me in the campaign to have a Ski Jump fitted somewhere near Kirkcaldy? Or hurdles fitted down Princes St? Or perhaps even Beach Volleyball courts along the River Clyde?
Take Post Offices. I read on his website that the Labour MP is launching a post office closure campaign. Apparently, per his own website:
"Following the announcement today of plans by the post office to close three sub-post offices in his Edinburgh North & Leith constituency, Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz has launched a campaign to highlight local community opposition to the proposals."
How lovely. Real action from a politician willing to stand alongside his constituents.
And of course, if the question of post office closures ever came to a vote in Westminster, Mark Lazarowicz would stand up for the good people of Edinburgh North and Leith, stare down the Government and vote to have these post offices saved from the cull.
What's that you say? There's already been a vote? Well, let's have a look shall we….
The motion was as follows:
This House -
- regrets the proposal to close up to 2,500 post offices;
- recognises the vital role post offices play in local communities;
- notes the concern and unpopularity amongst the general public of closing such a large portion of the network;
- has concerns that the access criteria laid down for the closures consultation do not adequately take into account local geographical factors and public transport networks;
- is concerned that the consultation period is only for six weeks rather than three months, as recommended by Cabinet Office guidelines;
- believes that post offices must move with the times in the services they offer and that options for business expansion and developing business opportunities with local authorities should be explored further; and
- calls upon the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to instruct Post Office Limited to suspend the compulsory closure of sub-post offices while these issues are re-assessed.
Surely Mark Lazarowicz was chomping at the bit to back this motion. He'd get to assist in saving 2,500 post offices, including those same "sub post offices" that Mark seems so concerned about in his home constituency. He'd be a hero to all those Edinburgh residents who rely on their local Post Office for all manner of services.
Well, here is a list of the Labour MPs who backed the above motion in March 2008. Mark's name is not on the list.
Has there ever been a hypocrisy so blatant?
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
First there was The Scotsman, twisting Chris' words in order to get a typically sensationalised headline of "Scottish team in Olympics would be ridiculous". As is so often the case with The Scotsman, once you read the detail you learn that the news story is more subtle than their tabloid headline suggests.
But now, via the Daily Record, we learn of Chris' real thoughts on the matter. And I will only lift Chris' exact quotes to ensure it is his faithful opinions we finally have:
"I feel a bit upset that I have been quoted as saying the idea of a Scottish Olympic team is ridiculous.
"If and when a Scottish team was put together, I would be delighted to represent Scotland in the Olympic Games.
"But before that happens, so much needs to be done for the athletes to be able to compete at the highest level.
"As a cyclist, there isn't a facility in Scotland where I can train throughout the year and that's why I have to base myself outside Scotland.
"I am proud to be Scottish, but at the same time it's not feasible to think we can compete as a nation without the right facilities."
Well, political football or not, that puts quite a different slant on things and should wipe more than a few smirks off anti-SNP faces from the weekend....
There are 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament and as one of the 5 million Scots that look towards a better future with them at the helm, I am happy for Holyrood to be a hotbed of ideas, of discussion, of effective administration and constructive opposition. Underpinning all of this is the need for quality parliamentary questions and open answers.
All MSPs, be they SNP, Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green or Margo will ask questions. They represent constituents or regions and they need to fight these constituents' corners effectively and ask questions accordingly.
However, one man stands out from the rest, one man has taken questioning to a whole new and unwelcome level, one man is quite clearly wasting Parliament's resources for partisan ends, ends that are not in the interests of his Lothian constituents.
Step forward, George Foulkes.
It had always struck me that George's name appeared on PQs much, much more than once every 129 times. Indeed in my role as Crap Holyrood Chat co-author I noted he had asked 30 questions in the space of 11 days. Well this has now been trumped as George Foulkes managed to find the time to ask 26 questions on a single day. Yes, on 29th July 2008, George Foulkes and his staff (which extends to a rather extravagant 4 people) lodged 26 questions.
So, with all this rampant questioning going on, I performed an arbitrary search of MSPs to establish just how he measures up in terms of question rate. The results were quite startling:
(note that I tried to stick with MSPs who joined Holyrood in May 2007, the same time as Foulkes)
George Foulkes - 632 questions
Robin Harper - 487 questions (over 9+ years)
Patrick Harvie - 318 questions (over 5+ years)
Margo MacDonald - 309 questions (over 9+ years)Ken McIntosh - 299 questions
Jamie Hepburn - 294 questions
Jackson Carlaw - 174 questions
Hugh O'Donnell - 153 questions
John Park - 133 questions
Aileen Campbell - 76 questions
Joe Fitzpatrick - 36 questions
Liz Smith - 27 questions
So, as far as I can see, George Foulkes has asked more than double the questions of any of his colleagues since May 2007.
To be fair, maybe George is highly incisive and has taken it upon himself to ask the difficult questions that Scotland needs answered, questions that will lead to world class schools, to reducing poverty, to combatting climate change, to fixing local finance issues and to getting the NHS back on track again.
Well, judge for yourself, some of George's 632 questions are shown here. And the first batch are only in the past month!
The kicker is, each of these questions cost money, they use up Parliament and Government resources that more often than not can be better used with getting on with actual work. I've been unable to find a reliable figure for what the average PQ costs in Holyrood but if we were to use Westminster figures then George Foulkes' questions will cost us £250,000 over the 4 years of this Parliament and I for one do not believe we are getting good value for money.
I honestly don't think I'm that cynical, I think most politicians of all parties get up and try to make the world a better place. But I've given up on George Foulkes. It is now abundantly clear that the man wakes up each day hell bent on nailing the SNP and he has decided that one way of doing this is to bombard them with unnecessary questions. But Scotland deserves better than that.
If Labour had any sense they would de-select Foulkes (or at least demote him) for the 2011 election but until then the Scottish Government and indeed Scotland as a whole will just have to put up with the time-wasting Lord and hope that one day he just goes away.
Falling behind the mighty Mr Eugenides and the lofty Mr Harris is perfectly respectable and to somehow scrape past the fab trio of J Arhur MacNumpty, Kezia and Scottish Tory Boy to name but 3? Great stuff indeed.
I know people call this 'blogging porn' and a bit of navelgazing fluff but if it means more eyes looking north to the Scottish blogging scene in the same way that my eyes have checked out the best Green, Welsh and Libertarian blogs so far, then it can't be bad.
It's all about sharing ideas and explaining our views of the world after all.
But one final thought, why did Iain decide to colour the SNP blogs blue? Isn't he taking the 'Tartan Tory' tag a bit far there....!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Before I can get into the meat of what this post is all about I shall first briefly explain the D'Hondt voting system as used by the Scottish Parliament.
Holyrood consists of 129 elected MSPs, 73 of these MSPs are voted in by a standard First Past the Post constituency method in keeping with Westminster UK Elections. The first of two votes is used by the electorate to vote for these politicians.
The remaining 56 MSPs are 'list' politicians and they are voted in via an additional members system. Scotland is broken up into 8 regions with the second votes from the electorate in each region being used to 'top up' the first 73 MPs in a proportional manner. For example, the SNP have 36% of the SNPs with 31% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats have 12.4% of MSPs with 11.3% of the vote.
It's a flawed system, in several ways, and I am about to explain another reason why but I have already pointed out a clear way in which this d'Hondt system can lead to a farcical election and unfortunate, undemocratic tactical voting patterns. Sadly, it will probably take a shambolic election before anyone is moved to change it to something more suitable.
Anyway, moving on....
In 3 of the 8 regions, the Liberal Democrats have won a reasonably safe list MSP in each of the 3 elections that devolved Scotland has seen. For 2007, Glasgow region had Robert Brown ranked 3rd, Central region had Hugh O'Donnell at Rank 6 and West of Scotland had Ross Finnie ranked 4th.
These Lib Dem MSPs were the list members who were highest up on the party's field of regional candidates who hadn't won a First Past the Post seat. If you don't know who the first two are (Hugh and Robert) don't worry about it. Infact, it will merely serve to strengthen my upcoming point.
So, here's the rub.
The position of Lib Dem members on these regional lists is decided by the local party, the 500 or so Liberal Democrat members in each of the eight regions.
With that in mind, there is nothing stopping someone getting 499 friends together, paying them all to join the Liberal Democrat party and then getting them all to nominate yourself as the top member on a certain regional list.
Given that a list MSP has always been returned for Central, Glasgow and West of Scotland, it would be a safe bet that another one will be returned in 2011, especially as barely anyone knows who they are voting for specifically. The First Past the Post vote is about personalities, the Regional vote is merely about party affiliation.
So, for an initial outlay of 500 * £10/year subscription to the party, or a mere £5,000, you can get yourself a £53,000 a year job (with generous expenses) sitting on the backbenches not doing very much for the Liberal Democrats.
Better still, they could defect to the SNP.
You know what they say, if it's not broke, D'Hondt fix it.....
Well, if you take a forest, and there's noone else around, and a tree falls over, and it lands on a Lib Dem.
Would anyone care?
" Mike Rumbles & his wife were clapped into the Members' restaurant today. Suggestions that he may have pipped Tavish to the leadership remain unconfirmed, but the rumours are that that is in fact the case."
My oh my, after Glasgow East I didn't think the impossible could happen again. I'm sure we'll find out in the next few hours whether Mike has managed an unlikely win but this would spell disaster for the Lib Dems if it was split in two in such an awkward manner.
Could Tavish Scott quietly and obediently play along to Rumbles' tune?
No, I don't think so either....
I'm generally not a fan of such things and, computer dinosaur that I am, I haven't the faintest what "meme" stands for. I just wanted to say I won't be filling it in so I hope noone's bitterly disappointed about not finding out where I was when man landed on the moon etc.
Somehow, I think you'll all get by....
Democracy at its finest ladies and gentlemen.
For more on Labour's grotesque 'electoral collge' voting system, I do suggest a read of Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that of the 6, only 4 actually voted for Kerr. Iain Gray and Cathy Jamieson got one vote each from Student #5 and student #6. That equates to a mandate of 1.03% for Andy Kerr from the students.
PS Good luck to the Lib Dems in their vote for a new leader today. Apparently Tavish Scott is favourite but I wouldn't rule out Mike Rumbles just yet. Still, with one member one vote as their selection process, at least the Lib Dems can know it'll be a fair and democratic result.
Monday, August 25, 2008
I currently get the bus to work, I don't even own a car, I understand the need to get people out of their ozone-wrecking automobiles and into public transport but I'm there already so take my council tax, do with it what you will and leave me out of it.
But, incredibly, as I read in the Edinburgh Evening News today, it is me and my environmentally-conscious bus-commuting chums that are going to have to pay extra for these blasted trams, these trams that are chiefly being made to get people out of their cars, cars that I'm already out of, 'out of' being where I am relative to my mind.
You get the picture.
Why can't trams be financed by drivers? From the parking fines? From speed cameras? From road taxes? From the extra duty gained from petrol price hikes? From congestion charge schemes?
Frankly, it seems somewhat ridiculous that there was a referendum on congestion charges to raise funds for better public transport, drivers then vote "no" in their thousands, trams are forced on us anyway and then they make existing commuters pay for them rather than those unbudging, carbon-crazy drivers.
I'm not laying fault at any individual party's door but this financing plan is simply wrong and counter-productive by any standard.
Gordon Brown wanting Scotland to be part of a Team GB soccer side, headed up by Scotsman Alex Ferguson, is dripping with political manouevring and so is Alex Salmond's insistence of a Scottish team for the Olympics going forward.
Of course a British football team once every 4 years will not spell the end of Scotland and its Tartan Army and of course Scottish athletes will continue to enjoy success whether they fly the Union Jack or the Saltire.
There's bigger fish to fry out there and so much more to concern oneself with, so for now, I'll take a rain check on blogging and go and enjoy my first Bank Holiday in a very long time.
Update: I thought this would happen. The SNP should only, only, only have let this whole news story come out if Chris Hoy was in favour of, or at least ambivalent to, the idea of a separate Scottish Olympics team. It seems Chris thinks the idea is "ridiculous" so this has to go down as perhaps the SNP's silliest error yet.
Thankfully it'll blow over in a few days.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
A strong, independent Labour party in Scotland is a good thing but a fractured UK Labour party may be even sweeter news for the SNP.
Let's not forget the Tories and Lib Dems are already split at the border.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
For me, it wouldn't be a case of the lesser of 3 evils as so many are choosing to paint it. I think there's a clear winner, a worthy scrapper and one entrant who is making a bit of a tit of himself.
I'll start in reverse order...
(3) Andy Kerr
Originally I thought Andy Kerr would be a good bet for Labour. He could tap into the Jack McConnell Mark 2 template, a label which he apparently detests. But I think it could have played well. People might have harked back to old Jack and thought "well, he wasn't so bad, let's have more of the same" and vote for Andy.
But all this 'taking on Salmond' nonsense, 'I'm more more Scottish than you', "battle to the death" tosh is not very palatable and it's no wonder he is slipping out of the contest.
I could be cynical and suggest he was persuaded to enter a weak challenge just to show there had been more of a contest but I won't. This is a blog love post after all.
So onwards to Cathy Jamieson.
She's been exactly what I was expecting from the former Deputy Minister. Scrapping away with potential policies here and there, drumming up the left of the party and just generally making a lot of positive noise.
I've always thought that Cathy Jamieson as leader would only ever be able to take the party so far so for that reason I would struggle to vote for her. Of course, there's an argument that a caretaker leader is what Labour needs right now but that poverty of ambition is insufficient for any political party.
So, with that in mind, I'd be backing…..
Yes, the ex-Oxfam, ex-transport secretary has, I honestly believe, the potential to get Labour back on track.
My thoughts on this matter crystallised after reading this piece in The Scotsman. I thought it was simply excellent.
It focussed on the Labour party rather than going for cheap attacks at the SNP. It hit upon policies that I think could steer the party relatively quickly back into a strong position, chiefly by drawing on Labour's raison d'etre without falling back into old-skool socialism. They've also shown a canniness in focussing on Council Tax changes for pensioners before the Winter kicks in and this could harm the SNP by making them look sluggish and their policies ill-thought out.
The most common criticism levelled against Iain Gray is his lack of an X-Factor, his lack of oomph. But cometh the hour, cometh the man perhaps? Sometimes it is low expectations that allows an individual the freedom and the luxury of a few early errors. Of course Iain Gray would have to hit the ground running but he has 2.5 years until the next election so it's not exactly panic stations from Day 1.
And what would a Labour party led by Iain Gray mean for the SNP?
Well, once again I choose to refer to a football metaphor.
The SNP have been playing for a third of the match and the opposition has barely shown up. But if your opponents do suddenly find some form, find some chinks in the armour, find some creative, effective ways to attack then there is only one option.
You can't look back wishing for that time when you had it so easy, you can't claim foul play, you simply have to up your game, rise to the challenge and enjoy the match.
So I look forward to Iain Gray winning the leadership as I am sure he will. Labour will be better for it, the Parliament will be better for it and Scotland will be better for it. I just hope the SNP are better for it too.
I will link to one of his several blog posts here, picking one at random of course....
(Shameless I know, but I honestly have no scruples.....)
So, Danny, if you happen to be reading this, I wouldn't leave your drink unattended tonight mate. Better still, just play safe, stay indoors and watch the Friends double-bill instead.....!
But maybe I'm still just childish and naive.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Maybe, finally, with this high-brow thinking I am turning into the intellectual I've always wanted to be. (Or perhaps I just need to remove a stick from somewhere it shouldn’t be.)
I've taken earlier umbrage with the word "hero" but another example of potential incorrect word usage is "pride".
Now I can understand being proud of yourself if you win an award, I can understand being proud of a loved one if you have helped them achieve a personal goal and I can understand a parent being proud of a daughter or son if they excel, even taking that pride so far as to propose a motion in Parliament in celebration of the event, for example.
With the Olympics on, the word 'pride' is of course cropping up here, there and everywhere. The crystallisation of my thoughts on this topic though stemmed from reading Tom Harris' blog.
"Hoy does us all proud" he cheers in the subject. But what exactly does the Labour MP have to be proud of?
Perhaps if Tom Harris had been the Sports Minister or directly supported the British/Scottish Cycling Team with time and money then that pride might have been well placed but, as it stands, I struggle to see the link.
Don't get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Olympics but I'm no more proud of Chris Hoy than I am of Usain Bolt or Paula Radcliffe. I can understand the desire of politicians to want to align themselves with successful Olympic athletes but I do wish they would use words properly when they choose to do so.
Incidentally, there is no doubt that Gordon Brown will host a reception for the Olympic athletes upon their return to the UK. This is absolutely the right thing to do and as Prime Minister he should of course help to celebrate their success in this way and has a greater claim on being "proud" of what 'our' athletes achieved.
Moving away from the Olympics, but sticking with this rather odd word "Pride", I turn to marches and movements. Gay Pride being the most obvious example. What is it about a sexual orientation choice that makes one so proud?
Notting Hill Carnival and Mardi Gras in Sydney look like spectacular events and I'd love to go to either or both one of these days but to label them as Gay Pride Marches has always seemed an odd moniker for me. I'm not 'proud' to be a heterosexual, I just happen to be one. It makes much more sense to take pride in being bilingual than it would in being bisexual but, well, if it gives an excuse to get the tiaras and feather boas out then I guess there's no harm in it.
Taking pride in the country you were born is another fairly bizarre situation. Malc (of the Burgh) talks in his last post of our "proud nation". Again, where should this pride have generated from? Scotland has beautiful countryside, great people, a fabulous history, lots and lots going for it but I just struggle to see the transition from that to a personal pride that one should take from it.
Alexander Graham Bell will have been proud he invented the telephone, Robert Burns will have been proud of the poems he wrote (and no doubt the girls he bedded) and Adam Smith will have been proud of the economic philosophy he imparted on the world before he left us but should we future Scots be permitted to take a collective pride in what those have done before us, just because we happen to have been born in the same country a century or two later?
Regrettably, it escapes me.
Moving on to the next blog that has stirred up thoughts on whether we use the right words, I turn my attention to another prominent Labour blogger. It is perhaps apt, even ironic, that Kezia is female as the word I am taking exception to is one that I would have thought would have feminists burning with anger.
Basically, how appropriate is it to label a girl/woman as "feisty"?
Kezia chooses the adjective to describe Susan Deacon and I'm not quibbling whether Susan is or isn't but is "feisty" a word that ever has a place? When would a person be happy to called such a thing?
And I say "person" but let's be honest, it's a word reserved for females who have a drive but are looked down on in a condescending, patronising manner. They may be feisty, punchy or spunky but ultimately they lack real bite is what is being said. I have no doubt it was a word invented by men which is why I was surprised Kez chose to use it. "Tireless", "relentless", "committed", "radical" would all be more preferable alternatives in my eyes.
My final bone of contention is "in your own words". Such a useful phrase to use to throw an argument back in someone's face. The problem is, our memories are so poor that we never get the quotation exactly right so we end up putting words in another person's mouth. In the comments field of my blog I don't think I've ever been quoted accurately and it is more than a little bit annoying.
So, I don't know, "it's only words" as 5 wise men once said butI strongly suspect words will be a very important factor in Scottish Politics over the next few years so I besiege you all to to take more pride, show a little feist and use them properly.
But as much as I believe the piece lays out his thoughts clearly and concisely not to mention the refreshing change of an MSP actually debating policy and not tittle-tattle, I have to make some objections.
For a start, there's this misnomer that implementing LIT rules, whether local or national, would be complicated and time-consuming.
It would be relatively straightforward for small, medium or large business to implement LIT. The Government provides a PAYE computer package to those who don't have one already and you would simply add an extra field for each employee stating which area they live in. It is estimated it would require 10 seconds for each employee. Of course, there is an issue for Small Business who work without computers but surely it's safe to assume we'll all be online before too long.
I also don't see the 'obstacles' of 5% income tax increases and £280m efficiency savings as being anywhere near insurmountable. Scotland's share of the Barnett Formula has gone up 50% since 1999 so there must be some money to be saved somewhere.
I always got the impression Labour and the Lib Dems were pretty wasteful and the unrelentingly analytical John Swinney will comb out savings here, there and everywhere. Infact, for more evidence of how wasteful the Lib Dems are see the recent report that shows they are no longer a going concern and do not have the assets to back up their debts!
Further to this, the £400m that is so often touted as 'Scotland's Money' is quite clearly due to us whatever happens. Derek is correct to raise the point that the UK Government may hold the money back for political purposes but any objective person would clearly see that Scotland is due the money even if they change their council tax arrangements. If it comes to a court ruling, I don't think Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling would have a leg to stand on.
But my main concern is this, if Derek Brownlee and indeed anyone within the Tories believe they have a good idea then they are perfectly free to push it and win support rather than fall back on the easy option of aiming a kick at what they disagree with. 80%+ of Derek's piece is negatively disparaging the SNP's plans rather than positively pushing for what he believes is the correct course of action.
Don't get me wrong, as an opposition party (some would say the most effective opposition party) they are responsible for holding the Government to account but in this field I think positive action rather than constructive criticism is the best way forward. The best way to win political and popular support is surely to point out why your plan is so great rather than why another plan is so poor.
I've already said the Tories were right to shoot down Iain Gray's overtures of consensual politics as Iain was bringing nothing tangible to the table. But perhaps the Tories should now put their money where their mouth is, work out a detailed proposal on reforming the Council Tax, take it to Iain Gray/Labour/Greens/Margo and try getting it through the Parliament themselves.
It's clear there is not going to be a perfect solution to local taxation so we all need to focus on the few pro's each plan has as opposed to the more numerous cons and just get cracking with whatever the new system will be.