As much as Gordon Brown is making a pig's ear of being Prime Minister, I worry that David Cameron has some even deeper personal issues that would prevent him from doing a better job.
I remember during the contest for the Tory leadership against David Davis, David Cameron was actually shaking during one of the Q&A's, sweat was pouring off the guy and he just generally looked a bit petrified and overwhelmed by the whole affair. I tried to imagine him walkng into a meeting with then-President George W Bush with any sort of gravitas or clout and I just couldn't do it. I had assumed, quite wrongly of course, that he had no chance of winning the contest.
These concerns were compounded when David Cameron went on the Jonathon Ross show in 2006. Upon receiving the ludicrous (and somewhat hilarious) suggestion that a teenage David Cameron used to 'enjoy himself' over posters of Margaret Thatcher, the best the Tory leader could do was laugh, then blush and then try (unsuccessfully) to change the subject.
What would Blair have done, or Churchill, or even Thatcher herself in the face of such brave impudence? All that would have been left of Ross at that moment would be a pair of shoes so eloquently and viciously would the man have been torn apart. Where have all the political heavyweights gone?
Cameron doesn't have the cojones for Number 10 I'm afraid. At G8 and international summits is the Tory leader really going to bring hard-fought deals back home to Britain? Is he going to lock horns with superstar Barack Obama on the big issues of the day? I really don't see it.
Yes, Brown is going to have some cringeworthy moments as he strives to hang on to Obama's coat-tails this week but at least this PM will be able to look the President in the eye, and keep his sweat glands in check.
A thought on the RBS situation, particularly with regard to the banking bailout.
If Scotland were to "negotiate a new settlement with the British government so that Scotland becomes a sovereign and independent state", would that mean that we would carry across the £45bn burden that the Government has ploughed into the troubled bank? How heavy a stick is that going to be for the unionists to bash over the SNP's head come election time?
Yes, it's back! With group hugs abounding and flowers in its hair the Friday Blog Love tradition is back on.
And with those poor trams going undercarriage-up resulting in the most finger pointing at Edinburgh Council since the 1976 'Which Way to the Beach' contest, there is only one subject in town that deserves some tender loving care.
Yes, the trams. Princes Street has ground to a halt and a somewhat lost looking empty tram is on display to jump-start some public enthusiasm for them (or maybe it's an ironic work of modern art perhaps). As a young Edinburgh lass said on Princes St today, "that tram looks pish". Yes, quite.
So what to do? How can the blogosphere right this wrong save from washing young girls' mouths out with Listerine?
Well, perhaps it is worth considering the plan of sponsoring trams? If people can have seats named after them in Sports stadiums or picnic benches named after them in parks, why not do the same for these cash-guzzling trams?
We could have the 'Jenners Juggernaut' for the trendy urbanites or the 'Goodwin Glider' with free use for all pensioners (Fred has to spend his money somehow)
Heck, if the Scottish blogosphere dug deep we could have our very own 'Bloggers Express' running back and forth from RBS to Ocean Terminal everyday. Maybe even stick an RSS feed in there somewhere.
I've just found a fiver in my jeans pocket. Who's with me!?
Enjoy the weekend, free from any concern that you'll get hit by a bus on Princes St. (Watch out for stranded trams though.)
During a recent flight I had the good fortune of watching a documentary called 'Food Matters' which quite simply blew me away with the range of facts, warnings and information it contained. It is far and away the best thing I have seen on a tv screen and I would urge anyone to watch it.
Needless to say, Scotland has a health problem and watching this documentary rammed home to me just how far back we are in terms of nutrition and diet from where we need to be. I don't know what it will take for Scots to ditch the pizzas, ready meals and chips in favour of the blueberries, muesli and spirulina but I am as confident as ever that free healthy school meals should be one of the top priorities for our politicians, regardless of cost.
This then got me thinking about a current hypocrisy in Scottish Politics at the moment.
The free school meals campaign has been somewhat scuppered by certain councils, many of which are Labour-run, due to their claims that there is not enough money in the budgets to factor in this policy, despite agreements that had already been signed off that these meals would be paid for by every council.
Alex Salmond's current claims that Scotland is being hit by a £500m shortfall in its own budget is very similar to that of the Labour councils claims regarding free school meals and yet Labour's counter-argument that the SNP should just tighten their belts and get on with it is in stark contrast to their own conduct with regard to the education budgets and free school meals.
I fear all sides are becoming increasingly guilty of this duplicitous behaviour and it's frustrating that it's getting in the way of good policies being implemented.
Food matters, it really does, and with LIT off the table, with no independence referendum on the horizon and precious little else on the Parliament's to do list, I really hope that Free School Meals finds its way back onto the agenda and we can give our kids the superfoods and nutritional education that could make a huge difference to this country, the sick man of Europe.
It's pretty clear that Fred Goodwin shouldn't be drawing a £650,000 pension from RBS after his leadership brought the bank to its knees, racked up the biggest loss of any financial company in the UK and plunged shares down to the same price as a Sherbert Dib Dab.
That said, it is Fred's decision whether to take it or not and the current broo-ha-ha over the issue is detracting from the overall concern of how to safeguard jobs, stabilise the UK economy and get RBS back on its feet.
The pension is £650k and the insurance plan is £325bn. Let's keep things in perspective.
So hopefully the Government isn't taking its eye off the ball but given that the share price has bounced up to the cost of a Mars Bar one can only assume that today's news has been good overall.
I have had Post Offices on my mind more often this week than I have perhaps had in the past decade. I personally haven't licked a stamp or stuffed an envelope for a very, very long time.
That said, I have struggled to decide whether Post Offices should be sold off as Peter Mandelson and the Tories would like or if they should be held on to (and paid through the nose for) by the Government as 130+ Labour MPs would like.
Upon learning that the Post Office loses £6bn a year I was immediately convinced that the figure was too high and surely a sale was required but then I started thinking that the NHS effectively 'loses' hundreds of billions a year and noone is calling for a private sale there.
So what is it to be, does the Post Office really lose £6bn a year or is that simply what it costs to provide a necessary service?
Speaking selfishly, as I would always send an email rather than an actual letter, I reckon I would like to see that £6bn spent on renewable energy or hospitals or free school meals but taking a broader based view, and remembering that I don't rely on welfare cheques or old-fashioned correspondence on a day-to-day basis, I reckon my support lies with the Labour rebels.
Devolution Max seems to be the compromise solution for each of the main parties, even if I get the distinct impression that none of the four main parties would have it as their personal preference.
Given that, I can’t imagine that Devolution Max (the status quo but with full borrowing and tax powers) will stay in place for too long if it is to be adopted in the near future. And given that unionist parties are caving into more powers for Scotland (literally) left, right and centre, one can only assume that the SNP’s plans for independence are coming along swimmingly. Who was it that said that devolution would inevitably lead to independence? I think we're seeing a part of that being played out today.
Furthermore, one has to wonder what goes through some Times journalists’ minds. According to Lorraine Davidson “it will be severely embarrassing for the SNP if it fails to win support for a referendum Bill”. How exactly is that the case? It is quite clear that neither Labour, the Tories nor the Lib Dems are interested in having a referendum. There’s not much the SNP can do about that except await an upswing in votes (and seats) in the 2011 election and/or have Devolution Max dropped onto their laps.
Far from being embarrassed, Salmond and Swinney should be rubbing their hands with glee. A great job well done from the leadership as far as I can see.
“I would like to ask the SNP Candidate a question. Given that the Westminster election is effectively a choice between David Cameron or Gordon Brown for Prime Minister, why should I forfeit my say on that decision and vote for your party?”
I would forgive an SNP candidate if he or she were to take a long sip of water, hesitate and then babble in a cringeworthy manner at this point. It’s a killer question and I’m not entirely sure what the stock answer should be.
Yes, one could discuss local concerns in order to shift the focus or one could restate what the SNP stands for at a UK level or one could even just go on the offensive and explain why neither Gordon nor David are fit for Number 10 but it wouldn’t do much good. There’s no getting around the fact that one of the two men will be PM after the next election, that that is the top voting criteria for many voters and that leaves little wiggle room for an SNP stance on the issue.
Understandably, people enjoy backing the winners of a contest. There’s a reason why Hibernian football club received bumper crowds when they got demoted to the First Division. They were suddenly winning games. There’s also a reason why the Leona Lewis’ and Will Youngs saunter to Christmas Number One’s year in, year out. (I concede I’m showing my age there but my days spent watching reality TV have largely passed.)
Nonetheless, in this X-Factor and Big Brother culture, we do like to have that fuzzy moment when we see the ticker-tape raining down on a grinning winner, knowing that our vote helped carry them over the line. Gordon Brown might be struggling in the polls to win the next election but you can bet your boots Alex Salmond won’t be setting up home at Number 10 anytime soon.
So what are the SNP to do with this Prime Ministerial Stress?
Well, I have a fairly controversial suggestion. In advance of the 2010 General Election, the SNP should clearly state that the party would back one of the rival party leaders to be Prime Minister rather than abstain when it comes to the vote in Westminster. Not so much picking the best option but pragmatically picking the least worst. Indeed, it would be known to the voting Scottish public that SNP MPs would vote for Gordon Brown to be Prime Minister, removing the need for the above trouser-wetting question to ever be asked in the campaign.
As far as I see it, there are no downsides to the tactic and numerous upsides.
There are many floating voters across Scotland who have been impressed with the SNP, unimpressed with Labour and remain staunchly against the Tories. As things stand, I am sure many of them will be voting Labour despite their regard for the Nationalists. We have seen this in regular polls where the SNP are flying high in the Holyrood results but trailing Labour in the Westminster results.
Another advantage would be the shock factor, a refreshingly pragmatic and mature approach from a political party when such behaviour is all too often thin on the ground in Westminster politics. Such a move could break the cynicism and ennui that has gripped so many and win some new SNP voters to the ballots.
And as for any potential attacks from the Tories or even Labour over the SNP’s stance, I am confident they would look juvenile and petty in the face of such a reasonable move from the Nationalists.
Furthermore, the move would coincide with the SNP's ultimate objective of independence. By choosing Gordon Brown over David Cameron they are tacitly stating that although Labour are bad for Scotland, the Conservatives would be even worse. And with the Tories near-certs for winning the next election, this could serve as a boost in the Nationalist drive for separation.
So all in all, assuming the Glenrothes by-election was fair, it is clear from late last year that backing Gordon Brown as PM, even when he is struggling in the role, is a vote-winner for Labour in Scotland. The SNP can pick up easy points off the back of it at zero expense.
After all, let’s face it, Labour are going to get cuffed at the next election and consequently the SNP won‘t even have to make good on their promise.
Indeed that is the one minor hiccup in this plan. The SNP pledging a vote for Gordon Brown for Prime Minister will in all likelihood not provide the voter getting that fuzzy feeling from backing the winner. I can’t imagine Brown is much of a fan of ticker-tape anyway.
I see in The Scotsman that the Electoral Commission has stated that the Glenrothes by-election was "well run", no doubt a reaction to the suspicion hanging over the vote given the hugely surprising result, the massive increase in postal ballots and the dubious disappearance of the voting register.
There is precious little detail in the news story from The Scotsman. It's all very well that the Electoral Commission have a warm glow that everything ran smoothly but there are no answers to the very important questions surrounding this by-election.
Hopefully the enquiry being conducted by the Scottish Courts Service will have a bit more flesh on its bones.
Visiting my auntie in Oxford was a fairly unexpected place to discover a strange sticking point involving Scotland and England policies but so it transpired today over tea and out of date cookies.
My Aunt is the proud owner of an over-60s bus pass which seems to be well-used. The problem is she regularly visits family up in Scotland and the card doesn't apply north of the border. Presumably the same applies for Scottish card holders visiting England, they don't get the free bus travel.
I understand there is a complication involving councils and money but surely there is scope for the various bus passes for the elderly to be used across the entirety of the UK, regardless of the political affiliations of whoever happens to be in Government at the time.
Overall, I reckon the onus is on the SNP to have this sorted out. The Nationalists may well convince people of Scotland's need to be independent with arguments concerning oil, renewables, nuclear weapons and/or Sandi Thom but they will (and do) quickly lose support over very minor issues such as cross-border bus passes and Custom checks when crossing territory, regardless of whether they will apply in reality or not.
The SNP needs to pick its battles carefully and largely it does so very well indeed. But it could be the very minor skirmishes that ultimately cost them the referendum war.
I agree with the commentators and speculators that think Harriet Harman is jostling for the position of Labour leader when Gordon Brown loses the next election so it has been fascinating to read Peter Mandelson going about his business of cutting the deputy leader down to size. The Business Secretary has basically suggested that most of Harman's proposals should be kicked into the long grass.
I don't really have a point for this post, just a pleasing admiration for the dark master of spin getting his claws out once again.
First of all, fair play to Gordon Brown for being the first European leader to get the nod from Barack Obama for a visit to Washington.
The honour of first visit may have already have gone to the Japanese but given that the Prime Minister would have suffered a great deal of disparaging comments in the press if Sarkozy or Merkel had beaten him to the European top spot, then it's only decent to congratulate the Prime Minister on his good fortune.
That said, another UK leader is already in the US. Alex Salmond is in Washington and is set to deliver a speech today setting out Scotland's place in Britain, and the world. Needless to say, the crux of the speech will focus on our country's response to the recession and why Salmond thinks an independent Scotland would be the preferred constitutional model to optimise such a response.
As the SNP approach the second half of their 4 year term I can't help but think that the party is moving on from the successful opening gambit of winning the public's affection by proving they are competent in devolved areas. The next move is to bring the independence cause to the fore via whichever means avails itself to the Nationalists in the run up to a vote in Holyrood on a referendum for independence. The unionist parties have already set their stall out by stating they will not back such a plebiscite.
Nonetheless, a speech at Georgetown University provides a loud megaphone for Alex Salmond to state his views to a listening world and, consequently, Washington may be providing more headaches than remedies for Gordon Brown as he continues his attempts to outflank and outsmart a continually buoyant SNP.
There seems to be a strange political game being played out across the UK, a balancing act of who can say they are spending the most while in actual fact be saving the most. The situation has thrown up a couple of unexpected parallels.
The SNP are complaining to the Labour Government about the enforced cuts on the Scottish budget.
Edinburgh Labour are complaining to the SNP Government about the enforced cuts on the Edinburgh budget.
The Lib Dems want income tax cut. Tom McCabe wants Council Tax cut. Annabel Goldie wants Council Tax cut but Labour try to castigate the SNP for doing deals with the Tories.
So as Irish workers take to the streets about cuts in pay I worry that if we're not serious about what we can and can't afford then we could be going down a dangerous path where politicians duplicitously campaign for more money when there isn't any left in the bank.
By the time this auto-posts I will be flying over the Atlantic eating chicken or fish on the way back to the UK.
We've gawped at Chinese infrastructure, dodged traffic in Vietnam, beach bummed in Thailand, got lost in Indonesia, watched Andy Murray in Australia, swam with dolphins in New Zealand and, today, roller bladed along Venice Beach.
This is not to mention the game of S&M I have played with Mother Nature resulting in a humiliating loss for me as the ginger sideburns and scraggly, salt'n'pepper beard will testify.
But of all the cities we've looked forward to arrive in, none can beat Edinburgh. Settling back into the swing of things jobwise, socialwise and even blogwise will be most welcome. I look forward to a proper Sunday Paper session this weekend and a blogging roundup seems an appropriate celebration for then too.
So stay tuned but till then, I have some packing to do...
Basically, given the UK economy is in desperate need of a kick start, share prices are sitting dangerously low and the blue collar pension situation is dire (at best), it would be nice if a partial solution to all 3 problems could be neatly wrapped into one policy.
My idea is simply to introduce a moratorium on (or even a permanent cessation to) income tax due on profits made on share portfolios up to a certain value, say 40,000 pounds.
The benefits would be as follows:
Individuals whose only realistic option is the state pension would have access to the potentially lucrative stock market with no fear of losing 40% of their gains to the Government. A significant barrier to entry for those who are in most in need of a decent pension would be removed.
Share prices are currently so low at the moment that long term investors would reasonably expect to have a reasonable pension upon retirement.
There would be no immediate adverse impact on tax income or current public spending as the shares would presumably be sold in future years and decades.
Big business and rich investors would not be able to take advantage of the tax break as 40k is far too low a threshold.
The FTSE 100 would receive an instant boost causing confidene in the UK economy to increase and the Sterling to rebound.
It's just an idea. The UK tax system is incredibly complex so there are probably a million reasons why the above would not work but in principle I reckon it stacks up as a winner.
Given the newsthat public borrowing has increased by up to 100% of GDP, seemingly overnight, I suspect commentators and opposition politicians will go overboard in their denigrating the Government for how this has come to pass.
But let's be honest, nothing has changed since yesterday. It's merely a technical administrative adjustment that has added 1.5 trillion of debt to the public books. Every last penny of the liability is matched by a corresponding Government-owned asset and as bad as things are at RBS, I don't think anyone is suggesting that the bank has a negative Balance Sheet just yet.
While we all scramble around at the moment holding onto our cash, I do hope we can do the same with our perspective.
A remarkable story in The Times where Labour are lining up council employees' pension money to bail out PFI deals.
The plan is apparently to offer councils a rate of return for upfront investment, paid for out of pension schemes.
So Labour are planning to pay the already large interest rates to private companies with public money and then try to make even more money to pay back a premium on that cash. Where exactly will that money come from? Just how screwed are retiring council staff going to be?
One has to ask, are Labour running an audacious Ponzi scheme similar to Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford?
(1) RBS are well known for recruiting staff on the basis that the base salary is significantly lower than the market average but the scope for reaping attractive financial rewards through impressive performance throughout the year is wide.
(2) It may well be better for a company to pay bonuses even when money is tight as the alternative is court actions from employees who are contractually obligated to receive further remuneration when they excel.
My point is, although politicians and commentators (and Prime Ministers) are falling over themselves to combat the large level of bonuses paid to RBS employees, there is more to the story than they may appreciate.
I don't have time to properly check this out (always a dangerous starting point for a blog post!) but is everyone getting carried away with this supposed 20-point lead for the Tories over Labour?
Dredging my memory for what I've read on it, this 48% for the Tories and 28% for Labour is based on individuals who are certain to vote.
The problem is, such people don't constitute the entire electorate. Once everyone is included in the poll I think it's something like a relatively slender 38% to 31% lead for the Tories which, of course, wouldn't make quite so many headlines.
As I say, I don't quote the above statistics with brimming certainty but is publication bias making us all get a bit carried away with only one piece of the picture?
I mean seriously, I know it seemed a good wheeze to join the unionists together and face-off against the SNP's National Conversation but the Lib Dems must be wondering why they are helping out Gordon Brown in his pro-Westminster propaganda exercise, aka the Calman Commission.
I have to admit, I do fear that Scotland as a whole is getting nothing back from either the Calman Commission or the National Conversation so if the Lib Dems were to publicly jump ship from the former then they would probably win a few admirers.
And, given today's news that the latest setback for Tavish Scott is that the Lib Dems' preferred constituional setup of a federal UK is not covered by Calman, they have the perfect excuse.
We've had politicians' time wasted with the Local Income Tax debates, we've had politicians' time wasted with illegal donations and we've had far too much politicians' time wasted with the Calman Commission.
The Liberal Democrats are running out of 'big ticket items' to stand for in Scotland given they have abandoned their tax cut principles during the budget debate and now Local Income Tax is off the table. Maybe they can win a headline or two by doing the decent thing over the Calman Commission.
As news bulletins and radio stations focus heavily on Obama's economic stimulus package here in the US, I am left somewhat confused by the currentfocuson bonuses back in the UK. The millions paid to bankers is small fry in comparison to the billions that will make or break UK plc.
Is it possible that given Labour are doing such a lamentable job of reviving the UK economy they have opted to focus on the significantly simpler task of pressurising down excessive salaries in the City?
Gordon Brown is backing the wrong horse if he thinks messing around with four point plans to end the excesses of bonus culture is the way to reverse a 20 point poll deficit (mind you, one has to wonder why Gordon thinks his four reasonable principles should only apply to banking. That is, regarding his 1st point, which industry SHOULD be rewarded for failure?).
Furthermore, if the Prime Minister continues to try to absolve himself of any blame as he clearly attempts to do in his opening paragraphs in The Times today, then his departure from Number 10 will only be hastened.
The status quo is unsustainable, certainly up to a 2010 election. The knives should and will be out for the PM soon.
It's been a while since I studied tax in any great detail but I am (now vaguely) aware of various rights that a company has if it is unfortunate enough to make a trading loss in any one accounting period.
I may be wrong here but I seem to remember that a company can carry a loss back in order to decrease a tax liability created in the previous 12 months.
Given that RBS made a profit of £10bn in 2007/08 and a loss of over £20bn in 2008/09, could it be the case that the bank could carry back that £20bn loss to completely wipe out any tax liability incurred in the prior year?
If this is the case then, crudely put, you and I have just lost an extra billion or so to RBS on top of the £20bn we injected last year.
While I worked as an auditor, the Analytical Review audit technique was used widely in order to find where companies may have errors or frauds occurring within their books. An analytical review is a very basic exercise where one builds an expectation for a certain figure, makes a comparison with the actual result and then investigates any significant differences.
If these unexplained differences could not be logically explained by the management or evidence could not be provided to backup the actual figure then a problem would arise that would invariably lead to a negative audit opinion being granted if it wasn't addressed. In more severe cases, a fraud report would be sent to the relevant authorities.
Translating this to Politics and the Glenrothes by-election (bear with me), one could reasonably have built up an expectation that the SNP were going to walk it. Gordon Brown was on the ropes, the SNP were reasonably popular, the PHI 100 had scored it as a win for the Nationalists and even Labour activists and insiders had given up hope that Labour could win.
So, there was a significant difference between what was expected (SNP win) and what actually came to pass (Labour win) in Glenrothes.
Applying anaytical review, a reasonable course of action would be to look at the detail of the results and it wouldn't be long before the seemingly anomalous 4-fold increase in the postal voting was noticed. This would then be tested by comparison to other recent Westminster by-elections held in Scotland in order to be sure the rise was in line.
Now, it's not easy to find postal vote data relating to by-elections in Scotland but I more or less managed to make a comparison in postal vote numbers between the 2005 general election and the by-elections for Glenrothes, Glasgow East and Dunfermline & West Fife. These three were chosen as they are all recent, closely contested by-elections with three separate victorious parties.
The results (detail and links shown at the bottom of this post) were that Dunfermline & WF saw a 35% increase in postal voting, Glasgow East saw a 62% increase in postal voting and Glenrothes saw a 300% increase in postal voting. Glenrothes clearly being a significant departure from the other two figures which are roughly in line.
From here, any decent auditor would contact the relevant persons and ask for evidence, some sort of record of voting population that could be used to verify that the postal voting was genuine.
Upon being told that this register had been lost, the auditor would not only be out of options, but they'd be contacting their senior manager and partner to inform them there was a serious problem at hand.
Cutting an already too long story short, this situation with the Glenrothes postal votes cannot be simply brushed away or glossed over. It is regrettable that there is currently no private audit being conducted of what exactly happened but I hope the voices for such an enquiry strengthen rather than weaken as the next few weeks and months come to pass.
Now, only another 6 hours to wait for my flight to Los Angeles. What else can I do here except have a Burger King.....
Lord Turner, Chairman of the Financial Services Authority in The Telegraph:
"There could have been a different way of directly supporting HBOS and keeping Lloyds separate."
Funny how this comes out only after Brown sidelines the Competition Commission, Mandelson fasttracks the paperwork for the HBOS takeover, the Scottish protest groups are ruthlessly crushed and Lloyds Banking Group approaches nationalisation.
You can almost hear Iain Gray spit those four words out in The Guardian piece the other day:
Meanwhile Scotland's first minister – a former RBS banker – was exposed this week as a political spiv and speculator for short-selling the Scottish public.
I'm sorry, but at what point did working for Scotland's biggest company become something to be ashamed of? RBS may be going through a horrible mess at the moment but the bank remains an institution that has welcomed in and churned out many of the brightest and best that Scotland has to offer.
We know Iain Gray - a former pupil of George Watson's - is not a fan of the elite after mocking those who read Economics and studied at St Andrews University in his opening speech as Labour leader. So we can see he seems keen on going down this path of knocking those with business acumen and an ambition to get ahead.
He does so at his peril. It took the SNP a long time to woo the business community but if Labour continue to knock the banking sector with these backhanded comments, then the SNP will have an easy time keeping the Crawford Beveridges, the Brian Soutars and the George Mathewsons onside.
Feel free to read the rest of Iain Gray's thoughts on the SNP but it is pretty much empty pap throughout with no mention of a constructive policy, an embarrassing dribbling attack piece that should have been left to Lord Foulkes to pen.
A very interesting contribution from Paddy Ashdown in The Scotsman today, the former Lib Dem leader has suggested that now is the right time to have an independence referendum, albeit to kill off the SNP as Paddy is sure that Scots would vote 'no'.
His suggestion has all the hallmarks of Wendy Alexander's 'Bring it On' call to arms to have the referendum sooner rather than later but the remarks will probably merely serve as a nuisance to Tavish Scott who is deeply against having any referendum with the independence option included. The Scottish Lib Dem leader must wonder how he can look democratic if he continually denies the Scottish public such a vote when prominent Liberals make calls such as this.
It is not yet clear which if any of the main political rivals to the SNP will agree to have the independence referendum in 2010. I am beginning to suspect it will be none of them as I think Tavish, Iain and Annabel understand what Paddy does not.
An SNP party that can govern a devolved Scotland free from having to push for independence is a very potent threat. So far the Nationalists have thrown themselves at the challenges of local taxation, public spending and health to name but three important areas and they have reaped the rewards in the polls, way out in first place.
Perversely, the biggest thing that puts some Scots off voting for the SNP is the issue of independence. There are many in Scotland who would like to see us stay a part of the UK, indeed this group even sometimes amounts to a majority. But many in that same group rule out the SNP immediately as they can't see past the independence policy.
Paddy Ashdown may well be suggesting a lose-lose option here with his call for a vote. If the SNP win the referendum they get their dream of an independent Scotland, if the SNP lose the referendum they get a 10-point bump in the polls.
No wonder not many Unionists north of the border are suggesting Bring it On.
I just clicked onto Labourlist for the first time in a while and I was instantly met with numerous screaming red headlines villifying Guido Fawkes.
It seems something of a turf war has been built up between the Labour spin doctor and the popular blogger, probably not helped by this story which is particularly amusing.
But if all of this is taking away from Labour getting its message out, is it really in any way helpful to the cause? I thought the dark art of political spin was meant to be subtle to the point of invisible but that Labourlist website currently looks like the angry scrawl of someone who has been rubbed up the wrong way once too often.
What did Alastair Campbell say about once you are the story it is time to step down? Maybe Derek Draper has to go already...
All over the world Governments are throwing money at the problem that is the credit crunch, stimulus packages of various shapes and sizes are cropping up at a remarkable rate. It's a laudable effort but you can bet your crippling mortgage that if anyone gets it wrong we'll all be paying through our noses for it for decades to come.
That said, we have to do something so not only am I going to be supportive of Brown and Darling (as best I can), I'm going to try to do my bit.
Sadly this doesn't extend to giving out fivers and tenners to boost public spending but I've come up with an idea and I do hope other bloggers who read this feel free to do the same as I would be interested in the results.
Basically, I have a list of 5 products or services back home that constitute my favourite things to part with cash for. It is a particularly pertinent list at the moment given that I am in Auckland right now and missing these things a lot as I think about them.
Here goes (in no particular order):
(1) The Sunday Herald and the Sunday papers in general.
A rather dull start one may think but the paper really does do a good job. It is perhaps becoming a little formulaic in its presentation but the journalism really is very good as far as I am concerned. And in this day and age where you can easily just read the paper online or nip into a coffee shop and read their copy, I always make an effort to buy the Sunday Herald to show my support. I am sure such gestures would be appreciated in light of the staff restructuring that happened recently and the difficulties the newspaper industry is facing as a whole.
Note that the same could be said for Scotland on Sunday or Sunday Times or Observer, whatever takes your fancy.
I'm not sure how well known this heather ale is across Scotland but I have a real soft spot for it. I don't think I could drink pints of the stuff in one sitting but a bottle or two on a night out is always a bit special. Given how famous Scotland is for its alcohol, I would suggest a Fraoch rather than a Heineken or Fosters next time you're at the bar.
A simply excellent website. Used many a time in the early days of a budding romance that has now settled on the comfortable plateau of home cooked risotto (or Chinese takeout) in front of The West Wing on the couch.
For those not in the know, 5pm.co.uk provides excellent bargains for restaurants and cultural events around various Scottish towns and cities. You may have to eat at 6pm and/or choose from a selection of only 2 or 3 starters/main courses but the value is simply brilliant. The highlight was eating at the wonderful Cafe St Honore for 12pounds a head last year.
Fine dining can continue during the recession. Also note that I've added the 5pm updates to my blogroll.
(4) Farmers' Market / Veggie Boxes
Fresh food amidst delightfully twee surroundings in the shadow of Edinburgh castle on Saturday mornings. You can't beat the Farmers' Market.
With food generally costing less than Tesco and Sainsbury's and a whole lot tastier, this is an excellent way to circumvent the national chains that will weather the economic storm easily and help out farmers and food producers who will probably be feeling the pinch.
Saturday mornings until 2pm. And of course if you can't make it up that early then you can always sign up for a Veggie Box. I go with East Coast Organics who have been great.
(5) Innocent Smoothies
It may have been a dark day when Innocent had to downgrade their "5 fruit and veg a day" boast to only 2 portions but the Innocent Smoothie range is still a 'must have' in my fridge and I'd recommend giving it a whirl.
The bottles seem expensive but the 1 litre ones last a surprisingly long time.
And that is that, maybe my random chat will act as a straw on a camel's back and some people will push the boat out and buy a Fraoch here and a veggie box there. And, again, if anyone is stuck for blogging ideas (you know, cos there's so little going on at the moment!), then by all means borrow my idea.
Cheers! Here's to a rosier Scottish and British economy in 2009.
I don't really understand Labour's reaction to the SNP's decision to delay pushing forward with Local Income Tax. Given the myriad of reasons why now is not the right time to bring the policy in, not to mention there isn't a parliamentary majority for it anyway, I would have thought that Iain Gray would have been pleased with the outcome. Particularly given that he and his party won't have an alternative to local taxation until 2011.
Much like student loans, the Labour party jumps up and down about how bad an idea LIT is, then the SNP drops it and then they start jumping up and down again because they don't have the opportunity to vote 'no' against it. Bizarre.
I think the Scottish public will see through Iain Gray's theatrical ripping up of the SNP 2007 Manifesto. Things change and Governments have to roll with the punches. The US didn't elect Bush to invade Iraq just as much as the UK didn't elect Brown to give billions away to failed banks.
Sands shift, circumstances alter and our leaders have to adjust to that reality which is all Salmond and Swinney are doing by delaying Local Income Tax.
And as much as some Labour members may hope that jumping up and down against the proposed independence referendum will prevent it from sitting in front of them in the next year or so, it's not going to happen.
I awake this morning somewhat surprised to see that the SNP have decided to wait until after 2011 to fix the Council Tax problem in Scotland.
I fully agree that it is the right thing to do. Council Tax does need to be fixed but now is not the right time to mess around with changes in business when the economy is suffering so badly. Many companies have put worthwhile projects on hold while they focus on core revenue streams and cost cutting. The Local Income Tax is just another of those worthwhile projects that need to be put on ice.
Further to this, it is clear that there is no parliamentary majority for this policy. Much like the cancellation of student debt, there is no point wasting time and money on something that is never going to pass, as worthy as it may be. The political win for the SNP is that if enough Scots want to see LIT come in, then the Nationalists can expect an even greater number of MSPs in 2011.
It's unfortunate that a corollary of this move will be that Labour will be off the hook as they had delayed making a decision until 2011 on what their preferred choice is for local taxation but another upside is that the Green Party's preference of Land Valuation Tax will probably get thoroughly debated when the time comes.
So local taxation is off the agenda for now, I'm sure there will be plenty to take its place in the meantime...
Since I made such a pig's ear of the SNP Conference in Autumn 2008 (the dent in the hire car was the icing on the cake!), I've been keeping close tabs on the Spring Conference for 2009. Initially this was to make sure I was back early enough from my travels to attend but given I'll be touching down in London in 12 days, that is less of a concern.
I see that it seems to be official that Anne McLaughlin will be Scotland's latest MSP after the sad passing of Bashir Ahmad. I say "seems to be" as there had been some rabble rousing over at Leaky Chanter and I was concerned there might be some truth in the allegation that the SNP hierarchy were going to try to put pressure on Anne to step aside in order to get James Dornan into Holyrood as he was next on the Glasgow list. Now that all is done and dusted, the mysteriously strident anti-SNP blogger has clearly been talking errant nonsense.
I have always had the impression that Anne is a very popular person within the SNP and fully merits her bittersweet opportunity here, the awesome result in Glasgow East which she coordinated speaks for itself.
However, this situation does once again throw up the vagaries of the d'Hondt party system. The vast majority of the Glasgow public will be asking "Who?" when they hear they have a new politician representing them. Indeed, I bet the vast majority of Glaswegians don't even know what's going on and yet it was that same city population that apparently voted for Anne.
That said, I am relieved that there has been no perversion of the electoral process as it currently stands. The Glasgow SNP members ranked their candidate back in 2006, the voters made a decision on who their second vote went to and the d'Hondt process took care of the rest.
So my main concern doesn't lie with Leaky Chanter's bizarre claims of undemocratic behaviour but rather with the clear disconnect between the average voter and list MSPs.
As George Foulkes and Ian McKee to name but two list MSPs have said themselves, the voting system for Holyrood has to change.
That said, good luck to Anne, I'm sure she'll bring a strong dose of energy and wit to the parliament and do a cracking job.
A real shot in the arm in the Sunday Herald today for those in favour of Scottish independence. Support has risen to 38% with 40% against. Or spun another way, 60% of the Scottish population cannot bring themselves to back the union.
I have to confess I am becoming somewhat 'ho hum' about these polls. One month the numbers are up and another month the numbers are back down again. Until we have a real prospect of an independence referendum on the cards then I will struggle to get too excited about who has their noses in front for a vote that isn't going to happen. I see the SNP's proposed 2010 referendum as a useful tool to win stronger backing in the 2011 election due to it being outvoted in the Chamber.
That said, I do enjoy reading Labour's bizarre and panicked responses to these polls:
"The vast majority of Scots do not want to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK."
I think the poll results speak for themselves, as much as this person might want to rewrite the conclusions.
UPDATE: I think it's pretty clear now how crucial the polling question for independence is. Last week support was put at 29% for and 55% against (if I remember correctly). The two sets of results are far too disparate for anything other than a different question having been asked being the reason for the difference.
A fairly unexpected story in the Scotland on Sunday, David Cameron claiming he will fix devolution. That of course is contingent on the current set-up being broken which many may think is not necessarily the case.
Overall, I daresay people north of the border will be nonplussed about Cameron's latest brief interjection into Scottish Politics. Poll results have showed that the UK leader has made little to no impact on the Conservative's standing in Scotland and, consequently, I daresay his views on individual issues won't carry much weight.
Indeed, David's rather vague and faintly insulting claims to be able to save us from ourselves while 'vigorously opposing' the SNP may well combine to give the Nationalists a boost rather than a knock.
I am saddened and surprised to hear via Will that Bashir Ahmad, a list MSP for the SNP, has passed away. I must confess I knew very little of the work that Bashir has been involved in at the Parliament but it is always a shock and a jolt when someone whose name is so familiar suddenly leaves us.
Some may find it tasteless to even make such a comment but it's natural for one reaction to be who Bashir's replacement in the Scottish Parliament will be. It is Anne McLaughlin, the blogosphere's own IndyGal who was 6th on the SNP list for Glasgow.
Good luck to her if she takes up the position as MSP.
On the long, long drive up to Brisbane yesterday I was struck by an exasperated caller on a radio phone-in show who was frustrated at the Australian Government's plan of cash hand-outs to boost the retail market in the country.
His point was roughly along the lines of "Why is Kevin Rudd giving us money to buy the same old junk as before, to get our economy into the same complacent position as before when we have the global warming problem coming at us like a freight train?"
I liked the sentiment, the idea that we're all scurrying around trying to rearrange the tuck shop on the sinking titanic. Perhaps we're not realising that, despite the headlines, there's a more pressing concern at the current time and the economic correction we're experiencing may even be an opportunity to bolster our plans for combatting climate change.
In Scotland, the revised budget may inadvertently have given us a few extra building blocks in positioning Scotland as the world leader of wind and wave power and, ironically, some of the more vital new building blocks may have come from those that voted 'no' to the first budget.
Labour have helped to increase the number of apprenticeships available in the country for the next few years and the Lib Dems have ensured that the Calman Commission will have to strongly consider suggesting Scotland has financial borrowing powers in the near future.
For me, I think if we are serious about being a world leader in renewable power then we have an opportunity here waiting to be seized. Goodness knows it will give numerous regions in our country a much-needed boost.
We may be back of the pack in terms of economic standing at the current time but if (via apprenticeships) we educate an army of staff tailored towards a soon-to-be-booming wave and wind power industry, if (via Calman Commission or otherwise) we harness any borrowing powers we can muster in order to create the renewables and electricity grid infrastructure we may need and if we can utilise the wisdom and expertise of environmental experts and Green party members to optimise our efforts, then not only will we avoid that looming Global Warming freight train but we can be the ones steering it and pulling ourselves up the economic tables all at the same time.
Although I am 2 votes short of my early prediction of unanimity, I can fully understand the Greens position in not backing the deal if they feel the Government's envornmental overtures do not go far enough. I think the Liberal Democrats and Labour score some points by finding a healthy compromise with the SNP. The Tories, of course, have looked pragmatic and mature throughout.
It is the Nationalists who are the real winners here though, calmly focussing on the bigger picture and bringing around a hastily convened second set of negotiations to ensure this Parliament's second budget is better than the last.
230m of accelerated infrastructure spending,
abolition of certain rates for small businesses,
more money for the NHS,
more money for affordable housing,
more money for personal care for the elderly,
more money for apprenticeships,
more money for town centre renewal
and of course a second year of the freeze on Council Tax charges.
It marks a great start to 2009 for the Parliament as a whole and I hope this Budget carries with it a feel-good factor for all parties involved that can be taken far into the coming year.
After the last budget the Tories were accused of propping up the SNP minority Government but this year I hope we can see that all parties propping up each other isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Let me just start by saying that I don't think for one second that there was any significant foul play surrounding the Glenrothes by-election. Even though I thoroughly expected an SNP win, I can certainly see in retrospect how Labour managed to pull off the unlikely victory (local support for Gordon Brown, successfully attacking SNP on care charges and core, lifelong Labour voters coming out in droves)
That said, the news brought forward by the excellent David Maddox that someone has seemingly pilfered the Glenrothes voting charts is very mysterious indeed. I don't know how often such a thing goes missing and consequently I don't know how high one's eyebrow should be raised over this but I would think it is well worth the independent inquiry that Tricia Marwick is calling for.
The value of a voting record should not be underestimated. Even though it won't say which party an individual voted for it would save a party's members the time of trudging out in the rain knocking the doors of non-voters, if they know who goes out for elections and who doesn't.
Furthermore, I think Lindsay Roy's attempt to lay the blame on the SNP is very weak indeed. I had honestly hoped that a man with valuable experience of being a headmaster would be above the childish politics of calling something a scandalous loss of personal data by a rival party.
Something's gone wrong, it's serious enough to look into the bottom of it but I do hope we can avoid either the suggestion that Labour rigged the election or the SNP nicked the results. At least until we have an inquiry and get some answers.
UPDATE: As an interesting aside to this story, it was noted in the comments that postal voting increased by nearly 3,000 votes. Up from 4,181 in 2005 to 6,954 in the by-election. This was despite an overal decrease in turnout.
Not casting aspersions either way, but for the integrity of all involved, this has to be looked into.
UPDATE 2: Way back in November the Scot-Land blog suggested that there may have been a fraud occurring in the Glenrothes by-election, due mostly to the timing of reporting, the betting leading up to the result and the sheer shock of the end result.
UPDATE 3: On November 3rd, Guido Fawkes had an exclusive that Labour in Glenrothes were apparently in disarray, based on the leaked minutes of the local Labour group's meeting. "The party in Fife is not geared up for modern campaigning" according to Councillor Alex Rowley.
UPDATE 4: I recall that Labour have past form in postal vote irregularities, from Blackburn and Birmingham.
I still can't believe there has been significant foul play, but putting all of the above together and letting people decide for themselves is well worth it I would think.
In the first session we had David Steel of the Lib Dems, then we had George Reid of the SNP and currently we have Alex Fergusson of the Tories, so one can reasonably assume that Labour will be putting forward the next Presiding Officer in 2011.
I know it may be rather far in advance to be considering this but, in light of the budget debacle, it is perfectly plausible that every MSP you have will count at some point in a parliamentary term. You wouldn't be too keen to lose one cheaply by giving someone up to be the Presiding Officer.
To be fair, Robin Harper of the Greens could put himself forward or even Margo MacDonald if she stays on for another term but aside from those possibilities, it will be a Labour speaker in the chamber. Unless Denis Canavan wishes to come back for a final swansong.
The thing is, I can't think of any Labour frontrunners at this early stage. And I would think Labour will be reluctant to put someone forward for the role if the makeup of the Chamber is anything like it is now.
Malcolm Chisholm perhaps could hold the brief if he stays on for one more term, though this is expected to be his last term.
Or maybe Jack McConnell. Something has to get the former First Minister's juices flowing if he is to be placed under constituency arrest in Motherwell and Wishaw by the Labour leadership.
Jackie Baillie would probably enjoy bossing everyone around and she is out of favour with Iain Gray by the looks of things anyway.
Hugh Henry? Pauline McNeill? Lewis MacDonald? Helen Eadie?
I just don't see it happening and we don't need to be told twice how crucial a single MSP can be to the parliament's numbers after this last week, even if I just have.
It may be two years away but Labour's turn to put up a Presiding Officer could prove very interesting indeed.
Yousuf is overjoyed as he has understandably focussed on the Westminster element of the poll which has Labour ahead by 10%.
Indygal is delighted that the Scottish public has wholeheartedly backed the SNP's handling of the budget by reading between the lines of the Holyrood voting numbers. No mention of Westminster numbers is made, again understandably.
Strong supporters of independence seemingly refuse to be downhearted by the relatively low support for separation across Scotland, sitting at 29%. Advanced Media Watch maintains that a tipping point will occur after an as-yet-unknown-event that will have voters coming round in their droves.
Away from the slugfest of Labour vs SNP, Two Doctors is relatively pleased with the Greens' 6%, concluding that they would come away with the highest increase in MSPs. I would warn James that the Greens were comfortably on 6%+ leading into May 2007 and only came away with 2 MSPs (who weren't seeing eye to eye over the budget if some papers are to be believed today).
So what to think as an average SNP supporter? Is it good news or bad news this YouGov result?
For me, it's clear. Holyrood is the main show in town for the SNP. The longer they stay in Government north of the border then the more sway they will have with the Scottish public at a nuts and bolts level and the better off they will be.
Also, in terms of the SNP's main goal of independence, it is only through a referendum pushed through the Scottish Parliament that the Nationalists have any realistic chance of success. Whether it is persuading another party to back their calls for such a vote or through winning an unlikely outright majority would they succeed in taking the first steps down that road.
Consequently, these are the numbers that are most important. In terms of Scotland's constitutional future, the Holyrood poll outweighs the Westminster poll. It even outweighs the poll on independence as the SNP resolutely believe they can win the argument if they can just get a referendum through the Holyrood chamber.
At Westminster, it doesn't really matter all that much if the SNP have 10 or 20 MSPs. Yes, it helps to boost morale to have a great UK by-election or make some gains but for the party's raison d'etre, independence, their presence in London is not the means to the end.
Further to this, some SNP members are having wet dreams about a hung parliament with the party having real sway at a national level, even going as far as considering demands Salmond could make to David Cameron in exchange for the backing of Tory policies. It's quite simply cloud cuckoo land as far as I am concerned, political pie in the sky. The chances of such an eventuality are just far too slim, the electoral math too complicated.
Also, when it comes to Westminster it will always be a two-horse race with the Tories. And for as long as there's a Scotsman living at Number 10, Labour will always take the lion's share of votes north of the border. He's our guy, we look after our own. How else did the MacDonald Brothers make it so far in the X Factor?
No, Labour need to beat the Tories at a UK level and the SNP at a Holyrood level and on both scores they are way off the pace. So for SNP supporters who want nothing more than to stuff Labour at every given turn and enjoy the bragging rights then this is not such a great poll for them. For those who seriously believe in domestic SNP policies and want to see evidence of a strengthened belief from a historically sceptical public, this poll is thoroughly, thoroughly splendid.
Finally we know the lie of the political land north of the border.
A YouGov poll with a population of a stonking 1,500 individuals has given us all we need to know about the performance of the parties in Scotland.
The headline results are as follows:
Holyrood Constituency Vote
SNP - 38%
Labour - 32%
Tory - 13%
Lib Dem - 12%
Green - n/a
Holyrood Regional Vote
SNP - 34% Labour - 28% Tory - 15% Lib Dem - 11% Green - 6%
Socialists - 4%
SNP - 27% Labour - 37% Tory Lib Dem Green
On first glimpse it is a ringing endorsement of the SNP's approach to the budget as that has been the only show in town of late. The sample was taken the day after the vote for the budget. Furthermore, it is bad news for Iain Gray and Tavish Scott who are not making any real inroads into the SNP dominance. The honeymoon continues...
The poll also shows Scots getting behind Gordon Brown as the Westminster showdown becomes more of a 2-horse race. I expect this to continue and I don't predict too many gains for the SNP once the 2010 election is done and dusted.
I have not yet seen the full breakdown of the numbers so I can't even offer the Tory, Lib Dem and Green share of the Westminster Vote and time constraints shall curtail my thoughts on the above but, needless to say, more to follow...
" Jeff should change his name to Uncle Ben, such is his knack for producing perfect results every time" J Arthur MacNumpty
"not as partisan as you might think, well-written and informative." Tom Harris - Labour MP
"Glasgow East - political earthquake! was the 1.58am verdict on SNP Tactical voting." Channel 4
"I particularly enjoyed this blog during election time due to Jeff’s number crunching ability but it seems his blog has turned into quite an impressive political and social commentary." Scottish Tory Boy
"SNP sympathiser with very little sympathy when the Nats properly cock up. Rational debater free from the shackles of internal Holyrood blogging. Very readable with just the right personal touch." Kezia Dugdale
"The sheer volume of posts and the quality make Jeff's SNP Tactical Voting blog essential daily reading. Some thoughtful posts on wider society, Scotland and local politics make it an interesting mix." Malc in the Burgh
"Probably the most prolific blogger and certainly the site that I read most. I first started reading this before the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections and thought it was an excellent and balanced read - nothing's changed since then. Here's hoping the fact that Jeff has now actually joined the SNP doesn't change that!" Ideas of Civilisation
"I would say this has become one of the best Scottish political blogs going — despite the fact that Jeff is an SNP supporter! He’s always there with some thoughtful opinions on the political stories of the day. " Doctor Vee
"I never fail to be impressed by Jeff's ability to think critically before the 'experts'!" Yousuf Hamid
"Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting deserves some sort of prize for contriving to compare Hillary Clinton to, er, Kris Boyd..." Mr Eugenides
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"I have given up debating directly with this person on any matter even if his blog remains in my blogroll and I continue to read some of what he writes on occasion as 'entertainment' " Bill Cameron
It's become a ritual. Get up, fire up the Mac, check out the BBC homepage, check out SNP Tactical Voting, if Kezia has posted have a quick read there, then its onto the hardcore porn. Rare Export
I love his blog, and have to have my daily fix. I enjoy his style of writing, his well thought out arguments and his non bias most of the time. I would say that Jeffs blog is the least biased of the lot of you, and probably the most well written. Rare Export (again)