Thursday, December 24, 2009
So said Leo McGarry in the immense West Wing and he was correct. Politics is all about quid pro quo, you scratch my back if I scratch yours, I'll do this if you do that and that person's getting dropped like a hot rock because their stock sunk overnight. So it has been and so it will be for ever more.
Sausages? It's probably best not to dwell on that too much or tomorrow's 'pigs in blankets' will go untouched!
So, given this give and take nature, I sometimes wonder if those immersed in the unavoidably unseemly world of Politics novate that philosophy of everything having a cost into their day to day lives. The most political person I ever knew used to boast that he could control people and he was, without a doubt, the unhappiest and most unsettled person I've ever met. I hope he was a special case but I can suggest a potential remedy either way.
Tomorrow is Christmas and at the core of this festive time, even with a recession, there remains a clear, heartening, genuine, invaluable sense of goodwill.
I have no way of knowing if Christianisty or Catholicism or what have you is on the wane in the UK, Christmas is after all a religious holiday, but irrespective of that it would be nice to build on the good-natured empathy that is at its most potent at this time of year.
To that end, I would humbly suggest 'H plus' as a day to day philosophical consideration. Billed as a new religion but simply a bolt-on to any existing religion one may or may not follow, H plus involves doing good, selfless things for people for the simple satisfaction and contentment that they derive.
It may be letting others on a bus before you meaning you don't get a seat, volunteering or the classic helping an old person across the road but pushing to live outside of ourselves a little more and putting others first can be no bad thing. It is nice to be nice and building a mountain of goodwill can be the strongest defence a person can have.
Politicians don't go spending their political capital willy-nilly and for good reason but as simple human beings, although it's easy to be cynical, we do have a limitless capacity for love. Relaxing our inner fears and allowing that to shine through, even in the more mundane moments in life and all in the spirit of H plus, is about as close as I'll get to a pause for thought on here, a Christmas message and it's something that'll be on my 2010 resolution list.
So a Merry Christmas to anyone reading this, a massive thank you for all the comments and fine, largely good-natured debate and a final good luck from Leo McGarry and I with those man-made chipolatas....
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
"CAN a country be politically independent yet still use the currency of another nation? And, if so, what limitation does this place on the economic policy of the new state?"
For me they are fairly easy questions to answer, almost to the point where the issue of Scotland's currency after independence is something of a red herring for debate.
Can Scotland continue to use the pound after independence?Yes, of course it can. There are no reasonable objections that could be raised as far as I can see.
Scotland keeps the pound forming a 'British zone' similar to that of Euro zone but it is effectively the status quo with Scotland accepting rUK interest rates in the short term before a referendum on joining the Euro could be held. Consequently, to answer the second question, there would be no limitations on Scotland's economic policy. Or it would at least be no more limited than it currently is.
A referendum on the Euro would almost certainly pass and then we're off on our own, an equal partner in Europe.
I do find it odd that Lithuania, Slovakia, Portugal and all the other smallish Eurozone countries can come to a beneficial arrangement that many in the UK balk at.
Similar to the non-sensical suggestion that independence would mean border checkpoints and difficulties in seeing your auntie in England, we have to separate the important considerations from the insignificant ones, something that Mr Kerevan has done an excellent job of today.
... Scottish Gas have (sic) been displaying extremely poor customer service to my mother of late and they (sic) make massive profits. So EXACTLY six months after the date on this cheque and on the very last possible day, I made my way to the bank to cash this £2.20 cheque. Mean? Possibly. Pleased with myself? Surprisingly so :-)
I hate to burst Anne's bubble but, due to the Limitiation Act of 1980, cheques are legally valid for six years.
And yes, I'm struggling to understand why the above actions would be either mean or pleasing too while noting that, given that thousands of cheques are produced automatically by big companies, it's generally not worth the effort and/or cost of stopping the small value cheques from going out not to mention the small value invoices.
So if you get a £2.20 cheque or payment request any time soon, don't lose any sleep over it. Certainly don't go wasting your time marking a date in your diary six months (or six years) hence....
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Party positions are now fairly well entrenched with Brown hoping to overhaul the Tory polling lead, Cameron looking to consolidate it by sealing that elusive deal, Clegg is just delighted to have rare parity with the top two UK parties while Salmond and his Plaid Cymru counterpart are angry that Scottish and Welsh voters are not getting a representative enough view.
So, I have my instructions, here we go...
This is a disgrace to Scotland and voters deserve better etc etc (repeat to fade)
No,the truth is, although those frozen out of the debate clearly have the arguments and the rules on their side, not to mention a precedent when Newsnight was pulled at the last minute due to the unrepresentativeness of the show, I'm kind of looking forward to the events and so will most people.
Sometimes laws are best overlooked rather than adhered to though I am fully aware that such an argument won't stand up in a court (where this issue could very well end up, and should)
The SNP being represented in the post-debate analysis is a decent stab at addressing the inequality of the original plans but remains a shabby compromise.
Given there are to be three debates, I don't see why one couldn't be in Wales, one in England and a third in Scotland with all significant parties in each region represented.
But I won't complain too much. As I say, I'm still looking forward to these debates, despite their flaws.
Friday, December 18, 2009
I have been told that papers for Holyrood selection contests have to be in for the Labour party by early January.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The new Education Minister's denial that he knew anything about is so crystal clear and absolute that it is beginning to make a mockery of Mark MacLachlan's insinuations in the Sunday Times.
Overall, the approach to FMQs here is similar to that of Cathy Jamieson when she tried to wring a story out of a John Mason comment in a tabloid when there are genuine, meaty issues to discuss.
In the papers today we can read about the worrying lack of progress at Copenhagen (Obama seems to be bizarrely using this Conference to call for another Conference in June), health worries across genders and breakthroughs in combatting Glasgow gang violence.
Gray could have led with any of these issues but went with a blog 'scandal' that ran out of steam a while ago.
Gray's poor judgement needs to be called into question once again...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The big Scottish Politics news today is the release of Sir Neil McIntosh's report on Holyrood's expenses system with the most signifiant conclusions being that MSPs should not employ relatives and should pay Capital Gains Tax on their tax-payer funded homes.
The conclusions are to be welcomed but, in all honesty, I think they are just common sense finally writ large on Scottish Parliament headed paper.
I did talk about politicians employing relatives recently when Sir Christopher Kelly released his report which included the same recommendation in Westminster and my opinion is unchanged:
In any other industry, if a recruitment drive had been completed and the result was that the interviewer's husband (or wife) got the job, they would be laughed out the room and probably disciplined. It shouldn't be any different for Westminster and, incidentally, it shouldn't be any different for Holyrood.
The ever-sensible 'Indy' left a comment on that post saying the move was "one of the most stupid things that Westminster will ever do" as it will means the Parliament losing its most experienced and reliable staff.
I reckon that completely misses the point and is similar to saying we should keep nuclear weapons because they provide employment (sorry Indy, I know you won't like that one, but I think it's true)
It's ridiculous to have politicians who need to be, and be seen to be, above reproach employing their spouses. Not only that, apparently three MSPs have employed two family members at the same time. It smacks of tossing some easy work to your mates rather than getting the brightest, best and most deserving in the door, even if that's not necessarily the case in each situation.
To avoid any questions, the practice of employing any relative or partner should be ended and hopefully, given this report, soon will be.
Anyway, everybody.... 'cos you would have a dose of the flu or even pleurisy if ye didnae have yer feet in yer weeeeellieeeees!'
Ah, Frankie Boyle, cracks me up every time...
Monday, December 14, 2009
There are two objectives that a typical SNP member will no doubt be considering and each need to be viewed in isolation.
The first result is the maximisation of the number of SNP MPs at Westminster with as many as 20 being the aim stated by leader Alex Salmond, an aim that I personally still believe is achievable despite recent supposed setbacks. A strong base of SNP MPs could argue Scotland's case in the UK Parliament but it is debatable how strong a case for independence this would represent.
The second potential result from the 2010 General Election is the minimisation of the number of Tory MPs in Scotland. A realisation of Peter Lynch's 'Doomsday Max' scenario as discussed on this blog a fortnight ago would arguably offer up an ideal platform for the SNP to advance its arguments that Scotland should govern itself.
The rationale would be that winning a mere handful (or less) of Scottish Tory MPs north of the border while they form a Government in London down south would exacerbate the already awkward constitutional arrangement that we have where a distinctly non-Tory nation is governed by a party that it has already largely rejected at the ballot box.
Of course, achieving one result will simultaneously assist with the achievment of the other (Mike Weir winning Angus in one of twenty SNP seats will deny Alberto Costa winning it for the Tories, for example). However, not all of the 59 seats are a simple SNP vs Tory head-to-head. Note that I am perhaps spoiled in that the SNP are clear challengers in Edinburgh North & Leith and my vote for Calum Cashley will not be a wasted one.
So, inspired somewhat by Professor Harvie's comments at a recent independence debate where the SNP MSP said that a lack of Tory representation north of the border had a significant part to play in the Nationalists winning independence on behalf of Scotland, I decided to look at where SNP supporters may be wishing to cast their vote to increase the chances of 'Doomsday Max'.
For anyone out there who is interested in voting considerations that could result in minimising Scottish Tory MPs, as opposed to maximising SNP MPs, here are the Conservative target seats and the tactical voting that I think could apply:
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale
David Mundell (Conservatives) - 16,141
Labour - 14,403
Lib Dem - 9,046
SNP - 4,075
Ok, so technically this isn't a target seat as it is the one seat that the Tories already represent but I don't see the SNP winning DC&T from 4th here so consideration for tactically voting for Labour's Claudia Beamish could be applied.
Perth & North Perthshire
Pete Wishart (SNP) - 15,469
Conservatives - 13,948
Labour - 8,601
Lib Dems - 7,403
An easy decision here. Voting for Pete to hold his seat will obviously ensure the Tories are held at bay in 2nd place. Tactical Voting from 2005 Labour and Lib Dem voters could be interesting with an expectation (and the recent Bearsden by-election backs this up) that more votes would go to the SNP than to the Tories.
Mike Weir (SNP) - 12,840
Conservatives - 11,239
Labour - 6,850
Lib Dem - 6,660
Virtually a carbon copy of Perth (above) and needless to say there are no tactical voting implications here from a pro-SNP/anti-Tory perspective.
Interestingly, Rev Scott Rennie stood for the Lib Dems in 2005. I didn't realise the man who was at the centre of the recent storm over homosexuals in the Church had been a candidate before.
Dumfries & Galloway
Russell Brown (Labour) - 20,924
Conservatives - 18,002
SNP - 6,182
Lib Dems - 4,259
A clear tactical voting consideration here is to vote Labour to stave off the Tory challenge.
Nigel Griffiths (Labour) - 14,188
Lib Dems - 13,783
Conservatives - 10,291
SNP - 2,635
Going by the 2005 figures the SNP do not have a realistic chance of challenging for this seat. It is difficult to say if Nigel Griffiths will come to embody 'trousers down, majority up' in 2010 so it's not easy to see who the main competition for the Tories are here.
I've been told Fred MacKintosh was a very popular councillor and, consequently, a vote for the Lib Dems may be a worthwhile consideration from a tactical voting perspective.
The Tories are ranked 11/8 favourites according to the bookies with the Lib Dems second at 6/4 (and Labour out at 7/2) which backs up the suggestion to plump for Fred if the personal objective is to stop the Conservatives.
Ochil and South Perthshire
Gordon Banks (Labour) - 14,645
SNP - 13,957
Conservatives - 10,021
Lib Dems - 6,218
An easy one to call here as the only tactical voting can be expected to come from the Lib Dems who would be expected to back the SNP or Labour. From a pro-SNP/anti-Tory perspective, go with your heart on this one...
Anne McGuire (Labour) - 15,729
Conservatives - 10,962
Lib Dems - 9,052
SNP - 5,503
Despite coming 4th in Michael Forsyth's old seat, I honestly still reckon the SNP are the main challengers here. This may be my heart ruling my head as I have family based here but I don't see the Tories getting much further past the 11,000 they got last time and with Bruce Crawford as the local MSP and the SNP controlling the local council, the Nationalist candidate can expect to tear through the field to challenge Ms McGuire.
I don't think this seat merits a tactical vote for those who wish to minimise the number of Scottish Tories. Vote SNP.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk
Michael Moore (Lib Dems) - 18,993
Conservatives - 13,092
Labour - 7,206
SNP - 3,885
This is clearly not one of the SNP's target seats so a tactical vote for Michael Moore is worth considering in the face of the challenge from Tory MSP John Lamont.
Argyll & Bute
Alan Reid (Lib Dems) - 15,786
Conservatives - 10,150
Labour - 9,696
SNP - 6,716
Despite the similarities to Stirling (above) in that the SNP has a very strong MSP for this area, I still think there is a better chance the Tories might pip the flailing Lib Dems to this constituency and, for that reason, a tactical vote for Alan Reid could be worthy of consideration.
Jim Murphy (Labour) - 20,815
Conservatives - 14,158
Lib Dems - 8,659
SNP - 3,245
There are more potentially winnable seats for the Tories but this is a good constituency to finish on given the intriguing prospect of the Scottish Secretary being deposed.
The SNP clearly has too much ground to make up so the question is: Could you vote for Jim Murphy to ensure the Tories win fewer seats?
That's probably a blog post in itself...
Tony Blair stands accused of his "sycophancy" taking us into a War behind America's lead on the same day that we are led to believe that a "secret document exposes Iran's nuclear trigger".
The building up of a case for action against Ahmadinejad over the past few years bears uncanny similarities to that of the flawed case against Saddam Hussein which Blair has been accused of "rewriting" retrospectively. Then again, an unstable nation like Iran with a nuclear bomb when its leader has been allegedly quoted as wanting to 'wipe Israel off the map' is unthinkably dangerous. And yet, fascinatingly, Ahmadinejad apparently never said such a thing and he has been horrendously misquoted, perhaps vulnerably prone for another Wolfowitz to cry wolf.
Who is to know what to believe any more. It says a lot that you can look at Tony Blair and look at Ahmadinejad and you have to toss a coin to decide who you think is telling the truth.
I rather liked Barack Obama's offer of extending his hand if Iran unclenched its fist but how does one know how much extending and how much unclenching is really going on behind the headlines. Also, at the same time, the implicit suggestion that every country in the world should live in the mold of the United States is just not feasible (even if the UK is happily meandering on down that road).
Many MPs may hope that the expenses issue will just blow over but it gets right to the issue of trust that needs to be solidly in place before we can believe "secret documents" are as worrying as they appear at face value.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I'm sure such an approach is common-place in all political parties as the damage limitation takes top priority but it was perhaps optimistic of the party HQ to expect Mark to just fall on his sword, meekly take one for the team and fade off into the Dumfries sunset.
Tavish Scott looks set to be the beneficiary and it will be for a more pleasant reason than the mocking nickname bestowed upon Iain Gray.
According to the BBC, the Scottish Lib Dem leader has made it clear that he would sign up to the Scottish Government's budget if it was to reduce the salaries of top public sector staff by 5%.
It gets my vote and I hope Swinney bites Scott's hand off (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Some of the salaries that are paid out of the public purse seem to be quite outrageously high, particularly when pension payoffs are factored in. In many cases it's fair to say the taxpayer isn't getting the best rate of return. Squeezing salaries should ensure a leaner and keener workforce with performance and not patronage being the key drivers for promotion.
There is, as always, two sides to the coin. Employing a top individual from the private sector is much cheaper than paying them as a consultant. I remember seeing partners at the Big 4 firm I worked at billing clients for up to £1,000 an hour. If such business leaders can be talked into joining the civil service then you're getting a year's worth of their service for the cost of 300, 400 or 500 hours. Not too bad even at the upper end of that scale...
However, whether a Scottish business leader is employed in the public or private sector, they are still (generally speaking) driving the economy forwards and hopefully in the correct direction.
Showing some restraint with public sector salaries at the top end when those at the bottom end are losing their jobs is just common sense, fair and financially responsible. I am surprised it has taken this long for a party leader to steal the limelight on such an issue. John Swinney may have achieved excellent efficiency savings in the past year but Tavish Scott appears to have stolen some of that thunder here.
So well done Mr 5%. Your party may have been lacking a 'big idea' for some time now, but you are bang on the money here.
Friday, December 11, 2009
snp msps spotted outside Tolbooth pub smoking and eating chips
I've been informed that this is a blatant mistruth. Apparently the MSPs who were supposedly spotted in the Tolbooth aren't even smokers.
Not that it matters too much of course but if a Labour MSP is willing to get it spectacularly wrong on the small things, one can only wonder how badly wrong things can get on a national scale...
Perhaps Claire will be willing to name the MSPs that she saw and, if unable to, issue an apology for spreading around unfounded rumour?
New education secretary Mike Russell held talks with council leaders about a new deal which, if agreed, could mean 11,000 more pupils in primary one to three taught in class sizes of 18 or fewer by next August. In return, the Scottish Government would give councils flexibility over bringing in free school meals, allowing them to introduce the policy in the most deprived areas first.
It's a flexible solution to a difficult problem but I must admit to being disappointed that the universality of free school meals is being postponed for a policy that had already been appreciated and understood by the majority as not happening in this parliamentary term.
I fear the objectives are perhaps being blurred as the heat of elections starts to simmer. It may be an easy one to let drop down the priority list, but the health of our children and ensuring they understand food and its correlation with performance and fitness should be paramount for Scotland.
Don't get me wrong, in the course of four years things are always going to change and in such circumstances offering the 32 councils more freedom to act as they see fit surely has its merits, and I genuinely don't think this is a reaction to calls from the Opposition that manifesto pledges are going unbroken, particularly as that would involve another being broken to try to solve an unsolvable one.
It'll be interesting to see how opposing parties react to this move because, as Two Doctors neatly points out, you can only object to something that you truly find objectionable.
Labour opposed smaller class sizes and they opposed free school meals for all so they'll see Mike Russell's move as good news, surely?
Then again, as suggested above, I'm not entirely sure that I do...
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Well, hold the fort, I have heard news from a Government source that the election will be on for March. Not only is this a Government source, but his department has been told it will be March too. Idle speculation is one thing but active preparation is quite another.
Politically it makes sense for Labour too. It means the election will be far enough anyway from a proper budget to be as much of a consideration as it could (should) be and it ties in with the recent contraction of the polls where Labour has been in touching distance. It also makes the Prime Minister look even slightly less desperate by not waiting till the very, very end before throwing in the towel and, above all else, 20th February is Gordon Brown's birthday; a nice day to announce an election perhaps?
I think it looks pretty locked in so on the day when the PhI 100 are confident of a May election and the odds for March are lengthening I have steamed into the Ladbrokes market with a whopping...... £15 bet!
I know, I know, we've been here before but I think it all makes perfect sense. Gordon Brown has dithered with every opportunity he has had to have an election before the last possible moment. Having an election in March is his last chance to go early. He has to go for it!
March 25th folks. You might aswell get the sleep-deprived, post game analysis, how-hung-is-the-Parliament-anyway Friday 26th off work now....
* When I say "guaranteed" I am, of course, talking cobblers....
UPDATE: Unbeknownst to me, Tory Bear, Dizzy Thinks and Political Betting have all, in the past few days, had posts citing March 25th as the election date.
It's on, it's so on...
Given that climate change issues are all over the news at the moment with the Copenhagen Summit on, not to mention the Richmond Park Tory candidate being the focus of attention for his 'non-dom' status, I was very surprised to see that his book was available for loan. Not only that but both copies that Edinburgh Libraries own were available.
I guess that's just a wee anecdote that highlights how little we can perhaps expect to come out of Copenhagen. Are people really that interested? We may be vaguely aware that we need to do more to combat climate change but with little knowledge of the problems and even less of a clue of what the answers are, it's little wonder we sit back and let the politicans get on with it and just carry on with our days.
It seems the best that can be hoped for from this fortnight of discussion is for countries to increase the scale of the reductions in emissions that are being aimed for in advance of 2020.
Scotland, impressively, is leading the world with plans to cut carbon emissions by 42% and it was heartening to see in the papers yesterday that we are well on our way to meeting that target given our "perfect" conditions for wave, wind and hydro energy.
As much investment as can be afforded needs to be pumped into this area and the process by which energy is placed onto the grid needs to be completely rethought. We look at the battering that manufacturing and financial services has suffered and some wonder what the next market sector is that can lift Scotland out of the mire. Well, this is it. I would happily see the central plank of the SNP election campaign being for the next Government to scrap Trident and invest the majority of Scotland's share of the new-found opportunity cost in renewables.
It is therefore great news that the Scottish Government has assembled a panel that will seek to assist with the delivery of the 2020 pledge, a panel that was decribed as "remarkable" by WWF Scotland's Richard Dixon and includes ex Lloyds Chief Susan Rice and Stagecoach owner Brian Souter.
Hopefully as a country we can harness this overflowing potential and get more excited about the prospect of leading the world in this vital area. Maybe library books will even be flying off the shelves as we want to learn more and more.
Not that I'm being too critical of the lack of citizen energy in finding out about green energy. After all, all I can report back on Zac Goldsmith's book so far is that it has a good preface!
The comment was:
"The grim reality of joining the British Army is that if you join up, you have a one-in-nine chance of coming home seriously wounded or, worse, in a body bag."
Now, if that is factually inaccurate then I can appreciate there is a problem but for a politician to examine the survival rates of soldiers that are being sent out to a War that seems unwinnable then I think that's fairly uncontroversial myself. If I was cynical, I would suggest the tabloids are getting themselves into a lather over this to avoid having to report the SNP response to Darling's Pre Budget Report, though they would also be avoiding reporting on Iain Gray's supposed "humiliation" in the meantime.
Not that the Labour MSP will be feeling anything of the sort, the whole point of devolution is to have different voices of opinion spread across the country. Iain Gray would only be 'humiliated' if John Swinney was.
Anyway, back to these army comments. The only probem I would have with Christine Grahame's choice of words is that they don't seem to appreciate the route that the Army provides for wild or unruly teenagers with little qualifications and nowhere to go. Kids that have grown-up in broken homes and have always lacked an order and rules in their life suddenly have that in abundance, they have a code to live by and a badge to honour and that can mean a hell of a lot to many who sign up, regardless of whether they come from a deprived area or not.
But it's remarkable that on the week of the 100th death in Afghanistan and with public support for the War dropping rapidly, it is an SNP list MSP who gets it in the neck from tabloids for merely mentioning the high mortality and injury rate.
No, I'm sorry, I just don't get it.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Vince Cable is correct, this budget is borne out of optimism, it is a best-case scenario when any financial accountant worth their salts should know that it's best to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Labour is instead clearly planning for the best, hoping for an election win and happy to cross the bridge of adverse Treasury differences if they are lucky enough to be in office when it comes.
The forecasts of economic growth of 3.5% in 2011 from a shrinking economy of 4.75% in 2009 is a 'brave' one to make. Admittedly, in an election year, it is unavoidable.
There's a lot of good stuff in the PBR, don't get me wrong, and in many ways Darling is deserving of his sunny optimism as the Chancellor has hardly put a foot wrong in cajoling Britain back towards full financial health. He was 'forced' to admit today that his prediction of having to borrow £175bn was out by £3bn so he got it wrong by 1.7%.
Hardly an embarrassing error given that was an optimistic budget back in Spring '09 to start with.
Boiler Scrappage, small business tax deferrals and free school meals are a few cheap goodies and coming down hard on excessive bonuses is both populist and sensible in the current economic climate. Easy marks for Labour there.
Broadband tax of £6 a year to ensure rural areas receive better communication lines in the future sounds pretty reasonable to me too; a well-connected countryside is long overdue, particularly north of the border with the Highlands and Islands flung so far and so wide.
So is this a PBR that was strictly about dividing lines as many have claimed? I'm not convinced, though others are:
"This [tax on bonuses] would appear to be a political move rather than a genuine revenue raising measure, " said Toby Ryland, an accountant at Blick Rothenberg.
I don't think even Alistair Darling would claim the tax on bonuses is strictly a revenue raising measure. It is patently there to nudge banks closer to strengthening their balance sheets rather than raining even more money down on their senior employees.
It is a positive step from New Labour towards being a Government that is a 'servant to the people' and a commendable effort in making business work for the country's benefit rather than the country working for business' benefit.
George Osborne saying the PBR is catastrophic and the level of lending is too great is giving me increasing cause for concern.
Too much austerity brought on too quickly will prolong the economic pain and I think we've all had enough of that. You may be surprised to learn that, looking back across the decades, our current level of lending is not actually that bad in an historic context. I personally prefer Darling's apolitical 'easy does it' approach to Osborne's knee-jerk reaction. I'm sure the Japanese and Swedish who have been through such a storm already would agree and I wonder if Ireland is enjoying its 'drastic cuts' at the moment.
Indeed, the most political thing that I noted from Darling's PBR (and I've only skimmed the headlines) is that he has left Inheritance Tax completely untouched. There is a largely cosmetic storm brewing for David Cameron over Inheritance Tax and whether he should stick with his plan of cutting it or change tack and leave it alone. Now is not the time to be giving the richest people in the country a tax break it could be argued and Gordon Brown has a very big stick which he can beat Cameron with if given a sniff of an opportunity.
By not touching this tax, Darling has ensured that the Inheritance Tax ball remains in Cameron's court, still spinning off the baseline with unpredictable deception. With mere months to the General Election, I'm not entirely sure the Tory leader has decided what his next shot should be to get it back over the net.
In terms of the dividing lines that do exist, sometimes it's best to stand back and look at the overall picture to see if it 'feels' right and for me taking £178bn of borrowing in 2009 to £176bn in 2010, £140bn in 2011, £96bn in 2012 and then halved by 2014 just seems correct. It's smooth but significant, slow but sensible.
The biggest risk to UKplc isn't banks paying too high a level of bonuses, it isn't what rate inheritance tax is set at and it isn't even our credit rating being downgraded from AAA to AA.
The biggest risk as far as I can see is a wet-behind-the-ears Chancellor Osborne literally cutting loose in Number 11 when the country is at its most vulnerable. I just don't get the impression George sees the whole board as well as Alistair Darling does, which is distressing when the Tories remain the favourites to win the election.
From May 2010, it seems things can only get bitter.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Even though Stephen Glenn has already flatly denied it on behalf of the Policy Committee, I reckon it would be a very clever move from Scotland's 4th (and if it's not careful 5th) biggest party. The SNP would promise a referendum of course but the Lib Dem could quite reasonably campaign on delivering it. A crucial difference and one that could concentrate nationalist minds when they have a ballot slip in front of them.
The tactical voting would be intriguing if there was a cast-iron promise from Tavish Scott that his party would back SNP plans for a referendum as part of a coalition deal. If you were an SNP voter, who would you cast your vote for in Shetland, Orkney, the Border and parts of the North East where the SNP aren't the main challengers? Even in the regional vote there could be a crucial extra 2-3% on the back of such a promise which could deliver a few more MSPs.
And if the SNP are, as expected, the largest party after May 2011 then a coalition is surely in the Lib Dems' best interests. It's not like the last 2,5 years have been a rip-roaring success for them being on the outside looking in. Furthermore, if Labour end up being the largest party then the Lib Dems will have benefitted electorally from its offer without actually having to deliver on it.
It is in Tavish Scott's best interests to risk being the handmaiden to independence in order to capitalise on increased support and a strong policy to campaign on at the next election.
However, it doesn't look like the party faithful, either at the top or the bottom, are interested in being flexible and improving their dwindling fortunes...
And anyway, I don't know how Salmond's choice of card is any more political than Iain Gray's. I think it's very nice of the Labour leader to have chosen a youngster's card to use as his message of goodwill but there is arguably a coded message that comes with it, that Labour's on the side of the kids.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Quebec: Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Québec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?.
Montenegrin: Do you want the Republic of Montenegro to be an independent state with a full international and legal personality?
Transnistria: Do you support the course towards the independence of Transnistria and the subsequent free association with the Russian Federation?
East Timor: Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia?
Moldova: Do you want the Republic of Moldova to develop as an independent and unitary state, in the frontiers recognized in the day where Moldova declared sovereignty, to promote a policy of neutrality and to maintain mutually-benefiting economic relations with all the countries of the world, and to guarantee its citizens equal rights, according to international law?
Bosnia: Are you in favour of a sovereign and independent Bosnia....?
Georgia: Do you support the restoration of the independence of Georgia in accordance with the Act of Declaration of Independence of Georgia of May 26, 1918?
All of the above questions involved a "yes" answer for those seeking independence but our esteemed former Secretary of State Lord Forsyth would like any future Scottish independence referendum question to be: "Do you want to remain part of the United Kingdom? Yes or no? " as would, incidentally, someone called Chekov over at Three Thousand Versts.
Being on the side of the 'Yes' can mean as much as 20% of the overall vote so you can see why the unionists are pushing for such a question. Sadly for them, it seems history is not on their side
(Note, the title was shamelessly ripped off of Tony Hawks' excellent Playing the Moldovans at Tennis book...)
TNS/BRNB (formerly System 3) fieldwork 25 November – 2 December 2009, 998 polled.
Do you agree or disagree that the Scottish Government should negotiate a new settlement with the UK Government so that Scotland becomes an independent state:
Don't Know: 23%
This compares with 29%/57% in the Ipsos-MORI poll recently so there seems to have been a significant increase in support.
Needless to say, we are getting to the stage where these figures have to be considered in light of a looming change of Government in London.
Will opposition to the Tories from Scots who largely rejected them be strongest immediately after they gain control of Westminster of a few years hence?
With Prime Minister Cameron, support for independence will undoubtedly increase but will that be offset by a support for Labour who may be seen as the 'natural opposition' to the Conservatives? Or will the SNP have supplanted Labour's position by 2011?
In other words, when the SNP do find the polls showing referendum-winning support for independence as a result of the Tories governing the UK, could they ironically be denied a second parliamentary term due to Labour being the main beneficiaries of the protest vote at Holyrood?
Just to finish, I found this quote from the pollster itself quite interesting:
Chris Eynon of TNS-BMRB said of the recent shift: “Even with 23% undecided, this leaves no doubt about the current mood of the Scottish people on this issue and calls into question the determination of Alex Salmond to press ahead with his plans for a referendum.
“When taken along with last month’s voting intentions figures, it would appear that the Scottish electorate are falling out of love with the SNP and their policies, at least for the time being.”
Which party does Chris represent again? I would have thought that such an overtly political statement like that would have been left to the Tavish Scott's and Iain Gray's of this world?
Just a thought...
Sunday, December 6, 2009
It's difficult to say if this is more a way of propping up the ailing public coffers than a punitive charge for the recession-causing recklessness of some institutions but we will find out the detail on Wednesday when the Chancellor delivers his pre-Budget (not to mention pre-election) report.
Two questions immediately spring to mind:
(1) If this is a way to target super-profits to help out UKplc, then are Tesco (£3bn annual profit), Vodafone (£12bn) and BP (£18bn) also being targetted? If not, why not?
(2) Conversely, if this tax is being levied on all banks, are Barclays being dragged into the liability when it was RBS, HBOS and Lloyds who were the main culprits in getting us into this mess? (According to Robert Peston it will include Barclays; and so will foreign banks with operations in the UK. I would expect a very strong opposition to this from those camps)
I'm all for superprofits being hit with supertaxes but it has to be across the board. We can't strangle RBS and Lloyds before they can walk for themselves and allow non-banking companies to cream in huge profits while the rest of us struggle with food bills and electricity bills.
But Alistair Darling is well and truly on the right path with this one. He may be accused of electioneering with a popular policy, but it's popular for a reason and sometimes electioneering is just simply doing the right thing.
From Alex Salmond's speech at National Council yesterday, it seems Tom has taken umbrage with a distinctly unremarkable line.
Tom's comment in one of my previous posts is:
"the London-based parties..."? Not that we're anti-English. oh, no, no...
The line is so lacking in wit or intelligence that I wonder if a young Harris nabbed Tom's phone again and our literacy rates are set to improve dramatically but I will assume that it is Harris snr who left the comment.
Some oddities may consider the aim of Scottish independence "odious" and SNP Conferences a "hate fest", some even go as far as thinking nationalists are "scum", but the vast majority of reasonable people agree that seeking out an independent Scotland is a valid argument to advance for a political party, even if some of them disagree with that particular view. That is reflected in the 75% of Scots who wish to see a referendum in the next few years.
It's strange that intelligent people act so loopy over Scottish independence when there are tens and tens of happy, healthy, successful independent nations in Europe with a sub-10m population.
Consequently, in a bid to advance its aims, for the SNP to remind voters that Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are 'London-based' and point out the dividing lines that exist between it and the unionists is perfectly fair. Some people will be happy to be governed from London and others will want to be governed closer to home.
To be in the latter camp and automatically 'anti-English' (and anti-Welsh/Northern Irish for that matter) would only hold if those in the former camp are 'anti-Scottish'. Both charges are, of course, nonsensical inanities.
To conflate the key political question of where our political borders should lie with 'anti-Englishness' and the negative connotations that are inevitably drawn from such slurs is, well, there's no other word for it, it's bone-headed.
It has been revealed that a branch of his constituency party has been given support worth £6,700 by East Lothian council over the past 14 years. This is because the Prestonpans branch of the party used council-owned equipment to stage an annual fundraising barbecue, some of whose profits may have helped to fund Gray’s election campaign.