Friday, 30 December 2011

We need to develop policies for life long learning!

This first appeared on Scots Gazette on 12 September 

The whole university fees issue continues to be a hot issue as they take shape.  Recently the Scottish universities have been announcing what fees they will charge students from the rest of the UK and non EU foreign students.  This has of course put into focus the absurd situation where we are charging students from other parts of the UK but not from other EU countries.

However, this got me thinking about the issue of lifelong learning and mature students. I read an excellent piece from LibDem blogger, Richard Morris which prompted my thinking.  Richard picked up on the fact that the Open University students studying for an equivalent or lower level degree to one they already hold will have to pay their fees up front from next year (The TES describes the issue).  He argued that many students will now be priced out of the system which will have a significant effect on the economy.  Furthermore he made the point that while other aspects of education rightly took priority this was an important issue and made a plea for the LibDems to address it as a policy issue.

“… Where there is money, we have chosen as a party to direct it towards the youngest in society (in England and Wales), through initiatives like the pupil premium and free nursery places, where we believe tight funds can get the best results and have the most profound impact. I agree with this approach.
But I cannot pretend that the knock on effect of this sits easily with me. As Liberals we are philosophically wedded to the notion of giving every individual the opportunity to make more of their lives – and the best chance of delivering that must come through lifelong learning. A quick Google search indicates we have had very little to say on this subject since May last year – which is surprising….”

I absolutely agree with him.  Moreover, I think this is a terribly important policy area with patterns of work becoming more disjointed over peoples’ lifetimes.

With the rise of the contract worker and many more people finding themselves working for a large company for a period of time then choosing – or being forced – to change direction, the need for workers in the 21st century to be adaptable is very high.  Patterns of work are changing and the days of the paternalistic large organisation are gone.  Large companies don’t do social welfare anymore – just look at pensions. Nor do they provide a culture to train and nurture a worker throughout life any more.

Companies will in the future employ a small group of uber managers and a core of key workers.  Other tasks will be performed by outsourcing, staff on short term contracts or professional contractors.  Workers therefore need to develop themselves and build new skills and knowledge to match a changing economy and changing technology – and each of us is responsible for our own development.

All this means that in building a modern, adaptable, knowledge economy, a coherent policy for adult learning is as important as education for the young.  Some of the young will need it too if they struggle to get careers off the ground in their early 20s in the current environment!

This is a key issue for developing Scotland’s economy and society in the future along with initiatives like Investors in People to encourage companies to invest in their staff for business success and to equip their employees for the modern world.

Europe - 10 things I think happened last week

This post first appeared on Scots Gazette on 12 December

I do not yet know what to make of what happened in Brussels last week and what the consequences will be for the UK as a result.

My feelings are these:

1.  I think the EU has failed to reach an agreement that will solve the current financial crisis.  I think this agreement will fail to save the Euro.
2.  I have some concerns that the aim of European leaders is a little too much to save banks that have loaned money to various European states rather than about saving any national economy.  There is a little too much of the poor paying the price for this global financial crisis.
3.  I have some concerns that the French are no friends of the importance of London as a financial centre and wish merely to curtail its power.  I also think the French have a bad habit of thinking France and Europe are synonymous.
4.  I worry that with the Euro, fiscal and monetary policy is basically aligned to what suits the German economy and that it is almost the case that a common European currency may as well be the Deutschmark.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for every economy, but I doubt it would ever work well for the UK economy (and incidentally I doubt it would be right for any independent Scottish economy, should that ever happen, in the future)
5.  I think France and Germany were trying to get Britain to bail the Euro out.  I believe the UK should participate in doing what needs to be done to bring financial stability but we are not part of the Euro and should not bail it out.
6.  I think David Cameron went over there to veto the deal and to appease the many Euro sceptics in his party.  There are rather too many Euro sceptics in his party and their Little Englander nationalism is not good.  I think, therefore he was far too quick to veto and could have taken a far more subtle approach.  There was no win-win created.
7. In fact I think David Cameron was somewhat out manoeuvred by Sarkozy and my impression is that he has not done a good job with his diplomacy – rather overplaying his hand and getting a quite unnecessary result.
8.  In actual fact we have vetoed the Euro Zone doing something we don’t mind – the Eurozone working within the EU to support their fiscal union.
9.  However, in doing this we have failed to stop something we do in fact mind – the 26 countries acting as a bloc on  single market issues with the UK on the outside.  This is not good.  It is not good for the UK long term and it may damage our trade and industry.
10.  I argued previously that we are right not to be part of the Euro – a currency zone that does not work for us and is, and seems likely to remain, inherently unstable.  It is right and very important that we are part of a supra-national body like the EU that is far more than a free trade area, but stops short – and always stops short of full integration.  Our global relations and flexibility – especially openness to the growing far east and so-called BRIC countries remain important.

This may be a watershed moment.  It is just possible that Europe may never be the same again.  If this all means a two tier Europe, then so be it (I’m not sure how the Euro Zone will play out anyway).  However, we must remain an integral part of the EU and we must work to achieve our interest within it and to take a lead.  France are too self interested to be left alone to it and so, in the final analysis, are Germany.
The EU needs us and we need the EU.   It is important that we avoid total isolation because there are trade deals to be done and diplomatic influence to be wielded – if we have any left!  To this end, as a puzzle what happened and where that leaves us I am asking, “David Cameron, what was that all about?”

Edinburgh, London, Paris, Munich - everyone talk about, the Euro

This post first appeared on Scots Gazette on 6 December 

Today Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy met for make or break talks to save the Euro.  If they implement what they have agreed the Eurozone will become essentially both a monetary and a fiscal union.  If they fail, the enormous debt mountains threaten to bury the currency, along with several countries and with it perhaps the EU itself!

And what of Britain?  What is the future in an outer ring of nations outside a core of 17 nations joined fiscally and monetarily?

In trying to answer this question I am conscious that I have always been, and remain, a pro European.  The EU supports trade and commerce and an incredibly positive cultural exchange.  True, it costs a lot but that is more than made up for by what we gain in trade and contracts.

I am also conscious that post globalisation the EU is an invaluable supra-national body, vital for international co-operation on issues like climate control and scientific projects.

But, most importantly I believe the EU (and its predecessors) is an absolutely crucial building block in what has kept the peace in Europe since World War II and what makes war seem almost unthinkable amongst these close knit neighbouring nations.

So what of the Euro?

I have always held the view that we were right to not enter into the Euro.  Oh, the principle seemed fine enough but only if monetary and fiscal policy was a good fit with our economy – which across so many countries and based heavily on Germany always seemed unlikely.  I thought Gordon Brown got it about right setting five tests to see if it was right to join, the first and most important of which said, ” are our business cycles and economic structures compatible so that we could live comfortably with Euro interest rates”.
Also, while I am a passionate believer in Europe and see it as far more than just a Common Market, I do not believe in a united states of Europe.  Nationalism is too potent a force to pull that one off peace-ably.  A close knit supra-national body and community of nations is how I see the EU.

This means I am glad we have not been part of the Euro.  I could never have foreseen this malarkey but it did not seem in our interests before.  Today, I think it is best we continue to keep out of it.

I suspect if the untangling can be done without excessive pain, one or two countries curently in the currency are best finding a controlled way to extract themselves.  This may be the best thing for all, not least the Greek people for example!

As it is these are interesting times for Europe and we must be careful that the EU itself does not unravel – which is a danger. 

The Scottish angle in this is interesting. 

If Scotland were to become independent the SNP’s currency of choice would be Sterling.  Going into the Euro would be even more untenable now than when this policy was first made.  However, if we were to be part of a Sterling zone would it not be better if we got the vote for the body that decides fiscal policy that affects the currency – namely Westminster?  Does this not recognise we are part of a Sterling economy?  Is this not an indicator that we are a natural part of the UK rather than separate from it?  I would argue this helps to indicate that devolution within the UK is the most natural and the right constitutional arrangement for Scotland!

Independence in Europe, since the 1980s has been central to making Scottish independence seem more credible and less scary than outright independence maybe seemed in years gone by. If the future shape of Europe seems more uncertain, as I think is the case currently, then this strengthens the logic of being part of the UK.  Again, being an autonomous part of the United Kingdom is the way forward – Home Rule within the UK makes more and more sense to me.

I think in the current period Europe and the Global Financial Crisis are difficult ones for the SNP administration at Holyrood as they emphasise how they are in fact marginal to issues such as those crises and the the Sterling economic zone!

We are rubbish at looking after carers!

This post, by me, first appeared on Scots Gazette on 29 November

The sad death of footballer Gary Speed has thrown mental ill health into the spotlight again.  As I write I do not know what led to the death of a popular young man by his own hand at the tragically early age of 42. However, it highlights the battles many suffer from illnesses such as depression and the desperate challenges faced by their families and loved ones.

I want to consider the issue of those who suffer mental ill health and their carers.  I want to talk about how important they are, how important it is to look after them and how – when it comes to carers – the mental health authorities are all talk and could do better!

Something like a fifth of the population suffers from mental illness and it is estimated that in the UK there are 1.5 million caring for relatives suffering in this way or from dementia.

Carers are a desperately important part of the support medical care given to those with mental illness to allow their recovery or put them in a position where they can cope with their everyday lives.  The mental health authorities in Scotland have recognised the importance of an informal network of unpaid carers as a crucial part of the delivery of care and that they be” respected in their role and experience receive appropriate information and advice and have their views taken into account.” Which is apparently part of one of ten Millan guiding principles which went towards forming the Mental health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.

Carers also face a tough situation.  Sure they come in all shapes and sizes and face an almost infinite variety of different situations across a broad spectrum of severity.  However, they all face certain things in common.  Carers all report feeling emotions of hopelessness, fear, guilt and isolation.  Often they find themselves utterly alone and overwhelmed by a situation they feel inadequate to deal with.  There is also plenty of evidence now that their physical health often suffers as well.

Caring is a tough gig and it is important.  But talking to carers they all, consistently, complain of being kept outside the loop.  They feel they are not well communicated with about their loved ones condition. They feel, despite the fact that they know them and their moods best, their views and observations are not listened to and, perhaps worst of all, they feel there is almost no information and support for them.

One carer said to me, “the mental health profession is just a bit rubbish when it comes to looking after carers!”

This is a view many professionals working with carers sadly share as well.   I’m told by some people working with carers that the principles of working with carers in Scotland have not yet been truly implemented.  And I’ve no reason to think England and Wales is doing any better.
More needs to be done.

To this end I want to praise the work done by Edinburgh Carers Council (ECC).  They recognise the need to look after and support carers.  They need the support and ultimately this aids the recovery of the original loved one and patient.  And this is more than a one hit.

As the medical model of looking after mental illnesses has moved from complete recovery to finding a way of living a satisfying and contributing life, so that ongoing support has to adapt for carers.

The ECC are developing programmes that support carers on an ongoing basis.  One programme I have come across is known as WRAP (wellness recovery action plan).  It has been adapted for carers and is about supporting them and equipping them to support themselves.  It aims to give carers a range of strategies and routines which are about looking after themselves.  Eating properly and getting rest and exercise is part of it.  Making time for yourself and having routines to recuperate are also important.  This is about leisure and doing some of the things you love.  If you are not making a life for yourself you will rapidly become useless to your loved one you care for.  It is also about self esteem and feeling supported; and it’s about giving access to information and practical support to navigate the mental health authorities, to participate in care and get answers and support when you need it.  The idea is improved physical and mental well being, less guilt, more energy and improved relationships which all means being a better carer.

It is just one programme but it is giving real and practical support to carers of those with mental health problems in Edinburgh today.

My plea is therefore this:
We need more of this for carers of all types.

The mental health authorities, who do a tough job and many great things, need to be better in practice at looking after carers rather than just talking about it in reports.

And, in these times of austerity, I can imagine programmes like this could be in the frontline for being cut-back.  My plea is that they are vital and ultimately better value in saved resources and medication bills as a result of the support carers give the mentally ill on their journeys to recovery and coping.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

LibDems - be clear who you are or die!

Recently, in the days after party conference season, some LibDem bloggers asked who are we as a party.  For these are turbulent times.  The global economy is stagnating, Europe is in crisis and Scotland's place in the UK is being questioned.

There is no doubt the last 18 months have been a disaster for the LibDems.  But we are in government and in Scotland have a job to do in opposition but also have a job to define our place and our role in Scottish politics.

At this turbulent time we need to define who we are.  The electorate are confused and I think we are suffering an identity crisis at times.  Defining this is crucial in our journey back. 

It seems to me the LibDems established themselves as a non socialist alternative to the Conservative party over a period of 50-60 years. This places us slightly left of centre. The last couple of years, and Clegg’s leadership in particular, have driven a coach and horses through this positioning and the result is some confusion as to who we are – both internally and externally.

However, I think the detailed polling figures over the years highlight that the debate can move on. It is not sufficient to plough the same furrow of being Labour lite – penny on the pound of income tax for education and so on – indefinitely.

Indeed, under Charles Kennedy we positioned ourselves as in some ways to the left of Labour.

Then came the Orange Book.  As I understand it the Orange Book was all about trying to find a new way moving forward – it was never a credo of the ‘right wing’ of the party and economic liberals.  Styling it like that was to mis-understand the book.

The dangers of this period of coalition government are becoming clear.  On the one hand Cameron and the Conservatives love bombing the LibDems to oblivion, while on the other, the danger of burning our bridges with social democrats, and anyone with left of centre instincts.

What are the LibDems to do?  The need to win over one nation Conservatives for ourselves leaving the Tories to neo Cons and ‘Little Englanders’ has been highlighted. At the same time, there is also the need to win those on the left with our core appeal to the non socialist left of centre. And our appeal to liberals of course.

As I have argued in a number of posts, I think the starting point is to decide who we are. It has been highlighted that while many ‘feel’ they share our values there is real confusion as to who we are. If we decide who we are, from this work we can discern a range of broad and detailed policy themes, as well as a narrative and an analysis of our society and economy.

After this is clear we can work on the positioning and the political strategy.

However, what is clear is that we must be clear of who we are and what we are for – because right now there is some confusion and it has the potential to kill us.

We do so from being centre left or progressive

We don't think private enterprise is necessarily bad.

We are neither socialist nor neo-con nor nationalist

In fact we think a strong economy underpins everything, but we are not neo-cons or libertarians.  So we believe in intervention and public services free at the point of delivery to provide true equality of opportunity and to equalise the odds.

This is tough if you have to cut to rebuild the economy - as we do, now more than ever.

What we have been able to do is targetted interventions and increases in public spending to equalise the odds and to solve the problems that need solved.

  • The protection of the NHS
  • Working as a party to stand against the draconian work capability assessments for Employment and Support Allowance.
  • Increasing pensions by over £5 a week (Labour managed 75p), implementing automatic pension rights for workers - often for the first time in smaller companies and having in Steve Webb the best Pensions Minister in a generation.
  • A more targetted approach of the pupil premium making education more accessible to more disadvantaged kids
  • More pre school education - a vital stage
  • I would still dearly like us to find a way to reduce or eliminate tuition fees for tertiary education - and this remains our stance in Scotland where we originally delivered it.
  • More apprentices than under Labour
  • Income tax that helps the low paid 
  • Pushing back on removing employment rights in larger firms
  • Support and resourcing for developing renewable energy
  • Development of the Green Bank
Perhaps most of all, when faced with no clear winner after the last General Election we were prepared to take responsibility and form a government and do the difficult things that probably need to be done in a very changed world economy.  Indeed in Vince cable we had a minister who was prepared to understand the magnitude of the problem and tell the truth about the difficulties we face.

Above all we are an adult party prepared to do what is practical and seek evidence based solutions rather than retreat to tired tribal positions - or to lack courage to do what needs to be done.  It is not student politics!

    Friday, 11 November 2011

    Remembrance Day

    Today is Remembrance Day and this year it has stirred up a bit of controversy what with FIFA and international footballers’ shirts and some extremist British Islamists who want to promote ‘Hell for Heroes’.  At the same time fewer and fewer people seem to wear a poppy (unless you are a TV presenter!)

    What does Remembrance Day mean for me?

    The Remembrance Days I attended at school in Edinburgh in the 1970s left a big impression on me.

    First it was some of the teachers.  Several had seen action. One, a French teacher who was hopeless at keeping order, had been at Arnhem and was a bone fide war hero.  Another had been at Monte Cassino.  One of the primary teachers had been imprisoned by the Japanese and bore the mental scars as a result.  Another French teacher had taken a shrapnel wound.  And Bill Knox, the legendary and ubiquitous janny (janitor or care-taker if that term means nothing to you) had been evacuated from Dunkirk after a close shave.  Bill proudly wore his medal ribbons on his janitor’s uniform every day. 

    It was obvious that Remembrance meant something to these men.  Sometimes a former pupil would attend the ceremony and they would stand in solemn thought considering their fallen classmates.  Once I saw the Deputy Head – a tough Aberdonian – escort one of these veterans who he had fought with to the memorial with his wreath.  I saw their faces – a stern stoicism masking deep emotion – as they walked out in the cold.

    The second thing that affected me was the war memorial at the school with its names covering all four sides of a rather fine stone needle.  I stood and studied them more than once during my school days.  These were young men just like me – just like me!  They came from exactly the same place, from exactly the same background, with exactly the same life experience as me – just a couple of generations earlier.  But for the Grace of God...

    These had been wars of national survival with a total mobilisation of the country.  If I had been alive I would have been there and so would my friends.  Something struck me that these boys deserved to be remembered.
    Finally, as a young man I read a lot of history – I even went on to study it at university.  I read a lot about what these men went through, what they faced, what conditions were like.  I read the horrific combat statistics.  I read the accounts of battle.  I read the soldiers’ stories.  Many deaths were heroic but often they were just sad or tragic!

    My Granny also left an impression on me.  Her husband (my Grandfather who I never knew) Hugh Young had been on the Somme (in one of the earliest tanks in fact).  He came back, but many of their friends and family did not.  Remembrance Day meant a lot to my Granny – or the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month as she called it.

    My Granny and the teachers at my school left and indelible impression on me.  Remembrance Day was about remembering the people who had died and it was about raising money to support those who had been scarred by war.

    I heard a guy on the radio form the White Poppy movement.  Now pacifism is a laudable and absolutely legitimate position to hold and to campaign for.  But this man was ungenerous, mean spirited, ill informed and talked complete and utter guff.

    In a funny way I have never understood those who say Remembrance Day is militaristic.  Because the day focuses on remembering the people who have died I have always thought pacifists and those who are uncomfortable about our foreign adventures should be amongst the most passionate exponents and participants in Remembrance Day.  It is after all a day we focus on the true cost of war and the pity of war!

    It is about remembrance whether we approve or disapprove of any given war.

    Kate Higgins told the story of the origins of Remembrance Day and the Poppy in her blog 'Poppy Cock' earlier this week.  I think she is spot on in what she says.  The one big difference is that the meaning of symbols and ceremonies do evolve, like language, over time.  

    So, I always wear the poppy because I believe:
    1. We should never forget what happened in two world wars in the 20th century and try to learn the lessons from them.
    2. In remembrance of those who died in those wars – even if not known personally.
    This means thinking of the 2nd war which was a war of national survival for us – a war which pulled us and so many other countries into a conflict with tyranny.  This means thinking of the 1st war where the slaughter was on an almost industrial scale – a much more complex conflict to understand but still a war of national survival although with a real sense of millions dying in the war games of a ruling elite.  This means thinking of the young who had their lives torn up to face fear and for many of them sacrifice.

    Today wars are not of national survival and sometimes appear morally ambiguous. Iraq was wrong! Afghanistan was probably the right thing to do but has become less clear cut as time has gone on.

    Nevertheless, these are security actions and it is important that they are undertaken and more to the point that we have men and women who are ready and willing to go into combat if called on.  And we should remember those people who die and we should look after those who are maimed or suffer mental torment afterwards.

    Remembrance Day – lest we forget!

    I’ll leave you with this rather poignant clip...  


    Thursday, 20 October 2011

    This is what always happens to tyrants in the end

    Sic semper tyrannis

    Meaning literally, 'thus always to tyrants'.  Perhaps it is better translated as 'this is what always happens to tyrants in the end'.  It was supposedly said by Marcus Brutus at the assassination of Caesar in 44 BC, although he probably never actually said these words.

    This seems to me to be a general truth through history - in the end.  Just as the Velvet Revolutions of 1989 saw Communist Europe fall relatively peacefully, so it was that the ending was not so quiet for Ceausescu in Rumania - probably the worst of the dictators.

    And so it is with the 'Arab Spring'.  This seems a strangely appropriate quote today, with the demise of Muammar Gaddafi.

    I wonder what the future holds for the Assads in Syria?

    Friday, 7 October 2011

    3 Apples that changed the world

    Someone highlighted to me that three Apples have changed the world...

    • Adam and Eve
    • Isaac Newton
    • Steve Jobs

    A bit cheesy but food for thought none the less!!  So, with the passing of Steve Jobs this week I wanted to write about him and also the three apples that completely changed the world.

    Adam and Eve – the power of storytelling

    The Biblical story of Adam and Eve eating the apple – the forbidden fruit - will be well known to you, whatever your religious viewpoint.  In fact it is one of the best known stories in the entire world.
    Adam and Eve is the story of creation and sets the tone for God’s relationship with  human kind.  It tells the story of our fall from Grace, is the basis for the Christian doctrine of Original Sin and forms the basis of not just one but three of the great religions of the world.

    These are complex theological ideas but brilliantly delivered in a story (whatever your view of Biblical truth or allegory) and one of the best examples in history of the power of story-telling to get over complex ideas.

    Isaac Newton – this is the modern world

    Isaac Newton is widely considered to be the most influential scientist who has ever lived and his greatest theories – on which our entire understanding of the physical universe is based – are said to all be based on an apple falling on his head while he sat under a tree.

    Newton laid the foundations for classical mechanics by describing universal gravitation and the three laws of motion which describes how we have understood the physical universe for over three centuries.  His work forms the basis of the Physics we learn at school to this day.

    He also proved the concept of planetary motion and established that the earth circles the sun – not the other way around.

    He also takes the credit along with a guy named Leibniz for the development of differential and integral calculus.

    He did a lot of other clever stuff, was a theologian, ran the Royal Mint and was an all round genius.

    Put simply, he advanced the scientific revolution that created the entire modern world we live in to this day.

    Steve Jobs – intuitive beauty

    And so to Steve Jobs who sadly died this week.  Steve Jobs is synonymous with Apple, the company he co-founded and the company he has led since 1996.  In his innovative drive he has changed so much about technology and the way we live our lives today.

    He developed one of the first commercially successful PCs – the Apple II

    He created the MacIntosh because he saw the potential of a mouse driven graphical user interface – how crap and unintuitive was computing using the keypad and BBC Basic command prompts.

    He set up Pixar out of Lucasfilm which lead to the re-birth of film animation and to films like Toy Story and a Bugs Life.

    His revolutionary work at NeXT included a multi-media email system which could share voice, image, graphics and video in email for the first time.

    He went back to Apple and turned in upside down, becoming the completely dominant figure.

    He achieved enormous commercial success with the iMac based on beautiful design.

    He developed the iPod and iTunes digital software which revolutionised the way we access, buy and listen to music.  MP3s and digitally sourced music has all but killed CDs and high street record stores.  You are more likely to listen to your iPod on the bus or out jogging than listening to music on the car CD player now.

    He then developed the iPhone – the first smartphone – a multi touch display mobile phone.

    Jobs was an inspirational, charismatic and highly energetic business leader – autocratic too.  He was also something of a lifestyle guru.  His foresight in setting trends and in innovations of style and intuitive usability has shaped much of our day to day living and the way we use technology in our lives.

    Jobs didn’t do market research.  He was a true market leader, knowing what the public wanted before they knew it – understanding the marriage of intuitive functionality and beautiful design.  

    Sunday, 2 October 2011

    What should the LibDems do next? What does the data tell us?

    The last year has been terrible for the LibDems.  Their brand, based on realignment of the left and carefully constructed for over half a century, has had a coach and horses driven through it.  Their poll ratings are disastrous – even accounting for a recent turnaround from absolute rock bottom.  They have a mountain to climb to save seats with a less than favourable economic backdrop, and the result of going into coalition has exceeded even the most miserable of worst case scenarios.
    Perhaps worst of all there has been a complete loss of trust, pulling the rug of credibility from under them and seeming to undermine everything they say or do to try to make it better!

    What should the Liberal Democrats do - the data says... ?

    Evidence based solutions is something of a buzz phrase these days for everything from scientific study, to corporate strategising.  In this regard therefore Lord Ashcroft’s polling of marginal Conservative constituencies is extremely interesting. (As was his analysis in December of the LibDem vote).  A number of blogs have covered the results in detail.  See Mark Pack, UKpolling report, Solutions Focused Politics and Solutions Focused Politics again.

    These results tell us the following:
    • 41% of voters in LibDem target seats say they share their values (it’s even 33% in other seats).  This is a very high number – more than the other parties in LibDem target seats. 42% also felt the LibDems were on the side of ordinary voters (more than for any other party albeit just ahead of Labour)
    • Only 32% say the LibDems are clear about what they stand for, in their target seats.   It is 28% in other seats.  These numbers are lower than for the other parties.
    • A derisory 24% say the LibDems will do what they say, the number falls to 21% in non target seats.  The other parties have low numbers on this category too – but more than the LibDems.
    Also, looking at LibDem targets, on a whole host of issues the LibDems could only struggle into the teens for those who think they would do the best dealing with the given issue - except for the environment where they score highly.

    What issues are considered important remains very similar across Tory, Labour and LibDem held seats.  Education, the Environment and dealing with the deficit come up slightly more important in LibDem areas than other seats.  Crime and Immigration come out as slightly less important than the norm in LibDem areas.

    So what should the LibDems do?

    In order to recover the Liberal Democrats need to be much better at defining precisely who they are and what they want to do, and communicating that effectively.

    Everything comes from that.  General ideas of fairness will not do.  General ideas of listening to the public and then working to deliver their needs sounds laudable but ultimately is more confusing; that is casework which is very important but should not be mixed up with a political credo.  It is very important for the Liberal Democrats to get this right as this is at the heart of their problems.

    Secondly, there is a need for delivery.  A number of substantive things need delivered that make a difference to men and women's lives.  Civil liberties and constitutional reform are important but they should be treated as a ring fenced area.  The key issues are the ones that make life better.  If the LibDems succeed in implementing good policy in these areas - and being perceived as having delivered - then that outweighs things they have not done - such as on tuition fees in England and Wales and in failing to prevent a rise in VAT.  This is the only route back to credibility and re-establishing trust.

    Delivery needs to come with it some sort of vision, an analysis of where they find themselves, some sort of story or narrative of what is wrong and how this can be put right.  This ties the two key ingredients of core principles and doing what they say together.

    This, if they can begin to deliver, could pay dividends as there is a pool of potential belief in the Liberal Democrats out there as shown by the numbers of people who still feel they share their values or they are basically on their side.

    Other interesting things we have learned

    • We have also learned from Lord Ashcroft that a significant number of voters seriously considered voting LibDem in 2010 but decided not to.
    • The main reason for deciding not to was because they felt the LibDems could have no influence and were a wasted vote. 
    • Two thirds of these people think the LibDems are making an important contribution to government.
    • Nearly all LibDem voters felt Labour seriously lost their way in government.  The poor showing of Labour in Scotland - once a General Election against the Tories was removed from the equation - and difficult poll ratings for Ed Milliband, suggest that while Labour may be doing reasonably well in the face of the government's austerity plans they have not yet sealed the deal for themselves with the British public. 
    • Many 2010 LibDem voters will not decide for some time how they will vote for a General election and do not rule out going back to the LibDems.
    • The polling in Conservative/LibDem marginals at least is consistent with between election polling in previous electoral cycles 
    What does this all mean?

    In Conservative held seats at least, there is a pool of voters who have considered supporting the LibDems before, believe they share their values and think they are making a contribution in government whereas before they felt they were a wasted vote.  If the LibDems can develop a coherent narrative as to who they are and if they start to be seen to deliver worthwhile things, some of these people will vote for them.

    When you consider the LibDems are not that far behind in Conservative marginals, and certainly no worse than in previous electoral cycles, there is hope behind their low polling numbers - the data tells us so.

    We have been here before 

    Because we have been here before.  After the successes of 1974 and assorted by-election victories the Liberals fell back towards the end of the 70s and the big parties were eager to write them off.  I remember listening to Clive Jenkins, the crusty old trade unionist, on the radio on some local election night late in the 1970s, saying the Liberals results were patchy - which meant bad.  This, he argued was a good thing because they were a distraction from the real political argument.

    After the Alliance ended and the Owenite SDP rump refused to join the merged party, poll ratings collapsed to lower than they are now and the 1989 Euro elections were a disaster.  Again commentators were very quick to write off the LibDems.

    Their opponents are so condescending but fail to understand the resilience and depth of their position.

    I felt then, in the late 1980s that the LibDems would be alright because there was a 'market' demand to vote for a decent centrist party.  This time I have not been so sure.  The trust and credibility thing feels ominous to me - and the damage feels particularly severe in Scotland where an Alex Salmond lead SNP are resurgent and occupy the centre ground.  However, this data tells me there is still a market demand as there was before.  It may be that some of the cities of northern England where we had made inroads against Labour are lost for at least this electoral cycle.  Scotland may also be more of a challenge for a period.

    Nevertheless, even in Scotland, there is hope and the Ashcroft data shows that there is potential for LibDem growth if they can get their core values right, deliver something substantive in government and communicate it effectively.

    The data says there is hope!

    Sunday, 25 September 2011

    Are the Conservatives Eloi or Morlocks?

    It’s not really a question I’ve ever asked myself before to be honest. But, do you remember the HG Wells novel ‘The Time Machine’ – or perhaps you have seen the rather good film version of it?

    Well, if you haven’t or you can’t remember the plot ...

    Wells’ Time Traveller journeys far into the future where he meets the Eloi, childlike adults who live in futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, doing no work and lacking any curiosity or discipline. He also encounters the Morlocks who are ape like troglodytes who live underground amongst the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground ‘paradise’ possible. More sinister the Traveller learns the Morlock feed on the Eloi.

    They are two tribes into which man has evolved. They now fulfil an almost ritualistic role based on something that happened in the nuclear wars of the dim and distant past but is now forgotten. They have both lost the intelligence and character of Man at its peak.

    So it is with the Conservatives in Scotland sometimes I think. They are evil and socially unacceptable, this is a given. To support them in an election is not allowed. The need to marginalise them is paramount and the first rule of Scottish politics is to vote tactically to ensure they achieve no representation. To ally yourself with them in any way attracts instant vilification and ensures the perpetrator is too cast out into darkness. So the Scottish Liberal Democrats have discovered over the last year.

    We have maybe forgotten precisely why this is the case – or if we remember we soon will have forgotten.

    At this point in time the Conservatives in Scotland have just kicked off their leadership campaign. At the time of writing it looks like a close contest between Ruth Davidson and Murdo Fraser. Ruth was meant to be the young fresh faced, counter intuitive Tory who would modernise them. She has been slightly outflanked by Murdo who has proposed that they become independent of the party down south, change their name and embrace a more hard core version of devolution than ever before.

    Kenny Farquharson writes very interestingly about this in Scotland on Sunday today where he suggests if the Tories vote for Ruth or one of the others, then Scotland will be Independent by 2016. If they vote for Murdo, Scotland will remain part of the UK. I have no idea if he is right or wrong.

    The Conservatives clearly need to change their brand and their perception in Scotland. I also think they need to do something so that more Scots can relate to them and vice versa – you only have to look at a gaggle of Tories on Newsnicht to see what I mean. This is partly image and partly their policies and outlook on life – both need to change. However, to be a hated tribe for memories buried deep in folk memory is not healthy.

    Firstly, there is a place for the case to be made for low taxes and small government, for a socially conservative vision of society and family, and for respect and value in some of our institutions. They will also argue for certain right wing economic theories or perhaps the case against Europe.

    I have never been a Conservative and don’t expect to ever be one, but these are all legitimate positions and in a healthy and effective democracy someone needs to argue the case for these ideas.

    Secondly, in a political system based on pluralism as ours is in Scotland much more so than in England, we need to be tolerant and understanding of the politics of coalition. It is a reality in council chambers up and down the land, it is more than likely as the outcome of a Holyrood election, and even at Westminster our current electoral system is more likely to bring about coalitions than before. This means that the Conservatives may need to play their role in one and we need political debate that is more adult and less tribal as a consequence.

    Interestingly, there was almost a command and supply relationship between the SNP and the Conservatives after 2007. But this was a relationship that dared not speak its name. It’s time to allow the Conservatives out of the closet.

    Finally, I have noticed that some Nationalists argue they want to defeat poverty and bring about social justice in the modern Scotland - but the only way this can be done is in an Independent Scotland. How can this be so? The reason it can be so is that England keeps on imposing alien Conservative regimes on Scotland who are against such left of centre agendas. Indeed, making sure we do not have a Conservative regime enforced on us period, is a key driver for having Independence.

    This strikes me as most unhealthy reasoning. There is absolutely no reason why we should not achieve these laudable aims as part of the UK. This reasoning is getting dangerously close to a basic anti-English sentiment which never lies far beneath the surface with some nationalists. This reasoning also exposes that everything the nationalists argue must be seen through the prism of achieving Independence. This is their raison d’etre. Everything is capable of being manipulated to drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK so the Scots turn to Independence.

    Now, perhaps more than at any other time, political conditions are near perfect for Nationalists. A different party in charge north and south of the border; a party that they can present as universally bad as well as alien; and they are in alliance with the LibDems off and gain enough votes to match or even overhaul Labour.

    This alliance is nothing of course to do with two parties taking responsibility to form a government when none was chosen, and taking responsibility to deal with the unprecedented set of circumstances in front of them! This of course makes no serious or reasonable attempt to understand the things the LibDems bring to government and the things they may temper in the Tories.

    No, the arguments are tribal, and the Tories have to play the role of an exiled tribe like the Eloi and the Morlocks.

    This is all good politics – just as long as voters realise that this is what is going on. However, it is bad for reasoned debate or any serious attempt to get to grips with our problems and work out solutions in a dangerous and difficult world.


    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    Total LibDemmery - new life through blogging

    Well this week Total Politics finish announcing their Blog awards for 2011. Scottish blogging amongst the LibDems has come out of it looking remarkably healthy. I counted 19 Scottish LibDem blogs with a variety of styles in the top 100.

    There is no doubt it has been a really tough year to be a Scottish Libdem. If we are to weather the current storm we need to rejuvenate intellectually. Never mind anyone else, a crucial part of this is that we need to start with defining who we are and what we believe. Then we need to communicate that. We must be clear of this and rebuild on that basis.

    This is perhaps more than any other time since the 1920s a time of political realignment. Political voting blocs have been breaking down for a while now and the voters are more volatile than ever. Gone are the old certainties. This is true throughout the United Kingdom but even more so in Scotland.

    These shifting sands threaten to create a new landscape – one in which a party can take new form and new strength; or one in which it can get eroded away.

    This is therefore time for rebirth and we must define who we are and what we are about from first principles and blogging is a crucial part of that.

    And these blogs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are about activism, some about ideas and some are just ordinary people making comments and observations on life. All play a part in rebirth and in being a living and thriving movement.

    If the embers burn strong, the fire can catch light again and connect with the people who think as we think.

    Total Politics - Total Libdemmery

    So what of the Scottish blogging scene for the LibDems? First a word of thanks.

    I was absolutely thrilled to be in both the Top 25 LibDem Blogs and the Top 25 Scottish Blogs for The View to the Hills and I am one of the Top 35 LibDem Bloggers.

    I had hoped to get a rating since starting to blog in April this year. I wanted this to help establish my blog and my blogging escapades. However, I have been slightly embarrassed but dead chuffed to come in as 21st best political blog in Scotland and the 23rd best LibDem blog in the UK.

    Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me - it means a lot! :)

    As I said, depending on how you count them there are 19 Scottish bloggers in the top 100 LibDem blogs. They are a disparate bunch with contrasting but complementary styles.

    Caron has the top LibDem blog after the successful group LibDem blog, LibDem Voice. She is one of the most outstanding bloggers of British political blogging today from across the political spectrum. She writes with honesty and with passion and of real life experiences. She is also an articulate advocate of her causes and a voice for the party in Scotland. Most of all her voice is one of real character and feeling.

    The legendary Andrew Reeves comes in at 4th place.

    Stephen Glenn is another blogging legend and aficionado of the Tour de France. He's moved to Northern Ireland but he is still a card carrying Scottish LibDem so he counts. Stephen comes in at 5th position.

    Andrew Page comes in at 7 with the excellent A Scottish Liberal. This is a very different type of blog to Caron's. Andrew is an excellent writer and analyst about a broad range of policy and philosophical topics. It is great to see him recognised as such across Scotland and throughout the UK. And he speaks Gaelic.

    Fraser Macpherson comes in at 9 with his long running masterclass in running a councillor’s blog.

    Dan Falchikov comes in at 15 - a London Scot and, as Caron says, as much a Scot as Jeff Breslin. He runs a classic columnist style blog, regular and espousing rich opinions. With his father active in Edinburgh he is in a way Scottish LibDem royalty.

    Caron also claims the learned and Cicero - another quite excellent writer - because he is Scottish. He comes in at 19.

    Then there are the councillors David May, Sanjay Samani, and Paul Edie. There is also the brilliantly named Climbing Russell's Mountain by Councillor Keith Legg, although it is more than a councillor's blog.

    There is Wild Women,an excellent group blog for Scottsh Women. Liberal Youth Scotland is the group blog for a vibrant youth movement.

    Blogging regularly from the West coast is Nic Prigg,and newcomer Gordon Anderson with Social Liberal in the Pursuit of Fairness; and in the East is An Independence Minded Liberal by Douglas McLellan. Douglas is a far more talented writer and commentator than he realises and I wish he could write more often. I'm also think he should have kept the brilliant title Midlothian Liberal which was his brand and an excellent and distinctive one at that.

    James Taylor's Liberal Thought, and Alex Cole-Hamilton's Liberal Landslide, are both quality blogs by two people who really should blog more often.  James Taylor in particular provides a multi-page blog and a fusion of business, innovation, and the arts as well as politics.

    These represent the ideas and values of a living party. My sincerest hope is that they continue to feed the party and it begins to grow strong and find its place again in the scottish political environment.


    Sunday, 18 September 2011

    Which Star Trek villain is your political party?

    I was indulging on some Twitter observations as to which Star Trek monsters represented which political party

    Klingons - Tories

    The original pantomime baddies

    Ferrengi - the Labour Party

    Villains to start with, turned comical

    Tribbles - LibDems

    Because they are soft and fluffy. (Personally I voted for Harry Mudd to represent my party)

    The Borg - the SNP

    Non Nationalist thinking is not allowed - no one expects the Scottish Inquisition - mwah-ha-ha

    The Greens - that plant thing that shoots a puff of spores at you and takes over.

    You see - seem benign but control freaks at heart! Actually some Greens think Patrick Harvie is Picard - honestly!

    Ah well - we know the political task ahead. Can this disparate band of ne'er do wells stop us all being assimilated by the Borg? You have been warned!

    With thanks to @SophiaPangloss @jruddy99 @setindarkness and @RLemkin


    Thursday, 15 September 2011

    A slow hand-clap for the TUC on pensions

    I noticed the TUC now seems to be a big meeting in the office training room rather than a mass movement.

    I also notice they seem to be being incredibly out of touch with what they are saying about public sector pensions.  From what I saw on the news yesterday I thought they were coming up with some incredibly undiscerning and unintelligent commentary on this issue.

    Public sector pensions have to change. I've previously written about that here and here. In common with pensions in the private sector they have become incredibly more expensive to run than in the 50s and 60s.  This is because we are all living much longer.  Final salary pensions, with the levels of guarantee they offer, demand an open ended commitment - they are a bottomless pit and can be quite literally the running sore that destroys a business - just ask the car workers of Detroit.

    In the private sector a business can only provide what it has got funds for.  It is not a bottomless pit!  Now, while economic reality is one step removed in the public sector it is still a reality.  In may ways the public sector watches what it spends very very carefully, but it is possible to misjudge either where more investment is required or where something needs to change.  And the public sector can only afford what the country as a whole can afford or can raise through taxation.     

    The fact is we probably all need to work just a little longer and save a little more to provide realistic pensions. 

    No, the TUC are missing an opportunity here.  We are all getting shafted on our pensions - public and private sector.  There needs to be change, but we need to safeguard employees so pensions reform makes the changes it needs to but adapts so we have a system that still provides good retirement incomes for all.
    The TUC should be on the front foot suggesting how they should reform in their members' interests and leading reform of private sector pensions where they are pensions are being eroded away as even the biggest companies retreat from providing decent benefits.  Where in the private sector is using the demise of final salary pensions and the introduction of legislation to enforce the automatic enrolment of workers into a pension scheme to level employee benefits down to the lowest common denominator.

    The TUC needs to be working constructively to adapt, develop alternative pensions models and then to defend workers rights and society accordingly.

    Instead we get stereotypical caricatures of Red Robbo on the one hand and King Cnut on the other.

    Slow hand-clap TUC!

    The Orange Order thinks about disciplining unionists for going to catholic funeral of a policeman - oh please!

    Two Ulster Unionists, including the leader Tom Elliot, are to face disciplinary proceedings by the Orange Order for going to the Catholic funeral of murdered policeman Ronan Kerr.

    Oh please!

    This sort of thing has happened before and it is pathetic and an embarrassment.

    I'm not going to speak against the Orange Lodge working to promote their culture and their community.  I'm not going to speak against them promoting their religion and involving themselves in theological debate.  And I'm not going to speak against them defending their beliefs if they feel they are under threat.  But this...

    The Orange Lodge represent groups that are denominations of the same religion as Roman Catholics. 

    The time to move on from this sort of stance about mass and funerals passed a long long time ago.

    If someone theologically has objections to the Catholic interpretation and practice of the Eucharist then all they have to do is discreetly not participate in that part of the service.  But they should stand with their brothers and sisters in the community and their brothers and sisters before God too!

    They should stand in memory of their colleagues, and their neighbours and their friends.

    I'm glad the guys who went to the funeral are unrepentant and if the Orange Lodge want to remain in any way relevant, or in any way worthy of anyone respecting them or listening to anything they have to say then they need to change - and fast!

    Best blogs in Scotland - my take

    The top 25 Scottish political blogs were announced by Total Politics today.

    I was delighted to come in at 21.  Thank you so much to everyone who voted for The View from the Hills

    I was particularly delighted to be in between Gerry Hassan and Iain Mcwhirter as they are both writers of such quality.  I was also delighted to see such a consistently good blog project as Better Nation come out top - people voting for a good blog not just a known name there.

    Also glad to see such well written blogs like Burdzeyeview - the Burd's so well put together, researched and prolific - and Lallands so original and at times magnificently written.

    There is an obvious lack of Labour bloggers - perhaps a few will come out in other categories or in future years we will see people like Ian Smart being mentioned.  Less surprising to see no Tory blogs.  However, they do in other places produce some thoughtful and sometimes the most witty blogs.  Maybe Mugwump and Tory Hoose will help redress the balance.

    The Greens are strong too with Bright Green and Suitably Despairing both so well put together and still a sprinkling of greenery amongst the thistles at Better Nation.

    Glad I'm in with at least 4 LibDems.  This is good to keep up the tradition given Mr Glenn has moved to Norn Ireland and the sad passing of Mr Reeves - glad he is getting recognised all over Total Politics :) 
    Caron of course is missing but will appear high up in other categories.  Also missing is an excellent writer like Douglas Mclellan (Midlothian Liberal or Independence Minded Liberal) and maybe will see Scots Gazette in future years.

    Finally I like to think I am really in the top 20 as the SNP official website isn't really a blog and the Total Politics people forgot to exclude it when they produced their results :D.

    Here are the full results (last year in brackets) 

    (-) Better Nation
    (6) Bright Green Scotland
    (2) Underdogs Bite Upwards
    (15) Lallands Peat Worrier
    (-) A Burdz Eye View
    (-) Labour Hame
    (-) Andrew Reeve's Running Blog
    (9) Sub Rosa
    (26) Bella Caledonia
    (-) Dundee Westend
    (23) Scot Goes POP!
    (17) Go Lassie Go
    (-) A Scottish Liberal
    (-) Newsnet Scotland
    (-) Suitably Despairing
    (35) Moridura
    (22) Kezia Dugdale
    (47) Munguin's Republic
    (24) Gerry Hassan
    (-) View from the Hills
    (27) Iain Macwhirter Now and Then
    (-) Alba Matters
    (-) The Shoogly Peg
    (-) Universality of Cheese  

    Sunday, 11 September 2011

    9/11 - The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight...

    Tribute to 9/11.  Words by Aaron Sorkin as spoken by Martin Sheen playing President Josiah Bartlett (West Wing - '20 Hours in America').

    "The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students, and our teachers, and our parents and our friends.  The streets of heaven are too crowded wth angels.  But every time we think we've measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.  This is a time for American heroes.  We will do what is hard.  We will achieve what is great.  This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.  God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America."                        

    Thursday, 8 September 2011

    Alex Salmond, the Laird Protector

    Yesterday saw a bravura performance from Alex Salmond announcing his administration’s programme for the new parliamentary session.

    In his speech we saw a central tenet of his political tactics in that all things emanating from Westminster are to be considered bad and all things from Holyrood are considered  good.  The SNP will ride to the protection of the nation while others are impotent or tied to interests elsewhere. 

    Salmond is building the case for independence like an Alabama governor railing against Washington.  As if somehow Scotland could do so much better on its own.  I expressed my issue with this in my last post when I quoted Jim Wallace’s interview in the Times last Saturday.  He noted the fallacy of this argument, “that somehow of all the countries in the rest of the world that have experienced economic difficulty, Scotland would be the one that doesn’t have to engage in deficit reduction and is only doing so because it’s being foisted upon us by Westminster.”

    Of course, with the SNP, independence is in reality the only show in town.  In this regard the questions put out there by the Secretary of State as necessary to discuss are genuinely important to address.  It is not that there isn’t an answer to these questions, rather it is necessary to think through these core issues if we are to work out the direction of any future constitutional settlement.

    Salmond said that Westminster needs to show humility.  Maybe it does.  However, so should he.

    Alex Salmond has a mandate to run a competent Holyrood administration and he has a mandate to put the independence question to Scotland .

    He does not have a mandate for independence.

    The question as to whether we adopt the status quo, reform, devo-max or independence is for the Scottish people to decide. 

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    Myth busting with Michael Moore

    Michael Moore, the Secretary State for Scotland, was in the news last week for making an important speech on the future for Devolution in Scotland.

    In the speech he highlighted the UK Government’s Scotland Bill and what he believed it could mean for Scotland, and he set out to show it as an alternative to Independence in the range of options Scotland now has.

    As such he set out a rebuttal to nationalism and made the case to consider alternatives studied by Calman and being offered through the Scotland Bill.

    Central to his argument was that there will need to be proper scrutiny of any referendum proposals put forward by the Holyrood administration.

    He noted, as many of us will have observed, that the SNP thus far have been shy about fleshing out precisely what they mean by independence.

    He challenged this by posing 6 questions that need answered in order to understand and then assess the viability of the independence options.

    This much readers of this blog will probably be fully aware of.

    There is something of myth developing in some quarters that this was a slightly tired and lame attack on independence.  I don’t think it was that at all, and to see it like that was to miss the point being made.

    This seemed to me to be a totally reasonable speech and totally reasonable and pertinent questions.

    The First Minister’s spokesman called the speech embarrassing and confused.  Many of the polemicists and iconoclasts amongst the cyber nats chose to follow what is very much the house narrative about Michael Moore - whatever he says.  Indeed they are invariably somewhat churlish if not just plain nasty about him.

    Such is the business of politics.

    Some of the press reaction surprised me.

    Iain MacWhirter speaking on “Newsnicht” last Thursday said debate has moved on and the UK government was trying to create fear that Scotland can’t survive as an independent country – that our financial services industry will somehow fail in this set-up.

    This was not how I read what was being said at all.

    I think it is absolutely right to question Salmond and the nationalist agenda.  We need clarity from the SNP as to where they are taking us, especially as they are now saying things about the links they will maintain with the UK.

    We need to move the debate forward ahead of any referendum.

    Where I thought MacWhirter was uncharacteristically wrong was that this is not saying 'Scotland cannot survive, so don’t go there or your head will drop off'.  Rather, it is asking for the detail to be put on the table so we can have a detailed debate about all the options and decide where we are going.

    This is important.  The SNP won big but it was not a mandate for independence.  They have earned the right to put a referendum and proposals for constitutional change to us.

    These are big questions and hitherto most Scots have been against independence. This is a question that involves us all and involves all the options – not just what the national party of Scotland wants.

    I also noticed some rather patronising swatting away of these 6 questions saying they had been answered in 2009 in the white paper “Your Scotland, Your Choice”

    No they hadn’t!!  At least not in any detail!

    If we are to have a referendum we need to discuss precisely these issues in some detail and the practicalities of implementing what is proposed. 

    The point is not scaremongering – the debate has indeed moved on.  The point is considering the pros and cons of independence and the other options available, and then the Scottish people deciding on the constitutional direction we want to go in.

    Some of these questions will have a perfectly good answer, others will not, but they are important.

    Isabel Fraser on 'Newsnicht' seemed to think that issues about finance and the cost of independence had been settled and the debate on that had moved on too.  I don’t think anything has been settled.  As far as costs or financial regulations are concerned we continue to see different arguments being made, quite rationally, with different facts being used.  These issues need debated.   

    Two other myths I would like to bust

    First that Michael Moore is somehow confused.

    Michael Moore is an extremely straightforward and reasonable politician and a first rate constituency MP.

    As a minister he is highly intelligent and pays attention to detail.  His is a forensic mind suited to the legislative process and the hard yards of detailed policy implementation.

    In fact he forms a highly effective double-act with the Scottish Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie who is more the performing combative politician in the bear-pit.

    The second myth is that Michael Moore is some sort of foreign interloper.

    It’s his job as Secretary of State.  As such he is in a pivotal position between the national government and the Scottish administration.  And he is an extremely proud Scotsman representing us in the Westminster arena, just as there are proud Scotsman working in the Holyrood context.

    The SNP inevitably try to drive a wedge between Michael Moore at Westminster and Scotland.   

    Some of the nationalist writers, set firm in their fantasyland where no one is allowed to fall out of line with the national party, like to present him as some sort of last viceroy.

    Wrong again!!  He is a Scot and he is performing a Scottish role in national government in our parliament – at the UK level – it’s not the empire!

    But then the Nationalists seem to believe they are on the side of the angels in an evolving utopia under their own Laird Protector Alex.

    At best this is a little delusional, at worst it is driven by a latent anti English sentiment.

    As Jim Wallace said in the Times this Saturday, this is unimpressive rhetoric, “that somehow of all the countries in the rest of the world that have experienced economic difficulty, Scotland would be the one that doesn’t have to engage in deficit reduction and is only doing so because it’s being foisted upon us by Westminster.”