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.”