Scottish politics

October 19, 2010

With the SNP’s aspirational announcements on freezing council tax, the election pistol is fired. However I find myself looking forward to this election less than any of its predecessors.

Not out of fear for who might win. I won’t decide which way I’ll vote until nearer the time (although you can assume it will either be labour or snp for first vote). Tuning into first ministers questions these days you can scarcely tell the difference with the house of commons. Our first minister, bellowing out his rhetoric, looks like an MP in a kilt. But our entire voting system is geared towards collaboration. Once these sessions showed modern politicians at work, and stood in stark contrast to the panto in Westminister.

This next election looks set to be a personality contest, with cross party politics out the window. Ask your average SNP activist to rank their sister parties and it’ll probably be SNP, Green……Tory, Lib/Lab. Some of the vitriol directed at Iain Gray is truly depressing. Have we lost the ability to say ‘Ah. We disagree. Here’s why. Reason. Logic.’
There’s an implicit assumption that the electorate can be cowed by mud slinging and fear, which Labour was guilty of in the last election. So the SNP think, we have to play that game too and be better at it.

Why do we have to hate politicians or parties? Why can’t we just disagree and get on with our lives. The public are guilty of it too, regarding politicians as more corrupt than the average citizen, when in fact they’re probably the same. Lambasting politicians for being rich and well educated….well, if a rich well educated person is standing up for the poor simply because they are poor and a poor person is insulting someone simply because they are rich, who is right?

We should ignore personalities in this election, have an actual policy discussion. What are the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power, how do we approach tax in the future, what do we do about transport infrastructure and ensuring Scotland is connected to high speed rail, how do we fund universities, what can we do to promote social cohesion.




July 6, 2010

I’m in Finland. Finland’s great. I ought to blog about the forests, summer cottages and lakes not to mention the marvelous weather we’ve been having.

But I’m British so I’ll have a good moan anyway.

I sometimes think our geography in the UK means we have a scattered experience of other European states. We’re pretty slow to borrow their great ideas. Our expectations are lowered because not enough of us have experienced the French transport system, the Finnish education system, the German beers. What we’ve had has been great for so long we haven’t really checked other countries to see if its still relatively great. We are pretty keen to hold back power from Brussels, but sometimes we’ve just got to stand back and admit Big Europe does it better.

Recycling is an example. I’m a recycling cynic. It comes down to three things:

– Why do we mainly recycle renewable things? Are we running out of sand for glass? Can we not plant trees?
– Why does our recycling mainly come down to giving companies things for free? I can pay some nominal charge for a plastic bag , but will I be refunded if I bring any bags back to the shop ? (Some shops do offer rewards for sustainable behavior but its too patchy and not locally available where I am) If this is not a cynical money making scheme why do they not switch to using bio degradable materials for bags as some shops have?
– It can be a placebo. We can think we are saving the planet and keep our emissions as high as ever. Surely our first priority ought to be to reduce our emissions drastically, whether we believe thats to avert a man made catastrophe, or manage inevitable natural variation, or something in between.

Whether its a beer can or a bottle, in Finland you can expect 15 or 20c to be refunded when you return a used container back to the shop. Thats how it ought to function. You can bet Scotland would be close to 100% efficient if they thought there was money in it. So far I’m aware of only Irn Bru doing this. You won’t find an eligible bottle lying anywhere, the consumer will be only too keen to return them in bulk to the supplier for financial reward. Here you can even see homeless people collecting cans.

Its not a uniquely Finnish example at all. Perhaps the UK is more in the unique position of taking the least effective approach to recycling and treating it as some kind of hobby instead of a serious part of our buying and selling.

Women in Cabinet

June 4, 2010

I have always regarded with suspiscion, attempts to increase the number of women in parliament at all levels, or as the rhetoric would have it, ‘battle sexism’ by the back door. Whether its all women short lists, or quotas of cabinet ministers who should be women or of an ethnic minority. That might be a fix or patch to a problem, but its not dealing with the cause, whatever that may be.

I’ve always thought people should be promoted by merit alone. Harriet Harman seems to think a women ought to get a vote just for being a woman. Diane Abbott seems to think she should get 33 votes for being a women and being black. I think initiatives like these at best are patronising to women, who do not need any help to compete with men in politics.

However, an article by Katie McCrory raises an interesting point. If all thats seen in the media is a male dominated cabinet, there is a danger that politics is percieved as a male only bloodsport in society’s subconscious.

I see this happen in science all the time. Even in the biggest international collaborations there are only a handful of women. In Engineering, a subject many women are exceptionally gifted in, there remains work to be done to encourage women, through positive discrimination, to study as Engineers.

I thought I had made my mind up on this issue but perhaps its not so simple.

Labour Leadership

May 25, 2010 – you can see how much support each of the candidates have.

And it looks like the PLP are not as mad as I thought.

Ed Milliband is far and away the best communicator. He will be the David Cameron of the leadership set – unknown by the public now, but come his first conference speech, everything changes. He’s intelligent, he engages with supporters, he seems to care. Mind you I don’t know what any of his policies are. Bit like David Cameron in his own leadership campaign then.

Ed Balls hasn’t even got his wife to nominate him yet. I don’t rate him highly, but he is probably the second best communicator of the lot.

David Milliband is shocking on tv, he’s nervous and doesn’t think well on his feet. And I’m sorry, but if it’s true that he thinks that Labour have been ‘punished enough for Iraq’ then I don’t think he understands the human cost more than the electoral one.

Diane Abbott won’t attract votes from ‘ethnic minority’ or ‘women’ MPs, as if there were enough of them anyway in the PLP, rather she will attract the votes of crazy people. How she can say all the candidates ‘look the same’ and expect to be supported beggars belief. She doesn’t have an automatic right to be on the ballot paper just because shes a woman, or because she’s black and its patronising to suggest otherwise. Obama wasn’t elected because he was black, but because he was the best candidate.

John McDonnell – I hope he gets in simply because it will make the race far more interesting and provoke far more policy discussion.

Andy Burnham – so far not really feeling it.

I think Jon Cruddas called it right, whether because of collective responsibility or something else, we have known these guys for so long but we simply don’t know what they stand for, so its hard to call. For all I know Ed Milliband believes we should remove road signs and replace them with wind turbines. That doesn’t matter right now because its only the labour MPs who have a vote for the moment. We can’t really tell until the tv debates who has the best policies.

Women women everywhere

May 12, 2010

Are there going to be any more women in the cabinet? Theresa May being given the women and equality brief in addition to her home office responsibilities doesn’t bode well.

Of course, promotion should be on merit not gender. But there are certain standards the government expects of business, and in addition to the commons there is also the opportunity to draw from or bring them into the Lords.

I am not suggesting Margaret Thatcher.

There are all sorts of obstacles ahead for a coalition which has the word ‘liberal’ and the word ‘conservative’ in it. But watching the press conference today, seeing the amiability between the two leaders, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be far more stable than any treaty between Brown and Blair. Clegg looked a little nervous, sometimes overcome almost, and his eyes seemed to me to light up at the thought of meeting world leaders. He did try to meet Obama once, and people mocked him for it – not so ridiculous now.

No doubt we will be hearing a lot of the new politics narrative. Probably it will be quoted back at them every time a back bencher breaks ranks to criticise the other party, or every time there’s a political scandal ala Blair’s ‘whiter than white’.  But they need to change PMQs immediately, quite apart from the structural changes involved.

LD and Con MPs should be under strict orders not to jeer, not to shout anyone down, not to mock people in the way the LDs have suffered for so long…but not to respond when the opposition makes a jarring claim. Perhaps even to clap their own leader. Many MPs may think that simply to sit there quietly is beneath them, however in the future hopefully acting like children should be beneath them too.

Let it be just the Labour MPs who jeer this wednesday. Then we’ll see the press reaction and how quickly PMQs changes overnight. Lets make it something we can be proud of.


May 11, 2010

Coalitions are great. You get the best of both worlds and you can claim that your party supported it the whole time. Take tuition fees and opposition to ID cards in Scotland.

True enough there are some differences with the parties but they all have one thing in common: they didn’t win. It is the natural thing to do to combine and proceed. How on earth we are going to combine the words ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ together is anyones guess. But there is common ground, indeed the two parties have been less distant in the last parliament than previously. We will not be taking the brain of a pig and attaching it to the body of a goat. Politicians work together all the time. We’ll be taking a paragraph and a chapter of policies and sticking them together. Why can’t that work?

Everyone says theres a Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish precedent. However there is a recent UK precedent too. If you can get a coalition of Brown and Blair then you can certainly do a coalition of Cameron and Clegg.

Mind you , first time in history? I am not sure I trust LD motives for “speaking first” to the conservatives. I still think its possible its a means of justifying their eventual decision to join with labour.