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Showing posts with label 2001 Holyrood elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2001 Holyrood elections. Show all posts

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The St. Andrew’s Day trade union folly

Scottish trades unionists - you are being manipulated for party political purposes into striking against a Scottish Government that supports you but is powerless under the UK grip to help you. Why strike against your own people? It won't mean anything to the brutal Tory/LibDem Coalition, but it will hurt Scots, vulnerable Scottish working mothers especially. English trades unions have no choice but to strike and they are right to do so - but your strike has no logic and no meaning to it. Re-think now!



Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

The teachers' strike on 30th Nov. won't hurt the UK government or dent its manic resolve - but it will hurt Scottish working mothers. STOP!

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Scotland has two governments - one that works for Scots - the SNP - and one that doesn't - the UK. Why strike against your own side, unions?

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

The 30th Nov. strike in Scotland will hurt Scotland and Scots, but not the Coalition. This is a perversion of Scots trade union principles .

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

There are two anti-Scottish Coalitions: Cameron's Tory/LibDem one and Curran/Moore/Mundel's Coalition. They are using Scottish union members

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Think of the political impact a delegation to Holyrood of Scottish Unions that refused to strike would have had. This strike harms Scots ...

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Scottish union members are being manipulated by Labour FTOs for London party objectives. This strike harms Scotland and Scots only - folly.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Why are Scottish unions striking 30th Nov. Because their Labour FTOs demand it. Hurt a Government on their side, and other Scots - for what?

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

Renfrewshire teachers are defying the strike call on St. Andrew's Day. They were on holiday anyway ...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Translating Union-speak–a Unionish phrase book

Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was no fan of the Scots but who would be largely forgotten today if it hadn’t been for Boswell, his Scottish biographer, was born a couple of years after the Union. He compiled a dictionary of the English language. I wonder what he would have made of the OED, Google and online translation facilities.

But over the last few years, another language has sprung up in these islands, one that is likely to grow rapidly in the next few years, reaching its peak around 2014-2015, then dying, unmourned, its arcane cadences lost to all but academics and historians. The language is a variant of English, with occasional rather self-conscious borrowings from Scots.

Some argue that it is merely a dialect of English, or even a patois - a pidgin or a creole. It is to be found in Scotland mainly in the Letters columns of The Scotsman and The Herald, where it is written in its purest form, and in its spoken form, in the mouths of Unionist politicians. In its extreme gutter form, it can be heard on morning phone-ins to Radio Scotland, but often enunciated in the plummiest of Establishment tones.

This new, and very temporary language phenomenon is called Unionish.

A significant number of people have attained fluency, but for many, it is baffling, especially to those who expect it convey ideas and meaning. However, it can be deciphered without the aid of a Rosetta Stone, and since I have attained a modest understanding of it from close study of its most prolific users, I thought it might be useful to offer a kind of phrase book and translation of its most frequently used words. This, I feel, is especially necessary because the Unionish language uses identical words to standard English, but with different meanings. (There must be a Gaelic version of it, but I regret that I have no Gaelic, and even the thought of that magnificent ancient language being corrupted by Unionish revolts me.) Here are a few examples – I will offer more as I come to grips with this new tongue -

THE UNIONISH WORD AND PHRASE BOOK

UNIONISH                     ENGLISH

separation                        independence

Scotland Act                     shambles

triumphalist                      confident, articulate

enemy                                 SNP

pernicious creed              Scottish nationalism

patriotism                          British nationalism

historical myth                 nationalist belief

historical fact                    unionist belief

democratic mandate      unionist party won

no mandate                       nationalist party won

North Sea oil                      Westminster slush fund

oil is running out               oil for another 40 years

loyalty                                  fear of the powerful

essential services              House of Lords

history                                  British Empire history

the old and sick                 profit potential

patriotism                            dying for the UK

public services                     waste of money

I‘m Scots/British                 I don’t know what I am

Monday, 10 October 2011

Blog mailing list

I received a request from an SNP MSP today to remove the MSP from the mailing list, as the person concerned felt unable to make a positive response to my blogs. I immediately agreed, of course.  (I do welcome comment, positive or negative, and will publish where requested comments that meet normal criteria and are on topic.)

I have a very limited blog circulation active mailing list. I circulate SNP MSPs simply as a courtesy to inform them that a new blog has been posted, together with a small number of SNP officials – they do not represent my target audience, which is anyone interested in Scottish politics.

(I also circulate a very small number of friends and one or two other contacts who expressed an interest).

To avoid similar unwelcome emailing, I have therefore closed this list. Even on the unlikely premise that everyone on it reads every blog posting, it represent a small proportion of my readership, based on my blog monitoring statistics and incoming emails and comments.

If anyone who was in receipt of blog notification emails wishes me to continue, please let me know by email or directly.

Friday, 9 September 2011

PMQs: Oh Gypsy Amalia – did you foresee your own celebrity?

I found the first PMQs of the new session yesterday good value for taxes, if not for my BBC licence fee (I don’t pay it anymore), with an informative and entertaining mix ranging form low comedy to high seriousness on matters of fundamental interest to the people of Scotland, and in the Megrahi case, far beyond Scotland.

But I clearly watched a different programme to Eddie Barnes of The Scotsman, who has a piece today entitled Luck be a lady for Dundee for gypsy king Alex. The piece is under the category New parliament Sketch. Sketch is a word journalists use to justify abandonment of objectivity and a descent into leaden humour and rampant bias, and Eddie Barnes doesn’t disappoint. (I hold the view that political editors and reporters should stick to objective reporting and telling the truth to power, leaving comment to journalists who specialise in that, and to editorials.

I won’t waste space quoting Eddie Barnes’s pejorative comments and biased analysis of the proceedings, because, thanks to alternative media, Scots can read, listen and view the real things without the distorting prism of The Scotsman. Here are a couple of clips – judge for yourselves. If you can be bothered, the Eddie Barnes piece is here .










Friday, 17 June 2011

The UK Supreme Court–FMQs 16th June 2011 - Holyrood

Given the highly biased press and media reports of these exchanges at FMQs yesterday (16th June 2011) these complete clips offer an opportunity for a more balanced appraisal of the full exchanges. Holyrood FMQs offers a curious spectacle these days, that of two caretaker opposition leaders and one brand new opposition leader representing two failed parties and one dying party (Labour) attempting to hold a First Minister with a new and powerfully enhanced mandate to account.


POSTSCRIPT
I'm glad the Scotsman has recently followed my practice of actually timing question and answers at FMQs, instead of simply making unsupported and usually inaccurate statements that the First Minister was hogging the floor.
The paper selectively offers a couple of times today: let me help them out with the total Supreme Court exchanges -


Annabel Goldie 2m 19s
Iain Gray: 3m 57s
Willie Rennie: 1m 38s
Alex Salmond 10m 30s

Total question times: 7m 54s, total answer times: 10m 30s

Percentages of total of UK Supreme Court exchanges:

Questions 42.93%, Answers 57.07%



Sunday, 29 May 2011

The BBC, the Sunday papers and Professor John Kay

THE BBC

BBC News at 1.00 p.m. led with the FIFA story, moved briefly to the deaths of two young marines in Afghanistan, the deaths of two Afghan civilians and twelve children in a Coalition strike, then moved swiftly back to what really mattered - football and the FIFA story.

The burden of the four minute Afghan story was the usual quick, token skate over the deaths of two young marines, cut down in the flower of their youth, and a report on the deaths of twelve innocent children in a Coalition strike, the burden of which was that, well, these things happen, to be regretted, etc. but don’t forget that the Taleban are as bad, or worse!

This is the UK, client state of US foreign policy - the junior partner - and the BRITISH  Broadcasting Company at its callous, jingoistic worse, serving the propaganda of war as the operating principle of the state.

I am often a defender of the BBC on this blog and on YouTube - on balance, I think it is an effective and reasonably balanced public service broadcaster, especially in Scotland, perhaps the best in the world, but when it occasionally becomes the tool of the British Establishment and the formidable American and British Zionist lobby, it is something to be deeply ashamed of, and is a threat to democracy and world peace.

SCOTLAND’S INDEPENDENCE - ECONOMICS

Scotland on Sunday leads with that old independence thing again - SNP expert says split will hit economy.

Here we have our old friend, bias by headline - an editorial device that has become familiar in both the Herald and SoS in the last few years. Professor John Kay is a member of the Council of Economic Advisers to the Government of Scotland, and has been since 2007, that is, he is a government adviser.

He was chosen, together with others, because he is a distinguished academic, and has been a director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. What he says - most of it, anyway (see below) - should be listened to with respect, and weighed in the context of what other advisers and relevant bodies have to say about Scotland’s economy.

But in the hands of Scotland on Sunday, he is transformed into an SNP expert and a member of Alex Salmond’s council of economic advisers - a not too subtle shift, the sub-text of which could be taken to be that he was selected to serve a party line on independence, and has now broken ranks. (The picture of Professor Kay carries the caption John Kay: hired by Salmond.) That contrives to be an insult to both Professor Kay and to the First Minister, one that deserves the contempt which I offer, and I hope others.

Are you editing a tabloid newspaper, Kenny Farquarson, or one of Scotland’s two quality newspapers?

I read Professor Kay’s piece, Fate of independence, carefully. I am not an economist, and therefore qualified to comment only as a lay voter who wants Scotland to be independent. But it is voters like me  who will determine in the referendum whether or not Scotland gains its independence, and they will cast their votes at the ballot box based on a complex mix of reasons and emotions. Some will have listened to the economic arguments and weighed them carefully: some will ignore the economic arguments because their minds are already made up, for other reasons.

Before commenting on John Kay’s views - the views of one informed man, one expert - let me say that my mind is already made up, and here’s why -

Firstly, I want my nation - which I define as Scotland - to be free to determine its own priorities, its own future and its own destiny. That transcends any economic consequences that may initially result from escaping from the dead, stultifying effects of a moribund Union that was entered into under the pressures of bribery and intimidation from a larger, more powerful neighbouring country over 300 years ago.

Secondly, I want to be free of a political entity, the UK, that is now wholly committed to war as the operating principal of the state and the economy, is committed to a subservient client relationship with the United States of America’s foreign policy, a nation also committed to war and the military/industrial complex as the operating principal of the state, and is committed to the pernicious doctrine of the nuclear deterrent and to the possession and use if required of weapons of mass destruction. That second reason also transcends, for me, any economic penalties or benefits that might result from independence.

The above two freedom alone are sufficient to make me vote for Scotland’s independence. But I also believe that, free from the war and weapons obsessions of the UK, free from the obsession with the principle of defence-as-a-job creation scheme, free from the delusion (or the self-serving excuse) that the US and the UK are the world’s policemen and the guarantors of the spread and dominance of their particular militaristic, exploitative capitalistic version of democracy, that Scotland will be economically, culturally and morally transformed.

Professor Kay wisely confines himself to commenting on the economic implications as he sees them of Scotland’s independence. He is not a professor of international relations, nor a defence expert and he is not a professor of international ethics or moral philosophy.

An economics expert, indeed any kind of expert, however eminent, does not reach conclusions in an intellectual vacuum. They are human beings, with a range of experiences and beliefs that extend far beyond their field, and these beliefs and experiences influence them, consciously and unconsciously, in the conclusions they reach. Perhaps pure scientists - for example in the field of quantum physics - come closest to the kind of objectivity that we might hope from them when they offer their views to us lesser mortals on matters that will profoundly affect our lives. But even this exalted group perceive reality through the prism of their human experiences, hopes, beliefs and prejudices.

So when Professor Kay says “There is very little possible autonomy for Scotland which is not potentially available for it as part of the United Kingdom”, he is referring to economic autonomy, not to defence or foreign policy, or language, or culture, or the most fundamental autonomy of all - to choose, and to accept the consequences of our own choices, something that lies in the heart of every human being.

In the rest of his article, Professor Kay sees only problems, not solutions, other than - by implication, don’t do it, and choose the middle option - devolution max. Throughout the article, I get the feel of a man who doesn’t like the prospect of independence for reasons other than the purely economic.  Since I have no idea where Professor Kay stands - nor have I the right to know - on the monarchy, on defence, on the nuclear deterrent, on foreign policy, or indeed where he is positioned in the great left to right political thought spectrum, I have no basis for knowing whether or not these matters influence his conclusions on economic matters. He is, in this article at least, silent on defence and foreign policy matters and their economic implications.

But one comment of Professor Kay’s may be significant by what it doesn’t say, rather than what it says -

In the long run, the issue is whether independence would promote economic dynamism in Scotland - or lead it into the petty, partisan corruption that, for so long, characterised Scottish politics.”

Here’s what he didn’t say - that the petty, partisan corruption that for so long characterised Scottish politics was a manifestation, since the end of World War Two, of either Labour or Tory dominance in Scottish politics, i.e under the Union and two unionist parties. This petty, partisan corruption has only begun to diminish since the Scottish National Party, committed to Scotland’s independence, took power in 2007.

The egregious corruption that has characterised Westminster politics over the last few years has happened under the Union, and has been anything but petty, including as it did widespread corruption and criminal behaviour in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, leading to criminal prosecution and imprisonment of both elected and non-elected representatives, and the unprecedented forced resignation of the Speaker.

In marked contrast, the Scottish National Party has been entirely free of such corruption, both petty and partisan, and no MSP or Scottish minister has been prosecuted for criminal actions nor been imprisoned. The Scottish National Party is committed to Scotland’s independence, something I’m sure Professor Kay is aware of.

The behaviour of the Ministry of Defence has been characterised at best by utter incompetence, leading to the squandering of huge sums amounts of tax revenue, incompetence that somehow has always managed to result in the enrichment of many former MOD senior official and government ministers through revolving door lucrative appointments, directorships and consultancies. During this period, our armed forces have been placed in harm’s way with inadequate equipment and support, and many have lost their lives.

Professor Kay is silent on all of this because he must regard it as beyond his economic expertise, although it manifestly has a major economic, fiscal and social impact. Why then did he choose to speculate as to whether “independence would … lead it” [Scotland] “to sink into the partisan, petty corruption, that, for so long, characterised Scottish politics.”

What I know, Professor Kay, is that under an independent Scotland, it is highly unlikely that two young servicemen would die in one day in a foreign occupation that has lasted a decade, serving a US President’s need for vengeance following the appalling terrorist crime of 9/11, and that twelve innocent children would be blown apart in one day by a Coalition that includes the UK’s ‘defence’ forces. It is also unlikely that an independent, non-British,  Scottish public service broadcaster would offer such an unfeeling, cynical and unbalanced report on this enormity.

But these matters are properly beyond the scope of an economic adviser, however eminent and well-qualified.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Commercial break - The Ancient Order of Moridura ebook

If anyone who finds my blog or my YouTube clips useful or relevant has a Kindle, take a look at my ebook - see right hand link to Amazon. At £1.71 it won’t break the bank. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Scottish politics, and be warned - it is a demanding, but I hope rewarding read.

You won’t make me rich, but you will make me feel better as I watch my Amazon ranking improve dramatically with each purchase!

Friday, 27 May 2011

My message to John McAllion (Where Now for Scottish Labour?) on Bella Caledonia

John McAllion - Where Now for Scottish Labour

I was a committed Labour voter for 50 years, John - Glasgow east end, bred-in-the-bone Labour. The core values we held were an internationalist outlook - the global brotherhood of humanity - concern for the poorest and most vulnerable in society, a profound distaste for militarism, rank and privilege and undemocratic institutions, and Aneurin notwithstanding, an anti-nuclear stance.

I watched Labour abandon everyone of these core values over half a century, culminating in the horror of Iraq. And I came to see that what was rotten in the state of Labour was what was rotten in the state of the UK.

You used the phrase "the Labour Party itself has never been fully at ease with the devolution of political power away from its spiritual home in the Palace of Westminster". I would take issue only with the term spiritual home - there was nothing spiritual about it - it was a cynical obsession with the Westminster village as the pinnacle of its power base, with Scotland as the taken-for-granted underpinning of that power base.

Scottish Labour is irretrievably lost, together with its values, its humanity and its Scottishness. I know the visceral shift that has taken place among my friends and colleagues, old and new, ranging from the solid gold Glasgow working class to the professional and managerial classes. That shift involved real pain, the residual feeling of a betrayal of old, albeit misplaced loyalties. These people will never return to Labour, anymore than the brutally dispossessed ordinary people of Dalmarnock will ever return to the party of their oppressor, Glasgow Labour-controlled council.

I will never return to Labour. You should make the quantum leap, John - it's not a dyke but a giant leap across an intimidating chasm, but you can do it. You must do it.

Friday, 6 May 2011

A new day dawns for Scotland - we voted for our ain folk

Good morning Scotland - and it is a good morning!

To all Scots, of all political persuasions and none, of all ethnic and national groups, of all religions and of none -

To the wonderful, rich, diverse, vibrant mix that is the new Scotland

Look forward to a bright, non-nuclear, independent future for our nation

Saor Alba!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Iain Gray – First Minister in-waiting?

Last night we had the first of the Newsnight Scotland interviews with the Holyrood party leaders in the run-up to the May election. We must remind ourselves that Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie and Tavish Scott are not, in fact, the leaders of their respective parties – they are the leaders of their party groups in Holyrood, and are totally subservient  to the leaders of their London-based parties, despite protestations of Scottish solutions and Scottish dimensions. Only Alex Salmond is the leader of his party. He is accountable only to the people of Scotland.

Iain Gray was the first in the hot seat last night, and I am glad that it was Isobel Fraser in the interviewer’s chair, because her style is entirely free from either the Paxman-clone, simplistic hectoring and bullying or the sycophantic, Marr-clone approaches that sometimes characterises the extremes of the Scottish media political interviewing styles.

The interview was preceded by a short biography of Iain Gray, and this was a timely reminder – at least to me – that we should not resort to simplistic abuse and caricature when considering a man who could be the next First Minister of Scotland, for better or worse.

A physics graduate from Edinburgh University cannot be accused of being lacking in intellectual ability. Someone who has taught for seven years in an Edinburgh school, chose to take his teaching skills to Mozambique, and was subsequently Scottish Campaigns Director for Oxfam, cannot be said to be lacking in experience of the real world or in social commitment.

He was almost 42 years of age when he first entered the Scottish Parliament, an age that many people - including myself - believe is about the right age to offer oneself to the nation, rather than the direct-entry-after- graduation, PPE-type career path of the professional career politician that represents so many of our elected representatives today. (That clock won’t be turned back, something that I personally regret.)

His political career has embraced a range of roles and responsibilities, all of them relevant to someone who aspires to lead the Scottish nation.

Why then, in the light of this assessment, do I think that Iain Gray is totally unfitted to be Scotland’s next first Minister?

The first negative attribute applies not only to Iain Gray, but also to Annabel Goldie and Tavish Scott, and lies in their subservience to their Westminster party leaders. Quite simply, they cannot lead the Scottish nation because they do not regard Scotland as a nation, but as a devolved region of the United Kingdom. In devolved policy matters, they will always be at the mercy of their UK party, whether in government, coalition or opposition, and their need to avoid egregious differences in policy between Scotland and England.

These contradictions and conflicts are exemplified by the increasing bitter mud-slinging over tuition fees, leading to expressions of frustrated outrage from the likes of Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel Johnson (memorably dealt with by Kenny Gibson), and the ludicrous – and entirely predictable – accusations of racism by Professor Tom Gallagher (Professor of the Study of Ethnic Conflict and Peace in Bradford University), by an increasing Westminster resentment - driven by embarrassment - of the Scottish Government’s humane social policies which sharply contrast with those in England, and by the ever-present West Lothian Question over the voting right of Scottish MPs on specifically English issues.

The pressures on Gray, Goldie or Scott to flatten out these embarrassing differences and contradictions  would be almost irresistible, and would insidiously negate the very purpose of a devolved Scottish Parliament.

On non-devolved matters, especially defence, foreign policy and taxation - all of them utterly vital to the interests of the Scottish people, to their very lives and security - Gray, Goldie and Scott would remain the Three UK Stooges – utterly powerless and ineffectual. On the great ethical and moral issues facing the world, Scotland would have no voice, no capacity to assert its unique perspective within Europe or in international forums.

IAIN GRAY – PERSONAL QUALITES

The second set of considerations relate to Iain Gray himself. I do not wish to be seen to be damning him with faint praise, so let me say unequivocally that I believe Iain Gray to be a decent man, with a moral and social conscience, with considerable experience of real life and politics, with good intellectual ability – a man who has contributed to Scottish society and to the wider world in an admirable way deserving of respect. I believe he can - and will continue to make - that significant contribution within politics and perhaps in other roles.

But he is totally unfitted for the role he now occupies, as Holyrood leader of his party, and even less fitted for the role of First Minister of Scotland, because he is devoid of the personal qualities of leadership, personality, and to some degree, political judgment that these roles demand.

He is, to any disinterested observer (I am not disinterested: I am partisan, but I hope with a sense of balance, fairness and objectivity) a man deeply unhappy in these roles because of the contradictions inherent in what is demanded of him, and by his recognition of his own limitations. A lesser man – a more expedient career politician – would not be troubled by these contradictions, and it is to Iain Gray’s credit that he patently is bothered by them.

One only has to look at the recent performances by Iain Gray at First Minister’s Questions, where he is pitted every week against a man who exemplifies the political and personal qualities Iain Gray lacks. And one must remember that this is supposed to be the new Iain Gray, having undergone, at some expense to his party, the attentions of the image makers and PR presentation consultants.

Now FMQs, like the Westminster PMQs, is a bear pit, and unrepresentative of the everyday work of party leaders and the processes of  the Holyrood Parliament, but it is a public showcase, for better or worse, for the essential qualities that are demanded by our modern media-dominated world.

Iain Gray does not exhibit any of these qualities, and to me, is manifestly unfitted to be First Minister of Scotland, even when the structural disability of his unionism and subservience to Westminster is left out of the equation.

 

MONTENEGRO

In the last few weeks, Iain Gray has managed to insult Iceland, the Republic of Ireland, Norway, and most recently Montenegro. This reflects a serious lack of judgment from one who aspires to be the face of Scotland on an international stage, a Scotland that is heavily dependent, not only on international markets, but on tourism and inward investment.

I don’t believe Iain Gray dreamed up his increasingly dated attacks on the Arc of Prosperity concept himself – I believe that he was urged and advised to pursue this sterile and dangerous line of attack by other less responsible voices within his party. But in accepting that advice, he was guilty of a grave error of judgement.

Here is a letter to the Scotsman from the Montenegro Embassy about Iain Gray’s comments. Similar sentiments were earlier expressed in other forums about Gray’s unguarded attacks on the Irish economy at a time when the Republic of Ireland were most vulnerable, and when the UK government was expressing support for them, both vocally and practically.

Scotsman letter – 1st January 2011

I feel compelled to respond to your report (24 December) which describes Montenegro as "the war-ravaged country". Montenegro, in fact, was the only former Yugoslav republic where neither war nor devastation took place in the last decade of the 20th century.

And not only was there no ethnic cleansing in the country, as proposed by Scottish Labour leader Mr Iain Gray in the same article, but Montenegro opened its doors to the refugees of all nations.
At one point in 1999, refugees made up one fourth of the population of Montenegro, when - in just two days - we provided shelter to more than 100,000 Albanians fleeing from Kosovo.
And, crucially, Montenegro was the first country in the Balkans that renewed its statehood by peaceful means in a democratic referendum organised in full co-operation with the European Union.

Marijana Zivkovic
Embassy of Montenegro

In last night’s interview, Iain Gray desperately tried to say that his comments had been misrepresented and misinterpreted. Having viewed again and listened again to his intemperate attack at FMQs, the best I can say in his favour is that it was inevitable that the comments would cause deep offence, whatever the intention of Gray in uttering them, and it was a serious error of judgment to make them.





Thursday, 2 December 2010

A history lesson …

Continuing my history binge, I have now finished reading Professors T.C. Smout’s A Century of the Scottish People 1830 – 1950 (first published 1986).

Historians are always erudite, sometime objective and occasionally partial, but Professor Smout has another quality, a deep and compassionate humanity, a much rarer commodity among historians.

Some historians excite my admiration for their broad perspective and scholarship (Andrew Davies, Tom Devine), some make my gorge rise (Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts, David Starkey) but Professor Smout makes me feel like a member of the human race, part of the continuity and wonder of homo sapiens: he illuminates the human condition.

One extract that struck me as saying something about Scotland now, seen through the prism of the past -

DRINK

Scotland appeared to her critics a land peculiarly steeped in drink. John Dunlop, Greenock magistrate and temperance reformer, described a world in which the middle classes vied with the working classes to create occasions for another glass. Chapter VI, page 133.

We might, in 2010, speculate that John Dunlop might observe that the middle classes – and their elected opposition MSPs in the Scottish Parliament – vied with the booze peddlers to keep Scotland and all classes in it, but especially the young and the poor, “peculiarly steeped in drink”, by opposing the one measure - proposed by the Scottish SNP Government - for reducing this evil that had the approval of the medical profession,  the police, addiction agencies and the churches, namely, minimum pricing for alcohol.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Budget – and sterile interview exchanges on the Scottish media

I watched Newsnight Scotland last night, with John Swinney facing Gordon Brewer, and listened to Radio Scotland this morning, with the Finance Minister and Gary Robertson.

In both instances I was struck by how stereotyped and unproductive media interviewing techniques have become – a sterile, entirely predictable exchange, certainly not a dialogue, that is rarely illuminating and contributes little to the process of holding politicians to account and informing the nation.

Much of it originates with Jeremy Paxman’s alleged statement that he approaches a politician in interview with the mindset “Why is this bastard lying to me”? Perhaps he never said it, but he behaves as if he believes it. The rictus expression of scepticism is fixed on the face, and the body language signals suspicion, the politician braces himself and the ritual dance begins. (Gordon Brewer can slip into this mode, something to regret, because I believe he can be very effective on other occasions.)

Occasionally it works – usually with either a pompous, self-important politician or an inexperienced one. In the latter category, a recent example is the hapless Danny Alexander, only just emerging from his rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights phase.

The sterile model that is now almost universally adopted is this -

The interviewer comes with a targeted set of factual admissions that he wants to get from the politician, admissions usually structured around the most simplistic attack points of the political opposition, instead of what the electorate might want to know, and has a right to know.

The politicians comes expecting this, in the full knowledge of what points will be raised, and with the determination to avoid them. Neither party expects a dialogue or a real exchange of views – the inter-view, which literally means a sharing of views between people, gets totally lost in the process.

The interviewer asks virtually only closed questions, aggressively demanding yes/no answers, and is terrified of asking open questions, which can lead to real dialogue. The closed questions are of the “Have you stopped stealing apples– answer Yes or No!” type. If the politician answers yes, he used to steal apples but has now given up the practice – if he answers no, he is still at it. The model adopted is therefore that of adversarial questioning of a witness in a criminal trial. Its manifest weakness is that a prosecutor in court adopts the principle of never ask a question  that you don’t already know the answer to – he is seeking confirmation of something he already knows, and wants the witness to incriminate himself. The political interviewer is supposed to be seeking the truth – to illuminate, not convict

The witness, of course, if he is guilty, will attempt to avoid the question or “take the 5th” by refusing to answer on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. In a court of law, the judge may demand that he answer. In a political interview, there is no judge to compel an answer.

If the witness is innocent, he may wish to be truthful, but in the knowledge that responding to closed questions may falsely incriminate him, becomes either confused or defensive.

The politician is untroubled by either of these concerns – he comes expecting to be attacked by the interviewer with the simplistic arguments of his political opponents. He blocks by resolutely rejecting all closed questions, responding to them by either ignoring them completely and answering the question he wished he had been asked, rather than the one he was asked, or by simply re-stating his version of events. He does this by always opening his response with the words “What I am saying is …” and if challenged on not responding to the closed question, says “I am trying to answer you in my own way …” or “I am coming to that …” – but never does.

The interviewer, under constraints of time, repeats simple – and often simplistic questions – at machine gun speed – the interviewee goes into long re-statements of policy, secure in the knowledge that he has all the time in the world but the interviewer and the programme schedulers do not.

The interview becomes a point-scoring, adversarial contest, and rarely shed any light on anything of value.

Some years ago when I was with Scottish Brewers, my boss, Tony Belfield, the MD, sent me and my board colleagues off to be trained in media technique at Glasgow University – the personnel director (me), the sales director, the finance director, the operations director and the commercial director. (The marketing director fell out of the pack – I can’t remember why.)

Our tutor was the formidable Fiona Ross, STV’s chief political reporter, the daughter of the former Scottish Labour Party Chief and one-time Scottish Secretary, Willie Ross. Fiona has politics and media in her blood, and is a consummate professional. (She was awarded the OBE in 2005.) The interviews were videoed in two contexts – a studio interview, with a full studio set-up of lights, camera and camera crew and make-up, and a more intimate session, in a simulated office environment.

These simulations in themselves were invaluable, because most interviewees have no idea from their experience of viewing television interviews what the intimidating reality is like, because of the framing of shots for transmission. For men, being subjected to the attentions of a make-up artist for the studio interview is bad enough in itself: the office interview was conducted in the late afternoon, when the manager was more than a little rumpled, and sporting a five-o-clock shadow, looking like Richard Nixon in his notorious TV duel with Kennedy.

Fiona was a wonderful tutor, and in her critique of the interview performances on playback she didn’t mince her words – she described one interviewee as “coming across like a suburban undertaker”. (Other descriptions were even less flattering!)

Fiona conducted the interviews herself, in her own inimitable and effective style. She never bullied, never tried to intimidate. She had considerable gravitas, and radiated authority and competence – fully briefed and totally professional. Perhaps most importantly of all, you knew she really wanted to hear what you had to say. Fiona understood the nature of questions types and their framing, and the tactical responses open to the interviewee to evade the key questions. She used a rapier, not a bludgeon, and if she skewered you, you died happy in the knowledge that you had lost to a master of the art.

Our current crop of Scottish journalists could learn a great deal from her technique, but they probably won’t. A great pity

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A Holyrood day that will live in infamy

Or as Kenneth Williams once said “Infamy, infamy! – they’ve got it in for me!”

Not quite Pearl Harbour, but the rejection of minimum pricing for alcohol by the Holyrood opposition parties is truly shameful. Holyrood's health committee backed a Tory amendment to strike from the Alcohol Bill plans for a minimum price per unit of alcohol of 45p.

Brian Taylor, the BBC’s highly respected political correspondent expressed the view that the decision would probably not influence voting at the Holyrood elections in May 2011. I’m not so sure …

Every time a health professional finds themselves deflected from vital professional care duties by violent drunks, abusive and shouting in A&E, they will remember who opposed the measure, in spite of the support of the BMA and the almost universal support of health professionals and doctors.

I say almost universal support - I exclude, of course, Doctor Richard Simpson, Labour’s health spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament, a medical doctor and former GP, who knows better than his professional body, the BMA, knows better than his church, the Church of Scotland, knows better than the police, better than most health professionals and addiction counsellors – in fact, knows better than almost every professional voice in the Scottish Nation.

Every time a police officer deals with rioting, drunk teenagers in a town centre, they will remember who opposed this measure – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Every time a minister of religion finds that his or her church has had its environs vandalised, and picks up a litter of empty cans of cheap lager and bottle of cider in the churchyard, they will remember who opposed this eminently sensible provision – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Every time a couple of retired, law-abiding citizens look outside their window late on a Friday or Saturday night because a violent disturbance is taking place in the normally quiet street, they will remember who opposed a measure that might have reduced such incidents – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Every time a drunk teenager or young adult crashes a car while under the influence of cheap supermarket alcohol, killing their passenger and the occupants of the vehicle they collided with, the families of the victims will remember who opposed provisions to limit the consumption of cheap booze – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

As young mothers with young children pick their way in disgust through the broken bottle, empty beer cans, cider bottles and vomit in their local park, they will remember who opposed the sensible, moderate measure that would have limited this revolting pollution of our public places – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

And perhaps they will then remember Nicola Sturgeon, the health minister who championed minimum pricing for alcohol, the justice minister who supported it and the First Minister and the party – the SNP – that tried to do something real, for the first time, about the plague that afflicts our Scottish Nation.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Scottish Labour and Defence–follow the money

Some correspondents have taken me to task by private email for alleged hyperbole in the following extract from my blog The speech that Iain Gray should have delivered at Oban to the party faithful, a fictional version by me of what I felt Iain Gray should have said at Oban.

Public spending in this country prior to the global financial collapse was not just out of control under our stewardship, it was totally corrupted by large scale rip-offs on expenses by Labour MPs and ministers under the protection of their shop steward, Michael Martin, now the noble Lord Martin of Something or Other, and by a combination of incompetence on defence procurement at the MOD, and obscenely fat profits for armament companies, which contributed significantly to the fortunes of former members of our government who were also directors of such armament companies, or consultants to them. Meanwhile, our brave soldiers died because of equipment failures.

That there was - and is - incompetence on defence procurement at the MOD is not a proposition that anyone seriously questions, after a barrage of documentaries and exposés. That defence companies and armaments manufacturers profited from this is undeniable – poor procurement practices always benefit certain suppliers.

That former members of the Labour Government profited from directorships and consultancies that they held because of their experience of defence matters while in government can hardly be seriously questioned.

I do not suggest corruption or illegal activities in such relationships – the really sad thing is that it is all completely legal, above board and open to public scrutiny.

A single example will suffice to demonstrate this – Adam Ingram, Labour politician, former Member of Parliament (he stood down at the May 2010 general election) and the longest serving Defence Minister in British history – 2001 -2007. A former trade union official and computer analyst, he entered politics in East Kilbride District Council in the 1980s.

A few facts of interest about Adam Ingram, derived from the excellent They Work for You site - link -

How Adam Ingram voted on key issues since 2001:

Voted strongly for introducing student top-up fees.

Voted moderately against laws to stop climate change.

Voted strongly for introducing ID cards.

Voted very strongly for replacing Trident.

Voted very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws.

Voted moderately for a stricter asylum system.

Voted moderately for allowing ministers to intervene in inquests.

Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.

Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.

Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence (11 Jun 2001 to 28 Jun 2007)

Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (5 May 1997 to 11 Jun 2001)

Register of Members’ Interests

Remunerated directorships -

Non-executive Chairman of SignPoint Secure Ltd. emergency communications. (£45,001-£50,000)

(My note – a Freedom of Information Request to the MOD in 2008 on the MOD, contracts and Adam Ingram

08-09-2008-071953-008 06/10/2008

Copy of RFI 20-05-2008-094922-004

(Details of any communication and/or meetings between MOD/Adam Ingram and Signpoint Secure Ltd and details of any contracts between the MOD and Signpoint Secure Ltd made in the last two years.

The purpose and outcome of this FOI request is unknown to me at this time.)

Adam Ingram Advisory Limited, set up May 2008, to undertake consultancy work, to which is payable income from the following:

Non-executive Chairman of Argus Scotland Ltd; design and construction services in the urban environment. (£20,001-£25,000). Payments to be made on an annual basis.

Director, International School for Security and Explosives Education (ISSEE) (non-executive). Address: 3 Wesley Gate, Queens Road, Reading, Berks, RG1 4AP. Attend meetings and offer advice. (£10,001-£15,000).

Received payment of £1,150 (including VAT). Hours: 3hrs. (Registered 31 August 2009)

Consultant to Argus Libya UK LLP; design and construction services in the urban environment. (£20,001-£25,000). Payments to be made on an annual basis.

Consultant to Argus (Scotland) Ltd, Ravenstone House, 4 Ravenstone Drive, Glasgow, G46 6AL. Attend meetings and offer advice.

Received payment of £2,300. Hours: 5hrs. (Registered 31 August 2009)

Consultant to Electronic Data Systems Ltd (EDS); provision of IT services to public and private sector clients in the UK. (£50,001-£55,000)

5. Gifts, benefits and hospitality (UK)

28 June 2009, visit to Biggin Hill Air Show as guest of BSkyB. Overnight stay, dinner and entry to the show for my wife and I. (Registered 30 June 2009)

6. Overseas visits

23-26 February 2009, to Bahrain, to participate in Bahrain Security Forum as speaker. Return flight, business class, and three nights accommodation in Bahrain funded by RUSI and the Kingdom of Bahrain. (Registered 3 March 2009)

Register last updated: 12 Apr 2010. More about the Register

March 2010 – The Telegraph

A story that broke under the Lobbygate scandal, around the time Adam Ingram decided to stand down as an MP. Telegraph link

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The gentlemen - and gentlewomen - of the Press: Joan McAlpine and The Scotsman

I have held the view for many years now that The Scotsman spectacularly failed to live up to its title, that it was blindly unionist and establishment-biased, and that objective journalism had gone oot the windae a long, long time ago, subservient to proprietorial values rather than journalistic ones.

In fairness, as a west-coaster, I also had a long term loyalty to the Herald, even though its ancient journalistic traditions (the oldest English language newspaper in the world) had become subservient to Labour and New Labour values. I stuck with it because its Letters page was - and is - the glory of the newspaper, superior to any other British newspaper that I know.

The Scottish nationalist views and perceptions were fairly presented there, even though it was as likely that they would get a fair exposure in news and opinion features as the prospect of The Soldier’s song being voiced by an Ibrox crowd, or No Surrender rising from the terrace of Parkhead.

But I continued to sample The Scotsman, buying the paper in addition to the Herald a couple of times a week, and regularly looking at the online edition – and in the last week or so, it has frontally challenged my negative expectations on a number of occasions. Yesterday, it exceeded my most hopeful ones.

An article by Joan McAlpine headed It’s time to get angry and get ahead of the pack instantly caught my eye, because the headline and the sub-header encapsulated exactly how I was feeling about the challenges facing Scotland now, and in the future. I would love to reproduce it verbatim, but it is categorised by The Scotsman as premium content, requiring a subscription to read it in full (I bought the paper!) and if ever an opinion piece deserved the title of premium content, it was this one.

So you’ll have to either get a copy of Wednesday’s paper or subscribe to get it, unless some less scrupulous blogger has put up a bootleg copy.

In 800 or 900 words, it tightly, economically, cogently and passionately said all that I want to hear said about Scotland today, articulating the core ideas that define my late, but passionate nationalism. It was so well written that - as a writer of sorts myself -  it would have commanded my respect even if I had fundamentally disagreed with the viewpoint expressed.

This is the kind of journalism Scotland needs at this defining moment in our history, and we rarely see it.

I have never met Joan McAlpine, and have had no contact with her until today (an email of congratulation and thanks for her piece from me.)

The Scotsman surprised and delighted me today, and I will now buy it daily, in the hope that at least one quality Scottish newspaper is now prepared to exhibit journalistic and editorial balance across the parties, a balance that was never needed more than it is now.

I fully expect that an avalanche of mail, some of it hostile, some supportive will hit tomorrow's Scotsman letters page, and that there will be some real debate, red in tooth and claw, of the type that Scotland needs today.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

And then there was Ed …

Once upon a time, a young man with the aspiration to make his mark – and the means to do it - got a good degree, perhaps Oxbridge, but maybe a provincial university, then went off and had a career doing something real, a profession, business, or the civil service, achieved something substantial in that chosen career, got some real understanding of life, then in his late thirties or early forties considered a life of public service in politics.

On entering the Commons, he had some understanding of the life of the nation, its people and its problems – he had a broad perspective and perhaps even a modicum of wisdom.

Not these days, they don’t …. Oxbridge is a must, and the degree must be that strange hybrid designed especially for the aspiring politician, the PPE – Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and the career chosen is politics from the start. And so the Asimovian new breed of politicians have their gestation, and walk straight off the Oxbridge assembly line with shining, metallic, inhuman certainty into the seat and the heart of government as a political assistant, as a speechwriter to a Cabinet Minister, as a special adviser.

Of course they have to select a political party to join to achieve this, and this selection is made, not on the basis of experience of life or burning conviction, but on a mix of family tradition, contacts, and cold, calculating assessment of which party offers the best route to power and influence within a short timescale, typically four or five years.

At some point, a sabbatical allows them to work or study in the United States for a year, where they meet senior US politicians and absorb effortlessly the idea of Britain as a junior partner, fully committed to a compliant and subservient role in foreign policy to their US masters.

At the earliest opportunity, with the backing of the established politicians they have served, they seek a nomination as a prospective parliamentary candidate, ideally for a safe seat. But occasionally they may have to undergo trial by fire in fighting a lost cause, in a contest which nonetheless bloods them and provides essential media coverage.

From the start, these strange creatures, custom-designed for politics, are strangers to the true life of the nation and its people, destined to rule them, but locked into the assumptions of a closed world that ensure that they can never properly serve them or serve true democracy.

Sooner or later, they have the right to take the state to war  - with the approval of the United States – and they can assist the US in the pressing of the nuclear button.

They themselves will never be placed in harm’s way by military service, nor will their children, but they will sacrifice the children of others with relative equanimity, and with the glib words of regret and condolence they have learned to parrot at the feet of their mentors, words that they perhaps actually crafted for those who preceded them, in phrases liberally spattered with references to heroes, comrades, Queen and country, never forgetting and eternally grateful – variants on the old, old lie, Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

(It pains me to mention that we have a version of this career path in the Scottish Parliament, where some candidates seem to think that proclaiming their ability to “find their way around the Parliament” - i.e. familiarity with the systems, procedures and political levers to push  - constitutes an election address and gives them credibility with the electorate, rather than experience of life as it is lived in Scotland today, with some tangible experience and achievement within that reality . Frankly, if that is all they have to offer, it is not enough – for me, anyway.)

And so we have Ed, although it was a close run thing – it could have been David. Does it matter which overall? Yes, a little. Does it matter to Scotland? Probably quite a lot, at least in the spring of 2011, since it will influence the Labour vote in a contest which will be a straight fight between them and the SNP.

We might usefully remind ourselves that this new Labour leader has a special understanding of Scotland. He was deeply involved in Labour’s manifesto for the 1999 Holyrood elections, and in fact resigned as Special Advisor at the Treasury to devote himself full-time to that campaign, and Labour’s rebuttal strategy. He will be a formidable foe of the SNP.