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Showing posts with label 2011 Holyrood election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2011 Holyrood election. Show all posts

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ross Martin of the CSPP on Labour - Moridura’s response …

Ross Martin has advice for Scottish Labour on the Centre for Scottish Public Policy website. So have I - see my comment on the site (reproduced below).

Ross Martin: The red rose has to go, for starters

MORIDURA’S COMMENT

Scottish Labour's problem is the two iron balls shackled to its ankles - one labelled U and the other K. 'Scottish' Labour has only one purpose - to keep Westminster Labour in power in the UK.

Ross Martin says "The Scottish Labour Party must be all three of these things: Scottish, Labour and a proper political Party." It can be none of these things while Scotland remains in the UK and Labour is a unionist party. There was no "mass civic movement that campaigned for and designed devolution" - it was a Blair/New Labour stitch up designed to draw the teeth of Scottish Nationalism, as George Robertson so clearly stated, and was so badly wrong about.

The Scottish independence movement is committed to a constitutional monarchy, sensible shared arrangements on defence - excluding the obscenity of nuclear weapons and WMDs in Scottish waters - and an intelligent, sophisticated relationship of friendship and trust with the residual United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland - UK Minus.

What ragged standards have Scottish Unionist Labour got left to cling to?

The outmoded and lethal doctrine of nuclear deterrence?

The right of a Westminster Parliament, dominated by a south east power bloc of money, privilege and corruption to decide when the flower of Scottish youth is sent to die in foreign adventures at the dictat of US foreign policy, which at any time could fall back into the suicidal lunacies of the Bush era?

To almost 1000 unelected Lords in a second chamber that is always destined for reform but never will be while the UK lives?

Scottish Labour must indeed do three things to survive and regenerate - embrace Scottish independence, reject the nuclear deterrent and perform an act of public contrition for the egregious crime against humanity that was the Iraq war. Then, and only then, the party might rediscover its values, its identity - and its soul.


POSTSCRIPT - ADDITIONAL COMMENT
Nothing points up Scotland's situation in relation to the UK more than the nature of the present government - a Tory government, when the Tories were decisively rejected in May 2010 by the Scottish electorate, a Coalition deal negotiated by Danny Alexander, a LibDem who would have been thrown out of office had he stood for the Scottish Parliament.

The LibDem have provided two Scottish Secretaries to replace the awful Jim Murphy - Alexander briefly, and now Michael Moore, both representatives of a party that has been humiliatingly rejected by the Scottish people, and would be destroyed at the UK ballot box in a general election if one were called tomorrow.

These latter-day colonial governors had and have no real mandate of any kind, even in their non-role, yet the lugubrious Moore pontificates on matters fundamental to Scotland's economic recovery.

When the great divide between the Scottish electorate's verdict in May 2010 and the rest of the UK became known, worried Westminster media pundits commented that "it made us look as if there were two nations". There are - that's the whole point, and the point will soon be made even more forcibly.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

A great bulwark against corruption - the Glasgow Councillors Declaration of Interests document

Born and bred in Glasgow, I feel a surge of understandable civic pride when I see how the law protects the citizens of Glasgow from corruption and venality among their elected officials. (see Declaration of Councillors Interest document, reproduced below)

Secure in the knowledge that the legislation on Ethical Standards in Public Life and the Register of Interests Regulations requires every Glasgow city councillor to complete such a comprehensive declaration of interests, I can relax. Democracy is safe, in Glasgow at least. (I am certain that Edinburgh has a similar document, but corruption among elected officials in Edinburgh has not been at the forefront of my civic concerns in recent years.)

Corruption among elected officials strikes at the very heart of democracy, opening up the certainty of involvement of organised crime, perversion of journalistic values and a free press, with not even the processes of law and policing being exempt from the spreading cancer.

When corruption exists in government, commercial dealings are insidiously influenced: ethical procurement practices, tendering processes, contractual processes are all subject to its poisonous effects.

The information controlled by elected politicians, instead of being a force for openness, consultation and engagement with the electorate and the people, becomes something to be traded for profit. Insider information, say on the timing of a major city development project, if leaked to speculators could yield enormous unearned profits.

No one, no person, no institution, however venerable, is immune from political corruption. The levers of power have a hidden hand at their base: the framing and enactment of legislation is perverted by considerations of private greed, patronage and profit. And since corruption and organised crime know no local or national boundaries, forces and interests far beyond the democratic structures of constituencies, regions and countries exert insidious influences, invisible to the people.

The law-abiding, moral, ethical citizen become the victim of corruption, and is even obliged to be compliant, or at least silent in the face of it, by subtle mix of appeals to self-interest, to career prospects and advancement, to misplaced loyalties to party, religion and social group.

When this approach fails, and the most resilient individuals resist it, then an escalating process of intimidation, smear, manipulation of legal processes and where necessary, threats and violence come into play.

So it is with a feeling of relief and civic pride that I look at the great bulwarks that protect us from corruption - the law, a free press and media, and of course, a little declaration of interest, of which the Glasgow City Council form, reproduced below, is a fine example.

Let Glasgow flourish!

REGISTER OF COUNCILLORS’ INTERESTS
The Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (
Scotland) Act 2000
(Register of Interests) Regulations 2003
Last updated 6 May 2009

I, (name of councillor), a member of Glasgow City Council give notice that I have set out in the attached form, my interests as required to be declared under the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 (Register of Interests) Regulations 2003. I have also ensured that where I have no applicable interest I have stated “none” in the relevant section(s).
I further understand that it is my responsibility to notify the Chief Executive, in writing, of any applicable change(s) in circumstances within one month of that/those changes occurring.
Please complete this form in conjunction with reading the relevant paragraphs as detailed at each section (extracted from the Councillors’ Code of Conduct) together with the list of definitions included within the register. Please note the paragraph numbering relates to the sequence within the Code.
If you have any doubts as to whether or not you should declare a particular interest, it is wiser to supply the information rather than omit something which you should have declared.

1 REMUNERATION.
4.3 You have a registerable interest where you receive remuneration by virtue of being:
 employed;
 self-employed;
 the holder of an office;
 a director of an undertaking;
 a partner in a firm; or
 undertaking a trade, profession or vocation, or other work.
4.4 You do not have a registerable interest simply because you are a councillor.
4.5 If a position is not remunerated it does not need to be registered under this category. However, unremunerated directorships may need to be registered under category 2 “Related Undertakings”.
4.6 If you receive any allowances in relation to membership of any organisation the fact that you receive such an allowance must be registered.
4.7 When registering employment, you must give the name of the employer, the nature of its business and the nature of the post held in the organisation.
4.8 When registering self-employment, you must provide the name and give details of the nature of the business. When registering an interest in a partnership, you must give the name of the partnership and the nature of its business.
4.9 Where you otherwise undertake a trade, profession or vocation, or any other work, the detail to be given is the nature of the work and its regularity. For example, if you write for a newspaper, you must give the name of the publication and the frequency of articles for which you are paid.
4.10 When registering a directorship, it is necessary to provide the registered name of the undertaking in which the directorship is held and detail the nature of its business.
4.11 Registration of a pension is not required as this falls outside the scope of the category.

(a) Give particulars of all paid employment specifying name(s) of employer(s), nature of business and title(s) of position(s) held. If self-employed give name and nature of business.

(b) If you are a partner in a business give name of partnership and nature of its business.

(c) Give details of any office/membership held by you (outwith Glasgow City Council) for which you receive payment – eg Trade Union or professional
body. (Do not include any office/membership for which you do not receive remuneration, this is dealt with at Section 7).

(d) Give details of any directorship(s) held by you (as specified at 4.10 above).

(e) Give details of other paid work (as specified at 4.9 above).

2 RELATED UNDERTAKINGS.
4.12 You must register any directorships held which are themselves not remunerated but where the company (or other undertaking) in question is a subsidiary of, or a parent of, a company (or other undertaking) in which you hold a remunerated directorship.
4.13 You must register the name of the subsidiary or parent company or other undertaking and the nature of its business, and its relationship to the company or other undertaking in which you are a director and from which you receive remuneration.
4.14 The situations to which the above paragraphs apply are as follows:
you are a director of a board of an undertaking and receive remuneration – declared under Category one – and
you are a director of a parent or subsidiary undertaking but do not receive remuneration in that capacity.


Give details of any directorships held by you, as specified above.

3 CONTRACTS.
4.15 You have a registerable interest where you (or a firm in which you are a partner, or an undertaking in which you are a director or in which you have shares of a value as described in paragraph 4.20 below) have made a contract with the Council of which you are a member:
(i)
under which goods or services are to be provided, or works are to be
executed; and
(ii) which has not been fully discharged.
4.16 You must register a description of the contract, including its duration, but excluding the consideration.

Give details, as specified above, in relation to contracts with Glasgow City Council which have not been fully discharged, including description of that/those contract(s) and duration.

4 ELECTION EXPENSES.
4.17 You must register a statement of any assistance towards election expenses received within the last twelve months.
Give details of any assistance received over the last 12 months as specified above.

5 HOUSES, LAND AND BUILDINGS.
4.18 You have a registerable interest where you own or have any other right or interest in houses, land and buildings, such as being an owner or a tenant, including council tenant.
4.19 You are required to give the address of the property, or otherwise give a description sufficient to identify it.


Give details of houses, land and buildings as specified above.

6 SHARES AND SECURITIES.
4.20 You have a registerable interest where you have an interest in shares comprised in the share capital of a company or other body and the nominal value of the shares is:
(i)
greater than 1% of the issued share capital of the company or other
body; or
(ii) greater than £25,000.


Give details of any shares and securities held by you as specified above.

7 NON FINANCIAL INTERESTS.
4.21 Councillors may also have significant non-financial interests and it is equally important that relevant interests such as membership or holding office in public bodies, companies, clubs, societies and organisations such as trades unions and voluntary organisations, are registered and described. In this context, non-financial interests are those which members of the public might reasonably think could influence your actions, speeches or votes in the Council.


Give details of any office/membership held by you (outwith Glasgow City Council), for which you do not receive remuneration, as specified above.

8 GIFTS AND HOSPITALITY.
3.6 You must never ask for gifts or hospitality.
3.7 You are personally responsible for all decisions connected with the acceptance of gifts or hospitality offered to you and for avoiding the risk of damage to public confidence in your Council and in local government.
As a general guide, it is usually appropriate to refuse offers except:
(a) isolated gifts of a trivial character or inexpensive seasonal gifts such as a calendar or diary or other simple items of office equipment of modest value;
(b) normal hospitality associated with your duties and which would reasonably be regarded as appropriate; or
(c) civic gifts received on behalf of the Counc
il.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sunday, Sunday and the gentlemen of the Scottish press

Let’s start with a couple of laughs, because there’s not many to come …

The long-running lethal farce called ‘The Coalition’s War against Terror in Afghanistan’ descends even further into the absurd as a top Taliban honcho, Akhtar Mohammed Mansour meets President Karzai and top Nato commanders. This is it, the tipping point, when the tide will turn, the West will be vindicated, the light at the end of the long dark tunnel of death and futility shines brightly, and Western values and culture will at last prevail in this benighted land.

The secret negotiations take place, the Mullah is feted, and leaves carrying oodles of goodwill cash. The world will soon be safe for democracy, Nato/US style.

But there’s bad news for Barack Obama and David Cameron. The Mullah wasn’t the Mullah after all, but The Conman from Quetta (in Pakistan) – a grocer - and he has simply vanished with the cash. The real Taliban fall about laughing in their hideouts in the mountains, Karzai, safe amidst his own mountains of coalition cash, shrugs philosophically, and the American military commanders utter unprintable - and most unchristian - oaths as they reflect on their future career prospects.

The Sunday Herald’s Tom Gordon, scratching around for anti-SNP stories to fill the gaps left by the dearth of real journalism at the Herald and the Sunday Herald - twin house organs of the Labour Party in Scotland - lights on the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill and a ‘story’ about the sybaritic highlife enjoyed by Scotland’s prisoners, already lying on beds of down, attended by maidens bearing grapes, soothed by soft music as they revel in the luxuries of incarceration in Scotland’s jails.

They are going to get flat screen TVs with built-in DVD players. This is bad enough, but – shock, horror – the Freeview tuners will be able to access the many porn channels now available. Why does this matter? Why will it be a gift to Richard Baker, Labour’s justice spokesperson, starved of raw meat since the Megrahi release?

Delicacy inhibits me from being too explicit, especially on a Sunday morning – let me just say that, for those with a long memory, it has something to do with rhyming slang and a film maker from the heyday of British filmmaking – J. Arthur Rank. I look forward with keen anticipation to Richard Baker putting his little mouth in gear at precisely the same moment that he puts his brain in neutral on this most sensitive of subjects. Perhaps he will link his indignant assault with the dangers of prisoners going blind. I think we should be told …

Bill Aitken, MSP has predictably already sounded off on this weighty matter – there is never a shortage of Tory rent-a-mouths to comment on justice matters.

Of course, the cold facts of the matter are safely tucked away at the end of the article, remote from the rabble-rousing and misleading headline and opening nonsense, something that has now become the Herald’s signature style, seamlessly replacing the objective investigative political journalism that used to characterise one of the world’s oldest English language newspapers. When Labour and the Union are threatened, anything is admissible.

TVs have been the norm in Scottish prison cells since 1999: this is simply an upgrade from CRT sets to the new, cheap flat screens with built-in DVDs as a routine inclusion. But with that money, Labour and the Tories could have bought whips, birches, thumbscrews, pincers, tongs, perhaps even budget-priced racks! It’s an outrage!

FISCAL MATTERS

The strange ways of the Sunday Herald with hard news is demonstrated clearly today over fiscal matters – the tartan tax row and the Calman proposals – or what’s left of them.

Contrast the approach taken by Scotland on Sunday with the Sunday Herald -

SoS lead article today -

‘Retreat’ on new Scots tax powerstwo levies not included in next Scotland Bill

Eddie Barnes’ opening paragraph encapsulates what has happened -

Two tax powers that were destined to be handed to MSPs will not now appear in ground-breaking new laws designed to create a stronger Scottish Parliament.”

On page two, Barnes develops the theme under the sub-header Scotland Bill to leave out key Tax powers. The tax powers are “less ambitious than first proposed”. The SNP position and comments is fairly and objectively reported, with the Party claiming that the proposals fall far short of what is needed, that they are half-baked and damaging to the Scottish economy.

In other words, this  is Calman minus – a hollow and ominous echo of Tavish Scott’s vainglorious posturing about Calman Plus.

But in the Sunday Herald? Buried away at the bottom of page four, we have a small headline Bill to give Holyrood new income tax powers, and a couple of hundred words which grudgingly include the following, by Tom Gordon Scottish political editor.

The Scotland Bill will omit several Calman ideas. including devolving the aggregates levy, which could raise £50 million a year, and air passenger duty, which could raise £100m.”

Well, not a lot on this fundamental issue for Scotland, Tom, but then you had to save your energies for a full-blown attack on the SNP and John Swinney (backed up by a Leader article) – The Week it all went wrong on page 20. Here, our heroically objective political editor, in what is an opinion article in the guise of political analysis, devotes an entire page to a non-issue – the tartan tax – and the attempt at the political lynching of a decent man of high integrity that disgraced our Parliament last week.

Here are a few choice examples of Tom Gordon’s objective journalism and political analysis -

After what I can only describe as a faintly contemptible lead-in referring the John Swinney’s three-week old son, Gordon opens with -

Within 48 hours, he would be denounced and vilified, and within a week he would be forced into a grovelling apology at  Holyrood.”

You got it right about the denunciation and vilification, Tom – a sad hysteria that Patrick Harvie had the good grace to try to offset by  his genuine tribute to the Finance Minister, as he belatedly realised that he had become part of a political lynch mob. Describing John Swinney’s dignified and clear apology as ‘grovelling’ is a patent distortion of the facts, as anyone who watched and heard it knows. (I have the clip and I will post it on YouTube).

First Iain Gray, in probably his finest turn as Labour Leader, accused Swinney …”

If that was his finest turn, God preserve us from his worst performance.

In the last column, there is a long list of what the Sunday Herald sees as the sins of the SNP government, then this, from Tom Gordon -

Suddenly the gilt is peeling off the administration, and the opposition sees it.

‘This raise the whole issue of competence,’ sighed one senior SNP source. ‘It all came across as shabby. We’re supposed to have a team you can trust, but they were keeping people in the dark’ “

Ah, the ubiquitous ‘unnamed source’, Tom. What would your brand of political reporting be without it.

Well, two can play that game, Tom …

My unnamed source Holyrood Unionist opposition politician says “Even by our standards of desperately trying to marginalise the government elected by the Scottish people, regardless of their real needs, this was a new low in gutter politics – an attempt at the political assassination of a good man with the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people at his heart.



CALMAN

Let’s look back in time for a moment and remind ourselves just what the Calman Commission was. Here’s what I said way back in the summer of 2009 -

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Playing Unionist politics with Calman

The Calman Commission, an invention of the Unionist Opposition Parties in Holyrood, specifically set up to strengthen the Union and frustrate the progress of the Scottish People towards full independence, has made its report.

Anyone who doubted the thrust of the Calman Report only had to look at who commissioned it (the Unionist Opposition Parties) and the composition of the Commission itself.

Its fifteen members included -

Two Knights

Five Lords

One MBE

Three CBEs

One OBE

The three non-ennobled, knighted or gonged members included -

A youth activist and former member of the Scottish Youth Parliament

A professor of Islamic studies from Glasgow University

The Chief Executive of the Telegraph Media Group

 

CONSULANTS

I do go on a bit about the monumental waste of scarce taxpayers’ money by government on consultants. Well, I made my living for about twelve years as a freelance management consultant and trainer, and before that, as a senior manager and director, negotiated with consultants, so I’ve seen the game from both sides of the table.

But nobody in government seems to want to listen. I wonder why …

Today, the trams project is in trouble over consultants, and TIE says that they underestimated their consulting budget spending by a factor of 25 times. Yes, well …

Here’s a little fact to chew over -

The average industrial wage is somewhere around £21k, and that is also the watershed at which the pay freeze for public sector workers commences. Let’s allow a little licence and call it about £400 a week.

About the lowest day rate a consultant will charge these days is £500 a dayyes, a day … This would be the low end of individual freelance consulting rates, with £750 probably being more typical, and £1200/1500 quite common. But charge-out rates for the large consulting firms can easily be double these figures or even more, with £1000 a day being very much the low end.

Reflect on this. The bottom end trainers and consultants earn in a day one and a quarter times the average industrial wage. So their weekly earnings are six and a quarter times those public service workers who by current wage restraint figure highly enough paid to have their earning frozen, with no increases – in the national interest. And that’s the bottom end of consulting rates.

But the big consulting firms charge from twice to four or five times that as day rates, giving a multiplier on the £21k public service worker of twelve and a half to twenty five times their earnings.

Consultants and consulting firms can – and will – legitimately argue that they have overheads – office, pensions, holiday, other costs and benefits – and that not every day is a fee earning day. This is true, but it is grossly overstated. A generous allowance to cover all employee benefits would be 20/25% for an individual freelance consultant.  There is cold calling and marketing when no fee is being earned, and this does bear on the freelance. But they do very nicely, thank you, in spite of it all …

A net working, fee earning year of about 150 delivery days (as against say, a working year of  about 230 days for an employed person) would deliver £75,000 gross. Not bad for many of those at that end of the market, given their experience, qualifications and skills base. Most freelances would gross from £100k to £150k per annum , some much more, especially if they can get long periods of continuous fee-earning days from large public service organisations.

As for the big boys – well, the holy grail for them is to bill more fee days per consultant than there actually are in the working year – a holy grail that is regularly found, but rarely acknowledged. And many of them do not in fact maintain large numbers of salaried consultants on the payroll – they sub-contract out to freelances, but charge the client often as much as three times the day rate being paid to the freelance. (I myself have worked for many large organisations on exactly this basis.)

It’s called the fee law of thirds – the day rate paid by the client represents something like three times the rate they would have to pay to hire someone with equivalent qualifications and skills to do the job in-house, including all overheads.

What am I arguing for? Not for stopping the use of consultants – there are many ethical, competent and capable consultants and consulting firms, delivering value and charging reasonable fees. But there is also gross incompetence in resourcing consultants, in the failure to use competitive tendering, in the negotiation of fee and in the management of consulting contracts and delivery. If private industry is guilty of this, hell mend them – they should know better. But when government does it, it’s our money – our taxes – and it has to stop.

There are other malpractices in the use of consultants, some of them bordering on corruption – the use of consulting contracts as political patronage, of cronyism, of revolving doors, of jobs for the favoured boys – and girls.

But they are a matter for the National Audit Office and where appropriate for the polis!

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

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The speech that Iain Gray should have delivered at Oban to the party faithful.

NOTE: Iain Gray didn’t say this – but he should have …

The speech to Scottish Conference that Iain Gray MSP, Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament should have made.

Thank you, conference …

You know conference, we meet this week in troubled times, troubled mainly because of what New Labour did over thirteen wasted years.   But it is in troubled times that Labour people turn their face to the wall and put their bums oot the windae – not an easy feat, even for me, conference.

For 13 years, Labour councillors, MSPs and MPs across Scotland were the only protection working people had at UK level against the assault on their living standards, their services and their very future – and they failed them, monumentally and disgracefully. (Only the SNP were able to limit the damage, but I’ll swiftly move on past that inconvenient point …)
.

Labour values, Labour principles and Labour people the only bulwark against the Tories and their fellow travellers - and the bulwark collapsed as New Labour turned into Tories Lite under Blair, Brown, Mandelson and Campbell, with Scottish Labour acting out the role of supine cheerleaders.

So where stands Scotland now? Well, I looked at map, and it seems to be wee country somewhere north of England, in fact, I think I live in it …

The global financial crash - for which the Labour Government were woefully unprepared - left our country with huge debts to pay. The collapse of our two biggest Scottish banks shook our confidence and required a rescue package that has almost bankrupted the nation. The Labour government held our economy together with the kind of panic stricken action that only Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were capable of, demonstrating that confidence of Labour supporters in them was woefully misplaced. They hung a millstone of debt round the nations neck, and ensured that only the poor and vulnerable would pay it off, and the likes of Tony Blair and his wife, who had become extremely rich (estimated fortune £60m) and who got the hell out in good time before the bubble burst, would escape unscathed.

We are past masters at the rewriting of history, and we deliberately sabotaged the chances of a Rainbow Coalition because we were terrified to clear up our own mess.

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 misspending was a necessity to ensure substantial private wealth for those who had toed the party line, and to support the wars, invasions and general mayhem launched by our greatest electoral vote winner and richest former Labourite, Tony Blair. Our public finances were unsustainable, and our spending had little relevance to the needs and priorities of the people – well, the poor people, anyway. Inflation was low and so was unemployment as we waited to jump ship before a bow wave sank the economy. You’d think by the way they are acting now that the Conservatives and the Liberals had counselled us against spending, but of course they didn’t, because they were up to their necks in it at every turn – they knew a good thing when they saw it!

Yes, the bailout of our banks has left us with a deficit that has to be paid down over time, but hey, we’re safe –and rich – on the side lines for the moment, having had a collective lobotomy to forget what we did to the people and the Labour Party.

There is always a space for progress. There is always room for fairness. A time for justice. A moment for peace. The place for equality. But we never found any of them. Our values had vanished like snaw aff a dyke in the toughest of times, through war and depression that we caused with our bosom friend, George W. Bush - our movement has destroyed the lives of millions, impoverished even more, and destroyed hope for the dispossessed and made the weak even weaker.

A Tory government in Westminster putting hundreds of thousands on the dole and cutting the dole when they get there. Putting up rents and cutting housing benefit.  Punishing the poor and caring nothing for our communities, continuing the work that we started, and compounding our folly while in office.

Look at RAF Kinloss – where is that again, Conference? Up north somewhere? The heart ripped out of a whole county at a stroke, but a county safely distanced from Westminster - so we can safely ignore it.  And now they threaten to come back for more with Lossiemouth under threat. 

These are not strategic decisions.  These are doctrinaire cuts, of the kind we would have made, being devoid of any concept of the defence of Scotland except WMDs.

Next Sunday I will join the rally in Lossiemouth to save that base, incognito, wearing a mask and protective clothing in case the good people up there understand what Labour did to them. I will take your message of solidarity and support to those people fighting for their community, and do my best to duck when the rotten apples come at me.

But Conference,  Labour created the Scottish Parliament in the hope that it would defuse the fight for independence and cover up the theft of Scottish Oil by Westminster – we sure as hell didn’t create it for times like these.

There are tough decisions ahead. Our budget has been cut faster and deeper than is safe or necessary. But we must deal with the consequences of that. And we will have to be honest with the people of Scotland, which won’t be easy, because we never have been before. No false prospectus of ever more lavish spending proposals – there’s nae money left, as our outgoing guy jokingly told his successor.

If elected in May there will be decisions we do not wish to make, like telling the truth, or doing things for the people of Scotland instead of ourselves. But we will stoop to the challenge, with our vacuum of values and principles at the heart of every decision.

We cannot avoid the consequences of the collapse of our Scottish banks, although we’ve done our level best to try, by sabotaging the Rainbow Coalition. We cannot avoid the consequences of these Tory cuts. But we can protect ourselves – the Labour apparatchiks, that is and we shall convince the trades unions who bankroll us, and who put us in government that we are on their side, against the massive weight of evidence to the contrary.

But under no circumstance must we show the people of Scotland that there is another way, a better way. We can set a new standard for blaming everything on everybody else, and douse the final glimmerings of light to those who are losing hope. Labour will, with luck, stagger onto the Holyrood bridge and further impoverish the lives of the people of Scotland, something we have done for generations.

First Scotland and then the United Kingdom, when Ed Miliband is elected Prime Minister.


So where stands Scottish Labour now?

In good shape.  In good heart.  In good spirits.  Taking comfort from a general election where one million Scots put their trust in Labour, against all common sense, because of a combination of blind loyalty to a failed party and hatred of the Tories.  Buoyed by a leadership election in which Labour temporarily and expediently acknowledged its worse sin – Iraq - we found a leader who inspired this conference yesterday. We would have been just as happy with his Big Brother David, or even our beloved Tony, but that’s another story, conference …

And ready. Ready conference for an election to come.  Doors we will knock. Leaflets we will deliver.  Arguments we will make.  Lies we will tell. Wool we will pull over eyes. Syntax we will mangle … An election we can win if the Scottish people don’t wake up suddenly. Promises of patronage we will dispense. Residual principles we will dump.

I say this to you not to boast.  Not to brag. I have little to boast or brag about, frankly – but I will bluster.   I leave political analysis, economic competence and common humanity to those to whom it comes more naturally, such as the SNP.

And remember, above all, I love Scotland too much to support it in its fight for the one thing that could transform the lives of the people of Scotland and make our nation great again – full fiscal autonomy, followed in time by full independence. I know which side my bread is buttered on, and who supplies it. I didnae come up the Thames oan a bike, comrade capitalists.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

SNP close the gap on Labour

The undernoted is a straight lift from the SNP site. It boosted my morale – I hope it will do the same for those who have not already read it. Polls do usually lift after a party conference, but let’s be confident that this lift is the beginning of an accelerating trend leading to victory in May 2011.

SNP.org   2010-10-21

The SNP has significantly closed the gap on Labour following the launch of the party's 2011 election campaign at its annual conference last weekend.

In a Yougov poll, published in the Scotsman, of 1,405 people across Scotland taken  between the 18th and 20th October, just after SNP conference, the party saw its share of the Holyrood vote increase by 5 points across both constituency and regional vote.

Labour’s vote has flat-lined and the LibDems vote crumbled to its lowest level in over nine years, as people across Scotland chose to work together with the SNP to make Scotland better.

The SNP is polling at a higher level than at the same time prior to the 2007 election. 

Since September the SNP vote has increased to 34% of the constituency vote and 31% of the regional vote – a 5% increase in both cases.

The poll puts the SNP on 34% in the constituency vote, against 40% for Labour, 14% for the Conservatives and 8% for the Lib Dems. 

On the regional vote, the SNP has increased to 31% against 36% for Labour, 15 for the conservatives and 8 for the Lib Dems.

 SNP Campaign Co-ordinator and Moray MP Angus Robertson, commenting on the poll, said:

"The SNP has fired the starting gun on the election campaign and these results show voters across Scotland are choosing to be part of better as we close the gap on Labour.

“Voters will not allow Labour to escape from their responsibility for the economic mess and the cuts coming Scotland’s way and it is clear the LibDems are paying a heavy price for backing the Tories.

The SNP is the only party offering an alternative with the financial powers to manage Scotland’s economy and a fair deal for Scotland’s households by balancing government efficiencies, pay restraint and management cuts with a focus on frontline services , freezing council tax and abolishing prescription charges.

“And as we work towards the election next year we will continue to hear the priorities of the people of Scotland, their concerns, and ideas for the future as we work together people and politicians to make Scotland better.

With Scotland’s only credible candidate for First Minister people are putting their trust in Alex Salmond and the SNP team to protect the things Scotland holds dear in the face of Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem cuts.”

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.

 

 


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Holyrood 2011 – the big questions

In the spring of 2011, Scotland goes to the polls to determine its representation in the Scottish Parliament and who will form the next government in Holyrood. The outcome of that election will depend on a number of factors, but significantly on the answer to the question -

Will the Labour general election surge in Scotland repeat itself in the Holyrood election?

There is no doubt that a majority of Scots, faced with the prospect of a Tory Government at Westminster, defaulted to their traditional allegiance. In 2007, disenchanted with the appalling Labour Government  record of betrayal of their core supporters over ten years, two needless wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the abandonment of every traditional Labour value, they felt that there had to be something better.

Many of them clearly shifted their allegiance to the SNP, returning a party committed to the ultimate independence of Scotland,  but it is probably also true that  a large percentage of socially-aware Labour voters, disenchanted with the Blair/Brown/Mandelson gang but not ready to vote SNP, voted LibDem.

I suspect that both groups will either return to Labour or vote SNP in 2011. Any way you slice it, it will be a Labour vs SNP contest.

What worries me is that the essence of Labour - old Labour - is that it is a movement with a social conscience and an appeal to the emotions. I feel that some of that essence is returning to Scottish Labour, just as it is being lost by the SNP under the mundane pressures of government. The Party needs to re-create the sense of belief and the excitement that characterised the Glasgow East victory.

I have to say that in spite of all the worthy time and effort devoted to grassroots communication and democracy, they have lost their mojo to some degree. In an understandable attempt to present themselves as serious politicians - which they undoubtedly are - geared to serious and challenging times, they have become dull, something a nationalist movement cannot afford to be.

The Scottish electorate, indeed any electorate, are only coldly rationale in part - there is an emotional quotient, one that Obama successfully captured and exploited to achieve his historic victory, and one which he is now dissipating to some degree under the pressures of office.

The extent and impact of the opposition to Osborne’s savage cuts, with his nodding, red-haired Scottish LibDem poodle, Danny Alexander at his side, will create political currents - and perhaps a political tsunamai - the ramifications of which are difficult to predict.

Will Scottish Labour voters recognise the responsibility that lies with Blair, Brown and the last Labour government for creating the situation that led to this?

Do they realise that senior Labour politicians, notably John Reid and Douglas Alexander, destroyed the fragile Rainbow Coalition negotiations by their public comments, leading directly to the ConLib coalition that is now inflicting this misery on us?

Do they remember that Alex Salmond repeatedly and consistently attacked the economic sense of the cuts and the attack on Scottish public services, in the face of baying Labour opposition in Holyrood? 

Will the Scottish trades unions, in their fight against the attack on Scottish living standards, remember that the the Labour Party destroyed the economy and bottled the chance to rectify their mistakes by a rainbow coalition?

If we have the autumn of discontent that the TUC conference seems to point towards, in opposition to the cuts - and I hope we do - then if the new leader of the Labour party plays his cards in support (which David Milliband won't do but the others might) it will probably alienate middle England from Labour but galvanise Scottish Labour voters.

To those complacent middle class families who are tut-tutting about the renewed union militancy, in the profoundly mistaken belief that they themselves will be immune from the impact of the cuts, I say  - remember the enduring words of John Donne -

And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
 

(I was tempted to quote Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous statement, the “then they came for me…” one, often described as a poem. But the wording is so contentious, and has been distorted, adapted and bowdlerised by so many special interest groups that I decided not to.  John Donne captured the essence of our common humanity in his words for all time, and it has never been better expressed.)