Tag Archives: scotland

England toilet paper

Have we reached peak flag?

There are some days when I couldn’t feel more alienated from UK politics, and today is one of them. While we are still struggling to comprehend why the people of Rochester and Strood just re-elected an MP who is a virtual caricature of every worst Westminster character trait imaginable in what they seem to think is a defiant anti-Westminster rebuff, Labour opted to lose it completely. They sacked Emily Thornberry from the front bench for posting a picture of a house with three England flags in the window alongside in a way that might be construed as mildly passive-aggressive. Sacked immediately by an apparently furious Ed Miliband, we’ve been bombarded today by pictures of the house’s occupant, nicknamed “White Van Dan” riding around Islington in his van, which has now been covered by Sun newspaper stickers. Meanwhile, asked what he thinks whenever he sees a white van, Ed Miliband came up with the ultimate Thick-Of-It-ism by replying “respect“.

Hanging over all this is the spectre of Gillian Duffy, the pensioner from Rochdale who Gordon Brown unwisely called a bigoted woman while wearing a live microphone during the 2010 general election campaign. In both cases, the response has seemed as out of touch if less authentic than the original offence. In fact, the only thing less authentic is the manufactured outrage whipped up by the media and Labour’s rivals which caused the apologies in the first place.

Labour aren’t just the victims of this. Just yesterday, Labour’s new anti-Green unit had managed to get the Evening Standard to publish a story attacking Green Party leader Natalie Bennett for the apparently egregious offence of travelling across Europe in a comfortable train instead of the indignity of squatting in one of those flying toilets that passes for a RyanAir plane. As someone who did something rather similar last month, albeit mostly out of a desire for comfort rather than wanting to minimise carbon emissions, I struggle to understand what the fuss is about. I certainly struggle to understand why Labour thinks this is going to alienate potential voters from the Green Party.

Much of what I wrote about Norman Baker’s treatment following his resignation earlier this month also applies to this latest debacle. I’m growing increasingly despairing of politicians’ craven need to indulge every reactionary twinge, as long as it emerges from a housing estate. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is genuine concern for the poor and marginalised in society however; I have no idea if White Van Dan receives benefits or not, but under different circumstances he is exactly the kind of bloke that the Sun typically vilifies for being a scrounger, with Labour cheerleading behind it. If you’re poor, the political class hate you; yet if you say something like “it’s not racist to want to kick brown people out of the country”, you are fêted and patronised as the authentic voice of the working classes. Meanwhile, the under-25s are looking at having their benefits slashed regardless of whether Labour or the Tories win a plurality at the next general election. And despite housing being one of the biggest single causes of poverty and social immobility, none of the parties appear to be interest in doing much about it.

The thing is, as a strategy for marginalising the far right, it doesn’t work, at all, as Ukip’s surge in recent years and the BNP’s upswing before that has repeatedly demonstrated. We are fortunate in this country in that most of our far right parties are so venal that they tend to turn in on themselves as soon as they get a whiff of success (helped along by organisations like Hope Not Hate). The BNP and English Defence League both spectacularly self-destructed, as indeed did Ukip 10 years ago following Robert Kilroy Silk’s attempts at a takeover. And looking at the oddballs which Ukip got elected as MEPs this year, there’s a good chance they will self-destruct again.

But by not challenging the very thing they stand for, all the main parties have achieved is to grow the reactionary core vote. As parties collapse, new ones rise up and quickly take their place. If Nigel Farage does self-immolate at some point, you can bet that there’s another smooth talking, slimy public former public schoolboy ready to take his place.

As it is, when people say idiotic things like immigration is a taboo subject in British politics, the main parties all nod their heads sagely, despite knowing that it’s all they ever talk about. I’m hardly the first person to notice that “Ukip are right, don’t vote for them” has spectacularly failed as a political message. And while politicians are falling over themselves to come up with ever harsher anti-immigration policies, whilst straining to appear non-racist, immigrants themselves meanwhile are shoring up the NHS, the treasury and our cultural life.

With the vast majority of the public not willing to even consider voting Ukip, is it really that inconceivable to actually challenge their bullshit? I don’t mean in a mealy mouthed, apologetic way as Labour currently practices, but in a robust and pro-active way. It did not, admittedly, work particularly well for the Lib Dems during the last European elections, but their credibility has been shot to pieces. Imagine if Ed Miliband had decided to take Ukip to task at his party conference this September, instead of spending the last couple of months indulging them? He certainly wouldn’t be in a worse position than he is at the moment. I suspect that his failure to do so has more to do with the rise in Green Party popularity than any newfound concern for the environment.

I’m not a fan of nationalism, but I will confess that some people seem to be capable of practising genuine civic nationalism, and I respect them for it. In the run up and aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum, I came across dozens of examples of it campaigning for Yes. As someone who has always been quite dismissive of SNP claims to be this generous form of nationalism, as opposed to the defensive, hateful kind, this has represented something of a challenge for me (for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not suggesting that all SNP supporters are twinkly civic nationalists; far from it).

The Anglo-British political class however seem to be reacting to the nationalist challenge by adopting an equally reactionary form of nationalism. Throughout the Scottish independence referendum campaign, my twitterfeed seemed to be dominated by No campaigners and English politicos talking about how a Yes vote would force them to erect a border between Scotland and England – not to keep the nationalists out, you understand, but all the dreadful immigrants that the SNP was going to be willing to accept into the country. Self-defined lefties, progressives and Europhiles were talking about Schengen in increasingly shrill tones. This seems to be all that British nationalism has to offer; togevverness in the face of the awful outside world, and nothing but spite for Scotland if it chose to go its own way. As someone who simply doesn’t understand why I should treat Scots as any more or less comradely than the French or Danes – or Liberians for that matter, I found it weirdly alienating.

The Ango-British are really bad at nationalism, not least of all because no-one seems to be able to decide whether to wrap themselves in the English or British flag. I don’t doubt the integrity of people like Billy Bragg wanting an English civic nationalism, but even he isn’t very good at articulating it, and no-one is really listening to him in any case. Instead of trying to invent something that isn’t there, the progressive, civic nationalist thing to do is to simply not worry too much about it, and instead focus on values such as mutual respect and solidarity. Those ought to be our starting points, not a concern about alienating people who have become intoxicated with nationalist lies.

There’s a possibility that Labour might actually realise this over the next couple of months and respond accordingly, but I’m not going to be holding my breath. If they don’t however, I suspect that all we’ll see is a further fragmentation of the Labour vote as haemorrhages between the Greens and Ukip. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing – the collapse of the established political order is looking increasingly inevitable. But while it might be a positive thing in the long term, in the short term we are likely to just see British politics adrift on a tide of racist and hateful effluent.

In defence of the Aberdeenshire Four… three… two

There has been a lot of murmuring at this Lib Dem conference over the debacle which has been raging in the Aberdeenshire Lib Dem Council Group over the past sixteen months as a result of Donald Trump. Bernard Salmon provides the background and I endorse what Neil Fawcett and Stephen Glenn have to say.

The one thing I would add is that the party is generally terrible at conflict resolution and generally running its own affairs with by the standard it would judge other organisations to abide by. The Scottish Lib Dems have past form of course – I may disagree strongly with a lot of what Neil Craig has to say but I haven’t yet seen anything on his blog to indicate his unsuitability to be a member of the Lib Dems. But you can’t single out the Scots. Last year there was that mess over Gavin Webb. My first article on Lib Dem Voice was over the poor handling of a complaint I submitted to the Federal Appeals Panel. Going back to my days in LDYS, I can recount two incidents: one where I was the subject of a complaint as a staff member which took the best part of a year to be investigated (I was eventually exonerated but had to have it hanging over my head while I was looking for a new job – a fact which almost certainly lead to me lowering my standards); and one in which I was the complainant which simply fizzled out into nothing. I could cite other examples, but I fear I would end up straying into the dark and murky world of defamation.

We have got to get a grip on all this. The party likes to wrap itself up in its image of being nice, and thus tends to kid itself that such structures are not necessary. As a result, the system is often use to trample on people in a quite appalling way, while letting others get away with the most appalling behaviour. If the FE is looking for something to do, then establishing a joint states commission to thoroughly review all aspects of how complaints and conflicts are resolved within the party and establish clear best practice protocols would be both timely and crucial.

In the meantime, I really hope people kick up a major fuss at the Scottish Lib Dem conference next weekend.

Was it cos Alex Salmond is black? (UPDATE)

(James Glossop/The Times)
(James Glossop/The Times)

There is something about Alex Salmond I could never tire of slapping, if only he were within arm’s reach. During 2007, this blog would frequently scandalise nationalists by mocking Salmond’s habit of waving claymores over his head to commemorate this or that historical defeat of Scotland in battle. But this photo (right) just takes the biscuit.

It isn’t simply that, under the circumstances, “no they couldn’t,” it is the sheer gall of a narrow nationalist attempting to borrow the fairy dust off a post-racial candidate whose key call to arms was about unity, not division. How on Earth does:

we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America
(Iowa speech)

… square with a plan to divide the UK into a patchwork of mini-states? The only candidate in the US election who has expressed support for independence was Sarah Palin. We should, I suppose, be grateful that at least Alex saw the wisdom of not grabbing hold of those particular coat-tails.

UPDATE: Ah, so the SNP are claiming Obama nicked “yes, we can” from them. Which is a bit like the Lib Dems going around claiming that anyone who uses the phrase “Make the Difference” read our 1997 manifesto.

What do the Scottish Greens and Guido have in common?

Both today are calling for Land Value Taxation, or at least they seem to be.

The Scottish Greens certainly are. Municipal tax reform in Scotland remains in deadlock and dependent on at least one other party agreeing with the principle of local income tax. That seems unlikely at the moment, even if the Lib Dems capitulate over the SNP’s insistence of greater centralisation (which does not look likely; what would they gain except appalling policy?).

Meanwhile, Guido is raving about the reprinting of Fred Harrison’s Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010 (Guido also pats himself on the back at his prescience for predicting the housing crash in September 2007; modesty prevents me from mentioning that my first blog post on the subject was July 2006 and frankly I could have told you what was going to happen a long time before then).

Fred Harrison? You might remember me linking to this video earlier in the year. Harrison, aka the renegade economist, is a keen exponent of land value taxation and regards it as a crucial tool in the armoury against boom and bust cycles (actually, as the video indicates, he goes a lot further than that).

So yes Guido, Gordon Brown was very very wrong. But somehow I doubt your mate Gideon Osborne is going to be interested in Harrison’s prescription. The son of a baronet and Shadow Chancellor for the Conservative Party, it is his job to protect vested interests, not challenge them.

Localism: the first big test?

The battlelines over localism are being formed in Scotland. What happens there directly affects the debate over decentralisation in England.

I haven’t been following this closely but my understanding is this: the SNP, which over time plan to replace council tax with a system of local income tax, have worked out a deal with local government whereby local authorities agree to freeze council tax in exchange for a very significant reduction in ringfencing by the Scottish executive. Labour are now hopping up and down making scary predictions about how this will hurt vulnerable people.

In a sense, they both have a point. Local government in Scotland as well as England has very few revenue raising powers and any squeeze will necessitates cuts being made somewhere, and it would not be surprising if the quietest voices had their funding cut the most. But Labour’s solution to this problem is simply to clobber local government with red tape, not to give it more freedom.

There’s another factor that needs to be considered as well: electoral reform in local government last year and the huge numbers of balanced councils it has produced will mean that this year’s budgets will be under more intense scrutiny than ever before. If Labour wishes to defend the vulnerable, by and large they will have their chance, but in the council chamber not Holyrood.

On balance then, I side with the SNP here. Sadly, if Labour are like this in opposition, it doesn’t bode well for getting localism out of them in government either.

Rear end analysis from Comment is Free

Okay, let’s get the blindingly obvious out of the way first. The Lib Dems are in trouble. We are floundering in the polls. Lewis Baston has a fair assessment of our woes over on Comment is Free.

Sadly, Iain Macwhirter has also decided to have a go. Aside from the blindingly obvious – that our stock isn’t all that high at the moment – it would appear that there is no point so large that Macwhirter isn’t capable of missing. Of course, accusing him of being stupid (which is of course what he calls us) would be unfair, since he is really being disingenuous. But it disappoints me that this is what passes for analysis these days.

First of all, he makes the following claim about why the Lib Dems failed to go into coalition government in Wales:

The Welsh Lib Dems were offered a share in a nationalist-led coalition in Cardiff, but pulled out at the last moment after the party executive was leaned on by the UK leadership. “Alliance with Plaid Cymru?” said Sir Ming’s minders. “Never! Unthinkable! The Liberal Democrats are a unionist party, always will be.”

Oh really? Knowing many of the individuals involved, if there had been the slightest hint of central interference here, they would have raised a shit storm. The one thing that might have convinced Peter Black to support coalition would have been the sense that Ming was pushing him the other direction.

There are a great many reasons why we failed to negotiate an acceptable package in Wales – a clear sense of identity and vision for Wales being the main one – but to blame Ming is an accusation too far.

Meanwhile, the Tory leader, David Cameron, has been pinching Liberal Democrat clothes on the environment, green taxes, public services and personal politics. Cameron has even allowed himself to be described as “liberal”. This attempt to drive the Liberal Democrats out of Tory marginals in England has sent the party into a state of ideological confusion. It no longer knows whether it’s orange or green; or blue or red. The truth is: no one cares.

This paragraph makes no sense at all. Which party has been sent into a state of ideological confusion? If you are going to polemicise about a political party you should at least observe the rules of basic grammar.

Either way, the fact is it is the Tories who are in ideological turmoil at the moment. Even this argument about the EU referendum is small beer compared to the gladiatorial contests that have been going on at CCHQ. This Summer, Cameron has invented a new concept in British politics: the revolving door policy development tool. What you do is stick Zac Goldsmith, Ken Clarke, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith in a revolving door, spin it round really fast and then, when they’ve finished bashing into each other and falling over themselves, scoop up the resultant vomit and call it a manifesto.

By contrast, the one thing that Ming has been getting right is the development of a coherent set of policies. He doesn’t shout about them anything like enough (AND SHOUTING IS WHAT WE NEED AT THE MOMENT MING!), and I disagree with several of them, but we have a clearer idea of what we stand for now than we did during the last general election. Credit where it’s due: Ming has delivered here.

Just what are the Liberal Democrats for? They used to be about constitutional reform, about sharing power, about proportional representation.

Gosh this sounds familiar. I seem to remember writing an *ahem* award nominated blog post on the subject. Is it too much to expect these bozos to not go around plagiarising each other? No honour among thieves, clearly.

To reiterate for the hard of thinking: we’ve never been “about” any of those things – they are just convenient things that lazy drink soaked hacks who can’t be bothered to view politics through anything other than beer glasses label us as. Even PR has never been more to the party than a means to an end, which is to create a more liberal and equitable society.

They have lost the initiative to Gordon Brown and the SNP leader Alex Salmond, both of whom have launched “national conversations” on constitutional reform.

Splutter! Both of these “national conversations” thus far have been frustratingly thin on details. Salmond’s “white paper” on Scottish Governance even states that they have no idea how to conduct this “national conversation” and plan to consult widely on the matter (which, surely, is the role of a green paper?). They’ve made a couple of speeches, but neither of these men have yet demonstrated that their commitment to democratic renewal is anything more than skin deep.

Sir Ming Campbell’s call for a UK constitutional convention rings decidedly hollow after the Scottish Liberal Democrats refused to discuss setting up a constitutional convention in Scotland with the SNP.

This I’m sure Macwhirter knows to be a lie. At no point has Salmond discussed holding a convention; by contrast Nicol Stephen’s response to his white paper was to demand one. The opposite of truth is called a lie, is it not?

Just why the Liberal Democrats have opted for political oblivion is one of the great mysteries of modern politics. In Scotland, their manifesto was a near-perfect fit with the SNP’s on policies such as nuclear power, Trident, local income tax, Asbos, constitutional reform, renewable energy, taxation, student debt, class sizes and even Gaelic education. Yet they refused to sit down to discuss a Chilton with the SNP leader Alex Salmond unless he dropped his commitment to a referendum on independence – a referendum which was never going to happen anyway because the minority SNP would lose the vote on any referendum bill in Holyrood.

Simply not true. The deal on the table was to back a bill on a referendum or walk away. The Scottish Lib Dems, elected on a unionist ticket, chose to walk away. Salmond could have dropped the subject. He didn’t. End of. Why am I repeating myself? Because from now until the end of time SNP supporters no doubt will continue to peddle this airbrushed view of history. Well, that is until the steam begins to run out for Salmond’s minority administration. Then, I think you may just find him trotting up to Nicol Stephen with his tail tucked between his legs. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Alex “monkey” Hilton has been having a pop, making the bizarre claim that not ruling out a coalition with the Conservatives and capitulating to Labour’s every whim means that we must automatically be in favour of Cameron’s batty proposals for a fiscal marital aid. Er, what? So presumably we can’t not rule out a coalition with Labour without automatically accepting the need for ID cards, the moral righteousness of Brown and Blair’s war on Iraq and gimmicky policies on anti-social behaviour which have the opposite effect to what they’re supposed to do? I don’t think Alex undestands basic concepts like “negotiation” and “compromise”. He also seems to have missed the rather startling point that unless the Tories suddenly agree to PR (which, you know, might happen on Planet Zog), there’ll be no deal anyway.

Worryingly, I find myself agreeing with the Lib Dems’ critics all too often these days. Fingers must be pulled out, pronto. But where does the Guardian dig these people up from?

Scottish Lib Dems don’t need Perfidious Albion butting in

Alex Salmond’s White Paper on the future governance of Scotland has brought forth another round of English Lib Dems (and supporters of other parties such as Pravdale) bemoaning the fact that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are ‘undemocratically’ not backing the SNP’s support for a referendum. As I’ve said in the comments on Lib Dem Voice, this is a ridiculous argument as the Scots both voted against independence in the last Scottish Parliament election by two-thirds and reject independence by the same proportion in opinion polls.

But what annoys me most of all is that these people have ignored what the Scottish Liberal Democrats are actually calling for. What they are arguing for is not the status quo, or even for their own Steel Commission to be introduced verbatim. Instead, they are joining the growing call for a new Constitutional Convention, independent of Government and Parliament, to sort the issue out.

They aren’t alone either. The campaign for a Scottish Constitutional Convention is backed by a growing number of Scots. Iain MacWhirter made similar noises on CommentIsFree yesterday, as did Unlock Democracy.

The Scottish Lib Dems could do what Perfidious Albion is advising them to do, go meekly along with a referendum on independence that the majority of Scots don’t want, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers money in the process and embedding the idea that Scottish politics is entrenched into unionism versus seperatism with the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems squashed together in an impromptu alliance on one end of the spectrum. Or, they could stick by their instincts and hold out for a process that has a strong chance of getting what the majority of Scots do appear to support: greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. In the process, they can put clear distance between both the the SNP and the nay-sayers within the Tories and Labour and present themselves as the champion of centrist Scottish politics.

When I see these two options before me it looks like a no-brainer, so what am I missing?

Alex Salmond: flying the flag or flying a kite?

It’s good to see Alex Salmond reminding us quite so quickly about why the Lib Dems would have made a terrible, terrible mistake to go into coalition with him. He knows he can’t get this plan through Parliament, so why bother? The answer to that question is too obvious for me to bother answering. Stick to claymores, Alex.

But fundamentally, why would Scotland want the burden that would be its own Olympic Team? Every four years Team GB returns from the Olympics with a handful of medals and the media eviscerates them for not having enough. If Salmond gets his way, Team WLOGB would not be noticeably affected, but Team Scotland would come back with even less. Just what would this do for Scottish pride?

It is fair enough that they insist on having their own football team. It keeps Del Amitri in work, anyway. But why is it such an indignity for the Scots to cheer on their fellow Brits every once in a while? What happened to all this guff about Salmond wanting to be England’s friend?

Now Eurovision on the other hand, that might be a different prospect. If we’re doomed to be screwed over by the Balkans, why not Balkanise our own entries and take advantage of the voting system? We wouldn’t be able to trust the perfidious Scots to vote the right way, but with our Skype accounts we could all rig the Scottish phone-in to give England votes. In any case the incomer English population would probably help, just like those pesky Russians in Estonia rigged that vote. Salmond could do worse than to wash his hands of all responsibility for Flying the Flag.

And, of course, Del Amitri might get some work on the side (on a semi-serious note, I suspect the Proclaimers would kick serious arse at Eurovision: how about it, lads?).

The Janus faces of the commentariat

You wonder what planet these people are from sometimes. Iain Macwhirter writes:

The whole point of proportional representation is that it is supposed to prevent one-party rule.

No, the whole ‘point’ of proportional representation is that seats in the chamber should reflect votes. As it turns out, in Scotland, it has prevented one-party rule. A minority executive is neither unprecedented, nor necessarily unworkable.

Despite agreeing with 90% of the SNP manifesto – everything from local income tax to nuclear power – they refused even to sit down and talk about a coalition with the SNP, unless Alex Salmond abandoned his policy of a referendum on independence first.

This was something they knew he could not do, and was transparently an excuse for refusing to negotiate the coalition that Scotland expected.

The SNP hinted at a constitutional convention to look at the whole constitutional question – something the Liberal Democrats had campaigned for in the election.

Simply not true. The price the SNP were insisting on was Lib Dem support in Parliament for a referendum on independence, and that was the price Nicol Stephen was not prepared to pay. Sure, they were prepared to ‘compromise’ by making it a multi-option referendum, something which Salmond was confident he would be able to trash with the help of his pet millionaires like Souter. The Lib Dems would have been propping up an executive that was spending all its energies on making the case for independence. Something tells me that in a parallel universe where the Lib Dems did make this mistake, another Iain Macwhirter is currently ripping them to shreds.

The irony is that, across Scotland, Liberal Democrats and SNP councillors have been forming coalitions to run local authorities like Edinburgh.

That’s because the price isn’t a referendum on the independence of Edinburgh.

Moreover, it was the week Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness agreed a coalition in Northern Ireland assembly – but somehow the Liberal Democrat leader, Nicol Stephen, couldn’t even sit down with Alex Salmond.

That’s because even a former armed insurgent like Martin McGuinness isn’t insisting that Ian Paisley has to support a referendum on independence. Just what part of this aren’t you getting Macwhirter?

Now, Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland, is in with a real chance of propelling Scotland out of the United Kingdom. It’s a funny old world.

Really? He’s going to get a referendum? How? Planet Macwhirter is a funny place to live.