Sunday 31 January 2010

Tories to Copy Tartan Tories

The Observer reports that (here) the Conservatives are intending to copy the SNP policy of freezing Council Tax.

The article concentrates on how this pledge collides with the Tories' other pledges on cutting spending and limiting tax increases. The paper does not give an in-depth analysis of the costs of the policy, but it would certainly cost at least £1.5 billions/year to extend the freeze to England and Wales.

Of course, there are other problems with the Council Tax freeze as implemented by the SNP, and these are becoming acute with the budgetary limitations on councils that are becoming necessary due to the recession.

The freeze has meant that councils have not been able to raise the tax as they may have wanted in order to pay for vital services. Now they face budget cuts: cuts which may have been unnecessary or at least limited by reasonable tax rises over the last three years.

Tax cutting is a favourite policy of all right-wing parties, specifically the Tories and the SNP, and it can appear attractive as a slogan, but in the end it's the vital and necessary services to the community that suffer.

No money equals no services: try explaining that to ordinary people who depend on these services, and who suffer when services are cut or even cancelled altogether.

Friday 29 January 2010

Blair's Defence

In about 1 hour from now, Tony Blair will sit before the Chilcot Enquiry and be asked to justify his key role in the Iraq war.

The interrogation will go on most of the day. Who knows what shape the questioning will take: will it take a broad look at politics and motivation or will it get bogged down in the detail of who said what and who knew what and when they knew it?

In my opinion, the vital questions to be asked would be: what did he think he was doing, and why did he do it?

It seems to me that Blair's defence could go something like this:

As an opposition leader, he saw the massacres in Rwanda and the developing wars in the Balkans and the murders in Halabja being ignored by the Conservative govenment. In fact the Tories gave export credits to Saddam and were close to Milosovic.

He saw John Major and George Bush the 1st stopping short of removing Saddam when they had a golden opportunity to free the people of Iraq.

Rwanda in particular must have made a deep scar. Millions were dying and armies and weapons of mass destruction were being used on defenceless civilians. Being a reasonable person, he thought that something should be done about this, but he saw our governments were doing little to stop it.

So he decided that if and when he was in charge, he would not stand by while he could do something about these and similar atrocities.

He persuaded Bill Clinton to actively oppose and destroy Milosovic. With a limited success in the Balkans he became convinced that intervention worked, and intervention to rid the world of mass murderers was a good thing: who could argue?

And so to Iraq and the failure of the USA to have a workable policy for the peace......

You could of course argue that intervention is always wrong, but few said that after Kosovo, because it was seen as a success, whereas the howls that followed in Iraq were loudest after the failure to consolidate the peace, hindsight being a wonderful thing.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

A New Scottish Online "Newspaper", The Caledonian Mercury

In the last few days a new approach to newspapers in Scotland has been launched. It is an online newspaper, called the Caledonian Mercury.

It will be interesting to see how this experiment works, and if it can be any more successful in the current economic climate than the traditional newspaper model.

One interesting story is covered today, here.

The story concerns a move by the opposition parties at Holyrood to demand a view of the SNP's capital budget. The aim is to see if any capital is being held back, or is being treated "flexibly", with the possibility of cash being released for the other partys'priorities.

The obvious target is Labour's desire to see how and if the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL) could be financed. Andy Kerr has said that he believes the money for GARL could be found. Lifting the veil on the capital budget may just reveal if he is correct.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

The Politics of the Brazenly Foolish

David Cameron may be happy to think that he is being “brazenly elitist” in demanding that new trainee teachers must have a “good degree from a good university”. In fact he is being brazenly silly.

If Mr Cameron had any idea how schools work he would know that a “good” degree, (even from a “good” university, whatever that is), is no guarantee that the candidate will make a good teacher. The ability to teach is much more a matter of character and personality linked to experience than to the level of academic achievement, and if Mr Cameron doesn’t know that he needs to get out more. It is my guess that many of the best teachers currently practicing in our schools would not meet Mr Cameron’s totally arbitrary standards.

A few months ago the Conservative’s shadow Health Minister announced that the Tories, if elected, would transfer our health records to Google. Until now this was believed to be the silliest policy proclamation from any political party, but Mr Cameron’s pronouncement on teacher recruitment surely runs it a close second. Perhaps Annabel Goldie would care to let us know if the Conservatives are planning to adopt Mr Cameron’s “brazenly elitist” approach to teaching in Scotland.

Friday 15 January 2010

Tory Health Spokesman Receives Cash from Private Health Interests

The Telegraph reports here that Andrew Lansley, Shadow Minister For Health, has received a donation from an individual with extensive interests in private provision to the National Health Service.

It is reported that
John Nash, the chairman of Care UK, gave £21,000 to fund Andrew Lansley’s personal office in November.

Mr Nash, a private equity tycoon, also manages several other businesses providing services to the NHS and stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Conservative policies to increase the use of private health providers.

Given that the Tories are very open about their intention, if elelcted, to extend the use of private provision in the NHS, this would seem, on the face of it, to be a case of conflict of interests.

How can Mr Lansley take cash from a company that as a minister he would be dealing with in his efforts to privatise NHS provision, and still remain impartial?

Would the NHS be safe in Andrew Lansley's hands?

Social Attutudes Survey shows Scots oppose independence... whither the referendum?

The latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, conducted by the Scottish Centre for Social Research, shows support for Scottish Independence at 28%. Twice as many, 56%, oppose independence and the rest appear to be indifferent.

the Herald carries a report here

Although there is nothing surprising in these numbers, the finding must nevertheless be a disappointment to the SNP. At the 2007 election, the SNP had the stated aim of showing, by its competence in government, how an independent Scotland would be more attractive to most Scots. To find that, after three years in power and despite that SNP's "best" efforts at Holyrood, support for independence is at best static, must come as a blow to the SNP. In particular it is a blow to any hopes of success in a referendum on independence.

Indeed, these figures would indicate that the SNP would be ill-advised to have a referendum in the current climate, or indeed any time soon.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Dave's plastered.....

The Conservatives have started their election campaign early with a poster showing David Cameron and saying how much he cares about the NHS.

Unfortunately for them, it has attracted more comment for the perfect sheen and tone of the Dave’s skin. Pimples? Dave? No way! Moles? Blemishes? Not  a one!

He has literally no pores! Not one! No chin follicles! Nothing! Our Dave, he’s flawless he is.

The man with no skin blemishes, and no policies either….

And isn’t air-brushing the perfect metaphor for the Conservatives strategy.

We’re nice Tories, not those naughty Tories of recent experience. We love the NHS and everything nice. We'll cut and slash all that nasty government spending....except the bit you like, missus.

That Maggie Thatcher, she was a one, but she had nothing to do with us….we’re smooth, dead smooth…

Just like Dave….

Friday 8 January 2010

Chickens coming home...?

There's an interesting letter in today's Herald. It's from a Mr Walker of Dundee. It's very short, and it can be found


It goes:

First Trump, now pylons. I voted SNP for the first time at the previous election. I fear it will be the last time, too.

That's all, but it is significant IMO.

The SNP has made a habit of harvesting any protest at any level with explicit or implicit promises that they would take the protesters side, if only they could.

It wasn't a problem for them before, because they never got elected before. But 2007 changed all that. The SNP is now the "government" in Scotland, and they find that the protesters are sometimes wrong, or the decision isn't quite as black and white as they pretended in opposition.

The big one is the abolition of student debt. How many students and ex-students voted for the nationalists in the belief that their debt would be abolished, only to have their hopes dashed by reality? And thousands opposed the Beauly-Denny line: a few will have switched to the SNP as a protest.

The SNP is losing these votes. Even their own supporters are not happy with some of their decisions. Given the closeness of the vote in 2007 in a number of constituencies, even a few hundred switchers or stay-at-homes could prove fatal to the SNP's hopes of being the biggest party in 2011.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Who do you think you are kiddin' Mr Cameron?

Professor John Appleby of the King's Fund examines some of the Conservative pledges on the NHS and finds that that their proposals, far from transforming and improving the NHS, have already happened.


Prof Appleby asks; "Choice of hospital for patients? Yes, since 2005. Semi-autonomous hospitals (foundation trusts)? Yes, since 2004. Financial incentives for hospitals? Yes, since 2004. Publishing data on performance of NHS organisations? Yes, since 1998. Linking GPs' pay to the quality of results they deliver? Yes, in one form or another, since 1990. More choice in and coordination of maternity services? As the Royal College of Midwives states, this is already happening. And it hardly seems worth going to the trouble of appointing an independent board to distribute the global NHS budget to local primary care trusts – a computer that allocates 80% of the NHS budget (one of the most sophisticated formulas for allocating public money anywhere in the world) could carry out this job.

Perhaps what is new is a commitment to provide separate public health funding to local authorities rather than the NHS. This money – again, a sum unspecified, but presumably not unadjacent to the £3bn or so the NHS is estimated to spend on public health – will be allocated on the basis of need with poorer and less healthy areas getting more money. The aim of this spending is laudable – to eradicate health inequalities. But as governments have found for half a century or more, reducing (let alone eradicating) disparities in life expectancy and mortality is a wicked problem and one not simply solved through public health activities or dividing up the NHS cake according to need."

The Tories are already exposed as promising £45billion of policy actions, with only £11billion of funding identified to pay for these actions. So I suppose that making promises that have already been fulfilled by Labour goes a little way to closing that funding gap.

Of course, these proposals are for the NHS in England. It's not clear which already implemented changes the Tories hope to enforce again in Scotland.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Good news?

In today's Observer Will Hutton voices the opinion that "Despite the doom-mongers, the UK economy isn't a basket case after all".

Of course he is getting roundly attacked by the Tories who haunt the CiF forums, but the case he makes is a strong one, and well worth making.

The dire predictions of soaring unemployment and collapsing markets have not come to pass, at least not as badly as most pundits feared.

And a big part of the credit is due to the Labour Government taking the correct action, swiftly and decisively.