Thursday 25 February 2010

Whatever happened to "Independence, Yes or No"?

The SNP has finally got around to publishing some proposals for its long-delayed referendum on independence. Except it isn't really a referendum on independence, it's a consultation exercise on two, SNP chosen, options for the constitution.

The BBC reports

that we will be asked two questions on two separate ballot papers.

Firstly, voters would be asked to vote 'yes' or 'no' on whether they support the Scottish Parliament being given new devolved powers.

The consultation paper offers two alternatives for this question, one based on the so-called "devolution max" option of giving Holyrood control of everything except defence, foreign affairs and financial regulation, and another based on the more limited powers put forward by the Calman Commission.

They will then be asked whether: "The parliament's powers should also be extended to enable independence to be achieved."
Interesting. Why two ballot papers? Does Alex Salmond think that separating the questions will make the issues appear separate to the electorate. Surely it's not some attempt, along the lines of "Alex Salmond SNP", to fool the voters?

And, if the question is as described, how can we decide on wanting "new powers" if we do not know and are not told, what those new powers might be?

Even the question on independence isn't posed honestly...what exactly does "The parliament's powers should also be extended to enable independence to be achieved." actually mean. Whatever happened to a simple "Independence, yes or no" referendum.

Why not pose the question: " Do you want an independent Scotland",

A simple, straightforward question with no room for confusion or obfuscation, and likely to produce  a clear answer?

Unless the last thing the SNP wants is a clear answer. Because it's odds-on that  it would be a clear "no", and that would be that for them.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Time to limit the Power of the Murdoch press...?

The Guardian has a series of stories about Rupert Murdoch's UK newspapers, and their propensity to hack the phones of a wide range of establishment figures. This article outlines MPs findings that 

the News of the World  was guilty of;

Amnesia, obfuscation and hush money

hacking phones 'on industrial scale'

And that Scotland Yard and press body failed properly to investigate

The  report rejects executives' lone 'rogue reporter' defence
 The Guardian also reprts that ....

The MPs reserve their most damning passages for the News of the World and others involved in illegal phone hacking. The paper's royal correspondent and a private investigator were jailed in January 2007, but the committee says many others played their part. For the Guardian, which has doggedly pursued this story, revealing last July that the NoW had paid more than £1m to suppress legal actions, the findings are a vindication.
The MPs say they were "struck by the collective amnesia afflicting ­witnesses" from the NoW. These "claims of ­ignorance … and deliberate ­obfuscation" reinforced the impression "that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News ­International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred," the report concludes.
Comprehensive coverage of the story, with the Guardian producing a full suite of facts and reactions, is to be found here

Add to that the bullying history of the paper under the editorship of Tory PR head Andy Coulson, and you have a truly astonishing story of the arrogance of unlimited media power. And this,also from the Guardian...

David Cameron's communications director, Andy Coulson, will come under fresh pressure to defend his editorship of the News of the World and his knowledge about the illegal activities of his journalists amid new allegations about the paper's involvement with private detectives who broke the law.

The Guardian has learned that while Coulson was still editor of the tabloid, the newspaper employed a freelance private investigator even though he had been accused of corrupting police officers and had just been released from a seven-year prison sentence for blackmail.
I can't help but think that, if Gordon Brown was to announce an inquiry into the ownership of the British Press with a view to restricting foreign ownership and limiting Murdoch's power, he would gain hundreds of thousands of votes overnight.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

A Question of Character, and the Polls

First of all. Apologies for a five day hiatus in posting: I had  real trouble logging into the blog, and it seems that the Blogger site has had some difficulty, although getting any explanation of what type of problem, or how to solve it, has proved impossible. Anyway, the system is back now, so here goes.

While I've been unable to post, the big story has been the "bullying" accusations against Gordon Brown, and the furore these allegations have caused. But it seems to me, at a closer reading, that the allegations don't really describe bullying, more of having a bad temper, and being more forceful than some others think is appropriate. No doubt Brown made some civil servants quake, but it seems to me that, if you are chosen to work in No10, you will have a strong enough character to take a bit of a bollocking. If you can't take the pressure, maybe you are in the wrong job.

I think that one aspect of the frenzy seems to be getting overlooked: if the election campaign degenerates into a battle over the personalities of the party leaders what does that mean for David Cameron and Nick Glegg? Neither of these men can be said to have a particularly strong personality. Cameron in particular, as the man most likely to succeed  as PM, is seen as weak and vacillating, with no real personality or clear policies. If the Tories try to run a campaign based on the personal characteristics of the respective party leaders, they could end picking a fight they cannot win.

The other interesting aspect is whether the controversy is having any impact on the election campaign: will Gordon's temper get him into hot water, or will it be seen as another feature of his "human" personality?

So just what effect has the bullying accusation had on public perceptions? Well, the Sun's daily poll, here  shows that public opinion has not been moved one jot: the polls are unmoved at Tory 39%, Labour 33% and LibDem 17%, with a Tory lead of 6%, exactly the same as Friday, before the controversy blew up.

On these figures, a hung Parliament is a real possibility.

And if the polls get any closer.......but maybe that's too much to hope!

p.s. this just in from politics home....

It seems that opinion is divided on whether Gordon is bully and most people believe that the intervention of the charty was politically driven.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Unemployment falls... and rises....

The BBC is reporting that UK unemployment has fallen unexpectedly for the first time in 18 months. UK unemployment is at 2.46million.

But the figures are up in Scotland.

However, even given the increase in Scotland, the Scottish average is still lower than the UK: Scottish figures are at  7.6% unemployed as against the UK average of 7.8%. 

Given that we are experiencing an unprecedented global banking crisis and recession, these numbers would appear to be, if not very good news, at least not really bad news.

It appears to show that the UK government has taken the right actions in a difficult situation, and that gloomy predictions of unemployment being worse than the Tory recessions of the '80s and '90s,
with unemployment predicted to be at 4million plus, are well off the mark. With any luck numbers of this frightening proportion can be avoided this time

One great difference from the Tory years is that, when the recessions of the '80s and '90s hit, the Tory Governments of Thatcher and Major did virtually nothing to mitigate the effects. Entire communities, villages, small towns, areas of towns and cities, which had been dependent upon particular industry sectors such as coal, steel, shipbuilding etc. were simply left to rot. The immortal Tory quotes from the time are "if it isn't hurting, it isn't working" (i.e. let unemployment rip) and "there is no such thing as society" (i.e. they're only working class, let them rot).

In the last 13 years under Labour there has been a general policy of reducing unemployment where possible and, where specific problems did arise, there have been targeted programmes to ameliorate the worst effects  in particular sectors or geographic areas.

Any unemployment is bad of course, and there may be more rises in the pipeline, but the limiting of the worst effects by Gordon Brown and Alasdair Darling, by dint of deliberate policy, in this recession has to be a good thing.

Monday 15 February 2010

We've got Ashcroft's cash and we're damn' well gonna splash it

The Tories are making it a long campaign. Today as well as getting the teenage pregnancy statistics wrong, they have issued yet more posters....It seems the philosophy is "We've got Ashcroft's cash and it has to be spent, no matter the quality...".

Anyway, they have launched  a series of posters on the theme "I've never voted Tory before, but...", which is actually quite a neat idea. There are some people who have never voted Tory and there are others who cannot even remember what a Tory government is capable of.  They could be fooled by slick advertising...

As usual, those nice people over at have been quick to come up with some spoofs.

I like this one.

You can see the rest at

If you are really keen, you can download the templates and do your own slogan....

..could be fun...

Why are the Tories so keen to portray Broken Britain, that they have to invent statistics?

Two weeks ago the Conservatives, in an attempt to support their Daily Mail "Broken Britain" thesis, issued statistics to their candidates on violent crime (see here) but had to withdraw them after the Head of The Office of National Statistics pointed out that they were wrong, and violent crime was actually reducing.

Last week they issued their infamous "Death Tax" poster, (here) attacking attempts to fund Social Care for the Elderly, only for it to be revealed that the Health spokesmen of Labour, Tories and LibDems had been in talks about gaining a consensus on this important policy area. Only nobody had told the Tory PR department or its head of operations, (one D. Cameron) or if they did, D. Cameron didn't care. Anyway, now the chance of a sensible consensus on this policy has been effectively destroyed. Maybe that's what David Cameron wanted in the first place...?

Today they have issued a press release claiming that 54% of young women in deprived areas are getting pregnant. The real figure is 5.4%!. Then they claimed that, even so, this shows an increase in teenage pregnacies, only for the true statistics to show that there has been a decrease from 6% in 1998.

If David Cameron wants to see examples of Broken Britain, he should dig out some newsreel of the 1980's when his lot tried to destroy society (in fact "society" didn't exist according to their philosophy).

Now, according to the David Cameron, the country is going to the dogs in any way you care to mention. But if it isn't, well, just invent the numbers.......

Thursday 11 February 2010

What Nicola did...but why did she do it?

What exactly does Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister and Secretary of State for Health in the SNP Administration think she is doing?

The BBC reports that she has intervened in a court case to plead that a convicted benefits fraudster be treated with leniency because, she says, she had a "duty" to help her constituency.

But as Tom Harris MP states here, there is no such "duty" on any elected representative. Of course MPs and MSPs must listen to any constituent's case, but there is no obligation to act, and certainly no "duty" to write to courts in the case of convicted fraudsters or any other convicted criminal.

Following on from the "dinnergate" affair where she and Alex Salmond were seen to sell off time with Ministers at Holyrood in return for donations to the SNP, this decision asks serious questions of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Fascinating Figures on AV

Professor John Curtice has done an analyisis here of recent UK General Elections to see what the result might have been if we had had the Alternative Vote System, the system on which Parliament has just voted to have a referendum....after the 2010 election.

It seems, given that Prof Curtice's assumptions and calculations are correct, that the the Lib Dems would have been the big winners.

The Tories would have been the losers over the last three elections, 1997, 2001 and 2005.

It's interesting that the Lib Dems are keen on the AV system, and it's not at all cynical to conclude that they love AV because they could anticipate greater numbers of MPs........

..not at all cynical....

Tory RIP - Off Poster

Negative campaigning (part the thousands...)

Stop Press.10th Feb 8:30pm.  It says at PoliticsHome that Andrew Lansley knew all about, and indeed had had secret meetings with Andy Burnham about, Labour's plans for Social Care. It seems that some consensus was being sought.

Sources have apparently told the BBC that David Cameron new about these secret meetings. Which makes it all the more puzzling that the Tories chose to launch their poster war today. 

The Tories really are all over the place with their PR this last few months.  

The Tories have launched a tasteful new poster with the false mesage that the Labour Government is planning to tax us all £20000 at time of death.

However, according to the Sky News Website, there had been reports that ministers might endorse a compulsory inheritance tax, of about £20,000 per head.

But Mr Burnham told a news conference earlier: "I'm not currently considering that as a lead option for reform.

"That figure was used in the green paper last year but I do not believe that a flat levy of that kind would be the right way to go.

"I can say to you very categorically today that that is not what I am considering."
Labourmatters site has this more honest riposte;

Monday 8 February 2010

What party? What law? What order?

The Conservatives traditionally like to be regarded as "the party of law & order". They're respectable you see. Middle class. Deferential. Diffident. Rule of Law, that's what matters in a civilised society old boy! What?

Except, it's the same Tories that ignore the law when it suits them.

Rules? Regulations? That's for the other fella, donch'know? Plebs, that sort. The hoi and the poloi. No, old chap, we make the laws, they're for our benefit, for the suppression of louts and the like. And we're not louts, obviously, ...perish the thought. So we can quietly ignore any silly little statute when it gets in the it?

Last week I posted on Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary no less, issuing misleading statistics on crime, and being severely reprimanded by the Head of the Office for National Statistics.

Today David cameron launched what he thought was a blisterting attack over the politicians who are tryng to claim Parliamentary privilege over their prosecution for expense claims.

According to the BBC


"... the Tory leader prepared for a speech featuring a claim his Labour counterpart was tolerating the MPs' attempt to "evade justice".

Mr Cameron is also asking shadow Commons leader Sir George Young to prepare a new Parliamentary Privilege Act which "we would introduce as soon as possible, to clarify the rules of parliamentary privilege to make clear that they cannot be used by MPs to evade justice".....

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman said the Conservatives had opposed such a law coming into force in the summer.

And she warned Mr Cameron to be "careful" not to jeopardise the trial with comments that could allow the MPs to argue they could no longer receive a fair trial.

And now the Speaker of the House has issued a magisterial rebuke: this case is sub judice, it must not be discussed in any way that might prejudice a trial or investigation.

In other words: shut up Dave. Shut up Chris. The rules apply to you as well as anyone else. Got it?


Aye right!

Thursday 4 February 2010

Broken Britain, or Wishful Thinking

Just what is it about the Conservative party and the spreading of fear and panic? Why do they think a fearful electorate will run to them?

The Tories have been banging on about what they call "Broken Britain" for months now. According to their analysis the UK is a crumbling society: crime is rising, children are being killed in unprecedented numbers by "beasts" and the public should be trembling with fear.... until Dave rides to the rescue....

Except.... Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, has been rebuked by the head of the Office of Statistics for issuing statistics for campaigning Torys that show violent crime rising. In fact the basis for gathering and reporting the stats was changed in 2002. Violent crime is actually falling, but Grayling's figures give a false impression of the actual level of violent crime. Now why would the Tories want people to think that violent crime is rising when it's not?

read more here

Another thread of the "Broken Britain" narrative has unravelled today with a report which shows that the violent deaths of children have decreased by 40%-50% since 1974. And the main reason identified was the interventions and actions of social workers.

The Conservatives have a real cheek pursuing this thread. Under Mrs Thatcher crime and poverty doubled. Violent crime increased. There was a great deal of social disorder, with riots in the streets of the major cities of England in 1981, 1982 and 1987. If Dave wants a paradigm of a "Broken Britain", he should dig up his old diaries of the time when he was a back room boy at Smith Square.

Crime, poverty, violence all up, and riots in the streets.

Now that's broken.

Monday 1 February 2010

SNP Councillor Joins Labour

The Herald reports here that South Lanarkshire SNP Councillor John MacNamee has left the Nationalist Party and applied to join the Labour group on the Council

MacNamee's stated reasons for leaving the SNP are instructional;

He says he no longer believes in independence and that he has become disillusioned with the approach he claims the Scottish Government has taken to the west of the country.
He also
cited the decision to axe the proposed Glasgow Airport Rail Link as a crucial factor
the impact of the global financial collapse on small nations such as Ireland and Iceland.

He has also criticised ...
the lack of leadership and talent within the SNP at town hall level, describing the two years he has been an elected member as being riddled with in-fighting and that he has been “operating in a political vacuum”.

Mr McNamee said
I no longer believe in independence. I’ve lived abroad a bit.........and come to the belief that economies of small nations really do struggle.

All of MacNamee's stated reasons seem understandable to me. In fact I, and of course many others, have used them many times on this blog and others and in discussions and arguments with nationalists, so it's good to see that some of it is getting through to at least some who thought independence was a panacea for all ills.