April 2008 Archives

yalta.jpgJoe Stalin (pictured telling dirty jokes at Yalta) is rumoured to have said "it's not the people who vote that count, it's the people who count the votes", although it's unlikely to be true given his attitude to actual voting. Nowadays, of course, it's not people who count the votes, it's machines.

This is even harder to fix when it goes wrong, as Florida found out when it had trouble with hanging chads, and as we discovered when electronic counting went astray in May last. I'm sure you're all well up on the Diebold story too.

Could London be next? The Reg has evidence that it might be.


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Thumbnail image for libdemlogo.jpgSorry, everyone, it's another gift from Nick Clegg today. When asked about coalition at Westminster, he said "I didn't go into politics to lead my party as an annexe to a Labour Government or an annexe to a Conservative Government." (again from PA, but he said something similar here)

Do you think he even knows that his Scottish party were in coalition with Labour here for 8 years? Were they just an annex? Yes, perhaps, but not because of any intrinsic problem with coalition.

Also, this is a party that's supposed to believe in PR. And PR leads to coalition just as night follows day. I'm coming to the conclusion that Clegg is going to cause the Liberals some serious problems; everyone noticed his clumsy claims about his sexual history, but his understanding of politics looks pretty thin, and likely to lead to bigger problems for them.

He went on to say "Any government that the Liberal Democrats would be part of would be on the back of a complete reinvention of the way we do politics to make it more accountable; to take the big money out of it; to make it more transparent; and above all to make it more decentralised."

Which also sounds like he had no idea what his chums up here were up to.

Making life easy for the Nats

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loughton.jpgThe latest example of Labour's efforts to help the SNP have an easy ride at Holyrood is the apparent appointment of John Loughton to their Constitutional Commission talking shop. Not because he's not a smart lad, nor for any other personal reasons.

It's simply an open goal for the Nat bloggers, whose A1 jokes quickly feed into SNP press releases. Wait for it: "How long before Wendy gets voted out of the Big Brother house?" etc... In fact, they might even use "Big Bother house".

Also, with all due respect, John's got what it takes to sit on this Commission but George Reid hasn't?

Alasdair Gray has a blog too

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agray.jpgScotland's greatest living author/illustrator does indeed have a blog. I've had it in my RSS feed since the tail end of last year, when I first discovered it, but there's been nothing on it for ages. 

I was starting to worry.

But now AG's started writing again, and there were first a couple of letters, one to a correspondent who'd asked about his relationship with the publishers, and another to the TLS about Adam Smith and Gordon Brown. Now there's most of a play too. I haven't had time to read it, what with work and stuff, but I can't wait.

blakewoad.jpgDavid Maddox has a piece in today's Scotsman about the limited number of participants on the Scottish Government's so-called "National Conversation". George Foulkes is quoted in the article discussing "the small army of cybernats who bombard media and political websites in Scotland".

Anyone ever visiting the Scotsman or the Herald's political articles is familiar with the phenomenon.

So is it any surprise that the army strikes in the comments to this very story, and strikes hard? You have to laugh at their touching faith in the power of ranting to deliver independence.

Ranting, and also always renaming. Even more than the Trots, this particular section of the Nat ecosphere loves to rename. It was always Tony Bliar, from Nu Liebour (even in this set of comments), however dull and pointless that kind of "humour" sounded the nineteen thousandth time. So in this story the Scotsman becomes "DeadManWalkingsMan" or the "CringeMan", Foulkes becomes "Lord Zebedee" and "Lord Foulking Drunk", while Wendy is "Bendy Wendy" and the "Mouth of the South."

The irony is I can't imagine anything more likely to drive the floating voters away from the SNP as they float across the websites of our national papers. Keep it up, troops!

Internet people for Obama

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This is the strangest political banner ad I've ever seen. Presumably it's intended to run on World of Warcraft discussion sites or similar. Thanks to Aaron for this. Story starts with wolf.

Update: it's apparently a Neil Gaiman quote. So not dorky at all.
clegghat.jpgSome people have complained that I've gone soft on the Liberals recently, and I can only apologise. They remain in my view a party driven by personal ambition and triangulation rather than principle, as confirmed by Nick Clegg today.

He said the following in a radio interview: "I'm a Liberal Democrat so by definition I feel frankly equidistant in my distance from both other parties." So let me get this straight. If Labour veered an arbitrary 50% to the left then the Liberals would move 25% to the left to keep equidistant?

And that's "by definition"? No attachment to any point on your perceived political spectrum, then? This is pure triangulation and perceived partisan advantage, not anything that resembles principled politics.

(apologies for not having a link to this: it's off PA copy, and I'll add a link tomorrow if any of the papers are interested in it)


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What would Bill do? How would Bill Clinton vote in the Democratic primaries? You know, right, he's voting for Hillary. Right?

Update: Via Gruber, I should have said.

In Salmond's Brian Taylor interview this weekend, he said something pretty revealing: that if the SNP got 20 seats in the next UK general election "we could make Westminster dance to a Scottish jig" (24:10 in this webcast). 

Now, I'm sure that wasn't the message his determined phalanx of press officers sent him in with.

Is the First Minister not worried about the effect that comments like that might have on anti-Scottish sentiment down south (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)? Does he even perhaps relish any increase in the desire from the English to "see the back of the Scots"? 

I don't know. But imagine a hung Parliament where the SNP held some influence. If an English Tory MP in those circumstances complained that "The SNP are making Westminster dance to a Scottish jig" there'd be an SNP release slating this as another obvious example of anti-Scottish prejudice on the wires within ten minutes.

Update: apparently he did mean to say it, because he said it again in his address to conference. Silly me. However, I still think it's ill-judged.

What's more, he also implied that STV no longer made programmes (same webcast, at 29:55). Perhaps he thinks Michael Crow either won't watch Brian's interview. I doubt that. Although STV are grown-up enough not to take offence, if I were an SNP press officer I'd nevertheless be dreading the next time I have to ring them.

The bailout continues

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camerononblackwednesday.gifSo another £50 billion has gone into propping up the UK housing market, so the BBC reported an hour ago. In 1992 the then government blew at least £3.4 billion during Black Wednesday. Using a helpful internet inflation calculator, I see that Black Wednesday would have cost £5.07 billion in 2007 pounds.

We all know the political legacy of that day. David Cameron was skulking behind Norman Lamont as Grandpa put the house on black, but it came up red and the Tories have sat out the last three UK elections as a result. If I were a Labour campaign director I'd be blowing this pic up all over billboards when Gordo finally plucks up his nerve to face the electorate in his own right.

However, if Captain Darling is wrong about the effectiveness of this latest instance of moral hazard, as I suspect he may be, it should be noted that the scale of this bet is ten times that of Grandpa's little flutter. What would be ten times worse than the political damage suffered by the Conservatives since 1992? It's almost impossible to think of an example. Lloyd George's deal with the Tories that took the Liberals from power for 86 years and counting?

(trivia: which party did the real Grandpa stand for in 1998? The wikipedia link above will tell you if you don't know)

Clearing the logjam

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Following yesterday's landmark decision by Parliament to back our local taxation principles, the media did want a lot of Patrick last night. I didn't have to twist his arm. In reverse chronological order, here's Newsnight Scotland, first on local taxation, then on the rail franchise carve-up, and next there's Scotland at 10 back on taxation. Enjoy.

Newsnight on tax

Newsnight on trains

Scotland at 10 on tax

generation.gifToday's vote on local taxation is a true landmark. Holyrood did three things.

First, MSPs rejected Council Tax as "discredited, bureaucratic and unpopular".

Second, they noted the wide range of options being put forward, including our own Land Value Tax, the SNP's national tax on salary, the Liberals' local tax on salary, and a reformed Council Tax, which is what we presume Labour and the Tories would be pushing if they knew what reforms they wanted.

Finally, and most importantly, though, Parliament backed a set of Green principles for a future system of taxation: fairness, local accountability, the need to reduce tax avoidance and the wider social, economic and environmental impact of any proposed system of local tax reform on communities across Scotland.

It's almost impossible to see either the salary tax or the council tax meeting those criteria. It may be that the end result won't be land value tax, but I can't see anything else on the table that meets those criteria. A good day for the future of local taxation.

(image of a project by Micahel Tavel Architects and David Kahn Studio)
boris4.JPGBrian Paddick, who I used to have a lot of respect for until he came out as a Liberal Democrat, has blundered so hard. Today he's described Ken Livingstone as a "nasty little man", and Boris Johnson as "harmless".

Now Ken has said some deeply unpleasant things (the problems, the defence), and some of his friends are reactionary Muslims, but that's still way over the top given his positive contribution on so many issues. He has to be a solid second choice after Siân.

But Paddick is completely wrong about Boris. He is a bigot disguised as a muppet, and definitely not harmless. I give you one substantial Boris quote to illustrate.

"The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more... Consider Uganda, pearl of Africa, as an example of the British record. ... the British planted coffee and cotton and tobacco, and they were broadly right... If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain. You never saw a place so abounding in bananas: great green barrel-sized bunches, off to be turned into matooke. Though this dish (basically fried banana) was greatly relished by Idi Amin, the colonists correctly saw that the export market was limited... The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty." (2002, Spectator, Wikiquote has many others)

Biofuels - the real story

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biofuel.jpgSadly, I read this only once I'd issued a press release about the problems with biofuels, otherwise I'd have included it in my notes. The Daily Mash is our Onion. Perhaps someone will do a satire site called Bangers and complete the set.

What London Greens are up to

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Sweet broadcast, people. I'm not a great person to test these things on, but I reckon this will have a good chance of both keeping people's attention (thus avoiding too much of the dreaded PPB switch-off) and persuading a few more to vote Green.

The Disorderly Houses Act 1751

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rakesprogress.jpgAs keen observers of politics will obviously know, this Act has largely been repealed, although Section 8 is still in effect. Until, that is, the Statute Law Repeals Bill goes through Westminster, and provided Holyrood endorses that repeal through a Sewel Motion next Wednesday.

Section 8 is worth reprinting here in full.

"And whereas, by reason of the many subtle and crafty contrivances of persons keeping bawdy-houses, or other disorderly houses, it is difficult to prove who is the real owner or keeper thereof, by which means many notorious offenders have escaped punishment: Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that any person who shall at any time hereafter appear, act or behave him or herself as master or mistress, or as the person having the care, government, or management of any bawdy-house, or other disorderly house, shall be deemed and taken to be the keeper thereof, and shall be liable to be prosecuted and punished as such, notwithstanding he or she shall not in fact be the real owner or keeper thereof."

They don't make law like they used to. This Act was indeed passed during Hogarth's career, hence the illustration from Rake's Progress.

Today's lesson is..

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sinstra.jpgKeep clear of dubious alliances. Our Italian colleagues joined one, and took a complete shoeing. Cooperation after an election can make sense with almost any party on an issue-by-issue basis (say, the Tories, on, say, ID cards), and unlikely coalitions can work too (see Ireland). But joint lists in elections, especially with the likes of Communist Refoundation?

Kez for the win

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berrybuses.jpgKez Dugdale, Scottish Labour's top blogger, has backed the Siân 1 Ken 2 option in London. It's the logical opposite to the BNP 1 Boris 2 campaign. Kez, I salute your vision, your common sense, and your tactical nous. I look forward to a similar move in 2011. Her blog's also got some great grabs from the English & Welsh Greens' forthcoming vote Siân broadcast.

Greening China

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yangtze.jpgYou can tell when a politician isn't serious about climate change, let alone social justice. They blame China for climate change; the American administration does this a lot. And China does stick out a lot of carbon.

However, what's actually happened, clearly, is that we no longer make very much in the West, and the Chinese export to us instead, so we get cheap goods made with non-unionised labour and low environmental standards, and our CO2 emissions go down as China's go up. Oh, and they lay waste to their local environment through projects like the 3 Gorges Dam (at left) more or less on our behalf.

As an eternal optimist, therefore, this cheers me up. There are apparently now around 2000 environmental NGOs in China, doing a wide range of good works. Brave people. I wish them luck.
pathewitt.jpgThe Register picked up some interesting spam today, in which someone claiming to be Patricia Hewitt claimed to have squirrelled away £6.3m of public money, and that it is now being made available on the usual terms.

This is of course our old pal the "419 scam", albeit a bit closer to home than the usual I AM MRS MARIAM ABACHA.

And of course, transparently absurd. Hewitt would never have done something so criminal.

No, instead she and the New Labour government wasted £1bn, more than 150 times as much money, on management consultants for the NHS. Odd, perhaps, given that she herself worked for Andersen Consulting until New Labour took power.

Countless billions more were put into PFI schemes, often benefiting the same consultants in other ways. Don't get them confused with medical consultants, who actually do something useful.

Another £14.2bn was wasted on an ill-conceived and ill-implemented IT system.

But that's all perfectly legal, so why should we worry about it? Here's one thought, though. We'd all be almost incalculably better off if she'd just nicked £6.3m and given it away through random spam instead.

Postscript: it's perhaps not surprising that she's taken a well-paid second job with BT, who she's helped out in the past.

The Breeders

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thebreeders.jpgI found out last night that they still rock very hard. Kim gave me a beer and her Pixies playlist at the Queen's Hall in 1988. Kelley has given up heroin and gotten into knitting, which has to be progress. The two coolest sisters in modern music, except perhaps Kristen Hersh and Tanya Donnelly.

But was Frank MacAveety there? I didn't see him, but surely he wouldn't have missed it? I still remember being flushed with pride at our devolved institutions when he was still Culture Minister (bear with me), before the little local difficulty in the canteen. Holyrood Magazine asked him who the most influential band of the last 20 years was, and he said the Pixies. 

Anyway, here's a little bit of Breeders to brighten up my Wednesday.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2008 is the previous archive.

May 2008 is the next archive.