July 2008 Archives

Watching the activists.

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boghall.jpgAs you may know, I've a bit of history with direct action.

Most notably, Mark Ballard and I got lifted at a GM protest in 1999, along with four others. We were convicted in 2001 (the group pic there is amusing, as is the Ballard/Castro quote), and acquitted on appeal in 2003.

We always knew our colleagues really well, and never saw any of the paranoia that some activist groups get into. Still, there have been a couple of examples recently where that kind of anxiety proved justified, and where corporate interests have infiltrated campaign groups. 

Last year Mark Thomas wrote about Martin Hogbin, who worked undercover at the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, on behalf of British Aerospace (Monbiot on the same story). And just yesterday MotherJones uncovered an NRA mole in the American gun control movement. Both had been in place for ten years or so, passing everything from legal advice to campaign strategy out to their handlers.

The media do something similar too: the BBC sent someone into the Climate Camp last year so they could do a tabloid style "OMG DIRECT ACTION!!1!" scare job. It's a shame they don't feel it would be as worthwhile to get undercover with BAA to see what they're planning. Perhaps it's just too much work to get near the board-room, especially when compared to wandering into a public camp.

Still, there's no point getting anxious about it. We ourselves have environmentalists undercover in corporations across the country and embedded in countless government agencies, passing information on and ready for action. You'll see. 

That's a tough gig, though. As Leonard Cohen said, "they sentenced me to twenty years of boredom for trying to change the system from within". (youtube)

miliband.jpgThis is how I read Miliband's article as well. Some of it is very blatant indeed, not even requiring beginners' New Labour Kremlinology.

Watching his press conference is enlightening too. Check out how badly he's restraining his glee around 1:30 in that clip. 

He should perhaps remember Heseltine's Law: he who wields the knife never wears the crown. Not that there's much crown left.

Update - Morland nails it for the Times.

Bored over recess?

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orwell.jpgDon't be. From the 9th of August, The Orwell Prize will be posting George Orwell's diary to this blog, each entry exactly seventy years after he wrote it. I've always loved his diaries and essays more than any aspect of his writing, so this is perfect.

Oh, and if you get hooked, the last item was written in 1942, so by the time this finishes we'll be into the next Holyrood session. Charge your RSS feed, ladies and gentlemen. 

Thanks to Murray for the tip, and here's a sample essay - You and the Atomic Bomb.

Where's Michael Brown?

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Mbrown.jpgThe Liberals' largest ever donor, Michael Brown, is on the run. He gave the party £2.4m, which funded half of their entire 2005 campaign, but the money was dubious to say the least. 

Not because he wasn't registered as a UK voter, because the Electrical Commission let them off that particular offence - how jealous Scottish Labour must be. No, the problem was a serious allegation against Mr Brown of fraud against HSBC.

I'm sure he's not absconded, and that all this confusion will be cleared up shortly. Perhaps he's been sent off to campaign in some of the new Liberal target seats?

As a footnote, his logic for donating was that he backed Charles Kennedy, but "not the muppets who purport to serve him". I imagine he's stopped donating now the muppets are in charge.

More trams please.

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constitutionsttram.pngSome people have got a real bee in their bonnet about trams. By "some people" I predominantly mean the SNP. I got into a constructive debate about this with Jeff at SNP Tactical Voter, and realised there's a lot of misunderstanding out there. 

Let's address some of their concerns, drawing on an article by Kenny Macaskill in 2000, in which he explains why we should all back trams, not the guided busway.

But we've got buses already..
True, we do, and Edinburgh's buses are about the best of the lot, given that the Council sidestepped the worst of de-regulation and retained control of the buses. (declaration of interest: my old man was LRT's general manager during much of the 1980s)

However, as I pointed out in that debate with Jeff, trams appeal to a much wider audience than buses. People who (unreasonably, in my view) look down their noses at buses are happy to take the sleek, efficient tram. For a comparison, consider attitudes to the train versus the humble coach. The evidence is clear: light rail is six times better at getting people out of their cars than buses are. 

There are still some parts of the city inadequately served by buses, and some common routes across town that you need two buses to do. Trams will give Lothian Buses the opportunity to do that. 

"Instead let us recognise that at the start of [the 21st century] the route ahead for the City of Edinburgh is a light rail network that adds to both existing and reopened lines and that compliments and dovetails with other current and future modes of travel." - Kenny Macaskill

My dear pal Calum Cashley has particular anxieties about safety, and when he talks about trams he tends to use accident photos. I suspect he was taken on a Blackpool tram as a child and dropped his stick of rock onto the floor. Nevertheless, what is the safety record?

In 2007, the Office of Rail Regulation recorded a single death on Britain's tramways, and that was a suspected suicide on the Sheffield network. So no accidental deaths whatsoever. (see table A6 of this substantial pdf)

In contrast, there were almost 3,000 deaths on Britain's roads. Now, obviously, there are a lot more passenger-kilometres on the roads, but still, I know where I'd feel safer.

Trams aren't green - they run on coal and nuclear power
This is the most spurious of all. As you'd expect, I believe energy efficiency and massive investment in renewables can fulfill all our energy needs. And then the trams will run on clean energy. Until buses go electric, they'll always pump pollution out in town centre, less than the equivalent number of cars, but still worth tackling.

Even using the current power generation mix, trams emit just 65g of CO2 per passenger kilometre, compared to 89.1g for buses. The Nats' beloved cars stick out 182.2g, for contrast. (BBC figures)

The lines are inadequate
Agreed. Line 3 will make a huge difference, if there's ever the political will to build it. And more should follow that, too. Trams work best as a network, and while they're starting in a sensible way, the improvements will ramp up as the network grows.

"Bit by bit the network can and will be extended." - Kenny Macaskill

Trams are expensive
Sure, there's a cost to building trams, currently estimated at £512m, and that's less than an eighth of the £4.2bn the SNP propose to waste on a replacement for the entirely repairable Forth Road Bridge.

"[A light rail network] will be costly and it will take time. However this is a network not just for a few years but for many generations to come. It will be the basis upon which Edinburgh can grow and flourish. It is after all the physical arteries that are the lifeblood of the community. Better therefore to take our time to get it right than progress at pace and repent at leisure. Moreover in transport like most other things in life you get what you pay for. Do it on the cheap and you'll get the quality it merits." - Kenny Macaskill

The construction causes congestion
Again, true, it does. I think the Council could have handled this much better, and paid more for overtime to get the job done quicker. Much of town, especially around Leith Walk, is virtually impassable for much of the day. But it'll pass. As Kenny noted before me, we do need to move quickly on this project.

"Time is of the essence as the difficulties mount and the traffic flows continue to increase. It is not enough to simply bemoan that Edinburgh has become a victim of its own economic success. Action is needed in view of the problems that are arising and the timescale for construction." - Kenny Macaskill

Edinburgh simply doesn't need trams
The Nats' shift since 2000 is poor politics for the longer term, and an abject failure of vision. If I were in the SNP, single-mindedly focussed on independence, I'd want to paint an aspirational picture of Edinburgh as a modern European capital. Wouldn't you?

"The vision for Edinburgh has to be to aspire to be a truly Capital City. That means to have the public transport networks taken for granted in other European Capitals such as Copenhagen and Helsinki." - Kenny Macaskill

Thanks Kenny. I couldn't agree more.

twodoctorswordle.pngYou can really see what has interested me of late from this graphic, generated by Wordle. I fully expect the rest of the Scottish politics blogosphere to do this for their own sites, or if they don't get around to it, I'll do it for them. Particularly pleasing: Wordle give you the right to use the images any way you see fit.

Just to be absolutely clear.

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shoppedwillis.jpgIt has been suggested that my previous item about John Mason was insufficiently clear. 

Did I 'shop the extra fingers behind Margaret Curran's head? Yes, of course I did, and I'd assumed that was obvious.

However, it looked like what he wanted to do, it really did.

curranmason.jpgThere's no doubt that the SNP are now the most well-resourced, determined, and effective fighters of elections in Scotland. 

In fact, they might argue they're the most effective ever in Scotland. First the Tories, pre-1955, then Labour, 1955-2007, basically took the country for granted. 

Salmond, on the other hand, has had to run a tight ship over and over again to achieve his apparently over-the-top predictions. This "earthquake" has been delivered (quick thought: does anyone actually want an earthquake?) just as he predicted. 

In the same way, he predicted the Nats would win 20 first past the post seats in 2007 as far back as the SNP's 2005 conference, and they went on to go one better than that.

So this is indeed a magnificent result for them, a disaster for Labour, an acceptable one for the Tories, and bad news for ourselves and the Liberals.

I remain unconvinced by the new MP for Glasgow East, though. Regular readers will remember his views on women's right to choose, scientific research, and transport.

I also don't imagine I was the only one who spotted him gurning all the way through Margaret Curran's concession speech, as pictured to the left.

Congratulations to you, Mr Mason, and to your hard-working volunteers, but seriously, this isn't the way a grown-up elected representative should behave.

SNP by 354?

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cheersbreak.jpgI hear numbers which suggest the SNP has done it.

Also, some hours ago I predicted a majority four votes short of that. We shall see. Either way, cheers!

Update: the recount Labour requested just increased the Nats' majority by 11. 

While we wait for a result..

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kenmachete.jpgThe week Wendy quit I singled out three Labour MSPs as outside candidates for the leadership, none of whom had expressed any public interest in standing. I see from Friday's Herald that one of them, Ken Macintosh (seen here with a machete), is launching a campaign. There are plenty of issues where I don't agree with Ken, but he's bright and normal, and it always surprised me that Labour First Ministers never gave him a job. 

This isn't an endorsement, obviously, but I'm pleased to see him come into the race. Just so you know, you heard it here first. (disclaimer: I was press officer for the Parliament when Ken was on the Art Group)

Update: SNP Tactical Voting says he scooped me. Fair play. I didn't see his original post, and I think it's a bit ambiguous, but sure, he mentioned Ken in this context before I did.  

Which is Glasgow's third party?

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DrEileenDuke.jpgIn their eve-of-poll programme, Newsnight Scotland tonight again had representatives from Labour, the SNP, the Tories and the Liberals. Their lengthy roundup of the campaign showed campaigners from those four parties, plus a moment where The Curran Sisters met. Dr Eileen Duke, our candidate (left), was simply airbrushed out.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that those four were indeed Glasgow's dominant parties, but you'd be wrong. Here are the numbers.

Westminster constituencies in Glasgow: 7, all Labour.
Holyrood constituencies in Glasgow: 9 Labour, 1 SNP
Holyrood regional seats in Glasgow: 4 SNP, 1 Liberal, 1 Tory, 1 Green
Glasgow City Councillors: 45 Labour, 22 SNP, 5 Liberal, 5 Green, 1 Tory

No-one can deny that Labour remain the dominant party by a massive margin in Glasgow politics. Similarly, the SNP are clearly the second-placed party in Glasgow. Third place is a tie between ourselves and the Liberals, with the Tories the clear fifth party. The Council is the tie-breaker, obviously.

Even though SSP and Solidarity, unsurprisingly, haven't a single elected representative between them at any level anywhere in Glasgow or elsewhere, all too often we appear in the same category as them. 

Viewers continue to get the misleading impression that we don't count in the city, despite these numbers. Does that sound fair to you?
martinwindmills.jpgWhen the Glasgow East campaign kicked off, I remembered what one of our activists had said after 2007 - Green placards mysteriously stay up longer in the East of the city, while those around Ibrox, not so much. 

Similarly, in Edinburgh, we once leafletted Tynecastle with leaflets all in maroon, not green.

Which makes this conversation, overheard by the Herald, music to my ears. Seriously, is there a neater or more appropriate way of spreading the message than Green Party windmills in the hands of children?

Patting ourselves on the back.

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ferretheart.jpgSo everyone who's anyone who blogs here is doing the top ten thing for Iain Dale. I can't resist, especially after some were kind enough to rank my own blog.

Do vote for your own top ten here. Entries must all be UK-based political blogs, and two of these I've had to suggest that Iain include in his directory.

1. J Arthur Macnumpty - The most thoughtful analysis of Scottish politics. Just look at the historical sense here. The site also has useful sidebars, like who's in and who's out of the various leadership contests.
2. Peter Cranie - One of the best from our Green chums down south. Also managing Adrian Ramsay's Deputy Leader campaign, so he must be on the right track.
3. Kez Dugdale - Labour's most determined voice online. They're lucky to have her.
4. STB - Keeps them short and to the point, a good diverse mix of gossip and partisanship.
5. Douglas Fraser - An irregular blogger, and sadly soon to leave Scottish politics. 
6. George Monbiot - OK, it's sort of a blog. But it is 100% Monbiot must-read goodness.
7. Polling Report - All us anoraks love numbers, those bad bad numbers.
8. Political Betting - And betting is even worse numbers than polling.
9. Calum Cashley - Good polemic, hating Wendy and trams equally. Would rank higher if he didn't keep using that "Mouth Park" thing over and over.
10. Scottish Roundup - Makes us all feel read. Aww.

And to prove I'm not too partisan, here's a Liberal one

One step closer to justice.

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mladickaradzic.jpgIt's not often the news makes me cheer out loud. But Radovan Karadzic, come on down! There's a cell in the Hague for you, next to the one where your buddy Milosevic cheated justice.

Oh, and message for Ratko Mladic, you're next. Sweet dreams!

stevis.pngMeet Sean Tevis (left), from Kansas, who got depressed and annoyed that his local representative is anti-gay, anti-abortion and pro-censorship. Then he decided to run for office himself instead. Someone told him he needed fifty-two people to donate $500 to get a campaign together, but he reckoned three thousand people giving $8.34 was more likely.

Sean's a web dork, and a fan of xkcd, a surprisingly funny stick-person comic, and the web bit of his campaign looks like this.  Then it got discussed on my favourite website, which it turns out he's a member of. And he's waaay over his three thousand donors. Well done internets. Bring on the actual election.

Lab -1, Con -1, Lib -2.

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catrelevant.jpgThat's the sort of poll numbers I like. Apparently the IoS has some numbers this morning, showing Greens UK-wide as the main beneficiaries, up to 5%.

I know people always single out polls they like, and that this is indeed relevant to my interests, but that's life.

Update: The Tory figure was misquoted on UKPR. They were up 1, not down 1. And the other Others were down 2 as well. Hopefully that means the BNP.

King Alex.

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SNP.jpgI have previously suggested that Salmond sees himself more as President to Swinney's PM than he does as First Minister. However, a leaflet I got through the door a while ago suggests an alternative interpretation (click for a larger image).

Leaving aside the fact that the couple shown are a little, shall we say, divergent in ages, I spotted that the wee banknote on the right shows a Salmond vision of the future, with Her Maj's face replaced by Wee Eck's. The Bank of Scotland, whose note the Nats have "improved", normally use Sir Walter Scott. 

Does Salmond have literary aspirations? I doubt it. His vanity is 100% political.

The more likely comparison is with the Bank of England. Their notes, unlike the Scottish imprints, do feature a living person on them: the Queen. Perhaps President isn't the limit of Salmond's ambitions come independence.

QuestionMarks.jpgThe always-interesting-to-anoraks politicalbetting.com had a striking analysis of the first Glasgow East poll a few days ago. In it Mike pointed out that more than 1% of the final result, a 1% allocated to the SNP, represents the views of a single former Liberal voter.

If you're not into the bizarre maths of polling, please don't read this, just come back later.

Anyway, ICM asked how Glasgow East constituents voted in the 2005 General Election, and, like many other pollsters, they compared that data against the actual 2005 results to see how representative their sample was. 

They expected thirty-one of their sample to report having voted Liberal, but only got six. I can imagine why, incidentally. So each of those six people miraculously become five and a sixth people. Except that one of them felt it was unlikely they'd vote, so got discounted, and, taking into account the overall weighting for likelihood to vote, only four of these 2005 Liberals remained. However, each now counted for six people. Super-Liberals, if you will.

In a final round of magic, one of these four Super-Liberals plans to vote SNP, so six votes got added to their column (see the second column from the right on page three of the ICM report). That's a 25% swing between these two parties, except for the one 2005 Nat who's gone the other way. He or she is much less important, as we'll see.

In sharp contrast, the fifty-five people who said they'd voted SNP in 2005 were weighted down to thirty-six. Of them, 94% will still vote SNP, but their opinions only count as two-thirds of a person, unlike our rogue Super-Liberal, who, you'll remember, is now six people. So if you told ICM you voted Liberal in 2005, your opinions are nine times more influential on the poll outcome than if you said you'd voted for the Nats. 

(The rows don't add up properly on that page, something I intend to ask Nick Sparrow about. Alternatively, anyone who gets how the 2005 figures or the 2008 intentions add up to the total on the left, please let me know. Paging Mark Ballard!)

Seeing as we've come this far down the rabbit-hole of psephology, there's another quirk here beyond the one Mike noted. When ICM asked about actual 2008 voting intentions, only ten people said they were voting for the Liberal candidate, but this number was too low, so got weighted up to twenty-four. 

On the other hand, twenty-three respondents planned to vote Tory, but ICM weighted them down because the sample had slightly more 2005 Tories than expected, and they eventually counted for just nineteen.

So twenty-three people in this poll said they'd vote Tory, and just ten that they'd vote Liberal. Yet the final numbers, generated by a massive amount of hand-waving and pure woo! show the Liberals on 9% and the Tories on 7%. 

Thank you for your patience if you're still here. Here's my prediction, based on the raw numbers, despite a small sample - the Tories will come out ahead of the Liberals. 

Update: the next poll has the Tories on 7% and the Liberals on 3%. This is exactly in line with the raw numbers from ICM.

Another resignation!?

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mcghee.jpgSurely not? Not another high-profile departure?

OK, it's not a politician this time. AMS is reporting that Charles McGhee has quit the editorship of the Herald (and there has been some moaning at the bar about morale, see also the NUJ quote in that article). But during a high-profile Glasgow by-election? Doesn't the city's daily broadsheet need good leadership at a time like that?

(note to self: not everyone sees the world through a politics-filter)

Horatio was lauded.

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horatius.pngIn the legends of ancient Rome, the name Horatio (or Horatius Cocles) appears writ large. Accounts vary, but they agree on this much. Rome was under threat from an Etruscan army (the Etruscans are coming, the Etruscans are coming!), and Horatio took to the Pons Sublicius to defend the city, eventually single-handed. The Etruscans were defeated, and Rome survived.

But why the dull history lesson? Because the hard and nigh-solitary blogging of Kez about Glasgow East reminds me of Horatio's effort. Now sceptics may say that no election yet turns on battles online, but if this story comes out in the MSM, could Glasgow East be the first? (read the comments to the original, the sequel is here

It may seem an unlikely tale, but I find it hard to believe that Kez would make it up. Now outing an SNP Minister for a minor infraction, enough to get booted from a shopping centre, might seem trivial, and not particularly heroic. However, this is the sort of thing which can get a lot of interest during a heavily managed campaign. I'm not saying it's comparable, but the UK general election in 2001 is solely remembered for John Prescott's punch (7 second youtube link).

And if should Labour win Glasgow East, will the honours be hers? Or will it turn out more like this?

Pledges down the drain.

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tapsink.jpgThis article was sent in speculatively to the Scotsman around the half-anniversary of their green masthead edition. However, it didn't make the cut. I can see why. The tone didn't exactly fit with theirs.

"Six months ago The Scotsman made one of those very rare and striking changes to its masthead, turning the paper very visibly green, and partnering with the SNP government on the environment.

The public were invited to make ten modest pledges, from reducing car usage to turning the taps off while brushing their teeth.

Since then the paper has provided a substantial contribution to reporting about a range of environmental crises, including the threats to Scotland's seas, to the Balmedie dunes, and to our bees. One morning, readers were warned that the nuclear weapons at Faslane could explode in sequence as part of a phenomenon called "popcorning". Hardly a single issue has gone by without some discussion about climate change.

Those same six months have, however, seen almost total inactivity from the SNP government. Where is the environmental leadership they promised? On transport, they rammed through the M74 Extension despite opposition from the local community and every environmental group in the country, while letting bus fares rise and blocking progress on the railways.

Any occasional step forward is more than offset by some new step backwards. Several new wind projects have been cleared, and last week the SNP announced a renewables research joint project with the Irish Green Party's Minister for Energy. However, the previous press release had heralded "Scotland's largest ever coal supply contract", tying us into a long-term commitment to the dirtiest fossil fuel there is.

Most scandalously, the SNP manifesto pledged binding 3% annual cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Before their Climate Change Bill even came to Parliament, that's been dropped. At best, Salmond and Swinney have gone native. At worst, they recognise that they could never make cuts even that timid with their current policies on energy, food, transport and so on.

It's now up to Parliament to improve this legislation, otherwise the best we can hope for is that SNP Ministers keep brushing their teeth with the taps off."
jonstewart.jpgMy friend Adam recently had the pleasure of meeting Jon Stewart of the wonderful Daily Show.

Adam's interview with him is here. Sample line: "As a comedian, as a person, as a citizen, as a mammal- in all of those areas, I am looking forward to the end of the Bush administration with every fiber of my being."

So where's our Daily Show, eh, BBC/C4?
cochrane.jpgOr, more accurately, it looks like the rest of the media have a problem. The most recent Scottish circulation figures from the ABC show pretty consistent drops across all titles since the last time I looked at this, back in December.

To pick some semi-random examples, the News of the World is down more than 7% to 279,674, the Mail on Sunday is down 8.5% to 110,357, and the FT is down almost 7% to 5,151.

Now, maybe the month of June is a bad one for sales, with people too busy watching Euro 2008 etc. I can't tell because I don't have access to their trend data.

But even so there are two exceptions to these numbers that I've spotted. The Telegraph, up 3.7%, and the Sunday Telegraph, up a fraction. Could it be some inexplicable Cochrane effect?

Where would we be without BT?

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BT.jpgBT is of course Brian Taylor, one of the few authoritative Scottish political commentators. He's famous also for his love of Dundee United, despite the evidence, and his affection for brightly coloured-braces (tartan at left: Disney is more usual). His blog is highly recommended, and always fair-minded, as per the football affiliation discussion here. However, nothing's appeared on it since July 5th.

And why the silence? I'll let Brian's out-of-office explain:

I am currently on leave. I will be back in the UK on Tuesday July 22. Just in time for the by-election. And the Labour leadership. And the LibDem leadership. And any other vacancies which may emerge. Urgent inquiries meantime should be addressed to the newsdesk on 0141-422 7800.
Brian Taylor

Personally, I think all of Scotland's other leaders are pretty secure, even Annabel. That's despite Brian Monteith (remember him?) calling for her to be deposed in favour of Murdo Fraser or Gavin Brown. Don't worry, Brian, I don't see your holiday being disturbed by that.

rushhour.jpgYesterday the BBC held a debate between four of the five parties who represent Glasgow at Holyrood and in the Council. One was omitted for no good reason - us.

The result was hardly edifying, though the Tory candidate came across best in my book. The SNP and Liberal blokes in particular made me want to throw the telly out of the window, with the SNP's John Mason the most unappealing of all.

First, his tone is pure cybernat ranting made flesh. I expected him to talk about the "butcher's apron" (see comment 22 here). It was like listening to Scotsman or Herald comments; i.e. much worse than just reading them.

Second, he explicitly came out in favour of reducing the abortion timelimit, and when discussing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill he said "I am extremely unhappy about any experiments on babies or research, or anything like that."

Yeah, imagine if we did research. Then we'd be back in the Dark Ages. No, wait..

Davena Rankin for the Tories gave the best answers on this, combining women's rights and respect for science in one go.

Next, he was asked what the SNP would do to move people out of their cars and onto public transport. He started by saying that transport (no details) is a key SNP policy. It's summarised in the picture above.

Then he gave two examples which were bizarre to say the least. First, he mentioned the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, which helps people get on planes, as far as I understand it.

Second, he actually then cited the M74 extension as a way to get people out of their cars! Does he not know that 60% of his would-be constituents don't have access to a car? That this road will lead to extra car journeys, equivalent to 135,000 tonnes of extra CO2 a year? That the independent reporter said that, "looking at all the policy, transport, environmental, business and community disadvantages of the proposal as a whole, it is concluded that the proposal would be very likely to have very serious undesirable results"?

You probably won't believe this if you didn't see it, so here it is.

I should note in the interests of fairness that the next example he gives is concessionary bus fares. Which the SNP almost cut earlier in the year.
DrEileenDuke.jpgSo yesterday I took the first of several days off from my job (see above) to go and help out with the Green campaign in Glasgow East. We have an excellent candidate in Dr Eileen Duke (left), 25 years a GP in the city and ever so sensible.

I was particularly amused to put her onto the Daily Mail so they could ask her how she felt about the role she might play in finishing Gordon Brown's career. "New Labour has run its course", she said. How true.

Anyway, it was a day off because I obviously couldn't be paid for Parliamentary work when out campaigning; a proper busman's holiday. And that then meant that the odd MSP-related call I took then also became volunteer work. Lucky I love the job so much..

Pump it slowly.

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murdomacleod.jpgSo Murdo MacLeod, Scotland on Sunday's longstanding political correspondent (and tech correspondent, and Gaelic correspondent, well you get the picture), had his leaving do last night.

Drinks were taken, more by some than others (I still want to hear what Mao's point was, Mark).

Murdo's away to work for a substantial oil company in Kazakhstan, and despite him being the bane of my life when I worked for the Parliament's first two Presiding Officers, I'll miss him.

When I say "bane of my life", what I most obviously mean is this article, which appeared ten days after I started work in Parliament.

It was factually correct, except for the species of oak, their colour, the number of them, the cost (massively less), their likely country of origin, the status of contract negotiations at the time. Oh, and the final price of the project, which sadly went a little higher than £280m while I was there.

Update: sources close to Murdo have made clear that this piece was based on dodgy information from a previously reliable former source. And that the subs might have had a hand in it too.

Anyway, back to oil. I corrected his impression that his new employers and my current employers have, shall we say, divergent interests, though. Pump it slowly, I advised him to tell them. If we burn all our remaining stocks of oil and gas more slowly, it'll have less of an impact on the climate. Oh, and his bosses will make shedloads more money if they hang onto what's left of their reserves until prices hit $500 a barrel or more.

I understand they are already aware of this issue, and I'm hopeful that they'll come to the same conclusions I did. Sorry, Gordon.

Silvio, it's the truth.

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blairberlusconi.jpgBerlusconi was this week described by a source as an "amateur", "hated by many", and "regarded by many as a political dilettante who gained his high office only through use of his considerable influence on the national media". Furthermore, they said, he's "one of the most controversial leaders" of Italy, a country "known for governmental corruption and vice".

The source was nothing less than a US government briefing. And they should know - George Bush ticks all the same boxes, despite not actually owning the national media. For both men they could also say "he relied on circumvention of the legal system either to take power or to retain it".

It's the apology that gets me, though. Should you really apologise for telling the truth, even to a guest?

SNP win Glasgow East.

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smugometer.jpgIt's absolutely guaranteed. Either they actually win the seat, in which case you-know-who's smug-o-meter will get dialled up to 11, or not, in which case they'll still have Gordon Brown to kick around a while longer.

Frankly, if I were an SNP strategist, I'd be pulling some of the campaign effort back and hoping for the latter. Like Wendy, he has proved himself not to be up to the job, and I would be surprised if there wasn't a whole bucket-load of regret at SNP HQ about Standards having pushed her just hard enough to resign.   
mccain.jpgJohn McCain doesn't get on with technology. Anything more recent than the A-4 Skyhawk he got shot down in over Vietnam seems to be a problem.

The latest newfangled technologery to confuse him is the humble teleprompter, a vital part of any Republican campaign's arsenal since Reagan first gave a press conference during a nap.

As for computers, McCain admits to being "an illiterate who has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get". As Frank Rich put it in the New York Times (article, bypass registration here), "Getting shot down over Vietnam may not be a qualification for president in 2008, but surely a rudimentary facility with a laptop is". Quite.

I wonder if he's as IT-incompetent as Tony Blair, who, the story goes, used to leave tippex on the screen when trying to correct typos. Heaven help us if so, and if he gets elected.

The Captain enters the fray.

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mainwaring.jpgRoss Finnie (seen left phoning his nomination in) is, say what you like, a serious contender for the Liberal leadership.

He's got an absolutely magnificent bass-baritone, and those of us who attended the SPJA dinner found his jokes hilarious despite the absence of any actual punchlines.

Despite the odd appearance of scandal in his past, one incident of being seriously inaccurate with Parliament, and his obsessive support for GM crops against the will of his party, he's still probably their best bet. Having said which, like Tavish Scott, he's apparently committed to the non-constructive opposition the party has made its post-May-2007 trademark, hardly the way to change their fortunes.

Anyway, he'll probably come a respectable second to Tavish, but when the votes are counted, there is a chance we could see a scene rather like this one:

Note: even the BBC acknowledge the resemblance!

Choose Tavish?

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tavish.jpgSo let's have a look at the runners and riders for the booby prize of Scottish politics. 

Tavish Scott is known for three things: his bear mask, blocking any possible progressive coalition in May 2007, and forcing through the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, a massive expansion of the motorway network misleadingly described by some as a bypass.

He's the continuity choice, the candidate for no change in the Liberal party, the same old pretend-environmentalism and divisiveness. Being good at FMQs won't fix that.

Mike Rumbles would also be an interesting choice. As in, "a brave choice, Minister". Any turf accountant offering anything less than 500/1 on Rumbles should be ignored.

And Purvis is just laying down a marker for a top job or for leadership contender when Tavish (for it will be he, I guarantee it) fails to make an impact. Liam McArthur probably isn't even ready to do that. Incidentally, both these two have only ever worked as lobbyists, hacks, researchers and/or special advisors for other Liberals. 

Can you feel the drama yet?
One of my favourite sites just published this fascinating tale of ecological insanity, corporate greed and the ingenuity of science. 

Dropping like flies.

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bearresignation.jpgAs others have pointed out, the first week of recess has proved way more dramatic than the last week of session, and a bad time for political hacks and amateur bloggers to take time off. 

I suppose anyone who's followed post-devolution politics could have expected the Liberals to follow close behind Labour but nevertheless it's odd to read that Nicol Stephen has gone (see left). Was he ever here? 

Let's start with Labour, though. There's an inevitable runners-and-riders debate, and I considered even offering odds, except where prohibited by law, but the bigger question is "what is the Labour Party now for?" 

The post being offered isn't even the Leader of Scottish Labour, it's simply the Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament. What a narrow ambition. To lead only in the chamber, in the committees, and in the canteen. There's a whole nation out there, admittedly one no longer crying out for Labour leadership.

Is Scottish Labour just to be the voice of New Labour in Scotland? Is it simply to tinker at the edges of a Westminster Labour government's policies, or to try and hang onto them in the face of a Tory government down south? Or is Scottish Labour prepared to innovate, where that doesn't always mean privatise?

Even within the Scottish Parliament, is Labour interested in being an organised and competent opposition now? It certainly hasn't been one since May, shocked by the loss of power, unable to reach out to make a majority in the chamber, talking only to the Liberals, and bereft of purpose. (clue: that purposelessness is why they lost)

I think anyone who wants to take this job on needs answers to these questions. And they need to say "I will stand for the post of Scottish Labour leader, not just the Parliamentary leader, after all I will be selected by the MPs, councillors, MEPs, and activists as well as the MSPs. Or, alternatively, stuff your impotent post."

Also, they need to decide whether "bring it on" remains policy. I've got a tip there: if Wendy's successor abandons it, their troubles will be without end. Salmond's Plan A was to cause Labour massive electoral difficulty by bringing forward a bill for a referendum and having them vote it down. How much weaker even than that anti-democratic position would Labour's be if another U-turn intervened?

Anyway, I can't resist offering a few "outside the box" suggestions. Not many Labour MSPs stand out from the masses, but three of those that do are Patricia Ferguson, Lewis Macdonald and Ken Macintosh.

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

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