October 2008 Archives

Obama's secret voice coach.

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Apparently he turned to Flat Stanley. OK, I can be as cynical as the next person or often more, but this is properly warm and fuzzy Jim'll Fix it territory. What's more, McCain didn't reply. Perhaps he was still looking for Joe the Plumber, who is, as we now know, neither called Joe nor a plumber. The tale of how he missed the rally made me weep with laughter.

A vacancy for a new Doctor.

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patricktardis.jpgSo David Tennant's off. I have a suggestion for a replacement, but it would have to be filmed entirely over recess.

Think how useful a Tardis would be for campaigning. You could leaflet a vast area over a single night by yourself, using the magic of time travel..

Judo move.

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It's Liberal Day in Parliament tomorrow, and they're bringing two motions, one designed to be used to needle at Gordon Brown on HBOS, and the other designed to promote their eye-wateringly distinctive tax cut plans.

First, HBOS. The motion is as follows. Apologies for the length, but there we go.

S3M-2779 Tavish Scott: The Importance of HBOS to the Scottish Economy and Jobs--That the Parliament gives a general welcome to the measures taken by the UK and other governments to tackle the current banking crisis; considers, however, that the recapitalisation plans announced by HM Treasury in October 2008 have fundamentally changed the landscape under which competition rules were waived to enable a merger between Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS); further considers that inconsistent statements have come from the UK Treasury about whether or not the banks would independently have access to the recapitalisation funds; believes that this ambiguity is not serving anyone's interests in the present environment; further believes that losing HBOS corporate headquarters and jobs in Edinburgh would seriously jeopardise the city's position as a financial centre; sees no reason why HBOS should not be able to access UK Treasury recapitalisation and, therefore, liquidity funding on the same independent basis as other major banks, and, with this in mind, considers it a very real possibility that an independent HBOS solution could be found that may well be in the best interests of shareholders, employees, customers and the Scottish economy at large.

The Tories have an amendment down which puts shareholders first and backs the merger, but this post is going to be long enough already without putting that up. 

Patrick has an amendment, too, and I think it's rather more germane. Do we really want just to try and recreate the bubble? Haven't we learnt our lesson on that yet? Do we really want to invest in banks just so they can support the same old business-as-usual economic decisions?

S3M-2779.2 Patrick Harvie: The Importance of HBOS to the Scottish Economy and Jobs--As an amendment to motion (S3M-2779) in the name of Tavish Scott, leave out from "gives" to end and insert "recognises the need for short-term action by the United Kingdom and other governments to tackle the current banking crisis; rejects, however, any effort simply to refloat the failed model of deregulated financial services, which has been supported by Labour and Conservative UK governments and by Labour/Liberal Democrat and SNP administrations in Scotland; calls on the UK and Scottish governments to commit to a future for the financial services sector, that is based on sustainability and self reliance rather than the impossible objective of limitless economic growth fuelled by reckless lending and excessive leverage, and, in the short term, demands that an element of democratic control be exercised over the lending and investment activity of banks that have been bailed out by taxpayers' money to ensure that economic, social and environmental sustainability are prioritised through that activity."

The other motion and amendment is also worth a peruse. The Liberals seem to think that economically hard times are the right point to cut taxes and cut public services; they committed to tax cuts just as the policy became ultra-barking, and now they're stuck with it. Here's their text.

S3M-2780 Jeremy Purvis: A Helping Hand with the Rising Cost of Living--That the Parliament notes with grave concern the rise in the cost of living and the impact of the credit crunch on families, individuals and small businesses in Scotland; believes that the Scottish Government should use the substantial levers at its disposal to give practical help; disagrees with the policy stated in the Draft Budget 2009-10 that "the Scottish Government will not use the existing tax varying powers in 2009-10", and believes that all parties should work to secure a 2p reduction in the basic rate of Scottish income tax, which would deliver more than £300 per year into the pay packet of the average Scottish earner and a significant fiscal stimulus to the economy.

The SNP amendment here is magic, though. It elegantly turns the force of their motion against them. 

S3M-2780.1 John Swinney: A Helping Hand with the Rising Cost of Living--As an amendment to motion (S3M-2780) in the name of Jeremy Purvis, leave out from first "believes" to end and insert "agrees that the Scottish Government should use all of the levers at its disposal to give practical help; calls on the Liberal Democrats to set out in detail the £800 million of cuts to public services that they would make to fund their proposal on income tax and believes that until these cuts are identified and are open to scrutiny that the Liberal Democrats and their proposal have no credibility, and further believes that, as part of the forthcoming budget process, the Liberal Democrats should bring forward detailed proposals of where they believe cuts should be made."

This will surely pass. If and when it does, I think all the other parties should issue leaflets with this image on them. It's what they'd do.

Mike at Political Betting posted a fascinating graph and analysis yesterday, showing the variation in the public's reported interest in the environment. I'm sure he won't mind me reproducing it, especially if I urge you to make any urgent bets on Glenrothes or the US election through his site.

The points he's indicated are interesting, but three more occur to me: May 1999, May 2003, and May 2007.

In the first Holyrood election, around 5% said the environment was their main concern, and we got our first MSP. In one sense, this was our best election ever, because it was the first we elected anyone at, and failure then would have made any success in 2003 almost impossible. However, it was also our lowest level of representation, if you want to look at it that way.

By 2003, according to Mike's graph, the numbers prioritising environmental concerns had halved, but despite that we scored our best Parliamentary results so far, up to seven MSPs. Then, in May 2007, with the numbers up at 10%, just after a peak of around 18%, we fell back to two seats. 

So this polling number, whatever it means, isn't correlated to Green success, at least in Scotland, which might seem counter-intuitive.

Perhaps the reason is that we're not a party purely about environmental issues. We have solid policy on the whole range of political issues, and there are plenty we've made particular strengths of, including opposition to the war, support for equality and civil liberties, fuel poverty, social justice, local food, social enterprise and many more. It looks as though the part of the electorate we appeal to understands that.

Thatcher no more?

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I'm hearing that Margaret Thatcher may have died overnight, although I have not a single link to back it up. If it is true, Elvis Costello, Hefner and Morrissey will be ready, amongst others. 

I'm sorry to have had to spread rumours like this, but other bloggers out there will know that if a well-connected source comes to you with a story like this, it's gotta go up.

Update: this is apparently untrue, and I apologise. Apparently it began going round when Carol cancelled a media appearance and Mark was spotted hurrying home. Coincidence, nothing more. Also, it's a neat illustration of why the standard answer to a headline with a question must be "no".

Read the Daily (Maybe)

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gpewsoc.JPGJim Jay's blog is truly worth a prominent place in one's RSS feed. 

Of the last five items, three are fascinating mid-length thought pieces on the American election, the atheist poster campaign, and population policy. In another, Jim finds bliss and it makes him late for work. 

He also maintains a laptop for every donkey, which is top quality light relief. And he owns an I Love Peas t-shirt (left).

Must surely be this man. If you have an interest in rhetoric, you have to watch this.



Bidding up the environment.

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wavepowerstation.jpgUK Ministers have now, like the SNP, seen the light on aviation and shipping. I like to think it has something to do with the killer metaphors deployed against their previous position.

However, a Scottish Government release sent out today suggests that the Nats have again shifted their position to toughen up their proposed bill and outdo Westminster (emphasis mine):

"By including international aviation and shipping, emissions from all six greenhouse gases, and annual targets, Scotland will have the most ambitious Bill to tackle climate change anywhere in the world."

The BBC online seems to miss this aspect of the story, but I'm assured it made the broadcast coverage. Hopefully tomorrow's papers will get into the nitty gritty a bit more.

The SNP did promise annual targets in their 2007 manifesto, but if the targets they have in mind are robust and statutory ones then this is a good step in the right direction, even though the sceptic in me previously wondered if "they [took] it away just so they can look magnanimous by putting it back?"

By now we're in a bidding war, though, and the longer it goes on the more likely it is we'll end up with two really worthwhile Bills. Neither proposal is there yet, and it's now Labour's turn to come back with improvements to the UK legislation.

Here's a couple of tips for both governments for future rounds of bidding. First, the evidence is that we need annual reductions around 4.5%, not the 3% the SNP had in their manifesto. The level of reductions required has risen, too, to cope with the emissions increases over recent years.

Also, there's no plan that sets out how even 3% targets could actually be met. Both Governments are committed to continued fossil fuel dependence for export and for domestic consumption, through policies like airport and motorway expansion. Neither has much of a clue about what a low carbon economy might look like, either, or do they see how successful it could be.

This shouldn't sound too churlish. We're making progress, Ministers are starting to listen, and we've only come this far because of the legions of campaigners and individuals who've made their voices heard. Good work, y'all.

A rare Holyrood poll.

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weirdsalmond.pngThe Sunday Times commissioned some numbers from YouGov, and their headline is naturally the 9 point Labour lead in Westminster voting intention. 

Their last poll had the Nats up by 2 percent, making this a substantial swing, if a little implausible despite the bad month the SNP have had.

Incidentally, it's illustrated on their Scotland page with a peculiarly squashed pic of Salmond (see left). I'm pretty sure there's no real angle you can take that picture from.

YouGov also asked the Holyrood questions, which are always of far more interest to me, and, I suspect, to most of their readers. In these, the Nats retain a clear but narrow lead:

Constituency vote
SNP: 39% (-3)
Labour: 31% (+5)
Tories: 14% (+1)
Liberals: 11% (-3)
Other: 2% (-)

Regional vote
SNP: 32% (-3)
Labour: 29% (+4)
Tories: 16% (+2)
Liberals: 11% (-3)
Green: 6%
United Socialists: 5% (except they're not united)
Etc: 2%

I was a bit sceptical about the Westminster numbers, but the Holyrood top line seems more plausible, so this might not be a complete rogue poll - it's the same sample, after all. 

Interestingly, this poll confirms my view that we take primarily from the Liberals. The detail shows that about two thirds of our voters backed the Liberals with their Westminster vote, with the rest roughly evenly divided between Labour, the SNP and the Tories. Another way of looking at the same numbers is that our voters are more than five times more likely to vote Liberal for Westminster than for any other single party. 

6% isn't a great number for us: I am an eternal optimist, though, and I think we could crack 10% by 2011 if we put in the work inside Parliament and out. However, it is little more than two thirds of one percent below our 2003 score, when we returned seven MSPs (6.68% of the vote gave us 5.43% of the seats). Remember, it's only a bit of fun, and as I was told today, there is no election, not yet.


Chicken-counting.

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mccain-nope.jpgWith the American election now just ten days away, it's been widely called for Obama. The bookies are almost as newsworthy as the pollsters nowadays, and Paddypower paid out on a Democrat White House a full nine days ago. 

Obama is having to warn against complacency, which would certainly be my main concern if I was working for him. Why vote when your man's won already?

The signs are clear. Huffington Post's 55-point headlines (surely the largest on the web) have assiduously tracked the disarray among McCain's team, while Politico also notes how the Republican circular firing squad has assembled early.

Nate Silver has Obama's chances of success at 94.9%, albeit that's slightly down from yesterday, and Electoral Vote currently predicts a two-thirds one-third split in the electoral college. States like North Carolina are tentatively shaded blue (why oh why don't the Americans get with the colour-coding programme?), and Montana and North Dakota could go either way. Even Georgia's in play.

Finally, the actual votes are piling up already. Almost a million residents of Georgia have voted early so far, to pick one example, with black turnout massively up.

In this climate, counterfactual speculation has begun. The widely respected Charlie Cook raises one such interesting question, albeit one he dismisses as irrelevant given the headwinds against the Republicans:

"If the senator from Arizona had waged this battle more as John McCain 1.0, the 2000-vintage candidate who was more of a maverick and less of a partisan than the 2008 version, could he have succeeded because he was less tied to his Republican Party and less joined at the hip with President Bush?"

That's certainly plausible, or more plausible than his dubious path to victory now (bomb Iran, anyone?). However, he ran as McCain 1.0 in 2000 and couldn't get nominated: the party (and many of the operatives he hired this year) smeared and vilified him. He would almost certainly have won that year if nominated.

However, he had to become McCain 2.0 this time, the new and not improved Bush-loving and Bush-endorsed version, in order to secure the nomination. That same manoeuvre is now what looks like being fatal for him in the general election. 

But I get anxious with all this talk of landslides, and I don't believe it's over. My insurance bets are in: 5-1 on McCain, and 12-1 on the narrowest Obama victories, and I'm hoping to be out of pocket on both.
pieeyed.jpgWhen both the Scottish and the UK climate change legislation proposals first appeared, aviation and shipping were mysteriously absent. The Nats have since pledged to remedy this oversight, incidentally.

Such an exemption is clearly absurd, and I'm pretty sure that we came up with the killer line on it (specifically either Robin or Patrick - I can't remember who thought of it first).

Either way, Robin told the Chamber on September 3rd that "having a climate change bill with an exemption for air transport is a bit like having a diet plan with an exemption for pies, beans, chips and black puddings". It even inspired a charity challenge, sadly not risen to by the First Minister.

By October 16th, the Liberals had gotten in on the act. In the Commons, Steve Webb said "However, Mr Miliband appears to think he can simply ignore the hugely polluting aviation and shipping industries. It's like telling everyone you're going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting cream cakes." Amusingly, this was billed on the party's blog as his "cream cake triumph". (thanks to Adopted Domain for the spot)

Today Friends of the Earth have in turn recycled it, in a new and more potent form, as "a drink-driving law that doesn't count whisky".

It's not clear where the Tories are on this, although the last link there implies they're also on side with the forces of good. If so, I await their press release comparing the bill as it stands to "a detox plan with an exemption for crack."


It happened to Homer first.

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homerchoice.pngThe American voting machines are at it already, with the first reports of Obama-to-McCain switching in West Virginia. It's not clear if they're Diebold machines, but that would be a safe first guess, all things considered.

Because the Simpsons isn't comedy, it's documentary, the US equivalent of Panorama, you can watch the same thing happen to Homer here

You can see the logic from the designers' point of view. A sewing machine is better at sewing than you, an espresso machine is better at making espresso than you, so a voting machine should be better at voting than you (where, for the company owner, that means voting more Republican).

Give in to your anger.

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darthsquirrel.jpgI have mixed feelings about grey squirrels. They're dire news for the reds, and it would be far better if they'd not arrived here from the US. On the other hand, they are still very cute.

If you're a peer, though, you may look at them rather differently. Today's Observer has a piece about the War On Squirrels conducted by Lord Redesdale, the Liberal spokesman on the environment in our absurd upper house. 

He's got it in for the greys, and his colleagues in the Lords reach for some familiar metaphors.

Lady Saltoun, for one, has got class war on her mind: "Red squirrels are rather like quiet, well-behaved people who do not make a nuisance or an exhibition of themselves, or commit crimes, and so do not get themselves into the papers in the vulgar way grey squirrels do."

Lord Chorley implied Godwin, inevitably: "There are three colonies, if that is the right word, in Italy. At least one of them is in the process of crossing the Alps. If they get to Germany there will be a complete invasion taking place."

Lord Inglewood continued in an even more explicit version of the same metaphor: "The red squirrels have had Chamberlains and not Churchills! But it is Churchills that they need!"

I'm not sure Lord Redesdale shooting a squirrel in the head from two inches away can be equated with Churchill's efforts, but it's a great read, with the superstitious pest controller, the dubious funding application, the enthusiastic old dears with blood on the patio, and the "spatchcocked" squirrel in the frying pan. Despite the bloodthirsty joy clearly experienced by our brave squirrel-hunters, you can see their logic. 

Like the squirrels this mob sell to restaurants, though, the House of Lords should clearly carry the standard warning: may contain nuts.

The man who wasn't there.

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invisibleman.jpgNicholas Christian has a classic media revenge story in today's Scotland on Sunday, in which someone at the Press Association has spilled the beans about a heavy-handed phone call from an SNP special adviser.

The original incident was the SNP-embarassing tale that Olympic champion Chris Hoy had come out against a separate Scottish Olympic team. Despite a recording substantiating it, Will McLeish apparently tried to spike the story as untrue, along with suggestions that Hoy and his interviewer were in cahoots.

You could work in Scottish politics a long time before you met the author of today's piece, Mr Christian, though. Despite Google listing 1,230 articles in his name, he doesn't exist. It's a fake byline, or a house byline as the euphemism goes.

Papers use house bylines for various purposes. The Daily Express use a certain Brendan Abbot to slag off the Daily Mail without comeback. The Daily Mail took on the posh but transparently fictional Imogen Faux, who started out as a feminist but ended up as a catch-all house byline. The Sun apparently even tried to poach one of these imaginary writers: the Star's hardworking but non-existent Emily Rose.

In the case of the Hoy story, the need for Mr Christian to get involved is obvious. Political journalists need the spin doctors, especially those with all the baubles of government, even though they sometimes resent their approach. Naming a SPAD, even in a relatively thin story like this, risks looking like an attempt to invoke Whelan's Law: "When the spin doctor becomes the story, it's time for the spin doctor to go." 

Take care, though, my journalistic friends. Most Scottish papers have at best two or three people covering politics, so a house byline doesn't draw much of a veil over your identity. What's more, the Alastair Campbell school of media management still permits revenge to be exacted on the whole paper, not that I think the SNP work that way, and the NUJ's Ethics Council may even try to out you if there's a complaint. Somehow I don't think there will be over this, though.

Compulsory reading.

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There are people who don't like Simon Jenkins, but I am not one of them. Even where I disagree with him, I always love his writing. 

Today's Guardian features a classic Jenkins rant about the miscellaneous silver linings to the financial crisis. Here are a couple of clips to seal the deal.

"Carbon-crazy plans for totemic City skyscrapers modelled on cheese-graters, testicles and mobile phones are being torn up."

"While it may be too early for a bull market in gaiety, we can surely start investing in sanity and pragmatism."

Now go read it, please.

The term Orwellian gets overused as a description for government behaviour, but it's his writings on political language that I find more interesting. George Orwell would certainly recognise what Geoff Hoon and his friends do when they say:

"The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist."

No, no, no. I have no more desire to be killed by a terrorist than Geoff does, but the word "civil" in there means "relating to the state". It's no more a direct matter of civil liberties to be killed by a terrorist (and I suspect I'm more likely to have a coconut land on my head) than it is to be run over on your way to work.

I try not to quote the endless monkeys of Wikipedia, but their first line really is it:

"Civil liberties are freedoms that protect the individual from the government."

Civil liberties, therefore, cannot protect you from terrorists, not unless the terrorists actually become the government. Geoff's line is pure spin, and a way of glossing over the real balance that needs to be struck between those civil liberties that prevent the state from (say) detaining you without charge for three months, and on the other hand those law enforcement measures which deter and catch criminals, say, the power of courts to issue search warrants where there are reasonable grounds. 

Anyway, there's no way it can help to try and keep track of 57 billion text messages a year, more than a trillion emails a year, and everyone's web history - which includes, just for starters, 2.5bn web searches per month.

The authoritarians normally say "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", yet people often have to do searches they have a right to expect privacy about, such as those for divorce lawyers, embarassing medical conditions, or Abba's back catalogue, to say nothing of commercial confidentiality. Until Geoff Hoon is personally prepared to let his every email, text, phone call and web page visit be made public, I will not take him seriously.

Almost whatever the problem, Labour's solution seems to be to throw a massively expensive and complex computer system at it. And their success rate remains close to zero with these projects, which get promoted simply to allow Labour politicians to slur the civilised majority like this:

"If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people."

Doesn't that make your blood boil?

Not quite.

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Thumbnail image for helicopter-line.jpgOn Tuesday I went in Robin's place to a lunch organised by the Chamber of Commerce, addressed by Hector Sant of the Financial Services Authority. Oddly, given the interest you might have expected from the political parties, or even the Scottish Government, there was no-one else there from politics.

Mr Sant was an interesting speaker, although constrained as a regulator and unable to give very frank answers to many of the questions. In the case of a question about the need for HBOS to merge with Lloyds, the Scotsman reports him saying that:

..it was obvious the authority was "content with the capital being raised by HBOS".

Yes, he did say that, but then he went on to explain the circumstances under which that assessment had been made, i.e. on the assumption that the proposed merger would go ahead. 

I'm not taking a view on the merits of the tie-up, but the fact is there'll be annoyance at the FSA at how he's been misrepresented. Peter Jones has it more accurately in the Times - see the second last paragraph - but that made for a far less newsworthy story.

It's not my usual crowd, bankers. Outside Prestonfield there was an ostentatious helicopter on the lawn (not Hector's, but we couldn't find out whose), and inside a man remarked to me how he felt left behind at a recent Bentley owners' club bash for not himself having a helicopter. I did feel very sorry to hear that someone might have to cope with such an extraordinary level of poverty.

Pleasingly, I also found myself sat next to a resident of Forth Ward, and gave her what I think was a well-received pitch for a vote for Kate Joester (informed by Kate's passionate address to the local party a couple of weeks ago).

The angry mob gathered.

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Patrick Harvie and I went to Jedburgh on Monday night, where Patrick spoke in the Scotsman/BBC debate on renewables, as covered by Jenny Haworth for the Scotsman. The debate, chaired by the authoritative and engaging Lesley Riddoch, will also be broadcast on the BBC tomorrow at 2pm. 

There were about 50 people there, which was a bit disappointing, and about two thirds of them were from the very anti-wind-farm brigade, who obviously saw this as a grand opportunity to stick one up the environmentalists. There was also a wee gang from the Borders Greens, too, but they were far more polite and less rowdy, unfortunately. 

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The audience may have been predominantly anti-wind, but the platform was not. Patrick was joined by Duncan McLaren of Friends of the Earth Scotland, Dr Siân McGrath from Aquamarine Power (disclosure: I did some work for Aquamarine last year, so am biased in favour), and Martin Ford, the Aberdeenshire councillor who said no to Trump.

On the other side, the panel consisted of Professor Jane Bower, who has a science background as well as having worked in the oil industry, but who kept pretty quiet, and a certain Bob Graham. 

It's hard to know where to begin with Bob Graham. His past lives include the oil industry, the RAF, and being hauled over the coals for lying about renewables.

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Incidentally, the main change I noticed since I last went to Jedburgh was the profusion of signs declaring Jedburgh to be "WiFi Free". Appalled, I thought the anti-turbine brigade had also taken against WiFi, which isn't entirely implausible. But no, it's just that they put the words in the wrong order, and I got good strong signal at the back of the hall.

This allowed me to fact-check Bob Graham as the event went on, which made it pretty clear why he's been in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority.

Every single claim about the ineffectiveness of wind power he made was unsubstantiated. False. Pure propaganda. Let's start.

"The Germans have about 23,000 wind turbines. They are currently building 26 coal-fired power stations and have just commissioned three gas-fired power stations. They have seen no reduction in their emissions."

The numbers of turbines and coal plant proposals seems right, fair enough, but no reduction? Actually, since 1990 they've seen a 20% reduction in their emissions. In the debate he made the same allegation against Denmark, which was also untrue - their equivalent number is 14%.

"Scotland requires at peak times six gigawatts of electricity. If you rely on renewables to generate all of that from wind, that would reduce global levels by 0.09 of 1 per cent."

Actually, global installed capacity is 4,300 gigawatts. Sure, Scotland's 6 gigawatts aren't a huge proportion of that, but if Scotland went entirely over to clean energy, it would be .14 of one percent, almost fifty percent more than Bob Graham would have us believe. 

This is a minor point, true, especially given the overwhelming wrongness of the idea that we should do nothing because we can't solve the problem all by ourselves. What if everyone took that approach?

"I don't happen to subscribe to climate change and a lot of sensible people don't."

Name one, Bob. You don't count. But at least you came out as an utter wingnut - the live audience may have lapped it up, but the Radio Scotland audience are less likely to do so.

"Renewables can't replace base load."

Actually, this is pure fallacy. There's plenty of renewable technologies that can replace baseload, including hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass. What's more, the more diverse renewable capacity you build, the less you need other kinds of baseload. 

More generally, I find this kind of attitude exceptionally frustrating. I believe in debate, of course. I don't mind people starting with the facts and recommending different courses of action, but I object when someone's case rests on a series of falsehoods. Communities who've found turbines going up in their area are often annoyed about it, although where people have a proper stake that tends not to be the case. 

With this in mind, there are plenty of people who want to see wind power blocked, and they'll clutch at any straw going if someone suggests wind doesn't work. They'll believe the most extraordinary stuff - one audience member asked the panel why we send power through the grid to turn the turbines when there's no wind. Bob Graham didn't agree with that, or dispute it, but nonetheless he is trying to build ignorance and misunderstanding, all driven by a desire to see more nukes

As a footnote, Martin Ford is very impressive in person, even more than I expected. He's been appallingly treated for doing the right thing, and I hope John Swinney gives him what he wants above all else - a rejection of Trump's financially and environmentally unsustainable vanity project.

Greening Canada.

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elizabethmay.jpgThe Canadian election is today, and Elizabeth May, the leader of our sister party over there, is standing in a constituency which coincidentally includes New Glasgow. If she wins, I'm going to suggest formally twinning her with Patrick.

They have to work with a first past the post system, so any victories are a long shot, but not impossible - May herself is just seven points behind in her area. 

One of the pleasures about joining in the Greens is being part of a global movement like this, and having a direct interest in almost every election. I wonder if SNP supporters are urging on the Bloc Québécois?

What would the Doctor keep?

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walkerlibrary.jpgChatting to Patrick last night, we agreed that this extraordinary collection could easily be the Earth Room from the Doctor's Tardis museum. I do hope Jay Walker leaves it to the good people of Connecticut in his will. 

Obviously not every public library or museum could have an original Sputnik in it, but they could use a little of this passion for science and culture. It makes me even more sad about what's been done to Kelvingrove.

A sequel to Stone of Destiny?

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mqsdnw.jpgChristine Grahame has always got an eye for an absurd campaign based on flags, domain names or a claim to Berwick on Tweed

This kind of wide-ranging and unproductive nonsense pours out even when all's well with the world, and you couldn't say that about our current dire economic circumstances.

It's therefore extraordinary that she's picked this week to call for Mary Queen of Scots' body to be reburied in Scotland. A more futile activity would be hard to imagine. 

Honestly, if I lived in South of Scotland I'd be even more angry about this. She was surely elected in the hope that she'd get on with something useful, perhaps on the economy, poverty, the environment or public services. 

Just doing nothing at all would be better than wasting newspaper readers' time with this kind of weak stuff.

Incidentally, the other major exponents of exhumation are the Catholic Church, who recently did it to Padre Pio against his family's wishes. When they tried it again with Cardinal Newman, to separate his body from that of his supposed gay partner, they were pleasingly "foiled by bacteria and worms", as Peter Tatchell put it. Given that Mary died more than 300 years before the good Cardinal, the same might well apply.

Christine Grahame giving the SNP a bad name with this shameless attempt at ideological grave-robbing. She's meant to be a good republican, too, but apparently that only covers the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas, not the Stuarts. I despair. it wouldn't even make a good movie.

Political insult of the day.

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elk.jpgAndy Martin is a hard-right Fox News talking head and anti-semite being wheeled out to play join-the-dots with Obama's past, and whose blog advises McCain to "Go negative almost exclusively, and relentlessly". 

The Los Angeles Times reports on his past as follows:

When he ran for Illinois governor two years ago, Martin quoted a nearly 30-year-old Tribune editorial that called him "an absolutely brilliant campaigner" when he was running for a Senate seat. He didn't mention that the same editorial said he "has no more business in the U.S. Senate than an elk has in a phone booth."

When Europe works properly.

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carolinevoting.jpgEarlier this week, the European Parliament backed a carbon limit for power generation in the EU, setting a figure of 500 grams per kilowatt hour. As the Guardian reports, tougher limits were proposed, but were voted down. 

Even at this level, it's the (eventual) death of un-captured coal power in Europe, and about time too.

So what did the British MEPs do? The Greens did the right thing throughout, in case you're wondering: the pic to the left is Caroline Lucas casting voting on this actual issue. Exciting or what?

The first vote was on 350g/kwh, and the three Tories voted against that, as did the Labour MEPs. The only UK Liberal voted the right way, as did the Plaid rep and also Sinn Fein. The good guys lost 24-37 this time.

Next up, 400g/kwh. Again, the Tories and Labour voted against. This one was closer, falling by a single vote. In other words, if the Committee had one more Green (or even another Liberal, Plaid or Sinn Fein member) and one fewer Tory or Labour MEP we'd have got a tougher law. So too we would have if either group had done the right thing.

All the UK MEPs then voted with the Greens on the 500g motion, and that went through overwhelmingly.

The most tiresome part of this is that Cameron pledged himself in June this year to:

"..follow the Californian model, and implement an Emissions Performance Standard. This would mean the carbon emissions rate of all electricity generated in our country cannot be any higher than that generated in a modern gas plant. Such a standard would mean that a new generation of unabated coal power plants could not be built in this country."

A combined cycle gas turbine power station emits just 320g/kwh (2003 figures given in evidence to the House of Commons). Sure, his speech cited the 500g/kwh figure, but he must know that's seriously out of date. The figure above is five years old, after all, and I have no doubt technology has moved on, bringing the current figure down even further. 

It's another bit of evidence about the limits of the Tories' new-found interest in the environment, and it confirms the equal uselessness of Labour on the same issue. Having said that, a limit is better than no limit, and to that extent I'm pleased. 

The voting numbers are here, in case anyone wants to check my rollcall (thanks to Mark Johnson for those). The Committee's affiliations are listed here for cross-reference purposes.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor announced their bailout before the markets opened on Wednesday, and if equity prices are any guide, the results so far are not looking promising (and yes, I also hate graphs like this where the x axis isn't zero).
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What I'm now worried about is that the influential City people will say to Gordon "Oh, see your bailout, it wasn't enough: can we have some more money, please? If not, it'll be everyone's pension funds that suffer", as per the classic Bird and Fortune sketch

Any further reach into taxpayers' pockets won't be any more successful at stabilising the markets, and will just leave the Government with more debts to service while tax receipts drop. Also, as many have noted, the Daily Mash is spot on with this: "The government is to invest £500bn of your money in British banks so they can lend it back to you with interest."

Surely the response should instead be driven by the actual public good? Policymakers should be looking first to protect the people with mortgages they can't pay, the councils who put it all on black in Iceland, the small businesses who can't borrow to tide themselves over, and the others who are suffering outside the Square Mile.

If that requires market intervention (which would look very different to the existing plans), so be it. Perhaps HMG should start taking equity shares in property in exchange for state-backed mortgage guarantees. Perhaps they should be using the already-nationalised banks to lend to good businesses directly, not the seized-up banks. One of the few things Vince Cable's got right about all this is when he compared lending to banks with pushing on a piece of string. 

Some of the mortgage-holders (and all of the councils) have simply done the wrong thing and taken too much risk. The next step should be to ensure that these same mistakes can't be made again: no more taking our Council Tax and stashing it with the buccaneer capitalists ever again.

However, I worry that Labour will simply be terrified of the City's threats, and that they'll go ahead and shovel more money into the fire. I do hope I'm wrong.

This is not news.

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darlingcurry.jpgChannel 4 News is my favourite broadcast bulletin, and has been since the 1980s.

More4 News, however, is deeply shallow, and I've rarely managed to watch it all the way through.

This is a particularly absurd example. Man eats curry is not news. Curry eats man, now that would be news. 

Bugs in the system.

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The millennium bug never materialised, nor did the gigaburger bug, both of which were based on limited numberspaces running out.

The US debt clock has had a real problem of this sort, though. As the BBC report it, the board was put up in 1989 to highlight the federal government's debt reaching a then-shocking $2.7 trillion.

They're upgrading the clock now the total is over $10 trillion, but are thinking ahead and adding two more zeros in case they ever find themselves a quadrillion dollars in the hole. It's a pretty prudent course of action. After all, McCain might still win. 

(image from the often-wonderful Pundit Kitchen)

A position of utter ignorance.

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markets.pngThe cliches and metaphors burgeon around us as the markets collapse, and hacks breathlessly trade roller-coasters for dominoes, or offer injections in the heart of the whirlwind. 

Much of this verbiage is produced because no-one really knows what is going to happen, but they certainly know it's dramatic.

For example, the Newsnight panel last night was 100% journalists and politicians, all without the faintest idea of what the bailout might deliver, let alone where the markets might take us next. Newsnight Scotland went one better, relying on vox pops before running a journalist-only panel (including Douglas Fraser's new incarnation as Economic Disaster Correspondent for the BBC). They didn't know how it would turn out either, it turns out.

No offence to either panel, but the producers might have been better off pulling in some serious economists, historians, and even economic historians. The comparisons might have been more rigorous, and the options set out more clearly. 

Economists are famous for their widely diverging opinions: this would be an asset. It would have been more enlightening to have had debate with a Friedmanite, a Keynesian, a Marxist, a Green, plus someone from the soggy New Labour/New Conservative managerial centre. Constructive disagreement would be better, given the gravity of the situation, than the usual synchronised hand-wringing. 

In these circumstances, with fear and uncertainty dominant, George Osborne has done the tactically correct thing - supporting the package in principle, but with some caveats. He has no idea whether it'll work, but opposing it now would expose him on the upside if the £500bn bailout does deliver for the markets and for Labour. If it doesn't work the Tories benefit anyway, politically, and the caveats will cover him. Nick Clegg did much the same, although he chose to support the proposals while comparing Brown to the captain of the Titanic.

Here's a counter-prediction. It won't work. None of the strands of the Brown/Darling bailout affect the core problems - those worthless debts and opaque derivatives, the housing bubbles here and abroad, and the wider systemic failures of regulation and oversight. Sure, they can cut interest rates and try to reflate the bubble, but wouldn't it be better to rebuild our economy on a somewhat more substantial basis, one that could be literally sustainable?

Conferences reviewed.

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seedsofthought.jpgEmily Sutton from Total Politics just wrote up her trips to five conferences this year, taking in the English and Welsh Greens, the TUC, Labour, the Liberals and the Tories. 

Hard work, methinks. So many speeches, so many votes (well, at some conferences, anyway), and only a limited number of glasses of wine to cushion the blow. 

But what did she make of the people?

  • Greens: "the delegates, although peculiar, each with their little quirks, were very friendly and welcoming".
  • TUC: "the delegates, although questionably sober, were the most friendly and genuine."
  • Liberals: "I developed a seething and passionate resentment of the Liberal Democrats, or at least those who attended their conference."
  • Labour: "The diehard party faithful ... were fired up for the fight of their political lives."
  • Tories: "lots of upper-class, white, tweed clad teenagers bounding around with bellybutton fluff for facial hair, old men in Savile Row suits grasping their canes for dear life."
Apropos of this, I think it was the social at our most recent conference that best showed the differences between the Greens and the others. 

The entertainment, organised by the inspirational Councillor Danny, included two brilliant Zimbabwean brothers from Seeds of Thought, followed by an open mic session, with musical turns from Councillor Stuart, Robin Harper, and Arnold Cassola, leader of the Maltese Greens. 

Even though Labour had Eddie Izzard on the same night, I'm damn glad I was in Glasgow that night.

Longest receipt in history.

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Geoffrey Robinson, Peter Mandelson's partner in mortgage scandal, explained what Labour's up to on Newsnight, tongue in cheek. "We're finally implementing the 1983 manifesto."

Oh, we laughed. 

And then began a skim of the infamous suicide note. It's certainly long. At 22581 words it could be a novella, but the plot and characterisation need to be honed a little. 

Somewhat surprisingly, it's not all bad, although anyone wishing to quote me out of context should at least use this whole sentence.

I don't agree with Neil Clark, obviously, but am disappointed that not even New Old Labour will get round to some of the good bits. No amount of Labour government would ever deliver this section on international relations, for example:

  • Cancel the Trident programme, refuse to deploy Cruise missiles and begin discussions for the removal of nuclear bases from Britain, which is to be completed within the lifetime of the Labour government.
  • Ban arms sales to repressive regimes.
  • Increase aid to developing countries towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent.
  • Re-establish a separate Ministry of Overseas Development.
  • Take action to protect the status of refugees in Britain. 

Sure, the penultimate one happened, but that's clearly the least radical part. And perhaps that 0.7% aid target will be met by 2013, but frankly I doubt it. Here's another section that would have been well worth delivering, this time on planning.

We intend also to widen democratic participation in the planning system by:

  • Codifying and extending public rights of consultation, and of appeal against planning decisions;
  • Improving access to public planning inquiries and broadening their terms of reference;
  • Ensuring that, before the inquiry stage of certain major development proposals, the environmental effects are subject to detailed analysis and the report is published;
  • Creating a new fund to help objectors at major public inquiries, with an independent board to decide who should be helped and by how much.

Now, there were policies they did eventually bring in, sure, some of which deserve credit.

Establish a directly elected Scottish Assembly, with an executive drawn from members of the assembly.

While some of the elements Labour delivered were not exactly the brightest. Here's just one example:

Give a high priority to building bypasses.

All of this is incidental, though. The document is primarily famous for its call for state ownership of industry, which is there in spades. Some particularly absurd candidates for nationalisation are included, like film distribution and the building materials industry. 

There's also a specific section on banking, too, the most immediately relevant, in which Labour said it would:

  • Establish a National Investment Bank to put new resources from private institutions and from the government - including North Sea oil revenues - on a large scale into our industrial priorities. The bank will attract and channel savings, by agreement, in a way that guarantees these savings and improves the quality of investment in the UK.
  • Exercise, through the Bank of England, much closer direct control over bank lending. Agreed development plans will be concluded with the banks and other financial institutions.
  • Create a public bank operating through post offices, by merging the National Girobank, National Savings Bank and the Paymaster General's Office.
  • Set up a Securities Commission to regulate the institutions and markets of the City, including Lloyds, within a clear statutory framework.
  • Introduce a new Pension Schemes Act to strengthen members' rights in occupational pension schemes, clarify the role of trustees, and give members a right to equal representation, through their trade unions, on controlling bodies of the schemes.
  • Set up a tripartite investment monitoring agency to advise trustees and encourage improvements in investment practices and strategies.

We expect the major clearing banks to co operate with us fully on these reforms, in the national interest. However, should they fail to do so, we shall stand ready to take one or more of them into public ownership. This will not in any way affect the integrity of customers' deposits.

Not classic New Labour. Yet, except for the purpose being panic, not investment, some of this is now happening. Tighter lending rules are back in vogue, and, a Labour Chancellor is apparently about to part-nationalise all the commercial banks. Hopefully the receipt will show us taxpayers holding some actual assets thereafter.

It makes me wonder if Geoffrey brushed up on his 83 manifesto before going into the studios tonight. Perhaps he didn't need to. He may scoff now, but in 1983, like Tony Blair, he was elected on it.

Apologies for the longest blog post in history. Please take a well-deserved break from the internet.

Vegans: what do they eat?

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The following image is an authentic summary by Marvel of the lifestyle and habits of Vegans. It's just not clear to me why it doesn't tell us what they eat, although they are from the Milky Way, so I'm assuming a lot of dairy..

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Scottish Tory Boy has found a scandalous Liberal leaflet, done up with plenty of green ink to make them look like the party of the environment rather than motorways, and there's much to be cross about with it. Here's the section he spotted.

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First, as STB points out, they've dishonestly identified one of their regional MSPs as a "local" one, i.e. as the constituency MSP, which is against Parliament's rules. 

This might seem trivial, but it helps ensure people understand how they are represented and by whom, and so prevents poaching and pretend incumbency. The party clearly hopes to promote Jim "Two Jobs" Hume as the constituency challenger to the actual local MSP, in this case Iain Gray, the LOLITSP. A wee compliment is therefore due to STB. The Liberals aren't even trying to poach one of his MSPs: I believe he's just genuinely aggrieved about the principle.

This kind of misrepresentation is what we have come to expect from the Liberals. But the leaflet does include another substantial bit of deception. The quote to the right of the leaflet is identified as a Guardian point of view, the one about the Liberals being the best on the environment for decades. 

Guardian readers might well be impressed to hear that, but it's actually a quote from Liberal conference, merely reported in the Guardian. Who'd expect a speaker at Liberal conference to back the Liberals?

The speaker in question was Dick Hazell, the Chief Executive of the Environmental Services Association. The ESA has many good members working on recycling, but it also supports the worst approach possible to waste - burning it

He's also known as Dirk, and under this name was a chair of the London Tories, before he (shock horror) joined the Liberals. Mr Hazell is pictured here with Brian Paddick, holding a giant membership card, as per the giant charity cheque photo used in every local paper. 

Now this looks even worse. Liberal supporter supports Liberals, and is quoted as if he's the whole damn Guardian. Honest? I think not.

Mr Hazell, as it happens, is a man of flexible opinions, as well as flexible allegiances. He may now think the Liberals best on environmental matters, but while still a Tory he told their conference that:

"Conservative controlled councils are leading on the environment at the local level.."

He's also so green-minded that he believes the objective of Greenpeace is:

"...to limit economic growth: a certain recipe for civil strife and wars which condemns the bulk of humanity to perpetual poverty."

Surely he can't be the same Dick Hazell who, according to his cousin, was apparently "involved in some financial irregularities" while a Vice Chairman of Lloyds, though? Peter Hain named and shamed this Mr Hazell in a Parliamentary motion in 1995, but the internet is unable to prove or disprove a link. 

Finally, to round out my annoyance, this same accursed leaflet includes a grammatical howler. The last sentence reads (emphasis mine):

"I will continue to hold Ministers to account on the environment, and urge strong action on over the packaging of products and the generation of biofuels."

Update: there's another wee typo to look for in their copy too. 

So, in one small section of a single leaflet they've broken Parliamentary rules, misleadingly quoted one of their own as a third party endorsement, and mangled the English language. 

Has anyone got a stronger contender for Worst Liberal Leaflet Ever? A small bottle of something nice is available for the best entry in the comments. Scans or pictures are obligatory, I'm afraid. I have standards.

Perspective, people, please.

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Thumbnail image for blakewoad.jpgAnother extraordinary round of cybernat activity is drawn to my attention, this time on an article about Holocaust education. For some reason, there are people out there who believe that the Holocaust (6m+ dead, less than 60 years ago) is less relevant than Glencoe (78 dead, more than 300 years ago):

"The killing of million of Jews is abhorant and a dark shadow on modern history. However, the Clearances and the Glencoe massacre has more of an effect on our (Highlands, Islands and MacDonalds) pyschie than Aushwiz, if you see what I mean." - Dave from Barra

No, Dave, I don't. I don't believe you're speaking for the whole of the Highlands and Islands, either.

One Richardinho (rumoured to work at Holyrood, and certainly an SNP supporter) dismisses the death camps as "Polish history". 

"the 'most vital history lesson of all' for Scottish children would be to learn about Scottish history, not Polish history."

Others compare the Nazi exterminations to Culloden, a battle lost by an incompetent Jacobite leadership to the "Duck of Cumberland", a man so odious that one ex-pat in the thread refuses to eat Cumberland stew despite knowing there's no connection.

"It might be more appropriate to take Scottish school children on a tour of areas of concern to Scottish history including, for example, the battlefield of Culloden; there to be told of the butchery of the Duck of Cumberland. Visits to the likes of Auschwitz have no more relevance to Scottish school children than would an educational tour of the Siberian gulags where Stalin butchered millions of his own people; or to the killing fields of Cambodia or the sites of mass graves in the former Jugoslavia." - Guga II

Before the woad-covered backlash begins, yes, I am aware of the barbarism that followed Culloden. But no, I don't think there's much that can be generalised from the conflicts between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians, whereas Cambodia and the Balkans do illustrate the fact that genocide and ethnic cleansing are a continuing risk. 

Most disturbing of all, perhaps, is the comment near the end (yes, I read these things so you don't have to) about the picture associated with the article, which shows Auschwitz inmates looking insufficiently gaunt for one "Brage", the prime denier in this thread. He notes that:

"Incidentally, the photographs at the begining of the article does not indicate that the purported inmates were starving!"

Words fail me. I do hope we're not really condemned to repetition.

"Dear all.."

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junkmail.jpgAs Jim Murphy takes over another of Labour's poisoned chalices as Secretary of State for Scotland, a role formerly known to the SNP as Governor General, a story comes back to me from 1997. 

The source is long forgotten, and it may be rumour, so take with a pinch of salt.

Apparently Mr Murphy, newly elected for Eastwood to everyone's great surprise, arrived at the Commons to find its practices and procedures a touch too stuffy for his taste. He therefore, so the story goes, wrote to all MPs inviting them to discuss options for modernisation with him. 

Tam Dalyell was reported to be particularly appalled by an absurd invitation to take part in a process chaired by this young know-nothing with a few weeks' experience of Parliament. And no, nothing ever came of it.

No love for Ian Blair.

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jeancharlesmemorial.jpgThe leftish blogosphere is roiling with misplaced sympathy for Ian Blair. For example, Douglas Johnson, whose writings I usually like, says: "when a politician clearly edges a public servant out of their job, we should worry."

Elsewhere it's argued that "another block has been removed from the foundations of our weak democracy." The Guardian calls it a Tory plot.


Ian Blair ran the police force which through gross incompetence and carelessness killed Jean Charles De Menezes, and he fronted up one of the most disgracefully misleading media campaigns ever, promoting lies about the innocent Brazilian's actions that morning. Blair should have resigned that week.

I believe it was one of Livingstone's major failings to be so supportive of his police chief (along with the stuff about the concentration camps, naturally). Even this week he's still getting this wrong, because he's understandably miffed about the election. 

Note to the left: my enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend.

Inside the tent.

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TonyBlairPeterMandelson.jpgPeter Mandelson, New Labour's original turbulent priest, back in the Cabinet? The cursing of the Brown loyalists will be long and heart-felt - this is a bold move to say the least.

It's not just those resignations, either (one, passports for domes, two, loans for curtailing investigations). It's the years of hatred and mistrust. Eighteen months ago, as Gordon Brown was preparing to take office, Mandelson was forced to tell Brown that he couldn't be sacked by the Prime Minister-to-be from his EU Commissioner post. 

Just six months ago Brown told him he could stay on in the Commission, and while the Guardian claimed "they are getting it together again", no-one believed them. These two have been against each other since the time Mandelson backed Blair over Brown for the leadership, and there is no way this will be smooth. 

I wonder if the bookies have offered odds yet on his next resignation. I believe resigning from Cabinet three times would be an all-time record.

The following fell into my lap through some kind of wormhole in the space-time continuum. It claims to be an article from the Scotsman, dated Friday 3 October, two days from now.

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HOLYROOD STOPPERS ALCOHOL BAN

The Scottish Parliament yesterday delivered a stinging rebuke to the SNP administration on their plans to ban under-21s from Scotland's off licences. Despite passionate pleas from the Justice Secretary Kenny Macaskill, a Tory motion rejecting the plans was passed with support from all three other opposition parties.

Tthe Conservatives' spokesman Murdo Fraser said: "We all accept that Scotland's communities do indeed face problems with violence and disorder related to alcohol abuse. However, this hare-brained scheme from the SNP would fail to deal with those issues while simultaneously creating a whole new set of problems."

Defending the proposals, Kenny Macaskill urged Holyrood to consider the "extraordinary benefits to communities" that trial programmes have led to in West Lothian, Fife, and Central Scotland, brushing aside concerns about the evidence from those trials. He said: "Other parties oppose these plans, but have nothing to put in their place. If they fail to back us, they will face the judgement of the people of Scotland."

Speaking for Labour, Richard Baker, a former student president, said: "The real problem with licencing is the failure to implement existing legislation effectively, and whatever the question is, criminalising increasing numbers of young people is the wrong answer."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie described the move as "a misguided and ill-conceived idea, designed to get headlines rather than to find solutions", and urged the SNP to look instead at local measures based on the Local Licencing Forums introduced in 2005.

Long before the vote was taken it was clear that the Parliament would reject the Scottish Government's proposals. SNP backbenchers rose one after another to condemn the opposition parties as irresponsible and isolated from their electorate, with their attacks becoming increasingly shrill and combative, but in the end the motion passed by 80 votes to 47, with one abstention.

Welcoming the vote, Tom French, coordinator of the Coalition Against Raising the Drinking Age in Scotland (CARDAS), said: "This vote has to be the death knell of this profoundly illiberal and disproportionate proposals. Students and young people across the country will be, in a responsible manner, raising a glass to the sensible majority in Parliament."

BACKGROUND

Kenny Macaskill is himself no stranger to drunk and disorderly allegations, having spent the 2000 England-Scotland match in a police cell, but has since repositioned himself as the scourge of alcohol-related disorder.

With his populist attacks on two-for-one deals, and his description of Tennents as "cooking lager", he has sought to claim ownership of on a issue which has long been neglected by politicians at local and national level.

The SNP administration believes this idea would resonate with communities with experience of the misery caused by drunken young people. However, it came with a clear price tag - it's hard to imagine a policy more likely to upset student activists and other young voters.

This is the real reason Parliament has called time on the SNP proposals, which seemed inevitable once concerns about the methodology behind their pilot projects had been raised. Whatever Ministers say, Scotland's 18-21 year olds can be assured that their freedom to drink is safe for now.

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About this Archive

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

September 2008 is the previous archive.

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