January 2009 Archives

The Honey Monster.

| | Comments (0)
honeymonster.jpgMagnus from the Record has a blog piece up which I highly recommend. The headline is great, and this bit about the Liberals' deal made me properly LOL, as the kids say.

"Asking Alex Salmond to make the case for Scottish parliament borrowing powers is like asking the Honey Monster to eat a bowl of Sugar Puffs.

I suppose technically, given that he is being asked to make the case to the pro-Union Calman Commission, it's like asking the Honey Monster to eat a bowl of supermarket own-brand Sugar Puffs.

Not ideal, but he's still going to tuck in."

Spot on.

Second class.

| | Comments (3)
2ndclass.jpgSerious times need serious people. But sometimes you have to take what you can get. For weeks now Tavish Scott, Jeremy Purvis and Mike Rumbles have been the hard men of Scottish politics, inviting the SNP to talk to the hand. 

The issue was that the Nats were too sensible to go for their last idea, an £800m cut in public services (unspecified) to fund a 2p tax cut, a wheeze so right-wing and impractical that even the Tories mocked them, which must have hurt.

However, David Maddox has their number (if the Steamie could link to pages, I'd link to it). Q: When is a principle a non-principle? A: When it's a Lib Dem principle.

In the latest example of this absolute rule of politics, their 2p tax cut has now been dropped. In its place the Liberals now simply want Alex Salmond to restate his long-standing policy commitment to borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament, in writing, both to Gordon Brown and to Sir Kenneth Calman. I wonder if Alex Salmond managed to keep a straight face when this was suggested. I wonder if he tried to haggle, or if he said he'd let them know later. I wonder, above all, what on earth they were thinking.

If he does send these two letters, the Liberals will apparently vote for the Budget without other preconditions. Only the Telegraph seems to have the story at this stage, but others in the pack have been confirming it to me. Simon Johnson describes it as "a humiliating u-turn" to now be asking for a single second-class stamp. I make that two stamps, for a total cost of 48p.

If his dire performance on Newsnight is a guide, where he refused to answer any questions about his "proposals", Tavish Scott may be having second thoughts. I can see why: he's now about to commit himself to voting for a Budget which could be entirely unchanged from one his finance spokesman described just yesterday as "woefully inadequate". 

If he does show signs of losing his nerve, the First Minister should consider offering him a book of twelve stamps instead and see if that seals the deal.

No flannel.

| | Comments (3)
patrickthinking.jpgAt 6 this morning, I warned that the SNP were in danger of leaving this Budget too late, and so it turned out. Personally I think none of the parties should feel pleased with the outcome, and we certainly don't. 

Some of the analysis blames us - the Scotsman tomorrow apparently think only the SNP and the Greens voted, and their headline is curious to say the least. 

Alan Cochrane thinks no-one ever voted for a Green MSP, which is odd, because I distinctly remember voting for Robin Harper three times. One time I even got Mark Ballard as a bonus, because enough other people did the same thing. 

The Herald take a more measured approach, while Magnus Linklater argues that ".. the SNP leadership made the mistake of taking Mr Harvie for granted. They left the last-minute dealing to the last minute, and presumed too much." 

Turning to the blogs, cybernat opinion roasts us, while the more reasonable end of the Nat blogosphere takes the opposite view, with some reservations. The Liberals are blaming the Nats, with some support for our position, while Labour also remain focused on the SNP.

When the hysteria passes, it should be remembered that we proposed a scheme which we think would cost just £100m a year. It would have made (and may yet make) a massive contribution to cutting fuel poverty and climate change emissions, to reducing household bills and to boosting employment. 

It's a lot of money for energy efficiency, but a relative drop in the overall budgetary ocean. A third of one percent of the coming year's spending, actually. Let me know if you think that sounds unreasonable.

On a more personal note, I'd like to thank the ever-suitable Suitably Despairing for his concern, his support, and his suggestion I put a cold flannel over my forehead. He quotes David Maddox, talking about me, saying I look like I've "never known stress like this in his life". 

David, I can assure you that's not true. I spent three years as press officer for the Parliament itself, working for the first two Presiding Officers, specialising in the "thrilling masterpiece" we both work in. It takes more than this for me to consider throwing in the towel.

Latest on the Budget.

| | Comments (1)
icyrollercoaster.jpgLess than ten hours before Holyrood votes on the SNP's second Budget, and it could still go either way. In particular, they have not yet persuaded us to back them, despite the increasingly firm pledges from Labour and the Liberals to vote against at 5pm. 

It's pretty extraordinary, given that almost four months ago we approached them with seriously affordable and sensible proposals on insulation and home energy, enough to get Robin and Patrick to overlook the actively undesirable aspects of their proposals. I can only assume Alex Salmond, John Swinney & Bruce Crawford like a white-knuckle ride.

Beyond that, I'd love to go into all the ins and outs of the negotiations, but it would be bad form. It'll have to be saved up for the (otherwise frankly dull) memoirs. At least this hectic phase will all be over by 5pm. Assuming it doesn't fall, that is, in which case we'd be doing it all again almost immediately.
olivebranch.jpgI don't know much about Judaism, I admit, but I'm learning. The various festivals around food are obviously great - I love hamantaschen, plus the cheesecakes traditional on Shavuot - but more appealing still is the idea of tikkun olam, or "repairing the world". 

Many have taken this idea to imply or support environmentalism (obligatory Obama link), and Jay Michaelson has a great piece which drew my attention to the concept. The quote above is taken from his article.

As Knesset elections approach, and with some polls showing the local Greens strong enough to get elected, a green tinge to the results would surely also help strengthen the position of those seeking peace in the region.

The BBC did a great package for the Politics Show about the work being done in Kirklees by local Green Councillors, including Andrew Cooper, who's interviewed in the film. Glenn Campbell then discusses our budget proposals with Patrick. It's all here:

Bad move.

| | Comments (0)
bettermistakes.jpgTimes are tough, economically, and even those with no prospect of unemployment until 2011 must plan ahead. 

Still, making complex and dubiously-timed property moves might prove unpopular with your employers, in this case the public in the North East, not to mention with your colleagues. 

I imagine the heated discussions with Mr Don have already begun. Admitting signing up for a massive and discredited benefit just before the deadline, like Indiana Jones grabbing his hat as the wall comes down, can't be part of the SNP playbook. It's a particularly bad idea while you're on the phone with Paul Hutcheon, the Scottish Parliament's unofficial Standards Commissioner. 

Also, shouldn't a list MSP be representing the entire region, not "covering" seats their party hopes to pick up next time?

Your branes are empty.

| | Comments (0)
Thumbnail image for syb.pngI've linked to spEak You're bRanes before, but these two entries are really worth being a read. Terrorism. Plane Stupid.

schoolmeals.jpgLabour's leadership in Lewisham are very excited about Obama's election, although you can be sure the feeling isn't reciprocated. Specifically, they were so excited that their discussions of the inauguration at a council meeting last night went on too long for a Green proposal on free school meals to be considered. 

I suspect the President wouldn't be hugely impressed by that outcome. Can't this sort of chat be saved for the pub afterwards? Won't they think of the children?

A fleece revolution.

| | Comments (0)
fleecerevolution.jpgCalum thinks everyone's been awfully unfair on the Icelandic government, formerly part of the Arc of Prosperity. He supportively cites their President's view that it'll all be all right in Iceland long before Britain's economy recovers, and the view (from a friend of their Prime Minister's) that some of their problems are actually Gordon Brown's fault

Now the use of anti-terror legislation was clearly over the top, but that's just how New Labour rolls. Protests about climate change? Let's use anti-terrorism legislation. Someone didn't pick up some street chocolate? Parents pretending they live in the right catchment area? Get the anti-terrorism legislation out.

But a whole country complaining about it? Brown didn't send Iceland to Guantanamo, after all. It looks more like Iceland joined the Arc of Blaming Westminster instead. 

More seriously, the idea that Iceland is in a better position than us is rather undermined by the burgeoning "fleece revolution", backed by the local Left Green Party, demanding the resignation of Geir Haarde, the amusingly named Icelandic Prime Minister (Huffington Post, Guardian, Flickr). 

The old Icelandic model is over, just as the Brown model is over. The difficulty for the Nats is that they also took the exact same policy positions, enthusiastically supporting casino capitalism and offering to bend over backwards for the financial services industry however irresponsibly they behaved. 

If we'd been "Free in '93", in a Salmond-led Scotland, does anyone seriously doubt that a "kilt revolution" would have been gathering outside Bute House right now?
I take this headline from one of the latest crop of Nat bloggers, all identifiable by their Scotsman cybernat identities. Wardog gets very excited about the fact that this would be the only "long span cable-stay bridge in the world to have central crossed cables". To translate, this is the only big bridge announced by the SNP, making it the world's best bridge by definition for this crowd.

Here's the pic the SNP bloggers are afraid to print:

What's a worse waste of money than a white elephant? Three white elephants!

Listening to Obama.

| | Comments (1)

Over the last month I've been listening to Obama reading the two volumes of his autobiography. It's an incredibly intimate experience, the autobiographical audiobook read by the author, with the future President telling his life story, with his impressions of his African family and his vivid anecdotes mingling with a broader understanding of the world outside the USA than any President before him.

I recommend the two books to you. The first one, Dreams From My Father, would be a fascinating work even if the author wasn't the President-elect. The latter, The Audacity of Hope, is more safe, more careful: Obama was already a Senator, and so while his meditations on the US Constitution are interesting to the anoraks amongst us, it reads more like a manifesto and less like a passionate memoir.

Here's an excerpt from the first book. The author is nine years old, living in Indonesia, when his mother visits the US Embassy.

Fowl play.

| | Comments (2)
One of my friends in the media passed me a leaflet last week, a Morrisons tract designed to persuade me that they only use happy chickens which get to live normal lives. Here's the cover, which should really have been called Come and meet the meat...

Inside, however, we see what this actually means. Those normal avian lives include.. playing football.

I know it looks like I've Photoshopped that ball into the picture but the original is available for inspection. Oddly, the text contains no explanation, which makes me think it's as realistic and accurate as this chicken-football video, and that the reality of Morrisons' average chicken's life is still likely to be more like this.

We got some very important commitments from the SNP on Wednesday, and so Robin and Patrick voted for their budget on Wednesday. For anoraks, here's the relevant bits of the day's debate:

Insulation for all.

| | Comments (0)
warmscotland.pngAs regular readers will know, we want to see SNP Ministers adopt our free insulation proposals as part of this year's budget process. 

We are basing our plan on the successful experience in Kirklees, where Green Councillors ensured that loft and cavity wall insulation is delivered area-by-area for free: more expensive measures are repaid by householders when the property is sold.

The campaign has had a lot of media attention (Scotsman, Guardian, TimesHerald, Record, who also gave us an editorial endorsement!), etc, and the first vote on the Budget comes tomorrow. Nails are being bitten all round.

We have a wee stand-alone campaign site up at warmscotland.org, which also has been promoted on the back of the Big Issue for the last three editions. If you like the idea, and you want to see Ministers back it, you can sign up to the campaign there.

A late Christmas present idea.

| | Comments (1)
scottishmoney.jpgIf you didn't get round to finding a present for the political anorak in your life, and if times are a bit hard economically, may I suggest a copy of the accompanying documents for the Budget (Scotland) (No.2) Bill? 

Although a copy is online, this brief but fascinating work confirms that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and the Presiding Officer share the view that the SNP's second Budget is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. 

A note at the end confirms the bargain price: just 30p. I will watch the Amazon bestsellers list keenly, although resale value may depend on how the Budget votes go.

douglasperth.jpegHe's now a proper celebrity. Earlier in the week the Courier had a story saying that the arrival of him and his camera crew to do vox pops made Perth "the centre of attention".

Douglas is a lovely fellow, but this level of excitement must have surprised him a little. Imagine what would happen if Paris Hilton or Nelson Mandela turned up on the High St.
optimus.jpgThe Record reports Gordon Brown's latest moment of striking honesty on the radio. Apparently he wants to meet, or possibly hire, Optimus Prime, a Transformer and one of the weirdest sci-fi characters ever, half robot, half truck. 

A few quick thoughts. This makes Patrick's desire to be Doctor Who seem much more mundane. If Gordon's next book on heroism is about fictional sci-fi heroes, I might even buy it. Also, bear this in mind the next time you hear the PM talk about his plans to transform the economy.

The comment in the title is from a listener, and I wholeheartedly endorse it.
loftinsulation.jpgWith Keynesian economists urging Governments to increase their spending during a downturn, Ministers north and south have rubbed their hands and brandished their favourite existing projects. 

In many cases, schemes we'd been told were vital to support booming economic growth were rebranded as vital to get us out of recession. The Fourth Forth Crossing is one such.

Massive spending, which must always be badged as "investment" however vain and irrelevant the project, is the third leg of intervention this time round, alongside massive bailouts and massive money-printing, known delightfully as "quantitative easing". 

Like every other party, we also have a list of projects we believed were sensible five years ago, and which we're promoting now with extra vigour. However, US polling shows the particular popularity of measures to reduce dependence on fossil fuels - 66% believe they would be a very or fairly effective response to the downturn, second only to better enforcement of regulations on the finance sector.

As Nate at 538 writes:

"The long-run benefits of the alternative energy programs, on the other hand, are far more intuitively appealing. If the central critique of the stimulus is that the debt we're creating will be burdensome to future generations, that concern could be mitigated if the spending in question is portrayed as a down payment made on behalf of those future generations toward cleaning up the environment and mitigating dependence on fossil fuels. It also provides for some sense of purpose to the stimulus: we'll come out of this, Obama can say, with the greenest, most energy-independent major industrial economy in the world, etc. etc."

The same logic applies here. As support spreads for our free insulation proposals, I think people are seeing how it fits together. Reduce our long term need for new power stations. Cut people's bills for the long term. Keep our carbon emissions low for the long term. Create the kind of jobs in construction we need for the long term.

As the Times today says, if we succeed with this campaign it would be "a watershed moment in terms of policy achievement by the Greens in Scotland - or anywhere else in the UK". It could also be a turning point in terms of the investment Government pursues, the first phase of a truly Green New Deal.

Once bitten.

| | Comments (1)
iaingray.jpgIn the Times, Angus Macleod reports the SNP's intention to threaten to resign if their budget doesn't go through. The Scotsman's David Maddox appears to be the first to have divined Labour's plans - to vote against the budget and to try to install Iain Gray, the LOLITSP, in his place. 

Reading these two articles next to one another, the numbers for Wednesday's vote are starting to resolve themselves. As always, 64 is the magic number, with 65 a more comfortable position to be in  - there's more exciting detail on that below. 

For the SNP's budget to pass, just like last year, the main options are either a) for Labour not to vote against or b) for any two of the three smaller parties to vote for it. 

There are also other permutations involving abstentions: for instance, it also would pass if Labour vote against and everyone else abstains. Equally, party discipline might not hold, but I wouldn't bet on that. So how will they break? 

The Liberals are the easiest to call. They were so opposed to any kind of constructive discussion that they sent Mike Rumbles to meet the Cabinet Secretary. He's as emollient and as easy to get on with as a hungry bear with a thorn in its paw. It's like putting BA Baracus up for negotiations, but without the charm, good looks and jewelry.

They want a £800m tax cut, and I can show you Jeremy Purvis utterly failing to answer where the cuts would come from on Newsnight tonight if you're interested. The best he had was the part-privatisation of Scottish Water. That's 16 dead cert votes against.

The Tories are the next easiest. They don't know what they want, but Derek Brownlee took to Newsnight to argue for masterly inactivity and to explain that last year set the three year comprehensive spending review (keep awake at the back!), so no urgent action is required. This is code for almost certainly supporting the SNP, provided they get to take credit for something Ministers want to do anyway. Score that as 16 votes the other way.

Labour have played their cards a lot closer to their chest. Some have wondered whether there were even cards there at all, but David Maddox's report confirms that they're prepared to press the nuclear button and try to bring about the fall of the SNP government. Presumably they think Glenrothes was a sign of good things to come, or they don't care any more. Either way, today at last we know more, and it looks like a pretty clear vote against.

As Maddox writes, Labour's demands "would be to increase health and transport spending, drop plans for a local income tax, and scrap the £23.5 million Scottish Futures Trust. The list was delivered in the knowledge that it would be rejected."

If that's really their ask, they've put themselves in the same position as the Liberals, whereby voting against is the only consistent position. In particular, Angus Macleod is right to say that Labour are "keen to avoid the humiliation and ridicule they suffered last year", where they built up to a vote against before collapsing into abstention. It was so inept an approach that it inspired me to start blogging almost a year ago. They can't do it again, not if they want to retain any credibility with the media, making another 46 votes against now the most likely outcome.

That would leave the numbers at 63 in favour and 62 against, with only four votes still to consider: the two Green MSPs, Margo and the Presiding Officer.

At 64 votes all, i.e. if the SNP bring Margo round by leaving sacks of cash in the streets of the capital, but do not persuade us, then the PO has to use his casting vote. That's not at his discretion: he's required to use it to support the status quo, which is technically defined as the last thing Parliament supported. At Stage 1, that's last year's Budget, not this one, so he'd have to vote against. If we saw the same numbers at Stage 3, however, it'd be a vote for, given that Parliament would have had to have backed it at Stage 1 to have got that far. I checked this last year.

This means that, in order to be sure the budget will pass, again to quote David Maddox, "Mr Swinney will probably have to find £100 million to pay for the Greens' demand for free insulation to be provided for households across Scotland."

I do want to believe that. It's a great project, one the Nats should be backing irrespective of the budget: it would help tackle fuel poverty and climate change, improve health, boost jobs, and cut people's bills. I want to believe we're going to get this through, but that relies on Labour being consistent.

Last time, when they got it wrong, Iain Gray wasn't the mighty LOLITSP - he was the incompetent shadow finance minister, shredded by the Sun in the montage above (click it for a larger image). They've made their move now, and surely to goodness he doesn't want to be put through the mincer again?

Michael Crow to join the Tories.

| | Comments (1)
michaelcrow.jpgHamish at the Scotsman had the gossip out first, according to my RSS reader. Michael Crow, STV's well-respected political correspondent, is to be the new Director of Strategy and Communications for the Tories. 

It's the classic poacher-turned-gamekeeper manœuvre, or vice versa if you prefer. He's always been hard to read, politically, unlike his colleague David Torrance. If pressed, though, I'd say he's probably rightish on crime but more leftish on civil liberties and economics. 

It's a great coup for the Tories: he's shrewd, sensible and exceptionally well-connected. Ramsay Jones, their existing head of press, is an effective operator, and I don't yet know if he's staying on, but the two together would be a formidable team, however ill-conceived the policies they generally have to promote. 

Watch out for reduced amounts of waffling from Tory MSPs doing broadcast interviews in particular - Michael has a longstanding habit of training his interviewees on the spot when they don't get to the point quickly enough.

Your Links At Last


Other Politics



Friends and Stuff I Like

If I've forgotten to link to you, let me know. If I don't want to link to your blog I'll pretend I never got your email.

The party's site of which I am rather proud

Along with Jeff (formerly SNP Tactical Voting) and Malc (formerly In The Burgh), I now co-edit Better Nation, a group blog. Stuff will still appear here, but more will be there. Better Nation

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2008 is the previous archive.

February 2009 is the next archive.