Parliament: October 2008 Archives

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.
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.

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:

" 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.
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.

kennymacaskillsad.jpgThumbnail image for kennymacaskillsad.jpg

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."


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 a archive of entries in the Parliament category from October 2008.

Parliament: September 2008 is the previous archive.

Parliament: November 2008 is the next archive.