Parliament: December 2009 Archives

salmondJCB.jpgSalmond's trip to Copenhagen is not going well. His awkward Newsnicht interview on Monday made clear why he's there: promoting his two prime causes, independence and himself (iPlayer link).

The much-vaunted Arnie meeting didn't happen, though the Governor did meet the Welsh FM. Perhaps the delegate from California was impressed that the Welsh, despite more limited powers, have signed up to 10:10 while the SNP have refused

Then it turned out the meeting itself was sponsored by fossil fuel extractors and burners, which led to protests

Jarring as that is, it's not the central weakness in his visit. The main problem is that all he has is a semi-decent target, something which was forced upon him by the non-Tory opposition. Every time he gets a chance to act on climate change, he chooses either to stall or actually to make things worse.

The rumours circulated here last week that the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, one of the most pointless and cynical road projects ever proposed for Scotland, was about to be approved this week. Tory MSPs reported being told by Ministers: "don't worry, you'll get what you want". 

The rumours then claim that some smart person spotted the possible inconsistency between the FM being in Copenhagen and his team announcing they would bulldoze a motorway through the Aberdeenshire countryside, so the timing got switched. They'll do it next week now, I understand, once no-one cares about climate change any more.

Lagging behind.

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warmscotland.pngLast year, regular readers will know, the Green MSPs proposed a massive national insulation programme to cut household bills, help tackle climate change, and boost jobs. The signals from Ministers were positive until the final hour, then it fell apart. 

It had become clear that the SNP were going to stick to the same old New Labour means-tested approach, despite all the evidence it wouldn't work. 

They were also convinced that we were bluffing about the need to take a more radical approach, and instead they listened to the siren voices arguing for business as usual. The Budget duly fell, and then, because they didn't need Green votes the next time round, they just did the bare minimum to make it look like they'd been listening.

Subsequently, to nobody's great surprise, it became clear that their timid mini-programme was indeed destined not to deliver, nor would their related loans programme, also promised during the Budget.

Since then WWF have published a fascinating report on proper free area-based loft and cavity work (full report as pdf here). The report draws on three well-run schemes, delivered in Hadyard Hill, Girvan and Fintry.

It shows that it cost £1 to allow householders in these three communities to save £1 on energy bills - remember that's a recurring saving. The Warm Deal, the Scottish Government's precursor to the Energy Assistance Package, cost almost two and half times as much to give similar savings.

The main argument against our approach is a seductive one: we should target the fuel poor, and make insulation free for those on benefits or over a certain age. Surely that'd be the most efficient use of money? It sounds it, until you remember that climate change is also an important objective here.Furthermore, in these three places WWF found that between 21% and 69% of all those in fuel poverty wouldn't have met the Scottish Government's criteria, and they'd have had to pay.

The only way that information was discovered is because these schemes were open to everyone. It has to be the way, at least for the cheapest and most cost-effective measures. There's a lot more in the report, and I really recommend it.

The strange thing about last year's Budget was the sheer scale of the opportunity missed by the SNP. Labour's efforts in London have been ineffective means testing, and they had a chance to show they could run Scotland better. They had the powers, and they flunked it. It would have been theirs, not ours: their signature achievement to go into the next election. Who knows what that will be now? I think failure to get the referendum through is a poor substitute.

The model we're proposing, was perhaps counter-intuitively implemented by a minority Tory council, in Kirklees (aka Greater Huddersfield). Dave Cameron noticed, and he launched his next local election campaign there.

He's not forgotten, either. His scheme, announced today to show Labour up during Copenhagen, is on an ambitious scale, albeit with some obvious flaws in it (Tescos and M&S probably aren't the best partners). But compared to the Tories, it's not just Labour who are lagging behind. The SNP are too.

Plaid testicles.

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spquaich.jpgTomorrow night the Holyrood hacks, formerly known as the Lawnmarket, will attend Scotland's most scurrilous awards ceremony, the famous Tartan Bollocks. The Bollocks in question are awarded as a quaich for the most gloriously inaccurate political journalism of the previous year. 

Here's a full list of the winners (losers?) over the ten years of the Bollocks.

1999: Carlos Alba and Dave King, for an SNP leadership challenge that never materialised.

2000: Angus MacLeod, for claiming Robin Cook would be the next First Minister.

2001: Hamish Macdonell, for predicting Murdo Fraser would take over from David McLetchie (note, this was two years before Murdo entered Parliament, and four years before Annabel in fact took over).

2002: Douglas Fraser, then at the Sunday Herald, claimed the Tories were on the verge of coalition with Labour.

2003: Magnus Gardham and the Record mocked up the wind turbines destined for Holyrood's roof. Or not destined, as it turned out.

2004: Jason Allardyce, for a piece about where terrorists would plant their mortars on the Crags to hit Parliament. Contained a handy print-out and keep guide.

2005: Campbell Gunn, of the Sunday Post, won for two pieces, one predicting David McLetchie's job was safe just before he resigned, and the other claiming the canteen was about to ban pies. Quite the contrary: it's one of the only items on the menu here every single day, as Frank McAveety knows to his cost.

2006: Mark Smith got the black spot for a tale of SSP shenanigans including the burning of a wicker Tommy. Turns out it was largely true, although I don't know which bits. Mark has my sympathy.

2007: Paul Hutcheon took the prize for a confident prediction that a Labour MP was about to defect to the SNP. Apparently the defence was that the article itself alarmed the would-be defector, but if one's own article makes itself untrue simply by being published...

2008: Andy Nicoll, whose excellent book you can buy here, had stories on consecutive days which claimed "Wendy bounces Gordon into referendum" and then "Gordon bounces Wendy into referendum". It's not up there with some of the Bollocks from the past, but it seems pretty likely that one of those stories couldn't be true.

The overwhelming theme is, incidentally, predictions. I understand the argument that journalists need to go out on a limb and read the tea-leaves, but it's no wonder that's a bit of a precarious task. My prediction is that tomorrow night's winner will, again, have made a prediction that simply can't be stood up. 

Update: My prediction-prediction appears to have been right. Lorraine Davidson of the Times won for this piece, full of prognostications that never happened. A new prize for the "best" blogpost from a journalist's blog was also awarded, with Brian Taylor picking up the Wardog Memorial Trophy for this piece.

Update again: Here's the 2010 winner. 2011 approaches..
andrearnie.jpgThe gap between the SNP's 2007 manifesto and their achievements is a rich seam of opposition taunts for Alex Salmond. It even inspired the LOLITSP to do a notorious impersonation of Andre the Giant (pictured left carrying the Governator) and tear up said manifesto at FMQs.

Your Local Income Tax, they shout, where is it? Your class size reductions? A single thing built by the Scottish Futures Trust? That nice bowl of fruit? This is just a warmup for the forthcoming mother of all "broken promises": the failure to deliver a referendum on independence.

Some of this is fair game. The Scottish Futures Trust was meant to be an alternative to the bonkers PPP/PFI approach shared by Labour and the Tories, and Scottish Government bonds would have been a good way to deliver that. Except that the Scotland Act doesn't permit it. And the SNP really ought to have done their homework on that in advance.

Some of the flak, though, like the Local Income Tax element and the forthcoming referendum round, is simply ridiculous. The Nats are a minority administration. They need the support of Labour or any two other parties to make a majority. Labour opposed LIT, as did we, so they sound absurd when they complain that the SNP never delivered it. It'd be like us complaining that they've not built the Aberdeen Western Peripheral.

My view is this. If SNP Ministers try to get stuff done that we oppose, we'll criticise them and try to find others who share our position to work with. We certainly won't call it a broken promise if the bad stuff doesn't happen. When the SNP come forward with proposals we can back, we'll try to help them get it done. Why is that so complicated?

Thanks to Malc for the inspiration for this post. Get a blog, mate!

Small reshuffle: two demoted.

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russellsalmondcunningham.jpgThe focus of the Holyrood media pack's attention today and tomorrow is on the demotion of Fiona Hyslop from Education to Culture, but that's not the curious part of this mini-reshuffle. 

It might seem a clear jobswap with Mike Russell, but actually he too has been demoted, perhaps for carelessness in his private office.

Unusually, I like Mike. I hold a high opinion of him, although not necessarily as high as he does of himself. But until today he was Minister For Making Scotland Independent as well as Minister For Tartan and Homecoming. Fiona Hyslop goes to a Culture Ministry stripped of that first role, which has gone instead to the Maximum Eck himself. 

It couldn't be clearer. The job of Chief Cheerleader For Independence is what made Mike's old job so central. The constitution might be a side-issue to most Scots, but not for the Nats. As it was, it was like being Minister for the Environment in a Green government, or Minister for Privatisation in a Tory administration.

Reshuffles, like Newtonian physics, are a zero-sum game. The profile and the importance have gone somewhere, taken away from the underlings. In keeping with tradition, Salmond's promoted himself.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Parliament category from December 2009.

Parliament: November 2009 is the previous archive.

Parliament: January 2010 is the next archive.