Westminster: September 2008 Archives

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highlighter.jpgWhile searching for a particular response to our 2007 manifesto, I found an interesting document published under FOI - a review (580k pdf) of that manifesto by a Scotland Office civil servant. 

Specifically, it's a "Selection of material focusing on those aspects of the Manifesto which could impact on relations with the UK Government and the pattern of the Devolution Settlement."

The highlighter pen got quite an outing. Tackling climate change and airport expansion, opposing nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and reversing rail privatisation all got blue-inked, and that's just from our key pledges. 

Some of these are understandable, especially nuclear weapons. But airport expansion in Scotland is a planning matter for local authorities, Scottish Ministers, and the Parliament. And why did the regulation of supermarkets not get highlighted? Or the defence of civil liberties? Given Westminster leads on the abolition of civil liberties you might have thought otherwise.

Anyway, I was interested to see what they made of us. And it turns out it's not just the radical Greens who had The Treatment. The equivalent exercise was also conducted on the SNP, the Liberals, where the author speculates fruitlessly about coalition, those dangerous constitutional rebels, the Tories, and even the Scotland Office's supposed friends in Scottish Labour.

Impact on relations with the UK? We all do it, apparently. And now you know a little more about the constructive way the Scotland Office spends its time.

Cracking down on nuisance callers.

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I don't have a landline, but a pal who listened to the first 5 seconds of her Clegg-call before slamming it down (previously discussed here) points me to this decision blocking their quasi-survey masquerading as market research. 

They now have to quit this no-doubt expensive operation or face prosecution, no matter what their activists would like to believe.

I got a leaflet through this week from them which worked on a similar basis, offering dubious choices on environmental policy for the party to misuse in subsequent press releases and attempting to harvest my email and mobile number. 

Why would such a questionnaire exclude options like opposition to Edinburgh airport expansion, or support for congestion charging? Only because they appear not to trust their arguments to actual debate on the issues. As a friend asked last time I wrote about this: "Why has it taken people so long to tumble to the Lib Dems?"

Chocks away.

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balloonchair.jpgLembit Opik does love his odd modes of transport, most recently embarrassing his party with a stunt on a Segway

Previously, he used to give the Liberals that other-worldly touch with his obsession with asteroid strikes, prevention thereof. I always suspected he wanted to go on the spaceship himself for that mission.

Today he turned up in Fife to back their local candidate from the cockpit of a plane, presumably to get the message across that Liberals back aviation, not carbon cuts. Or perhaps to try carpet-bombing the residents of Glenrothes with leaflets that say "Only the Lib Dems can win here", which would be just as accurate as usual.

One curious thing, though, is that the release says he was "behind the wheel" of the plane, presumably his Mooney M20J. I am not an expert, obviously, but I think the word here is "yoke".

It looks like one or two of his colleagues would rather he tried the balloon chair (pictured), though, unless there is in fact a genuine campaigning reason why he's resigned tonight.

This is a recording.

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robotphone.jpg"Hello. As a Liberal representative, your number has been specially selected to receive this important message. Living in Scotland I have had the gargantuan misfortune to have experienced eight years of misrule by Liberal Ministers, breaking countless promises on issues like the environment, planning, transport, and civil liberties." 

"We watched Liberal Transport Ministers in particular impose climate-busting motorways, ignoring local opposition and public inquiries alike. I also had to stomach English Liberals claiming that tuition fees had been abolished in Scotland, when your colleagues had merely renamed them and postponed the point of payment."

"I can only think of a single positive achievement by those Ministers - PR for local government, which helped me and many others elect Green councillors for the first time last year."

"Overall, the experience led me to conclude that I would be reluctant to vote Liberal even if you were the last party left on earth. Thank you for listening."

Cairns has gone.

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cairns.jpgThe rumours were true. Perhaps that's why the Gaelic TV people who interviewed Robin this morning were having trouble getting hold of Cairns earlier.

Who's next? And will he do a Geoffrey Howe interview?

Update: Apparently Caroline Flint is next up. I'm waiting for Jack Straw, though.

Dog's dinner.

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doggy-dinner.jpgTim Luckhurst wrote an extraordinary piece for the Guardian yesterday, full of praise for Iain Gray, yet I feel the new LOLITSP won't be pleased by it. 

He is not a "standard-issue numpty" like Jamieson or Kerr, Luckhurst says, backed up by the evidence that Gray had a public-school education. 

He's "open-minded", which is confirmed by the fact that he's been seen reading the Guardian. Surely a low bar, especially for a Labour politician?

Tim then advises the LOLITSP to call on Gordon Brown to resign, which sounds like friendly fire rather than advice intended to be helpful. I know Ministers down south are eyeing Brown up like a well-done roast (Cabinet pictured above), but the rest of us know a change of leader won't solve their problems.

Finally, he argues that Gray has to prove that "social justice and separatism are incompatible". So, in principle, Scotland would be incapable of achieving social justice without being part of Great Britain? That's a pure faith position, impossible to prove, not to mention counter-intuitive given how badly the status quo has failed to deliver social justice.

Agreeing with Henry.

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ziplake.jpgHenry McLeish today pointed out the bleeding obvious: that the £400m in Council Tax Benefit should stay in Scotland to offset local taxes, irrespective of the model Parliament eventually backs. 

Like Henry, I don't think the SNP plans as proposed are the right solution, but that's a different question.

The fact is that this money comes from tax receipts collected in Scotland as well as elsewhere in the UK. Sure, the legislation limits the taxes it can be applied to, but I'd bet the Block Grant that legislation would be changed if a Labour First Minister wanted to amend local taxation. 

Let Labour make the case against Local Income Tax. There's plenty of material there, just as there is with the Council Tax. But simply to threaten to withdraw this money is pure petty-minded-ness, not to mention bad politics. Why give the Nats a new grievance to play with? Don't Labour understand that's still a key part of the way the SNP expects to achieve independence? (Labour understanding of independence pictured above)

What could we buy with £2.4m?

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kennedybillboard.jpegMichael Brown continues to damage the Liberals' reputation, not because money was allegedly fraudulently given to them, but because they have shown no intention to return a penny to those who may have been defrauded. 

The Observer has a new line on this today. Robert Mann, one of those who believes he was defrauded, is suing the party for his part of the money back - £632,000 of the £2.4m in question.

Brown billed 5th Avenue Partners as an "investment opportunity", but Mann's money was wasted on helicopter rides for Charles Kennedy and billboards with his face on it, all to encourage people to do something equivalent to abstaining in the 2005 election.

What I didn't realise last time I looked at this was that the Electoral Commission can, according to the Observer, "take the donation into the public purse if it is found that it is not permissible". 

The Liberals' defence is that they've spent the money, but if Brown is found to have fraudulently obtained it and donated it, the fact is it doesn't belong to them, and they should hand it over. Imagine an associate of a petty thief trying to tell the police and the courts that money can't be returned because it's been spent. 

And just think what government could do with that money instead. 

If it was spent here in Scotland, it could boost the Saltire Prize by almost 25%. If it had been spent in Wales, it would have paid for the revival of their language and culture centre in Gwynedd. The Northern Irish could fund 3,600 childcare places. It'd be more than enough for the English to start making Basildon beautiful

And wouldn't any of those uses be better than letting the Liberals blow it on Focus leaflets and dodgy "only we can win here" charts?

Index-linking the Union dividend.

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brownchancellor.jpgLast week Gordon Brown, the former chancellor, declared himself now open to changes in Scotland's funding arrangements. This was widely interpreted, not least by John Swinney, as movement on fiscal autonomy, but it wasn't anything of the sort. 

He actually said "The Scottish Parliament is wholly accountable for the budget it spends, but not for the size of its budget. And that budget is not linked to the success of the Scottish economy."

What would it look like if the block grant were linked to the success of the Scottish economy? For these purposes let us pretend that growth in GDP is an comprehensive indicator of success.

If Scotland's economy shrank, the block grant would shrink in tandem. Poverty would increase, and the need for government funding would grow, yet Scotland would be given less money to fund the relevant services. Conversely, the less support Scotland needed, the more money would be provided. 

Let's imagine, though, with their limited economic levers, that Salmond and Swinney manage to engineer some localised Irish-style flim-flam boomlet that didn't spill over into Cumbria and Northumberland. Would UK tax revenues then really be diverted north of the border in massive amounts? Unlikely.

This is a long way from fiscal autonomy, which is the right to raise taxes as the Scottish Parliament sees fit. It's more like performance-related pay.

And because the most important economic powers haven't been devolved, Scotland's budget would be even more directly dependent on the vagaries of economic policy largely set in Whitehall. 

Brown's quote could be extended: "And the success or failure of Scotland's economy is not linked to the powers of the Scottish Parliament." But that would take him places he doesn't want to go.

Double your No2ID money.

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Thumbnail image for harvieIDcards.jpg
How often do I quote Liberal blogs favourably? Pretty rarely. Here's one, though.

NO2ID is an excellent grassroots political campaign, building knowledge about the ID cards and the database behind them, which quickly translates to opposition. I'm pretty sure they're going to win, too.

So, on with the quote.

From 1st September 2008, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd has generously agreed to match, pound for pound, any *new* income that NO2ID receives. 

Which means that for every pound you give from 1st September NO2ID will receive TWO pounds to spend campaigning against the ID scheme and database state.

Please send your donation by cheque to the NO2ID office (please mark your envelope 'JRRT'):

The NO2ID Campaign
Box 412
19-21 Crawford Street
London W1H 1PJ

Or you can donate by credit card or via PayPal using the 'Donate' button on their website.

Maybe next time the Liberals won't abstain on ID at Holyrood too. We can hope.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Westminster category from September 2008.

Westminster: August 2008 is the previous archive.

Westminster: October 2008 is the next archive.