"He never phones me; he never writes..."
31 May 2007
In my continued quest to make the contest for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party interesting, may I suggest a Big Brother House in which Hazel, Peter, Hilary, Harriet, Jon and Alan will be confined for the next month?
We can watch them try to bond (sex would be, mercifully, unlikely), drink too much, gossip and bitch about each other; and we can see who is the second to be ostracised by the group (Peter Hain would be the first). We, the audience, can play our interactive part, while the light, matey voice doing the round-ups would be Tony Blair’s.
I can see it now. Hazel tap-dancing round a pile of lager cans; Peter blow-drying on the sun bed; Alan strumming his guitar and boring the housemates with his Seventies discographies; Jon reading socialist tracts with furrowed brow; Hilary organising a communal folk-based singsong and a daily good deed for each housemate; and Harriet alone in the corner with a bottle of alcopop, repeating in evermore Estuarial tones: “I’m just a working-class girl, me.”
The deep, burred voice of Big Brother will be Gordon Brown.
30 May 2007
Mr Salmond has "deep misgivings" about the £600 million Edinburgh tram scheme and this is likely to be one of the first victims of the new government's transport agenda.
At the same time, the Executive's new transport minister, Stewart Stevenson, has announced plans to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness at the same cost, £600 million. The road runs through three SNP constituencies.
It is deeply unfair to suggest that, for base political reasons, the SNP Government would favour one transport scheme over another. (And, in any case, it is the kind of thing that Labour has been doing in the West of Scotland since the year dot.)
29 May 2007
At the weekend Mr Swinney met senior Executives at Standard Life, representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and visited the Stirling-Alloa Kincardine railway project.Furthermore, according to The Herald yesterday (here), the First Minister gave a briefing at Bute House to selected journalists.
At Stirling Castle he had a day of meetings with key economic and public sector interests.
But the Executive was officially on holiday so there were no press releases over the weekend. If I were Mr Salmond or Mr Swinney, I would be strongly tempted to put a bomb under the lazy sods in the Executive's press office.
There are now more employees of the Stirling-based body than there are full-time shepherds or dairy herdspersons in Scotland.
I suppose that this is the politically correct version of a milkmaid. I guess that they will need to update the Aesop's fable so that it is entitled 'The dairy herdsperson and his or her pail'.
28 May 2007
EVERYTHING will carry a government warning label, under plans to prevent anything from happening, the Department of Health has announced...
Public health minister Caroline Flint said: "This announcement follows an extensive public consultation exercise.
"More than 1400 people managed to seriously injure themselves with the consultation document. It should have carried a warning label."
She added: "This is not about the government trying to nanny people.
"We simply want to tie their shoelaces, tidy their hair, ensure they have a good breakfast and then threaten them with a £60 fine unless they brush their teeth."
You know it makes sense.
MSPs need more time to make use of Holyrood's famous "think pods", among a range of changes recommended for the way they work in the third session of the Scottish Parliament.
They are being told they should tackle fewer pieces of legislation, and take more time to do so properly, while dedicating more hours to review laws already passed. A review of the role of MSPs draws on in-depth interviews with 15 of them from across the party range, carried out by the Scottish Council Foundation (SCF).
Of course, the MSPs would be able to think more if they did not have to spend so much time working. One and a half days of plenary parliamentary sessions per week is onerous, especially when it is supplemented by another half-day spent in committee. Then there are all those constituency surgeries, at least for those who have constituencies.
And they only get two months off in summer, with another fortnight at Christmas as well as at Easter. And then there is the schools week in October.
Is it any wonder the poor dears are always exhausted?
26 May 2007
Scotland's new fishing minister promised the industry they will have a voice in key decisions both at home and abroad during his first official engagement yesterday.
Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for the environment, told delegates at the Fish 2007 Exhibition in Glasgow that fishing would be a priority for the new SNP executive.
Mr Lochhead said he would be seeking the views of fishing sectors and giving the industry participation in talks.
Far be it from me to suggest that Ministers are in the fishermen's pockets or that they will not take decisions in the longer-term interests of the industry, but it is worth noting that Mr Lochhead (Moray) and Mr Salmond (Gordon/Banff and Buchan), not to mention Mr Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan), the grandly titled Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate, all have a significant constituency interest. I am sure that our new ministers will not blindly ensure that Scottish Executive policies for the fishing industry slavishly follow the dictates of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation.
Economists may wish to note that the economic valued added of the Scottish fishing industry is slightly less than that of the Scottish sausage industry, although the former commands rather more attention from politicians, civil servants and the media.
25 May 2007
It must be hoped the new administration will, unlike its predecessor, understand the efficiency downside to a programme for government with more than 450 commitments, coupled to a monitoring regime so intense it often seemed to those at the delivery coalface that more people were reporting and checking on the business than were actually doing it. Perhaps the new slimmer cabinet will not regard poring over a 100-page monitoring report every few months as an appropriate use of its time.
Accountability is essential, but performance-management systems need to be proportionate. This requires trust between ministers and officials, and between managers and staff. It is to be hoped incoming ministers will not carry with them, in relation to their officials, the baggage of suspicion, resentment, and distrust which - Donald Dewar apart - marked much of the incoming 1999 administration, and did not quite go away during the following eight years.
Ah, that baggage of suspicion, resentment and distrust that never quite went away. Do you suppose that had anything to do with the attitude of senior civil servants? And was it really Ministers who imposed and maintained that onerous monitoring regime?
As before, ministers will have at their disposal motivated people eager to run with the ball and keen to see them succeed. What is needed now is a new relationship between them and their officials, working together for the good of Scotland. A relationship based on mutual trust, reciprocal loyalty and respect, and one in which ministers value face-to-face engagement with those whose support they need.
The prospect of such engagement, commonplace in Whitehall, was one of Scottish civil servants' greatest expectations of devolution. With ministers in Scotland seven days a week, it was hoped that, after decades of government by remote access, a closer working relationship could be forged. This hope was quickly dashed and, as time passed, it became clear that (with some exceptions) ministers' priorities did not include making sufficient space for engagement with their departments.
So Ministers did not engage with their departments. We can - of course - accept that Ministers are totally at fault in this but we might also ask if departments, and particularly senior civil servants, engaged with Ministers. Or did heads of department spend their time muttering on the sidelines about the quality of Ministers and bemoaning the presence of 129 politicians at Holyrood, while failing to lead or improve the ramshackle regime that the Executive has become?
23 May 2007
Westminster takes formality too far. But it does offer the clear understanding that MPs and Ministers do not address each other directly. Thus, for example, questions are formally directed to the Speaker ('Will the Prime Minister list his engagements etc') and Ministerial answers are similarly addressed ('The hon Member is talking a lot of tosh etc'). This seems to me to be sensible. Where Westminster goes too far is with all this 'hon Member for Castorbridge' stuff as it is not permitted to refer to MPs by their names (unless you are the Speaker). Equally absurd are the references to hon and learned Members (QCs), the hon and gallant Members (ex-officers in the armed services) and rt hon Members (privy counsellors).
But Holyrood cannot make its mind up. Most MSPs begin by addressing the Presiding Officer but quickly relapse into addressing Ministers or their opponents directly. Nor do they restrict themselves to Mr or Ms So-and-so. As I have noted, the First Minister addressed at least two MSPs by their first names; he also referred on at least two occasions to 'Jack McConnell'. He also referred to one MSP as 'the Member for Glasgow'. This is not a criticism of Mr Salmond - all the MSPs are in the same muddle. And it seems rather too informal for MSPs to be referred to by first names.
At the risk of being an old fart, I recommend that Presiding Officer Fergusson puts his foot down and insists that all speeches and remarks in parliament should be addressed directly to him. If members are referred to, then they should be Mr or Ms Bloggs, not Joe or Jane.
All through their long, tortured delivery, home information packs have appeared a policy good in intention but bad in handling. Critics allege that ministers have been unwilling to consult or explain themselves, forcing through a set policy. Yesterday afternoon, even as Ruth Kelly bowed to her opponents, she demonstrated the justification of their grievances, managing to be both summary and vague. Just eight days before the launch of a policy that would affect every homeowner and would-be homeowner in England and Wales, Ms Kelly decided to mothball the entire thing. Why? Like a pupil with late homework, her explanations multiplied and got more complex as she went along. First there was a judicial review that had been lodged by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Yet she admitted she had known about the judge's order since last Thursday. Why not come to the Commons sooner? No answer. Then Ms Kelly admitted there were not enough fully certified assessors to provide the energy performance certificates that are a core part of the packs. The shortage, in fact, amounts to just under 2,000 assessors. Ms Kelly would have known of this bottleneck long ago. Why wait until now? No answer.
As some of us will recall, Ms Kelly as Education Secretary was also involved in that business about sex offenders in schools. Then there was the proposed exemption of churches in relation to adoption by single sex couples. But we shouldn't necessarily blame her for switching her son to a private school. You can read up on Ms Kelly's travails here.
Then there is that voice. As Mr Hoggart puts it:
You can tell when Ms Kelly is under stress, because her curiously rural vowels become stronger. "Oid have thought that oil soides would agree..." she said at one point.
The poor girl has worked so hard to eliminate any trace of a Northern Irish accent that she now sounds rather like a Cornish speaking clock. Either that or it's the barbed wire garter.
ScottishPower's renewable energy division is to be hived off and incorporated into a beefed-up subsidiary of the utility's new owner, Iberdrola, under funding plans revealed by the Spanish company yesterday.
Bilbao-based Iberdrola said it intended to restructure its renewables business, incorporating all its renewable energy-related units in Europe into its Iberenova subsidiary.
Of course, it is now more difficult to criticise Iberdrola, as they are the First Minister's chums, having hosted his first official engagement. But who will now speak up for Scotland?
22 May 2007
The largest party to emerge from the Welsh elections were Labour with 26 seats out of the total of 60. Discussions between Labour and the LibDems about coalition have been suspended, leaving Labour to discuss the options of support from Plaid. There does not seem to be the same level of hatred between Labour and nationalists as is the case in Scotland.
But, at the same time, Plaid, LibDems and the Tories are discussing the establishment of a rainbow coalition which would consign Labour to the opposition benches.
Time is passing, however, and if the National Assembly for Wales is to produce a First Minister by 30 May - as they must - they better get a move on.
Is it better to resolve, rather hurriedly, upon a minority government (not that the SNP had much choice) or to engage in exhaustive discussions seeking a stable coalition? The proof of the pudding will be in the eating ...
21 May 2007
9 May for the oath-taking which took a couple of hours, then immediately suspended itself until:
14 May, when it took another couple of hours to elect a presiding officer and two deputies;
16 May, when it took less than 90 minutes to elect a First Minister; and
17 May, when it took less than 40 minutes to elect the rest of the Ministers.
They are now expected to meet this Wednesday afternoon (23 May) and again on Thursday (24 May), some three weeks after the election. Foolish, I know, but somehow I expected them to get properly started rather sooner ...
19 May 2007
The Guardian reports:
The House of Commons yesterday voted to exempt itself from its own Freedom of Information Act, ending the compulsory legal requirement for MPs to disclose their expenses and introducing further curbs on the release of already protected MPs' correspondence.
The legislation, passed by a majority of 71 and introduced by former Tory chief whip David Maclean, will now go to the Lords and could become law this year...
Mr Maclean was backed by a sizeable number of Labour MPs, who turned up to vote to cut short the debate and pass the legislation. These included 26 ministers and prominent supporters of Gordon Brown, including Ed Balls, the Treasury minister, and Jacqui Smith, chief whip.
Just to remind you of what our next Prime Minister said on Thursday:
He promised "a different type of politics - a more open and honest dialogue: frank about problems, candid about dilemmas never losing touch with the concerns of people". He also promised to draft a constitutional reform bill later this year aimed at "renewing our constitution".
Acknowledging that the public had yet to get to know him despite 14 years in frontline politics, he said: "I will always try to put your concerns and aspirations at the heart of what I do. I will work hard for you. This is who I am.
"To those who feel that the political system doesn't listen and doesn't care, to those who somehow feel powerless and have lost faith, to those who feel Westminster is a distant place and politics all too often a spectator sport, I will strive to earn your trust - to earn your trust not just in foreign policy, but in our schools and our hospitals and our public services and to respond to your concerns."
Contriving to hide information is unlikely to earn our trust.
For 21 years it has been a fixture in the BBC1 schedules, bringing viewers a daily homespun slice of Australian suburbia and making stars of the likes of Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Natalie Imbruglia.
But yesterday it was announced that the BBC and Neighbours are good friends no longer, as the corporation waved goodbye to the Antipodean soap because it could no longer justify the asking price demanded by producer Fremantle.
BBC1 controller Peter Fincham said that it was a "sad day" for the channel, but it could not pay "the best part of £300m" to retain the soap, which has been snapped up by Five on a 10-year deal.
I'm afraid that my view is simple. Why import expensive Australian rubbish when you could make domestic rubbish much more cheaply?
18 May 2007
The big surprise is who has been left out. So how has Tom McCabe upset the former First Minister? Has he been plotting already?
Among the others excluded are Lord Foulkes, Charlie Gordon and David Whitton, each of whom might have had a claim to front-bench status. I suppose that Malcolm Chisholm, Jackie Baillie and Frank McAveety were non-starters.
Mr McConnell will need to watch his back in future ...
17 May 2007
Ms Sturgeon said:Bold words. But the SNP and Iberdrola are now chums, according to the latest Executive press release:
"The SNP has called for this takeover to be blocked pending an EU investigation into Spanish tax subsidies. We remain of the view that the takeover of Scottish Power is not in Scotland's national interest.
"However, we will be seeking assurances from Iberdrola about its plans for the future of Scottish Power in the event that the takeover proceeds.
"In particular, we will be seeking assurances that jobs will be secure, that the company will not be broken up and that a fully functioning HQ will remain here in Scotland.
Details of the refitting of Longannet and Cockenzie power stations with clean coal technology were announced today as part of what will be Europe's biggest clean coal project.Well, that's fine - Iberdrola are now good guys. I can live with that.
First Minister Alex Salmond, on his first official visit as FM, joined the Chairman of Scottish Power, Ignacio Galan, at Longannet to discuss the plan that aims to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
The Scottish Power-Iberdrola Group is to carry out a feasibility study on technology which would:
- Reduce carbon emissions from the stations by up to 20 per cent
- Provide a secure baseload of electricity for Scotland
- Incorporate a carbon capture project based at Longannet being taken forward jointly with Royal Bank of Scotland- which could further reduce emissions.
Incidentally, I notice that Whyte & Mackay is being taken over by an Indian company. Does the SNP have anything to say? Is it asking for assurances about Scottish jobs, company break-up, a Scottish HQ? No? Thought not.
Moreover, the territorial departments are an anomaly. There is no case now for a separate Scotland Office, and a decreasing one for a Wales Office now that more legislative responsibility has been devolved to the Welsh Executive and Assembly.Mr Riddell may wish to note that the Scotland Office has been part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, now the Ministry of Justice, for a while. It's a shame that he has failed to notice, but don't let ignorance deter him from his pontifications.
16 May 2007
Alex Salmond to become First Minister. As expected, 49 votes to 46 votes.
Ms Goldie has developed a wry and effective humour in her speeches. Nicol Stephen was as prosaic as ever. Jack McConnell was somewhat graceless - no surprise there. But Mr Salmond was humble, self-deprecating and witty. It will be interesting if he maintains it.
And, finally, yes I got it wrong - I didn't think that they would nominate a First Minister within 28 days. I'm glad they did.
So now - on to the selection of the cabinet.
But I fear that it may not be as simple as the Greens claim. The Scotsman reports:
The Greens have led calls for the Scottish Parliament to be given an overarching role in these sorts of decisions, taking the say away from private companies like Forth Ports. Now they believe they have come up with a way of handing control back to the Scottish Parliament and the Executive.
They believe a "statutory instrument" - a parliamentary procedure - could be passed.
This would force Forth Ports to apply for a "certificate of compliance" with the Habitats Directive from the Scottish Executive, before any proposals which might harm the environment could be agreed to.
This would give ministers an effective veto over the ship-to-ship plans, without involving Westminster or Whitehall and without having to drive complicated primary legislation through the parliament.
Parliament cannot just 'pass' a statutory instrument. Such instruments require there to be enabling powers in primary legislation. In this case, such powers are not obvious. And, even if there were such powers and such an instrument were introduced, the Executive could not unreasonably withhold a certificate of compliance without adequate grounds.
Robin Harper, the Greens' leader, said the move could be accepted by parliament in a matter of days and may become law within weeks.
Well maybe. But the Executive lawyers will need time to consider the legal implications. And, arguably, there might need to be a period of consultation, both on the introduction of the statutory instrument and on the issue (or non-issue) of a certificate of compliance. Neither parliament nor the Executive can simply act without giving persons disadvantaged by their actions a chance to consider the matter.
But let us hope that any difficulties can be quickly resolved and that the proposal is well-founded.
15 May 2007
OK, I made a mistake. But I wasn't the only one.
I knew that we had to elect two deputy presiding officers, so naturally I put two crosses on the voting paper. Yes, I heard Mr Fergusson say that the election for the first deputy presiding officer was open, but he didn't say we should only vote once. So I got a little confused.
All this voting stuff is difficult, you know, especially when it's a free vote and the Whip doesn't tell you what to do. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it eventually.
Now, remind me where the bar is ...
14 May 2007
But the answer is simple, really. I'm surprised the SNP did not put in their election manifesto. Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland should each have their own entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. Then we could all vote for each other, thus ensuring that never again would we finish in such an ignominious position.
Except for Jack McConnell who would no doubt vote for the European equivalent of Trinidad and Tobago ...
12 May 2007
It is not so long ago that Councillor Cardownie, then a Labour Councillor, was facing a doubtful future - would he secure a seat under the new proportional representation arrangements to be introduced for last week's elections? It would appear that a timely defection to the SNP resolved that problem.
Now he finds himself the effective leader of the SNP group on the Council. Furthermore, now that the LibDems and the SNP have carved up the new Council administration (throwing an alleged bone or two to the Tories in the process), the ebullient Stevie occupies the exalted post of Depute Leader of the Council, a man of real influence in the new regime, while his former colleagues in the Labour Group huddle wretchedly in the cold. More info here.
Funny how things turn out ...
Who? Gordon? Campaign launch? Yeah I know. Knebworth? Near Stevenage, I think. Still Metroland. Why would he want to do it in Kirkcaldy?
Nevertheless, he told a joke or two (which must be something of a first). The Times reports:
Intriguingly, he told jokes at the expense of no less than two Republican presidents: the one about Reagan being told Olaf Palme was an “anticommunist” and replying “I don’t care what kind of communist he is”, and the one about Nixon going to newly-independent Ghana in 1957 and asking someone in the crowd how it felt to be free, and receiving the answer: “How would I know? I’m from Alabama.” You wouldn’t catch Blair dissing the titans of the Republican Party.
Actually, I preferred the self-deprecating story (which he also related) of how, when he was a student at the University of Edinburgh, he was invited by a local Labour worthy to stand for the local council (or the Corporation as it was in those days). "Oh", said Gordon, "but I don't know anything about local government administration". "Look", replied the worthy, "we wouldn't have asked you if we thought we could win the seat".
11 May 2007
First up, we have the problem of the Edinburgh trams which the SNP is apparently committed to abandoning. Does the incoming administration follow up that pledge, despite the overwhelming support for the trams demonstrated by the Edinburgh electorate? How does that look in the new context of a flexible, consensus-building administration, especially when your Green 'partners' are keen on the trams? But the administration is in desperate need of the resources that would be freed up by cancelling the trams.
Second, there is Monklands A & E where the SNP is committed to reversing the decision of the previous administration's to close the facility. But there are implications for other hospitals in Lanarkshire and - again - resource considerations to take into account.
Third, there is the replacement of the Forth Road Bridge. According to The Scotsman (here), there may already be a three year gap between the de-commissioning of the existing bridge and the availability of the new one. The latest engineering reports are due shortly and early decisions (eg on the line of the bridge and on whether to use PFI) will be required on what will perhaps be the biggest procurement project in Scotland for donkeys' years.
Then there is the private prison proposed for the Low Moss site. The SNP is against more private prisons in the prisons estate but can it afford to proceed down the traditional public procurement route?
All difficult decisions, made more difficult by the likely minority position of the administration. A harsh lesson for the SNP in the brutal realities of decision-making, assuming of course that they become the new administration.
And what's that clucking sound? Could it be the sound of chickens coming home to roost?
10 May 2007
This was a campaign that showed Labour at its best: Tony Blair magnificent, leading from the front, finding exactly the right words, always able to change the political weather. Gordon Brown like a tank, indomitable, raging against the possibility of defeat, generating ideas and implementing them with an energy that was breathtaking. Douglas Alexander, pathologically determined to win, displaying that infuriating determination of purpose that is the mark of great campaigners. And Jack McConnell, so often criticised, but who never showed the slightest loss of nerve, in the end finding a street-fighting demeanour that made Salmond's helicopter tours look arrogant and presumptuous.
There were many besides and all were, in their own way, heroic, brought together by that extraordinary glue that new Labour campaigning has at its core: a courage that will not allow for the possibility of defeat. Whatever else can be said of Blair and Brown, they do not lack guts. No news, however bad, unnerves them. Even after it was announced that we had lost, they still believed something could be done...
From now on Labour will strengthen, and the Tories inexorably weaken. Last week was a turning point, for Labour not David Cameron. Not a bad legacy for Blair and Brown's last campaign.
If this campaign was Labour "at its best", then I would hate to see them at their worst. A campaign that was desperately slow to get off the ground, a campaign that constantly swithered between the politics of fear and Mr McConnell's defence of his record, a campaign where the London and Scottish leaderships were and remained at odds, a campaign where the Labour party HQ was out-thought and out-manoeuvred by its SNP equivalent. But never mind, it will be better next time - Lord Gould says so.
12.24 And that's it. The PM leaves the room immediately. As ever, the PM must be one of the best at delivering these kind of informal addresses. It may not be oratory, but it is extremely effective.
12.22 "This is the greatest nation on earth." "So, it has been an honour to serve it."
12.21 "Politics may be the art of the possible, but at least in life give the impossible a go."... "Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right."
12.20 Iraq: "For me, we should see it through."
12.15 "My duty was to put the country first"; "decision making is hard"; "In government, you have to give the answer, not an answer".
12.12 Government record: more jobs, better health facilities, education results, economic success, minimum wage, etc, etc
12.10 Lengthy philosophising about how the old dichotomy between left and right has been replaced.
12.07 Announces resignation of party leadership; promises to resign as PM on 27 June.
12.05 Here goes again. Starts with joke; had to tell supporters "Four more years - not the message for today!"
12.03 Here goes. (Interest rates to rise by 0.25 of a percentage point.)
12.00 Lord Gould: "There will be a lot of continuity, there will be a lot of change." Too deep for me.
11.55 Still waiting for the PM to appear, although he and Cherie have arrived at least. He appears to have travelled from Northolt in an official aeroplane. Wonder how that is justified, given that this is essentially a party occasion?
11.50 Standing room only in Trimdon Labour Club. Jon Sopel, banished across the street, is filling in, by interviewing James Landells - BBC apparatchik interviews BBC apparatchik.
11.45 Nah, it's Huw in charge, desperately seeking to whip up some interest. Huw's in Westminster, even though the announcement is being made in Sedgefield.
11.40 How to maintain any interest in an announcement where everyone knows the content of that announcement? Oh well, BBC1 has cleared its schedules and the fragrant Sophie will - I presume - guide us through the proceedings.
09 May 2007
"Cameron conservatism... is an attempt to shift the theory of the state from a provision-based paradigm to a framework-based paradigm, within which government... is conceived principally as an agency for enabling families, individuals, associations and corporations to internalise externalities and hence to live up to social responsibilities without the further intervention of authority."
But it's all right - he didn't mean it. At least, I think he didn't mean it. Maybe it was a joke.
Today's first meeting of the Scottish parliament is to be adjourned until 3 pm on Monday 14 May. That's 11 days since the day of the election, more than a third of the time available to select a First Minister. And there is still no sign of a formal nomination motion.
08 May 2007
The Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer George Reid has today announced that the election of his successor and the new Deputy Presiding Officers will take place next week. The oath and affirmation taking by MSPs will go ahead tomorrow at 9.30am as scheduled.
At the end of the morning session, a motion will be put to Parliament proposing that the first meeting of Parliament is adjourned until 3pm on Monday 14 May, at which point it will reconvene to elect the new Presiding Officers.
In accordance with The Scotland Act 1998, Parliament must meet within seven days of an election. At the first meeting of Parliament a Presiding Officer must be elected. This deadline does not include weekends or public holidays. Therefore, the date on which Parliament has to have met for the first time is Tuesday 15 May 2007.
A bureau motion will be put before Parliament to suspend standing orders so that the Parliament can meet, and continue the first meeting on Monday 14 May.
Utter nonsense. They should not bend the law for political convenience. Not a good start for the new parliament.
The White House was at its most elegant, everything in colors of cream, gold and ivory. The 13 tables were covered with cream damask tablecloths and vermeil centerpieces of 60 white roses. The china was the Clinton set, ivory with a gold rim and a gold depiction of the White House in the center. The dinner, instead of the usual four courses, was a five-course affair, starting with spring pea soup and caviar, proceeding to Dover sole, saddle of spring lamb, arugula salad and a dessert of petits fours, and a spectacular presentation dubbed "Rose Blossoms," an elegant creation of meringue and spun sugar.
During the after-dinner entertainment, 76 guests were invited to join the festivities in the East Room, where Perlman nodded to the royal couple and said, "Thank you for coming to our concert." After the laughter, he performed five "musical bon bons." At the end of his set, the crowd erupted in applause, begging for an encore. "Tell me what to do," he said, looking at the president. "Everything is protocol."
Alas, Bush leapt up and led him off the stage so that the U.S. Army Chorus could boom out "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The queen and prince left shortly thereafter, about 11 p.m., but the evening ended with dancing. No political battles this night. The last thing we saw was Nancy Pelosi cutting the rug with George Shultz to "In the Mood."
We never get reports like this on Buck House dinners. And no, I have no idea what an arugula is ...
ALEX Salmond admitted yesterday that he would have to alter his plans for the first 100 days of a Nationalist government if the SNP was forced to operate as a minority government. [Source]
Alex Salmond faces the prospect of governing precariously unable to implement his party's only distinctive idea. [Source]
Alex Salmond conceded last night that his attempts to build a coalition to run Scotland had failed and that his party was headed for minority government. His comments came after a day of setbacks for the Scottish National Party. [Source]
It is certainly true that the election did not deliver to Mr Salmond a hand of cards which would enable him to crush his opponents. But, from the moment his helicopter landed at Prestonfield last Friday, he has played that hand of cards beautifully. He has wooed (however unsuccessfully) the LibDems and the Greens; he has been willing to talk without preconditions; he has emphasised the primacy of a 'progressive consensus' (whatever that means); and, like a rash, he has been all over the media, displaying reasonableness as if it were going out of fashion. Of all Scotland's politicians, Mr Salmond has been head and shoulders above the rest when it has come to attempting to sort out the horlicks left by the election.
Meanwhile, like some Achilles of yore, Mr McConnell sits sulking in his tent, while his Labour Party acolytes consider their legal options for bringing down chaos on whatever kind of administration could be patched up. And Mr Stephen plays Greta Garbo, wanting to be alone. What is either of them contributing to the common weal, in this time of crisis?
And, if Mr Salmond ultimately fails in what appear to be his valiant efforts to construct some kind of administration, and this results in another general election, who will get the blame? I rather doubt if it will be the SNP. Which, in turn, will make it increasingly difficult for the other parties to obstruct his efforts. At the moment, it's a win-win situation for the SNP: either they succeed in establishing a minority administration or they fail but get the credit for trying.
Mr Salmond is proving to be rather more clever than I gave him credit for.
07 May 2007
Labour forgot that its bedrock includes a lot of the thickest people in these islands. There is no point in presenting them with a voting-paper which looks as if it had escaped from a speech written for Gordon Brown by Ed Balls on endogenous neo-classical growth theory.Now look, they may be numpties but they're our numpties. And we really do not need 'metropolitan' correspondents to dwell on the matter.
Over the past couple of days, everyone in the Scottish Labour Party has been trying to blame everyone else for the cock-up. It was the Scottish Executive, claims Alistair Darling. No, it is the Scottish Office, says the Executive. There is one reason for believing that the blame lies in London. The Scottish Labour party is still full of glottal stops, who should feel empathy with their fellow thickos and understand their limitations.
Not that this would necessarily appease the voters. The demotic speech of the Scottish Lowlands is often pithy, eloquent and brutal. Many words exist to describe useless persons, including bampot, numpty and shilpit wee nyaff. A partial onomatopoeia will guide readers to the meanings, none of which are [sic] complimentary and all of which describe the Scottish Labour benches in the Holyrood Parliament. Labour has lost control of Scotland, because it deserved to lose. The calibre of the Labour Party in Scotland is an insult to the Scottish people.
Mr Salmond, with his 47 votes + 2 Greens, could still become First Minister, but it would require a peculiar set of circumstances to bring it about. On the assumption that Labour would vote against him, Mr Salmond would require both the Tories and the LibDems to sit on their hands and abstain on the vote for his nomination. As far as I am aware, neither of these two parties has committed itself to voting against Mr Salmond's nomination, so it remains a possibility. What price would they ask for that abstention, I wonder?
Mr McConnell, on the other hand, would require the active support of either the Tories or the LibDems and the abstention of the other in order to gain the prize. Again, it remains a (remote) possibility, but in the absence of a formal deal I can't see either party offering active support.
Even if either Mr Salmond or Mr McConnell were somehow to secure the nomination for First Minister, the parliamentary arithmetic would be extremely unstable. Would there be any hope of Parliament agreeing a legislative programme? Well, yes, possibly, but each individual item of legislation would require to be the subject of separate four-way horse-trading. But what would be the point of having an Executive that was only ever able to pursue legislation that was uncontroversial?
IMHO, the likeliest prospect is that the Parliament will fail to nominate a First Minister within the 28 day period. So we are in for another general election.
06 May 2007
The Liberal Democrats have ruled out a coalition deal with Labour in the Scottish Parliament.
The Lib Dems' Tavish Scott told BBC Scotland that if his party was not able to share power with the SNP, it would be on the backbenches.
Oh aye? Or am I becoming cynical in my old age? Why would you rule out a negotiating lever before the negotiations have started?
The afternoon (from 2.30 pm) will be devoted to the election of a Presiding Officer and two deputies. The previous Presiding Officer, George Reid, will be in charge of proceedings, at least until the new Presiding Officer is elected. Nominations for the three posts have to be submitted to the parliamentary authorities over lunch-time, from 12.15 pm to 2.15 pm. Details of the voting procedures are set out here.
The main interest is in who will be the new Presiding Officer as he or she is required to remain neutral, thus depriving one of the parties of an MSP vote. Given that every vote is crucial in the present circumstances, none of the parties will be rushing to submit a nomination. Some of the newspapers have suggested that Annabel Goldie might be in the running, but this has also been discounted. Robin Harper and even Jack McConnell have also been mentioned in despatches, but neither seems likely to give up the opportunity of playing a part in coalition-building (a matter which will certainly not be resolved by Wednesday).
So it should be quite interesting to see what happens. I am not even going to try a prediction.
J Arthur surveys the field of candidates here.
05 May 2007
You woke up this morning feeling a bit glum. Your election campaign was less than a triumph. The number of LibDem seats fell from 17 to 16. You came fourth, again. All that brave talk about becoming First Minister has fizzled out. You cannot even deliver a majority to either of the two major parties seeking to woo you into a coalition. Instead there is going to have to be a messy three way negotiation with the Greens.
On a proposed coalition with the SNP, you have (rather stupidly) talked yourself into a corner. Yes, I know it might have been even worse if you had indicated during the election that you were prepared to consider some form of independence referendum. But we are where we are. And you said that you would have nothing to do with such a referendum. If you now accede to Alex's blandishments and agree to support him, everybody will say that you have broken your word. None of your promises will ever be believed again. And Ming would be seriously upset.
Alternatively, if you were to choose to prop up Labour, you might have to abandon your policy on the reform of local government finance and on nuclear power, upsetting your own activists. And you would be seen as taking sides with the party that 'lost' the election - some might describe that as an undemocratic choice. And, anyway, you are fed up to the back teeth with Jack McConnell and his merry band of rogues and rascals. Furthermore, being in coalition with that lot over the past eight years has not exactly increased your electoral success rate.
And you know that, whatever is the outcome of the negotiations, the resulting administration is not going to be stable. Sooner rather than later (perhaps as early as this autumn), you may have to face the electorate once again. Playing footsie with either the SNP or Labour is unlikely to deliver electoral benefits for the LibDems.
So there you are. You can choose to support the SNP or to support Labour. Alternatively, and following the breakdown of the negotiations, you could announce that (i) you had done your best to reach a satisfactory resolution but that you were not prepared to compromise the principles upon which you had fought the election and (ii) that you and your party intended to go into opposition from where you would play a constructive role in the best interests of the country... etc, etc, etc.
As decisions go, it's a no-brainer, isn't it?
Whoever emerges as Edinburgh's first minister in the next 28 days (the rules stipulate a deadline - or fresh elections), Scots may also have to grapple with a halfway house between formal coalition and minority rule.
Known as "C & S" - a term borrowed from New Zealand (full of Scots) - it stands for "confidence and supply". What it means is that the Lib Dems and perhaps the Greens, or even Tories, will promise to support the ruling party on its budget and in any votes of confidence.
In return, they get some policy concessions. But they remain free to vote against any of the 50 or so bills that ministers propose each year. If it sounds like a recipe for instability, it is part of the price which PR aficionados believe worth paying for consensus.
It sounds like a scientific term for muddling through. But, even if it were to be tried out, there remains the problem of those policy concessions. Will the SNP relinquish the concept of an independence referendum? Will the other parties accept the same concept - even if delayed to 2010 and weakened by addional questions on additional parliamentary powers? Will Labour relinquish the concepts of nuclear power and nuclear weapons? Or will the other parties accept some form of compromise on these issues? And is there a majority in parliament for any kind of reform (or retention) of local government finance?
So who's got the magic wand?
04 May 2007
More thoughts tomorrow. Hey, but you can do the sums as well as I can. It's been fun. Have a good evening. As we used to say in Brussels, 'Bon Weekend'.
5.20 The North-East list delivers 2 seats each to SNP, Lab and Con with the last one going to the LibDems. We remain with 14 seats undecided. Lab and SNP each have 42 seats, LibDems 16 and Con 14, plus our solitary Green. It is now unlikely that any two parties (other than Lab and SNP together) could command a majority. We are therefore looking at a minority coalition, if not another election.
4.50 Libdems have held Edinburgh West, which leaves only the list votes for the Lothians, the North-East and the Highlands and islands. Results table is both Lab and SNP on 40, LibDems on 15, Con 12 and our solitary Green. Still awfully tight.
4.40 Big Malkie remains my MSP in Edinburgh North. The latest BBC results table shows that SNP now have 40 seats (+18), Lab 39 (-6), LibDems 14 (-2), Con 12 (NC), Greens 1. This reflects the West of Scotland list which allocated 4 seats to SNP, 2 to Con and 1 to the LibDems. This represent a gain of one for the SNP at the expense of the SSP.
3.40 Argyll and Bute goes SNP; LibDems cry in their beer. This is all getting very tight. We should now get the Highlands and Islands list vote soon. We're also waiting for my own constituency of Edinburgh North.
3.35 There's a disappointment for me. SNP gain Edinburgh East and the likeable Norman Murray goes west. Norman would have made a good MSP.
3.20 I'm just about hanging on here for the remaining Edinburgh results. The broadcast media have more or less abandoned me, I suspect on yesterday's assumption that it would all have been over by now. Alternatively, they're all just knackered after last night. I wonder what Messrs McConnell and Salmond are doing? Sleeping, probably.
3.10 Labour hold Aberdeen Central. With 39 seats, Labour creeps closer to becoming the largest party, now 5 ahead of the SNP.
2.45 The first of the remaining Edinburgh seats to declare is Edinburgh South which is a LibDem hold. Tough for Donald Anderson, former Labour leader of Edinburgh Council. Latest overall position: Lab 38 (-5), SNP 34 (+15), LibDems 13 (-1), Con 10 (NC), Green 1.
2.20 Labour hold Linlithgow. Mary Mulligan, one of the intellectual theorists (more or less) of the Labour back benches, returns to Holyrood.
1.47 Labour hold Eastwood.
1.45 SNP gains Livingston; Robin Cook birls in grave. Time for a bacon sandwich.
1.40 Quote of the day: by a Dutch elections expert on Radio Scotland:
"Why combine paper voting with electronic counting? It's like putting a steam train on the Inter-City."
He's obviously never travelled on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line.
1.35 Latest overall results position: Lab 36, SNP 33, LibDems 12, Con 10, Greens 1. Looking very bad for the smaller parties. Will Lab and LibDems secure enough seats to secure a majority? Looks a bit dodgy...
1.25 Mid Scotland and Fife list produces 3 for Lab, 3 for Con and 1 for the SNP; the latter is the daft as a brush historian Christopher Harvie which will certainly add to the eccentricity of the Parliament. This represents 3 gains for Labour, no change for Con, a loss each for the SNP, the LibDems and - sadly - for the Greens, as Mark Ruskell seemed to be one of the more sensible MSPs in the previous parliament.
1.10 At last, a Labour gain! Unfortunately, it is only Strathkelvin where Dr Turner (Ind) returns to the oblivion from whence she came. But it brings spin-doctor Whitton to Holyrood, not necessarily something to be welcomed.
1.00 Republican Rose is alleged to have held Perth for the SNP and John Swinney has also held his seat in Tayside Whatever.
12.45 An utterly splendid opening sentence in a Guardian article:
A goat that gained international notoriety last year after getting married to a Sudanese man who indecently assaulted her has died after accidentally choking on a plastic bag.
Apparently, the reporter's name is Mr Batty. Btw, sorry about the goat.
12.25 I'm beginning to lose faith in the BBC stats. The latest position is that Lab have 32 (-8), SNP 30 (+15), LibDems 12 (no change), Con 7 (no change), Greens 1. Counting at Argyll & Bute will not re-start until 3pm, which will also hold up the announcement of the Highland list. The remaining Edinburgh seats are expected to declare from 1.30 pm onwards.
12.10 Higgins leads Maguire by one frame.
12.05 SNP defeat Labour in the Western Isles!
11.50 The BBC website is reporting that the South of Scotland list vote is showing two SNP gains, one at the expense of the Tories and the other loss is Rosemary Byrne, formerly of the SSP. They have yet to update the overall table but by my calculations Lab and the SNP are now equal on 31 seats actually gained.
11.30 Something of a lull for the moment, only enlivened by the BBC's sneaky and unexplained amendment of their results table to read Lab 32, SNP 29, LibDems 12, Con 7 and Greens 1. In the absence of anything else happening, I will take a break. I'll be back when there is something to report.
11.10 To turn to the slaughter of the innocents. After 13 Council election declarations, Labour have lost to NOC the following councils: Clackmannanshire, East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Midlothian and South Lanarkshire. The Independents have lost Moray to NOC. NOC seems to be doing well...
11.00 Yet to declare: Aberdeen Central, Argyll & Bute, Eastwood, Edinburgh East, North, South and West, Linlithgow, Livingston, Perth, Strathkelvin, Tayside North and Western Isles (13 seats) plus list seats for all regions except Glasgow and Central (35 seats) - despite the BBC website claiming that three regions have declared.
10.35 Ballsup! Forget all that nonsense at 10.05 about the West of Scotland announcement - my fault for failing to read website properly. Latest table: Lab 32, SNP 31, LibDem 11, Con 6, Greens 1; 81 declared.
10.25 This is not a prediction but... At present Labour has lost 7 seats (this is actual rather than projected) - if they neither lost or gained any more seats, they would end up with 43 seats (down from 50 in 2003). By contrast, the SNP has gained 16 seats, which means that, in the absence of any further gains or losses, they would also end up with 43 seats (up from 27). Intriguing, no?
10.05 The West of Scotland list has now announced. Annabel, Ross Finnie and Frances Curran of the SSP (Surprise!) are all back, plus three Nats. There is something wrong with the BBC's overall picture which is showing Lab with 32 and the SNP 31 but the LibDem still have only 11, the Tories 6 and Others 1 despite their gains in the West of Scotland.
10.00 So farewell Tommy. The permatanned one has fallen off the list, due to the fact that Solidarity only attracted 4.1% of the Glasgow list vote. He can take some consolation in having battered (probably to death) the SSP who only secured 1.2%. So farewell Rosie in addition. In the 2003 election, the SSP including both Tommy and Rosie managed 15.2%; how the mighty are fallen.
9.45 Interesting that the Welsh have managed to declare 52 out of 60 seats compared with our 74 out of 129. Of course they don't have to rely on banana boats in the Clyde or toy helicopters. Nor do they have fancy voting systems for their local authorities.
9.35 I am delighted of course that so many people decided to follow my lead in spoiling their ballot papers. I have to confess, however, that when I went to the polls yesterday lunchtime, I had to wait for ten minutes behind a poor old soul who must have been well over 80; she didn't have a clue about the different voting systems, despite the manfully patient efforts of officials to explain it to her. My suspicion is that her confusion was replicated all over the country.
9.25 Now that the first shift of broadcasters have gone to bed, I am having to rely on a mixture of the BBC website together with BBC News 24. Not sure if any of the counts (I mean election counts in case anyone thinks that was a typing error) are continuing.
9.10 According to the BBC, the latest position (including the Central and Glasgow list results) is that Lab have 32 seats, the SNP 24, the LibDems 11, Con 6 and the Greens 1. Still no Edinburgh results. (Let me offer you a technical appreciation of the problem: if the damn computers can go wrong, they will.)
9.00 Morning all! Whit a shambles! I stayed up until 2.40 am, by which time it was clear that everything would remain muddy until this morning. Having listened to GMS for the past hour, it is obvious that the best predictions are that the outcome will be close. Whether that is because it will actually be close or because the pundits are insufficiently informed to commit themselves remains to be seen.
02 May 2007
Well it's not going to be easy, even though my constituency is relatively straightforward, with only the four main parties in contention. I suppose that my natural inclination would be to vote Labour and there is no doubt that Mr Malcolm Chisholm is a decent bloke (at least for a politician). But the thought of another four years of Mr McConnell is kind of off-putting. I cannot bring myself to vote SNP (despite an eminently worthy candidate in Mr Davie Hutchison) or Conservative - hey it's a cultural thing (or a blatant prejudice). The LibDems are neither one thing nor another and I have a philosophical objection to the fact that despite being losers they always seem to find themselves in possession of the Ministerial Mondeos. So I guess I will do what I always do - spoil my ballot paper. I know, I know, it's a wasted vote - but if more of us wasted our votes the parties might get the message.
As for the regional list, I think it will be a toss-up between the Greens and the blessed Margo. I have yet to decide.
I have not even begun to think about the council vote, so I will probably decide who gets the 1, 2, 3, 4, etc in the polling booth.
What strikes me about the above is how little policies matter when deciding how to vote. We do it on the basis of a mixture of prejudice, inclination and whether the candidate seems to be a reasonable sort. Perhaps there are some of us whose vote is determined by policy on local income tax or by education, education, education, but I suspect that they are few and far between. If everyone is as unrational as I am, I could almost feel sorry for politicians. But then I remember the wisdom of crowds.
Finally, a word in favour of the politicians. If they did not put themselves forward for criticism, ridicule and abuse, we would all be in a sorry state. The rewards of running for office are meagre; and many of them will be desperately disappointed tomorrow evening. To politicians I offer the following thought - if you win, my congratulations; if you lose, then better luck next time.
In the constituency section of the ballot, Scots need to rally to either the Labour Party (in most instances) or in some seats the Liberal Democrats to defeat the SNP contender. That party should not emerge as the largest one in the next Parliament... The Tories stand no realistic chance in at least 67 and possibly 70 of these 73 constituencies. The Centre Right must be ready to vote tactically.
On the second ballot, though, it is important that moderate centre-left voters reciprocate. The Scottish Tories are far from a perfect vehicle for market economics but they do, most of the time, approach politics from that perspective.
Tories vote for Labour on the constituency vote, while Labour voters opt for Tory on the regional list? It'll never happen. Sometimes, newspapers can be too damn clever for their own good.
Apologies to all those civil servants in the Scottish Executive, as they are not allowed to play YouTube vids on their computers. You guys will just need to access them at home (or when you are on strike).
Will the vids make any practical difference in terms of the election results? Don't know but they have certainly added to the gaiety of the nation. And perhaps Mr McConnell will think twice before he next mentions Scotland's role in the world...
He will lose his entitlement to a "golden goodbye" bonus worth more than £3.5m, as well as a share plan with a potential value of some £12m after the resignation move, which comes two months before he was due to officially retire.
However he retains the £21.7m pension pot earned from his 41-year career, and will receive a payout worth more than £4m, comprising a £1.57m "superannuation payment", a retirement settlement also valued at £1.57m, alongside £90,000 in fringe benefits.
My heart bleeds for the poor man, but he will not be short of a bob or two.
01 May 2007
Amongst the many problems I have with NuLabour is with the verbs.
Or the lack of them.
Forward - not back.
New - not old.
I miss the verbs.
Any politician that campaigns on a platform of more verbs and less bullshit has my vote, is all I'm saying.
Says it all really. Perhaps Big Gordon - who must have learned how to do parsing at Kirkcaldy High School - will be better at sentence construction. But I wouldn't count on it.
I readily admit that the BBC is probably the first choice on election night, but Brian, Glenn and Jackie can be tedious (even precious) at times. During the more boring interviews (for example with Nicol Stephen), it is handy to be able to flip the channel to see what STV are up to. But for STV to avoid even challenging the Beeb on the most exciting political night in Scotland for at least two years is more than depressing - it is a sign that STV has given up any pretention to be a national broadcaster.