Thursday, 23 April 2015

Fealla-dhà cho làidir ri tè mhòr à amhaich a’ bhotail

Leirmheas air Uisge-Beatha Gu Leòr airson an Daily Record

Uaireannan tha an saoghal an crochadh air aon neach - co-dhiù nuair a tha Iain MacRath air an àrd-ùrlar.

Tha an t-actar a’ cluiche làn chèis de charactaran ann an , agus tha an tìde-stèidse agus fealla-dhà aige cho làidir ri tè mhòr à amhaich a’ bhotail.

Le sgioba bheag thàlantach, tha an dealbh-cluich aig Iain Fionnlagh MacLeòid air a h-innis le diofar phàirtean fo dhiofar adan.

Tha an aon chleas ri fhaicinn anns Na 39 Steps, dealbh-chluich eile sa bheil sgioba bheag a’ cluich a h-uile pàirt a th’ ann am fiolm an leabhair.

San aon dòigh, chan e sgeulachd Compton MhicChoinnich a tha seo ach sgriobt stèidhichte air a’ fiolm ainmeil mu dheidhinn na thachair ann an Caolas Eirisgeidh aig àm a’ Chogaidh. Air innse a-rithist anns an latha an-duigh ann an taigh-seinnse.

Chan eil blas na fìrinne dheth, ach tha an sgeulachd èibhinn a’ toirt luchd-amhairc a-mach ‘s a-steach a bhàighean gaoil agus aonarachd le gàire.

Tha Theatar Nàiseanta na h-Alba air turas tarsainn na Gàidhealtachd le Uisge-Beatha Gu Leòr.

Monday, 20 April 2015

A referendum? Don't bet against it

At the SNP manifesto launch

If the SNP manifesto looked familiar it would be because it was a Labour manifesto wrapped in a yellow cover.

Long-standing "progressive" Labour policies, like the 50p tax rate, the mansion tax, and the minimum wage were panhandled as if they were rare Tyndrum gold.

You know when the SNP starts quarrying on the left it is not out of conviction, but convenience. That is where the rich seam of anti-austerity votes are to be found.
Any inconvenience, like the £7.6 billion albatross of full fiscal autonomy, was effectively kicked into the political long grass

An independence referendum was dropped before the groans of an Edinburgh Assembly Rooms audience had time to die away. 

Sturgeon said she wouldn't bet on one in the next five years.  But when she insisted the general election was not about independence, a hearty laugh echoed among the cavernous rock walls chosen for the launch.

Beneath the SNP leader's strong and simple message about standing up for Scotland are layers of complex geology, aimed at different audiences.

A grab for Labour's mantle of social justice combines with a presumptuous vow to deliver it across the whole UK.

That soothes Scottish ears but by reaching out to England Sturgeon does a sterling job for David Cameron in marginal seats where the Tories evoke fear of the SNP to prod voters back to the devil they know. 

To ensure a Tory government, the result that suits the SNP best, winning Scotland is not enough. Labour must be weakened in England too.

But should Miliband emerge as a Prime Minister Sturgeon promised her MPs would be a constructive force, on their best behaviour in the Commons.

That makes perfect sense. To persuade Scots to vote SNP next year they have to be shown it was worth voting nationalist this year.

The odd maverick gesture aside, SNP MPs would be obligingly supportive of Labour for a year, to prove Scots need not vote Labour again.

In time a  "betrayal" could be found and the walls of the Westminster temple brought crashing down, with the role of Samson played by Alex Salmond (sadly absent wrestling lions yesterday). 

You wouldn't bet against as referendum then.   

Thursday, 9 April 2015

From Yes Scotland to Maybes Aye in two nights

From the Scottish leaders debate in Aberdeen for the Daily Record

Barnett vs The FFA might sound like a Soccerworld Scotland League fixture in the north east.

But for thirteen minutes last night Barnett was the byword for a one-sided penalty shoot-out that Nicola Sturgeon lost.

The Barnett formula, which might as well we carved into the Salisbury crags above Holyrood, is the method by which Scotland's public services are generously funded from UK resources.

FFA, or full fiscal autonomy to it give it a Sunday name, is the SNP's fall-back from independence.

It means Scotland would raise and keep all its own taxes, save what it sends to Westminster for shared  services liked defence and foreign affairs.

It means, on current reckoning by independent experts, that Scotland would be £7.6 billion worse off each year, about half the health budget spending.

Nicola Sturgeon said given the chance her MPs would vote for it "next year".

So, the SNP want to cut Scotland's funding next year -it's official.

Cock-a- hoop, Labour thinks Nicola Sturgeon pretty much wrote £7.6 billion cuts into the SNP manifesto last night,  and that the battle lines now are over Tory cuts versus SNP bigger cuts.

They shouldn't get ahead of themselves. Who remembers the results of minor league football fixtures? This score win may not count.

We came to Aberdeen expecting  a dull northern re-match of the Edinburgh fixture.

The sour joker in the pack, UKIP MEP David Coburn, might have stolen the show. But he was reduced to the role of a football mascot, scorned by leaders and audience alike. This was a serious game.

James Cook, the BBC referee, was first to put Sturgeon on the spot. When was it she wanted full fiscal autonomy?

"As quickly as the other parties agree to it," she said.

Murphy was in: "Would your MPs vote for it next year?"

She shot back: "Yes, would you support it?" Ooh, she dropped the ball.

It was a the equivalent of a  defensive pass to an opposing striker, and he wasted no time. "Absolutely not," said Murphy. Who would vote to cut Scotland's funding?

"I don't think it makes sense," he said, as the crowd broke into applause and the other main party leaders lined up to take their free penalty kicks.

Sturgeon was being hammered and Murphy made sure the audience got the point. "Barnett today, tomorrow and forever," is not a terrace chant, but it's what he promised.

Sturgeon's advisers, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the STUC - all warn of the dangers of cutting Scotland's share of the UK budget.

Spinning back from that is hard. Yes, polling shows people want more powers, but also shows they want the same level of services and pensions as the rest of the UK. No one votes for less, regardless of the timing.

Sturgeon was in more trouble backtracking on the timing of a referendum and Labour, who'd looked and learned, had set a trap and a slogan.

From Yes Scotland to "maybes ayes" in two nights of television is not a good look for an independence leader.

"I don't want to live in a Scotland were we don't have to set up a welfare fund to mitigate Tory cuts," Sturgeon said. But she sounded like a protesting First Minister, not  a party leader on the march, and she was jeered and cheered in equal measure.

It fell to Ruth Davidson delivered the final blow.  She said: "You have to be able to fund welfare . Full fiscal autonomy, right now if we vote for it next year, would mean that we had billions of pounds less in Scotland to spend on welfare."

"In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it would be £7.6 billion which is more than we spend on every single pensioner in this country.

"That's the other half of the equation that you don't want the people out there to know."

That should have been it but Willie Rennie, back to being cheeky,  could not resist putting the stiletto in. "I think what Nicola fails has to accept is that she lost the referendum last year ."

It was not pretty, political muggings are rarely clean affairs. Being reminded by the audience that she didn't speak for Scotland would not have helped either. 

Debates in themselves might change nothing, but they do set the campaign weather. This was the worst tv night the SNP had since Alistair Darling gave Alex Salmond a bloody nose in the first referendum debate.

Alex Salmond lost that one on the money, and Sturgeon lost last night on the money too.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Just one look, from the real debate winner

For the Daily Record from the Manchester leaders' debate

Sometimes two hours can pass in a flash, sometimes a whole campaign can be captured in a second and a single, unspoken look.

The most revealing moment last night's leaders' debate was only a few seconds long, but it told the whole story.

There he was, David Cameron at the end of a line-up of seven British politicians, smiling to himself as as Nicola Sturgeon tore into Ed Miliband on spending cuts.

The Tory leader had never wanted to go head to head with Ed Miliband, and when the camera cut away and caught him enjoying the spectacle of the SNP leader going for the Labour leader you felt his strategy was a wise one. 

Instead of being held to account, which admittedly he is used to in the Commons, Cameron could lean back for large parts of the debate while six other voices strove to put across their views.

In the opening hour it looked as if things were going to Cameron's plan, which included insisting the Greens be in the room.

From the off it was as if the Coalition had not existed. Nick Clegg, with the biggest yellow Lib Dem tie in Manchester, attacked David Cameron's cuts. But the crossfire from other leaders blunted any direct attack.

There were dividing lines, with the alliance of SNP, Green and Plaid leaders, going against austerity of the three big parties and delivering a vision of the country in accents and words that many other Britons would have found unfamiliar. 

All were nervous to begin with. David Cameron's nerves showed through his sweaty, Richard Nixon upper lip.

But the heat was on them all. Three female leaders, the future of politics, four minor parties, five if you count the Lib Dems, had won the golden ticket to a national stage. They all proved themselves accomplished politicians.

But still only one of two men,  Cameron or Miliband, can come out as the ultimate winner. It was they who had to escape with no wounds or having inflicted damage on their main rival

Ed Miliband, confident, having taken lessons on his posture, stood firm and said "here's what I believe". He listed what he would do at Prime Minister, hoping people at home could believe he would be Prime Minister.

Farage, with nothing to lose, was the most animated of the line-up. Pinstripe suit and polka-dot tie, he "believed in Britain", and called for control of borders to be taken back from the European Union.

Nicola Sturgeon had the most sophisticated strategy,  a message of friendship to the people she wants to make foreigners - the English, Welsh and Northern Irish - while she held out the  prospect of "new, progressive politics" at Westminster

She kept pushing and pulling against the Labour leader in equal measure, promising to support him on poverty reduction but not on cutting public services. He couldn't quite attack her, couldn't quite reject her. That could be Miliband's bind after May 7th. 

On poverty reduction  Nicola said, "I back Ed",  and Conservative HQ pumped the line on twitter to feed their narrative of fear about a Labour/SNP alliance.

When the SNP leader turned her fire on Miliband for backing Tory austerity plans her attack was cut short by ITV moderator Julia Etchingham.

But that not before the cameras caught David Cameron smiling to himself. The Tory strategy of setting the SNP against Labour was working fine for him.

Green leader Natalie Bennett tag -teamed with Sturgeon in the progressive alliance against austerity, attacking Miliband,  just as Cameron hoped they would.

"Cuts will have to come, "said Miliband. "But we can do it in a balanced way."

It was Nigel Farage threw the first punch, at Scotland. He complained that too much money was "going over Hadrian's Wall". 

Sturgeon hit back saying there were no problems that he wouldn't blame on foreigners. Farage shrugged that he wouldn't disagree, and that provided some humorous relief.

But then the UKIP leader engaged in low politics to talk about foreign patients with HIV being treated on the NHS.

Plaid's Leanne Wood, whose warmth won friends, brought him down. "This is dangerous, it stigmatises people and you should be ashamed of yourself," she said to the first outbreak of applause from the oh so quiet audience.

Miliband managed to land one NHS cuts  blow on David Cameron. "They believed you were another kind of Conservative," he said, and the sword connected.  

He had  bought two new pairs of shoes for the encounter, and well he might need them if he fails to come out ahead in the election. We know how time wounds all heels.

So, no clear victor, no gaffes,  no losers. But that smile of satisfaction from Cameron, as a left-leaning SNP leader went for the leader of the Labour Party, that was the moment that made Cameron the winner.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Is this Cameron's real coalition deal?

David Cameron should consider a deal with the SNP at Westminster to stay in office, according to a leading Conservative.

Paul Goodman, the editor of the influencial grassroots website, Conservative Home, has called on the Tory Prime Minister to cut a deal with the SNP that would grant Scotland Home Rule in return for the nationalists not voting down a Queen’s Speech.

The deal, outlined on the former MP’s popular website, is gaining currency among senior Westminster Conservatives considering how to handle a hung parliament. This is the first time it has dared speak it's name.

The scenario is that Cameron, who would remain as Prime Minister if there was no overall majority, would have first move forming a government after May 7th.

He is being urged to come to an arrangement with the SNP who,  if they arrive in great numbers, could make or break a Westminster government.  So that they would not vote down a Cameron minority government’s legislative timetable in a Queen’s Speech an offer would be made.

The move would give Holyrood full powers over income tax, allowing it to retain oil revenues and only send a tax receipts to London to meet defence and foreign affairs costs.

It meets the key SNP demand for full fiscal autonomy, the last step but one from full independence, and would save the UK government billions in extra Barnett payments to Scotland.

Goodman wrote: “Remember, the Conservative Party has already offered more devolution to Scotland than Labour, through the Strathclyde Commission, which said that the country 'should have full powers over income tax' – three months or so before the Vow and six months or so before the Smith Commission.”

He adds: “The next logical step would be to offer Scotland Home Rule, together with Home Rule for all the Home Nations – including, of course, England – in a fully federal UK, as recommended in the ConservativeHome Manifesto.”

If it's on ConHome, it's being talked about in Tory High Command. Left to his own devices Cameron would grasp any deal that would allow him to stay in Downing Street, but a number of high Tories, many of them in the cabinet, feel that Home Rule is the slipway to separation and a betrayal of their Unionist principles. They will put the block on Cameron making the offer.

But counter that with the appeal for many Conservative MPs of English Votes for English Laws, a policy that would exclude Scottish MPs from voting on crucial aspects of the budget and pave the way for another Tory government.

Tories themselves are doubtful that they will ever see another Conservative Westminster majority in their lifetimes unless there is a gamechanging move. People I know have bet on it not happening.

British voters, like all western voters, are tired of elitist, centralist politics. Federalism could be the next move, and it could come from the right to get around a nationalist roadblock.

But...Alex Salmond explicitly ruled out a deal with the Tories in a round of Sunday interviews.

“Nicola Sturgeon has outlined this quite clearly,” said Salmond on Piennaar's Politics. “The Conservatives will be locked out if they do not command a majority in the House of Commons."

This is the same Salmond who says he can work on a vote by vote basis with Labour, something which in reality he doesn't want to countenance. As the ends are more important than the means for the SNP Salmond could sell a Home Rule deal as the way back from referendum defeat.

Iain Martin, the right-wing Scottish commentator, sagely warned today to disregard what any party says about ruling in or out unlikely coalitions just now.

The Tories did the same before 2010 and who could have predicted Clegg and Cameron in the rose garden.  In this fevered atmosphere, anything is possible.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Tory pinch in Salmond's pocket

Why do the Conservatives this morning issue a poster showing a mini-Miliband popping out the  pocket of Alex Salmond? Not because it's funny, but because they know it works.

Focus group work in the England tell Tory strategists that voters fear the idea of the SNP having influence on a Westminster government. That worry makes them less likely to vote Labour.

Labour is now caught in a classic pincer movement by the SNP and the Conservatives, as the polling arithmetic shows that Labour falling short of a majority without SNP votes.

Cameron cannot advance the Tory cause in Scotland but he can try cutting the legs from under Labour in England, where the two main parties are tied.

If he raises the fear of a Labour-SNP coalition it turns voters off Labour in these English marginals. That could just be the difference between the Tories being able to form a coalition or the end of Cameron's career.

Alex Salmond tries to be as helpful as he can, claiming at his Gordon constituency adoption meeting on Friday that Westminster will dance to a Scottish tune. (He must be getting tired of saying that every time he stands for Westminster).

This time he added the rebalancing of infrastructure funding away from London to the list of SNP demands. A populist enough message north of Watford, but a very different signal to the London media who pick up the cue to warn their listeners and readers of the dangers of nationalism.

Why does Salmond say that? Because, for different reasons, both he and David Cameron want the same result  -a Tory government.

So while Jim Murphy and Labour MPs say they are rebuilding their Scottish constituency defences brick by brick against the SNP surge Cameron is eating away at the foundations of a Labour government by stirring nationalist fears in the south.

For the Tories nationalism is a handy tool indeed and Cameron appears willing to encourage a nationalist surge with out caring for the consequences. A Tory government would not be seen as having legitimacy in Scotland  with just one MP and the cuts to come will cause even more pain.

Add in a Tory referendum on the EU causing perhaps a constitutional crisis as well as one of democratic legitimacy and the ground is laid for another Scottish independence referendum.

The timing would be of  Nicola Strugeon's choosing as it is not reckoned the SNP manifesto for 2015 or 2016 will bind the leadership to a vote within a specific timeframe.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Farewell Malcolm Rifkind

There will be little public sympathy in Scotland  for Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who will be seen as the author of his own demise.

It is a rather humiliating end to forty years on the political frontline, caught out by one of the easiest political hooks in the undercover reporter’s bag, boasting that you work as an MP only part-time and then defending yourself on the grounds that a salary of £67.000 is not enough to live on.

It looks like he was immediately cut adrift by David Cameron. The Prime Minister gave him only half-hearted backing as chair of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee when the cash for access story broke on Monday.

His rapid dispatch has the hallmarks of Cameron's Australian election guru Lynton “no barnacles” Crosby.

Ten weeks out from an election he would have advised the party to clear the decks of this unnecessary distraction no matter how well regarded Rifkind might be.

In his time Rifkind held one of the high offices of state, serving as Foreign Minister under John Major and as Defence Secretary.

He entered parliament in 1974 as the 28-year-old MP for Edinburgh Pentlands when the Tories had 32 per cent of the vote in Scotland and 21 of the 72 Scottish MPs.
He will be best remembered in his native heath as Secretary of State for Scotland from 1986 to 1990, or as Margaret Thatcher’s Governor General as he was widely lampooned.

With the poll tax being imposed in the teeth of civic opposition, with the country traumatised by the loss of heavy industry, mining and the privatisation of utilities, Rifkind ran Scotland in the high season of Thatcherism.

Despite that Rifkind was himself a moderate Conservative. He changed the development agencies, the SDA and the HIDB into Enterprise Companies with more private involvement but he did argue for Ravenscraig to be kept open. 

To his credit he found money to establish  the Gaelic Television service, his shooting and fishing connection to the late Sir Iain Noble might have played a part in that. As someone who undertook country sports he felt he understood rural Scotland and funded  infrastructure programmes like the A9 and the Vatersay causeway.  
He wouldn’t take the lesson of a changed Scotland when the Tories were routed from Scotland in 1997 and had 900 voters swung the other way in 2001 he would have had his Edinburgh Pentlands seat back.

Instead of going to the Lords, as Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth had chosen, he stood again in the plum seat of Kensington and Chelsea in 2005.

But he took the huff when he did not make the running as Tory leader and David Cameron did not reward him as shadow Foreign Secretary so did not return to cabinet after the 2010 election.

With his Defence and Foreign Office experience he was well-respected in Westminster and was a natural choice to be appointment as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Given that he is a veteran political operator his self-destruction was surprisingly rapid.

At 68 he launched a stout initial defence of himself when the cash for access sting was sprung this week. But he showed himself to be completely out of touch, and quickly lost the support of colleagues, when he said that it was impossible to live on an MP’s salary.

He may be found to have broken no rules but he lost in the court of public opinion with that one.

Witty, with a light touch in the Commons chamber, he once quipped that the worst thing about losing office as a Minister was going out in the morning, jumping into the back seat of the car and realising that there was no driver.
He will have plenty time to get used to driving himself from now on.