Archive for category Holyrood

10 pictures that will make you realise how amazing Edinburgh is.


Someone’s day started badly this morning. Outside my flat on the street was the footprint of a trainer in dog shite, the thinnest of a progression from the corner where the offending pile sat.

As the footprints fade on the way up Leith Walk they are replaced by discarded receipts and an empty packet of Pannini football cards thrown on the ground by someone who had ripped open their purchase from one of the newsagents on the east side. The partially revamped street is flanked by jeeps and Mercedes in the customer parking outside the shops, whilst the road surface is starting to come apart again under the weight of the traffic. The landmark investment hailed by the Government and the Labour-led council is running slowly, the promised bike lanes are nowhere to be seen and people scrum on the corners waiting to cross the road.

Further up still the window of Harburn Hobbies has a model train display of the highlands and the classier cafes and tiny restaurants of Haddington Place seem at odds with the Greggs packets and bins littering the street. The maps show the top of Leith Walk as being a well organised roundabout, but in fact it is a loosely segregated square fed by four different roads. In other places such a huge expanse in a city centre might be a public square, but in Edinburgh people are shepherded in to pens to cross the road as cars take the  corners at forty.

Further up the hill the situation is identical. Crossing the street can take five minutes depending on which of the four main roads pouring into the area has priority. You can smell the fumes hanging in the air in rush hour and Leith Street, the main route for people crossing to the Bridges or Princes Street, does not even have a complete pavement up one side. Instead it is easier to cut through the big John Lewis, where small men in ill-fitting grey suits wait for people to buy the Nespresso machines they stand watch over. Sometimes, when the air is bad, the ventilation system of the St James’ centre pulls in the smell of diesel fumes from the street outside. The world heritage site most people struggle through every day looks blackened and cracked in the November grey.

North Bridge offers a prime view of Arthur’s Seat overlapping with the Crags like the layers of a theatre set before it dives into the canyon between the Scotsman hotel and the equally ornate Pizza Express. In the stair entrance next to one of the tartan and whisky tourist shops a figure lies in a foetal squat, his unconscious face hidden by a hoody. Beyond Hunter Square another Scotland shop pumps out bagpipe hits as people cluster around the bus stop and cyclists nervously eye the taxis on their tail. The regeneration project of an Ibis hotel, Sainsbury’s and Costa Coffee have already been tagged.

On the far side of Old College a group of first year students wearing 2014 leavers hoodies from English private schools look uneasily at the Gaelic scrawled on the walls and pavement. ‘Our language’ it says. Ironically, Edinburgh has just finished covering its entire campus in tokenistic Gaelic signage for the purposes of overseas students. It is one of the few places in Edinburgh where you really can see the language in public view. For Edinburgh though, the dismal urbanism is a bigger issue than what language you complain about the dog shite in.

Labour’s Green hunt has been done before, and failed.

Hi, we're the new neighbours. We brought tapenade.

Hi, we’re the new neighbours. We brought tapenade.

The most read article in the sidebar of the Swedish socialist newspaper Flamman is ‘Are the Greens a bourgeois party’. The short answer is no, but the eagerness with which Sweden’s socialists are apparently clicking on the piece in question time and time again suggest they are no closer to accepting the young upstart in the red crowd.

Across an ocean and much further south, the Labour party in Brighton are clicking too, looking for their own smoking gun. Somewhere, they believe, is proof that Green politic is a charade. In the simple language where left means red and red means Labour, green is  a colour to be suspicious of as much as yellow or blue. The target of their ire is Caroline Lucas, a popular and principled local MP in a seat that Labour feel should be theirs.

Labour are expending increasingly large resources countering what the Greens themselves have characterised as the ‘green surge’, typified by the clenched green fist adopted by those members of the party with a well-thumbed copy of Das Kapital in their schooldesk. Lessons from Sweden and elsewhere though show that Labour would be better off saving their money for UKIP.

In the mid 1990s, the Swedish Green Party began to change the balance of power in parliament so that Social Democrat governments were forced to rely on Green votes to govern effectively. From 1998 to 2006 the Social Democrats operated a system of confidence and supply in key areas, though not always happily.  Similarly in 1998 the German Social Democrats were able to win a full majority with the help of The Greens/Alliance 90, causing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to say that they had begun a ‘Project Red-Green’, permanently positioning The Greens as the natural coalition partner for federal government if the maths allowed. Previous to these cooperation agreements there had been some fairly intense anti-Green activity in both countries, focusing largely on how the ecologically minded upstarts were little better than middle class do-gooders and economic illiterates.

In both countries, the Green parties have continued to grow and an understanding of the relative strengths of each group and mutual interest has developed. In Sweden the Greens entered government as a full coalition partner for the first time this year, albeit in a minority administration. The real lesson to be taken is that nowhere in Europe has a Green party grown and been successfully stamped out by the existing left and centre-left parties. They may not wear the red ties and grey suits of the People’s Party, but if Labour are interested in more than being the biggest party in opposition their war on the Greens looks very short-sighted indeed.

Faraway, so close!

In Weiter Ferne, so what?

In Weiter Ferne, so what?

25 years ago the Berlin Wall came down. The most physical symbol of the division between East and West was pulled apart by the people that feared it. The spectre of a border dividing what was supposed to be whole lives long in the memory and lingered uncomfortably in the background of the independence referendum. Threats of border posts and razor-wire played on the idea that Britain would be another Korea or Germany, people the same cut off from one another by ideologues.

Today Berlin is not the run down and crumbling liminal city of Bowie and Wim Wenders Wings of Desire and Faraway, so close! The cultural tropes live on though.  Everything from the rebuilding of the Hotel Adler to the demolition of the East German parliament building is designed to pretend fifty years of history did not happen.

Instead Berlin’s history is increasingly remembered through a series of arbitrary official sites, from the Holocaust memorial to the Topography of Terror exhibition on Nazism. The real scars though are covered up under the skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz and the Dunkin Donuts stores in Mitte, the central district. The decision to put balloons up along the wall to mark its path was symptomatic of one of the ironies of post-89 Berlin: everyone is aware of the city’s history but most of the young hipsters would struggle to tell you exactly where the wall ran, or even its proper history.

Around Checkpoint Charlie, famous because it was the point at which you passed from American to Soviet controlled Berlin, people buy mass produced communist memorabilia. When I lived in Berlin you could see queues of tourists waiting to have their picture taken with actors dressed as border guards. The sentry post in the centre of the street is a fake, made to be more authentic than the larger 80s building demolished on reunification.

From the second world war to the 1990s Berlin was the centre of a frozen proxy conflict. Neither East nor West Germany were truly independent. Now though Berlin is controlled by a different group of outsiders, a youthful international class of people from Britain, the US, Israel, Russia, Poland, Scandinavia and Italy who all move to Berlin on wave upon wave of myth building. For young Israeli’s unable to come to terms with the limitations of living in a religious state or the idea of doing a term in the IDF, Berlin offers a way out. It is a city of many subcultures, but the Israeli expat gay scene is one of the more remarkable ones. Importantly, it is a significant step in Jewish people reclaiming central Europe as a natural home in a more modern guise, but now in the company of a multitude of other European ethnic groups.

This is the Europe that the UK seems reluctant to embrace. Those fanning the flames of an exit from the EU seem intent on resisting the reality of the open and interconnected Europe that has sprung up. For some that is a colonial hangover, for others a misreading of the way the continent has almost always worked with people moving from north to south and east to west. Only through British eyes does it become an instrumental project, interesting when it is useful and derided when not. Britain could play an integral part in the next twenty-five years of Europe, or it could build a wall and tell stories about what is on the other side.

Scoring the Labour candidates

It’s time for a bit of science on the Labour leadership. Or at least an entirely subjective game of Top Trumps. If I’ve missed anything out, do let me know. All scores are out of 10.

Issues Sarah Boyack Neil Findlay Jim Murphy
Record of interest in reforming Labour 7 3 4
Compliance with UK Labour 4 1 10
Media support 2 3 10
Appeal to SNP voters 5 4 0
Appeal to Tory voters 2 0 8
Appeal to Green voters 4 4 0

In terms of the appeal to other parties’ voters, 10 out of 10 is the notional figure awarded for each party’s ideal current person, so 10/10 for the SNP would be Nicola, 10/10 for the Greens would be Patrick, and 10/10 for the Tories would be perhaps a reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher. In my unscientific view (like everything else here) Findlay and Boyack appeal to different parts of the SNP and Green electorates – he reaches the more left segments of both, while she reaches the more centrist part of the SNP voting pool and the more “eco” part of the Greens. Those figures tend to be low, especially for the SNP and the Greens, as both parties are on a bounce in terms of support. You’d have to be really aligned to beat 5 for either group, in my view. Malcolm Chisholm might get a 6 for current SNP voters.

I’ve also not put a figure for appeal to current Lib Dem voters. I really don’t have any idea what they want. The other thing to bear in mind there is that Labour will in part here be deciding whose voters they want to target. Are Tory voters a big enough pool for Labour to want to fish in, at a Scottish level? If I were them I’d want to focus the party’s appeal on SNP voters, perhaps most specifically that fraction who voted No in September, although holding off the Greens is apparently also high on Labour’s list of current objectives.

Excessive compliance with UK Labour for me does not count as a positive for a Scottish Labour leader: Johann Lamont’s criticism feels spot on, and fraternal operational independence seems the only structure that can help with the deep problems there. However, to be generous, I’m not convinced that vociferously opposing Miliband on a wide range of policy issues (as Neil Findlay would do – and I would tend to agree with him) would necessarily help with any hypothetical Labour revival. I think about 4/10 is in fact potentially the sweet spot there. I also find it hard to tell whether the media, especially the bits edited in London, are backing Murphy because they think he’ll help Labour or because they think he’ll sink them.

The upshot is this. If I were a Labour member, my policy heart would be inclined towards Findlay (despite the serious problems cited here by @3psteve), but my head would be decisively in favour of Boyack. Both head and heart would be united in the view that Murphy would be Scottish Labour simply doubling down on all its problems: the privatising, warmongering, tuition-fee-introducing legacy of Blairism, the clammy hand of London controlling the Scottish party, and the a obsessive focus on the SNP rather than Labour’s own offer.

Declaration of interest: I have, in a vote of confidence in the Labour membership, who still oddly only get a third of the votes, put £100 down on Boyack at 9-1.

There is only one coherent solution to Scottish Labour’s problems

jpegPrior to Johann Lamont’s doomed leadership, there was no leader of Scottish Labour, just a Leader Of Labour In the Scottish Parliament, a mere LOLITSP. Iain Gray, a much better politician than he ever gave the impression of in that role, wasn’t the formal leader of the Scottish Labour MPs: that was still run through Westminster. And it showed.

Labour’s priority, as everyone has been observing ad nauseam, has remained on Westminster throughout, with Holyrood mistakenly regarded as a stepping stone to winning UK general elections, or in some cases, at an individual level, to a Westminster seat.

Scottish Labour MPs regarded their MSP colleagues with utter disdain, and the feeling was (with more justification) mutual. But the 2011 changes were meant to resolve that. From that point on, Johann Lamont was formally the leader of the Scottish MPs. Except Ed Miliband was her leader. And selection for Labour MPs remained with the UK party, as did their loyalty. All that had changed was a formality, a line on an organisational chart. The previous situation, although broken and in need of reform, was at least more honest.

It’s clearly not working. And giving Lamont’s successor some nebulous “more powers” over the Scottish party (sound familiar?) won’t help either. There is only one structural solution within which Scottish Labour could flourish, and, ironically, it’s closer to independence than federalism. A true Scottish Labour Party, with links to rUK Labour more akin to the partnership in Germany between the CDU and the CSU: both part of whatever the centrist ex-socialist European grouping calls itself nowadays, but closer than Labour are to the SPD or the French PS. All policy, selection, fundraising, expenditure – the lot – run in Scotland.

It’d allow a coherent set of policies to be constructed in Scotland for Scotland, perhaps an inch or two to the left of rUK Labour. It’d end the back-stabbing and sniping which have gone on since Dewar died, or at least limit it. The leader would be in Holyrood, but the group leader at Westminster would be a key role too – perhaps the deputy, until Scottish independence. If rUK Labour need Scottish Labour MPs to make a majority (or even if they don’t – up to them) they could work together just like the CDU and CSU do in Germany. Scottish Labour MPs could still serve in a UK administration. If the talent sent down was exceptional, which may be hard to imagine when you look at Brian Donohoe or Ian Davidson, maybe one amongst them could still be a good choice for a Labour PM. There might sometimes be a need for a little policy compromise if the two parties set different courses, but that’s manageable. Possibly even constructive.

The alternative is more of the same. It’s not just the Sunday Herald gloating about the party’s travails: even this weekend’s Sunday Mail editorial said it was time for change or “hell mend Labour”. In a way, of course, it’s none of my business, although this isn’t intended unhelpfully. I’ve not identified as a Labour voter since about 1992. One part of me thinks they can’t be saved, and (given the continued power of Blairism and Blairites) isn’t upset about that – but another wants to see Labour get its act back together and provide a proper opposition to the SNP. If Labour want to do that, they should be listening to Andrew McFadyen, not falling for John McTernan’s complacency. That way lies the wasteland, or even the graveyard.