Archive for category Housekeeping

Thankyou for listening

10476399_10100915509179671_9088546730157656764_nA few years ago I was invited to become a regular part of Better Nation, at a time when it was the only blog in Scottish politics that did not exist entirely to massage one person’s ego or to cheer-lead religiously for a particular political party. It was something I was happy to do, but all things run their course.

This year has seen the independence referendum and much else, but on a more personal level I have finished my PhD and have now turned back to doing what I really enjoy, writing foreign and cultural journalism. I’m also writing a book, which all being well should appear this summer. What’s inside will be familiar to anyone who has read my Better Nation posts, and there are some other interesting projects in the pipeline to do with Scotland’s growing new media. I have also been reminded that taking an obsessive view of Scottish politics leaves little time for reading books and climbing mountains, which are the essentials of a fulfilling life as far as I am concerned.

Scotland is a much more complex place than anyone would really care to admit, and what needs to happen now in reflecting that cannot come in the form of a blog, however well intentioned its authors might be. I have never been the kind of person to salivate over polls or write insight pieces just to cultivate my own sense of performative hackery, and I can’t sincerely stand up and try and pass off my personal beliefs as being particularly valid compared to the general population. Politics is interesting, and important, because it ultimately impacts on people. As a game in itself though it is often no better than navel gazing. There’s more fun and good to be had in writing about life than about Holyrood.

There are still things to be written, not least over at the Scottish Review and The Conversation, but not here any more. You can just about feel the spring in Stockholm, and that makes me think it is time to go.


Blogging? I don’t have the constitution for it

This will be my last post as a co-editor at Better Nation. I did my best to keep myself (and hopefully others) entertained with random scribblings on Scottish Politics not to mention the distant, and occasionally dim, referendum. It is now, alas, time to pack up and move on to pastures no doubt less green and for perfectly healthy offline reasons, I may add.

I won’t be leaving any rules or regulations behind that current and future editors will have to abide by.

I can’t help be struck however that, on that last point, my view of how to leave the past behind is at odds with many within Yes Scotland. Everyone wants to leave a legacy behind them wherever they go, be it big or small, but an eternal written constitution is something else entirely. First Minister Alex Salmond is often disparagingly referred to as the ‘dear Leader’ in the North Korean mould, but setting his and his party’s views in stone for future generations is, for me, a troubling prospect. The First Minister stated back in January that he wanted the right to a house, a ban on nuclear weapons and free education to be included in a written constitution, which looks eerily like a party manifesto rather than a wider, balanced document.

There’s enough partisan bickering at the Parliament without the need for scrabbling over the chisel of a national tablet of stone. The current, lamentable SNP vs Labour bunfight over how Scotland should mitigate the Bedroom Tax should help highlight how any constitutional debate would go. Best to just not go there.

Looking at constitutions around the world they seem to be millstones around a nation’s neck or a handy way to muddy the waters of a given argument, rather than a guarantee of equality and statehood. Crazed gun nuts hide behind the U.S. Constitution to defend their supposed right to carry deadly weapons while the eye-watering death toll in that corner of the world mounts higher by the day. That same constitution, in its original form, measured a black person as equal to three fifths of a white person and, more recently, ensured Barack Obama’s healthcare proposals was one Supreme Court vote away from being against the law, despite an electoral mandate. In France, Hollande’s wildly popular 75% tax on the rich was struck down as being unconstitutional.

Scotland would not necessarily create these same elephant traps and roadblocks for itself if the wording of any such constitution was sufficiently obtuse, but then one has to ask what the point of it would be. Surely the Government and law courts of the day should be able to manage the country in line with the views of the public at that time, without the need for a constitution, or a revising Chamber or a House of Lords for that matter.

After all, what is so fantastic about our current crop of MSPs and civic leaders that require their views to be enshrined in statute for ever more?

We need to trust future generations to improve upon the current, be that on written constitutions, climate change or blogs. For the latter, I have no fears that the media (via the dead tree press or otherwise), and Better Nation in particular, has the potential to constantly improve and be even better than it has been in the recent past, whoever may be writing the content or providing the guest posts.

(Yes, that was one final hint to you, yes you dear reader, to send something in to the rest of the team for consideration).

Good luck comrades!

It’s time to stop treating homes like stocks & shares

Housing is suddenly back on the news agenda with George Osborne trying to reinflate the housing bubble with his dubious ‘Help to Buy’ scheme. Meanwhile the bedroom tax looms large on the horizon, primed to wreak financial havoc on those least prepared for it. So for all the coalition Government’s huffing and puffing, the imbalance between haves and have nots looks set to continue, as does the widening inequality between rich and poor.

The house that George built will be one where the well off hoover up second homes on cheap Government-backed credit while people are evicted from their homes because they have a ‘spare’ bedroom and nowhere else to live. It is utterly depressing and a change to how we view property is surely required, both for our selves and across the country, be it Scotland or (much less likely) the UK.

Conflating a roof over our heads with a commodity to be bought and sold for profit has gotten us into a terrible mess, and it’s time we all faced up to it.

It seems clear that a major problem across the country right now is that there aren’t enough homes for people to live in. Housebuilders are desperate to get on with building while families sit on waiting lists to get into council housing. The Bedroom Tax is therefore understandable, if unforgivable in its current form. For one thing, it is too narrow in focus. The housing shortage is across the UK as a whole. The Government shouldn’t ringfence and punish the poor simply for being poor, they should be looking to free up capacity by looking at where most spare homes exist. The unavoidable truth is that most spare homes are already held as second, third and fourth properties by individuals trying to make an easy gain in the rentals and long term bricks and mortar markets.

What would happen if second properties were banned overnight? Supply would explode, prices would plummet, everyone would be able to move up a rung or two on the ladder and, crucially, space would be vacated within the lower one-bed and two-bed markets. This would allow new homeowners to move out of the rented space, or even out of social housing altogether. This would surely free up capacity more efficiently and more equitably than the Bedroom Tax will. The main difference is that the pain would be spread across the country and not just those on housing allowance. Isn’t that what ‘we’re all in this together’ is all about though?

After all, who loses? Not many people other than amateur real estate magnates and overseas property speculators. Do such people deserve sympathy in these straitened times? Not for me, a one house per individual/couple rule makes perfect sense to me if we are to assuage the greed and selfishness that is causing so many unnecessary problems. Put simply, why should anyone own two or three houses when there are so many people who can’t afford to live in one, owned or otherwise? It’s just wrong on the most basic level.

There is, admittedly, an issue regarding individuals who are investing their savings in property in order to safeguard their pensions, but if this is detrimental to society then those savings will just have to go elsewhere. Needless to say, more properties on the market, lower house prices and more homeowners should in theory pull the housing allowance bill down and allow the pension entitlement to go up.

I don’t for one second believe that the UK Government will adopt this idea, but there is an opportunity here for Yes Scotland if they want to sell a vision of a truly different way of life. After all, if Scots don’t want to make these kinds of radical shifts in the way we run things then what is independence for?

And hey, it passes the social democratic litmus test for lefty Scots…. Sweden already does it.

Better Nation’s new Editor – Kirsty Connell

The idea behind Better Nation was that it would be a rolling beast where guest posts* from within and outwith Scotland would always be welcomed and where new bloggers would ideally outlive the old, the website sustaining itself through constant input and constant renewal.

The next chapter in this hopefully still burgeoning story begins today with the announcement that we have a new editor – Kirsty Connell.

Kirsty has written a few guest posts for this site recently and knocked the blogging ball out of the park each time. It is safe to say, with not a hint of false modesty, that we are raising our collective average from today.

There is a wealth of experience and knowledge that Kirsty brings to the table through her time as a candidate in Scottish and European Parliament elections, through her fundraiser work, through working in Holyrood as a researcher and through being chairperson of Glasgow Labour Club. That description is chosen purposefully as Kirsty is also a proud feminist. A peek at the @Kirsty_C Twitter account will give you a view of what makes her tick for any readers that have not yet made Kirsty’s online acquaintance.

So our historically greenish, pro-independence slant is distinctly, and somewhat deliberately, being balanced out by a strong Labour presence with Aidan at the helm, and now doubled up with Kirsty. Our comments here at Better Nation, one of our strongest plus points, can be delightfully robust but hopefully the insightful will not be too regularly met with the inciteful. While Alex Salmond graciously conceded that the SNP does not have a monopoly on wisdom, so too do proponents of independence not have a monopoly on debate in the Scottish blogosphere.

It’s not easy running a blog, even a group blog, so fresh talent and fresh impetus are always welcome, some would say necessary.

At Better Nation we will always seek continue to spread our reach to cover all Scottish viewpoints consistent with our raisins etc, and that branching out may well continue sooner rather than later but, for now, we are a Fab Four and our purpose remains solid as we begin to wind down on 2011 and look to 2012.

So a big welcome to Kirsty and here’s to more Better Nation discussion and exploits in the weeks, months and years to come.

(*Submissions to Editors’at’betternation’dot’org)

RTing @patrickharvie’s #MOTW

Every Parliament needs one and for Holyrood that role has fallen to Patrick Harvie of the Greens. I am talking, of course, of the necessary drive to open up Parliament and make it accessible to as many people as possible.

So, Patrick’s common sense but nonetheless unlikely to be taken up suggestion of allowing social media to be used in the Scottish Parliament chamber is this week’s motion of the week:

Motion S4M-01085 – Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Scottish Green Party) : Social Media in the Scottish Parliament
That the Parliament notes the decision of members of the House of Commons to permit the responsible use of mobile devices and social media in the debating chamber; considers that debates would not benefit if members used electronic devices in ways that did not relate to the subject under debate; notes, however, that members are already expected not to read in the chamber printed material that is unrelated to the debate and that a similar rule could apply to the use of electronic devices; considers that the use of social media during parliamentary debates can be a way of engaging the public in the political process and can enhance democratic participation, and would welcome consideration of a possible change to the Parliament’s rules by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, the Presiding Officer and members themselves.

Supported by: Humza Yousaf, John Park

I have no doubt that there is a lot of really great debate that takes place at Holyrood that doesn’t see the light of day. It gets typed up by a secretary and sits on the records until the end of time.

How much better would it be to have rip-roaring debates going live online, pulling punters in that would otherwise be uninterested in political debate? And yes, I’m largely thinking of Twitter here but Facebook and blogs could be updated from within the Chamber too. Why not?

The online discussions around First Minister’s Question, BBC Question Time and Leader Debates are excellent fun while still being substantive. The only thing that tends to be lacking is the people in the room, the people taking part in the discussion, also taking part in the online debate.

Patrick Harvie gets a bit of stick for being Holyrood’s Twitterer-in-Chief but he is pushing the boundaries of what Holyrood can be and who can access it and, for that, and for many other reasons, we salute him.