Posts Tagged David Cameron

The First Minister declares: “the respect agenda lies dead in their throats”

He came, he spoke, he conquered.  Despite having to clear his throat continually, fending off a cold.

He had MSPs dabbing their eyes, delegates cheering to the rafters, including the hundreds denied access to a full hall, watching it in the Eden Court cinema and huddled round screens in FIVE overflow areas.

This was the First Minister, master of all he surveyed and equal to the task.

One reckoned his speech had effectively fired the starting gun on the campaign to win the referendum.  And unequivocally, he set out, towards the end of his speech, that while full fiscal responsibility “could allow us to control our own resources, introduce competitive business tax, and fair personal taxation” it was not enough.

For “even with economic powers, Trident nuclear missiles would still be on the River Clyde, we could still be forced to spill blood in illegal wars like Iraq, and Scotland would still be excluded from the Councils of Europe and the world”.

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, announced to sustained applause and cheers that “this party will campaign full square for independence in the coming referendum”.

This was the most lyrical section of his speech.  It generated huge energy in the hall, had some in tears, reminded, as Fiona McLeod MSP was, “of the enormity of what we achieved in May.  We didn’t break the system in May, the Scottish people did, and it is good to be reminded of how momentous that was”.  The First Minister’s speech made her want to “come out of the hall, head straight for the train, and get out there campaigning”.

Jamie Hepburn MSP, meanwhile, reckoned the First Minister had laid to rest “all the murmurings about what independence means.  Which I think have been a deliberate distraction by some.  The First Minister set out clearly what it means and what the SNP will campaign on.  And that’s full blown sovereigny for the Scottish nation.”

It was a speech made less for the audience in the hall, and more for the audience out there in the country.  But it had some great lines and phrasing.  the First Minister acknowledged that “we have to take sides within Scotland, as well as taking Scotland’s side.  Particularly when times are tough we have to ask the rich to help the poor, the strong to help the weak, the powerful to help the powerless.”

Putting Scotland’s energy resources and potential firmly at the heart of the independence agenda, he highlighted BP’s announcement this week and made several of his own:  a new £18 million fund to support marine energy commercialisation, part of a £35 million investment over the next three years to support testing, technology, infrastructure and deployment of the first commercial marine arrays.  “The message is clear:  in marine energy, it’s Scotland who rules the waves”.

He framed the investment in and development of Scotland’s renewable energy potential as the “green re-industrialisation of the coastline of Scotland”  and termed it “central to our vision of the future”.

Within this context, he was scathing about the level of fuel poverty in Scotland “amid energy plenty” and promised a further 200,000 Scottish families access to energy efficiency measures by April 2012.  And he returned to a comfortable Nationalist narrative:  “London has had its turn of Scottish oil and gas.  Let the next 40 years be for the people of Scotland”, he boomed to loud cheers.

As Maureen Watt MSP commented afterwards, the First Minister “reminded us of the ambitions we had and still have for our country.  The SNP Government has been in power for four years – people have seen we can do things differently.  It has given Scotland a sense of control but also confidence in that we’re nae too poor, too stupid to run our country” – this last comment, of course, uttered in the Doric.

But the First Minister reserved his scorn, in passages which the conference audience lapped up, for the UK Conservative Liberal Democrat government, in a clear signal that he sees the fight over the independence campaign as increasingly personal for Scotland, pitting him against David Cameron.

First, he condemned the UK Government for forming a Cabinet sub-committee to attack Scottish independence, “working out how to do down Scotland” ignoring their responsibilities for economic recovery.  He targeted “Mr Cameron” several times:  “how little you understand Scotland”.

But he was at his most passionate when setting out his and the SNP’s agenda for the independence referendum.  It’s us against them, with Labour airbrushed out of existence.  It’s Scotland versus Westminster and warned “the days of Westminster politicians telling Scotland what to do or what to think are over.  The Scottish people will set the agenda for the future”.

And he finished by effectively firing the starting gun on the independence campaign, as one delegate styled it.  Rubbishing the UK Government’s approach to its own Scotland bill – “unloved, uninspiring, not even understood by its own proponents” – he attacked Westminster’s agenda of disrespect:

“… not disrespect to the SNP but a fundamental disrespect for Scotland.  The respect agenda lies dead in their throats.”

The First Minister concluded his speech by paying tribute to his party, its members and its activists:  “we stand where we do today because of generations before us, because of party workers and campaigners who never saw this day”.  And set out his and the SNP’s vision for Scotland:

“And we shall prevail – because we share a vision, A vision of a land without boundaries, Of a people unshackled from low ambition and poor chances, Of a society unlimited in its efforts to be fair and free, Of a Scotland unbound.”

The delegates are still bouncing with energy and dabbing their eyes now.

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Fairy tales on the economy

The tooth fairy of the cutsThe Tories are making progress with their arguments over the economy. The message has trickled down even to primary school children. Yesterday, six year old Niamh Riley offered David Cameron her tooth fairy money after hearing about the country’s economic situation.

I heard about it and I wanted to write a letter. I wanted him to get the letter with the pound to make the country better and pay for jobs.

Is there a better way to sum up Tory economics than this? David Cameron, the personification of the vested interests of the rich, telling us the cuts must come first and taking money directly from children.

Actually, he rejected the pound, but that seems pretty inconsistent given this week’s assault on child benefit.

Jeff’s made the case here that their move is a good idea, despite the widely shared concerns about the fairness of the specific proposal. Don Paskini, one of Labour’s brightest bloggers, has argued that the winning tactics for Ed Miliband would be to tackle the specifics and accept the principle. Tactically, perhaps, but on the principle I disagree with both, however progressive it may appear to being taking money away from the well off.

I’ve got four reasons for this position, even assuming the specifics are sorted out. First, means testing is inherently expensive. The savings will be partially offset by the cost of paying civil servants to work out who shouldn’t get child benefit. Second, child benefit gives a massive swathe of society a buy-in to benefits. It’s an incredibly powerful message, that benefits aren’t simply for the “others”, the people they read about in the Mail with their massive taxpayer-funded houses.

Next, although some have used child benefit for fine dining or other decadence, many find their partner gambling or drinking away money that they need for childcare, and that’s not just driven by class or income level. Some parents with partners on bigger incomes are in exactly the same position, and child benefit gets a little way past that problem.

Finally, it doesn’t look like the result of any considered and comprehensive policy on the public finances. A responsible government would look at the debt, current spending and current revenues, and start to prioritise. What are the most vital or cost-effective parts of our public services? What are the most progressive ways to raise funds? What will the economic impact be of cutting staff numbers at a particular rate, or of raising additional funds in a certain way?

They should be identifying the most obvious waste – like vast defence boondoggles and the damaging Afghan war – and cutting them first. Child benefit for anyone simply isn’t anywhere near the cut-off on that list, , even those on the civil list (who perhaps for equity should also also have a £26k limit on their income). Next, they should be looking at the most progressive ways to raise more money without damaging the economy, starting with taxing banks and bankers’ bonuses, or looking at (bear with me) Land Value Tax. Again, increasing VAT shouldn’t have featured there. As the Lib Dems told us before the election, it’s one of the most regressive taxes going.

That information should then have been plugged into projections about the deficit to estimate the optimum approach for tackling it. One thing the Tories are right about is this: paying ever-increasing interest on the national debt isn’t a good long-term use of taxpayers’ money. At the end of a long bubble like Labour’s property/cheap oil boom the national finances ought to have been in credit, which would have made it easier to invest in the lean years as Keynes knew. Leaving those regrets aside, though, can the cost-cutting and revenue options there allow deficit reduction now? Probably not without incurring other social costs too high to bear. More likely in a year or two, probably, but it’s hard to say without all this information being provided.

We should have been shown a review of this sort, a Domesday book of the British public finances. It’s a big job, sure, but if that’s not what the Treasury is for, then what really is its purpose? Telling tall tales to children?

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What will the “PM Cameron effect” be for the Tories in Scotland?

The “Cameron Effect” seemed to work for the Tories on a UK-wide level, delivering gains in England and Wales, and David Cameron into Downing Street, albeit in coalition and not, as he had intended, with a Conservative majority.  However the Tories struggled once again in Scotland, holding onto the only seat they had won in 2005 and winning nothing else.  In short, the Cameron effect stretched only as far as Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale and no further.

But, David Cameron is now Prime Minister.  So what impact will his Prime Ministerial role have upon Conservative fortunes in Scotland?  Will the slump that saw the party wiped out in 1997 and 2001 continue?  Or will a youthful Tory PM – with a new-born child in Downing Street – be the catalyst for Scotland to fall back in love (or at least, fall back into liking/ tolerate) with the Tories?

I think in some senses it is too early to tell – and that might be as much to do with time as it is to do with the cuts agenda.  David Cameron – and to an extent, George Osbourne – were smart enough to let the devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff make their cuts now or defer them until next year, with both deferring (which was equally smart – it means that incoming administrations in May 2011 will have to deal with the fall-out).  So, in that respect, the full force of cuts won’t really be felt until next year – certainly in Scotland and Wales.

That, in turn, allows the Scottish Conservatives to campaign in May with a positive – their (relatively popular) man in government at Westminster without the focus on cuts, cuts and cuts.  On the other hand, Scots have tended to be more suspicious of the style over substance approach (even though we delivered Tony Blair a huge majority of Scottish MPs) and Cameron’s Eton background may not appeal to everyone.  Equally, while I – and I think, most commentators – have been fairly impressed with the way the Tories have gone about their business at Holyrood (engaging in budget debates, being constructive in opposition to a minority administration) there is a sense that they seem tired and in need of fresh impetus.  Perhaps the fact that they are in government at UK level will breathe new life into them at Holyrood, but I’m not convinced.

A Scottish Conservative yesterday...

I know Jeff has written in the past about the need for leadership change within the Scottish Tories.  While I really like Annabel Goldie and think she has taken the Scottish Conservatives further than I thought she could, I’m beginning to agree with him.  Nothing against Ms Goldie, but I think the party need a fresh look – and a change.  Several of the old guard – Bill Aitken, Ted Brocklebank – have already announced their retirement, though in contrast, Nanette Milne (68, Aberdeenshire West), Mary Scanlon (62, Inverness & Nairn) and Jamie McGrigor (60, Argyll & Bute) will all be standing in May and at least two of them are likely to return on regional lists.

So new blood is required.  I think the days are gone when the term “young Conservative” was seen as a oxymoron.  And perhaps that has been the impact of the Cameron effect.  However, the term “Scottish Conservative” looks like it is becoming like the lesser-spotted dodo.  If PM Cameron is to have an impact on the Tories in Scotland, some combination of the two – the youth and the Scottish – will have to emerge.  Otherwise, despite their good work in this third term of devolution (and that positive view of the Scottish Tories is debateable) I can see the party losing votes and seats come May.

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