Posts Tagged SNP

A Niceway To Die


The ’Niceway Code’ is not just about appeasing cyclists – it is typical of a government increasingly tokenistic and out touch with the challenges it faces.

The Scottish Government recently launched a campaign to improve Scotland’s road safety record called ‘The Niceway Code’. You may have missed this due to the fact that it only has a budget of 500,000 pounds and it is so appallingly lame that Transport Minister Keith Brown’s department seem faintly embarrassed about the whole thing.

The campaign aims to reduce the number of road deaths by asking road users to be nice to one another, which is surprising in that the law already compels people to be nice to and not kill one another on the roads.

The fact that the campaign does not even remind motorists or their legal obligations (and in some cases directly contradicts what road markings tell cyclists to do as shown in the picture below) has incensed active and sustainable transport groups. One Holyrood insider even talked of how an panel of interest groups were left dumbfounded when Keith Brown’s team revealed their grand strategy for preventing death and injury on the nation’s streets. The Scottish Government’s own statistics show that 1 in 14 road deaths each year are cyclists, and only in a tiny minority of cases have the cyclists committed even minor infringements to the highway code.

Don’t go left, even though that’s where the cycle lane is.

The SNP seem to want to keep everyone happy, which is why they seem to view cyclists and cycling as an interest group and not as a genuine means of tackling some of the endemic transport and urban problems of contemporary Scotland. They will happily commit three BILLION pounds to doubling the A9 from Perth to Inverness but cannot muster the couple of million pounds it would require to radically reshape Scotland’s urban and suburban spaces to make them more liveable.

Cycling is not just about lycra and weekend hobbyists – harnessed properly it can create safer streets for children and families in particular, cut air pollution and help meet Scotland’s climate goals. It can save the government and taxpayers money, cut health bills and reduce the strain on public transport networks without extra subsidies. If even a crumb of that three billion were spent on redesigning towns and cities to make them more people-friendly the SNP would be a world leader, but for the time being they’ve just got everyone sniggering into the back of their hand. And I’m being nice.


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Arguments over how much oil there is are missing the point

An independent Scotland will ban nuclear weapons, we are told. Top stuff. I’m all for it.

Nuclear weapons are amoral and have the potential to kill millions of people if they were ever used, as well as belonging to an age now past.

But there is a bigger threat to  global peace and wellbeing lurking in Scottish waters, one which the more head-in-sand types in the SNP leadership and UK government are all too eager to embrace.

Scotland is about to undergo a second oil boom apparently. At least according to the First Minister.

And in the week that a leaked document accepting the idea of change and adaption as a central component of any society made the headlines, we are told that things shall always be as they have been, for ever more. The boom becomes a beat and the beat goes on.

What is pretty clear is that we can’t just turn off the oil industry. The Scottish economy would collapse, and thousands of people would lose their jobs. Like those peace-loving Swedes exporting Bofors armaments far and wide with a shrug of their shoulders and and a nod to the employment statistics, it is easy enough to take away the pain of responsibility with a few spoons of relativism.

And it is incredibly tempting, because all those guns and all that oil pays for the welfare and investment in the public good which so many right thinking people want in a society.

But the kind of politicians who would take the oil and look away are the same type of person who would use the cheats on Championship manager, only to wonder why winning the European Cup carries no sense of achievement. It’s the Dorian Gray of natural resources, and for every single drop pumped out the official portrait at Bute House will turn a touch more grotesque. Or maybe Faust if you want. They’re all the same basic metaphor.

It’s our oil till we’ve sold it, and then it’s another man’s grievance.

There is no denying that the low-carbon world which we must inevitably transition to – either by design or by sheer necessity – will and must come. I’ve stood in the gallery at Holyrood and watched the whole parliament pat itself on the back over climate change legislation. You can call yourself world leading or pioneering as much as you like, but if you then choose to adopt a position which runs counter to received scientific wisdom and moral defensibility you will find yourself leading a world of one.

Because the emissions from an ever expanding Scottish oil industry will kill more people than Trident, be it in the form of air pollution or crop failure, flooding and conflict.

And because we must transition to a sustainable economy, does it not make sense to do it immediately?  I’ll be voting Yes to change Scotland into the country it can be, not into an unthinking and morally indefensible oil state.

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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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Pete Wishart: The Labour leadership speech you won’t hear

Don’t panic CyberNats!  Pete Wishart MP has not defected – this is his imagining of the kind of speech he’d like to hear the Scottish Labour leadership contenders make:

“Ladies and gentlemen, comrades, members of the press. Today I announce my candidacy for the leadership of the Labour Party of Scotland. These are exciting and challenging times. After that crushing defeat in May, it is time to rebuild and renew, to slay sacred cows and chart a new way ahead.

Yes, we were beaten in May because of poor leadership and badly thought-out policies. But the real reason we were beaten so comprehensively is because of a more fundamental problem, and that is for the past ten years the Labour Party has been at least ten steps behind the ambitions of the Scottish people. We have tried to disparage that ambition, neuter it and hold it back. With me as your leader, we will never be put in that position again.

Instead I want to lead that ambition, to work with its flow, to realise its potential. I want to lead a new Scotland, secure in its own skin and dependent on no-one but ourselves.

This is why comrades, that one of the first things I will do, as your leader, will be to commission a new internal body to look at our historic opposition to Scottish independence. As your leader, I will ask that body to look at how we could become a new voice for independence in Scotland, and how we could have a new 21st century relationship throughout these isles based on equality and mutual respect.

It is time comrades, to put our opposition to independence aside, to look at the national interest, and to work for a new and better future for all the people of Scotland.

It was the Labour Party that delivered the Scottish Parliament. It is the Labour Party that has throughout the decades championed the values of social justice and equality. Comrades, are we seriously saying that we cannot build on these fine founding principles in an independent Scotland? An independent Scotland that could be moulded in the Labour tradition?

The alternative is to have a Tory Government in Westminster continue to govern in Scotland, unwanted by the Scottish people and alien to our values. Are we really saying that it is preferable to have a Tory Government running all these reserved responsibilities rather than have them returned to Scotland and put under the democratic control of the Scottish people in ours, in Scotland’s, Parliament?

The alternative is unthinkable. To be lumped in with the Tories, once again, saying no to Scotland. To invent reasons why the Scots aren’t creative enough to make a success of their independence. We’ve done that before and it does not work. I will not talk down my fellow Scots any longer.

Comrades, our illogical and pathological hatred of the SNP has blinded us to what is right for the people of Scotland. It is now time for that to come to an end, to be on the right side of history and to do the right thing.”

(,,,,and a pig was seen flying past the window…….)

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Holyrood’s finest hour?

It’s time for the Scottish Parliament to show its mettle.

Tomorrow, Holyrood will debate welfare reform.  Hopefully, the Scottish Government will lay its delayed Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) before the Parliament and everyone will agree to the highly unusual step of appointing three scrutiny committees for the process, one lead and two secondary ones.  This will enable evidence to be laid and heard from the widest possible range of contributors and allow Holyrood to determine whether and how it allows Westminster to legislate on devolved matters contained in the legislation.

Such is the potential impact to Scotland and her people from the measures in the UK government’s welfare reform bill that nothing less will do.  If ever the SNP wanted to pick a fight with Westminster, if ever Labour wanted to return to the hallowed ground of class politics, if ever the Liberal Democrats wanted to point up differences with their English brethren, if ever the Scottish Greens wanted to champion the cause of inequality, if ever the Scottish Conservatives wanted to show that leopards can change their spots, then this issue is it.

I blogged at the ither place that “the scale of change heading down the tracks from the ConDems’ systematic dismantling of the welfare state is almost overwhelming”.  I don’t think I was over-stating the case.  For if the ConDems get their way, nary a household nor family in Scotland will be unaffected by some aspect of the bill.  And not for the good.

Everything is up for grabs and for months, voluntary organisations have been trying and largely failing to influence the process at Westminster.  The old labyrinth of benefits will go, to be replaced by a universal credit.  No bad thing in itself, for everyone has been crying out for fairness, transparency and simplicity in the benefits systems for years.  But it is the application of conditionality, time limits and sanctions for not taking up work or work-related activity – with no exception allowed – and the cutting of income and raising of threshholds making benefits harder to access that will cause increased complexity and real problems for claimants.  Though these measures will, of course, slake the thirst of the right wing media which has helped pave the way for public acceptance of these changes with its damaging, inaccurate and misleading denunciations of people on benefits as workshy fraudsters.  But anyone losing their job – and over two hundred thousand people in Scotland have in recent months – will be affected.

Families with disabled children will be particularly hard hit from changes, as will cancer sufferers and those with complex and longterm mental health problems.  Housing benefit changes appear to benefit no-one.  Lone parents, kinship carers, unemployed young people, people unemployed for more than a year, people seriously injured in an accident, young carers, children, women reaching retirement age, people with multiple and complex disabilities, people with mild and moderate learning disabilities, homeless people, war veterans with health problems, large families, separated parents, families with a young baby and low income families in work – all might find themselves worse off.

This matters because if tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Scots are made poorer and more vulnerable as a result of benefit changes, the pressure on services like health, social work, education, housing – and on charities that work with vulnerable people – will rise, at a time when funding for such services is being stretched and cut.  Real hardship could result.

Moreover, the bill cuts across whole swathes of devolved issues and even interferes with the independence of Scots family law, through the child maintenance reforms.  The devolution of certain parts of the welfare state, including council tax benefit, parts of the social fund and the new benefit Personal Independence Payments for disabled people, will create additional work for the Scottish Government and potentially add new burdens to the public and voluntary sector, without, of course, Westminster providing appropriate funding to help smooth the way.

And everything that involves a concession or a benefit-related discount or access, such as fuel poverty measures, or is in fact, a devolved benefit, as free school meals and clothing grant vouchers are, will require to be reformed, again creating additional work for the Scottish Government and where new regulations are required, for the Scottish Parliament too.

To date, the Conservatives have not been listening:  concerns about the impact of measures and attempts to amend provisions have been ignored.  The shape of the bill has changed little since its introduction in the Spring, with the Conservatives aided and abetted in their selective deafness by the Liberal Democrats.  At committee stage in the House of Commons, scarcely a murmur never mind a protest could be heard from Lib Dem members:  that will be the civilising influence at work again, then.

And the political point is this:  Scotland did not vote for this UK Government.  These changes are being imposed with missionary zeal on a population which did not ask for them, and would not want them if it had a choice.

Changing the shape and impact of the bill’s measures is proving impossible through the front door, so it’s time to try the back.  Holyrood can do something here.  It can do its best to change the worst aspects of the bill in which it has a devolved interest.  If it was feeling particularly brave, it could try to stop the bill in its tracks and refuse to consent to allow Westminster to legislate on the matters that properly belong to its jurisdiction.

Wednesday signals the start of the process that might end in an unprecedented denouement and a constitutional crisis:  already many voluntary sector organisations are calling on MSPs to refuse the LCM.  No one knows what might happen if Holyrood said no thank you, not this time.  But that is for the end of the process.  In the meantime, the Scottish Parliament must devote all its available energes and resources to poring over every aspect of this bill, so it can make an informed decision.  Time is short – the bill is now at its Lords stages, which the UK Government has also gerrymandered by creating a grand committee which makes it harder to amend the bill, and will be done and dusted by Christmas – and minds must focus.

It’s time for Holyrood to show the Scottish people what it is made of.  It’s time for the parties to lay aside childish things and act in concert, in the public good.  It’s time to abandon tribal loyalties and politics.  Work together, create a consensus, speak up and speak out.  Then stand together and stand up for Scotland.

Holyrood, your country needs you:  this could be your finest hour.



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