Posts Tagged #sp4

Not great, not rubbish, just good enough

Toe-curling, infuriating, shaming.  These are only some of the emotions I experienced while watching BBC Scotland’s documentary on the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Sub-titled The Bank that Ran out of Money, the programme laid bare the extent of the folly of RBS’s global ambitions.  As one commentator put it, they thought they were spinning gold out of straw.

Worst moments?  Watching Tom McKillop, a fine chemist and industrialist, clearly out of his depth – but I’ll cry few tears at his fate, given that he’s still managing to accumulate baubles on the boardroom circuit.  Realising that either Goodwin didn’t have a scooby what he was doing, or if he did, he told barefaced lies to shareholders and the rest of us, year after year.  But absolutely the worst was realising that an awful lot of RBS employees got unco rich on the back of selling poor Americans an unfeasible dream.  Here was financial piracy and imperialism on an incredible scale, and it was cloaked in the Saltire.

At the same time, RBS was branding itself glitzily across big sporting events and sponsorship opportunities.  Swashbuckling its way into everyone’s consciousness.  And most of us were proud of seeing a wee Scottish company mix it with the big boys and willing to share a little of the lustre of its reputation:  few of us paused to question the desirability or necessity of big being better.

Now, we have come full circle.  RBS has eschewed splashing the cash in favour of grassroots community sponsorship and grantmaking in an attempt to rehabilitate itself.  Yet, even this is blatant blaggarding.  To vote in its Community Force competition that pits charities against each other in a bilious game of sell your need, you must register with its website and attempt to avoid the bank’s marketing clutches in the process.  A sneaky way to try and drum up new customers methinks.

Such swinging extremes seem part and parcel of the Scottish psyche, epitomised by the stance of political parties over our constitutional future.  We’re either too wee to be half way decent on our own, or capable of dazzling the family of nations with our greatness.  The SNP, in particular, is guilty of braggadocio, albeit with the best of intentions and understandable rationale.

If your opponents constantly do down your country’s prospects, the obvious temptation is to counter that by trying to show how much better – wealthier and healthier – Scotland could be with independence.  Filling Scots with hope, aspiration and big ambition is a vital tenet of Salmond’s strategy towards independence.  It’s why under an SNP Government, building a sense of national pride through showcase sporting events like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup are key components of the masterplan.  It’s also why the First Minister is much taken by Scotland being a world leader in renewable energy technology.  Self belief is everything in the race to win hearts and minds.

But this extreme is matched by the perverse pride many Unionists take in promoting the idea that Scotland on its own would be an economic basketcase, a stance that has encouraged them to forge political careers out of keeping the Scots cringe firmly at the forefront of our approach to life.  There is something far wrong with a political creed that revels in doing down a people’s ability to survive and thrive.  And it has succeeded in maintaining generations under the yoke of under-achievement, making us sniffy about real success, happy to wallow in our mediocrity.  How else to explain our swagger under the weight of poverty, ill-health, violence and aim always to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in everything from sporting endeavour to personal attainment?

There is a dishonesty inherent in both extremes and a little more honesty in our political discourse would go a long way.  Like Goldilocks, I’d be happy with just right.  Not every country can be great;  this nation does not need to be rubbish;  a half way house that does things decently would do for me.

I’d settle for living in a country which prioritises tackling inequality and injustice, where fairness is at the heart of the agenda.   That resolves to end the scandal of children growing up in poverty;  which ensures that the most vulnerable citizens do not go without or have to fight to get what they need;  where people pay what they can afford for the benefit of all.  I’d settle for a Scotland that feels confident enough to remove the chip on it shoulder, but does not feel the need to wear a fur coat with nae knickers either.  I’d be happy with a Scotland that is neither great nor rubbish, but just content with being good enough.



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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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Communication breakdown

We seem to have started something… yes, it’s another guest post, this time from Doug Daniel, responding to Tom Harris’s response to Pete Wishart’s original post on an all-party campaign for independence.  Doug Daniel is a senior software developer and (failed) musician from Aberdeen.  He wants Scotland to be independent, and he very occasionally blogs here, but only when he can be bothered.

I want Scottish independence. I’ve been a supporter of Scottish independence ever since I was old enough to understand that Scotland did not enjoy the same nation status as “normal” countries (in other words, I can’t remember not wanting independence), and I’ve been a member of the SNP since 2007, when the idea of Scottish voters plumping for independence suddenly seemed a realistic prospect.

That doesn’t mean I’m a dyed-in-the-wool SNP voter (I’ve actually voted for four of the five parties currently represented in Holyrood – I’ll let you guess who the odd one out is) and throughout my life I like to think I’ve taken the time to try to understand why there are many people in Scotland who do not think the same way as I do. I understand them, but I don’t agree with them. So why does it feel like the majority of those who favour the union have never afforded the same respect to those who do want independence?

We see politicians from the three unionist parties talking of independence as “the SNP’s separatist agenda” (so what’s the Green and socialist agendas?), as if it was some evil plan concocted by the wicked overlord Alex Salmond and his cabinet henchmen, the aim of which we will not find out until we’ve been duped into voting for it. By then it will be too late, and we’ll suddenly realise that we’ve been strung along the whole time – it was never about creating a better nation after all, it was just about… Well, I have no idea.

Digging a big trench along the border and erecting a big fence to keep everyone out so Scotland remains isolated from the world? Turning Scotland into some sort of despotic dictatorship, putting Irn Bru in the taps, forcing everyone to eat cholestoral* and listen to The Corries on a loop, while using the oil money to make a big, gold statue of Emperor Salmond? Who knows. I suspect those that use such words don’t know either – they just like the negative connotations of the words “separatist” and “agenda” and use them accordingly.

And this is the problem. When unionists are “fighting” against independence, on the most part I don’t believe they actually understand what they’re fighting against. There seems to be a sense that all those who seek independence care about is getting independence, purely for the sake of getting it. Or perhaps that nationalists think that the second Scotland votes for it, the pavements will be paved with gold, we’ll all be millionaires, and all our social ills will magically disappear. They don’t seem to have considered the possibility that people perhaps view independence as a method for making Scotland better, rather than being the secret ingredient itself.

I’m not sure why this is. Obviously, it’s easy to be against something if you’ve made no effort to understand it, in fact this ignorance is almost as much a part of human nature as resistance to change.

The greatest album ever recorded (this is a scientific fact) has a song titled “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart”, and similarly I do wonder if some unionists subconsciously feel that doubts might start to creep in if they so much as acknowledged that independence might not be the absurd notion they purport it to be. Others have perhaps just listened to the media hype for so long that they feel there is no need to look at the pros and cons of both sides for themselves, assuming that it has already been demonstrated, without a shadow of a doubt, that the (supposed) benefits of the union outweigh any minor improvements independence might bring. I dare say there are some in the political class that quite simply view independence as a threat to career progression.

One excuse I’ve noticed being used increasingly is that unionists don’t view the constitutional question as being very important, implying that they don’t see the need to waste time thinking about it. Those who say this would do well to reassess the situation, because like it or not, there is going to be a referendum in this parliamentary session, so they might need to start thinking about it pretty soon. Besides, one thing the polls constantly show us is that less and less Scots are happy with the status quo, so the constitutional question would need to be answered, even if there was no referendum on the horizon.

I want the forthcoming debate on the constitution to be well argued on both sides. I don’t want people to vote for independence just because of a dearth of reasoned arguments on the other side, just as I don’t want people to stick with the union purely because all they hear are completely unfounded horror stories about what independence will do to Scotland.

I want the outcome of the referendum to be the result of both (or all three?) sides arguing their cases succinctly, and the public deciding which option sounds like the best way forward for the country. I don’t see that happening while many (most?) of a unionist persuasion refuse to try to understand why so many people want independence, other than perhaps pithily putting it down to watching Braveheart a few too many times and making references to shortbread tins. If you don’t make an effort to understand your opposition, how can you properly address their points?

So my question to these supporters of the union is this: why do you persistantly fail to understand why many people in Scotland want independence?

* (see I’m Alan Partridge series 2 episode 5)

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EXCLUSIVE: Ruth Davidson – why I’m proud to be Scottish and British

Writing exclusively for Better Nation, Ruth Davidson, Glasgow MSP and Scottish Conservative leadership contender, sets out her political beliefs on identity and the constitution.

One of the more specious claims made by a number of Nationalists is Unionists can’t make a positive case for the Union.  That’s just nonsense.  The Union between England and Scotland has led to the most peaceful and prosperous times in our two nations’ history.  So here are just a few reasons why I am proud to be Scottish and British.

Firstly I have never understood people who say you have to choose between being British and Scottish.  It is like arguing you cannot be passionate about your club and national football team.  Or even that supporting Andy Murray is incompatible with supporting Andy Murray in the Davis Cup.  It is just absurd.  Our identities are created by a number of factors, not just one narrow element. So I am proud to be Scottish and proud to be British.  I know I am not alone in this.  Millions of Scots instinctively recognise they can retain their Scottish heritage without rejecting the modern United Kingdom.

That dual-identity is at the core of my political beliefs.  I am proud to be a Unionist.  I believe Scotland is better off as part of the United Kingdom.  We have more influence over our future, as well as other parts of the world.  We are part of one of the worlds largest economies.  We are part of a cultural relationship with our closest neighbour which has made both nations better off.  Most of all the United Kingdom is greater than the sum of its parts.  As a country we have worked together against some of the greatest tyrants and threats the world has known, and we continue to do so.  That shared history, and shared success means people can be proud to be British.

Or as Annabel Goldie said recently: “I want the best for my country – and for me the best is being Scottish and British and working together for the good of us all.”

Yet despite being in this political and economic union, we have still been able to maintain our own sense of nationhood.  The Church of Scotland, the Scottish Legal System and of course the Scottish Parliament, are all examples of how we have national institutions which help to ensure we can be Scottish, while also accruing all the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom.

There are other institutions which manage to combine the two as well.  Look at the British Army.  Despite three hundred years of integration, there are Scottish units with their individual identities, but who work together to create one of the most efficient and effective forces in the world.  And look at the Scottish soldiers, seamen and airmen who serve in the Armed Forces.  They do that because it serves both their nation, and their state.  That role is one of protection, but also a chance to help make a difference in a wider arena

Because it isn’t just Scotland and Britain as entities that benefit, it’s individual Scots as well. By being British citizens it’s possible for Scots to be able to make a real difference across the world.  There is nothing to stop a Scot from joining the army, or the Foreign Office where they can affect international politics.  The United Kingdom is still a major power, one of the world’s largest economies, a permanent Security Council member, with one of the most effective diplomatic and military corps on the planet.

Scots influence the direction of a great nation.  That is something we would lose if we lost the Union.

Unfortunately, small independent nations don’t have that influence.  Look at the impact of the credit crisis upon Scotland and Ireland.  In Scotland our banks were recapitalised by the UK Government.  That protected jobs, protected the savings of millions, and ensured Scotland was spared the economic disaster which engulfed the (regrettably named) Arc of Prosperity.  The Irish Banking sector was also bailed out, but much later, and without the guarantees which RBS and HBOS received.

The reason why we are better off is simple.  Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, and that means the United Kingdom owes duties towards Scotland.  Our security and our economy are guaranteed.

Of course there are issues where one part of the Union has done better than another.  That is an argument for politicians to stand up for Scotland, not to give up on a partnership which has brought enormous advantage.

I am a Unionist because it is part of my identity.  It provides me, and every other Scot with amazing opportunities to change the world.  And being part of the United Kingdom allows us to be part of a greater country, one which is better able to face the threats, expected and unexpected, economic and security, which face us today.  Scotland and Britain benefit from the Union and I am very proud to defend it.

So there can be no doubt Scotland and Scots benefit enormously from being part of the Union.  I will never back down from defending the United Kingdom from separation.  But it shouldn’t be the only focus of Scottish political discussion.  I want to move the debate on.  That is why once the Scotland Bill becomes law I think we need to stop discussing political process and start talking about real issues.  That doesn’t mean there can never be any change in the devolution settlement afterwards, but it does mean we should work with the powers we have before evaluating whether more, or fewer powers are required.

I want this to be the decade when Scotland moves on from discussing devolution to making devolution work.  I want to use the powers the Scottish Parliament has to make my vision of Scotland a reality.  That means supporting families.  It means supporting aspiration, and encouraging entrepreneurs.  It means ensuring our streets are safe, our schools are the best, and that everyone receives the best healthcare available.

Scotland faces huge challenges over the next decade.  It is up to politicians to work on facing these real challenges, not engaging in unnecessary discourse.  Scotland deserves better.

As a Conservative, I am an optimist. I believe we can overcome the challenges Scotland faces.  But there is no doubt it will be easier to accomplish as part of a strong United Kingdom.  That is why I am proud to be Scottish, Conservative, and Unionist.


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