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Showing posts with label Iain Gray. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iain Gray. Show all posts

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Nicola Sturgeon on Trident on Question Time, 7th May 2009

Nicola in May 2009 in Dunfermline - only two years into the SNP's first term of minority government, filled with passion and deep anti-nuclear commitment. I wonder what she would have said then about NATO membership proposals?

If only the SNP could summon some of that clarity and vision before October, and the debate on the deeply misguided proposal to join NATO - in fact, we need more vintage Nicola, and need to hear more of her clear voice and passion for Scotland in the critical two years ahead of us.

Monday, 2 April 2012

FIRST MINISTER CHALLENGES PAUL MARTIN OVER MINISTERIAL CODE

First Minister Alex Salmond has today referred himself to the independent advisers to the ministerial code after claims made in various newspapers by Paul Martin MSP regarding SNP donors and official engagements at Bute House.

Mr Salmond has written to Mr Martin outlining that he will make the referral after the Labour MSP blundered  the process by which a complaint should be made.

In his letter to Mr Martin, the First Minister writes:

Dear Mr Martin

I write following press reports that you have written to Dame Elish Angiolini making complaints under the Ministerial Code.

I am sure that you are aware that as First Minister I established for the first time an independent panel to investigate alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code to provide a robust and transparent process.  The procedure for making such a complaint is made clear in paragraph 1.6 of the Ministerial Code.  Any complaint should be directed in the first instance to me as First Minister so that I may consider whether the matter should be referred to the independent advisers. Hopefully you will manage to get this simple procedure right on any future occasion.

Despite not having received such a letter of complaint from you, I have decided to refer the issues reported in the media about visitors to Bute House in the Daily Telegraph on 28 March, the Daily Mail on 31 March and again in the Daily Telegraph today.  I would not wish your misunderstanding of procedure to prevent an independent evaluation of the merits of the points you have been so keen to publish.

I have therefore written to Dame Elish Angiolini, as one of the independent advisers, and asked her formally to investigate whether a breach of the Ministerial Code has occurred.  Dame Angiolini has been provided with copies of the three press reports and, of course, will have received your letter. f you have anything further to provide a basis for your complaints then let me know so that this material can also be provided.

The rest of the procedure is now in the hands of Dame Angiolini. The findings of the independent adviser will be published.  I will accept them and I hope that you will now indicate that you will so the same.

It is unfortunate that you have chosen not to follow the procedures set down to investigate allegations such as these.  I am confident that, as on each of the three previous occasions  your party has made complaints of this nature, the independent advisers will find your allegations to be entirely without any foundation.

Alex Salmond

A spokesperson for the First Minister added:

“The First Minister has taken the decision to refer this issue because we have total confidence in our position, in light of this entirely spurious and absurd complaint from Labour.

“All complaints previously considered by the independent advisers  since 2007  were dismissed and we will similarly accept the results of Elish Angiloini’s findings in this case - we ask that Paul Martin does the same.

“No private dining for donors takes place at Bute House, never has under this administration, and never will. Labour, the party of cash for honours and the Ecclestone affair, are guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy.

“Government functions are all in the public domain because, unlike the last Labour-led administration, we publish details of everyone receiving Bute House hospitality at a reception, lunch or dinner. No-one has ever suggested prior to this  that individuals should be excluded from Government events simply because they are donors. This is a totally ridiculous proposition.

“By long-standing practice for many years, First Ministers and before that Scottish Secretaries have nominated personal guests for the Royal Garden Party in Edinburgh, and since 1999 for the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, and offered such hospitality.  It is insulting to suggest any upstanding person should be excluded.  If SNP supporters were to be excluded, by definition that would cover half the population. 

In addition, it should be noted that hospitality costs at Bute House are significantly less for this administration than under the previous Labour/Lib Dem Executive.”

ENDS

PREVIOUS COMPLAINTS  - NONE UPHELD

The list below shows the First Minister has been wholly exonerated in terms of all previous complaints made of him.

Complaint 6 March 2009 by Tavish Scott

Ex-PO’s - Funding of Scottish Inter-Faith Council, 8th January 2009

ES – ‘The Panel finds that the First Minister acted in good faith and presented an accurate account of the Scottish Government’s position on the issue raised with him in debate’

Complaint 5 August 2009 by Iain Gray

Ex-PO’s - Notification to Parliament of absconds from the Open Estate

28th May 2009

ES – ‘The Panel finds that the First Minister adhered to established protocol in terms of which any public announcement’ in respect of any prisoner who has absconded from the Open Estate is an operational matter for the police.’

Complaint 20 January 2010 by Hugh Henry and Tavish Scott

Ex-PO’s - Class size reduction target in relation to commitment in 2007

3rd December 2009

Panel concluded that ‘this referral is not appropriate for the panel to consider’

3rd February 2010 Sir Thomas Legg, HoC Auditor - Additional Costs Allowance Claims

The report said: “Mr Salmond has no issues.”

Complaint 3rd February 2010 by Dr Gordon Macdonald

Sir John Lyons, Westminster Standards Commissioner – on food claims

The letter to the complainant said: “I do not, therefore, uphold your complaint and I now regard the matter as closed.”

24th February 2010 Stuart Allan, Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner – auctioning of lunches

“Having fully considered the terms of the complaints and the terms of your own response (jointly with Ms Sturgeon) and other evidence, I have concluded that . . . the complaints, as submitted and insofar as within my jurisdiction, are not relevant and that there is no evidence of sufficient substance warranting further investigation. I have, therefore, dismissed the complaints for the reasons set out in the attached Note of Decision.”

Complaint 27th November  2011 by Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Jim Sheridan MP alleged that FM had intervened to secure a knighthood for Brian Souter

First Minister ‘wholly exonerated’ in breach of Ministerial Code’.

Mr Sheridan’s allegations were wrong and ‘ill founded’.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

An open letter to Johann Lamont

Dear Johann Lamont,

Congratulations on winning the leadership of your party in Scotland. I hope that your win gives you a clear mandate among all Scottish Labour supporters, and that it is perceived as a valid mandate to lead the main opposition to my party, the SNP, who received a very clear mandate to govern Scotland last May. It is vital that your mandate is seen in this way not only by Labour supporters but by the Scottish Government, by the SNP, by the other opposition parties and by the Scottish electorate.

The only way to ensure this is to publish as soon as possible the full, detailed breakdown of the votes cast in the leadership election, in the interests of transparency in Scottish politics. (I am confident that you will wish to do so, indeed, by the time this blog comes up, you may already have done so.)

I listened to your acceptance speech closely, because as a committed SNP supporter, voter and party member, I believe that the existence of an effective opposition in any Parliament is vital to democracy. I was a Labour supporter for most of my life, and I will never return to Labour because of the depth of the betrayal of all my hopes and expectations over decades by the Labour Party as constituted up until this election.

But I do believe that you, and at least some in the Scottish Labour Party want to make a new beginning and to place the interests of Scotland first. You outlined in your acceptance speech a vision statement for Scotland. Few Scots of any party would disagree with the bulk of its content, and for that reason, it could have been made by any party leader, at any time, in almost any country.

I don’t want to appear to suggest that it was an empty ‘motherhood and apple pie’ statement – I do believe that you are committed to these ideals and broad objectives, and so am I. And I am delighted that you and Scottish Labour appear to have rediscovered your Scottishness.

But given this consensus on what we all want for Scotland, it is evident that what gives our respective parties their identity is the means by which these objectives are to be achieved. If my memory serves me accurately, you and other members of the Labour Party have accused the SNP of stealing your vision. That was unfair and inaccurate – we have closely similar visions because we are both social democratic parties, committed to a strong, effective public sector and a vibrant, entrepreneurial private sector.

In a certain kind of Scotland, the SNP and the Labour Party could recognise a shared vision while differing vigorously on key aspects of achieving that vision. We both recognise that the Tory vision as presently exhibited in all its uncaring, incompetent awfulness, is inimical to the interests of Scotland, and indeed the peoples of the UK. The LibDem vision has been badly – perhaps fatally – compromised by their poisoned and supine alliance with the Tories in Coalition.

But there is a great yawning gulf between your vision as outlined today and the Scottish National Party’s vision, and that gulf is created by your commitment to keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom. At this moment, this profoundly mistaken policy – the only real one you have at the moment – is main barrier to your achievement of Labour’s new Scottish vision.

The reasons for this are plain to see, and the Scottish electorate understood them plainly last May, and voted accordingly. I accept that not all of that vote was a vote for Scotland's independence, but it was decisively a vote for Scotland holding all the economic levers necessary to transform Scotland, indeed the the pressing need at the moment is to have them to enable Scotland to survive the cold, cold global wind that is blowing.

But there are other great barriers between us while you and Scottish Labour are committed to the UK – they are nuclear weapons, i.e. weapons of mass destruction, foreign policy and the unelected, undemocratic House of Lords, now perceived by many Scots as the lucrative bolthole for failed politicians, including Scottish Labour politicians.

While Scottish Labour is committed to the UK, it will be seen by many Scots as the party that supports illegal or dubious wars that kill the flower of our young servicemen and women, the party that is committed to ruinously expensive WMDs that endanger Scotland by their presence - and pose an ever-present threat to world  peace - and the party that is committed to the undemocratic House of Lords, whatever hollow statements about reform, never acted upon, may say.

A great watershed in Scotland’s history is approaching – the referendum on Scotland’s independence – a pivotal moment in our history that will shape Scotland and the other three countries of the UK for a generation and perhaps for ever.

As we approach that fateful day, it is vital that all parties with a core shared vision for the people of Scotland approach the great debate that will be continuously conducted from now on with objectivity, with facts, with some degree of mutual respect, with the common objective of allowing the Scottish electorate all the information they need to make their great choice.

That need not – and will not – inhibit vigour in debate, but if we can draw on the great intellectual political and social traditions that have always characterised Scots and Scotland, we can offer Scottish voters a real, rational choice.

I wish you and your party well in this new and critical era. I cannot of course wish you electoral success in local elections next year, nor in the referendum when it comes.

from one Weegie tae another – awra’ best,

Peter Curran




Scottish Labour Leadership Results
December 17, 2011 2:59 pm


Leadership result:


Deputy Leadership result:


Saturday, 5 November 2011

A pastiche of Iain Gray – cybernatophobic

“Look, there’s an example of just what I’ve been saying – that vicious, anonymous cybernat on Twitter, Strathearnrose! Scotsman I can reveal exclusively who she is, because her name’s right at the side of her Twitter ID – Roseanna Cunningham. You can’t fool me – oh, no!

And just look at what she says – she mentions Scotland, and Crieff – blatant Nationalist propaganda. No mention of England, or London, naw, that would never dae! And fireworks – that’s cybernat code for causing trouble, anybody can see that. And the very fact that she doesn’t mention me just goes to show the contempt with which cybernats treat an ex-leader like me.”

 

Roseanna Cunningham

strathearnrose Roseanna Cunningham

RT @outdoorscotland: Crieff Fireworks saturday 7pm for 7.30. Please come along. https://www.facebook.com/crieffroundtable



THE REAL IAIN GRAY -
Scotsman EXTRACT

"For those that doubt the connections between the SNP and some of the cybernats, how about “Strathearnrose” who on 5 October tweeted: “At SNP mtg 2 encourage more social media uptake” then signed off “#evenmorecybernats”. Strathearnrose is of course Roseanna Cunningham, the minister currently taking through new legislation against offensive behaviour on the internet. There is that delicious irony again."

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sectarianism, religion and politics

I had hoped to stay out of this debate, since almost anything anybody say makes things worse. But it won’t go away, and in the hope that most of Scottish population are rational and fair-minded, whatever their background and beliefs, and still display the healthy scepticism and willingness to question the hidden agendas of those who seek to persuade them that characterised Scots for most of my life, here is how I see it.

You can skip the next section (800 words) if you like, and jump straight to my views on the sectarian debate, but reading it may help you understand my position. To any religious bigots about to consider my views I would suggest that it will save you a lot of trouble later. Some of you won’t get beyond the first paragraph, perhaps even the first sentence. To others, it will induce a misplaced confidence that I am about to endorse your prejudices. I’m not ..



WHAT I AM AND WHERE I STAND

My background is that of a Glasgow East End Scot from a devoutly Catholic family with their roots in the Republic of Ireland. My mother was born in Glasgow, but my father and all my grandparents were Irish. I was educated in a cradle of Irish Catholicism in Glasgow, St.Mary’s Primary School in the Calton, fondly know by its historical name of St. Mary’s Ragged , with the church just round the corner in Abercrombie Street, the old South Witch Lone, renamed in 1802. St.Mary’s Church was built 40 years later in 1842. I attended its centenary celebrations in 1942 as a seven year old, the year of my first Communion. St. Mary’s was the cradle of Celtic Football club, founded by a Marist Brother, Andrew Kerins, known as Brother Walfrid. All of the males in my family were keen Celtic supporters.

I followed the natural progression for many St.Mary’s boys and went to St. Mungo’s Academy in early 1948, where I remained until 1950 when I left.

From the age of seven I had serious doubts and questions about religion, and at the point I left school, I was simply going through the motions of church observance for the sake of my mother and family. When I started my National Service in 1953, I was an atheist, and more than that, formed the belief that has stayed with me ever since, that organised religion, together with inequality, racism and greed was the root of much of Glasgow and Scotland’s problems and most of the world’s problems. I also believe that secret societies, organisations and clubs that include or exclude based on religious belief, ethnic origin, gender, or sexual orientation are inimical to democracy and a free society. I believe that totalitarian states and dictatorships are almost always structured on principles similar to those of organised religion, even when they are nominally secular, and are equally destructive to human values.

I was a Labour supporter and internationalist in my political beliefs for most of my life, but the progressive failure of the party in the post-war period to address Glasgow’s problems and the needs of the poor, the deprived and the under-privileged, eventually led me late in life to the Scottish National Party. I am totally opposed to nuclear weapons, but I am not a pacifist. I believe in defence and the concept of a just war, even though such a thing is an extreme rarity historically. I saw the Second World War as a just war, and one that had to be fought, but was appalled at the use of nuclear weapons to end the war with Japan.

My friends and social contacts cross religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, political and social boundaries, and such distinctions have never mattered to me in choosing friends nor in selecting employees when I was engaged in recruitment in industry, either as their boss or on behalf of another. In my recruitment and managerial roles over the years, in common with all who hire people, I have been accused of every kind of discrimination imaginable, the range of alleged discriminations effectively cancelling each other out.

I have never been interested in spectator sports, and support no football club, although like all Scots of my generation, I played street football, played school football and rugby, albeit  under duress. For a brief period in the late 1950s I was involved in judo and the old Osaka Club in Glasgow.

All of the above – especially the lack of interest in football - should be enough to make me an object of suspicion and instinctive distrust by both sides of the sectarian divide in Scotland, and to cause them to dismiss anything I have to say out of hand.

But all my old Glasgow street experience - and experience of more subtle sectarian bigotry in industry - tells me that it is better to get it all up front than leave it to the kind of sordid speculation and nose-tapping that otherwise ensues. The old Belfast question can, of course, still be asked - “You say you’re an atheist, but are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?”

FACTS AND BELIEFS – SHARED AND PERSONAL

Let’s start with a few facts, ones that are accepted as fact – I hope – across the range of opinions on the subject.

1. Sectarianism is a significant problem in Scottish life.

2. No government, national or devolved, passed any legislation to combat it until the Scottish Government’s 2011 legislation.

3. The Scottish police believe there is a need for such legislation, and have welcomed the new powers it gives them to deal with sectarian behaviour.

4. The most egregious examples of sectarian behaviour have been at football matches, especially Old Firm matches, or have been directly related to football, e.g. the bombs sent to Neil Lennon and others. That is not to say that they are the only manifestations of sectarian behaviour, nor to say that other, less visible instances of such behaviour may be damaging Scottish life in even more fundamental ways, e.g sectarian behaviour in employment, in the Police and in the Law.

If you don’t accept all of the above as facts, then little that I have to say will impress you, and vice versa. To misquote Sydney Smith – “We will never agree, we are arguing from separate premises (sic)”

Here are a six additional things that I believe - in addition to beliefs set out in my preamble - and I don’t expect general agreement on these, because there is abundant evidence that many religious believers and their spokesperson don’t accept them, or pay only lip service to them, and indeed the UK Government and the Scottish Government do not accept all of them.

The state and the apparatus of government should be secular and not religious-based, and should not favour any religious group over another, or over people of no faith.

The government of a country should permit all faiths to worship and believe as they choose, and should protect that right by law, except where the behaviour of any group seeks to impose a belief, or belief system, or practice by law on those who do not share it, or restrict their freedom within the law.

Individual and groups who are not elected by the democratic will of the people may be consulted about their views, providing they do not seek to bypass the democratic will of the people as expressed by the government they have elected.

There should be no such thing as an established church in a country or state, e.g. The Church of England.

A state or country should not be described as, or present itself as, or see itself as one specially linked to a specific religion, or indeed to religious belief, e.g. “The UK is a Christian country” etc..

There should be no such thing as faith schools or schools segregated on a religious basis or on the absence of belief, e.g “Only atheists children will be admitted to this school, and we will inculcate atheist values.”

But I start from the assumption that the Scottish Government accepts at least the first three as principles of government, tries to govern by such principles, and has consistently adhered to them throughout the debate on sectarianism, and will continue to do so.

 

HOW WE GOT HERE – RELIGION AND HISTORY

Certainly since Henry VIII, the history and politics of Britain and its monarchy have been inextricably bound up with, and distorted by religion, and the history of Scotland has been even more influenced by it. Central to all of this was the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, which claimed supremacy over all secular authorities and all nations. After the Reformation, the Papal worldwide influence progressively declined, but it still bulked large in relations between Scotland and England, and between England and Ireland. Monarchs and politicians ruthlessly exploited religion for their own ends, and organised religion reciprocated with enthusiasm, and exploited monarchs and politicians, in an unholy – in the truest sense of the word – set of alliances.

The effect of the Reformation and the ideas of Martin Luther were adopted with energy in Scotland, especially by those attempting to shift power to the people from prelates and priests, and there is no doubt that we owe much of our democracy to this great religious and intellectual movement, but with dreary inevitability it produced another kind of undemocratic autocracy of the mind, with the Kirk becoming the thought police, and proving themselves just as capable of the torture, hangings and burnings as the previous Catholic hegemony. On the credit side, the Kirk undoubtedly was also a binding force in Scottish society, vital in education and poor relief, and in defending the rights of ordinary people, up to a point. Such are the contradictions inherent in religion when it supplants democratic politics. But democratic politics as we know them are a comparatively recent thing, with for example, the full vote for women coming as late as 1928 in Britain.

But the fatal flaw of deference infected the Kirk too, and some of the writings of Scottish Presbyterian ministers on the fate of their flocks during the Clearances make depressing reading, with expressions of sanctimonious concern mixed with nauseating obsequiousness to landlords and clan chiefs and fatalism in the face of a gross injustice masquerading as faith in the Lord. During the Enlightenment, this fog of almost medieval superstition began to lift, but even a great thinker – and atheist – such as David Hume had to be circumspect: the Kirk still had people hanged for questioning religion, including a teenage boy.

In the late 17th century the Irish dimension began to exert the baleful influence it has had on Scottish politics and Scottish life ever since, and it is a sad fact of life that generations of Scottish children have grown to adulthood able to name only a couple of dates in British history – the Battle of the Boyne, or the Easter Rising,  and have a greater identification with, and knowledge of Irish politics than the 21st century politics of their native country. Football clubs founded in the 19th century – Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers - with predominantly working class roots, admirable intentions and the wish to play a great game are now international money-making machines – or were up until recently – with players and managers who are often entirely unrepresentative of their native city, Scotland or indeed the UK. They are now the focal point for religious tribal loyalties based on ancient history that is largely irrelevant to modern Scottish life.

Since I do not aspire to be the poor man’s Tom Devine, I must move on …

 

THE SECTARIAN SITUATION – SCOTLAND IN 2011

sect: a body of people subscribing to religious doctrine different from others within the same religion, a group deviating from orthodox tradition, heretical, body separated from an orthodox church, nonconformistConcise Oxford dictionary.

The definition also covers philosophy and politics, but we can confine ourselves to the religious dimensions, although there is an irony in the fact the sectarianism is now being used in a thoroughly contemptible way by unionist politicians in Holyrood as a tool of opposition, just as they used minimum pricing for alcohol in the last Parliament.

sectarian: bigoted or narrow-minded in following the doctrine’s of one’s sect. COD

(In these definitions one might argue that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are sects of the Christian religion, and Protestantism undoubtedly has sects within its total body.)

Here is an unpalatable fact for the Scottish churches – there would be no religious sectarianism without religion. Sectarianism is a product of the religious mind, just as pogroms, persecution, burning of heretics, torture, the auto da fé, the suppression of scientific discovery, the suppression of free expression and free speech, homophobia and almost all of the key conflicts in our tortured world are a product of the religious mind.

In that, religion has its mirror image in totalitarian creeds such a Nazism and the Stalinist regimes of Soviet Russia, and their up-to-date versions around the world, which displayed and display all the characteristics of religious dogma – the Great Leader whose word must not be challenged, the acolytes who are uniquely gifted with the power of interpreting it, the sacred texts, the censorship, the intolerance of any alternative political view or religious challenge, and the whole apparatus of punishing the deviant.

The Scottish National Government is committed to governing a country, Scotland, that has many religions, historically Christian religions, but in the 21st century, other faiths as well, and also has many who claim no specific faith, but profess to believe in a God, and some who do not believe in a God.  (If regular churchgoing and active participation in a church are the measures, Scotland is not a Christian society. If highly visible interventions into the ordered life of Scotland by religious groups and their spokespersons, either by violent or disruptive and sometime criminal behaviour, or statements by senior clerics to the media and to government are the measure, it is a Christian society.)

The SNP government tries, as any Scottish government of whatever political colour must, to balance these groups within Scottish society, firstly to protect their rights to believe and act -and worship where appropriate - in accordance with their beliefs, to ensure that they are not discriminated against for these beliefs, whether of faith or no faith, and to protect their rights to free assembly and free speech. They must also recognise de facto, the power of these groups, but also the limitations of that power, because in the case of organised religions, they are not representative of a majority of the population or anything like it, and they are, in their own organisation and structure, only partially democratic or completely undemocratic in the selection and appointment of the leaders. Where a form of election does takes place, it is by a small and unrepresentative group.

Let’s look at the dynamics of the situation that led to this legislation. Prominent Catholics had been calling attention to what they perceived as discrimination and actual violence directed against them as a minority group in Scottish society for some time. The behaviour of a minority of football supporters, notoriously those supporting the two Old Firm clubs, Celtic and Rangers,  before, during and after games, on the streets, in the pubs and on the terracing had become increasingly inimical to public order, criminal and eventually lethal to a young man wearing a Celtic strip, who was stabbed to death for no other reason than his dress, an act that led to the establishment of Nil by Mouth, an organisation campaigning against sectarian violence, and its two close companions, alcohol abuse and domestic abuse.

The attacks on Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, and the explosive devices sent to his home and that of others associated with Celtic, including an MSP and a prominent lawyer, led to a major police investigation and prosecutions.

On acts of violence that came with the definition of breach of the peace legislation, the police were and are adamant that the existing breach of the piece legislation is inadequate to combat such behaviour, especially the singing of  partisan songs with with unacceptable religious and violent associations, offensive banners and chanting  and deliberately provocative gesture calculated to inflame violence. (In this regard, there is a conflict with the Human Rights Act, and it has now become central to the dispute.) The flying of flags also presented certain difficulties, with no easy answers. Leaving aside the question of the violence itself, the cost of policing these games, cradles of violence, threatened the game itself, and the reputation of Scotland internationally.

Other political parties had talked about doing something – the SNP Government decided something must be done, but on the basis of cross-party consensus. After initially supporting the legislation, the other parties had second thoughts, and claimed that the legislation was being rushed through Parliament without proper debate: it was certainly being expedited with some urgency, in the hope of avoiding even worse scenes in the new football season than those that had disgraced the previous one.

THE REASONS FOR THE OPPOSITION TO THE LEGISLATION

There are two ways of viewing the opposition to the legislation. One is to say that it is soundly rooted in fears about the adequacy and the clarity of the legislation, and genuine concerns over its legality under the Human Rights Act and freedom of speech and expression.

The second perspective is mine, and I offer it as a personal viewpoint. Others may share aspects of it, but I doubt that any consensus supports my view. It does not represent an SNP view, since I can only judge the party and the Government’s view from their public statements.

I believe that the opposition to the legislation - leaving aside legitimate points on the drafting and implementation in practice, points that will be addressed in the review stages – is rooted in the same destructive opposition politics that lost the unionist parties the last election, namely, oppose blindly any legislation or initiative by the SNP Government that might actually succeed in addressing long-term problems in Scottish society, e.g. alcohol abuse and violence, on the basis that the SNP cannot be seen to succeed where unionist parties have failed for generations.

I believe it is also rooted in wish of small, innately undemocratic and violent minorities on both side of the religious divide, under the guise of football support, to retain their right to behave appallingly and illegally, to foment hatred and violence and perpetuate ancient and irrelevant feuds that feed their perverted sense of identity and tribal loyalty.

I believe that these groups are being exploited by both political and religious forces in Scotland, and perhaps beyond Scotland, in a manner that is at best short-sighted and misguided, and at worse, calculated and extremely dangerous.

I believe that a wider range of bodies have been sucked unwittingly and naively into this agenda, and with the best of motives, e.g. freedom of speech and human rights, are being manipulated.

I believe that the Catholic church hierarchy, having called repeatedly and forcefully for action against sectarian behaviour, discrimination and violence directed against them as a minority religious group in Scotland, are now behaving extremely unwisely in attacking the legislation and the Government, and run a grave risk in so doing of exacerbating religious tension and violence.

I find it extraordinary, to the point of being deeply sceptical, that two groups of supporters should suddenly, in what was virtually a synchronised protest, display elaborately crafted banners with closely similar core messages attacking the SNP Government’s anti-sectarian legislation.

I believe that the religious divide in the West of Scotland has been exploited for well over a century by political parties, especially the Labour Party, and that sectarian divisions have been used in complex and arcane ways to maintain the power of certain groups, especially in local government. (This is an open secret in Glasgow, and has been for all of my lifetime – in American cities run on similar lines, it isn’t even a secret, it is open and blatant, and an accepted fact of political life.) These political groups know which buttons to press, and are determined not to surrender the sordid apparatus of football loyalties mixed with tribal and religious loyalties and its associated provocative and polarised behaviour that underpins their power.

THE RELIGIOUS BIGOTS CREDO

I am loyal to my traditions and my faith – the other side is bigoted, discriminatory, and is determined to destroy all that I believe in. I want Government, the Law and the police to control and act against the behaviour of the other side. Since I never behave badly, such actions should never impinge upon my rights to proclaim my beliefs.

Democratic government is all very well, but I am answerable to a Higher Power. That higher power speaks uniquely to me, and through me, and other faiths and creeds claiming to interpret the Higher Power are mistaken if their interpretation conflicts with mine. I claim the right to demand that the secular, democratically elected government ignore the mandate of the people where I deem it necessary, and respond to my undemocratic and unelected religious principles and precepts. When the chips are down, I will use my undemocratic power to influence the democratic process.

PRACTICAL REALITIES

The beliefs outlined above were taken to their profoundly destructive and violent conclusions in Northern Ireland for generations, distorting the democratic political process that tried to address the real inequalities and grievances. But the bitter experience of what such tribal religious divides, exploited by unscrupulous politicians, actually resulted in has led the Northern Irish people, painfully and agonisingly, into true democratic politics – the bullet and the bomb have begun to lose their lethal potency and rational debate, negotiation and compromise – and above all the ballot box – have gradually brought the Province back to sanity.

But the Scottish sectarian groups who have identified with one side or another in that long conflict, and who got their kicks vicariously from the agony of another people without actually having to experience the pain, are frozen in time, and politically and emotionally immature, unlike the Northern Irish people, who have achieve political maturity by actual hard experience. Of course, at the extremes, there are those on both sides of the religious divide who have been and still are actively involved in the old destructive ways, and they represent an ever-present danger not only to Scotland but to the stability of Northern Ireland’s new democracy.

The phrase moral equivalence is much bandied about at the moment in the sectarian debate. The spokesperson for the Catholic Church and the Catholic community feel that there is a conspiracy by government and the forces of law and order to conceal the fact that the statistics on acts of sectarian violence do not show a balance of illegality – acts of violence against Catholics are far more prevalent than sectarian actions against Protestants.

Michael Kelly, in an article in The ScotsmanSNP will pay a heavy price ... claims that over an 18-month period, 64% of acts of violence were against Catholics and 36% against others, and draws two conclusions from this – one, that since Catholics only form 16% of the population, the ratio is much higher than 2:1, and that “any anti-sectarian campaign must focus on stopping attacks on Catholics …”

Whatever the validity of these statistics, the reality is that the new legislation can only focus on sectarian attacks and unacceptable and inflammatory behaviour wherever it occurs and on those who break the law. Any other approach would be the religious equivalent of racial profiling, i.e. targeting police action on Protestants.

I believe that Michael Kelly’s article is profoundly damaging to the debate and to the cause that he espouses, namely the Roman Catholic cause, because he conflated it with Labour Party and Unionist politics and an attack on the SNP. At all times when listening to a West of Scotland Labour apologist commenting on sectarian behaviour, we must remember that such behaviour has always been concentrated in the West of Scotland under a Labour fiefdom that goes back for over half a century, and Labour-dominated local government, of which Michael Kelly is a former leading light.

 

RELIGIOUS MATTERS

I also question the moral priorities of senior religious figures in Scotland. At a time when the world is a more unstable place than it has been for a long time, when our economy is in a state of near collapse, the poor, the sick, the underprivileged face an attack on the very fabric of their lives, while weapons of mass destruction are based in our country, draining our limited finances and posing a threat to millions and to the environment, the Scottish churches are obsessed with gay marriage, alleged discrimination and the right to bawl out sectarian songs and fly the flag of the UK and the Irish Republic at football matches in the name of freedom of speech. This is a strange sense of values, and if moral equivalence must be trotted out, there is a distorted sense of morality at work.

I have a last word for the Catholic hierarchy. I found this news report disquieting – if anybody else did, I have not yet come across their comments. Cardinal O'Brien present papal knighthood at Red Mass

The Papal Knighthood is an award by the Vatican – a legally constituted foreign state – to prominent Catholics who have distinguished themselves in their field of endeavour. (I am not aware that it is ever conferred on non-Catholics, but am happy to be corrected on this point.)

This award was made at a special mass to Lord Gill, the Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland by Cardinal O’Brien representing Pope  Benedict XVI. Present at the mass were the Lord Advocate, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and the vice president of the Law Society of Scotland. (I do not know the religious affiliations of those attending.)

The report from The Catholic Observer quotes Cardinal O’Brien as follows -

“In his homily at Sunday’s Mass, Cardinal O’Brien urged Catholic lawyers in Scotland to remain strong and true to their religious beliefs.

“There is no doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing Catholic lawyers in Scotland today is a challenge which has faced many people and different groups in society down the ages: how do you live and act out your professional lives while at the same time remaining true to the teachings and doctrine of the Church?” Cardinal O’Brien said. “Specifically for lawyers the challenge must be how can you represent your clients’ interests to the best of your abilities while applying the law of the land, when at times these two pressures may be in conflict with your own Catholic Faith.”

I can only say that I am deeply uncomfortable with such an award and such statements at a time when religious divides in Scottish society are problematical and legislation to combat excesses produced by them is being attacked by prominent religious leaders, including Cardinal O’Brien. I can only speculate about how such an event and such statements are interpreted by extremists in Scottish society.

I do not believe they serve the interest of the Catholic community in Scotland well, nor do they accord with my ideas of how the relationship between religious groups and a secular democracy should work. At worst, they can exacerbate religious tension.

I have to say that the award, and the status and roles of those attending does not suggest a Catholic professional population being discriminated against, at least in the legal profession. I can only express the wish that lawyers in Scotland, of whatever religious persuasion, remain true to the principle of the rule of law and the secular state of which they are a part.


Friday, 9 September 2011

PMQs: Oh Gypsy Amalia – did you foresee your own celebrity?

I found the first PMQs of the new session yesterday good value for taxes, if not for my BBC licence fee (I don’t pay it anymore), with an informative and entertaining mix ranging form low comedy to high seriousness on matters of fundamental interest to the people of Scotland, and in the Megrahi case, far beyond Scotland.

But I clearly watched a different programme to Eddie Barnes of The Scotsman, who has a piece today entitled Luck be a lady for Dundee for gypsy king Alex. The piece is under the category New parliament Sketch. Sketch is a word journalists use to justify abandonment of objectivity and a descent into leaden humour and rampant bias, and Eddie Barnes doesn’t disappoint. (I hold the view that political editors and reporters should stick to objective reporting and telling the truth to power, leaving comment to journalists who specialise in that, and to editorials.

I won’t waste space quoting Eddie Barnes’s pejorative comments and biased analysis of the proceedings, because, thanks to alternative media, Scots can read, listen and view the real things without the distorting prism of The Scotsman. Here are a couple of clips – judge for yourselves. If you can be bothered, the Eddie Barnes piece is here .










Friday, 17 June 2011

The UK Supreme Court–FMQs 16th June 2011 - Holyrood

Given the highly biased press and media reports of these exchanges at FMQs yesterday (16th June 2011) these complete clips offer an opportunity for a more balanced appraisal of the full exchanges. Holyrood FMQs offers a curious spectacle these days, that of two caretaker opposition leaders and one brand new opposition leader representing two failed parties and one dying party (Labour) attempting to hold a First Minister with a new and powerfully enhanced mandate to account.


POSTSCRIPT
I'm glad the Scotsman has recently followed my practice of actually timing question and answers at FMQs, instead of simply making unsupported and usually inaccurate statements that the First Minister was hogging the floor.
The paper selectively offers a couple of times today: let me help them out with the total Supreme Court exchanges -


Annabel Goldie 2m 19s
Iain Gray: 3m 57s
Willie Rennie: 1m 38s
Alex Salmond 10m 30s

Total question times: 7m 54s, total answer times: 10m 30s

Percentages of total of UK Supreme Court exchanges:

Questions 42.93%, Answers 57.07%



Sunday, 5 June 2011

Holyrood mandates, majorities - and questions, questions, questions …

The panic-stricken hysteria of the unionist media and pundits has risen to a crescendo since the scale of the SNP electoral win became evident - at least, I hope it is a crescendo, but I suspect that there’s worse to come

This has ranged for forecasting doom and disaster if Scotland achieved its independence, through demands for an immediate referendum, or two referendums, (no, I don’t like referenda!) or a referendum involving English voters, and probably Northern Irish voters, but certainly not Welsh voters (!) to thinly disguised challenges to the validity of the SNP’s mandate, under the guise of either the alleged failure of the d’Hondt method of proportional representation (it was meant to keep the SNP out of power, or at least stop them having any real power if they won) or expressions of concern about the turnout on polling day and the so-called democratic deficit.

(The democratic deficit is an expression that refers to the perceived inadequacies of electoral systems in reflecting the true opinions of the voters, especially on proportionality, the validity of mandates claimed by such electoral systems in the light of low voter turnout etc., and the abuse of mandates by governments when in power.)

The protestations of the unionists parties and their media shills after May 5th 2011 are in marked contrast to these parties when in power at UK level, as demonstrated by even a cursory examination of  Thatcher’s destruction of Scotland’s infrastructure and theft of Scottish oil, the Blair/Brown years (illegal wars, the destruction of the economy, etc.) and the ConLib Coalition’s betrayal of LibDem promises, attempts to destroy the NHS, and ill-conceived intervention in Libya, especially when their democratic deficit is examined in relation to voter turnout and party share of the vote. (Scottish Parliamentary elections tend to fall somewhere below UK general elections and somewhere above local government elections in voter turnout.)

So we have agonised squeals of pain in the letters columns from unionist voters who have spent their lives tugging their forelocks respectfully to one kind of Scottish party political dominance or another, so long as it was safely unionist and UK oriented, and who cannot believe that they suddenly are on the wrong side of political power and saluting the wrong flag, and the two non-tabloid Scottish newspapers, the Herald and the Scotsman rather in a state of retroactive confusion and cognitive dissonance, having belatedly backed the winner before the election, are not quite sure just what they have done.

Today’s Scotsman, for instance, carries a piece by Eddie Barnes, entitled Imbalance of power, asking in the sub-header “… have the scales tipped too far in Alex Salmond’s favour …”, which might have been more honestly sub-titled “My God, what have we done"?”.

Without really examining it properly, Eddie Barnes chose to open with the first FMQs of the new Parliament, and Iain Gray’s question to the first Minister on care in Scotland. Although he grudgingly recognised that the FM’s answer was “comprehensive”, he then went on to  criticise both Alex Salmond and the new Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, who’s election by the Parliament had also been the subject of unionist criticism - the FM for “waxing lyrical” never needing a second invitation “to dominate a room”, and the PO for not slapping him down.

Barnes is simply echoing an endless series of such criticisms of Alex Salmond’s performance in FMQs since 2007, none of which contained any real analysis of what actually went on. Well, I’ve watched them all and still have many of them recorded, and the nature of inter-personal dialogue between individuals especially in joint forums has been central to my working life, both in industry and in my training and consulting business, specialising in negotiation and behavioural skills.

(If organisations, both political and private, would stop spending a Queens’s ransom on so-called motivational speakers, where the learning outcomes are unmeasurable, but everybody leaves with a warm glow, rabbiting on about Ladybird Book of Psychology concepts of left brain and right brain - having had fun of the kind that roughly equates to a bad, but energetic rock concert - and devoted their scarce development and training budgets to relevant behavioural skills that reflect real-life interactions, politics might be more productive, government more effective and industry more innovative and competitive.)

QUESTION AND ANSWER BASICS

At the most basic level, and  questions fall into two categories - information-seeking questions and rhetorical questions. Since rhetorical questions don’t expect - or invite- an answer, we can disregard them. (Probably the most famous rhetorical question in history was asked by Pontius Pilate - “What is Truth?” in the presence of perhaps the one of the only persons who could have answered it. But Pontius didn’t expect, or wait for an answer - his mind was on making a few bob out of a franchised exercise system that would appeal to ladies with cash to spare. But it took about two millennia to come to market …)

So a question is meant to elicit information. But this can be done in a number of ways, using a variety of question types. I won’t give the full analysis here, but confine myself to a few varieties.

First, we have a question that invites confirmation of denial of two possibilities - the closed YES/NO question, beloved by lawyers attempting to get a response that serves their particular purpose and no other, depending on whether they are prosecuting or defending, or a response - or absence of one - that either makes the respondent look as if they are lying or being evasive. Lawyers operate on the principle that, on such occasions, they never ask a question that they don’t already know the answer to. When this is inadvertently breached, it can produce unpleasant surprises for the questioner!

Closed YES/NO questions envisage only two possibilities than can be confirmed or denied by either a Yes or a No. When neither of these possibilities reflect reality as perceived by the person being questioned - or reflect a reality they don’t want to confirm or deny because it threatens their interests - they must reject the format of the question.

One example of this is the “Have you stopped stealing apples?” question type. If you answer Yes, then you used to steal apples but have given it up: if you answer No, you’re still at it … The person who has never stolen apples can’t answer Yes or No, and the one who did, or still does will either lie or evade the question.

Political interviewers - and politicians - constantly use this formulation, some times legitimately, sometimes mischievously - and sometimes with hidden, occasionally malicious intent. And politicians are equally adept at avoiding answering such questions …

The other main information-seeking question type is the open question. The open question ranges from the wide-open question - “Tell me what you think or know about anything, anywhere, anytime?” to the highly focused open question, but still open question of “Tell me what you know about what happened, what was said and what was minuted in the meeting of the xxth of June, 20xx when the topic of property development in Glasgow East regeneration area and Commonwealth Games site was discussed?

The oath - or affirmation - in the witness box in court is “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Politicians don’t take such an oath, but observance of the principle is implied in their office, and the penalties for being misleading or lying outright can be severe.

QUESTION AND ANSWER - FMQs HOLYROOD

Let’s look more closely at the first question asked in the first FMQs in the new Scottish Parliament on Thursday the 3rd of June 2011, leaving aside the minor diversion of Iain Gray failing to ask the normal preliminary, routine question about the First Minister’s engagements. The topic was an important one, about the standards of care of the elderly and vulnerable in both private and public care homes in Scotland, with attention focused by the twin scandals of the Panorama documentary on abuse in England and the Elsie Inglis scandal in Scotland, both of which occurred in privately-run care facilities. Trisha Marwick was on her first gig as Presiding Officer.

 



Iain Gray set the scene for his question for almost one minute, referring to the Panorama documentary, then came the question itself, which took all of 8 seconds -

“What assurance can the First Minister give us of the capacity of the new Regulator to ensure standards of care here in Scotland?”

This question is highly pertinent, open but focused, fair and objective, and one to which the Parliament and the Scottish people have a right to know the answer.

The FM good-humouredly filled the gap left by Iain Gray’s omission of the routine question about the FM’s appointments and meetings, and gave related information about apprenticeship uptake, then replied to IG’s question, agreeing with the vital nature of the question, then referring to the new body, Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (SCSWIS)  created by the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010,  which also set up and Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), both  set up on April 1st 2011 and expected to coordinate and deliver efficient and effective scrutiny of health and social care, social work and child protection. Alex Salmond said that the remit of SCSWIS and its investigation would ensure that the Scottish position would be “up to scratch in all respects.”

Iain Gray referred to the Elsie Inglis care home scandal, then got to his real point - the capacity of the Regulator in relation to budget and staffing cuts - “25% budget cut, and 55 staff gone” and more planned. This led to IG’s second question - “Shouldn’t we look at Elsie Inglis and cancel this cut?”.

A couple of points here. Iain Gray has a slow, deliberate mode of speaking. There is nothing wrong with this, indeed his pace of delivery is similar to mine, but it does mean that what he has to say in FMQs takes up more time than that of brisker speakers. However, on the second point, I am more critical. IG was being disingenuous in the way he framed his first question and led to the second. If he was fully in the spirit of speeding up the Q&A of FMQs, then he could have asked one question at the start -

“What assurance can the First Minister give us of the capacity of the new Regulator, in the light of 25% budget cuts and the loss of 55 staff, to ensure standards of care here in Scotland, especially in the light of the Elsie Inglis scandal?”

This was the logical question to ask at the outset, and would have cut the time both of questions and responses. But IG didn’t, because he was playing political games and trying to set a trap. Iain Gray’s traps, rather than being elephant traps, are usually wonky mousetraps wi’ nae cheese in them, especially when dealing with a politician of Alex Salmond’s experience.

But the question, when it came, was nonetheless valid and relevant.

Another observation here. Properly constructed and delivered, Parliamentary questions are brief and pertinent, but of necessity, the person responding, even to a focused closed question like this one, will take longer to answer. Of course, it is always open to the respondent facing a closed question, one that in theory demands a Yes or No answer to do just that - answer yes or no. Had the FM answered No, of course, he would have been accused of trivialising an important question, so Alex Salmond answered fully, and attempted to “reassure Iain Gray on the generality, and the specifics of Elsie Inglis.”

He gave the figure for the total number of care homes for adults (1333 as of 31st May 2011) and during 2011/12,  a minimum of 961 of these would be inspected, carrying out at least 1549 inspections. Some care homes would be inspected more than once because of the risk-based evidence held on the service. He then gave specifics on Elsie Inglis, dating from the first complaint, on 25th of March, about standards. The Regulator had undertaken a full inspection in April and during that period, Edinburgh City Council and Lothian Health Board put their own staff into the care home by the 12th of May. By the 26th of May, all 46 residents had been moved to suitable settings, where their needs are currently being met.

AS said that the relevant authorities had acted effectively and quickly to rectify the situation, with the position and wellbeing of the residents as their primary concern.

This, of course, was not the answer Iain Gray wanted - he wanted to Alex Salmond to answer No, we should not cancel the cuts to budget and staffing, without responding to what really matters, namely, had the Elsie Inglis situation been dealt with and how effective would the future regime of inspection and control be? This was exactly what the FM did.

The context of this question is as follows. The last Labour Government ruined the economy. The present ConLib Coalition has made draconian and unnecessary cuts to the the Scottish budget. The only way to cope with this is for the Scottish Government to find efficiency savings while protecting vital services. This is exactly what any organisation in the public or private sector does when faced with a cut  in revenue that cannot be offset by raising money. It is exactly what is being done in the care sector in Scotland through SCSWIS, and given additional impetus and relevance by the Elsie Inglis scandal and the object lesson of the abuses revealed by Panorama in England.

Iain Gray, however, was not happy with the answer, so he returned to the question of the capacity of the Regulator to handle the demands of the task, referring to the move from regular scheduled inspections to a risk assessment model, which will mean less inspections, and the fact the number of staff had been, and would be cut. He attempted to broaden the base of criticism by Audit Scotland, by claiming that today, it “condemns the Community Health Partnerships, which are supposed to plan and manage social care. Doctors say these partnerships have spectacularly failed, and Southern Cross, who run 98 care homes in Scotland, are on the verge of collapse.”

Iain Gray then attempted to show a care system in a state of collapse, based on the Panorama documentary about English care homes, the Elsie Inglis scandal in one care home, and the budget and staffing cuts to the Inspectorate, claiming that “the social Care system has been declared not fit for purpose” and the biggest provider of residential care in Scotland is on the verge of collapse.

This summary, if accurate, represents a crisis in the Scottish care system, and must be addressed, and Iain Gray cannot be faulted for pursuing answers to what he believes is an unacceptable situation.

But regrettably, he then goes on to shamelessly exploit the situation for unionist party political ends, risking discrediting his entire argument, which is sad, because I do believe that Iain Gray does care about the issue. He does this by trying to make a case on priorities, raising the issues of the UK Supreme Court, where he claims, erroneously, that the FM “held an emergency Cabinet summit on the UK Supreme Court this week” and asks his next question, a closed, YES/NO question based on a faulty premise. “Does he not think a summit on the crisis in care is more urgent than that?” This received table-thumping approbation from the depleted Labour benches.

This is an outrageous conflation of two issues that are related only by happening within the same time frame, and reveals in the process the primitive managerial thinking of the Labour Party, that conceives of Government as a process where ministers make a list in order of priority, then move down the list on each item, to the exclusion of all else, an utterly nonsensical view of government. This is why Scottish business trusted the SNP to lead the Scottish economy instead of the Labour Party, with the egregious exception of the head of the CBI in Scotland, unrepresentative of business opinion across Scotland, but fully representative of UK unionist dogma.

(I spent a large part of my consulting career in major multi-national blue chip companies on cascade programmes on structured objective setting and prioritisation, because the CEOs of these companies wanted to break their directors and managers out of exactly that kind of simplistic thinking.)

The FM opened by saying that he didn’t have “an emergency Cabinet summit” - the matter was discussed in Cabinet as was the issue of Southern Cross. He said that he had given the figures on the care homes and the inspection regime even though the Labour Party “maybe didn’t want to hear them”. They indicated an impressive level of inspection. He added the crucial fact that all care home inspections will now be unannounced.

He had also responded to the Elsie Inglis situation and Iain Gray had seemed to agree that it had been an effective response to a difficult situation.

Southern Cross is a situation that the Cabinet Secretary is dealing with daily, in conjunction with the UK Health Department. 3000 of their residents are in Scotland out of a total of 98,000 across the UK.

All the relevant authorities were ready, if Southern Cross does move into administration, to ensure a continuity of care of the residents concerned. Southern Cross, a private company involved in social care, seemed to some people a model that should be applied across the NHS in England. In the past, the Labour Party had wanted to introduce private companies into mainstream service in the NHS in Scotland. This in fact should sound a cautionary note about private intervention in the NHS or social care.

(This last point has also been the main thrust of the national debate, including on last week’s Question Time on the BBC.)

Iain Gray’s response to this was to refer to the SNP council in Fife being currently engaged in the process of transferring their own care homes into the private sector. This is  not, Iain Gray said, an issue to try and score points about. He emphasised the need to move forward together as a Parliament on the issue. He said that the Parliament needed to hear the voices of the elderly and the disabled. He then went on to devalue this admirable point by again trying to score political points himself, again conflating it with political issues on the independence/union agenda - the constitutional issues, the Supreme Court, corporation tax and the Crown Estates.

Is Iain Gray seriously suggesting that these issues are either irrelevant to Scotland, or that they should all be shelved while the issue of care homes and the inspection regime are under examination? Thank God this man and those he represents were not chosen to govern Scotland, with this simplistic understanding of the business and mechanics of Government.

He then came to his last question - “What are we going to do to improve the situation?”, apparently having heard little and understood less of the clear answers given to his earlier questions.

The FM, in reply, summarised Iain Gray’s three points - references to

community health partnerships

the importance of the Parliament acting together

and

the importance of not making party political points

The Community Health Partnerships were established in 2004. The Audit Commission, today, as in the independent inspection report of last year, indicated there were some serious problems - not failing across Scotland, but serious problems in some areas of a lack of integration of health and social care. This is exactly why this government has established that integration as a priority. Alex Salmond said that,  if he was to take a non-political look at the establishment of community health partnerships, and something that we’ve learned from experience, but perhaps wasn’t evident when that legislation was introduced, then perhaps it would be that it left the coordination of health and community care as a voluntary aspect in the 36 partnerships across Scotland . Why is that important, the FM asked? The Audit Commission report didn’t indicate today that it was failing across Scotland. On the contrary, one of the key findings of the report was that in 20 of these partnerships, there was a co-sharing of services. The question that’s begged is -why didn’t that happen in the other 16?

The FM suggested that it was a flaw of the legislation of this Parliament, that “we didn’t realise in 2004 that the coordination that was hoped for had to be made a compulsory aspect - had to happen.” Integration had to happen and could not be left to individual health boards and local authorities across Scotland.

That was why this government has made a priority of making that happen. In the spirit of not looking to score party political points about whose legislation was best, and in the spirit of not saying this is a matter which is failing across the country, we should just recognise that, out of the community health partnerships, it is not the case, for example, that delayed discharges have been increasing. There were over a thousand delayed discharges in April 2004. As of two days ago, it was recorded at twelve. 12 is too many, but it would be wrong not to regard that as a significant improvement. We take what was good and proper and has worked of that change, and make sure the health and community care is integrated as a service across Scotland.”

SUMMARY

All of the above exchanges took place in just over 13 minutes in the first half of FMQs. Allowing one minute for the FM’s diary engagements and related matter, the total exchange was just over 12 minutes, of which Iain Gray spoke for five minutes and Alex Salmond for seven minute, that is to say, the questioner took 42% of the total time to ask his questions and the respondent 58% of the total time to reply, including providing relevant and vital details and facts and figures.

Through the exchanges, Alex Salmond was patient and courteous, although he could have been forgiven had he displayed some exasperation and impatience.

Just where do the critics of the Presiding Officer think she could have intervened, and with whom? The topic was clearly vital, the detail important. The number, type and content of the questions was in the hands of Iain Gray.

It can be argued that FMQs was not the place for what effectively became a mini-debate on a subject of such importance, and that FMQs should be confined to simple questions of fact. That is a matter for the Parliament.

If there was grandstanding and attempts at political point scoring, they came exclusively from Iain Gray, a man whose heart may be in the right placed but whose head clearly isn’t. Regrettably, it looks as though he is going to continue to give evidence, week after week until his successor is elected, just why the electorate and the business community did not think he was the right man to lead Scotland through the difficult times ahead.

I chose this first question as a benchmark of all that is, and was wrong, about the unionist opposition’s approach to the government of Scotland, the clear evidence of why they lost the election. It took me a day to analyse a 13 minute exchange, but I believe it was worth doing, because I believe that care matters, the NHS matters, the Scottish legal system matters, the Crown Estate matters and corporation tax matters and that they all must be addressed if the people of Scotland are to survive the desperate times bequeathed to them by 13 years of Labour government - a poisoned legacy -and just over a year of chaotic, ill-conceived ConLib Coalition government.

Most of all, I believe that the best hope of the people of Scotland, young and old, fit and unfit, lies in the independence of their country from the United Kingdom. I also believe we now have the best man and the best team in charge to make those hopes a reality.


Monday, 9 May 2011

O schadenfreude–can I resist you?

Alex Salmond has been magnanimous and generous in victory to the three other party leaders following their resignations.

I am cut from lesser cloth, I’m afraid …

 

From Alex Salmond and The Three UK Stooges - plus Patrick Harvie

LEST WE FORGET WHY THE THREE UK STOOGES LOST






Monday, 2 May 2011

A year on, remember the man who let the ConLib Coalition have power - John Reid

With the Scottish Parliamentary election imminent, let’s remember the senior Scottish Labour figure - John Reid - who wrecked Gordon Brown’s attempt to negotiate a Rainbow coalition with the LibDems and the nationalist parties, effectively acting as midwife to the birth of of a monstrous thing - the Tory/LibDem Coalition - the thing that Ed Miliband’s Labour claims to be fighting against.


 Here’s what I said just under a year ago -

May 10th 2010 - Moridura’s comment

I listened with increasing incredulity to John Reid, former Labour Home Secretary and Cabinet Minister, as he calmly rubbished the prospect of a LibLab pact and a rainbow coalition just after Gordon Brown, the Labour Prime Minister had already fallen on two of his swords his premiership and his leadership of the Labour Party to permit negotiations to go ahead with Nick Clegg and his team to try and stop a Cameron-led Tory Government.

David Dimbleby's loaded question was - Did John Reid think there was a danger of a coalition of the losers ?

Since Reid is too old a hand at responding to BBC inquisitors - however exalted - to be gulled into an ill-considered expression of views, we must assume that every word was uttered with a purpose.

Reid opened with a token remark that Gordon Brown was wise and dignified in saying that he would step down, but this was immediately followed with a " but I'm afraid that I think it is a very bad mistake to contemplate and to propose and I suppose, to entice a LibLab coalition."

Don’t hide your feelings John - say what you mean …

"I think it is bad for the country. I think it will prove pretty disastrous for both parties in it in fact, I think its bad for Gordon as well."

He went on to say that such a coalition would be inherently unstable, since Labour and the LibDems have no overall majority and ‘would be dependent on the votes of assorted Scot nationalists’ (sic) and the parties in Northern Ireland.

Reid went on in similar vein, coldly ignoring the fact that his fellow Scots - especially his fellow Labour voters - had just delivered a massive Niet to the Tories and to a Cameron government, having been specifically and repeatedly enjoined to do so in the Labour campaign by virtually every member of the Labour Cabinet.

Scotland has just delivered a resounding No to a Tory government, and after Gordon Brown’s dual sacrifice of his political career and premiership, with a finely judged negotiating strategy and the support of fellow Scots, that outcome could just be achieved.

But John Reid has his eye fixed on the national interest. By this he means, of course, the UK, not the nation of his birth, and in this definition of the national interest at least, he is squarely in the camp of his fellow Unionist and Scot, Sir Menzies Campbell.

But why not? After all, both of them have had glittering careers courtesy of the high road to England and the British Establishment.

Both Votes SNP

on May 5th

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Nuclear and Trident horror story that is Scottish Labour–the WMD party

One of two parties will form the next government of Scotland - the Labour party, puppet party of UK Labour, or the Scottish National Party under Alex Salmond.

Labour is committed to nuclear power, new nuclear power stations, Trident, nuclear weapons and WMDs - to hazard, pollution, death and destruction of all you know and love.

The SNP is utterly opposed to all of these things.

Be clear on May 5th in the polling booth where your future, the future of your families and the future of Scotland lies.



If you vote Labour, you deliver Scotland into potential nuclear catastrophe - another Chernobyl or Fukushima - and to the continuation of Scotland as a nuclear dump, with WMDs (Trident) in our Scottish waters, threatening an equally appalling nuclear risk, making us a prime target for terrorists and a nuclear strike

Vote SNP - on BOTH ballot papers - for a nuclear-free Scotland, a peaceful Scotland, a clean, pollution-free Scotland - and for a dynamic new, clean era of renewable energy, revitalising Scotland with new jobs and new industry, leading the world by utilising our natural resources of wind and wave power.

Cast BOTH your votes for the SNP - no second choices, only two clear-cut votes for the SNP and the future of Scotland - your country, your homeland, your nation - your people.

Both Votes SNP on May 5th – two ballot papers -

Two votes for the SNP


Polls and Polls - and that Independence thing …

Take your pick of the polls today. That sounds like the first line of a jolly Victorian music hall song -

Take you pick of the polls today, take your pick of the polls

Some say up and some say down, but the lead goes rolling on

SOS (that’s not a panic message from a sinking unionist ship, but the name of a newspaper, Scotland on Sunday) carries a little headline in the right-hand column of the front page - Labour slashes SNP lead in election. The pale fluid that passes for blood in Iain Gray’s veins gives a little surge, but then slows down again as the third paragraph hits the reef of reality with the chilling words

 Alex Salmond remains on course to beat his main opponent …

But the SOS poll gives a crumb of comfort to Labour, and reminds the SNP of what they already know - the game ain’t over till the polls close, on this fateful Thursday for the Scottish people.

The Progressive Scottish Opinion/Mail on Sunday poll shows the changes (bracketed) from the same poll early in March at the start of the election campaign

Constituency
SNP: 45% (+8)
Lab: 35% (-8)
Con: 10% (-1)
Lib: 6% (+1)

List
SNP: 41% (+4)
Lab: 36% (-8)
Con: 8% (-3)
Lib: 5% (+1)
Gre: 6% (+2)


Seats projection:
SNP: 62
Lab: 51
Con: 8
Lib: 5
Gre: 3

THE INDEPENDENCE THING

Columnists over the last week have been liberal - if that is the right word - with their advice to Iain Gray as to how he might wrest victory from the jaws of defeat, advice that has ranged from the considered but misconceived (Kenny Farquarson) to the realpolitik expedient populist (John McTernan) - advice which, if taken, will infinitely compound Labour’s misery.

Much of it has centred on what unionist believe is the SNP’s Achilles Heel - that independence thing. And today, in the Sunday Herald, Iain Macwhirter leaps into the maelstrom, scorning the dangers, apparently unconcerned by the fate of his two colleagues, and invokes the spirit of Wendy Alexander on the independence question.

He offers a lifeline to Iain Gray if “he dares to take some bold, inspiring steps as the election nears”, the main one being to challenge Alex Salmond to call a referendum, with the inspiring Alexandrian words “Bring it on …” ringing in his ears. This will “reboot the entire election campaign … as the SNP … say what they actually mean about independence. Flags and armies? The euro? NATO? Scottish passports? Customs posts?”.

Oh, Iain - what possessed you to pen this stuff? Leaving aside the fact that the SNP have already made their intentions clear on all of these topics, do you really think Iain Gray and his team, incapable of even marshalling a few hard statistics on knife crime without bringing the derision of the numerate down upon their heads, have got the political intelligence to even begin to address such issues in the three campaigning days left?

Let me wearily set out the facts on that independence thing yet again, aware that I am talking to a man I considered as one of Scotland’s most incisive and objective political commentators - until today …

The Scottish National Party’s raison d'être is the independence of the Scottish nation by the free democratic choice of the people of Scotland, a choice that will be offered to them during the life of the next Scottish Parliament, the electorate and May the 5th permitting.

Alex Salmond’s position on that is as clear today as it was at the beginning of this election campaign, and for a long time before that. When will he call for a referendum? When he judges the time to be right for the Scottish people to be given the opportunity to make their choice within the life of the next Parliament.

Let’s move from those clear waters into the muddy pool that is the unionist parties’ collective mind, and examine the multiple contradictions in their approach, starting with about the only two things that are clear to them -

1. They don’t want independence.

2. They don’t want the Scottish people to have the opportunity to express their democratic view on whether or not they want independence in a referendum.

From what should be these two Forsythian (the wee Laird of Drumlean) tablets of dogma, they then wander off in all directions, eventually moving in ever-decreasing circles, encouraged by journalists such as the three above, eventually flying up a number of orifices into their own guts.

The tortured ‘logic’ that flow from the above goes something like this -

The best way to avoid independence is to stop an SNP government being elected, but if they are elected, as seems likely, to ensure that they don’t have enough seats to table a bill requesting a referendum, and which the combined unionist opposition could block. But if they might just get enough seats to do this, to ensure that a referendum is declared quickly, before they can demonstrate yet more effective government in Scotland, hopefully returning a NO vote (based on the present polls of voting intentions), and taking the independence question off the table ‘for a generation’.

The above is bad enough, and cynical enough in itself - a dying hegemony desperately trying to halt a people’s wish to determine their future - but what follows from it descends into farce, a kind of Carry on UK up the Khyber production.

To achieve this, the Farquarson/McTernan/Macwhirter Plan is to use the last three days of a floundering, failing Labour campaign to demand that Alex Salmond call a referendum - right now, Alex - this very minute! Gie us a date, Alex - go on, gie us a date! We dare you! Ya Boo, big fearty - gies a date noo!

This slides over the fact that Iain Gray spent the last couple of years telling the First Minister that a referendum would be an unwarranted deflection from the serious business of managing the appalling economic crisis created by Iain Gray’s UK governing Labour Party when in power, and now being compounded by the incompetent, quarrelling, collapsing ConLib coalition.

Alex Salmond, a statesman and a master tactician, has a wide range of effective responses to this, and with his usual sure touch, will select the best one.

The one I would love to see, just for the sheer delight of watching the response to it, would be to calmly ignore the playground taunting. This would produce the following risible scenario -

Iain Gray: (with Bluetooth link to advice from The Three Journalist Stooges) See ! he’s feart, he’s feart! We say he’s secretly planning UDI, and will declare independence on May 6th, with a simultaneous erection of border posts, withdrawal from NATO, the waving of the Saltire and the standing down of the army.

But he can’t do that, because Parliament would have to approve a bill to request a referendum, and that would go the Westminster - and they widnae let him dae it! Naw, they widnae …

SANE JOURNALIST IN THE AUDIENCE (probably Angus Macleod) Why then are you asking him to “bring it on” and demanding a referendum, Mr. Gray?

Iain Gray: (after long pause to listen to Bluetooth Trio) Because he widnae win it! And he’s hiding the fact he wants independence …

Sane journalist: But he’s the Leader of the SNP, committed to independence, and he has said he will request a referendum within the life of the Parliament, Mr. Gray? Do you believe him?

Iain Gray: Naw, I don’t - he disnae really want independence. And I cannae wait - I want it right now, so he cannae have it. Anyway, a referendum would be a distraction from managing the economic crisis which Labour created … (pause for Bluetooth advice)  … which the global ConLib bankers created and which Gordon Brown had nothing to do with. And I want that distraction right now! Gie’s is a referendum, Mr. Salmond - you know you want it!

Sane journalist: What if he agreed to your request and set a provisional date for say, 2014?

Iain Gray: What? 2014? The Scottish people cannae wait that long for independence! (more Bluetooth) What I mean is - if he waited that long, they might vote in favour of independence. But if we have it right now - today, or even next week, they widnae … But even if they did, we’d find a way to stitch up the result, like we did the last time. They’re no gonnae get it, OK? Anyway, he disnae want independence - he’s feart, and we’re determined to show that he is.

Sane journalist: If he doesn’t really want independence, he’s on your side surely, Mr. Gray? Don’t you think there are  logical inconsistencies in your argument?

Iain Gray: You would do well to emulate your colleagues, Angus - they’re as logically inconsistent as me … (plaintive aside to aide   That didnae come oot, right, Andy …)

Wendy Alexander, at rear of crowd, in dark glasses and a big hat: Oh, Jesus Christ …