Search topics on this blog

Google+ Badge

Showing posts with label John Swinney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Swinney. Show all posts

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Grangemouth, INEOS, Unite - and the point of freedom to act …

When and why would an employer want to end negotiations and present a trade union with a deadline?

The answer almost always relates to a pressing need to achieve changed working practices and reduce the paybill in times of recession, in the face of severe competition or challenging economic times. Quite simply, a company sees the management’s right to manage the business and react to market conditions as being unacceptably constrained by their inability to negotiate change with employee representatives.

From the union perspective, the failure to negotiate change lies with the employers and the negotiating stance they adopted. Unions are there to protect the jobs and the terms and conditions of their members, and their instinct is to resist any change that threatens these things, but unions can and do accept the need for change and have negotiated change – quite radical change – when they are convinced of the rationale for that change and have recognised that the alternatives to it are even more unacceptable - for example, failure and closure of the business.

(When there is a failure to negotiate a vital change agenda with a trade union, the roots of that failure can usually be traced to the nature of the management/union relationship over many years, and serious deficiencies in the company’s employee relations practices.)

From a union perspective, it is all too easy to confuse endless protracted discussion over management change proposals as negotiation, when in fact, it is not.

Negotiation requires reciprocal movement and concession, and a recognition of timescales and the inevitability of one or both side reaching the point of freedom to act - when negotiation ends, management implements and union strikes.

INEOS and Unite are at the point.

If Scottish Government can't help INEOS and Unite negotiate change, how the hell are they going to negotiate independence?

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Civilised debate in politics – something Scottish Labour is a stranger to …

John Swinney’s letter to the Herald

4th October 2013

Independent Scotland could make early investment into an oil fund
Friday 4 October 2013

I NOTE with interest your article about the Fiscal Commission Working Group's paper on the options for establishing a stabilisation fund and a savings fund in an independent Scotland ("Swinney backs call for oil fund", The Herald, October 3).

The advice on the establishment of a stabilisation fund puts to rest any fears around oil price fluctuations impacting on future Scottish budgets.

There is an unanswerable case for using a proportion of Scotland's oil wealth to establish a long-term savings fund. As the working group has highlighted, of the world's top 20 oil producers only the UK and Iraq do not operate some form of recognised sovereign wealth fund. With more than half the wholesale value of North Sea oil and gas still to be extracted, there is an overwhelming case for the government of an independent Scotland to establish a long-term savings fund.

A key question which the Fiscal Commission's report addresses is the point at which Scotland could start to make investments into a savings fund. It has been widely assumed that Scotland would have to run an absolute fiscal surplus before investing in a savings fund, and this has been reflected in the Scottish Government's early thinking on the subject. However, the commission is clear that there is a compelling case for starting to make early investments into an oil fund whilst in deficit so long as it is manageable and debt is on a downward path.

As with most advanced economies, Scotland is running a fiscal deficit, albeit a smaller deficit than the UK as a whole. However, Scotland's fiscal position is likely to strengthen as the economy recovers. Based on the model outlined by the working group, Scotland could consider investing modest sums into a long-term savings fund without an offsetting change to public spending or taxation potentially as early as 2017-18.

In the long run, the economic levers available under independence will enable us to grow the economy more quickly, boost tax revenues and ensure that, in time, a greater proportion of Scotland's oil and gas wealth is invested for the future.

John Swinney,

Finance Secretary,

Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, Edinburgh.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The cool logic of John Swinney in the face of a parcel of British Lords–1st tranche

Lord MacGregor

All of these quotes are from the Lords Committee on the Economic implications of Scottish Independence on 11th December 2012. This is my personal selection from a wide-ranging discussion. I hope to cover the full session in later blogs.

John Swinney MSP

The 2013 White Paper

The culmination of the information we shall put into the public domain will be our White Paper next autumn, setting out our proposals clearly for the people of Scotland.

The process of transition

From a YES vote in 2014 though to independence in 2016, Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom as we put in place the structure of an independent Scotland. That will be done through the Edinburgh Agreement and in particular Clause 30, which states that the two governments are committed to work together constructively in the light of the outcome – whatever it is – in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

(Lord MacGregor made it clear in his introduction that his committee was not considering the political and non-economic aspects of the referendum but solely the economic implications for both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom (rUK). To what degree the Lords present remained within the letter and spirit of those terms of reference in their questioning of John Swinney is something that must be judged by those viewing the full Parliament channel broadcast.)

John Swinney in responses to questions on EU

On Scotland’s EU membership re Barroso’s letter -

There is no provision within the Treaty on European Union that provides for the scenario that President Barroso has cited in that particular paragraph of his letter.

The course of action that we are proposing to take [the creation of an independent Scotland] is an unprecedented case – it is not something for which the Treaty has provided.

I don’t agree with the content of President Barroso’s letter for the reason that I do not see the basis within the treaty upon which that remark is founded.

On engaging in discussions with EU on the matter of an independent Scotland’s membership -

The Scottish Government accepts the importance of continued membership of the European Union for Scotland.

That is why we have continued to assert the belief that we have that Scotland is a part of the European Union, and we wish to remain part of the European Union after  independence.

The Scottish Government has taken forward informal dialogue with the Commission, but the Commission have been very clear for some considerable time that they would only consider a particular scenario if that particular scenario was put to them by a member state government.

We certainly would be very happy to participate  in  dialogue with the Commission around the question of resolving, in response to a request from a member state for clarity from the Commission on this point – and the very material point that I advance in that respect is the comment that I make about President Barroso’s comment not being founded in any part of the Treaty.

That therefore says to me – and this has long been a view that we have taken -  that this is a process which essentially would ultimately become a process of political dialogue and discussion between relevant member states to be resolved as a consequence of a YES vote in the referendum.

The referendum will take place in the autumn of 2014. We have always made clear there would have to be a process of negotiation transition that followed that decision in principle by people in Scotland that they wished to proceed to independence.

In that window, between a decision in the referendum in the autumn of 2014 and the establishment of an independent country – which we believe would be possible through the elections to the Scottish Parliament in May of 2016 – there is the opportunity to essentially resolve that particular question.

In response to query from Lord MacGregor as to whether it was to resolve the question of whether an independent Scotland would have to make a new membership application or the terms in which it would be made.

The terms of Scotland’s membership of the European Union. We are currently part of the EU .. through our membership of the UK – and we would making it very clear that we wished continuity of that membership to be available for Scotland, and as a consequence of that, we would be negotiating the details of terms around that membership.

Lord MacGregor offered his view that it was “a bit late to have come up with this answer overnight in response to Mr. Barroso’s letter …” He asked if there was independent legal advice to justify John Swinney’s assertion.

There are a variety of expressions of legal opinion. There was one just the other day there which was expressed by the professor of law for the University Glasgow who made the point in a broadcast interview. Professor Tom Mullen says there is no specific provision in the treaty that expressly deals with the situation of a member state breaking up and both parts wanting to stay in, and that confirms the view that I am taking.

I cited the House of Commons library paper earlier … The Lord Advocate of Scotland’s opinion has ben taken on this particular question, and that will be available when the Lord Advocate has completed the formulation of that opinion.

On being asked if he was “absolutely disagreeing with the fourth paragraph of Mr. Barroso’s letter …”

That is point which is the nub of this letter from the President of the European Commission … there is no foundation in treaty for that position to be supported.

Lord MacGregor queried if the Scottish Government had taken this point up informally with the EC. He “assumed that this letter had been extremely carefully considered and drafted.”

Well, as for its drafting by the European Commission – that’s a very interesting point because it seemed to be available to the wider media in Scotland before it was available even to this committee, from the press reports I saw last week – essentially, this reply being available to The Scotsman newspaper one day last week when it was not available to the Committee. So I think the drafting of the letter is a question of some interest I think to the wider debate on how ….

Lord MacGregor interrupts, saying his question is being ignored …

What I’m simply saying is that I think the point that’s made here is a point for which I do not believe there is foundation in treaty – and that’s  the issue – well, certainly one of the issues that we want to discuss very clearly with the Commission.

Lord MacGregor says that it’s late to be discussing this, and it will create even more uncertainty in the business community.

I don’t think it’s late all, Lord Chairman, because the Scottish Government – as I set out in my opening remarks – is going through a process which is about ensuring the public are properly informed about the issues in connection with the referendum in good time for the referendum in the autumn of 2014, and that will involve the production of a White Paper which will be available to people in the autumn of 2013.

That’s the process that we’re involved in – that’s our timescale for making sure that the public are able to form that view. If I look back at the documents that the Scottish Government has provided and produced over time on this whole question - whether it’s the original documents being produced after our election in 2007 or subsequent reports that we have produced – we have made the point that there would have to be a negotiation about the terms of Scotland’s membership of the European Union and that would be pursued with the European Union. We’ve always acknowledged the importance of a dialogue with the European Union on that question.

Lord MacGregor asks if the studies referred to included a Clear study of the views of the Scottish Government to the terms of entry that it might have to negotiate with the EU.

Clearly that would be the material substance of the discussions that we would take forward with the European Union. There would be a range of questions to be resolved about the terms of membership, and a Scottish Government would willingly participate in those discussions.

There followed the exchange with Lord Lipsey, and his contemptible “last refuge of a scoundrel” insult to Scotland’s Finance Minister. John Swinney responded with characteristic restraint and courtesy. On Lipsey asking if the Scottish government’s position on Barroso’s statement “could be sustained for a single second”, the Finance Minister responded -

Yes, because I think the point the Committee should be very interested in is the fact that there is no foundation in treaty for the point that President Barroso has made in that letter. I can’t see where that come from, and I think the sources and comments that I have cited to the Committee are designed to help the Committee to share the view that I have.

And I think it’s very interesting in the presentation of the letter that President Barroso – just on the start of the second page – gives a very clear treaty reference to the terms of a country applying to become a member of the EU (at the top of the page, Article 49 The Treaty on European Union: any European state which respects the principles set out in Article 2 of the Treaty of European Union may apply to become a member of the EU) and I completely accept that treaty reference and that comment.

But my point is that in the preceding paragraph, which is – and I agree with the Lord Chairman – a very significant paragraph – there is no treaty reference; and the reason why there is no treaty reference is that there cannot be any treaty reference because such provisions do not exist in treaty.

Lord Lipsey responds that there is a reference to the treaty as it only applies to member states, so it’s irrelevant whether there’s a treaty reference – of course there isn’t, because you’re not a member state. Now, I don’t understand this , why you don’t take the following line– “Yes, we accept what Dr. Barroso said; of course we wish to apply for membership to the European Community and I’m sure this will be solved politically … “ That seems to me a perfectly straightforward, sensible and defensible proposition. To retreat into what are clearly implausible reference to what’s referred to in the treaty to which you would no longer be signature, because you’re no longer part of the EU – that seems to me to be the last refuge of a scoundrel, if I may say so …"”

I think what that misses, Lord Lipsey, is the point that as Scotland is taking this particular course in the aftermath of a referendum in the autumn of 2014, Scotland remains  part of the European Union because we would still be part of the United Kingdom . We would not have enacted  the Act of Independence, and therefore in that period – after a referendum, before the establishment of an independent state in the spring of 2016, Scotland would be involved in a process of settling the independence process and conducting negotiations with the United Kingdom government, and also with the European Union about the terms of Scottish membership of the EU. In that context, I think it is an entirely appropriate way for us to proceed with the discussions that we must take forward.

Lord MacGregor asks if the negotiating process was unsatisfactory from his' [presumably meaning the Scottish Government negotiating team!] point of view, would he [they] would withdraw the desire for independence.

MY COMMENT (can’t resist it!) Only a British Lord could have framed and asked such a crass and patently stupid question!

JOHN SWINNEY: The people of Scotland will have decided in the autumn of 2014 whether or not Scotland is going to be an independent country – that decision will have been taken by people in a referendum – and what it is up to the political leaders of Scotland to do is to give effect to the decision the people of Scotland have taken.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Scotland ranks 5th on EU GDP per capita

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT WRITTEN ANSWER
8 June 2012  Index Heading: Strategy and External Affairs
Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Executive  where Scotland would rank on the table, Regional GDP per capita in the EU27 in 2009, published by Eurostat on 13 March 2012, had account been taken of Scotland's economic share of the UK's national air-space, territorial waters and the continental shelf lying in international waters over which the UK enjoys exclusive rights, territorial exclaves including deposits of oil and natural gas.
(S4W-07532)
 
Mr John Swinney: An illustrative estimate of Scottish GDP with a geographic share of Extra Regio output (GDP), suggests that Scotland would have been ranked 5th in terms of GDP per capita against the 27 EU countries in 2009.
 
This estimate has been produced using data from Eurostat, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Records of Scotland (NRS), and the Scottish National Accounts Project (SNAP). The methodology used to produce these estimates is the same as set out in the note Scotland’s International GDP Per Capita Ranking, which was published on the Scottish Government website in March 2012 and can be found at - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0039/00390896.pdf

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Holyrood Budget - Labour arithmetic 2+2=5

John Swinney responds to Tory and Labour demands for budget changes demanded without their offering any idea about where the money could come from - except for Jackie Baillie's ludicrous suggestion that the cost of the referendum (£10m) could pay for them.

The Finance Minister has plaudits for Willie Rennie's responsible approach, and brickbats for Labour and the Tories. The Scottish Labour Party has learned nothing from their repetition of their blind opposition during the 2007/2011 Holyrood term. Then they managed - in conjunction with the LibDems and the Tories - to block major items of legislation that would have benefited Scotland, e.g. minimum pricing for alcohol.

As a result of that, the Scottish electorate gave a resounding and historic mandate to the SNP, an outcome that Scottish Labour has still failed to understand. But they can no longer mindlessly block budgets, or anything else.  If only the Scottish Tories and Scottish Labour could have been big enough to grasp the olive branch held out to them by the SNP - the manifest willingness of the Scottish Government to work for consensus in the Parliament, despite their majority.

But that would have required a political approach from Labour and Tories that rose above political expediency - and a grasp of basic arithmetic ...


Sunday, 25 September 2011

The People’s Flag is deepest - Red? Blue? Purple? Tartan?

 John McTernan, king of the What Labour Must Do? franchise, has accepted a post as director of communications to the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. Julia, a Labour Prime Minister has just turned fifty years of age. It would be ungallant to speculate on what the half century does to a woman’s judgement, so we must assume that she was either impressed by his former role as Tony Blair’s spin doctor, or she wants an antipodean version of McTernan’s franchise, What Australian Labour Must do?

But it’s nice to think of John sunning his bronzed body on an Australian beach, munching a Vegemite sandwich – a kind of Scottish Adonis. I wish you well, John. But then a dissonant note sounds – what if he plans to do the job from Scotland? After all, one can write a What Labour Must Do article anywhere in the world …

And perhaps Julia should take a long hard look at what has happened to the party that John devoted his communication and strategic skills to for so many years.

 

WHAT THE UK OWES SCOTLAND

The Nationalist Government of Scotland – nationalist means a government committed to the nation of Scotland - have been taking a long, hard look at the UK’s asset base, sending cold shivers down unionist spines. After all, given our significant contribution to the UK for over 300 years in technology, science, innovation, tax and oil revenue -  and blood - and the less than significant return, it is only fair that Scots tot up what is owed to them. In addition to the assets that are based in Scotland, we own a fair chunk of assets based in England. Since the unionists insist on using the analogy of a marriage (a shotgun marriage) a divorce and a separation to describe the Union and Scotland’s imminent independence, we may safely say that that divvying up the assets will be as protracted a negotiation after independence as many other aspects. But the break-up comes first …

 

THE BUDGET

The outraged squeals of vested interest groups over John Swinney’s budget, with the Scotsman conducting the cries in a kind a hellish choir, was followed rapidly by what we hoped might be objective third party analysis. Surely Glasgow University’s Centre for Public Policy and Regions would provided such a cool, objective look at the figures? The analysis by the CPPR’s John McLaren, described by Robin Dinwoodie in the Herald as “Ex-Labour special adviser and CPPR economist John McLaren” claimed that the budget would take an extra £849m in business taxes over the next three years. John Swinney, in a detailed rebuttal in a letter in yesterday’s Herald, says that this is misleading and is the result of double counting.

John Swinney’s trump card is of course that undeniable fact that Scotland is the only part of the UK where unemployment is falling and employment has increased. Union members like that, but union officials – and the Labour Party - don’t, masking their annoyance by attacks on the interpretation of the figures. I wonder why that should be? It could be something to do with the fact that the greater the degree of independence, the better Scotland works, and it could have something to do with four and a half years of competent SNP government, with a real economist at the helm.

But the Scottish Secretary has lurched on to the scene, demanding explanations. Michael Moore is “ … alarmed at the reaction that the Scottish Government’s Spending Review has provoked from the business community.” By the business community, he means the Big Business community - the one’s who extravagantly reward their directors with obscene amounts of money for pushing cheap booze and cancer sticks at the poorer sections of the community - and the ever-critical Iain MacMillan of the CBI.

The small to medium business community welcomed the budget, and the valuable check it places on Big Business to roll over small businesses, destroy competition and inflict near lethal blows on our once vibrant public houses. The Scottish Secretary, especially after the warm glow of the LibDem party conference, labours under the delusion that he, his party and his Coalition partners – the Tories - matter to Scotland, when in fact they are regarded as an irrelevancy, and inimical to Scotland’s best interest.

 

THE PEOPLE’S PARTY AND ITS TROUBLES

As what was once upon a time the People’s Party staggers into its conference, they are accompanied by Scottish headlines that must give them cause for alarm.

Can Britain learn to like Ed Miliband? (Scotland on Sunday) with the sub-header Seven out of ten people think the Labour Party are not fit for Government.

Labour told to forget about Thatcher – Alexander criticises party’s Holyrood election campaign strategy (Herald)

McAveety is held off Labour list amid probe (Herald)

Harris fear party could ‘stop being relevant’ (Herald)

This last one heads a report by Tom Peterkin and Eddie Barnes that also quote Harris as saying “Labour’s complacency could kill the Union.”  Tom Harris’s analysis is accurate of course, and he sees clearly what his party – and most metropolitan commentators have only glimpsed fleetingly, and in a glass darkly.

 

“We are on the brink of the biggest constitutional upheaval this country has ever seen.” (By country, he means the UK.)

“The idea that it’s business as usual in the Labour Party is going to kill us, and it’s going to kill the Union”

“I’m talking about standing up for Scotland. It’s Scotland first, the Union second, the Labour Party third.”

Nobody in Scotland – or the UK – is fooled by that last statement, Tom. You can’t hedge your bets- it’s too late to lay off the risk.

The scale of priorities has always been the careers of Labour politicians and trades union officials first and Scotland and its people a poor second. The Union is simply the necessary context for the Labour Party to pursue that naked self-interest. and your career, and those of every Labour MP, Labour Lord and Labour apparatchik depend on the continuance of this Union.

It has been ever thus in empires that exploit the people, and oligarchies masquerading as democracies. In their death throes, the politicians that depend on them will defend them to the death against the force of the ordinary people, as we have seen in the Arab Spring.  They have no choice but to go down with the thing they have supported.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Last Tram to Unionist Hell – Tories and Labour go for a ride, then jump off at Haymarket –TramKarma!

This was a Unionist party vanity project from the beginning, in conception when they were in power, and implementation when in opposition by collectively outvoting the minority SNP government in its first term.

The project has subsequently descended into farce, but one that has wreaked untold damage on the economy and the image of the City of Edinburgh.

Lesley Hinds, Labour Councillor and Jeremy Balfour, Tory Councillor formed an unlikely liaison, went for a ride on the tram project, and jumped off at Haymarket, to cries of disgust and derision from the people of Edinburgh.

Gordon Mackenzie, LibDem Councillor, squeaks ineffectually on the sidelines.

Lots of other people walk away with lots and lots of lovely money - our money ...



Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sunday, Sunday and the gentlemen of the Scottish press

Let’s start with a couple of laughs, because there’s not many to come …

The long-running lethal farce called ‘The Coalition’s War against Terror in Afghanistan’ descends even further into the absurd as a top Taliban honcho, Akhtar Mohammed Mansour meets President Karzai and top Nato commanders. This is it, the tipping point, when the tide will turn, the West will be vindicated, the light at the end of the long dark tunnel of death and futility shines brightly, and Western values and culture will at last prevail in this benighted land.

The secret negotiations take place, the Mullah is feted, and leaves carrying oodles of goodwill cash. The world will soon be safe for democracy, Nato/US style.

But there’s bad news for Barack Obama and David Cameron. The Mullah wasn’t the Mullah after all, but The Conman from Quetta (in Pakistan) – a grocer - and he has simply vanished with the cash. The real Taliban fall about laughing in their hideouts in the mountains, Karzai, safe amidst his own mountains of coalition cash, shrugs philosophically, and the American military commanders utter unprintable - and most unchristian - oaths as they reflect on their future career prospects.

The Sunday Herald’s Tom Gordon, scratching around for anti-SNP stories to fill the gaps left by the dearth of real journalism at the Herald and the Sunday Herald - twin house organs of the Labour Party in Scotland - lights on the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill and a ‘story’ about the sybaritic highlife enjoyed by Scotland’s prisoners, already lying on beds of down, attended by maidens bearing grapes, soothed by soft music as they revel in the luxuries of incarceration in Scotland’s jails.

They are going to get flat screen TVs with built-in DVD players. This is bad enough, but – shock, horror – the Freeview tuners will be able to access the many porn channels now available. Why does this matter? Why will it be a gift to Richard Baker, Labour’s justice spokesperson, starved of raw meat since the Megrahi release?

Delicacy inhibits me from being too explicit, especially on a Sunday morning – let me just say that, for those with a long memory, it has something to do with rhyming slang and a film maker from the heyday of British filmmaking – J. Arthur Rank. I look forward with keen anticipation to Richard Baker putting his little mouth in gear at precisely the same moment that he puts his brain in neutral on this most sensitive of subjects. Perhaps he will link his indignant assault with the dangers of prisoners going blind. I think we should be told …

Bill Aitken, MSP has predictably already sounded off on this weighty matter – there is never a shortage of Tory rent-a-mouths to comment on justice matters.

Of course, the cold facts of the matter are safely tucked away at the end of the article, remote from the rabble-rousing and misleading headline and opening nonsense, something that has now become the Herald’s signature style, seamlessly replacing the objective investigative political journalism that used to characterise one of the world’s oldest English language newspapers. When Labour and the Union are threatened, anything is admissible.

TVs have been the norm in Scottish prison cells since 1999: this is simply an upgrade from CRT sets to the new, cheap flat screens with built-in DVDs as a routine inclusion. But with that money, Labour and the Tories could have bought whips, birches, thumbscrews, pincers, tongs, perhaps even budget-priced racks! It’s an outrage!

FISCAL MATTERS

The strange ways of the Sunday Herald with hard news is demonstrated clearly today over fiscal matters – the tartan tax row and the Calman proposals – or what’s left of them.

Contrast the approach taken by Scotland on Sunday with the Sunday Herald -

SoS lead article today -

‘Retreat’ on new Scots tax powerstwo levies not included in next Scotland Bill

Eddie Barnes’ opening paragraph encapsulates what has happened -

Two tax powers that were destined to be handed to MSPs will not now appear in ground-breaking new laws designed to create a stronger Scottish Parliament.”

On page two, Barnes develops the theme under the sub-header Scotland Bill to leave out key Tax powers. The tax powers are “less ambitious than first proposed”. The SNP position and comments is fairly and objectively reported, with the Party claiming that the proposals fall far short of what is needed, that they are half-baked and damaging to the Scottish economy.

In other words, this  is Calman minus – a hollow and ominous echo of Tavish Scott’s vainglorious posturing about Calman Plus.

But in the Sunday Herald? Buried away at the bottom of page four, we have a small headline Bill to give Holyrood new income tax powers, and a couple of hundred words which grudgingly include the following, by Tom Gordon Scottish political editor.

The Scotland Bill will omit several Calman ideas. including devolving the aggregates levy, which could raise £50 million a year, and air passenger duty, which could raise £100m.”

Well, not a lot on this fundamental issue for Scotland, Tom, but then you had to save your energies for a full-blown attack on the SNP and John Swinney (backed up by a Leader article) – The Week it all went wrong on page 20. Here, our heroically objective political editor, in what is an opinion article in the guise of political analysis, devotes an entire page to a non-issue – the tartan tax – and the attempt at the political lynching of a decent man of high integrity that disgraced our Parliament last week.

Here are a few choice examples of Tom Gordon’s objective journalism and political analysis -

After what I can only describe as a faintly contemptible lead-in referring the John Swinney’s three-week old son, Gordon opens with -

Within 48 hours, he would be denounced and vilified, and within a week he would be forced into a grovelling apology at  Holyrood.”

You got it right about the denunciation and vilification, Tom – a sad hysteria that Patrick Harvie had the good grace to try to offset by  his genuine tribute to the Finance Minister, as he belatedly realised that he had become part of a political lynch mob. Describing John Swinney’s dignified and clear apology as ‘grovelling’ is a patent distortion of the facts, as anyone who watched and heard it knows. (I have the clip and I will post it on YouTube).

First Iain Gray, in probably his finest turn as Labour Leader, accused Swinney …”

If that was his finest turn, God preserve us from his worst performance.

In the last column, there is a long list of what the Sunday Herald sees as the sins of the SNP government, then this, from Tom Gordon -

Suddenly the gilt is peeling off the administration, and the opposition sees it.

‘This raise the whole issue of competence,’ sighed one senior SNP source. ‘It all came across as shabby. We’re supposed to have a team you can trust, but they were keeping people in the dark’ “

Ah, the ubiquitous ‘unnamed source’, Tom. What would your brand of political reporting be without it.

Well, two can play that game, Tom …

My unnamed source Holyrood Unionist opposition politician says “Even by our standards of desperately trying to marginalise the government elected by the Scottish people, regardless of their real needs, this was a new low in gutter politics – an attempt at the political assassination of a good man with the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people at his heart.



CALMAN

Let’s look back in time for a moment and remind ourselves just what the Calman Commission was. Here’s what I said way back in the summer of 2009 -

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Playing Unionist politics with Calman

The Calman Commission, an invention of the Unionist Opposition Parties in Holyrood, specifically set up to strengthen the Union and frustrate the progress of the Scottish People towards full independence, has made its report.

Anyone who doubted the thrust of the Calman Report only had to look at who commissioned it (the Unionist Opposition Parties) and the composition of the Commission itself.

Its fifteen members included -

Two Knights

Five Lords

One MBE

Three CBEs

One OBE

The three non-ennobled, knighted or gonged members included -

A youth activist and former member of the Scottish Youth Parliament

A professor of Islamic studies from Glasgow University

The Chief Executive of the Telegraph Media Group

 

CONSULANTS

I do go on a bit about the monumental waste of scarce taxpayers’ money by government on consultants. Well, I made my living for about twelve years as a freelance management consultant and trainer, and before that, as a senior manager and director, negotiated with consultants, so I’ve seen the game from both sides of the table.

But nobody in government seems to want to listen. I wonder why …

Today, the trams project is in trouble over consultants, and TIE says that they underestimated their consulting budget spending by a factor of 25 times. Yes, well …

Here’s a little fact to chew over -

The average industrial wage is somewhere around £21k, and that is also the watershed at which the pay freeze for public sector workers commences. Let’s allow a little licence and call it about £400 a week.

About the lowest day rate a consultant will charge these days is £500 a dayyes, a day … This would be the low end of individual freelance consulting rates, with £750 probably being more typical, and £1200/1500 quite common. But charge-out rates for the large consulting firms can easily be double these figures or even more, with £1000 a day being very much the low end.

Reflect on this. The bottom end trainers and consultants earn in a day one and a quarter times the average industrial wage. So their weekly earnings are six and a quarter times those public service workers who by current wage restraint figure highly enough paid to have their earning frozen, with no increases – in the national interest. And that’s the bottom end of consulting rates.

But the big consulting firms charge from twice to four or five times that as day rates, giving a multiplier on the £21k public service worker of twelve and a half to twenty five times their earnings.

Consultants and consulting firms can – and will – legitimately argue that they have overheads – office, pensions, holiday, other costs and benefits – and that not every day is a fee earning day. This is true, but it is grossly overstated. A generous allowance to cover all employee benefits would be 20/25% for an individual freelance consultant.  There is cold calling and marketing when no fee is being earned, and this does bear on the freelance. But they do very nicely, thank you, in spite of it all …

A net working, fee earning year of about 150 delivery days (as against say, a working year of  about 230 days for an employed person) would deliver £75,000 gross. Not bad for many of those at that end of the market, given their experience, qualifications and skills base. Most freelances would gross from £100k to £150k per annum , some much more, especially if they can get long periods of continuous fee-earning days from large public service organisations.

As for the big boys – well, the holy grail for them is to bill more fee days per consultant than there actually are in the working year – a holy grail that is regularly found, but rarely acknowledged. And many of them do not in fact maintain large numbers of salaried consultants on the payroll – they sub-contract out to freelances, but charge the client often as much as three times the day rate being paid to the freelance. (I myself have worked for many large organisations on exactly this basis.)

It’s called the fee law of thirds – the day rate paid by the client represents something like three times the rate they would have to pay to hire someone with equivalent qualifications and skills to do the job in-house, including all overheads.

What am I arguing for? Not for stopping the use of consultants – there are many ethical, competent and capable consultants and consulting firms, delivering value and charging reasonable fees. But there is also gross incompetence in resourcing consultants, in the failure to use competitive tendering, in the negotiation of fee and in the management of consulting contracts and delivery. If private industry is guilty of this, hell mend them – they should know better. But when government does it, it’s our money – our taxes – and it has to stop.

There are other malpractices in the use of consultants, some of them bordering on corruption – the use of consulting contracts as political patronage, of cronyism, of revolving doors, of jobs for the favoured boys – and girls.

But they are a matter for the National Audit Office and where appropriate for the polis!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The staggering hypocrisy of the Holyrood opposition parties

While demonstrations and riots take place in London, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow against Labour's destruction of the UK economy, Nick Clegg's broken LibDem promises to the electorate and students specifically - and the damaging and ill-conceived Tory cuts, aided and abetted by their tame LibDem partners, the tame Scottish representative of the three London-based parties nonetheless have the effrontery to attack the Scottish SNP government on a non-issue - the totally irrelevant SVR tax, a tax that has never been used, never will be used, and has been ignored by all Scottish parties.

Astonishingly - and contemptibly - they are supported by the two Scottish Green MSPs in their attack on an honest man of high integrity, John Swinney, the Scottish Government Finance Minister.

While young people demonstrate and riot in cities across the UK against their Westminster parties, Scottish Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats whip up wholly synthetic anger and indignation, posturing and shouting in Holyrood.

Fortunately, the Scottish people have more sense than to pay any attention to this self-serving nonsense. They know who sent their sons to die in foreign wars, are still sending them to die, and who wrecked the economy and blighted their futures - Labour.

And they know who broke their promises and got elected on a false prospectus - the Liberal Democrats.

They know who is directing a programme of draconian cuts against the poor and vulnerable and who is attacking their public services - the party that was comprehensively rejected by the Scottish electorate in May 2010, a dying party in Scotland - the Tories.

And they know who are the compliant allies and agents of the Tories in coalition - the feeble LibDems.

But above all they know which party has the interest of Scots and Scotland at heart - their ain folk - the Scottish National Party.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Objective journalism in retreat at the Herald, thriving at the Scotsman

The mysterious turnaround in the Scottish ‘quality’ press – what can be at work?

Even six months ago, if I had commented “almost totally anti-SNP, unionist in instincts, biased in news coverage to another party, mainly lacking in objective journalism, never provides space for nationalist viewpoints” I would have been talking about the Scotsman.

If I had written “Supports one unionist party in editorial comment and biased towards that party in opinion articles, but not anti-SNP, and relatively objective in news reporting, an occasionally presents a nationalist view point”, I would have been talking about the Herald.

Of late, I can virtually reverse these judgements.

With the always honourable exception of its superb Letters Page, the Herald has dragged the proud traditions of objective political journalism into the mire of blatant bias in news coverage and opinion towards Labour and unionism. William Randolph Hearst would be proud of it: Rupert Murdoch and Fox News would be happy to have the Herald in its stable. It provides a regular platform for journalists with links to the Labour Party: it almost never accords a similar platform to the many fine journalists with nationalist views.

Let me make my case from yesterday’s editions of both papers, the day after John Swinney’s budget for challenging times.

The Scotsman headline -

Swinney spreads the pain of £1.2bm cuts

Eddie Barnes Political Editor

For seven paragraphs and some  250 words, Eddie Barnes gave a factual and objective summary of John Swinney’s measures. Only at paragraph eight did the ‘but’ appear, and it began an equally objective account of the opposition and union responses to the cuts, moving to pages four and five and a double page spread. It was headed with an opposition quote in inverted commas -

‘Swinney’s running election campaign, not country’

This was fair enough in the light of the front page headlines: the entire structure of the two-page spread was completely objective news reporting and analysis. There was even a short piece in the right-hand column about internet and blog views.  The detailed objective coverage and analysis went on through to page 11, with various journalists and commentators setting out the arguments for and against one of the most important Scottish budgets in modern times.

This was journalism, not political polemic: it was objective news reporting and comment, with opinion clearly labelled as such when it occurred.

The Herald front page -

The top of the page was given over to a news item about secret talks to take over Rangers football club. That in itself says something about the Herald’s journalistic priorities, but we’ll move swiftly past that, and put it down to Glesca jist bein’ Glesca. (The more sinister interpretation would be the ‘bread and circuses at a time of national crisis’ theory, just in case the Royal Wedding wasn’t enough on its own!)

The headline beneath it was -

Swinney delivers a Budget sidestep

This is a loaded, pejorative statement, straight off the bat. Where the Scotsman delivered an objective news report at a time of national crisis written by one man, political editor Eddie Barnes, the Herald needs a trio - maybe to ensure that any blame is evenly spread – Brian Currie, Robin Dinwoodie and Gerry Braiden.

It leaps straight in with two paragraphs of criticism before it gets anywhere near reporting what the Finance Minister actually said, with phrases like “John Swinney was last night accused of dodging the tough decisions …” and “Opponents accused him of delivering stop-gap policies …”

As any jazz or pop musician will tell you, the introduction matters  - it sets the tone for the piece to follow. (Louis Armstrong’s introduction to West End Blues is regarded as a musical masterpiece in its own right.) This intro certainly set the tone. Six paragraphs are devoted to the criticisms of the Holyrood opposition leaders, and the relentless negativity persists, but with some attempt to actually detail what John Swinney actually said set out in the last few paragraphs. However, in the bottom paragraph, leading us into the page two and three spread, we return to an attack on the budgets measures by the General Secretary of the STUC.

The headline across pages two and three is -

‘20,000 public sector jobs on the line, union warns’

The whole of the page two article beneath it is a list of criticisms, when we still have had no objective summary of what the Finance Minister actually said, nor of the measures proposed, except through the mouths of his carefully selected critics. Three photographs appear of critics, Mary Taylor, Lucy McTernan and Fiona Moriarty.

In a box on page three, we finally get some fact – The Budget in Numbers, as a list. This is quickly offset by an opinion piece, Sketch by Ian Bell, deploying what passes for humour in such pieces, and a token attempt at balance. But its core message was clear – the SNP was playing politics with the Budget, trying to gain electoral popularity ahead of the May 2011 elections. There was a note of fear in this – fear that it might actually work.

If I may offer my version of Ian Bell’s message, it is this -

The SNP Government and John Swinney - in the face of a UK economy destroyed by the Labour Party, and a ConLib Coalition determined to protect the rich and powerful and attack the poor and vulnerable in their attempts to tackle the deficit - have tried to protect the sick, the vulnerable, the pensioners and the low paid from the full weight of draconian cuts to the Scottish Budget made by a coalition of two political parties totally rejected by the Scottish people in May 2010, in favour of the party – Labour – that had spent 13 years destroying their hopes and dreams.

If we remove Ian Bell’s pejorative lead-in to his paragraph on these measures, “Yesterday the plan was to cling on to anything …”, they are, in his words “a council tax freeze, travel for the elderly, the abolition of prescription charges”.

And we may hear the fear in his voice – and in the inner sanctum of the Herald – when he concludes by saying “voters might remember whom to blame and whom to praise.” I hope they do …

There is something rotten in the state of politics and the press in my native city, Glasgow, and there has been for a long time.

The Purcell debacle, the questions over the ALEOs, of links between PR companies, newspapers and local government, the criminal prosecutions, the resignations, and the catastrophic decline in objective reporting in the print media have only been alleviated in part by probing journalism by BBC, by ITV and by the new media of blogging and tweeting.

There is a kind of inchoate panic afflicting the UK unionist Establishment in the midst of its paranoia and confusion over Europe, its criminal and doomed foreign wars, its sleazy, venal, corrupt Parliament, and the results of its economic greed.

That panic is intensified by the ever-present threat that its fading, discredited empire might finally lose one of its last subject territories, Scotland, and that instead of providing cannon fodder for foreign adventures, and being some kind of northern theme park and playground for rich southerners, this proud nation that has punched above its weight intellectually, culturally, scientifically and ethically might regain its confidence, its autonomy and its integrity among the nations of Europe and the world.

It is profoundly sad that the Glasgow Herald and the City of Glasgow seem to be rejecting that future, and seem to be gripped by the same panic.

It is deeply encouraging that The Scotsman seems to be at last recovering its reputation and its journalistic integrity, after losing its way for a time.

Saor Alba!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Budget – and sterile interview exchanges on the Scottish media

I watched Newsnight Scotland last night, with John Swinney facing Gordon Brewer, and listened to Radio Scotland this morning, with the Finance Minister and Gary Robertson.

In both instances I was struck by how stereotyped and unproductive media interviewing techniques have become – a sterile, entirely predictable exchange, certainly not a dialogue, that is rarely illuminating and contributes little to the process of holding politicians to account and informing the nation.

Much of it originates with Jeremy Paxman’s alleged statement that he approaches a politician in interview with the mindset “Why is this bastard lying to me”? Perhaps he never said it, but he behaves as if he believes it. The rictus expression of scepticism is fixed on the face, and the body language signals suspicion, the politician braces himself and the ritual dance begins. (Gordon Brewer can slip into this mode, something to regret, because I believe he can be very effective on other occasions.)

Occasionally it works – usually with either a pompous, self-important politician or an inexperienced one. In the latter category, a recent example is the hapless Danny Alexander, only just emerging from his rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights phase.

The sterile model that is now almost universally adopted is this -

The interviewer comes with a targeted set of factual admissions that he wants to get from the politician, admissions usually structured around the most simplistic attack points of the political opposition, instead of what the electorate might want to know, and has a right to know.

The politicians comes expecting this, in the full knowledge of what points will be raised, and with the determination to avoid them. Neither party expects a dialogue or a real exchange of views – the inter-view, which literally means a sharing of views between people, gets totally lost in the process.

The interviewer asks virtually only closed questions, aggressively demanding yes/no answers, and is terrified of asking open questions, which can lead to real dialogue. The closed questions are of the “Have you stopped stealing apples– answer Yes or No!” type. If the politician answers yes, he used to steal apples but has now given up the practice – if he answers no, he is still at it. The model adopted is therefore that of adversarial questioning of a witness in a criminal trial. Its manifest weakness is that a prosecutor in court adopts the principle of never ask a question  that you don’t already know the answer to – he is seeking confirmation of something he already knows, and wants the witness to incriminate himself. The political interviewer is supposed to be seeking the truth – to illuminate, not convict

The witness, of course, if he is guilty, will attempt to avoid the question or “take the 5th” by refusing to answer on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. In a court of law, the judge may demand that he answer. In a political interview, there is no judge to compel an answer.

If the witness is innocent, he may wish to be truthful, but in the knowledge that responding to closed questions may falsely incriminate him, becomes either confused or defensive.

The politician is untroubled by either of these concerns – he comes expecting to be attacked by the interviewer with the simplistic arguments of his political opponents. He blocks by resolutely rejecting all closed questions, responding to them by either ignoring them completely and answering the question he wished he had been asked, rather than the one he was asked, or by simply re-stating his version of events. He does this by always opening his response with the words “What I am saying is …” and if challenged on not responding to the closed question, says “I am trying to answer you in my own way …” or “I am coming to that …” – but never does.

The interviewer, under constraints of time, repeats simple – and often simplistic questions – at machine gun speed – the interviewee goes into long re-statements of policy, secure in the knowledge that he has all the time in the world but the interviewer and the programme schedulers do not.

The interview becomes a point-scoring, adversarial contest, and rarely shed any light on anything of value.

Some years ago when I was with Scottish Brewers, my boss, Tony Belfield, the MD, sent me and my board colleagues off to be trained in media technique at Glasgow University – the personnel director (me), the sales director, the finance director, the operations director and the commercial director. (The marketing director fell out of the pack – I can’t remember why.)

Our tutor was the formidable Fiona Ross, STV’s chief political reporter, the daughter of the former Scottish Labour Party Chief and one-time Scottish Secretary, Willie Ross. Fiona has politics and media in her blood, and is a consummate professional. (She was awarded the OBE in 2005.) The interviews were videoed in two contexts – a studio interview, with a full studio set-up of lights, camera and camera crew and make-up, and a more intimate session, in a simulated office environment.

These simulations in themselves were invaluable, because most interviewees have no idea from their experience of viewing television interviews what the intimidating reality is like, because of the framing of shots for transmission. For men, being subjected to the attentions of a make-up artist for the studio interview is bad enough in itself: the office interview was conducted in the late afternoon, when the manager was more than a little rumpled, and sporting a five-o-clock shadow, looking like Richard Nixon in his notorious TV duel with Kennedy.

Fiona was a wonderful tutor, and in her critique of the interview performances on playback she didn’t mince her words – she described one interviewee as “coming across like a suburban undertaker”. (Other descriptions were even less flattering!)

Fiona conducted the interviews herself, in her own inimitable and effective style. She never bullied, never tried to intimidate. She had considerable gravitas, and radiated authority and competence – fully briefed and totally professional. Perhaps most importantly of all, you knew she really wanted to hear what you had to say. Fiona understood the nature of questions types and their framing, and the tactical responses open to the interviewee to evade the key questions. She used a rapier, not a bludgeon, and if she skewered you, you died happy in the knowledge that you had lost to a master of the art.

Our current crop of Scottish journalists could learn a great deal from her technique, but they probably won’t. A great pity