Search topics on this blog

Showing posts with label Tom Harris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tom Harris. Show all posts

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Labour ducks in a row again, Tom Harris and minimum pricing for alcohol–Bob Doris and Jackie Baillie

Tom Harris MP has yet another outing on television, this time as the first of the three Scottish Labour leadership candidates to be interviewed on Newsnicht.

But before I address the content, let me indulge my pedantry -

Glenn Campbell opens with a phrase and a sentence construction that is all over the media like a rash – the may be … but construction. It seems to open almost every political analysis these days, and if it isn’t opening one, it’s closing one. Glenn’s example is -

“It may have only just begun but already …” What Glenn is referring to is the Labour Leadership contest. There is no may about it it, Glenn, it has already begun.

The word may indicates a possibility that contains alternatives – Prince Charles may become king, but then again, he may not. But this would be wrong – “Elizabeth the Second may be queen but she is an old lady …” There is no may about it, she is the queen.

Tom Harris may become Labour leader, but he may not. The disjunctive coordinating conjunction but is all you need to make your point, Glenn. “It has just begun … but already …”  You could have used the admittedly lengthier construction of “Despite the contest having just begun, already one party member ..” or alternatively “Although the contest has just begun, already one party member …”

Remember Dean Martin -

You may be king, you may possess

The world and its gold

But love won’t bring you happiness

When you’re growing old

Dino isn’t addressing a king or a rich man – he’s exploring future alternatives and offering good advice for choosing between them.



Glenn Campbell explores Uncle Tam’s candidacy with him, and attempts to find out what he’s all about, with as little success as previous interviewers. (Isabel Fraser successfully exposed the vacuum at the heart of all of the three candidates’ policy thinking, but couldn’t fill it.)

In his intro, Glenn signals the blandness of, and lack of differentiation between the candidates. He picks up with a previous comment from Tom Harris in the Isabel Fraser group interview that Labour could cease to become relevant in the next few years. (It has in fact been irrelevant for decades – it just took the Scottish voters a long time to notice it.). Uncle Tam replied lugubriously that it couldn’t be any more serious, in fact, he sees this internal party election as a watershed event. He’s probably right, but of course his remarks serve to talk up the importance of his involvement in this historical moment – as an essentially marginal Labour figure, threatened, as all Scottish Labour MPs are by independence, he’s hoping for a political lifeboat to carry him to either a fully independent or a still devolved Holyrood, and despite unionist protestations, either outcome would suit him nicely.

He is throughout refreshingly and brutally frank about the failings of Scottish Labour and the campaign – he can afford to be because he was not part of it, whereas his two opponents were, something that hangs uneasily in the air of cosy consensus they try to generate.

What are the right decisions – what is the key to the party’s survival?” asks Glenn. Policy and structure “doesn’t really matter at the moment” replies Tom – “We’re deciding who is going to lead the Scottish Party …” And Tam is not interested in being the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party – he wants to be First Minister, and he sees this as the key perception that voters should have of the candidates – who can stand up to Alex Salmond?

What makes you different and better than the others in this contest?” If Glenn had put that question to an American candidate in a leadership contest, they would have seized the opportunity to talk policy and character differentiation with both hands. But Tom retreats into coy blandness - he modestly confesses to good communication skills and the ability to sell a vision of Scotland to voters – he can “portray a positive vision for Scotland within the United Kingdom”.

All this PR, spin doctor, media man stuff reminds me of marketing men addressing harassed front end sale people in commercial organisations, to be met with cries of “Never mind the gloss and spin, the product is crap – what are you going to do about that?” There is a scene in the film version of Barbarians at the Gate, (see final YouTube clip) the story of the RJR Nabisco takeover in the 1980s, when James Garner discovers that the new product, a cigarette that is going to save the company, tastes of shit. Cognitive dissonance is literally in the air as the senior executives try to convince themselves that everything is OK with the brand …

What’s Tom’s big idea? It appears to be to abandon the unemployed and those on benefit, and presumably the poor, the disabled and all the other inconvenient parts of society that demand our compassion and our help, and focus on people in jobs, shoving them up the social housing list. All of this will be achievable as part of the union with a strong devolved Parliament – and of course the inevitable concomitants of that – war as the operating principle of the state, nuclear weapons and WMDs based in Scotland, lunatic foreign entanglements, and power, wealth and influence – and Scottish resources and revenues - drained to the South East of England.

But Uncle Tam will still be in a job – the Uncle Tams of this world always are …

The three ducks were all in a row again in STV’s new Scotland Tonight programme, which I was unkind about on its first outing, but which has improved in leaps and bounds since. There was little that was new – more vacuity, more equivocation, more self-justification. But the battle lines are clearly drawn as follows -

TOM HARRIS: You two ****** it up in the last Parliament and the election campaign …

JOHANN LAMONT/KEN MACINTOSH:  Naw, we didnae – there wis just a perception that we ****** it up …


We had what may now become a recurrent media phenomenon last night – the same topic with the same spokespersons running twice – once on Scotland Tonight and once on Newsnicht. It must be something to do with neutrinos and the speed of light. But if you had only watched the first programme, Scotland Tonight, feeling that the second, Newsnicht,  was redundant, you would have missed important differences

Bob Doris gave his impression of a killer shark, eyes glittering coldly, homing in on his prey.  Jackie Baillie gave a formidable impression of his prey, waiting pluckily but apprehensively to be devoured. Jackie, of course, has no defence – her position is deeply flawed, intellectually, arithmetically and morally.

But Newsnight Scotland highlighted two key points missed by Scotland Tonightone, that supermarkets won’t experience a windfall by minimum pricing if it actually works, since sales will fall. (Exactly how this will translate in money will already be the subject of frantic analysis by the supermarket bean counters – the media will take a long time to get round to it.) Two - the 45p figure is out of date and will be revisited on the re-run of the model, as Nicola Sturgeon has been explaining all over the media.

And of course, Labour and Jackie Baillie’s argument over supermarkets profiting is fatally compromised by their opposition to the Tesco Tax. The Scottish voters can smell hypocrisy a mile off, and Labour, the Tories and the LibDems reek of it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

More from the Cold Fried Labour franchise?

What does a Scottish journalist or commentator do when real thoughts about Scotland’s exciting and demanding political scene desert him? Why, he writes a ‘What Labour Must Do’ article with one hand while flicking TV channels and playing with his iPhone with the other. Fire it off to Bill Jamieson at the Scotsman – he’ll print anything in that genre.

So has Gerry Hassan, a commentator of real perception and depth on Scottish affairs, joined the McTernan franchise, paid upfront for the secret recipe and embarked on a career in fast crap journalism? No, he hasn’t - appearances to the contrary - even though he offers us a new variant on the title - Scottish Labour owes us an exciting, new story  Read it – he has something relevant and useful to say.

But his closing paragraph asks Labour to recognise that Scotland has changed, the SNP bogeyman story won’t wash anymore and Labour must “reach out and tell a modern Labour story of Scotland”. Unfortunately, Gerry, that will require powers of invention far beyond the capacity of Scottish Labour or the UK Party. And to tell a real story, you must have a soul …

Sarah Boyack gave the game away in her car crash of an interview with Raymond Buchanan on Newsnight Scotland. In his introduction, Raymond Buchanan encapsulates the problem facing Scottish Labour -

Labour is used to being in power in Scotland, so some of its Scottish members are still coming to terms with not being in control of anything bigger than a council.” In the lead-in to the superb introductory video piece by David Allison, RB describes it as the dilemma facing “what used to be the People’s Party.” How I love that phrase, one I have used repeatedly since I started blogging …

Jim Murphy talks earnestly outside John Smith House (oh, how the greater Labour leaders of the past silently mock the thing their party has become) about reorganisation at grassroots level, changing constituency boundaries, plans for an elected leader “from all our parliamentarians” and he claims that this is “really putting energy into the party, totally transforming it and giving a kinna set of structures that kinna don’t belong to the era when they were built, which was in 1918, but bringing us right up to date so that we can not only strengthen our party, but stand up for Scotland and win a referendum when it comes.”

Despite the fractured Lord Prescott syntax, I know what you mean, Jim. If I may paraphrase – you don’t trust the Holyrood MSP group to deliver a leader, so MPs must be included, you’ll dump the antiquated 1918 structure and bring in a new one, and having failed to stand up for Scotland while in power and throughout the SNP period in government, you will now do so by “winning a referendum”, i.e. persuading Scots to stay in the Union.

A quibble – the referendum is not an election, it is an attempt to determine the wishes of the people on a single issue, the status of a union they entered into voluntarily (more or less). A referendum is not ‘won’ by a political party, but is a decision of the people to which political parties, among many others, contribute by rational, persuasive argument. If the Labour Party had any political values, vision or programme for Scotland beyond the preservation of the Union, they would understand that, but they don’t.

What would become of the Murphys, the Harrises, the Alexanders et al if the Union ended? Look for a safe seat in England? Take the long, hard, low road back to their native land? To be welcomed with open arms by MSPs who had stayed to fight the good fight in Scotland, willingly standing down to make way for the big boys from Westminster? Aye, right …

And so to Sarah Boyack, who spent the summer reflecting on the election in May. Let’s twist again like we did last summer – ah, that summer of 2011. How we reflected!

 Scottish Labour is now “totally focused on winning back in the future, and we think devolving ourselves, giving ourselves a stronger leader, giving support to that leader to make them able to do the job.” Something is sort of left hanging there – the ghost of Prestcott delivery – but we know what she means. Not a word about what Labour are for – it’s all structure. As Brian Taylor says, the Scottish people are many things – but they not daft …

In the interview that followed, Sarah Boyack walked straight into the elephant trap in her opening remarks by referring to “our vision of Scotland”, to be instantly challenged by Raymond Buchanan as to what exactly that vision was.

Sarah’s vision – “a fairer Scotland, a Scotland of solidarity ..,.” (an unfortunate choice of words Sarah – shades of a real socialist, Tommy Sheridan) “to make sure that we invest in the vital public services that people need …. big plans for creating jobs, modern apprenticeships …” While Labour was saying these things, Sarah, the SNP Government was actually doing them, while Labour’s obsession with the Union obstructed them at every turn. But do go on …

We’re now going to devolve our party …” Twelve years after devolution and the Scottish Parliament, the penny has finally dropped in the empty pinball machine that is Scottish Labour.

Raymond Buchanan is unimpressed by the talk of structures. He’s keen on the policy.

RB: You talk about Labour being a party of fairness, of solidarity, of public services … you could be describing the SNP. What’s the difference?

The Vulcan death grip. Sarah writhes. “Well, the SNP tried to camp on some of our historic territory …”

RB: And it’s worked, hasn’t it?

It’s all down hill for Sarah from there on in.

Now What I think Labour Must Do is … I’ll write an article in my sleep and submit it to the Scotsman. Or do I need to sign up under the McTernan Labour Cold Chicken franchise? Look what happened to a real McDonald when he challenged a giant franchise! Caution, caution …

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The state of the parties – the Holyrood Opposition

Last night’s Newsnight Scotland, with Raymond Buchanan in the Grand Inquisitor’s chair and Sarah Boyack and Jackson Carlaw in the firing line came pretty close to my idea of what this vital Scottish programme should be, and can be.

It had a theme, and questions that really mattered to Scotland, and it addressed them vigorously and forensically. The state of the main (sorry Greens!) opposition parties should concern any democrat, because a strong and representative voice for the core values of their supporters is a vital component of the necessary consensus that underpins any democracy, as is the conviction that, even when a voter’s chosen party does not form the government, that they can exert a proper influence over its policies and its programme. The checks and balances of democracy cannot function without this, and the fact that my party, the SNP, is now dominant in the Scottish Parliament, and that I was ecstatic about their decisive victory, does not lessen my concern over the parlous state of the opposition parties.

The LibDems have their new leader, Willie Rennie, but, to what I hope is their shame, the other two main opposition parties do not. The fact that they do not, almost five months after the election, and are unlikely to have until at least six months after the election, is a disgrace, but  accurately reflects the confusion and  lack of focus of their election campaigns. The Tories, thanks to the political courage of Murdo Fraser, at least have the issues in focus, and face a clear and unambiguous choice between old Toryism, epitomised by Michael Forsyth, and a new, revitalised centre right party, with two candidates for the old Tory values – Ruth Davidson and Jackson Carlaw - and one for the new centre right, Murdo Fraser.

The Tories are focusing on what they believe in, something they are very clear about, and the political processes are simply a vital tool to pursue those values. Most of their values, leaving aside the common shared values that cross all civilised political boundaries, are anathema to me, but they and their supporters have a right to hold them. The Tories know what they are for – they currently disagree about the political identity and structure necessary to achieve their goals.

Labour, in contrast, have no idea what they are for anymore, having long since degenerated into a mindless power seeking machine, a blind, destructive, venal and significantly corrupt juggernaut created by Blair, Brown and Mandelson that spectacularly ran off the rails, having destroyed the British economy and devastated two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan in the process. They have succeeded in enriching  their leaders and some of their cabinet ministers through the juggernaut of blood and death they unleashed, while impoverishing the country.

All three of the opposition parties (sorry again, Greens) are significantly defined by their opposition to the independence of the Scottish people, a blind opposition called Unionism. At least the LibDems and the Tories have other things they believe in – Labour has nothing left except its Unionism. It has become the thing it always falsely accused the SNP of being – a one-issue party. It is neither left nor right, neither centre left nor centre right: it floats aimlessly around the political compass, adrift – sans values, sans principles, sans everything …

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Glasgow, Labour, the SNP, and carpetbaggers …

I have had my moments with Gerry Braiden of the Herald, mainly over the reporting of the Dalmarnock outrages directed against the Jaconellis and other families, businesses and of course the shocking callousness of Glasgow City Council over the closure of the Accord Centre for disabled children.

But I believe in crediting good, objective journalism when it makes its rare appearances in the Scottish Press, and Gerry Braiden’s exclusive yesterday – Labour axes ‘old guard’ – was an example of that.

It reflects the inchoate panic of Glasgow Labour as it faces the terrible prospect of its control of Glasgow City Council being wrested away from them in next year's local elections, a fear that must be exacerbated by  the recent Ipsos MORI poll on Scottish Public Opinion and voting intentions.

However, Labour might take a crumb of comfort from alleged infighting among SNP Glasgow councillors, if Tom Gordon’s piece Fresh blow for SNP bid to take over Glasgow in today’s New Sunday Herald is accurate.

I can forgive my party many things, but if they blow their chances to remove Labour from the GCC, and wreck the last best hope of the people of Glasgow, I will find it hard to swallow. Maybe someone will reassure me …


I have had some fun on Twitter over Murdo Fraser’s plan for a new Scottish Greed and Privilege party -

moridura Peter Curran

Murdo Fraser's New Unionism sounds a bit New Labour-ish. Could he not have called it New Imperialism? New Jingoism? NeoConism? Naechanceism?

moridura Peter Curran

Murdo Fraser will outline plans to "kill independence" and "break the SNP" at his campaign launch next week. Who, the Tories? Aye, right …


However, Rosanna Cunningham calls for due seriousness, in case he is on the ‘right’ lines, to coin a phrase. David Mundel, on BBC News today, looking even more rabbit-in-the-headlights than usual over a grainy, out of synch link from Skype, clearly doesn’t like Murdo’s big idea. The virtual death of his party is as nothing to him compared to the fact that, as the sole Scottish Tory MP in Westminster from a party contemptuously rejected by Scots, he nonetheless is taken seriously by the big boys, and thinks he plays a significant role in government.

I have always found David Mundel to be faintly risible, and he did nothing to dispel this today. Quotes -

Membership of the Union ---- is a very strong suit in our armour ---“

A new party is not a silver bullet that turns the problems round …”

Wearing a suit under your armour is not to be recommended, David, although if anyone can carry it off, you could. Silver bullets are for killing werewolves, and they were used to great effect in recent years at the ballot box to kill off a great threat to the Scottish people, namely, the Scottish Tories.

Back to Scottish Labour, who, if the Glasgow SNP can get their act together, will face a hail of silver bullets at the 2012 local elections. Murdo Fraser’s New Unionism leaves the way clear for Scottish Labour to re-brand itself as The Scottish Labour and Unionist Party, under the leadership of one or another of the carpetbagging hacks from Westminster. The name change would simply formalise things, for this is what they have been for some time now.

For those not versed in American history, the carpetbaggers were cynical and opportunistic politicians who move from the North to exploit the South. Labour is busy reversing the compass in this respect.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The CBI and the Ipsos MORI poll - panic in the Union, silence in the Press


I thought of doing a piece on the C.B.I. today, but thanks to a Twitter link from Ewan Crawford, I find that Calum Cashley has already done all the heavy-lifting in his piece on 5th January 2011, an-in depth analysis that effectively demolishes the C.B.I. claim to be representative of anything significant in Scottish industry, except perhaps the personal political orientation of some if its senior officers, past and present. Calum Cashley also trenchantly makes the point that if the C.B.I. made the same sustained, quietly productive contribution to the economic debate as the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, instead of acting as a cheerleader for the Union, it might actually claim to have a real role in Scottish life. I had thought than when Linda Urquhart replaced Iain McMillan things might change for the better. On this week’s showing, they haven’t


Ipsos MORI POLL – Scottish Public Opinion Monitor

Yesterday’s Ipsos MORI poll – the Scottish Public Opinion Monitor – was greeted with rapturous delight by nationalists, and to date, if not quite a deafening silence, a muted response by the Herald and the Scotsman, who give it minimal coverage. The superb graphical presentation of the damning statistics for the Union of the sampled will of the Scottish people, which would have been reproduced lovingly in double-paged spreads by both newspapers had they told a different story, have been ignored, and the figures made as dull as possible.

The Scottish public will have to access the original - Scottish Public Opinion Monitor – online, or buy a printed copy to feel the full impact of the statistics.

This is doubtless in sharp contrast to the panic-stricken quacking that will be taking place in various inner sanctums of the Union, as the deeply confused and deeply threatened Coalition demands explanations of its tame Scotsmen – Alexander, Moore, et al - as to why the natives of the northern province are refusing to recognise their Britishness, and that we are stronger together and weaker apart, etc.  The Colonial governor, the hapless Moore, will take most of the flak.

In the Labour Party, with even more to lose when Scotland says bye-bye to the UK , another Alexander, Douglas of that ilk, and other Scottish Labour MPs who lose no opportunity to pledge their undying allegiance to the regime that offered them the high road to England – Jim Sheridan, Ann McKechin, Tom Harris, Cathy Jamieson, etc. – are being asked what the hell is going on.

Jim Murphy will be exasperated that what he thought was his final escape from Scotland to safer pastures in the deep South - and a cosy niche as Shadow Defence Secretary - keeps being threatened by demands that he involve himself in the messy and confused processes of trying to revive the corpse of Scottish Labour.

And that strange, motley band, the Scottish Lords, will squirm on the leather benches and wonder what will become of them if the people of Scotland have their way.

Lord, Lord! We didnae ken … they cry. Aye, weel, ye ken noo! replies the Lord

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Scottish Labour Leader–a new title needed? Gauleiter?

The Labour Party don’t have a Scottish leader – what they have is the Leader of the Labour group at Holyrood, whose only function has been to keep his MSPs on message and in line, on behalf of his London master, Ed Miliband, and the UK Labour Party.

But now Labour wants a Scottish Leader – a kind of gauleiter. (I will use a more apt and charitable name for the regional leader of a national party if there is one – suggestions welcome from Labour supporters.) Why do they want this? Because they lost the last two Scottish Parliamentary elections. 2007 could be dismissed as an aberration: 2011 was a rout.

It has been an ill wind, one that has blown little good for Labour, although it has provided a role - and presumably a nice little earner - for John McTernan, who has produced a seemingly endless series of articles telling Labour how they got it wrong and what they must do to put things right. More of the same today from John in The Scotsman. He looks south for inspiration, i.e. Westminster and a Labour MP.

Scottish Scots have been no bloody good – the ‘high-road-to-England’ version are what is needed. Of course, John McTernan has never submitted himself to the democratic process – to my knowledge - by running for Parliament. Instead he has been special adviser to just about everybody in the Labour Party. He is of that strange breed, a political strategist for a party whose political strategy has failed utterly in the UK and in Scotland. He blogs for The Daily Telegraph, exactly the right newspaper for a member of the Tory Lite Party, once known as the Labour Party.

John McTernan sniffs the wind carefully, and yesterday a breeze was blowing from Tom Harris MP, who on radio and on Newsnight Scotland threw his hat – well, sort of sneaked his hat – into the leadership ring, such as it is. I know all I need to know about Tom Harris, MP. He supported Blair, strongly supported the Iraq War, supports Trident – and, of course, he supports the UK.

Quote from today’s Herald: “I do not believe there is any great contradiction in looking after Scotland’s interests and the UK’s interests.” Tom Harris.

Tom Harris has already attracted the support of Louise Mensch, a Tory MP, and David Torrance, the Tory blogger and commentator and former Parliamentary Aide to the Tory Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell at Westminster. Louise Mensch was positively gushing in her delight at the prospect of Tom Harris’s candidacy. By their friends shall ye know them, as they say …

A seasoned politician, Tom Harris confessed to Gordon Brewer last night on Newsnight Scotland that he knew nothing of the mechanics  of electing a Scottish Labour Leader. Well, the Westminster village does that to a Scot – the state of his native land becomes a faint rumbling way up North – not to be taken seriously unless career is threatened or an opportunity presents itself. Tom, a man steeped in journalism, media and PR, scents both possibilities.

So Scottish Labour may have yet another Iraq apologist, Trident/WMD enthusiast and staunch Unionist as gauleiter. Well, they are all in the job specification. But we could have done worse – it could have been Jim Murphy