Friday 16 January 2009

As good as it gets?

Politics should be a contest of ideas and ideals, competing ideologies and alternative aspirations. Nationalist or imperialist, capitalist or socialist, libertarian or authoritarian, and so on. The choices are not always merely bilateral nor are they necessarily mutually exclusive. What holds politics to be a noble pursuit, though, is the debate, the contest, the clash of intellects, gladiatorial and senatorial, a battle of wit, will and character, each side doing its best to bring the resolution down in their favour for the enhancement and betterment of society and for the long-term good of the community, the country, and the world.

At best, of course.

In the political mix there has to be space for mockery, for pointed debates and debating points, for undercutting your opposition and for knocking them back. There has to be space for leadership and for retrenchment, for changes of pace and direction, for spearing your opponents and avoiding being speared by them – space for the rough and tumble of politics. There has to be the high ground but the high ground is only high ground because there’s something to contrast it with. Foibles and idiosyncrasies are acceptable –even welcome – for leavening the dull dough of policy, there’s a place for levity as well as gravity and the heuristics of politics are as important as the statistics. There’s always room for another fiddler on the roof.

Competing ideals should still be the underpinning principle, though, and that’s why you might look around today and ask “is this as good as it gets?” I had hopes that the other parties would start to up their game – high hopes – I thought that Iain Gray would make Labour a more stable and considered party, that Tavish Scott would make the Lib Dems stand for something, that Annabel Goldie would get off the authoritarian kick, that Gordon Brown would seek governance for the benefit of the country rather than headlines for the sake of Gordon Brown, and that all of them would eschew seeking to discombobulate we attendant plebeians with misdirection and obfuscation.

Well, at least I hoped.

Auntie Annabel has stuck to her old lines for now – at least it’s consistent. Over on the Labour benches, the peddling of untruths has continued unabated, topped this week by Iain Gray’s assertion in chamber that there are 7.5 million apprentices in England, thanks to the Labour Government when the truth is that last week’s announcement by the London bunch aspires to take apprenticeships in England to the 250,000 mark - 30 times less than Iain was claiming already existed. There’s a raft of Labour mistruths out there, and I’ll return to them at some point. Tavish Scott, rising to the challenge set down by Iain Gray, led with his chin, nodding backwards a week to allege that an issue about funding for the Inter Faith Council had not been resolved because they didn’t have a letter telling them it was resolved, and this the day after Fergus Ewing had said:

The Minister for Community Safety (Fergus Ewing): With your permission, Presiding Officer, I would like to raise a point of order. Last week, at First Minister's question time, the issue of Government funding of the Scottish Inter Faith Council was raised, with the First Minister giving an assurance that the matter was resolved satisfactorily. For the avoidance of any confusion, I would like briefly to outline the sequence of events.

After being made aware of concerns regarding the Scottish Inter Faith Council's budget, I intervened by contacting the council on 20 December, giving assurances that its funding from the Scottish Government would continue. A public statement was issued to that effect. That assurance was acknowledged on 6 January—Tuesday of last week—by Alan Dixon, the convener of the SIFC's executive committee, in an e-mail to me in which he expressed his appreciation for my intervention on the funding issue and for my "assurance that this will continue".

As with all matters involving grant funding, that assurance required subsequently to be set down in writing. It was on the basis of my formally acknowledged intervention that, last Thursday, the First Minister gave the assurances that he did to the Parliament. On the basis of the continued funding from the Scottish Government—for the rest of this financial year and the following two years—the SIFC has assured me personally that all staff posts in the organisation are secure.

I know that all members will continue to support the good work that the Scottish Inter Faith Council does. I hope that I have provided the confirmation that members may feel that they need.

Couldn’t have been much clearer. Opposition members in the Scottish Parliament have taken to raising so many points of order after having lost the debate that the Presiding Officer has asked the Procedures Committee to examine the process and report back on what can be done. I should clarify that – the Conservatives and the Greens have not been so petty and petulant, the blame rests at the doors of those who lost power in 2007 – Labour and the Lib Dems.

That isn’t politics, it’s the seeking of headlines; there is no thought given to whether or not it enhances politics and thereby the people, the country, etc; no grace comes with it to allow the exchange of differing opinion with good manners; and no alternate solution is advanced. It is little other than name-calling and finger-pointing. Another example would be the full-scale inquiry into the First Minister’s conduct over the proposed development at Balmedie (Trump) which dragged on, took evidence, lifted every stone, dragged every pond, snooped in every corner, and drove a case as hard as it possibly could before concluding that sometimes Alex Salmond can be a bit cavalier. The point of the would-be Witchfinder Pursuivant was not the uncovering of truth and the restoration of public faith in the offices of Government in Scotland – they knew what the result would be before they started – the object of the hunt was the broadcasting of news that the hunt was on, the attempt to lower the esteem of the First Minister in the eyes of the public.

Not for any noble purpose, an attempt to score party political points at the expense of politics.

Where is the nobility of their politics? Where is the in-depth, detailed examination of what the SNP Scottish Government is actually doing? Where are their alternatives? When will we hear what they think is right and what they think should be changed? Surely this can’t be as good as it gets?

Where’s Stempenyu?


Anonymous said...

Good post, Calum. The behaviour of Labour and the LDs is not oppositional, but obstructive and destructive. Their aim seems to be to sling as much mud as possible in the hope that some sticks, or that voters might begin to take a 'no smoke without fire' attitude.

Dismally, I fear it could work. The MSM in Scotland are happy to run with these headlines - we've all seen lengthy NL press releases printed verbatim without attribution - sometimes simultaneously in different newspapers.

Thank God for the internet - but is it enough?

Chris said...

Fantastic piece Calum...

Anonymous said...

Trouble is, you're talking nonsense, but you probably won't have the guts to allow this post. This is the exchange:

The First Minister: The Scottish Government is taking substantial action to do everything within its powers to combat the forces of recession. I point out to Iain Gray that the figure of 36,000 modern apprenticeships and skillseekers places in Scotland is far higher pro rata than the figure south of the border. Even with the most recent announcement, at least another 30,000 places would be needed in England to achieve the rate that we already have in Scotland. Incidentally, our target of 50,000 suitable training places over the next few years is far higher than anything south of the border.

I hope that Iain Gray will take the opportunity to apologise for James Purnell's attack on the Scottish Government for not using European social fund money. In fact, we announced that we would do so last August—five months before the Westminster Government.

Iain Gray: The trouble is, what the First Minister says seldom reflects reality—just ask the Scottish Inter Faith Council. The SNP will not tell us what is counted in the 50,000 training places that the First Minister mentioned. The equivalent number south of the border is 7.5 million—a far higher rate.

Here is the link: