Thursday, 2 June 2011

Supreme Havers

An interesting development in the Supreme Court debacle as Jim Wallace comes barging in, unarmed, to a battle of wits.  The good Lord Wallace is quoted as saying
"The Supreme Court has made clear as recently as last week in the Fraser ruling that the High Court in Scotland remains the court of last resort on criminal matters.

"I sometimes wonder if those who are the most vociferous have read these rulings."
I have.  Unlike Lord Wallace, I didn't take that assertion at face value, I looked at the disposal of the case where the good Lords in the UK Supreme Court ordered Scotland's Supreme Courts to quash the verdict of the High Court, ignoring their own claim that they would respect the right of the High Court of Justiciary to remain the ultimate court of criminal justice in Scots Law.

To be fair to the good Lords in the UK Supreme Court, I thought I'd go back and have a look to see when the House of Lords last ordered a Scottish criminal conviction quashed.  I've searched the records back to and including 1989 and there hasn't been a single case where the House of Lords overturned a Scottish criminal conviction as the UK Supreme Court has in the Fraser case and I'm betting that it has never happened.

The UK Supreme Court was supposed to take on only cases which would have been heard in the House of Lords (section 40(3) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005) and, importantly, that excludes criminal cases for historical reasons which go right back to the Treaty and Acts of Union.

If you want more evidence of the paucity of the case for the UK Supreme Court, I offer you the comments of Professor Peter Duff of Aberdeen University, touted as a criminal justice expert - "The judgments of the Supreme Court concerning Scotland are always given by Lords Hope and Rodger as the Scottish judges. The English judges simply fall into line."  If that is so then why do they sit on the bench at all?  If they are no more than ballast is that not indicative of them being very expensive window dressing for a court which sits as two elderly and very learned men now divorced from the Scots law which they served so nobly and so well for so long?  (Lord Hope is approaching his 74th year and Lord Rodger his 68th).  And if, as the Professor alleges, the other Justices (yes, Tony Blair took the US style all the way) are merely passengers on Scottish cases, why did Lord Brown write a minority judgement on the Fraser case - a judgement on the operation of a legal system in which he is not trained and has not practised?

Or take that eminent human rights lawyer, John Scott, who said "I think there's a sense of perspective being lost. Only a very tiny number of cases ever go to the Supreme Court. It doesn't have jurisdiction over the vast majority of criminal cases."  This from a man whose successful career has depended upon arguing the general case into the individual point and extrapolating from a single point to create a generality.  He should know full well the importance of "a very tiny number of cases" - it's his stock in trade.

There's one more thing.  Those shouldering high the UK Supreme Court argue that it isn't acting as an appeal court, here's Lord Hope's take on the situation:  “We are simply here to do what a court of appeal always has to do, which is to review a decision if there is reason to do so.”

It's time it went.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Who speaks for business in Scotland?

It has occurred to me (I'm obviously a bit slow) that there's an interesting point to be made about business in Scotland.  I've already made clear that I believe that the FSB has more business clout in Scotland than CBI Scotland or the Scottish Retail Consortium (not that you'd know it from the way lazy journalism treats these two self-appointed, self-interested and vacuous bodies as the font of all knowledge on Scottish business), that reform Scotland probably speaks more for business in Scotland than CBI Scotland, and that the Scottish Retail Consortium is a fictional body, having not actual base in Scotland nor any uniquely Scottish members.

What is, perhaps, even more striking, however, is that there are more Scottish businesspeople who pledged their support for the SNP in the recent election than there are members of CBI Scotland.  I think we should always remember who businesspeople in Scotland really turn to - the FSB, Reform Scotland and the SNP!

Here are some of the ones who pledged for the SNP during that election:

Harvey Aberdein
Aberdein Considine

Sandy Adam
Springfield Properties

Colin Adams
Hardies Bar

Lynn Adams
The George Bar

Mohammad Adrees
Hilltown Convenience Store

Mohammad Afzal
Bismallah Halal Food Store

Jameal Ahmed
Monktonhall Newsagency

Mohammed Ahmed
Bangla Spice

Tariq Ahmed
Chilli Cottage

Parvez Ali

Shahid Ali
Urban Togz

Kenny Anderson
Anderson Construction

Mohammed Ashraf
Station Garage

Umer Ashraf

Naveed Baksh

Rohail and Pauline Bari
Cafe Kisimul

Alistair Barron
Barron Wright

Ricky Bawa
Lighting Warehouse

Audrey Baxter

Ruari Beaton
Am Bothan Bunkhouse

John Bell
LSK Supplies

Glen Bennett

Crawford Beveridge CBE

Shaoib Bhatti
Lanark Post Office

Danny Bonnar
Bonnar Sand & Gravel Co Ltd

Roy Brett
Ondine Restaurant

David Brotchie
Saltire Print

Peter Broughan
Rob Roy Films

Bill Brown
W.D. Brown & Sons

Les & Gill Burkey

Saad Butt
Delicious Too

Chris Cairns

John Cameron
Balbuthie Farm,
Past President National Farmers Union of Scotland

Louise Cameron
Phase 3 UK Ltd

Shauna Cameron
Shauna Cameron Architect

Willie Cameron
Loch Ness Marketing
Colin Campbell & Jason Harvie
The Pelican

Fraser Campbell

Iain Campbell
Dungannon Petroleum Ltd

Joseph Cannon
Flava Coffee Company

June Carroll

Mary Case
Blackhall Framing Gallery

Ninian Cassidy & Hamish Mackay
Scotia Cars

Andrew Charles
J. Charles Fish Merchants

Ian Chisnall
Printing Services (Scotland) Ltd

Linda Christie
Cameron Guest House

Laurie Clark
Anglo Scottish Concrete Holdings

Hugh Clarkson
ARC Printing Ltd

Neil Corrall
E.A.R.L. on the Green

Michael Corby
Mackenzie Frain Ltd

Bob Costello
Sidlaw Executive Travel (Scotland) Ltd

Lindsay Cross
Kilts by Lindsay

Steve Cumming
Tayfield Investments Ltd

John De Rosa
Cafe Tino

Peter de Vink
Edinburgh Financial & General Holdings

Bill Dewar
Home Spring Ltd

Thomas Dover
The Garden Maintenance Company

Tom Duffin

Jeff Duncan
Pointblank Media

Brian Durkin
Braid Wines & Altar Supplies

Jennifer Easton

Barrie & Dane Elder
Bridgeview Station Café and Restaurant

Andrew Fairlie
Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles

Sir Tom Farmer

Mark Ferguson
D-Tech Graphic Design & Print Ltd

Athole Murray Fleming
Athole Design Publishing Ltd

Dave Forbes
Forbes Newsagents

Neil Forsyth
The Heatherbell Inn

Hebbie Fowlie
Bert Fowlie Butchers

Amanda Frazer
Larick House B&B

Billy Gallacher
GPM Estate Agents

Blair Geddes

Joseph Giacopazzi
Giacopazzi & Company Ltd

Martin Gilbert

Francis Gilhooley
Leadburn Manor Fly Fishing Centre

Ian Gillingham
Exordia Software Ltd

Kevan Gordon
Fix My Mac

George Grant
Grahams Road AutoShop

Kevin Greig

Abdul Hamid
Auto Gas Convertors

Michael Hance
Classic Camper Vans Scotland

Neil Harrison
Automatic Protection Ltd

Gordon Henderson
Foxlane Garden Centre

Stuart Hendrie
Torwood Landscapes

Julie Herd

Bobby & Stewart Hill

Sam Hinks

Steven Hobson
Hobson’s Choice, Shoe Repairs, Key Cutting & Engraving

Sarah-Jane Hunter
SJ Fitness Ltd

John Hunter-Paterson ACII
John Hunter-Paterson Chartered Insurance Brokers

Derrick Hutchison
Derrick Hutchison & Sons, Painters and Decorators

Shezad Ishtiaq
Mirch Masala Grill

Shabbir Jafri

Andrew Johnstone
J Terotech Ltd

John Keddie
Bogside Farm

Paul Keegan
Total Logistics Concepts Ltd

Patrick Kenny
The Mayflower

Norman Kerr
A and N Kerr Barvas Glebe Farm

Paul Kerr
P.K. Heating & Plumbing

Kevin Key
Enjoy-a-ball Coaching Ltd

Abdul Khaliq
Express Knitwear

Ozaer Khan
Halal Continental Food Store

James Kilday
Yankee at Home Ltd

Simon Kindlen

Ross Kirk
VK Timber

Aman Singh Kohli
Kohli Travel

John Laidlaw
The Blue Grotto

Steven Lawrence
TCD Architects

Andi Lothian Snr
Insights Learning and Development Training Ltd

Douglas Mabon
D M Roofing and Roughcasting

Dan Macdonald
Macdonald Estates Plc

Donald MacDonald CBE
Past President, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

Donnie and Dena
MacDonald Rodel Hotel

Ewan and Shaun MacDonald
Conon Brae Farm

Claire Macdonald
Kinloch Lodge

Maggie Macdonald
Style Conscience

Marie Macklin
Klin Group

Johanna MacLellan
The Caledonian Hotel, Fort Augustus

David MacLeod

Asif Majid
Rite Property

Alex J. Martin
Alex J. Martin Builders

Sir George Mathewson

David Maxwell
Steel Engineering

Graham McCabe
Automotive Bodyshop

Tony McCaffrey
The Sloping Garden Company

Jim McColl
Clyde Blowers

Mark McCormack
The Tartan Shop

Richard McCulloch
Dem-Master Demolition Limited & Total Recycling

Alex McDonald
AMD Computer Services

Tom McGregor
McGregor McMahon & Associates

Jamie McGrellis
Bespoke Bikes

Gordon McLennan
The IT Set

Des McMullen
Holmlea Roofing Services

Ken McNab
The Travel Company Edinburgh

Grant McNeil
Green Mantle Pub

Andrew Meek
A.G. Crafts and Fabrics

David Miller
Miller Hair and Beauty

Marie Moffat
The Eildon Centre & Rebel Rouser Disco

Reid Moffat
E&R Moffat

Steven Moffat

Charles Morgan
House of Beauly

Rod Munro
Munro Newsagents Ltd

Andrew Murray
My Lawyers

Andrew Murray & Jane Brown
T/A Allan & Black Coach Hirers

Tracy Murray
Cove Boutique

John D. Murrie
East Highfield

James Nicholson
Tasty Bites

Sebastian Nonis
Forfas Road Service Station

Jim Norris
Solar Energy Systems

Sandy Orr
MacDonald Orr

Jack Paterson
Saltire Graphics

Don Patton
Manorhead Ltd

Andy Pearson
Tweed Homes Ltd

Andrew Perry
Flyer Scotland

Eric Rae
E. Rae & Son Electricals

Linda Rae
The Flower Shop

Abdul Raheem
VIP Functions

Aurelia Reymond-Laruinaz

Norman Richardson
Norjan Ltd

John Robertson
Burntisland Fabrications Ltd

Hermann Rodrigues
Suruchi Restaurants

Vivienne Rollo
Kishorn Seafood Bar

Ian Ruddick
Pedian Services
Bill Samuel

Ian Scarr-Hall
GSH Properties Plc

Ashfaq Shah
Shah Accountants

Mark Shaw

Yasin Sher

Bill & Johnetta Simpson
The Biggar Flower Shop

Faith Simpson
Faith Simpson Chartered Certified Accountants

Stewart Sinclair
Rainbow ink co

Nicky Singh
City Dry Cleaners

Hamish Smith
Hamish D Smith Jewellers

Jay Smith
Employment Enterprise

Thomas Smith
Stepper Technology Ltd

Brian Souter

Stewart Spence
Marcliffe Hotel & Spa

Alisdair Stephen
Hebridean Contemporary Homes

Neil Stephen
Dualchas Building Design

Hamish Steventon
Chocolate Emporium

George Stewart
Cross Keys

John & Iain Stirling

Andrew Symington
Edradour Distillery

Willie Tait
Klondyke Fishing Co

Andy Taylor
Norland Lettings

Anne Thomson
Ella Drinks

Billy Tosh
The Bakehouse Scotland Ltd
Alison Twaddle
Woodhill Pharmacy
Mahmood Ullah
Lets B Wise

David Urquhart
Urquhart Travel
Ricardo Varani
Varani’s Forum Cafe

Antonio Vastano
High Range

Abdul Wahid
Kashmir Foodstore

Ron Warbrick
The Frame Shop & Gallery
Vincent Waters
AllClean Scotland Ltd

Jim & Lorriane Waugh
Party Daze Ltd

Angus Whitton
Whitton Asset Management

Jim Williamson
Williamsons Design Florist Ltd

Dr Willie Wilson
Thistle Pharmacy

Len Woods
Ardtornish Consultants Ltd

Fraser revisited

I met last night with a lawer-type who is a friend of mine and speired aboot the Fraser case.  He drew himself up in his most lawyerly manner (he's good at that) and gave me a lesson in constitutional law, told me that Lords Hope and Roger were probably the two best minds in Scots law just now and then opined that perhaps the UK Supreme Court, if it was to fulfil the functions that it's supposed to fulfil rather than be another appeal court, should be an advisory court like the European courts.  Good point, I think.  I bow to his knowledge.  I still think it should be abolished but if the blight is to remin upon us, at least it should be defined properly!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The business of business

Down to business or down on business?  We have a newly re-elected SNP Scottish Government, the first to win a majority of the seats in Parliament since devolution in 1999 including a majority of constituencies, a party which took 876,421 Additional Member votes compared to the combined Labour/Conservative/LibDem total of 872,998, a party that topped the Additional Member vote in every single region in the country, and that won a majority of the constituencies in seven regions out of eight (one away from a majority in South of Scotland but still more constituencies there than any other party).  It seems to be a party that has a bit of a mandate but has chosen, quite rightly in my opinion, to set out on a second term of government with a degree of humility.

The plans for that second term are being laid out in front of people now and build on the record of the first term, a record that includes help for small businesses - the enterprises which will be the drivers of Scotland's future prosperity - and improvements to the business environment in Scotland.  That government, according to the Scotsman newspaper, has been "warned off" imposing a carrier bag tax by CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium even before the legislative programme has been announced.  Not that the SNP Government has ever advocated a carrier bag tax, it's being warned about implementing a policy it hasn't espoused - not because CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium actually believe that the bag tax is likely to be brought forward by the Government but because they want to pick a fight early in order to lay the ground for a battle on the large retailer levy which, hopefully, John Swinney will bring back.

The thing is, though, CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium don't speak for Scottish business.  I've written before about how CBI Scotland actually has very few members (62 Scottish companies compared to the 20,000+ members of the FSB in Scotland) and lacks the muscle of some serious Scottish businesses.  I've been told since then that Reform Scotland, a think-tank, has more members than CBI Scotland.  The Scottish Retail Consortium is even worse, though, it doesn't really exist.  It's a branding of the British Retail Consortium and is run out of London, it doesn't have Scottish members and doesn't list a Scottish membership.  Its Scottish corporate address is a PO box in Gullane (bottom of its home page) but its press releases have a contact phone number in London.  So the Scottish Retail Consortium is a front for the British Retail Consortium whose members are ... yes, that's right, the big supermarkets and the big High Street chains.  These are the two organisations who think that their unelected voices should carry more weight than the elected voices of Scotland's politicians, parliament and government - and the Scotsman carried their comments without making clear just how small their voices are.  The people of Scotland elected their MSPs, their Parliament, their Government, I look forward to that Government delivering.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Fraser Case

I’m not a legal expert, I’ll leave that to m’learned friend who waxes lyrical upon matters pertaining to the law and its asses. That doesn’t stop me from pontificating on bits that take my fancy, though, and the Fraser case is one which has attracted the focus of my gimlet eye (my other eye’s OK).

I read the judgement with interest, a wee “hmm” here and a wee “oh?” there, and I come to the conclusion that the UK Supreme Court has erred in law. Oh yes, little old me thinks it’s a duff judgement. The UK Supreme Court has no role in Scottish criminal law but it’s the ultimate UK court of appeal in civil cases and the Fraser case was brought to it as a devolution issue under paragraph 13 of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998 as amended. The plaintiff pursued the case on the basis that his Convention Rights had been infringed – the rights arising from Article 6 specifically. Having read the judgement, though, I’m of the opinion that the Supreme Court decided this case not on the basis of Article 6 but as a court of criminal appeal.

The judgement (or judgment as our legal friends seem to like) was written by Lord Hope who is one of the two Scottish judges in the UK Supreme Court, the other being Lord Roger, both with impressive Scots law CVs. They didn’t hear the case alone, though, Lords Kerr and Dyson also sat on the bench and agreed with the conclusions of Lord Hope while Lord Brown also sat and disagreed with, but fell short of dissenting from, the disposal of the case. Lord Brown has an interesting career history in English law, as has Lord Dyson, and Lord Kerr served his time in Northern Ireland. They’ve all been appeal court judges and I believe that their personal histories influenced them in this case far more than the points of law which they should have been considering.

Article 6 of the ECHR, enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998, reads thusly:
Article 6
1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;
(b) to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;
(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

The challenge was not on the basis of any of the specific rights mentioned in paragraphs 2 or 3 but on the general right in paragraph 1 – the right to a fair trial – a right which, I believe, most people will agree should be an intrinsic part of our legal system. The basis upon which the learned judges concluded that Mr Fraser’s right to a fair trial was not upheld was Lord Hope’s disagreement with the opinion expressed by the Lord Justice Clerk at the original appeal.

In spite of claiming in paragraph 30 that he was about to concentrate on whether the tests applied by the Appeal Court were the right ones, in the following paragraphs Lord Hope went off on a diddle around whether the tests were satisfied. Interestingly, he appeared to use previous judgements in the UK Supreme Court by himself and by one of his fellow bench-sitters in this case as the locus classici. I suppose that it is only to be expected when the circle is so small but it remains an interesting aside (for me) that this moot referred back to itself.

Where the Lord Justice Clerk had considered that the new evidence presented to him was not of sufficient importance to have influenced the jury at the trial had it been led (indeed, the LJC suggested that it may not have been led even if the defence had been aware of it), Lord Hope held that it was of sufficient import, saying “it is impossible to reconcile the approach which the Appeal Court took to the threshold question that section 106 raises with the test for cases of non-disclosure in McInnes, para 19” (Hope’s own previous opinion). Hope wasn’t finding fault with the process of the trial, he was finding fault with the outcome of the appeal.

Having previously ruled in McInnes that evidence withheld from the defence had to be evidence which should have been disclosed and also have enough weight to have affected the course of the trial for it to be a breach of the defendant’s Convention Rights, Hope relied on his ruling in that case to say in this case that the import of the evidence wasn’t important; “It was information that ought to have been given to the defence, and the failure to do this was a breach of the appellant’s article 6 right.” (paragraph 33).

This, and a finding that the course of the trial would have been different had the evidence been disclosed led Hope to conclude that his McInnes threshold test had been met. He then goes on to consider the consequences and, in spite of noting that the LJC had considered that the weight of the other evidence would have been sufficient to convict, he opined that the disclosure may have resulted in a different course for the trial and that “There is a real possibility that this would have been sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt about the Crown’s case”. Again, Hope’s issue isn’t with the conduct of the trial – whether it was fair or not – but with the outcome.

Hope never addresses the actual case before him in this judgement, he does not examine whether Article 6 has been breached; he sits, instead, as a judge in a criminal appeal in clear breach of the role of the UK Supreme Court.

Hope in paragraph 29 and Brown in paragraph 47 indicate that it is for the High Court of Justiciary to decide what tests to apply in appeals where there is no devolution issue – and both then go on to ignore the devolution issue and discuss the details of the LJC’s judgement. In both cases, I believe, they erred in law by ruling on the outcome of the case rather than whether it was a fair trial. Given that the other three judges concurred with Lord Hope’s judgement, they too must be seen to have erred in law.

Scotland’s laws are being changed by the UK Supreme Court, by judges without Scottish legal training, with little or no experience of Scots law and whose judgements appear to be self-fulfilling. The UK Supreme Court was supposed to take over the House of Lords legal functions and, in relation to Scotland, to rule on only civil cases. It has taken it upon itself to sit as a criminal court in relation to Scotland in breach of that role and has, I believe, acted ultra vires – its strength should not extend to Scots criminal law. I would hope that there was sufficient courage in Scotland’s Supreme Courts to refuse to follow the direction in this case to quash the conviction and to refuse it on the grounds that the UK Supreme Court acted outwith its jurisdiction. I would hope for that but without any real promise.

It’s time to remove all of Scots law from the grasping hands of the UK Supreme Court. It has failed.

Murmuring a judge you say?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Scotland's President

In days of yore the person who kept order in the Scots Parliament was known as the President, these days it's the more prosaic title Presiding Officer and much tickled have I been by the fuss and flutter from Labour over the democratic election of a new Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. Intrigued am I by the shortness of the collective Labour memory that conveniently forgets that it was the party which refused to provide a Presiding Officer in 2007 – a refusal which resulted in Hercules being dragged up to the chair and forced into it. I think he’s done a fine job over the past four years but you could sense that he was laying down what was a heavy burden when he passed over to Tricia Marwick and the grace with which he did so speaks volumes about him.

In electing Tricia, though, Parliament has done more than just elect the first female PO, it also elected the first PO who didn’t attend a private school – David Steel went to the Prince of Wales School in Nairobi and to George Watson’s in Edinburgh; George Reid went to Dollar Academy; Alex Fergusson went to Eton. Tricia, the daughter of a mining family in Cowdenbeath, went to the local council-run school. She’s also the first Presiding Officer to have gone straight from school to work, eschewing tertiary education; and I think that she’s probably the first to have had working-class parents.

She knows she’s got a task on her hands which no-one has faced before – each of the Presiding Officers has faced different challenges. David Steel had to steer the institution through its set-up phase; George Reid had the building project and turning the institution into an internationally recognised body; Alex Fergusson had the first minority government and the arrival of George Foulkes; Tricia Marwick has the independence referendum, a host of newbie MSPs, the changing of the guard in the opposition parties and the tensions of a Parliament with a single-party majority for the first time. You might think she’s got an easier time than the others but I’m thinking it might not be as easy as it sounds.

It was good to learn that she had support from members of each of the main parties for her election and that people know that she’ll be fair and even-handed and fears no-one, I look forward to seeing how she fares. In the meantime, did you hear what one PO said to the other PO?

The Presiding Officer: In the second round of voting in the election of the Presiding Officer, the number of votes cast for each candidate was as follows: Hugh Henry 55, Tricia Marwick 73. Accordingly, as Tricia Marwick received more votes than the total number of votes that the other candidate received, and as more than 25 per cent of members voted, Tricia Marwick is elected as the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer. [Applause.]

I thank all the candidates in the election of the Presiding Officer, as we come to yet another first in the series of firsts that have come to the fore in the past week. Scotland’s electorate seem to take great delight in delivering a Parliament with significantly different challenges at each and every election.

First, in 1999, the electorate delivered our first coalition Government. In 2003, they delivered what became known as the rainbow Parliament, with originally six and, ultimately, seven parties and groupings recognised on the Parliamentary Bureau. In 2007, they delivered our first minority Government and now, in 2011, they have delivered yet another first—a single party has gained an outright majority for the first time.

The Parliament itself seems to have taken the road of firsts to heart by electing a female member as the Presiding Officer for the first time. Furthermore, it has elected a member from the likely party of Government for the first time. In itself, that will present fresh challenges.

Having worked with Tricia Marwick on the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body over the past four years, I can testify to her ability to put the Parliament’s interests before the interests of any party in it. I know that I join all members in wishing her, her husband Frank, and her family our very best wishes as she takes on this vitally important role.

I would not dream of offering my successor any advice—except perhaps this: if, Tricia, you find after a few months that you are not quite as well known to the public as you would like to be, get yourself involved in a live television draw for a football cup semi-final and make a complete hash of it. I guarantee that you will be a household name after that. [Laughter.]

More seriously, the role of Presiding Officer carries with it a cloak of great privilege and even greater responsibility. It is one that I have worn to the best of my ability, but I am now delighted to pass it on to my elected successor. I have great pleasure in inviting the Presiding Officer to come forward and take the chair for the fourth session of our Scottish Parliament. [Applause.]

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): First, I thank all my parliamentary colleagues from all parties for their support today. I also thank my predecessor, Alex Fergusson, for his work in the past four years. His was a most difficult period, with the potential to have to use the casting vote every day. I hope to be spared that difficulty. He was a class act and a difficult one to follow; I will do my very, very best.

There are some special people who deserve my thanks, because it is only with their support and love that I can do this job: my husband Frankie, my children Louise and Steven, and my lovely grandchildren Róisín and Odhrán. I love you all.

As Presiding Officer, I will be fair to all members. I will always act in the interests of the Scottish Parliament. Now we have work to do. Thank you. [Applause.]

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The empty bells

I’ve been a bit busy recently; a lot of walking, a lot of chatting, carrying heavy loads and worrying – especially the worrying. These things happen, you get caught up in some bizarre plan to win a majority at Holyrood, you know, the thing that’s impossible because the system was set up in a way that made it impossible in the same way that devolution will kill nationalism stone dead.
The SNP ran a fantastic campaign with excellent candidates and tremendous energy – in stark contrast to our opponents – and our campaign was well- managed and never looked like jumping the rails, it was always heading in the right direction. We faced a barrage of Labour mailshots, telephone calls and ‘high profile’ visits and we held them off. It felt, sometimes, like Thermopylae – except our cause was never defence of what we had but the advancement of the nation.
We did well, really well, and I find myself left with but one regret: While we were watching seat after seat across the country fall to Scotland’s Party and eight of the nine seats in the Lothians come home to the SNP Shirley-Anne Somerville was losing out because we’d done so fantastically well and yet not quite well enough. She narrowly missed unseating Malcolm Chisholm in Edinburgh Northern and Leith and we were just a little too far out on the additional member vote to have her elected from the list. Shirley-Anne was a fantastic MSP, she’s intelligent, talented, witty, hard-working and able and she’ll be a loss to Parliament. I was impressed by the grace with which Malcolm Chisholm praised her during his victory speech, saying that he hoped she would get returned as an additional member although he didn’t hold out much hope as a result of our excellent constituency performance and he was proven correct. Shirley-Anne is, quite clearly, an excellent politician and I hope she comes back in the future. I wish her all the best and look forward to seeing her return to the political fray when she’s ready.
Meanwhile, the recriminations in other parties have started, including the resignations of the leaders of the three opposition groups. Labour’s Iain Gray has promised to conduct a review of his party’s organisation and election campaign while his MSPs have variously described the campaign as inept, complacent, misdirected and sloppy, and we’ve now learned that the review is actually the creation of Milliband and that he’s determined that Labour’s MPs will be running their campaigns in the future but they’ve all missed the point. It wasn’t the dash into a sandwich shop that lost Labour this election, nor was it the quality of the election material distributed (they need new designers – some who known something about design would be handy), it wasn’t that there wasn’t a message nor that they just couldn’t engage with the electorate. Labour’s problem is that they have nothing to say anymore because they don’t believe in anything any more. Labour sold its soul some time ago and it spent so long in the pursuit of power that its members have forgotten why they sought it in the first place. There is no sense from Labour that it seeks power to do good, to bring justice or prosperity or equality to the country, the sense is that it seeks power to be in office. There was no rhyme nor reason to their campaign because there was no principle underpinning it. There was no purpose to their campaign because they themselves have no purpose, no belief. It wasn’t that their ‘carry a knife, go to jail’ campaign was guff and based on poor founds (it was), it was that it had no substance it looked exactly like what it was – a naked bid for a knee-jerk vote. Labour’s attacks on the SNP and on independence failed to hit any target because there is no backbone to the Labour party as much as because the attacks were bizarre and ill-targeted.
Their campaign fell flat on its nose because there is no purpose to their party. The same applied to the Lib Dem campaign. Strange warnings of doom echoed around Tavish Towers during the campaign – “cutting the number of police forces would cut the number of police officers” was particularly daft – and, like Labour’s campaign, not believed because there was no substance left to their party. The Conservatives likewise failed to rumble because they had nothing to offer. A few soundbites and good gags aren’t enough. The Greens, well, Patrick took them off away from their core beliefs and into the swamp more commonly associated with the SSP and the like – a decision that I’m sure cost them votes across the country.
The lesson for all politicians is that you have to stand by your core values – and first you have to know what they are. I truly have no idea why anybody would wade into politics without having a belief that drove them in there, this can’t be a pleasant game to be in if you’re just here for the scenery, but it appears that many people have made that conscious decision. My pompous homily comes to an end here with the observation that the election campaign of a political party without a core purpose is like a bell without a clapper – though the crown be sound and the waist be firm it can swing endlessly and will not chime.
Mind how you go!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Keep the Balls in the air

One of the great, towering intellects of the last Labour Government (UK by the way), Edward Michael Balls, a former pupil of Nottingham High School and former member of the Oxford University Conservative Association has graced the Scottish election with his estimable presence and delivered to us the fruits of his great and deep thoughts (or perhaps he would rather have it as casting pearls before swine).

He informed us with great magnanimity that Labour's recession would have been disastrous for an independent Scotland.  Does he think it was good for a Scotland bound to the UK?

Then, of course, he suggested that a second term in Government for the SNP would be "complete disaster".  Seems to me that that's a bit of a flamin cheek considering the record of the UK Government that he was part of for so long.

Still, I'm delighted he took the time to visit.  Mind how you go!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Labour reshuffle?

Twitter was alive last night with strong rumours about a Labour reshuffle at Iain Gray's relaunch tomorrow, the story being that Andy Kerr was about to be dropped from Labour's front bench as a result of a series of poor performances.  The rumours were so strong that Labour was forced to issue a denial to Angus Macleod of the Times.  Strikes me that it's possible that Iain Gray bottled it when it came to the crunch or that Kerr is indeed going and Angus spoke to a member of Labour staff who hadn't been informed about the plan.

I had thought that a relaunch 10 days out from polling was a strange measure smacking of desperation but when the relaunch starts to go wrong on top of the entire campaign going wrong, Labour must really be in trouble.  In the aftermath of the 2007 election a friend of mine remarked that he thought Labour would look back on the leadership of Jack McConnell as their halcyon days.  I thought he was daft at the time but it's starting to look like he's a bit of a clairvoyant.

Mind you go!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Labour's supermarket tax proposal?

I can't resist a bit of reading from time to time and so I've eventually drifted to Labour's "Manifesto for Growth".  Even with Labour's recent record on economic matters I thought it would be interesting.  It's not all that interesting (actually pretty boring) but there is one wee thing; this paragraph:

We will work to ensure that Scotland is competitive and will do so through the taxation system, by investing in our transport and communication infrastructure and in skills, so our young people are job-ready and meet the needs of business. 

Elsewhere in the document there are commitments to continue the SNP's Small Business Bonus, to not raise the "tartan tax" and to maintain parity with the English poundage on non-domestic rates (which would actually be a slight rise in business rates, but I'm sure that they didn't mean that or they wouldn't have said 'maintain', they're just unaware of the financial landscape) and Gray recently gave in and accepted that the SNP's Council Tax freeze is the right thing to do.

So here's the question - from which part of the taxation system does Labour intend to find the resources to fund this investment?  They've ruled out most of it and it appears to me that there is one avenue left open by this document.  Remember the Tesco Tax?  The large retailer levy was condemned by Labour when John Swinney proposed it, but so was the Council Tax freeze, free prescriptions, and anything else proposed by the SNP and Labour has performed one volte-face after another.

Yup, I think Labour's proposing a Tesco tax.  Whodathunkit?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

More polled against than polling

After writing a post yesterday about the Yougov poll and the strange reluctance of the Greens to reveal the answers to all of the questions, I took a wander through cyberland and found that Joan McAlpine had already done a substantial piece on the poll and I could have saved myself a bit of effort!  More interesting, still, however, was a message that winged its way to me from a good friend of mine who pointed out that there may be more flaws in the Yougov methodology.  The points she made are as follows:

The Courier (covering Dundee, Angus, Perthshire and Fife which have high SNP support) is only listed (if at all) under "Other Paper" which would also apply to the Press and Journal which doesn't have a separate listing but is popular in a big chunk of the country.  In fact, the Courier has a bigger circulation than the Herald and the Scotsman combined and I think I may be right in saying that the P&J is similarly endowed.

Additionally, the Record has very poor penetration in the North East of Scotland (and perhaps in other areas, too) so there is a question mark or two over whether the weighting for this paper should be applied evenly across the country.

Interesting, is it not?  That's interesting as well as the answers that the Greens are hiding.

Mind how you go!

Monday, 28 February 2011

That Yougov poll and the missing question

You'll have seen the recent Yougov poll and you might even have thought about how the weighting affected it.  Like me, you may have been wondering how the raw data converted to the weighted data, how this population of party identifiers:
Labour 291
Conservative 222
Liberal Democrat 67
Scottish National Party 289
Others 67
None / Don't know 322

was adjusted to become this population in the weighted data:
Labour 478

Conservative 163
Liberal Democrat 126
Scottish National Party 201
Others 25
None / Don't know 266

Very crudely, that means that each person who identifies as SNP who was polled counted as 0.7 of a person and every person who identifies with Labour was counted as 1.6 (Con - 0.7, LD - 1.9).  Just as interesting is the newspaper weighting, though, this:
Express / Mail 196
Sun / Star 100
Mirror / Record 94
Guardian / Independent / Herald 219
FT / Times / Telegraph / Scotsman 188
Other Paper 146
No Paper 315
became this:
Express / Mail 151

Sun / Star 201
Mirror / Record 251
Guardian / Independent / Herald 76
FT / Times / Telegraph / Scotsman 75
Other Paper 252
No Paper 252

A Daily Record reader counts as two and three quarter people in this poll and a Sun reader as double while a Herald reader is trimmed to just one third of a person and a Scotsman reader to two-fifths of a person.  It becomes, perhaps, even more interesting when you read this piece by Mike Smithson where he points out that Yougov is using old circulation figures for its newspaper weighting (the Record's readership is now under 307,000) and the dangers inherent in that were already laid out by Nick Sparrow.

It's fascinating, of course, to speculate on how wrong the poll is, but that's not what most intrigues me.  What most intrigues me is that this poll was commissioned by the Greens and it had another question in it which hasn't been published.  The other question was how the people polled felt about the Greens' idea of increasing tax in Scotland to offset the effects of the Westminster cuts.  It's up to the client what questions are published and when - I can't help but wonder what on earth could have been in the answer to that question that persuaded the Greens that it should be kept secret.

Answers on a postcard to ...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The barbarians at the gate

Hugh Henry MSP, who has ascended to the giddy heights of doyen of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament, lodged a motion on Thursday and it would appear that he is setting himself up as arbiter of all things cultural:
S3M-07964 Hugh Henry (Paisley South) (Scottish Labour): Creative Scotland Expenditure— That the Parliament is concerned about recently published details of Creative Scotland expenditure; considers that, in a time of austerity, Creative Scotland should consider grant applications more carefully before making awards; expresses concern at and cannot understand the justification for £58,000 of taxpayers’ money being used to fund a dance programme based on the works of Alfred Hitchcock, or paying for travel to Tonga to study Polynesian dance, and believes that ministers need to urgently investigate Creative Scotland’s spending and take action to show that taxpayers’ money is being used responsibly.
This great, towering figure of Labour's intelligentsia would appear to be starting his own war against poshlost devoid of armaments.  He will be planning, perhaps, an exhibition of Entartete Kunst, ignoring the quite clear connection between the progress of society and progress in the Arts, a progress that cannot be governed or directed by politicians without strangling the progress.  Artists of all kinds must be free (and should be encouraged) to prod politicians and governments with pointed art - Arthur Miller received funding from the US National Endowment for the Arts to write Death of a Salesman and four years later he was puncturing the McCarthy witch-hunts with The Crucible - The National Theatre of Scotland used public money to produce Black Watch, a play that was extremely critical of UK military involvement overseas - and public money is opening up opportunities for people from all kinds of places to make a mark

Politicians can't run art through our ideological prisms (although you'll have some difficulty in keeping politicians from claiming credit for successes) without destroying the essence that makes art capable of moving the spirit, of changing humanity, of touching the vitality of people.  That's why public bodies funding the arts have operated at arms length from Government - although it is interesting that Hugh Henry appears to agree with the approach of the Conservative / Lib Dem coalition which is imposing massive cuts and strange conditions on Arts Council England.  It seems that UK Ministers, like Hugh Henry, think that "a time of austerity" is a time to cut cultural funding and have forgotten (if they ever knew) that the genesis of the Arts Councils - and therefore Creative Scotland - was the bleak austerity of December 1939 when the intent was “to show publicly and unmistakably that the Government cares about the cultural life of the country. This country is supposed to be fighting for civilisation” which led to the creation of the fore-runner of the Arts Councils in 1940 - and this in the midst of a World War.  Robert Hewison puts it excellently:
The decision taken in 1940 that led to long-term funding of the arts was not taken on economic grounds, or for reasons of health, social inclusion or the prevention of crime. But it was a rational decision, based on a rational argument: that we are supposed to be fighting for civilisation. 
I am, of course, giving Mr Henry the benefit of massive doubt and assuming that he is merely labouring mightily with the concept of funding art without directing it.  He may be being wilfully ignorant or, worse, intent upon finding some spuriously populist cause celebre with no regard to the consequences of his actions.  

We fund art and do so politically blind because art is damaged when it is narrowed by politics and Hugh Henry's version of Socialist Realism would run the risk of damaging cultural advancement, of restricting and choking Scottish art, his ambition for Cultural Revolution is misplaced.  We may not like everything that is funded by Creative Scotland but no-one ever argued that everyone will like all of the art we see around us - I find Shakespeare's plays quite dull (a couple of his sonnets are ok, though), can't abide the work of Alasdair Gray (a heresy in these parts), and can't for the life of me understand what's so good about those Titians we're so collectively proud of; but I've delighted in some of the National Theatre's productions, I savour the works of Banks and of Bellany among others, and I like to spend the odd hour or two from time to time soaking up a gallery.

I may not be the person to decide where arts funding should go, but I'm prepared to bet that speculative prospecting in areas seldom trodden (say a dance programme based on the works of Alfred Hitchcock or paying for travel to Tonga to study Polynesian dance) is likely to produce nuggets of gold more often than walking the same old dusty streets.  Mr Henry seems to have a problem with modern dance as a performance art and I suggest that he takes some time to go and take some in, we've got dancers to be proud of in Scotland.

We may not be fighting a World War at the moment, but the campaign for our civilisation continues.  The barbarians are always at the gate and we should always be driving past them to improve ourselves.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Academics - a blessing and a curse

There are some disadvantages to having academics as friends - one of them is that they quite happily give you a good finger-wagging over the least wee thing.  Here's a message I received from a friend of mine who obviously likes statistics even more than I do.  I've taken her name off the bottom in case she hassles me again and I can't reproduce the graph properly, I can't make it clear (I'm sure I'll get pelters for that, too), I guess I just failed my exam!


I do not like the 2nd paragraph of your blog (well, what you are saying is fine but it is horribly covered in percentages). What you need is a nice pretty graph, like the one I have attached for you.

Also, if you don’t already have it (but you probably do and apologies if so), the basic formula for calculating a 95% confidence interval for any proportion in Excel is:
Lower 95% CI limit: =B2-(1.96*(SQRT(B2*(1-B2)/C1)))
Upper 95% CI limit: =B2+(1.96*(SQRT(B2*(1-B2)/C1)))
where (for example) ‘B2’ is the cell you’ve put the proportion of interest (e.g. Alex Salmond’s approval rating) and ‘C1’ is the cell you’ve put the sample size in (e.g. 1019).

When comparing proportions (for example Salmond’s approval vs Gray’s approval) if the confidence intervals overlap, they lie within the margin of error and there is no statistical difference between them. If they do not overlap then Salmond’s approval is likely to be significantly higher or lower (statistically) than Gray’s.

What you should see from the Mori data is that Salmond’s approval rating is significantly higher than that of all the other party leaders (and Tavish Scott’s is significantly lower), that there is no statistical difference in dissatisfaction towards any of the party leaders, and that significantly more people have an opinion on Alex Salmond than any of the other party leaders (and significantly fewer people have an opinion on Tavish Scott than either Salmond or Gray, but not Goldie).

NB: Should you like this formula and want to use it but in future for whatever reason you need a wider margin of error, you could take a 99% confidence interval by substituting the 1.96 figure for 2.58.

Don’t say I’m not good to you.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Polling along in the blue ...

Mario Lanza couldn't have sung it any better. There's plenty of comment out there on the latest poll for May's election that shows the SNP ahead of Labour and it's all well worth reading with the indications being that the SNP lead, if maintained into the election, could result in an SNP Government second term.  It's still too close to call, of course, but there are encouraging signs.  The gender gap in SNP support is closing - it's not closed yet by any manner of means but it is closing - and the issues that people think are important are chiming with what we (the SNP) have been saying and continue to say.  Let's take a look at a couple of points, though, starting with one which the Peat Worrier touched on; the party leader approval ratings.

Salmond's rating is +16%, Gray's rating is -1%, Goldie's rating is +2%, and Scott's rating is -8%.  That will put a wee grin on the coupon of the First Minister but there's something else in there just as interesting - only 14% of respondents didn't have an opinion on Salmond's performance while 33% didn't know about Gray, 38% about Goldie and 40% about Scott.  Does that matter?  Well, my experience has been that everyone has an opinion on politicians they know about so I'll assume that 86% of the population sample know who the First Minister is (there's probably a few who do know who he is but haven't made up their minds yet), and reducing numbers know who the others are.  That's a massive assumption on my part, though, and may be wrong; but if I'm right you have the interesting point that more than half of the sample (51%) approve of Salmond and only a few don't know (14%), whereas 67% don't know about Gray or disapprove of him, 68% don't know or disapprove for Goldie, and 74% don't know or disapprove of Scott.  Is it important?  It may be - especially when electors are having a look at the runners and riders for Government and making a decision about which party is well led and which senior party members would make good Ministers in addition to choosing their local representative.  Makes it interesting, I think especially when you turn it round - Salmond has a 51% approval rating against a 35% disapproval, meaning that his approval numbers beat the approval numbers of all the other leaders, but his disapproval ratings beat their approval ratings as well as their approval ratings - still that in the bowl and mix it!

And so to tax - it and death, we are told are the only two certainties.  The tax question showed a clear lead for all income tax to be set and collected in Scotland with the second choice being all income tax set and collected by the Whitehall Government.  The least popular answer was the Calman Commission proposal with a figure which only just beats one in four, so I guess that's a short answer on that bizarre scheme:
I would prefer all income tax to be set and collected by the UK government as it is at present 32%
I would prefer some income tax to be set and collected by the UK government and some by the Scottish government 27%
I would prefer all income tax to be set and collected by the Scottish government 37%
Don’t know 4%

Here's another thing, though; the opinion poll is a massive bump for the SNP since the TNS poll published in the Herald in January, but the trends shown by Ipsos are also interesting, let's start with SNP v Labour.  Three recent polls, Aug 2010, Nov 2010, Feb 2011, and starting with the constituency vote:
SNP 34%, 31%, 37%
Labour 37%, 41%, 36%
that went from within the margin of error to quite far outside it and then snapped right back into it - neck and neck (although the SNP is now ahead by a thin margin).  The Conservatives and Lid Dems, meanwhile stayed within the margin of error but swapped places at the extremes of it which some might suggest is the Conservatives benefiting from their coalition at the expense of their coalition partners:
Con 11%, 13%, 13%
LD 13%, 11%, 10%

Look at the Additional Member vote, though, and a very clear pattern emerges:
SNP 29%, 32%, 35%
Lab 38%, 36%, 33%
When the electors are looking at the parties their approval is on the move from Labour to the SNP - it's a 5.5% swing over six months and the trendlines in those two supports is definite.  For the other two parties there isn't much news to report:
Con 12%, 12%, 13%
LD 12%, 9%, 10%
and the Greens are up from 5% to 6% - still not at the races.

What does it all mean?  Well, as Brian Taylor says in his piece, each opinion poll is only a snapshot, it's trends that are important, and it would seem that the trends are tending to favour the brave.  In the words of a former Leader of the Labour Party Group in the Scottish Parliament, bring it on!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Baker - not fit to hold office

An Aberdeenshire pensioner alleged she was sexually assaulted and named her alleged attacker.  The police and the Procurator Fiscal did their jobs and the suspect was being brought to trial.  Following the Cadder ruling, however, the Crown Office concluded that there was now insufficient evidence to proceed and has closed the case.  The Cadder ruling is better explained by a solicitor type but it necessitated a fundamental change in police procedures and it changed the rules on what evidence is allowable in a case.  It also led to a piece of legislation going through Parliament as emergnecy legislation.

None of this, I take it, matters a damn to Barbara Riddel who was attacked except that it means that the man she identified as her attacker cannot be brought to justice.  I have sympathy for her, she has suffered in a way that I cannot begin to understand - an invasion of her person.  Her case came, though, at a juncture where the police procedure in the case was cut across by the ruling.  The Cadder ruling was, very simplistically, based on the European Convention on Human rights and said that a suspect's human rights were infringed if he (or she) was interviewed by police without a solicitor being present - or at least a prosecution could not rest upon evidence thus gained.

The to and fro of the rights and wrongs of the Cadder case and all cases like those of the assault against Ms Riddel might be batted back and forth for a long time but it was the comments of Labour's Shadow Justice person Richard Baker MSP in the story.  He said:

"This started with not having a bent banana and all that stupid kind of thing, but now they have got onto the laws of Britain they shouldn't be allowed to change them whatsoever."

For any politician to compare the distress and human emotion involved in a case of sexual assault to trade rules is shocking to begin with.  Conflating human rights with trade rules is also fairly bad, but the scale of the incompetence in his one UKIP-like statement is quite shocking. 

To begin with, he should understand that section 29 of the Scotland Act means that any legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament has to be compliant with the Convention Rights - the Scotland Act was drafted by a Minister of his own party.

Convention Rights in the Scotland Act has the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act 1998 - brought in by a Government of his own party to enshrine the ECHR in UK law (quite rightly, in my opinion).

The ECHR was not a child of the European Union, it came from the Council of Europe - a different organisation.

The EU never banned bent bananas.

The worst of it all is his lack of concern for the woman involved combined with his lack of understanding of the way that the law is changing and his ignorant, knee-jerk, xenophobic narrow vision.  He's simply not fit to hold office.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The 'Tesco Tax'

Much hullaballoo, flim-flam and fuss has been occasioned by John Swinney's reasonable proposal to ask businesses with a rateable value in excess of £35,000 to pay a little more in their rates.  It has been dubbed the Tesco Tax by some so I'll adopt that heuristic just for the sake of sweetness and light.  Some would have you believe that this policy will bring economic devastation to Scotland, that retailers will leave in droves, that the chill winds of fair taxation having blown round the skirts of frightened supermarkets will echo forevermore through abandoned shopping centres and out-of-town mammon factories, even that it is (careful now) anti-Glasgow; the greatest sin of all.

We're told that supermarkets, shopping centres and large retailers in general will up sticks and leave (no-one seems willing to mention the businesses which will be affected which are not in retail, but hey-ho).  This position is, of course, quite frankly daft; retailers will open where their customers are - it's kind of how they operate, there's no point in having a shop where no-one shops and large retailers are always looking for untapped markets to slide into.  But others have written about that and you should read their wise words - I particularly savoured the bit in Lesley Riddoch's piece that noted "Scotland has more supermarket floor space per head of the population than anywhere in Britain and probably Europe" - for my part I think I'll look at the proposal which has caused so much supermarket angst.

It's a proposal to add 0.7% onto the poundage rate of larger businesses.  "Why 0.7%?" you might ask - and that would lead us to a very interesting point.  The SNP Scottish Government has committed to keeping the poundage rate in Scotland at or below the rate in England for the lifetime of this Parliament; the non-domestic rate poundage in Scotland is 40.7p in the pound (40.7% of your rateable value is your rates bill), the poundage rate in England is 40.7p for small businesses and 41.4p for standard businesses so the small rise in Scotland for very large businesses will bring the rate into line with the standard rate charged in England.  Our medium-sized businesses will continue to be better off and our small businesses (with the small business bonus) will continue to be much better off.  Why, exactly, would this equalisation of the rates for large businesses north and south of the Rio Tweed result in a desperate caravan of refugee supermarkets trudging wearily south?

If you think that proves the case, I've got a little more icing for the cake.  London charges higher rates.  London charges an extra 0.4p on each rate - 41.8p on the standard rate and 41.1p on the small business rate (you'll find the figures at the bottom of the VOA multipliers page) small businesses in London pay higher rates than large businesses in Scotland.

I think it begs a question - if London charges more in rates on most businesses than Scotland does and substantially more on small businesses and the rest of England also charges more but still less than London then why, using the logic of those predicting doom for Scotland under John Swinney's proposal, is business not flocking out of London into the rest of England and flooding from England into Scotland?  The truth is, of course, that non-domestic rates, the poundage and the actual cost per trading unit, are only some of the considerations that businesses make in determining where to set up - many, many others apply.  Indeed, non-domestic rates are a very small consideration for very large retailers.  They will squeal about any increase in taxation, any additional regulation, any requirement put upon them to act like a responsible part of society (although they will not hesitate to call on the services which they are so reluctant to contribute to - roads to ease deliveries and customer access, police to protect their properties, street lighting to make their premises more appealing to customers, cleansing and so on) but they will stay in situ so long as it is commercially advantageous for them to do so.  Large retailers are not overly burdened by a great weight imposed by non-domestic rates, they truly are not.

Small businesses face rates which are a far larger percentage of their turnover, a far greater burden for them to carry, and that's why the SNP Scottish Government introduced the Small Business Bonus.  To be absolutely fair to those in Whitehall, there is some rates relief for small businesses in England but it is, if I may utilise the vernacular, piss-poor.

Far from the proposal to ask large businesses to pay an extra seven tenths of a penny more in rates being one which will see economic destruction in Scotland, the idea is almost akin to progressive taxation.  Those large retailers and other businesses with business premises with rateable values over £35,000 will pay a little extra (just taking them up to what they would have been paying had they been in England) to help fund the services they use while small businesses get a little help to survive and thrive - helping to grow the economy.  Add in the fact that the SNP Scottish Government has frozen Council Tax year on year, making sure that people have some money left in their pockets to spend in the large retailers as well as other places, and you might have thought that the retailers would be keen to welcome the actions of the Scottish Government - good for people, good for business and good for jobs.

It's almost like there's an election coming, isn't it?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Who's not in the CBI?

Since I've already questioned the validity of CBI Scotland in commenting on Scottish business affairs, I thought that it might be worthwhile having a look at Scottish companies which aren't members of the CBI to see whether I was perhaps being unfair, to see whether it was, perhaps, la creme de la creme of Scottish businesses that CBI Scotland represented, the bluest of blue chip companies.  There is no definitive register of Scottish companies that I can find; I can't get hold of the IDBR and Companies House doesn't let you search on company location so I may have missed some businesses but these are a few that I found that I think we can say are fairly successful Scottish companies who are not members of CBI Scotland:

Arnold Clark - Glasgow (I think) motor vehicle dealer with substantial business.
Aggreko - Headquartered in Glasgow, operates around the world.
Axis-Shield - Dundee company operates internationally.
ASCo - Aberdeen, global operations.
British Polythene Industries - Greenock, operates internationally.
CJ Lang - Dundee, operates fairly large shopping operation.
DP&L - Dundee, shipping mainly, now includes travel and property businesses.
AG Barr - the makers of Irn Bru!
DC Thomson - the printers of the Beano.
Baxters - the soup people.
Johnston Press - Newspaper types.
Tunnocks - even in French it looks like a tasty company.
John Menzies - biggest paperboy in town.
Keyline - Glasgow based builder's merchants.
MacFarlane Group - Glasgow again, operates internationally.
Miller Group - Edinburgh housebuilder, biggest in UK.
Morrison Construction - like Bob the Builder but much, much bigger.
Motherwell Bridge - you'll never guess where this company is based but it operates all over the world.
Wiseman Dairies - provides almost one third of all the milk consumed in the UK - from East Kilbride!
SSE - energetic bunch
Scottish Investment Trust - investment managers with a decent size of portfolio.
Stagecoach - transport all over the world.
Abbot Group - Aberdeen based, works around the world.
Tennents - terrible adverts but still a substantial company.
Aberdeen Asset Management - Aberdeen company (surprising, eh?) with £178.7 billion of assets under management and advice; that's quite a bit.
Pelamis - wave tamers.
Alexander Dennis - international bus builders.
Linn - fantastic sounds
Schuh - Livingstone company, rather successful in the footwear area.
Simclar Group - around the world from Dunfermline.
Visioncall - seeing clearly from Cambuslang.

This isn't an exhaustive list, obviously, nor even a great chunk of Scotland's businesses.  The point I'm hoping to demonstrate is that CBI Scotland doesn't represent Scottish businesses, not even a substantial proportion of Scottish businesses.  Some might try to argue that the best of Scotland's businesses are members of CBI Scotland but I'll contend that these companies listed here are every bit as good as the companies listed yesterday - and there are thousands more.  Being a member of CBI Scotland neither marks them as leaders nor as anything else, merely members of a club - a club which  is not representative of Scottish business and whose spokesman doesn't seek to represent their views, just to get himself a headline or two.

As I said yesterday, the contrast with the FSB is marked.  That organisation gets fewer headlines because it does not view getting the headline as a good in itself, it does good work and gets benefits for its members by making informed comment and by lobbying all parts of the active Scottish political world.  The quality of a boat isn't determined by the turbulence of its wake - and often the turbulence indicates a problem.  If I were running one of those companies that contributes thousands of pounds to CBI Scotland I might be wondering at the moment what, exactly, I get for my money.  How does it advantage member companies for Mr McMillan to indulge his own ego and pursue a narrow political agenda?

Perhaps they get good political advice?  I might look into that.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

CBI Scotland - who does it speak for?

I was intrigued by the latest bombast and nonsense from Iain McMillan of CBI Scotland in his New Year message when he criticised the Scottish Government's pursuit of a policy that was in the manifesto on which it got elected - independence.  Mr McMillan's anti-SNP politics have been played out in public in the past and his membership of the Calman Commission and Labour's literacy commission have called his impartiality into question but I thought it might be worthwhile taking the time to look past the blinkers that he wears and look at who it is that he actually represents; of which tribe is this man a tribune?

Scotland has 296,780 business enterprises - up 1,400 in a year and up 17,290 since the SNP came to power; a performance during a recession that exceeded the performance of the previous three years when times were good - of which 1,500 have more than 500 employees and a further 3,655 have between 50 and 249 employees - 4,155 substantial Scottish businesses - 2,265 of the medium sized enterprises are headquartered in Scotland and 430 of the large ones; that's 2,695 substantial businesses not only operating in Scotland but headquartered here (an increase in percentages from previous years) - and then there are all the small Scottish-owned enterprises to add - another 146,065.  You would think that CBI Scotland, whose Director gets so much media attention, would have a fairly big percentage as members.

CBI Scotland doesn't publish its membership online, more's the pity, but the CBI has a business directory which you can browse at your leisure, and I did just that.  You don't have to be a member of the CBI to get listed so not every business listed will be a member but I reckon that the number of businesses which would pay for the listing without being members would be fairly small so I went right through the entire directory and noted which ones had Scottish addresses and found that CBI Scotland's membership is, at most, 90.  That's not a typo, it's 90 - nine zero.

Of that 90, though, 3 are universities, 1 is the commercial arm of a university, 9 are quangoes or publically owned companies (TIE and SECC are the companies), 8 are trade bodies, 1 is a BID district, 6 are branches or subsidiaries of other companies, and only 62 are Scottish companies.  62 out of the 148,760 Scottish companies - 0.04%.  I'll try to be fair and acknowledge that it's unlikely that many small enterprises would think of joining the CBI (although there is some evidence that this is not strictly true) and I'll just take the larger and medium sized enterprises - 62 out of 2,695 or 2.3% - hardly speaking for the vast swathes of Scottish business opinion.  Additionally, I know that directors and owners of some of these companies are SNP supporters or have already expressed their appreciation of the work that has been done by the SNP Scottish Government.

The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, by contrast, has more than 20,000 members and we hardly hear from them although they appear to put out more comment than CBI Scotland.  Could it be because FSB Scotland contributes positively and meaningfully to public debate in Scotland, quietly winning support and benefits for its members and that doesn't make for good stories while the rather more florid utterances from the CBI do?

For everyone's delight and delectation and for the purposes of sharing information, here is the full list:

Robert Gordon University
Glasgow Caledonian University
College of Arts and Social Sciences (part of Dundee University)
GU Holdings Ltd (commercial arm of Glasgow University)

Quangoes and similar
Skills Development Scotland
Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership
Investors in People Scotland
Business Stream (part of Scottish Water)
SECC (91% owned by Glasow Council)
TIE (Edinburgh's favourite tramline layer)

Trade Bodies
Food Trade Association Management
Graphic Enterprise Scotland
Homes for Scotland
Publishing Scotland
Scottish Building Federation
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
The Scotch Whisky Association

BID district
Essential Edinburgh

Branches or Subsidiaries
AG Holdings
Conoco Phillips
ISS Facility Services Ltd
Weber Shandwick

Companies (split into business sectors)
Banks and financial inc insurance and investment
Airdrie Savings Bank
Alliance Trust
Clydesdale Bank
Royal Bank of Scotland Group
Standard Life
Weir Group
Imes Group Holdings
Balmoral Group Holdings
Hydrasun Ltd
PR & Consultants, etc
BiP Solutions
Chance Associates
Core Solutions Group
Glen Abbot Ltd
James Barr
Laura Gordon Associates
Liddell Thomson
Millstream Associates
Munro Consulting
SI Associates
Gupta Partnership
Energy, Oil and Marine
Aquamarine Power
Cairn Energy
Scottish Power
Wood Group Management Services
Ledingham Chalmers
Maclay, Murray & Spens
Morton Fraser
Shepherd and Wedderburn
Elphinstone Holdings
Lochay Investments
Townhead Properties
Construction & Supplies
WF Watt (Contracts)
Miller Group
Stewart Milne Group
McAlpine & Co
Mactaggart & Mickel
The rest
Devro (food wrappers)
Havelock Europa (furniture)
Henry Winning & Co (string & twine)
ICS (education)
John G Russell (transport)
Kube Networds (telecom)
M Computer Technologies
Memex Technologies (electronic shop equipment)
Morris Leslie Group (various)
Scottish Leather Group
STV Group
Coverdale Organisation (training)
Edrington Group (distillers)
Skene Group (hotels)
Tomatin Distillery
Tullis Russell Group (paper)

So there you have it - the membership of CBI Scotland.