Monday 31 March 2008

She's got a brand new secret advisor ...

Guess who's got a new advisor? Yup, Wendy Alexander has a brand new 'unofficial advisor' - one Philip Chalmers.

Who he?

He's Donald Dewar's old spinner - left under a bit of a cloud in January 2000 when he was caught drunk in charge of a motor vehicle and then drink driving - one of the offences committed with a prostitute in his car.

Mr Chalmers had been the spinner in charge of the drink-driving campaign ...

He hasn't been idle, though

Labour brought him in to run the Visit Scotland website under PFI - which promptly lost a couple of million quid. We should make clear, of course, that he was actually being employed by Schlumberger - a company that donates to Labour coffers.

He then scooted off to work for ATOS - selling IT systems to the London Government like that for the 2012 Olympics - including the system for ID cards - is this Wendy's new-found socialism in action?

Is he back on the advice of David "howlin mad" Whitton?

Brian Lironi, Matthew Marr, Kerron Cross, Tony McIlroy, Gavin Yates, Simon Pia, and now the return of Chalmers - Wendy doesn't have a good track record with advisors.

Wonder if John Rafferty will be bombing back any time soon?

A bra wee song

I've just come upon this cracking video:

It's like Eurovision - your points please

Dearly beloved, Wendy Alexander's speech to those who should respect her has been published on Labour's website. If you want to read it you should do so - I've already done so.

Politicians should not bring their children into their speeches - like all other children they should be allowed to grow and develop their own politics whether those politics suit the parents or not. I will not comment on nor refer to Wendy's repeated references to her twins, except to say they are not a prize to be displayed and their mother should think to protect them rather than use them - as most political parents do. That sounds pompous, but it's as accurate a comment on protecting politician's children as I'm likely to be able to make.

Rara temporum felicitas, ubi sentire quae velis; et quae sentias, dicere licet

Let's look at the speech. I'm ignoring her praise for the outgoing General Secretary - that's an ecumenical matter ...

Some people will remember that her pet scribe advised her to adopt the style of JFK or Martin Luther King. Whether she emulated Dr King is a matter of opinion, but her attempts at doing JFK came early in her speech:
Conference, I was born on the 27th June 1963.Harold Wilson was leader of the
Labour Party. John F. Kennedy was President of the USA.And in a Manchester hotel room, those rather more famous pop stars, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had just finished writing She Loves You - a song that would herald a whole new age of popular music.
It was just the beginning of a ramble through her memories which you can read in the full text. I'm delighted she has these memories - I'm just not sure what the relevance is.

If you carry on through the reverie you come to this chat about the demolition of Gorbals tenements:
Of course as a small child, I did not really understand what was going on – but looking back - what stayed with me was the knowledge that things never stay the same – that this is a world of constant change.

Now, as a youngster I wandered through demolition sites in Dundee - some were huge expanses created by dead jute mills, some were tenements coming down, but nothing gave me the impression of constant change. If anything, clearing buildings and rebuilding gives you a sense of immediate change and no constancy.

Since Spence was commissioned in 1959, the tenants started moving in in 1965 and Wendy was born in 1963 - can she remember the demolition as she claimed? Is she suffering a "Tony Blair" "St James' Park" "Jackie Milburn" moment? Oh, ask a Geordie, I did...

Back to Wendy:
As the Prime Minister said yesterday Labour’s cause is not only the cause of ordinary working people everywhere but the cause of -
Fighting poverty
Supporting the vulnerable
And speaking up for the voice.

Labour is the cause of fighting poverty? Does that mean they caused the poverty families across Scotland have been suffering? I would accuse them of that - I never thought they'd have the honesty to accuse themselves.

Then there's "speaking up for the voice" - what in the name of all is that? What voice is she talking about? Most people who claim a voice of this nature claim more than one ...
“Scotland” is not a political philosophy.
“Scotland” can just as easily be Adam Smith as it can be John Smith.

Maybe I've missed the point here, but surely Scotland is neither one nor the other nor, indeed, a combination of both. Scotland deserves more respect than being reduced to individuals - especially just after you've claimed that Scotland isn't a political philosophy. It's more likely to be me than John Smith - and more likely to be any of my compatriots than Adam Smith - because we're alive and living here and contributing to Scotland's current and therefore future being - I know Wendy doesn't like looking at the future but it will come to her as surely as it will come to anyone else - and I'm not a predeterminist.
But of course this wasn’t what we were promised last May. The SNP promised to be more Labour than Labour itself.

No we didn't - we put forward our policy proposals which were most unlike Labour's and we won the election. A party trying to claim a policy area as their's is an indication of a party that has ceased to think and is looking to rest on past glories - all about the past, nothing about the future.
Who could not be moved this week by the brave youngsters in Aberdeen - many once homeless themselves – sleeping rough all week in sub zero temperatures - to stop the next generation of Aberdeen’s vulnerable youngsters having nowhere to go – because the SNP and Liberal led council is slashing funding to the Cyrenians.

You know - that's a real tear-jerker. So I looked for someone who might have reported it. Not the local newspaper, the Press and Journal: not the local Cyrenians although they're organising a protest starting 27th May, ending 5th April: not even the local Labour party. I think she's a liar.
It is no longer enough that everyone is guaranteed a decent education to sixteen. In future every school leaver, with the qualifications, should have the right to a place at university, or at college or a modern apprenticeship.
I'm delighted she has realised that a decent education has only started to become a reality with the SNP. That will take some time to have an effect though. University or college will now be without tuition fees, but tradesman (craftsmen as I would have said in my younger days) tell me that the Modern Apprenticeship isn't worth the candle - in spite of the money they get from Government. We really must look at that anew.
We will give the new Literacy Commission an ambitious target. How to make Scotland the first country in the world to eradicate illiteracy.

Leaving aside the fact that she had eight years to try- has she not missed the boat by a few years?
I recently visited Carnegie College’s School of Engineering and Technology at Rosyth. They told me about CR Smith who advertised for one apprentice joiner and had 300 applications.
So Scottish Labour will provide a guaranteed modern apprenticeship for every qualified 16-18 year old who wants one. Skills are Scotland’s future.
Maybe I have this wrong - 1 place at CR Smith with 300 applications and rather than looking to make sure that these people have an apprenticeship with the possibility of a job (like the one place offered by CR Smith), she thinks we should force every passing punter to take on an apprentice.

I remember the good old days when you got congratulated for becoming an apprentice - happy days.
We are today in the Highlands – a part of Scotland where over the last decade Labour has built stronger communities and created better chances in life for everyone who lives in them.
We achieved it by handing back the land to the people. Gigha, Uist, Knoydart, Colonsay.

Here's a funny thing - I'm pleased that the SNP played a part in this, but I've never thought that party politics was ever very strong in it. I've had the privilege of having a wee holiday on Gigha. They're delighted to own their island at last and acknowledge that the legislation was Scottish Parliament law, but they don't thank any particular political party for it. I imagine the same applies elsewhere in Scotland

She then goes on to talk about dead people again.

Far be it from me to offer advice, but may I say to Labour members - you know your grip on Scotland has gone, but you still have a chance to make a valid contribution to Scotland before Labour goes entirely - get rid of Wendy Alexander and give us a Labour leader who will do something worthwhile.

Sunday 30 March 2008

You've lost what?

Word reaches me that Ed Balls' department has mislaid, lost, or otherwise inadvertently disposed of a ministerial limousine!

Saturday 29 March 2008


I've been watching Labour's conference (I know, I know, it's almost masochism). It's awfy boring, but has a slight undercurrent of interest. They've been speaking about the SNP more than anything else - a strange fascination.

Wendy Alexander fell a bit flat - another long-winded history rant and another attempt at self-justification. Her only discussion of policies was to hark back to Labour's failed manifesto from last year's election and to pledge to try to implement it - nothing about the future, and nothing about her Independence Commission. On the bright side, she wants us all to have a say in selecting Labour candidates - excellent!

She announced the setting up of about a dozen internal Labour review bodies - it reminded me of what Brian Wilson said:
"Wendy Alexander is very much part of the presiding influences in Labour politics over the past 20 years in Scotland who have decided that politics is really about constitutions and commissions and the more we set up the better life must be."
Wendy Alexander has a great reputation as a policy wonk - it's an empty reputation, the evidence suggests she's pretty poor.
The reception from the small audience was muted, and if she can't get her own party roaring then she really has problems. Lesley Quinn's speech earlier in the day was far better.

Interesting wee point from Gordon Brown from yesterday - he talked about "whenever the next Holyrood election is called" - is Labour trying to bring about another election or does Gordon Brown just not know how the Scottish Parliament works? More and more Brown looks like a man heading for disaster, the Conseratives look to be charging towards a substantial general election victory in England - whenever it gets called. We're heading into interesting times!

Friday 28 March 2008

A perfect 10 - or The Beach Boys?

It's a Beautiful South for Wendy Alexander today as she got the opportunity to rate her own performance as leader of the Labour group of MSPs.

How good does she think her performance is?
"Rising all the time, I think is the answer," said Ms Alexander, adding: "Ten
out of 10, 10 out of 10."

Fantastic - Wendy's so good she's leaving the earth's gravity behind and heading for the stars. You'll note I said nothing about the moon and wiring.

Bow down, bow down and grovel in abject obsecration before this self-proclaimed genius.

No good vibrations coming her way from Brian Wilson, though, he's accused her of 'prattling' and said:
"Wendy Alexander is very much part of the presiding influences in Labour politics over the past 20 years in Scotland who have decided that politics is really about constitutions and commissions and the more we set up the better life must be."

Yup, he's right - she's useless. He also seems to agree with a couple of Labour MSPs:
"To be honest I would rather have a referendum than this sort of incremental nonsense of fiddling about with powers. I fail to understand why the people who have created Labour's difficulties in Scotland seem to learn nothing and keep on making the same mistakes."

Never thought I'd agree with Brian Wilson - have the referendum, you know you want to! Labour MEP David Martin agrees with me:
"I said we should call Alex Salmond's bluff, have a referendum – yes or no on independence – a short sharp debate and get it out of the way."

Excellent! Bring on the referendum!

Related news comes from the minutes of Labour's South/Pentlands branch where Iain Gray was the guest speaker on the 6th March 2008 in the Braid Centre. The Gray man did not hold back.

He told them that Labour had lost the trust of the people, that the Westminster allocation to Scotland was short of what had been expected, that the SNP was showing how to manage Government well, and that he didn't like the coalition with the Libdems.

He criticised the SNP for "cutting taxes to stimulate growth" (does he not think that Scotland's economy should grow?) and seems to have missed the bit in the budget that pays for 1,000 new police officers.

By and large, though, he admitted Labour was finished.

Sad to see that "The election of Richard Gardner to the Constituency Executive was disputed". Can Labour party members not get on with each other at all?

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Imagine that - told off by a Labour member

There's a woman who was at school with me who has not yet seen the light and is a member of the Labour party - no hissing at the back there. She's not elected to anything and has no interest in getting elected, nor is she an office-bearer in her local branch, nor anything of that nature, she's an ordinary member of the Labour party and a thoroughly decent person. I have tried to save her without success but the road to Damascus is very long. There is still hope - do not despair!

Anyway, after my recent posting about the vacuity of Wendy Alexander's future paper which doesn't look to the future and has no original thought nor any trace of a policy or a direction or a sense of vision or an outlining of what matters to her, I received a communication from my good friend back in the land of heroes.

I have to admit to having been told off by a member of the Labour party. Apparently I missed Wendy's greatest sin. The Labour party was founded to seek the righting of wrongs and the levelling of society and the seeking of power was a search to find the levers to effect that change. Traditionally, Labour members sought power for what they could do and for how they could change society.

Wendy Alexander has, apparently, cocked a snook (what a lovely phrase) at that tradition and argued that the Labour party should seek power for the sake of power. She has lionised Tony Blair who argued the same thing - that power was more important than principle - and she has betrayed the generations of Labour members who went before her.
Interestingly, this is also, apparently, why so many members of the Labour party are leaving the fold and why some are actually considering voting for the SNP (they're only considering it, don't get over-excited) - because the SNP has quite clearly stuck by its principles and its beliefs even when they stood between us and power and the SNP Government has sought to deliver on those principles in power. This, apparently, stands in marked contrast to the actions of MS Alexander.

Chastised and praised at the same time. Still not saved her though - not yet.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

The big good nationalists and the three little unionists

Once upon a time in a Parliament not far away, the three little unionist parties insisted that the big good nationalists should respect the will of Parliament. Of course, the nationalists, being good parliamentarians, will always respect Parliament as far as possible. Pity the three little unionist parties today gave up that principle - ach well, more in sorrow than in anger I shrug my shoulders and hope they'll get better soon.

On December 6th 2007, Parliament agreed - against the will of the SNP - to have the Scottish Parliament Coporate Body run a commission on the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. Today, the three little unionists and the big bad London Government scorned the will of Parliament and moved to set up their own review of devolution - tsk tsk tsk!

Not only have they not had the grace to wait for Parliament to act, they held a news conference in Parliament and never had the decency to even inform Parliament's press officers. Terribly rude. You know, the Corporate Body hasn't yet even discussed any report on this commission and will have to do so in advance of setting up the commission which Parliament ordered because the unionist review doesn't satisfy the terms of the Parliamentary vote. So that will be a commission to add to the review which is in itself superfluous thanks to the National Conversation run by the Scottish Government. It's like an episode of Soap.

So the chair of this review was announced today - I asked yesterday whether they'd be bright enough to appoint the respected legal chap but they didn't - they appointed the crusty old mandarin placeman Kenneth Calman. Apparently he's an expert on sundials - just what we need. Mind you, he did lead the BSE enquiry - that could be terribly handy.

The background briefing on the review makes it clear that the review group will consist only of unionists - so no room there for representatives of Scotland's most successful Government, the SNP, and no room for those who are not committed to either side but who care about the future of their country. Still, maybe Parliament's Commission will address those glaring deficiencies.

On the brighter side, though, there's a promise that "It will listen to all voices in Scotland" and "will consider all submissions, and will welcome representations on issues which might be devolved to the Scottish Parliament."

No address is given for sending submissions in, but I'm sure that the Presiding Officer is the kind of chap who would make sure they got to him, so I suggest we all send him our representations. Here's the address -

Kenneth Calman,
Parliament Review,
c/o the Presiding Officer
Scottish Parliament
EH99 1SP

That should cause trouble!

Today's sweepie - how long till it turns into the Independence Commission?

Monday 24 March 2008

Scotland Office - cheeky minx

Whose a naughty boy then? That there Scotland Office (what a daft name for a government department) has almost created some interest in the Scottish Parliament Independence Commission.

That was the Commission which was ordered by a vote in Parliament in December -

That the Parliament, recognising mainstream public opinion in Scotland, supports the establishment of an independently chaired commission to review devolution in Scotland; encourages UK Parliamentarians and parties to support this commission also and proposes that the remit of this commission should be:
"To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom",
and further instructs the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to allocate appropriate resources and funding for this review.

You see how that's a Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) deal? How this Commission (which will recommend Independence, of course) belongs to the SPCB, not to any political party nor to any government department? That's quite important.

The Scotland Office, you see, issued a call notice for a news conference in Parliament:

Sent: 24 March 2008

Subject: Op Note: Scottish Parliament Review - 11.30am, Tuesday 25March, 11.30am
Grateful for inclusion in diaries etc.
Operational Note
An announcement on the progress of the Scottish Parliament Review will be made at a press conference on Tuesday, March 25 at 11.30am in the Press Briefing Room at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. It will be attended by the party leaders involved in the Review.

The independent body, which has the support of both the UK Government and Scottish Parliament, will examine devolution's role in Scotland's future.

A press release and further details will be issued at the press briefing.

The briefing will be on-camera and on the record. Interview opportunities will be available post-conference.

You are invited to send a reporter/ crew/ photographer.

Issued on behalf of the Scottish Parliament Review by The Scotland Office

Why would the Scotland Office be involved in this news conference? Surely it's the SPCB who would progress this issue and it would be the Presiding Officer's responsibility to call the news conference - the Scotland Office has no locus.The SPCB has considered the issue in principle - at its December meeting where the Chief Executive reported:
Constitutional change
5. The Chief Executive advised that he had spoken with Party Leaders and Business Managers and would report further to the Corporate Body in the new year.
Wonder if he spoke to Salmond? There is no report back noted in the minutes of the SPCB since the New Year, so it's obviously still pending.

Another issue is this -
11. The SPCB agreed that it was not appropriate for Members to ‘sponsor’ third parties to hold press conferences on the Parliament’s premises. Only press conferences being held by Members in pursuit of their parliamentary duties could be held in the Parliament.
That's from the SPCB's February minutes, indicating that the Scotland Office isn't allowed to call a news conference in the Scottish Parliament - even if it's sponsored by an MSP (the room for this has been booked by the Libdem's Head of Press).

So now there's the question - will the Presiding Officer have the courage to rule this out of order and tell them that this news conference cannot go ahead? This is what he should do - make sure that the scarce resources of the Scottish Parliament are used appropriately. Additionally, he should ensure that the Commission demanded by the Scottish Parliament vote should go ahead - and if Labour wants a different commission then Labour can pay for it.

While we're on the subject, though, let's have a sweepie about the chair of the Independence Commission (who should also be chosen by the SPCB) - will it be a very distinguished and very well-respected legal figure or will it be a crusty and hidebound former mandarin who has already written a report that was helpful to Labour?

Sam Galbraith thinks it should be Henry McLeish.

You shouldn't laugh

Wendy Alexander has always been touted by Labour as a great thinker. I've always believed that the evidence for her genius just didn't stack up. Seems I'm right.

The Scotsman's coverage of the 73rd relaunch of her leadership makes it clear that she spent more than six months writing her vision of the future which doesn't have any vision in it.

Six months to write around 9,000 words riddled with errors and inconsistencies, lacking any thought, vision or new policy, but 12 mentions of Donald Dewar and several pages of wobbly history. If this empty shell took her six months and she's the best Labour's got it's not much of a wonder that Scotland never advanced while Labour ruled the roost.

SNP researchers who worked in opposition before May 2007 have been looking at the paper in wonder and awe. Each of them has been asking how anyone could get away with work so shoddy - the consensus is that any SNP researcher trying to get away with writing a policy position paper devoid of any policy or position would not long be in the job.

Even more bizarre is publishing a document this poor a week before your conference. Surely there is a danger of being Fishered and then ritually skewered by members in the bar? Wendy's "new directions" paper may not be the longest suicide note in history at only 28 pages, and not the most eloquent by a long way, but it is going to be effective.

She's not the brightest fairy light on the Christmas tree.

Sunday 23 March 2008

Wendy's vision

Wendy Alexander has published her vision for the future of Labour. Should have gone to Specsavers.
I encourage everyone to read it. For those of us who are immersed in politics it's a pleasant diversion, taking time out to have a bit of a gentle laugh - the way you can humour a child who thinks she's driving a car. For people who are just looking for a bit of information about the parties active in Scotland, it's a cracking example of the poverty of ambition, paucity of thought, and putrefaction of intellect that so confounds the Labour party.

In the 28 pages that make up the document there is not one single proposal, policy or idea for the future - not one. It is a toom tabard.

Let me show you some of the highlights of this stream-of-consciousness muttering:

It opens with the stunning observation
We in the Labour Party have been fortunate to live in a time when politics in the English-speaking world have been dominated by three of the most gifted politicians of the centre-left – Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown.
Let's not start correcting the grammar, life's too short. In fact, let's leave the claim that these three are left-wingers hanging in the air and move on, because she then claims that these three have delivered some kind of economic miracle on these shores and on those shores (what shores? Thanks, I'll have a whisky if it doesn't cost too much).

This economic miracle has seen a bank collapse here and one over there, mortgages get tighter, the cost of living soaring, the Bank of England and the US Fed bailing out banks in a way never seen before, and the value of the Pound and the Dollar at historic lows. A few more economic miracles like that and we'll be destitute.

Wendy then has a long rant about what happened in the election last year (note to Ms Alexander - the SNP tagline was "It's Time" rather than the version you have. It's this lack of attention to detail that causes you so many problems), and says she believes in change now:
We want to change the institutions, the practices, the beliefs that hold our society back. If institutions are not working to make Scotland a better place, our job is to put something better in their place. If there are practices that are holding Scotland back, our task is to sweep them away. And if there are beliefs that are checking progress, our aim is to challenge and defeat them.
I think you'll find that the Scottish people did that on May 3rd 2007. Still, she's pledged that Labour will be the party of change, so I assume we'll see her changed before long.

Not content with a history lesson covering recent history, Wendy then goes back to the first world war and 'treats' us to a long, convoluted and incoherent history lesson and the lessons that she thinks Labour should learn from history. I'm sure some political historian will point out the inaccuracies, I was looking for what she was trying to say.

Into the third chapter, now, which opens with this:
What does Scottish Labour stand for? It’s a question people often ask us. Our answer to that has not changed. We stand for the progressive values of justice, equality, and community.
Damned fine question - meaningless answer. That might be one of the difficulties of always practising soundbite politics - she's forgotten how to put meaning into anything. Take this bit:

For many people of humble means the best you could hope for was to leave school with minimal qualifications, join a big company or an institution and, if you worked diligently, expect to remain employed with that organisation for the rest of your life and retire with an occupational pension.

You would expect better in a school essay on social history; to have this spouted by any national politician is shameful. It does not represent Scotland and fails to acknowledge the aspirations that Scots have always had and the egalitarianism of the Scottish people which does not deride those of 'humble means' but appreciates them for the people they are rather than valuing them according to the coin in their pocket. I knew that Labour was massively disconnected from Scotland, I didn't realise that Labour politicians thought they had the right to belittle people. Given her next comment that people from 'modest backgrounds' (her phrase, not mine) can go to university now and will change employers every few years, it would seem that she thinks she is lecturing imbeciles and none of us remember the damage that Labour has done to employers and pension funds over the past 11 years.

I'm just going to put this next paragraph up here and leave you to marvel at it:
Aspirations also change. Home ownership, car ownership, a foreign holiday, labour-saving appliances in the home, were once but distant dreams for most people. Thanks to Labour many have now achieved these dreams. Nowadays, families’ aspirations stretch to second home ownership, two cars in the driveway, a nice garden, two foreign holidays a year, and leisure systems in the home such as sound, cinema, and gym equipment. In short, social conditions change and people’s aspirations constantly rise. We need to be in tune with those changes, for if we are not in tune with them, we will be seen as irrelevant.
It's almost child-like: If only she had more fingers upon which to count the aspirations of the people ...

She goes on to give her ideas for policies on three big areas:

We need to lead the debate about how we should and can take responsibility for our diet and our own health, and to embrace radical ideas on how to take that agenda forward.
That's it, honestly, I haven't left any ideas out.
Scottish Labour must seek out ways to guarantee that all children leave primary education fully equipped for secondary school.
Higher Education (she included it in education):
finding real solutions is a tough challenge, but one that Scottish Labour must undertake.
Visionary, isn't it? Communities and People is the other area she touched on but she didn't even say this much there. She ends this homily with
These three examples – in health, education, and communities - show the directions in which Scottish Labour must travel. All of us have a duty to take part in debating and formulating the policies that will renew our connection with the Scottish people.
There is a common injunction in Scotland not to go drinking on an empty head. It should also apply to politics.

And so Wendy wends her weary way onto the constitution and another history peroration as well as another paean to Donald Dewar as if he were her patron saint. Three full pages before we come to the Independence Commission to be set up by the Scottish Parliament as a result of Labour's motion passing on December 6th 2007.

She doesn't realise that it's an Independence Commission yet, she thinks the Commission will just look at how to fiddle around the edges rather than come up with a real solution. Interestingly, she also thinks that the UK Government will bow to the will of this Scottish Parliament Commission - I take it that Gordon Brown has agreed to bend the knee, but has David Cameron? What an interesting idea to have a UK Prime Minister come to Edinburgh in supplication.

She argues for Scotland ceding power to London in this manner:
the Commission should also consider any reasoned arguments for the boundary moving in the opposite direction, for example in national security related matters such as counter terrorism and contingency planning.
For a woman who claims to have been at the centre of drafting the Scotland Act, she doesn't know much about it - national security is already reserved.

In support of the union, this document demands that we believe that the Scots would not have been an inventive race had we not been thirled to England. She raises the ghost of James Watt whose steam engine became an economically viable machine when he entered into partnership with a Brummie chap as being an example of why Scotland needs the union. She mentions Alexander Graham Bell in passing but doesn't seem to feel that she should comment on his collaboration with Americans - I take it she doesn't think that Bell is an argument for our absorption into the USA? Does she think, perhaps, that Glover is argument for us joining Japan?

She also manages to suggest that Scottish banks would not be as good as they are had it not been for the UK. In her words:

Other small European countries, which we are often invited to admire, do not have anything approaching that strength in financial services, a key industry of the future.
That's going to come as a big shock to Luxembourg!

The final chapter in this execrable essay is entitled "Change and the way ahead", but it doesn't talk about the way ahead, it talks about the past - again. Not with any coherence, either, take this bit:
Labour gave the Scottish Constitutional Convention momentum 20 years ago, led on creating the Scottish Parliament 10 years ago, and is, I believe, will now to lead on the next steps.
Answers on a postcard...

I'll leave you to have a read of her vision, but I think it's shameful that someone with so little talent and ability can claw her way to the top of any political party in Scotland. Labour really does have to be the party of change if it is ever again to be relevant in Scotland, and it has to start with changing its leader.

I would expect a third-year Modern Studies pupil to have a better grasp of Scottish politics than Labour's leader shows here. There's a dearth of analysis, an absence of original thought and a screaming belief that her saying it makes it true.

What really irritates, though, is the pulpit-laden preaching tone in which it is written, the holier-than-thou and the smug self-satisfaction. To be so poor in thought is sad enough, to not know it is even sadder.

Saturday 22 March 2008

Does not compute

This Computing For Labour must be a good company. It's persuaded all of these MSPs to use public money to pay for services that Parliament provides free of charge:

David Whitton Sep-07 £235.00

Irene Oldfather Oct-07 £235.00

Pauline Mcneill Sep-07 £235.00

Kenneth Macintosh Dec-07 £176.25

Lewis Macdonald Nov-07 £235.00

Andy Kerr Jul-07 £235.00

Cathy Jamieson Sep-07 £235.00

Iain Gray Dec-07 £100.00

Iain Gray Dec-07 £235.00

Trish Godman Apr-07 £235.00

Karen Gillon Apr-07 £235.00

Patricia Ferguson Oct-07 £176.25

Helen Eadie Aug-07 £235.00

Bill Butler Dec-07 £235.00

Rhona Brankin Jul-07 £235.00

Sarah Boyack May-07 £235.00

Jackie Baillie Sep-07 £235.00

Wendy Alexander Oct-07 £235.00

Lib Dems pay for EARS (no, I don't know either)

Sometimes I like to take a look at history

Richard Nixon often said interesting things:

I let down my friends. I let down the country. I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government, but think that it's all too corrupt. New York Times May 5th, 1977

"I was not lying. I said things that later on seemed to be untrue." discussing Watergate in 1978 (no intentional wrongdoing defence)

This would be an easy job if you didn't have to deal with people. Alone In the White House Pg 326

"It is necessary for me to establish a winner image.Therefore, I have to beat somebody."

He reminds me of someone. I just can't remember who, godammit.

Thursday 20 March 2008

How good is your team?

The A-Team members were convicted of a crime they didn't commit. Escaped, and went about righting wrongs - they're the good guys.
If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.
Templeton "Faceman" Peck; H.M. Murdock; "Hannibal" Smith; B.A. Baracus.

Then there's the B-Team, not convicted of a crime they did commit and admitted committing, they're still at large, they're still wrong, they're still dangerous - they're the bad guys.
If you have a problem, they probably caused it.

B.A. Baillie - not the same taste for bling as Baracus but a similar bad attitude
"Don't go saying that about Wendy, fool"
Tom 'Faceman' McCabe - Face is the fixer but doesn't like the fighting - disappears after working the mark, only to reappear when everything settles down
"Yes, we broke the law - I'm sorry, is that my phone ringing?"

"Howlin Mad" Whitton - talks gibberish with the best of them and has been known to speak to inanimate objects (he's in Labour) and communes with those who have passed to the other side. For light entertainment read his blog
"I'm dead clever me"

They are, of course, led by that great Carthaginian general Hannibal Alexander, driving on towards her destiny -
"I love it when donations come together".

We've just got to make sure there isn't another series...

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Wendy singing starts

Wendy Alexander finally got into doing some of what a party leader should be doing - holding her first ever Parliamentary press conference as a party leader.

You can imagine the tension, pens poised, notepads at the ready, ears straining for every nuance. The star of the hour takes her seat, smiles at the assembled scribes like a siofra at a spelling bee, and clears her throat.

Half a dozen scribes take out their penknives and cut the air for a better view, Wendy frowns them into stillness, opens her mouth, and the air is filled with the sound of children's voices singing:
Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

As the journalists expressed their sympathies Simon Pia was despatched to hush the choir from Zwelibanzi High School in Umlazi - one of South Africa's poorest townships. They were under the watchful eye of Tricia Marwick MSP, though, and not even Simon Pia is daft enough to hush school pupils in front of her - he just waited till they finished.
If only Wendy could have appreciated the second verse:

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa la matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika - South Afrika.

Banishing strife? Would have been music to her ears! Poor Wendy.

Enough of politicians - what about the pupils?
The children singing are part of a quite extraordinary exchange programme organised by James Gillespie's High School in Edinburgh called "DiverseCity" which has now been running for 10 years.

Umlazi, situated outside Durban, is one of the poorest townships in South Africa, but Zwelibanzi High School pupils get some of the best qualification results in South Africa.
Gillespie's twinning with Zwelibanzi High School helps - the school's fundraising supports Zwelibanzi's educational and other needs, helping to build a kitchen to feed the poorest children, a new sports field, a school library and a music room - all from funds raised in Edinburgh.
Gillespie's pupils have a fantastic cultural change programme, I believe that 50 Scots a year go to teach and learn in Zwelibanzi. A couple of the pictures above have been quite shamelessly purloined from the school's website -

That's what I call a school of ambition. Well done Gillespie's! Miss Jean Brodie's creme de la creme has nothing on this lot.

Monday 17 March 2008

I am vexed by interesting questions

From time to time I am vexed by interesting questions. For example, I have recently been wondering how a one-armed man washes his oxter...

I also wonder why Wendy Alexander claimed £763.75 in public money to print her constituency calendar in 2005, then raised sponsorship of £2,500 for the calendar in 2006, and £3,000 for it the year after. I've come to the conclusion that she must have put out a massively better calendar in the two later years. I can't think of any other explanation...

I'm even more perplexed by her Register of Interests where it says she received 2 donations from the Phoenix Car Company (£300 for the calendar and then £995 for her leadership campaign) between September and December 2007. Surely she should have declared that to the Electoral Commission? Paragraph 10 of Schedule 7 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 says that two donations in the same year which add up to more than £1,000 should be declared. That would be another breach of the law - but I'm sure there's no intentional wrongdoing.
And then there's the question that's really confusing - when do you send out an MSP's newsletter? Well, Wendy paid for one in October 2005 - £659. That was all for that financial year.

She did much better the next year - £600 for a newsletter in October 2006, £1,270.18 for bus adverts in December 2006, £103.63 for bulk mail delivery in February 2007, £1652.40 for newsletters in February 2007 (had to be delivered by February 28th to stay inside Parliament's rules), £1,590 for bulk delivery in April 2007. £5,216.21 for the year then.

She hasn't got round to doing one since the election. I suppose she must be tired?

£659 two years before the election, £5,216.21 in the year leading up to the election, nothing since. I do hope Labour's membership isn't falling too much.

Now, this one-armed man ...

Sunday 16 March 2008

I love the smell of Sunday in the morning

Looking at the polls published in the Sunday Times today made me hopeful for the future of my nation. The SNP's excellent start to government has instilled a sense of possibility in the Scottish people, helping to drive Scotland forward, resulting in tremendous levels of support for Scotland's Party.

Here's the numbers:
Holyrood constituency
39% SNP
31% Labour
15% Conservative
12% Libdem
3% Green (others)

Holyrood Additional Member
40% SNP
30% Labour
13% Conservative
11% Libdem
5% Green (others)

37% SNP
30% Labour
18% Conservative
11% Libdem
3% Green

That wasn't all, though. There was another Wendy Alexander breaking the rules story covered.

She used Parliamentary expenses (our money, in other words) to fly to London for some meetings in the House of Lords - just before eight Members of that House gave her £2,900 for her leadership campaign.

Then she claimed taxi fares to attend a "town centre regeneration dinner" at the Marriott Hotel in Glasgow. It's becoming clear today that this was actually a meeting with Tesco about a development Tesco is planning and Wendy has been campaigning for. Tesco was kind enough to give her money for calendars.

She also took £110 to book a lunch at Reid Kerr College for herself, Jackie Baillie and Pauline McNeill and a staff member each to discuss how to run their offices. Quite apart from the fact that they've all been MSPs for nine years now and should know how to run an office, they meet each other at least twice a week in Parliament and could just have the discussion then. Of course then they would have to buy their own lunch ...

The other question which occurs to me is if this was a valid parliamentary duty why did none of the MSPs and none of their staff claim travel expenses to or from this meeting?

I'm indebted to the Secretary who sent me additional information for this.

Saturday 15 March 2008

Wendy Alexander breaks another rule

I know it's boring, but do pay attention at the back there.

Have a look at wee Wendy's website - the one paid for at great expense by us (£987.37 this year). Quite importantly, a website paid for from Parliamentary allowances can't be party political (like annual reports and anything else that we pay for).

Down at the bottom of her publicly-funded website you'll find four weblinks -
Join Labour
Meet Wendy
Donate? With her reputation? Has no-one thought of the consequences?

Asking for donations or seeking new members through your Parliament website? Not allowed! Tsk tsk tsk. She also used her publicly-funded website to lay out her leadership 'vision', and as part of her campaign for the Labour leadership. Shameful, isn't it?

I think I'll buy the Sunday Times tomorrow, I hear there's a couple of excellent stories in it, and I understand that the Scottish part of its poll will bring a wee smile to SNP faces.

Friday 14 March 2008

Trams are off-track

You'll remember that the SNP opposed the Edinburgh Tram project. £500 million of funding for it was forced through Parliament against the wishes of the SNP Government and it was forced through Edinburgh Council with only the SNP voting against. Every other party in Scotland supports this project, only the SNP sees it for the monster it is.

Word reaches me that all is not well. I am pointed to the current construction update which shows the following:

Utility Diversions
Area Start Date Completion Date
Tower Street to Commercial Wharf (Leith) 9 July 2007 12 October 2007 Russell Road to Balgreen Road 20 August 2007 24 September 2007 McDonald Road to Balfour Street (Northside) 6 August 2007 21 December 2007
Jane Street Junction 15 October 2007 14 January 2008 Princes Street initial works 7 January 2008 8 February 2008

Utility Diversions
Area Start Date Estimated Duration
Jameson Pl to Brunswick St (Leith Walk) 7 January 2008 25 weeks (approx)Balfour Street to Foot of the Walk 14 January 2008 25 weeks (approx)
Shandwick Place Closure 1 March 2008 19 weeks (approx)

Utility Diversions
Area Start Date Estimated Duration
Constitution Street Late March 26 weeks (approx)

City Centre Area
Enabling work in the St. Andrew Square area is ongoing and is scheduled to last until the end of July 2008.

This, of course, isn't true - I was on Leith Walk today and the works they claim as being completed are nowhere close to completion. That's not all - February's factsheets (available on the tram website - ) show the current (wrong) construction data as being a slippage from the programme.

Factsheet 1 has the laying of the track starting in April (just a couple of weeks away) - good luck with that. Factsheet 2, though, is even better - it says that all the work on Leith Walk should be over by now, with work ongoing elsewhere.

So with a publicly-owned company trying to disguise the facts about how far behind it is with construction we have to be asking how it's doing with keeping the costs within budget and whether it has solved the engineering problems yet, don't we?
That's what I'll be doing next - the frequently asked questions still say it's £62m so far...

Thursday 13 March 2008

Trumped up, Trumped down, what a farce

It came out today - the long awaited epic we know fondly as the Trump report, and it's ... well, it's ... kind of vacuous, kind of empty, kind of a waste of paper (and three months of committee time as well as witnesses' time), and a disgrace in terms of political abuse of the committee system.

It smells of ... roses - for Alex Salmond and John Swinney, anyway. In spite of all the kerfuffle, flummery and general ignorance that surrounded Duncan MacNeill trying to be Kenneth Starr the committee, the report exonerated the SNP. Have a look at these paragraphs:

182. The Committee notes that the Chief Planner and the Planning Minister (Cabinet Secretary for Finance and sustainable Growth, John Swinney) acted in accordance with planning laws when issuing the decision to call in the application. The Committee notes the evidence of the Chief Planner that he had decided over the weekend of 1-2 December that call-in would be the simplest solution for all parties. The Committee notes that there are no definitive criteria for call-in and that each case is decided on its own merits (see para 36). The Committee notes the evidence that the planning minister took advice from the Chief Planner in reaching his decision. The Committee further notes that neither the Chief Planner nor the Planning Minister asked Aberdeenshire Council if the decision notice had been issued on 4 December.

242. As noted in above (para 238) the Committee has no power and does not intend to judge whether of not any Minister is in breach of the Ministerial Code or Code of Conduct for MSPs. The Committee notes the efforts made by Mr Salmond to ensure all stakeholders were clear that he was acting as Constituency MSP for Gordon and not as First Minister. The Committee notes that stakeholders have made it clear they were aware that Mr Salmond was acting as Constituency MSP for Gordon and not as First Minister at all times.

For an indication of just how much of your time and money was wasted on an opposition grudge, take a look at the Record of Divisions in Private beginning on page 53.

More later, by gum!

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Such a pittance

How hard it is for the poorest in our society to get by on the pittance they have.

Remember Wendy Alexander complaining in October that the £22,000 extra allowance she gets as leader of the Labour party on top of the £247,475 her party gets to mount an effective opposition on top of the £60,700 she gets to run her office just wasn't enough for her to meet the demands of the job?

This has nothing to do with her being poorer than at any time in the last 20 years, this is about the wodge of cash she has to employ staff, buy research, that kind of thing.

So, anyway, she wanted more than £22,000. So now that we're approaching the end of the financial year, let's take a look at the figures and see what she's spent of it so far. Use the search page to search for the Party Leader's Allowance and you'll find that she's spent £10 on a taxi in London from Clapham to Dover House and, er, that's it.

£22,000 wasn't enough but a tenner covers it? No wonder she thinks she's poor.

A woman doctor? Well I never!

The New Scientist is carrying a story suggesting that new evidence has come to light to suggest that Dr James Barry was a woman - this time actually putting a name to her, suggesting that she was the niece of the Irish artist James Barry. That would make Margaret Ann Bulkley the first medically qualified woman from these islands as well as the first surgeon from this part of the world to perform a Caesarean section.

It's a fantastic tale, read the New Scientist story here and the more in-depth stuff here.

Monday 10 March 2008

Be careful what you wish for

After the Cambuslang bye-election leader of the Scottish branch of the Labour party, Wendibles Alexander, described it as "an excellent result for the [Labour] party".

Hmmm - Labour took 2,403 votes in May last year - 50.4% of the vote.
Last week Labour only took 715 votes - 28%.

That's a 22 point drop, an 11% swing to the SNP. A few more excellent results of that nature and Wendy will find herself destitute - that would wipe out most of her Parliamentary group.

That was last week, of course, and it may be that Wendy has thought of some clever words to use:

Sunday 9 March 2008

They never thought they'd miss McConnell...

In the midst of all the fuss about Wendy Alexander's utter failure as Labour leader, there must be some wistful looks back to a time when there was at least some semblance of order and direction in the ranks. Perhaps not quite a 'bring back Jack' refrain, but certainly a sense that the McConnell days were better times for Labour than the days since the leadership changed hands.

That made some comments of Iain Macwhirter's very interesting:
I have been told independently that Jack McConnell was expected to step aside after the election to make way for Wendy Alexander, who would have been installed as leader without a contest on the Monday after the election.
Leaving aside the democratic deficit inherent in the plan, the speed with which McConnell was being asked to resign makes it appear that the plan had been made before the election and that Jack McConnell was expected to go no matter what the result of the election turned out to be.

Macwhirter also goes on to say that McConnell's refusal to go immediately is being seen by Labour in London as the cause of Labour's meltdown in Scotland. Those spinning that out are either deliberately sending up smoke or don't have a very good understanding of politics.

Labour's problems come from a number of angles - firstly there's the SNP victory showing that Labour's grip on Scotland's throat can be loosened and Labour can lose and will lose again; then there's the performance of the SNP Government outshining the previous administrations that Scotland suffered; add on Gordon Brown's obvious incompetence since he became Prime Minister; garnish with a succession of stories suggesting Labour indulges in practices which can, at the most charitable, be described as questionable, and you have a recipe for Labour's collapse that has little to do with Jack McConnell staying a few days extra.

Just to keep adding to Labour's woes, apparently, Sepp Blatter has now spiked Gordon Brown's pet project of a GB football team for the Olympics. Let's hope Broon hasn't ordered the strips.

Saturday 8 March 2008

What are you saying?

There are estimates floating around that put the cost to Scottish businesses of the poor language skills of our population at £2.7 billion or so - which is quite a lot of money. That's modern foreign languages, of course.

A cost like that to our business community is, of course, followed by a cost in employment terms and a whole swathe of social costs to follow. Improving our performance in learning and using foreign languages would be a good investment, methinks.

That's why I didn't agree with Jack McConnell when he said "What is the point teaching kids French who can't speak English?", and it's why I welcome the Scottish Government's support for building links with other countries.

It's nothing personal - it's just business.

Friday 7 March 2008

Eadie to Leadie!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Helen Eadie should lead the Labour Party. Not just in Scotland, but throughout the known universe.
The woman proves herself time and time again as the greatest thinker in Labour's ranks. Here's another piece of rapier-sharp political analysis from Her Eadieness (you'll note I've changed the scribe's name to save him any embarrassment):
-----Original Message-----
From: Eadie H (Helen), MSP
Sent: Thursday, March 06, 2008 6:53 PM
To: ''
Subject: Scotsman gets the most money from Scottish Government
Given that The Herald gives the most benefit to the SNP it's interesting to note that it does so much worse than the Scotsman who tops the poll - maybe now that the Scotsman is giving the SNP such a hard time maybe we shall see Gov. expenditure on the Scotsman take a nosedive?

See that incisive instinct? Neither you nor I have the ability to think like that. What a woman! What a politician! What a philosopher! I don't care if she thinks the Scotsman is a person!

A random thought just sneaked in - maybe this is how Labour politicians really think - that public money should be spent on advertising according to how each newspaper treats the party in power. Next they'd be wanting some back in donations registered on the Electoral Commission's website!

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Wendy's doctor spins too far

I am in receipt of an email. Have a read:

-----Original Message-----
From: Yates G (Gavin)
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2008 2:37 PM
To: DL MSPs LAB; DL Labour Researchers
Subject: BBC request


The BBC are doing some work around Local Income Tax and are exploring the effects that LIT will have on various groups.

As we have maintained dual income families will be particularly hit hard by this unfair tax.

The would like to interview a couple - both earning around£20,000 as a case study.

Obviously they can't be party members.

The BBC would like to film this week.

Any assistance with this would be greatly appreciated.


Gavin Yates
Head of Communications
Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet and Labour Group

Tsk tsk tsk.

The email was also sent to Labour councillors. Strictly speaking it's against Parliament's rules to do political work rather than Parliamentary work from a Parliament account, but it's hardly a hanging offence.

Couple of observations, though - good to see that Labour has finally worked out that using party members to pretend to be the poor, the weak and the dispossessed is a bad idea.

A couple earning £20,000 each aren't poor, those paying the highest marginal tax in council tax are the very low paid like cleaners who get paid £5.88 an hour - you know the people, they clean the houses of people who want to free up that time for other uses (the employer invariably complains about being short of money, godammit).

Let's have a wee look at that couple earning £40k a year:

If LIT was here now they would have a personal allowance of £5,225 each. From April 5th that will go up to £5,435. Let's assume that LIT was starting in April, the personal allowances for this couple would be £10,870.

That means they would be taxed on £29,130 (£40k less the personal allowances).

3% on £29,130 is £873.90 - that would be their joint local income tax bill for the year.

If they lived in Edinburgh they would have to live in a Band A house to be paying less than that in council tax - £779.33 Band A, £909.22 Band B. Although there's some slight variation, it's about the same across the country - I've put the figures in at the bottom.
So this couple would save money.
Who would lose out? Wendy Alexander probably will - an MSP salary of £53,091 will mean she would pay £1,435.98 in LIT putting her between Bands D & E in Glasgow. Add on her husband's wage and she is likely to break through what she pays now (I've no idea what band her house in Glasgow is in, but an academic's salary, even part-time, is probably enough to do it, don't you think?)
Claire and Richard Baker would definitely be worse off - this husband and wife Labour MSP team would pay an aggregate of £2,871.96 - which is more than Fife's Band H is just now.

Surely Labour MSPs can't just be opposing Local Income Tax because it would cost them money?

Of course, Gordon Brown with his £188,849 would be paying £5,502.42. That can't be why he's trying to scupper the scheme, though, we're always told how honourable he is. Alastair Darling would pay £3,964.32 - that's more in keeping I say!

Glasgow - £808.67 Band A, £943.44 Band B
Dundee - Band A £807.33, Band B £941.89
Aberdeen - Band A £820.26, Band B £956.97
Aberdeenshire - Band A £760.67, Band B £887.44
Angus Council benefits from a long history of SNP administration - Band B £833.78
Argyll & Bute - Band B £916.22
Clackmannanshire - Band B £892.89
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar - Band C £910.22
Dumfries & Galloway - Band C £932.44
East Ayrshire - Band B £924.77
East Dunbartonshire - Band B £888.11
East Lothian - Band B £869.26
East Renfrewshire - Band B £875.78
Falkirk - Band B £832.22
Fife - Band B £869.56
Highland - Band B £904.56
Inverclyde - Band B £931.78
Midlothian - Band B £941.11
Moray - Band B £882.78
North Ayrshire - Band B £896.00
North Lanarkshire - Band B £854.00
Orkney Islands - Band B £806.56
Perth & Kinross - Band B £900.67
Renfrewshire - Band B £905.87
Scottish Borders - Band B £843.11
Shetland Islands - Band B £819.00
South Ayrshire - Band B £897.52
South Lanarkshire - Band B £856.33
Stirling - Band B £940.33 (even with the reduction)
West Dunbartonshire - Band B £904.56
West Lothian - Band B £877.33

Tuesday 4 March 2008

I'm not Spartacus!

In the film Spartacus, there's a scene where the Romans are asking who Spartacus is, and one after another his followers step forward to claim his name in order to save him. All around the valley in which they are standing are dead bodies - why did no-one say "that's Spartacus there - the dead guy over there - he's Spartacus"? Seems to me to be far more sensible.
A similar question is why nobody in Labour's Scottish branch is telling Wendy Alexander to step aside from her leadership role. Watching her lead the Labour group in Parliament is like watching a troupe of blind tapdancers dancing through a minefield - you can see the damage being done but you know they can't hear your advice for the noise of the mines exploding around them.
There are apparently some Labour MSPs who think that they've still got three years to sort it out. Not if they have a bad Westminster election they don't - lose half a dozen seats and the slide will be impossible to stop, Labour will be finished in Scotland for a generation. An indication of just how bad it is - Vanessa Ewing, Wendy's longest-serving member of staff is apparently off to pastures new - the curse of the Wendy strikes again!

Monday 3 March 2008

Ach well...

I've been rumbled.

I bumped into a chap yesterday. He thought I was in the Labour party because we'd been introduced by a Labour member at a political do and he just assumed that I must be a Labourite also. I never said either way. Anyway, he spotted me with SNP leaflets yesterday and I don't think he'll be chatting with me about internal Labour party matters any more.

Ach well, anyway - some snippets:

1. There are some raised eyebrows about the Parliamentary Questions being asked by Baron Foulkes - ones which are likely to result in answers showing the SNP Government being better than the previous lot. Raised eyebrows indeed, but no-one wants him to go - apparently the next on the Labour list isn't regarded as likely to be an asset. I don't know anything about her other than she's Colin Fox's sister, so can't comment, but I don't see how anyone can be worse than the people who currently inhabit the Labour seats.

2. There will be no challenge to Wendy Alexander from within the Labour party - nothing to do with Gordon Brown's stamp of approval, everything to do with the fact that no possible challenger can muster enough support to be reasonably confident of coming out at least unscathed from the bloodbath that is likely to ensue, and no-one has yet reached the Heseltine stage of "it just needs to be done". I expect people will be getting a quiet canvass from unexpected sources though...

3. There is disquiet about Wendy's spin team, especially Gavin Yates. The Gorgie Farm visit was one instance - no-one scouted ahead for photo-ops or pitfalls, no-one spotted what breed the coo was, no-one arranged for children to be there with the animals, and no-one cleared the content with the farm staff - who knew it wasn't true.

4. There was a plan to remove Ewan Aitken as leader of the Labour opposition on Edinburgh Council (or the City of Edinburgh Council as the pedants will insist). This kind of fell apart during the budget meeting when he was unwell and got carted off the field injured. To Labour's great surprise he wasn't the cause of their lack of coherence, he was stopping it being worse. Stand down Donald Wilson, your effort is not yet needed!

5. Ian Perry's branch refused to back him in a vote of confidence. This was either because they thought he wasn't working hard enough or because he can't count, depending on which member of his branch you talk to apparently.

6. Norma Hart and Angela Blacklock are both being touted for Westminster candidature in Edinburgh East by some surprising figures in the Labour party. I guess they'll need to find a way past Paul Nolan though, eh?

There you have it; tittle-tattle box emptied, and nothing of any great value in it at all.

Does anybody know?

M'learned friend pointed out (as we mused over the proposed boundary changes) that the back half of the Aviemore conference hall wasn't being used during the Lib Dem conference. If you look carefully you can see that the seats were all covered with black drape - in order to disguise a half-empty hall no doubt. The place only holds 650 when it's in full use, so there could only have been around 300 in for Horlick's speech and even fewer for Nicol Stephen's speech. Why so few?
Granted, the Lib Dems don't have many members in Scotland, but surely they could have rustled up a few more for a conference where they were going to hear the Clegg speak as leader for the first time?
While I'm perusing the madness of Lib Dem land, let's just wander back to the debates. A wee refresher - three days and only seven debates: Student funding (40 minutes); Justice (40 minutes); Human Trafficking (20 minutes); Excess packaging - (55 minutes); Housing (45 minutes); North Sea Oil (20 minutes); and Right to Buy (50 minutes). Next time this lot complain about the debating time they get in Parliament we should remind them that they fitted an entire conference into four and a half hours.

Now, because I only ever take time to watch exciting things, I took the time to watch the online coverage of Lib Demmery. My favourite bit (it will make your toes curl) was the poor woman who was left convening the session while there was a gap with no business. Bravely she battled on - trying to sell some old bags that the Lib Dems had hanging around. I encourage you to watch it for the sake of a good laugh, but be warned that you will feel cringingly embarrassed for the woman. You'll find it in day one's coverage. I recommend beginning your delight and delectation at 44 minutes and 35 seconds and you'll be free by 48 minutes in.

What caused the gap in proceedings you ask. Well, I answer, as I pointed out on Friday, the Human Trafficking debate was slightly undersubscribed to the extent that it had to find a formal seconder from the chair of the session. An old and very worthy type buffer took ages to lay out the motion and then they had another equally old and worthy type buffer was called to sum up the debate in which only one person had spoken. As m'learned friend mused, motions on an issue like Human Trafficking are massively oversubscribed at SNP conferences, with delegates calling for the debate to be extended to fit in every speaker who wanted to contribute.

So which debate at Lib Dem conference got people to their feet? Carrier bags! Or excess packaging as Libby McDem will have it. One after another they staggered to their feet to condemn carrier bags, recount tales of ruined ready-meals, query the comparative sizes of Easter eggs and their packaging, talk some ecoballs (oh, Google it, they're for washing machines), complain about the coffee in the conference centre, complain about not getting paid enough, and whinge about Mike Pringle's inability to get a Bill through Parliament.
20 minutes on Human Trafficking which they couldn't fill and then 55 minutes of carrier bags which was over-subscribed. As Mike Pringle said, though, carrier bags is "the issue which is dear to Liberal Democrat hearts". Social Democrats one and all - yeah, right.

On a completely unrelated and possibly off-the-wall point, I have no idea how the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail flexipass works, so can anyone tell me why anyone would buy two sets on the same day?

Saturday 1 March 2008

Openness and honesty

You know, if you want to find out exactly how much money an MSP has claimed in allowances you simply log on to the Parliament website and find out -

If you want to know how much of our money an MP is claiming you have to take a Freedom of Information Request to the courts ...

Scotland definitely is better