Friday 29 May 2009

Labour MSP branches out

Politics must be gey wearying for Labour, but the news that Karen Gillan is Dr Who's new assistant did come as a bit of a surprise.

Respect for Justice Secretary

When judging how well Kenny MacAskill is doing in relation to the open estate, it may be worthwhile seeing what the Prison Officers' Association says:

Vice chair Phil Fairlie said
"The POA fully supports the steps taken by the Justice Secretary in addressing the transfer of prisoners to the open estate.

"The fact that at present it is only holding roughly half its capacity, despite record numbers of prisoners, would suggest that the conditions for admission to the open estate are far more stringent than was ever in place under previous administrations.

"In our dealings with the Justice Secretary, he has always shown a great understanding of the issues facing us within the prison service, and has been extremely supportive of the staff within it.

"Prison staff take their role on behalf of society very seriously and carry it out with great commitment and professionalism. At present we have a Justice Secretary who both recognises and supports them in that, and until such times as that changes, he
will continue to have the support of this union.

"This union is deeply concerned that some of the comments made this week simply undermine both the morale and confidence of the staff in our open estate, who are carrying out a very important role on behalf of the public in preparing prisoners for release back into our communities."

Who's the better judge of the efficacy of the Justice Secretary on prison policy? Would you rather trust Phil Fairlie or Iain Gray? On this, as on so much else, Labour is quite simply wrong.

Monday 25 May 2009

Is it really all within the rules?

I keep hearing these phrases about the Westminster meltdown which is getting in the way of politics, very similar, and all amounting to an exculpation of the MP involved on the grounds that what they did was within the rules. What surprises me is why no journalist has challenged that assertion. There has been the odd one saying "hang on there, chappie, what about this bit that says that your claims should neither be nor appear excessive and that you should only claim for things that you need in order to do your job?" - most notably David Dimbleby on Question Time, but none have sandpapered it a bit to see how it looks.

Elliot Morley, Labour MP, said:
"In 1997 when I was appointed minister I was obliged under the rules at that time to class my London home as my main home. That meant I had to make my additional costs allowance claims on my constituency home."

But Gordon Brown, during all his time as Chancellor, declared North Queensferry as his main home and made his additional costs allowance claims on his London flat.

Who to believe, who to believe?

Mind how you go!

Friday 22 May 2009

New seats - excellent!

I've just been having a look at the boundary commission's final proposals for Holyrood constituencies and regions and I'd like to say - it's excellent news!

Here in Edinburgh it puts the SNP ahead in North and Leith where we join Edinburgh East - not as big a margin of comfort in the North as in the East, but still ahead, with Labour in second place. Edinburgh Central becomes a marginal the SNP against Labour and the new seat formed from Midlothian and Musselburgh should see another SNP Member returned.

To the west, the Linlithgow seat seems to have strengthened and, with the excellent campaigning team that Fiona Hyslop has there, it should come back as another SNP seat - Fiona returned as a constituency MSP. That seat, of course, goes off to another region under the proposals and it's a wee shame to see it go but the other constituencies in the new East Central Scotland region will be delighted to have that campaigning edge and that substantial voter base added to their efforts.

East Lothian, of course, gets added to the Lothian region and that's an interesting wee number, with Labour's vote having been on a downward slope since 1999:

1999 - 51%
2003 - 44%
2007 - 35%

The swing from Labour to the SNP in 2007 was about 10%, the gap is now just 7%, Labour has internal difficulties there, some of which are clearly visible, and it could be a side bet worth taking. To lose one Scottish Parliament seat after a single term might be considered unfortunate ...
Livingston looks like it will be held with a wee degree of comfort (but no complacency), and if all of this came to pass it would give the SNP six constituency seats across the region - which is a major improvement on 2007. There might be additional interest created as well with the collapse of Lib Dem support across Edinburgh - in Edinburgh West in particular where both the SNP and the Conservatives area taking large bites out of the Lib Dem vote. Whether it will be enough to take the seat away from the Lib Dems and which party it will be that leaps past them remains to be seen.

That strengthening of the Conservative vote at the expense of the Lib Dems should secure David McLetchie's seat for him, and it brings the new Southside seat into play. Labour isn't picking up any of the Lib Dem votes as they drift away, so Southside could be a four-way contest. Very interesting - and we should know more about how things are going to pan out after the European election.

Up in Angus the new seat created as a result of population growth appears to be in Nationalist heartlands and should deliver us another SNP MSP, and my friends in the North should be confident of removing Mike Rumbles and Nicol Stephen.
Ochil and Stirling look in fine fettle (even if the name of Ochil has changed), Clydesdale is winnable for us, I think, and Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale will turn black and gold as well.

On top of the boundary changes there will be four years of good government as a running record for the SNP and Labour's recession will still be biting. If the Conservatives are in Government in London by then (as looks likely, let's be honest) they'll be having to deal with the enormous economic migraine which caused Standard & Poor's to downgrade the UK outlook and warn that "last month's budget announcements underscored that U.K. public finances are deteriorating rapidly" and that ratings could be affected if the problem isn't sorted.
There will be seats changing hands at the UK general election - the return of the Conservatives to strength presaging a collapse in the Lib Dem vote and a massive internal battle for Labour. Labour losing the UK election will leave them in meltdown - the New Labour project destroyed the base of the Labour party, driving many of their traditional activists and most of their philosophically minded members away, leaving an empty parody of the previous incarnation of Labour - a bell with no tongue.
The picture leading into 2011 could be of a Conservative party having returned to former glories in England but not quite having made the same transformation in Scotland; a Labour party that has lost all sense of itself and forgotten its heritage fighting internal battles over the dry bones of a once vibrant organisation; a Lib Dem brigade which no longer has a purpose or a point to its existence; and the SNP, having demonstrated how to govern Scotland in Scotland's interest and deal with a Cameron Government on an equal footing, is strong and identified with putting Scotland's case.
There will be opportunities for the SNP to advance, but there will also be opportunities for the other parties. A truly Scottish Conservative party or a truly Scottish Labour party would have the freedom to demonstrate that they, too, can offer a vision for Scotland. A party which actually offers liberalism would be a welcome addition to the mix, and surely there's room for the Greens to hang on in there. Scottish politics could be about to change enormously in the next few years (it might not, of course, but the possibility is there).

In the meantime, look at those fantastic boundaries!

Wednesday 20 May 2009

In other news

The headlines are a bit mono just now, here are a few other things to look at:

RPI fell in March and in April - the economy is still getting worse.

Engineering Turnover and Orders have fallen both quarter by quarter and year by year.

Fuel price at the pump has been rising since January.

The Credit Conditions Survey from the Bank of England looks pretty bleak.

You'll have an attack of the vapours if you look at the BoE's Statistical Interactive Database.

The employment rate is slightly better in Scotland than in our nearest neighbours but not good enough.
At least we've got Gordon Brown to save the world though.

Surely that's unconstitutional

I read today of a great wailing and gnashing of teeth as Members of Parliament are flung to the dogs by their parties for doing what those parties had encouraged them, actively or passively, to do. In the midst of it all was Harriet Harman wielding Excalibur fearlessly and snicking heads off left and right. Like an avenging angel she has descended upon the unworthy denizens of the Houses of Parliament to smite them and tell them how it's going to be.

There's no flippin flipping, no furniture, no cleaning, no stamp duty, a cap on mortgages, and external regulation.

Hang on...

Parliament answerable to external regulation without a written constitution? It would be questionable in the Scottish system where sovereignty rests with the people, under the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty as the Westminster place is supposed to be, it's just daft. Since the philosophy underpinning Westminster is that Parliament is sovereign - even to the extent that it cannot be bound by a previous incarnation of itself - how can any external regulator dare to do anything about it? If Parliament submits to external regulation it is no longer master of its own destiny and therefore, arguably, no longer sovereign.

The bigger point, though, is why would we feel that it is appropriate to trust these people to run our economy (which is still down the pan) if they can't run their own expenses system and police themselves in an open and transparent manner? It seems more like being desperate to shift the blame than sort out the problem.
Most interested was I in the tale being related in the Telegraph (not the Tele of Dundee fame, of course, this is a lesser paper but a decent organ nonetheless) - a tale of derring-don't as Gordon Brown lays out his plans for a decimation (at least) of Labour's MPs - except the saintly Hazel Blears, of course.

It was this line that gave me pause, though:

Labour’s Chief Whip, the party’s general secretary and constituency parties, will have the power to refer MPs for investigation. Expulsion could then follow.
Leaving aside the unnecessary comma, does this not sound like shades of Salem and the witch trials dramatised in The Crucible?

Are there not, in fact, echoes of regal dictatorship in the creation of the Star Chamber? Echoes of political repression and arbitrary justice, no witnesses, no right of appeal - and was it not the cause of the end of Charles I?

Ach weel, neffer mind

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Michael Martin makes history

Michael Martin is the first speaker to be forced from office. Some will tell you that Paul Foley went before him in 1698. That, of course, was a different country - it was England's Parliament.

Only Gordon Brown's Government

could have difficulty giving money away...

Monday 18 May 2009

Lazarowicz - an honourable man

Mark Lazarowicz - a fine, upstanding gentleman (except when he sits down, obviously) - was determined to get himself into the story about MPs fiddling their expenses - and he did. Screaming "me too" he flung himself in front of the oncoming expenses train, offering to pay back money that he had claimed properly, but now thought was too much before he realised he'd left his chequebook in Edinburgh so the cheque was *ahem* in the post, before realising he'd got carried away in all the excitement of the chase and he really shouldn't do anything but he was going to do it anyway because he'd said that he was going to do what he didn't have to do and so he'd now do it in spite of not having to do it, just so you all know that he's above board. Still with me? Good.

Spreading rumours
For some reason, in the middle of the madness he'd created, he decided to make the bizarre claim that
I have a family home in Edinburgh and have never claimed a penny of taxpayers' money for that.

when no-one, not even the witchsmeller pursuivant of the Daily Telegraph had suggested he had. Mr Lazarowicz has told us there is nothing wrong, and Mark is an honourable man.

You would think that, having made a mess of it, he would stay quiet and try not to make it any worse, but I suppose he reasoned that ambition should be made of sterner stuff. He has released some details of his expenses claims in today's Evening News, and I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to examine them.

Why only four years?
Every MP has in their possession just now the past five years of their expenses claims, provided by the Fees Office to allow them to be checked before release under FOI and Mark has released four of those years - I don't know why he hasn't released the fifth year or, indeed, all of his expenses given that he was first elected to the Commons in 2001 and he will have had to keep those records for income tax purposes. Why release half of it when you can release all of it?

That pesky repayment
Then there's the legal fees for extending his lease. He claimed £5,355.63 but the fees notes that he hosted on his own website indicate that he only paid out £2,698.23 - that's £2,657.40 of a difference. Interestingly, in his statement on allowances he says
The sum he will pay back is approximately £2675

In other words, he'll be paying back the amount he overclaimed by. Sadly, it would appear that, far from being above board as he has claimed, Mr Lazarowicz is attempting to repay before being caught. An honourable man.

The mortgage interest
Also in that story in Edinburgh Evening News is the claim that he renegotiated the mortgage on his London property when he extended the lease, reducing mortgage interest to £164 a month. The fees notes on his website quite clearly indicate that the extension of the lease was finalised in May 2007, so he would have paid one payment at the old, higher rate of interest and 11 at the new lower rate of interest.

Taking the previous year as the benchmark for his high cost month, he would have claimed about £1,287 in mortgage interest for that month, 11 months at £164 is £1,804 for the rest of the year - a total of £3,091 for the whole year, but he claimed £14,965.41 - apparently an overclaim of almost £12,000.

But Mark is an honourable man
O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Rami's record

Just a wee thought, Rami Okasha is awfy bad for losing votes. He's stood twice - Banff and Buchan in 2005 and Aberdeen South in 2007.

In 2005 he came fourth - not surprisingly - and he managed to lose a couple of percentage points from Labour's vote.

In 2007 he came third - and managed to lose most of a percentage point.

If I may borrow a phrase - bring it on!

The march of the young turks

Word reached my delicate ears earlier late on Friday night that Mark Lazarowicz was to face a challenge as Labour candidate from the eager young turks of Edinburgh Labour. I thought it was probably mere speculation until the fire-eating blogger's post today in which he pointed out that Labour will deselect anyone who made improper expenses claims, so it looks like Labour's youngsters might be on the march after all, so here's the rumour:

There's a move on to place a Labour candidate in Edinburgh North and Leith plucked from the ranks of Labour's young team (who aren't actually all that young). Early front runners are said to include Kezia Dugdale (surely Kez has her eyes on a pop at Holyrood in Labour's election melt-down in 2011 though?) - carries a fair bit of support across Edinburgh as a result of her work in Sarah Boyack's campaign and her work with George Foulkes.

Then there's Cammy Day, a councillor for about six months so far, said to be frustrated with what he considers to be a lack of talent and an absence of imagination in the Labour group on Edinburgh City Council. There was talk of him challenging for group leader as well, but surely that wasn't serious.

Most interesting of all, though is the hat being thrown into the ring by Rami "armed and dangerous" Okasha. Already been putting himself about in Edinburgh North and Leith hoping to take over from Malcolm Chisholm, Rami's ambition - unfettered by talent - has made him an enemy or two in Labour circles and his current job as patron spinner of lost causes has made him a figure of some ridicule but he's undeterred. He didn't get where he is today ...

I have no idea how the deselection of Mark Lazarowicz will proceed, when or how the new candidate will be chosen, nor, indeed, who is likely to succeed (not that that will stop me speculating), but it would seem that Labour is in for a bit of a nasty internal battle before its chosen champion gets a sound thrashing by yours truly.

Mind how you go!

Friday 15 May 2009

Decisive, isn't he?

My estimable opponent, old Lazarowicz there, has had an interesting couple of days. First he dived head first into the abuse of expenses story when he wanted to give money back before the Telegraph got to him, leading the unicycling blogger to speculate on what else the Telegraph might be bringing up, but Mark managed to start a few rumours about himself by saying:

"I know people have said to me, or behind my back, that work that has been done
in my (Edinburgh] home has been public-funded, but that is not the case

That's why it is so important that we get our reputations cleaned up and out of the mire.

"I have a family home in Edinburgh and have never claimed a penny of taxpayers' money for that. I own a small (London) flat which I have maintained moderately. I believe I can defend all this spending."

You can tell it's a small London flat, the mortgage interest is only £15,000 a year - must be tiny. But why make the comment about his Edinburgh home when he hadn't been asked? It makes him look like he's hiding something, and no-one had even suggested that he was in the frame before he dashed forward to repay some money that no-one had noticed.

There's another thing - he claims that this legal battle for which he thought he'd better repay £2,675 "certainly took a year or so, and it did cost more than £5300". Except he links to two expenses claims, one totalling £265.73 and the other £2,702.50 - a total of £2,698.23, and he thinks that £2,675 is half of that.

Maybe it's his own dodgy arithmetic that's worrying him so much? Or did he double-claim?

If all that wasn't bizarre enough, he's now saying that he 'over-reacted' in deciding to pay back what he shouldn't have claimed in the first place. He claims to have been bounced into refunding the taxpayer by the actions of other people in London. Surely we deserve a better representative than someone who is bounced into making decisions by an "hysterical atmosphere" or someone who thinks that his behaviour is fine because it "pales into insignificance against some of the things that have come out"?

Having cast a quick glance over the bits of information about his claims that are in the public domain, it appears that they are not vastly unreasonable - but he didn't know that, or claims not to have known that, and you have to question whether someone who has such a lack of faith in his own judgement should be sitting in any legislature.

What we need is a new MP for Edinburgh North and Leith - but I would say that, wouldn't I?

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Cameron is right

I find myself dumfoonert, I'm agreeing with David Cameron! He's sacking anyone in his party who has made an excessive expenses claim and refuses to repay it. Well done, and I hope that that is an example followed by all of the other party leaders.

Sunday 10 May 2009

A song for Gordon

The Broon stood on the burning bridge, his lips were all aquiver
He gave a laugh, his votes fell aff - and floated down the river.

In the midst of an opinion poll which appears to promise devastation for Labour on June 4th - losing all its councils and half of its councillors in England as well as a big chunk of their MEPs - there's a question about which song people most associate with Gordon Brown. Here's the Gordovision result from Scotland:

Road to Nowhere - 22 points
I'm Still Standing - 19 points
Things can Only Get Bitter - 19 points
Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word - 16 points

The Scottish Euro result on this small sample (unweighted 224, weighted 193) is:

SNP 3 seats 37%
Lab 2 seats 25%
Con 1 seat 23%
Lib Dem 0 seats 8%
Green 0 seats 1%

Friday 8 May 2009

Within the rules?

Until the offence of treating was created it was within the rules to ply electors with foodstuffs and strong drink to encourage them to vote for you. That didn’t make it right. Some time ago it was within the rules to shove a child up a chimney for the purposes of removing soot from the flue. That didn’t make it right. Not so long ago it was within the rules to pay a woman less than a man for doing the same job. That didn’t make it right. It used to be within the rules to deny workers the right to withhold their labour. That didn’t make it right. There have been cases where it has been claimed that there was no intentional wrong-doing. That didn’t make it right.

Parliamentarians should be well paid, well rewarded for their efforts, and the expenditure necessary for them to carry out their job should be reimbursed. Those payments, salary and expenses, should be recorded in full view of the public as well – in the way that the Scottish Parliament does. There appears, however, to be far too many Members of the Westminster Parliament who are willing to lurk in the shadows, who have accepted a culture which stretches the envelope of the system – a system which is already too lax and too hidden – and who appear to regard the interest of the public as intrusive rather than justified. It’s the psyche that believes MPs to be rulers rather than servants, which rates Parliament as a private club to be enjoyed by its members rather than as the crucible of debate about political direction.

The claims for prams, window blinds for children’s bedrooms, hanging baskets, and bath robes indicate that some MPs appeared more than willing to demand that the ordinary expenses of everyday life should be met for them. That pales into insignificance, though, when Gordon Brown claims that the system is at fault. It’s not the system, Mr Brown, it’s your greed.

Shortly after Blair signalled his intention to demit office Brown changed his ‘second’ home from his flat in London to his family home in North Queensferry, allowing him to use Parliamentary allowances to cover the costs of running that property, he then gave the London flat to his wife, they remortgaged it to free up equity and then nipped off to live free of charge in Downing Street.

The system used in Westminster isn’t good and they should learn from the Scottish Parliament, but that does not excuse the grasping greed and the shoddy morals. These people should not be in office.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

See what I mean?

The forward planning of Gordon Brown's team is spectacular in its incompetence, but to allow the Prime Minister to be photographed in front of swastikas is bafflingly bad. It's almost turning incompetence into an art form!

Can a swan sing

The plain was grassy, wild and bare,
Wide, wild, and open to the air,
Which had built up everywhere
An under-roof of doleful gray.
With an inner voice the river ran,
Adown it floated a dying swan,

Thank you Tennyson, be off with you now.

Gordon Brown is to fight back against his own incompetence by launching a series of speeches which, I hear, are to be on push-button subjects - education, healthcare, justice, housing, and so on. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the UK, Member of Parliament for a Scottish constituency will be living Tam Dalyell's nightmare. The only dilemma left for David Cameron is how hard he pushes the fact that Brown is lecturing England on matters for which he has no responsibility in his own constituency - pushing too hard might point the constitutional dichotomy down the road towards a constitutional crisis.

Perhaps the Conservative decision may be to mock Brown talking about issues which don't and won't affect his constituents while the economy - that thing that Labour was claiming Brown was so good at just a few weeks ago - goes down the pan. Does anyone in the Labour party think anything through these days?

I'm sure there will be people in the Labour party tunnel thinking that the oncoming train is bound to turn off onto a side line rather than continue heading straight towards them - they're wrong, the recent events are part of a long chain which you could trace way back into Blair's time with Cash for Honours, Formula 1, a disregard for the principles and history of the Labour party, and so on, but let's just look at Brown's time as Prime Minister:

We could go on, but what is clear that the Brown Cat Bounce is facing stronger and stronger gravity every time they throw the mythical moggy from the roof. Conservatives now sitting on a comfortable lead in England, the SNP right up there in Scotland, this is going to be an election cycle to remember.

Tennyson, you're back! What do you think of Labour's election chances?

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Mind how you go!