Friday 24 July 2009

Labour's excuses

Labour MPs, in trying to explain why they don't want the Glasgow North East campaign to begin, have been entertaining, if disingenuous. One of the angles they have been trying is that the election could not have been held on August 13th if the writ had been moved on Tuesday, it would have had to have been on August 20th - a whole week later rather than the three months later that Labour says it is planning just now - but they're wrong, and I wonder whether Labour MPs ever actually read House of Commons Library Research Papers like the one on Election timetables. Page 27 gives the timetable for a by-election - 15 days to 19 days after the writ is issued, the writ gets issued the same day or the day after Parliament so moves, and the usual days are discounted:
Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, bank holidays and any day appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning are disregarded in the timetable. A bank holiday for a by-election is only disregarded if it is a bank holiday in that part of the United Kingdom in which the constituency is situated.

The 15th day after the writ was issued would have been the 11th or 12th of August and the 19th day would have been the 15th or 16th of August. Checking these things isn't hard, but Labour would appear to prefer just making it up as they go along.

For the sake of completeness of information, there is no rule that enforces the holding of a by-election during a Parliament:
There is a convention that the writ should be moved within about three months of the seat becoming vacant, but this is not a statutory or parliamentary requirement.

Who'd bet against Labour just holding out until the General Election next year?

Mind how you go!

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Labour running scared

Labour's rationale for refusing to support the calling of the Glasgow North East plebiscite? You can't have an election during the school holidays. Up you could not make it. How can it possibly be better to force school pupils to have an extra day off school to accommodate polling? Does Labour employ someone to think this stuff up or does it just come naturally to them?

Labour shies away from the challenge

Remember Gordon Brown bottled calling the general election in 2007?

Labour has just bottled calling the Glasgow North East contest too - they voted down an SNP motion to move the writ.

Glasgow North East

Labour seem particularly reluctant to move the writ for Glasgow North East - so the SNP Westminster group moved it today, today being the last day of the Parliamentary term. Labour has objected to the writ being moved and their will be a debate on it at 15.30.

Should be interesting ...

UPDATE: after 15.30 it should say, sorry about that, strange things at Westminster.

Mind how you go.

Monday 20 July 2009

Saturday 18 July 2009

Who's afraid of the big bad vote?

I was reading today's SNP news releases and was struck by a point made that it's now 60 days since Michael Martin said he was stepping down - and we still don't have a date for the election to fill the casual vacancy in Glasgow North East. On any measure this should be a seat that Labour thinks of as ultra-safe, so why has the ballot not been called yet?

What is Labour afraid of?

Could it be that Labour is now not confident of holding onto any seat anywhere? Norwich looks like the Greens might overtake them as well as the Conservatives, leaving Labour coming third in a seat where they took 44.9% of the vote in 2005, we took them out in Glasgow East - which was a seat that was almost as safe as North East - before falling away a wee bit in Glenrothes.

Brown's record hasn't been good:

Sedgefield 19/7/07 - Labour hold, vote share down 14 points, majority down almost 20 points

Ealing Southall 19/7/07 - Labour hold, vote down 7 points, majority down 10.5%

Crewe and Nantwich 22/5/08 - Conservative gain from Labour - 17.6% swing

Henley 26/6/08 - Conservative hold, Labour vote down almost 12%

Haltemprice and Howden 10/7/08 - Labour didn't stand (which, of course, means that David Icke got more votes than Labour)

Glasgow East 24/7/08 - SNP gain from Labour - 22.5% swing

Glenrothes 6/11/08 - Labour hold, vote up 3%, majority down 10%, swing to SNP of 5%

With that kind of record and all the polling suggesting that Labour could lose any kind of election you can understand why there's a reluctance in the Brown bunker to put his neck on the line. Even with us fine chaps in the SNP losing the first candidate we selected (the fine James Dornan, who will throw his weight behind the campaign nonetheless, I would imagine) and having to rerun our selection process (ended last night - David Kerr is our candidate, I'll bet I'm first to tell you), Labour is still hiding behind the sofa afraid to come out in case the Daleks are on the telly.

It's a bit daft, really, but Labour's afraid to call the election in Glasgow North East.

If I may quote Ms Alexander *ahem* "Bring it on".

Mind how you go.

Friday 17 July 2009

The Reformation

A fascinating thing to see, that calling into politics of religion, that desire to overwhelm the secular with pious self-righteousness. A particularly piquant example this week was Murdo Fraser, Deputy leader of the Conservatives, applying the crowbar in an attempt to graft religion and politics in Scotland. He found it passing strange that the SNP Scottish Government had no plans to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Reformation.

Leaving aside the strangeness of celebrating a 450th anniversary and that Macmillan's Conservative Government didn't celebrate the 400th anniversary, perhaps Mr Fraser is up the wrang dreel here.

I'm no theologian and my knowledge of history is sparse, but did Luther not argue for the separation of church and state? Did he not, in fact, write a treatise called On Secular Authority arguing in favour of Liberty of Conscience and against temporal interference in spiritual matters? The Calvinist viewpoint held, apparently, by Murdo Fraser that secular authority should be little more than an agency for the compulsory establishment of the external conditions of Christian virtue is one that he is entitled to and one that others are entitled to disagree with, but it would still seem strange to expect the secular to celebrate the spiritual when so much of the battle of the Reformation was about removing the perceived pomp and flummery from religion; and perhaps it might be worth keeping in mind another Calvinist.

It's not hard, really, to imagine what reaction John Knox would have to the idea that there should be some form of state-sponsored celebration of events which he saw as serious business, nor would he, I suspect, accept that the Reformation was a one-year event. Knox might have considered, instead that Wishart and Hamilton were as instrumental in bringing about the changes in religious observance in Scotland as he was. Murdo Fraser might like to consider this point through the prism of a lecture delivered to the Scottish Reformation Society eight years ago.

When he's done that he might also wish to consider that the Reformation Parliament of 1560 repressed the Roman Catholic religion and that we might hope to live in more tolerant times these days - and he might also wish to note that the Scots Confession was not ratified for another seven years, so he might want to wait to celebrate this strange 450th anniversary. While my tongue is so far in my cheek I may as well recommend to Murdo Fraser that he takes cognisance of Chapter 24 of the Scots Confession when he is referring to the First Minister and remember that
such persons as are placed in authority are to be loved, honoured, feared, and held in most reverent estimation

Right then, button up your coats and make sure you've got your bunnet because it's raining outside.

Mind how you go!

Thursday 16 July 2009

Euro results

Edinburgh Council now has the European election result by constituency up on the website, go here and click the bottom link.

Would you credit it?

My Conservative opponent has a blog - I particularly like this page. I love the strapline too - "Vote conservative for a change". You can almost hear the "ah, go on". He's actually quite a decent guy (in spite of the dodgy characters he's been photographed with) and I hope he gets a seat he can win next time out.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Looked after children and the BBC

There was a programme on the BBC last night called Home Is Where the Hurt Is which was about looked after children in Scotland. It was also trawled as a news story and a magazine piece on the website. It struck me that the research for it was truly atrociously poor.

Firstly, the presenter said that the BBC has looked for months for statistics about outcomes for looked after children and could only find education statistics. I would have thought that an obvious starting point would be the Children's Commissioner where it's not very hard to find Kathleen Marshall's update to her Sweet 16 report which has some data on discharge destinations. The original report might also have been worth reading for research purposes - it also has some destination stats and figures on the numbers with a pathway plan.

The reporter could also have looked a little more closely at the publication from which the education figures were gathered and found statistics on the economic activity of care leavers. Also available there are destination figures, pathway stats, and statute. A wee browse of a range of publications from the Social Work Inspection Agency might also have been instructive.

The figures don't paint a rosy picture, but they are there. Whether the lack of accuracy in the reporting was down to laziness, poor research or a desire to skew the report in order to sex it up with a claim that the Government doesn't collect figures, we should expect more from the BBC.

Then there was the claim that looked after children who were away from the family did better academically and that this was because they had been removed from the family - showing a stunning misunderstanding of the range of reasons why children have looked after status. This isn't the risk register. Iain Gray made the same fundamental error when he was discussing it on Newsnight as well - he was arguing that children should be removed from their families far more often, alleging that there were somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 children living in what he called "chaotic households" (I'm sure he meant households where the adults had chaotic lifestyle, and the numbers he was using changed throughout the programme). He didn't give a source for his numbers, but a wee look at the statistics again shows just under 15,000 children are looked after children - I do hope Iain isn't suggesting that Scotland's social workers are ignoring thousands of children in need of help.

Looked after children can have become looked after children as a result of some imminent danger; they may have experienced abuse through action or inaction - mental, physical, emotional, sexual or nonorganic failure to thrive. They have suffered neglect either deliberate or inadvertent on the part of their parents or carers. They may also be children with complex disabilities who require a complex package of support, children who are brought into the system for respite care or to give time put in place a care package for themselves, their families and their communities. There are some looked after children whose parents simply have poor parenting skills and need help coping. Then there are looked after children who are looked after because they have come through the Children's Panel. Some children are looked after by the local authority because a children's hearing or a court has decided that compulsory intervention is required, some through an agreement between them, their parents and the local authority.

Some children need to be removed from their family home - for others it would be incredibly damaging. The idea that social workers are taking these decisions easily or, indeed, leaving children in the family home as a result of some prejudice is ridiculous. Imposing a dogmatic and ideological requirement that more children be removed is either cynical or daft. It certainly wouldn't help anyone. Such decisions are, surely, best made by the professionals - the social workers and social carers.

How many of those looked after children would you imagine were children at risk? The number of children on Child Protection Registers in Scotland was 2,437 at the end of March last year (that's the latest available figure). 14,886 was the number of looked after children on the same day - 12,449 of the looked after children in Scotland are not on the Protection Registers - why should we be ripping these children out of their homes?

Should we read anything into the fact that looked after children left in the family home have a lower education attainment than those removed? Not on its own - we'd have to compare children with a disability in each setting, children who have come through the justice system in each setting, children who have complex needs in each setting, and so on. The simplistic knee-jerk "something's wrong" doesn't help.

Part of the BBC reporting was that
One of the recommendations of the inquiry set up after the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in London in 2000, was that social workers should supervise no more than 14 such cases.

No it wasn't, there was no such recommendation. I've read the 108 recommendations from the Climbie inquiry. The only recommendation which mentioned caseload was number 29:
Recommendation 29 Directors of social services must devise and implement a system which provides them with the following information about the work of the duty teams for which they are responsible:
Timescale for action 2

• number of children referred to the teams;

• number of those children who have been assessed as requiring a service;

• number of those children who have been provided with the service that they require;

• number of children referred who have identified needs which have yet to be met.

Nothing about 14 cases being the maximum caseload - simply invented. That's a shameful thing for the BBC to do.

Why did the BBC get it so wrong? Apart from obvious poor research, they engaged as an expert a chap by the name of Dr Donald Forrester who qualified as a social worker in 1992, spent seven years in the field and then went into academic research and lecturing. The reason he was such a bad choice is that he qualified in England as a social worker, he worked in England as a social worker and his research and lecturing on social work has all been in England and concerned with England - and England's social work system is nothing like Scotland's.

The systems are different in direction, aim and scope. They differ in legislative framework and in organisational framework. There is no English equivalent to the Scottish Social Work Act; the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 Schedule 1 (in force from 6th April this year in its current form) defines social work services for children which are extremely limited compared to the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 as amended which even includes a general duty to promote social welfare.

The 1995 Children (Scotland) Act places obligations on local authorities which simply don't exist down south, there is no direct equivalent of the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005. English social services have a more restricted scope of operations than their Scottish counterparts.

There is no English equivalent of the Children's Panel - probably the biggest difference - and there is a difference of approach which is embodied in that - Scotland's youth justice system is child focused rather than accusatory and adversarial. There are others who will happily point up the differences between Scotland and England in this respect - Community Care, for example, the old Scottish Executive's working groups, and the British Association of Social Workers.

Dr Forrester simply could not have been expected to know the system in Scotland. Why did the BBC not engage someone who would? Someone from Dundee University's School of Social Work, for example, or the Strathclyde one (joint initiative with Glasgow Uni), or Edinburgh, or Stirling, or Robert Gordon (which includes the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care - surely appropriate for this story?). Aberdeen University hosts the reSearchWeb (yes, they really did that with the capital letters), Glasgow Caledonian provides shedloads of graduates in this and associated fields, and surely there are squads of on-the-ground professionals with more experience of social work in Scotland than poor Dr Forrester? What about the Association of Directors of Social Work? The British Association of Social Workers in Scotland?

I hope that it was just poor performance from the Beeb on this occasion, I would hate to think that anyone at our public broadcaster would want to be disingenuous in an attempt to make a story out of an old felt hat.

Mind how you go now.

Friday 10 July 2009

Lockerbie to Libya

I've been intrigued by the press commentary and the fringe political commentary over the future of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. There are those who have demanded that he be released into the care of his native nation to serve out his remaining sentence - on compassionate grounds if nothing else. Libya has made an application to repatriate Mr Megrahi under the prisoner transfer agreement made in November last year, and some have sought self-publicity by calling for that request to be granted.

They're missing a point, really, there won't be any transfer unless Megrahi agrees. At present he is pursuing an appeal in an attempt to clear his name - there won't be a prisoner transfer until the legal proceedings are done with. Compassionate transfer? Same thing. As things stand, Mr Megrahi is a prisoner convicted of 270 counts of murder in a Scottish court and he has the right to appeal. Perhaps he should be offered the dignity of being allowed to get on with his appeal rather than being the subject of ill-informed speculation?

It's a wee shame on England's students

There was a tale in the Times about proposals in England to offer free education to potential students who agree to forego any public support for the duration of their studies. Assuming that the story is correct (a big assumption these days), it's not good news for English education - it drives access towards the ability to pay rather than the ability to learn. Those who are already wealthy would still be able to choose where to go to university while the less affluent may be forced to stay in the parental home and study at a nearby institution - whether or not that institution offers the course which the student wants and, presumably, which the student may show most ability in. There is the other take on it,of course, that the wealthiest students may be able to attend university without having to pay fees because they can afford to support themselves during the course while poorer students will find themselves up to their necks in debt.

We already know that English education is suffering massive underinvestment, university principals now looking for a lift in the tuition fees they can charge while Peter Mandelson finds himself searching for £90 million to plug the gap for this year.

Students in England will get up to £3,290 per year in loans for paying tuition fees from next year (in spite of fees being capped at £3,225) and up to £4,950 in maintenance loans - £8,240 a year over a three year course comes to £24,720 plus interest - there's a weight to be carrying as you look for your first real job, eh?

Thursday 9 July 2009

Where was I?

Oh yes, the European election. A fascinating map has been produced by the House of Commons library showing the result on a council-by-council basis. Here it is:

The interesting things to note include the UK-wide result in terms of council areas won:
Conservatives 280
Labour 66
SNP 22
LD 12
Plaid Cymru 7
Green 3

So the SNP won a third as many councils as Labour in spite of contesting only 32 of the 399 council areas that Labour contested. We also won 10 more council areas than the Lib Dems. To put it another way, we won 68.75% of the council areas we contested, Labour won 16.54% of the council areas they contested, and the Lib Dems won only 3% of the council areas they contested, Plaid Cymru won 31.82% of the councils they contested (22 councils in Wales, I think).

The Conservatives, of course, won 70.18% of the councils they fought - a massive result across England. The Greens only won 3 councils, but remember that they're a party just building themselves just now. That belt of blue across southern Scotland might, perhaps, give an indication of the direction of travel for votes down there - Lib Dems to lose seats to the Conservatives and lose seats to the SNP in other parts of Scotland - as will Labour. Labour only won three councils in Scotland.

Interesting times indeed. Mind how you go!