Friday, 31 August 2007

Colleagues not comrades.

Mr Smith has been passed a copy of the first edict to be issued by the Leader of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group (Unelect), Wendy Alexander MSP, by one of his Labour inclined friends and it would appear that the new Imperious One has wasted no time in ditching the "Comrade" tag, instead addressing members as "Colleagues."

Mr Smith can only conclude that this is a deliberate shift, but he is less impressed by Wendy's other tactics in her mailing, including Labour's LUCKY NUMBERS, whereby if you make a donation, you are entered in a monthly draw whereby you can win £100, and be entered in an annual £1,000 prize draw.

Surely, the People's Party doesn't have to rely on a tacky prize draw to persuade its members to cough up to campaign for the cause of socialism? And what exactly is the point of giving away a cash prize to people who have ... er ... already made a donation? Hopefully, this isn't the pinnacle of Wendy's "new thinking."

Never mind the ballots.

So, it would appear that the umbrella body representing Scotland's local councils, CoSLA, continues to put its own interests ahead of those of the lumpen proletariat that they purportedly serve, with the latest idea to separate "by at least one year" the ballots for the Scottish Parliament and local councils.

An eminently sensible idea Mr Smith may concede given the problems that were caused at this year's elections. A view that may even be shared by the proles.

The problem comes in actually implementing the CoSLA plan, given that the next council elections are due to be held in 2011, at the same time as the next scheduled Scottish Parliament elections. So to separate out the two would either mean shortening the term of office of the current crop of elected councillors to 2010, which Mr Smith suspects could not happen and would go down like a lead balloon with the ... er ... the lead balloons, or alternatively stretching their four year term of office to 2012, giving them five years in elected office without having to face the voters, longer than even Westminster Members of Parliament get. An idea that some councillors might think was a very good one and would bring them an extra £15,000 plus expenses in councillor's salary for the extra year.

Mr Smith would suggest that whatever the problems caused by council elections and Scottish Parliament elections on the same day, they are minuscule when compared to the problems of delivering CoSLA's plans, and perhaps therefore we should leave the entire issue well alone. After all, local government isn't supposed to be run for the convenience of our elected representatives.

Stirling devalued.

Mr Smith read with interest the report of the Electoral Commission on the amounts spent by Scotland's smaller political parties in May's elections to try and win seats in the Scottish Parliament.

By far the most amazing aspect of the report was the fact that Scottish Voice, the political party set up by Archie Stirling, spent £21.06 winning each of the 8,782 votes the party managed to get, in a campaign which cost £185,000 in total, and they didn't get one MSP elected.

It just goes to show that Scotland is definitely not the best democracy money can buy.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Blank cheque.

So, Mr Smith notes that the Chief Executive of East Lothian Council, John Lindsay (pictured), has been forced to resign from his role without the golden goodbye of £150,000 which he had negotiated for himself before May's council elections.

Thankfully justice has been done, but it makes Mr Smith wonder whether this would have been the outcome if it hadn't been for the press and media scrutiny of the "deal" at the time and the fact that the voters of East Lothian used the elections themselves to change the political makeup of the council by dumping a Labour administration which had acquiesced in the transaction.

But before anyone sheds any tears for Mr Linday, he still walks away with a £200,000 package, including an annual package of £55,000. Perhaps, its time for the spotlight to shine on the conduct of the councillors who were involved in the deal before May?

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Knock knock.

The Herald reports that Asian, female, amateur comedinne, Ayesha Hazarika, is one of the four potential candiates to replace retiring Labour MP, Mohammed Sarwar. But Mr Smith's money is still on Anas Sarwar ... yes, the son of Mr Sarwar, to replace him.

Afterall, political dynsaties don't just exist in the constituency of Kingston upon Hull East where former Deputy PM, John Prescott is standing down and is likely to be replaced by ... his son. Political ability is obviously in the genes then.

Dark impact.

So, it's official, "Economic statistics do not add up ... Scottish ministers are making "stabs in the dark" in trying to boost the economy because official figures do not make sense, according to an economic report. It suggests the new SNP administration may already have achieved its key goal for the next four years. The intention of bringing the growth rate of the Scottish economy up to the British average is based on figures that show Scotland lagging badly."

Tell Mr Smith he didn't really know and wouldn't it be nice to have achieved a target four years before you set it ... over to you Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP MP, who coincidentally happens to be ... an economist.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Municipal soup kitchen.

So, in a vain attempt to save some cash the new administration in Auld Reekie has reinstated the soup and sandwich lunchtime menu for the city's elected representatives with an "honesty box" for the city's Cooncillors to deposit nominal amounts in payment for their heavily publicly subsidised lunchtime menu.

The only problem is that so far the "honesty box" is returning a quarter of what it should be because of oversights by the councillors in not paying for their meals, meaning that the savings have failed to materialise.

Now, there isn't much that Mr Smith can say other than that a) councillors in Scotland are earning more than they ever have done before on a basic salary of £15,000 a year, b) they also get to reclaim "subsistence costs" for any food they are obliged to buy whilst on official business, so c) by not coughing up the money if they claim for it they are in effect defrauding the council tax payers of Edinburgh which Chief Inspector Rebus of Edinburgh C.I.D. might want to have a look at.

Either way Mr Smith was intrigued to read the comment from council leader Jenny Dawe who said: " ... The members' lounge has become a bit like a morgue ..." So what's changed then Jenny?

Publish and be damned.

The Scottish Conservatives have highlighted the fact that the Scottish Executive spend the equivalent of £9,000 a day producing publications which in the main actually never get read by anyone, disclosing that "The Scottish Executive put out 430 publications in the year to the end of May this year at a cost of £2.4 million."

Now Mr Smith doesn't doubt that many of the aforesaid publications actually have some sort of value, but would suggest that the bulk of these costs come from physically printing and distributing copies of the publications unrequested to those who could very easily access them online.

So, perhaps the solution is to publish them on the Executive's mammoth website and if people want to access them, then those that are interested can do so virtually, with the results that we can save several hundreds of thousands of pounds ... which will then no doubt disappear into the spending black hole that is the Scottish Executive only to be spent on something else just as unnecessary and meaningless.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Goodbye Mr Gonzalez.

Mr Smith has commented previously on the departure of President Bush’s Senior Adviser, Karl Rove, and then the President’s Press Spokesman, Tony Snow. We now have the departure of Bush confidante and US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez.

As Mr Smith said following the announcement of the departure of Tony Snow, “... people may be reminded of the old expression that to lose one political adviser in a week is unlucky; to lose two is downright careless.” To lose three in two weeks sets new standards in political incompetence.

It all begs the obvious question: who's next?

No relocation, relocation.

So, another reverse in Scottish Government policy with the decision of the Scottish Executive not to relocate three NHS departments to Glasgow.

"Health Minister Shona Robison has reversed the previous Executive's plans to transfer headquarters jobs from NHS Health Scotland, NHS Quality Improvement Scotland and NHS Education Scotland. Ms Robison said her decision would save £22million and that moving the jobs was not the "best use of resources during what will be a tight financial settlement period". "

It makes Mr Smith wonder just how much sense the entire "relocation" policy which the previous Executive administration pursued over eight years actually made, if in this case alone moving 400 jobs (which people already had and which weren't vacant) was going to cost £22 million to relocate them from one end of the M8 in Edinburgh, forty miles down the road to Glasgow.

Mr Smith asks just how many more millions of pounds of public money were squandered pursuing this policy over the last eight years?

180,000 votes.

The irony of the Electoral Commission in Scotland looking to employ a Senior Electoral Practice and Performance Officer (salary £27,741), and a Senior (Political Parties Liaison) Officer (salary £27,741) as advertised in a number of Sunday newspapers, wasn't lost on Mr Smith.

The first post will involve helping "... to improve the performance of local electoral services in Scotland through providing high quality advice and supporting the roll-out of a new performance standards regime."

Perhaps if they had spent the £55,000 on both the posts before May's Scottish Parliament and local council elections, an estimated 180,000 votes wouldn't have been "wasted" and hundreds of thousands of Scots disenfranchised because of confusion about how the election was run. Talk about closing the stable gate after the horse has bolted .... and all at a cost of 30 pence a "lost" vote.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

The famous five.

So, the names of the five Labour MSPs (out of the Peoples' Party's 46 Members of the Scottish Parliament) who didn't support Wendy Alexander's nomination as Scottish Labour Leader have been revealed with some unexpected inclusions.

They were: former Labour Leader Jack McConnell MSP (unsurprising), members of the Campaign for Socialism, Bill Butler MSP and Elaine Smith MSP, Edinburgh MSP Sarah Boyack MSP who was "out of the country," and Glasgow MSP Johann Lamont MSP who apparently didn't nominate Wendy because ... she wasn't asked "personally."

This revelation suggests all sorts of things. Firstly, the Campaign for Socialism allegedly boasted five MSPs as members, but only two of them, Butler and Smith declined to support Ms Alexander. Secondly, Wendy must have voted for herself, which is was a very North Korean type of thing to do given that her victory was never in any doubt and she got 41 votes out of 46, clearly not taking any chances then. And thirdly, it means that the Campaign for Socialism Labour MSP members Marilyn Glen, Cathy Peattie and Patricia Ferguson clearly balked more at the idea of opposing a one of their "sisters" than they did supporting an arch-Blairite right winger.

So where exactly does the Campaign for Socialism go now given that it cannot even rely on the active support of the handful of MSPs it claimed as members? The answer is clearly "nowhere," which is where it was going in the first place, only they probably didn't anticipate just how quickly they would get there.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Malawi's Clause 28.

Mr Smith noted the following in the Sunday Times' Atticus diary column.

"As Jack McConnell, like so many other failed new Labour politicians, savours the prospect of enjoying the trappings of office as a British high commissioner, a fly has landed in his sundowner. Politicians in Malawi are to fight the appointment of Scotland’s former first minister over his record of support for gay rights. Homosexuality is illegal in the African country, punishable by up to 14 years in jail. “I am scared because he can easily use his influence to force legislation,” said Friday Jumbe, presidential candidate for the main opposition party."

To further complicate matters Malawi's main crop is tobacco, which means they may also not be too impressed with Jack McConnell's other claim to fame, namely pioneering Scotland's smoking ban in public places.

For better or worse.

New Labour Leader Elect Wendy Alexander MSP has apparently had her first "embarrassment" in her new role following disclosures that her husband, Professor Brian Ashcroft, of the Fraser of Allander Institute, apparently backed calls for independence for Scotland.

Now Mr Smith isn't much of a traditionalist, so he thinks it really is straining it a bit for a forty year old, mother of two, and long term elected politician with a brain the size of a small country to be held accountable for the professional pronouncements of her husband, whether they cause her embarrassment or not.

The days of wives being viewed as "chattel" and not being able to think for themselves ended a long time ago.

Winning friends.

Another pat on the back for Sunday Herald journalist Paul Hutcheon for revealing the undisclosed practice of some of our MSPs in issuing "access all areas" passes for the Scottish Parliament to lobbyists and party friends.

Mr Hutcheon reports, "Around one in five MSPs has given a "regular visitor" pass to either an interest group, a party colleague or an organisation that has given money to their party ... Twenty-four MSPs have given individuals or organisations regular visitor passes, nearly 90% of which have gone to lobbyists, party colleagues or donors."

Amongst those MSPs and individuals named in the article are some rather interesting ones, but suspects there are many more names still to be published by Mr Hutcheon which go beyond the "usual suspects."

Mr Smith is reminded that the founding principles of the Scottish Parliament at its establishment were that it was to be "open, accessible, transparent and accountable." Nice to see that at least some MSPs are getting the "accessible" bit right then, but then again perhaps some are allowing too much access by the wrong people?

Watch your back, Nicol.

So, it would appear that the natives are getting restless within the ranks of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, with reports that one "senior councillor" has issued a "raise your game" challenge to current Scottish Leader Nicol Stephen MSP.

Now Mr Smith isn't surprised that the Liberal faction is getting restless with the performance of the Invisible Man of Scottish politics, but he is amazed that apparently he is being given no less than twelve months to sort himself out before he is being threatened with a rebellion, a very generous notice period if ever there was one.

Up Helly Ya regular Tavish Scott MSP is apparently being tipped as a possible successor, so watch your back Nicol.

The best wee country.

It's official. The new Scottish Executive is to start phasing out the "best small country in the world" advertising campaign which summed up everything that was so wrong with the last Labour/Liberal Democrat administration. Wrong firstly, because of the 'back of a fag packet' process which lead to a weak idea having hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on developing a campaign around it; and secondly wrong, because of the paucity of aspiration the strap line summed up.

"Used to promote Scotland abroad and during the 2005 G8 summit, it was criticised, according to one commentator, for making Scotland look like "a pygmy nation hanging on to the coat tails of the global big boys."

But never mind, at least private company the British Airports Authority (BAA), managed to make loads of cash out of promoting the idea at their airports.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Macho, macho man.

Mr Smith notes the political predilection being encouraged by world leaders like Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to win friends and influence people by losing their shirts.

He is however of the view that such a phenomenon could and should never catch on in Scotland: firstly, because, we are used to "shirts off" being a regular feature of the terraces at international football matches; secondly, because, Scotsmen wear vests; and thirdly because we have political leaders like ... Wendy Alexander ... Annabel Goldie ... Nicol Stephen ... and Alex Salmond .... ughhhhh!

It's enough to send shivers down your spine.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Land of ned.

So, Audit Scotland has produced a report, which suggests that the £100 million that the Scottish Executive has spent on trying to tackle youth crime and anti-social behaviour has made no difference. "The impact on the improved services and outcomes is not yet demonstrated and limited progress has been made over the last five years on taking forward several key recommendations from our earlier reports," say the report's authors.

Significantly, Labour Deputy Leader Cathy Jamieson, who was the Executive’s Justice Minister at the time and presided over the expenditure of the cash on, amongst other things, 500 additional youth social workers, reportedly “declined to comment on the report, arguing it was the job of politicians to look forward rather than back.”

A comment befitting of a politician who is herself a trained social worker.

Dodgy dossiers.

Marathon man Andy Kerr MSP of the Scottish Labour Party has published a report criticising the SNP for failing to “implement fewer than half of the policies it said it would introduce in its first 100 days in power.”

Now Mr Smith says this may indeed be the case, but he is not sure that the average punter will really care that much, and that even if they do they will recognise that given Scotland’s “new politics,” it is difficult for any party to deliver on all of its promises when it doesn’t have a majority in the Scottish Parliament which itself has been in recess since 30th June.

Perhaps people are enjoying the Executive “doing less better,” which after all was what former Labour Leader Jack McConnell (remember him?) promised to do when he became First Minister in 2001.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Ming aloud.

Mr Smith has read that the pro-NHS, anti-Iraq war, pro-public service girl pop band Girls Aloud have apparently outed themselves as big fans of Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Menzies ("Ming") Campbell MP. Mr Smith is hard pushed who will benefit most from this revelation: Girls Aloud's last foray into the charts was their Red Nose Day charity number one single in collaboration with the Sugarbabes in March 2007 which only sold 105,000 copies; it is difficult to remember Ming's successful latest release, but it may have been the Dunfermline West by-election in February 2006.
Come to think of it in many ways GA are more political than Sir Ming. Maybe they should be Liberal Democrat Leaders?

Biting his tongue.

So, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has confessed in a TV programme on his first hundred days in power that he spends a lot of time these days "biting his tongue" so as to not upset people who he disagrees with.

Mr Smith suspects Mr Salmond has had to bite his tongue so much over the last three months that he is amazed he is still able to speak.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Labour's new leader (unelected).

So the Leader of the Scottish Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament (Elect) is Wendy Alexander (pictured left) who, as the only nominee, got the support of 41 of Labour's 46 Members of the Scottish Parliament in an election that would have been worthy of North Korea's late Imperious One, Kim Il sung. Mr Smith presumes the five non-supporting MSPs were Messrs Bulter, Smith, Peattie, Glen and Ferguson(?).

Mr Smith supposes at least one benefit of having such a short and decisive contest is that we won't have to put up with any more punditry from self proclaimed political commentator and "author" Gerry Hassan, as per his latest piece in the Herald, indirectly plugging his latest book which he "edited," 'After Blair: Politics After The New Labour Decade.'

A small mercy in exchange for losing a bit of democracy.

Out to luncheon.

The news that more people are using the Scottish Parliament's Members' bar and restaurant, meaning that the subsidy which the public would have paid to keep it open, will fall this year, is very welcome.

Given Holyrood's history as the former site of breweries going back hundreds of years, it begs the obvious question: how is it possible for MSPs not to be able to operate a restaurant and bar so that it makes money, or is the case that they really cannot organise the proverbial p@** up in a brewery?

But Mr Smith is a bit concerned that "the parliament said it could not put a figure on the continuing subsidy for the restaurant because it was part of the overall catering budget." This seems rather unlikely and is merely an excuse for avoiding a bit of negative publicity about the fact that Joe and Josephine Public is spending tens of thousands of pounds a year on subsidising the meal costs of MSPs who earn £50,000 plus a year, not to mention the fact that many of the people who work for them are their relatives, who now also ... get to eat in the Parliament's subsidised restaurant.

Congitive dissonance.

It used to be politicians about to enter government who worried about how the civil servants would respond when there was a change of government, whether they would ignore the priorities of a new government and keep going on as if there had been no change (cognitive dissonance), or indeed actively oppose change. But it would appear that it these fears are no longer just shared by the party coming into power ... but also by the party leaving power.

Mr Smith notes in today's press suggestions of civil service bias towards the SNP being levelled by opposition parties and in particular by Labour MSP George Foulkes who says "I'm forced to pose serious questions about the impartiality of the civil service. Sir John's fawning remarks highlight the importance of a UK-wide civil service which can share knowledge and experience whilst also enshrining impartiality at its core."

There is tremendous irony in Lord Foulkes comments, not least because for the last fifty years Labour has run government by default across Scotland and has virtually erased the distinction between the civil service and government since the 1997 UK General Election when Labour came to power, where they have been ever since. So, if the civil service in Scotland is "fawning" after Alex Salmond's first hundred days in power then it makes Mr Smith wonder how they are behaving in London after ten years.

Snow go area.

So, it would appear that President Bush is to lose another of his key aides White House Spokesman, Tony Snow, who apparently can’t manage on the £84,000 a year salary which the job carries.

As President Bush approaches the end of his term of office it is likely we will see further senior staff depart from his team, but given that Snow’s departure comes shortly after that of White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove, people may be reminded of the old expression that to lose one political adviser in a week is unlucky; to lose two is downright careless.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Browne-d off message?

It would appear that “two jobs” Des Browne MP has set his mind against more powers for the Scottish Parliament, despite the former Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Jack McConnell supporting the idea just ten days ago along with the leaders of Scotland’s opposition parties, and despite the likely new Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Wendy Alexander, also apparently endorsing the idea.

So, either our Des is playing to the Westminster audience of Labour MPs who don’t have a lot of patience at the best of times for their Holyrood colleagues, or he is genuinely anti the idea of reviewing the Scottish Parliament’s powers.

Given that one of the Sunday papers suggested that our Des was a part of Wendy Alexander’s unofficial leadership election campaign, Mr Smith thinks it very unlikely that the Secretary of State for Scotland would want to cause the new Leader problems on this issue and as such thinks Mr Browne is just trying to keep backbench Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster happy by distancing himself from the idea.

George: Wendy was my babysitter.

Mr Smith was interested in the disclosures in the Daily Record by former Scottish Labour MP George Galloway that future Scottish Labour Leader Wendy Alexander MSP used to work as his political researcher ... and babysitter.

He says "... Wendy Alexander was crucial to my victory over the late Roy Jenkins in Glasgow Hillhead more than 20 years ago. Though still a student, she took charge of my election HQ, proving a brilliant organiser and motivator, and even found time to baby sit my five-year-old daughter. I appointed her my first parliamentary researcher. She's clever and a decent soul. But she can be otherworldly to the point that she is life, Jim, but not as we know it. Long after mobile phones were proliferating across the land, I saw her lovingly handling one belonging to the brother of one of her own MSPs. "That's amazing," said the would-be First Minister. "But where do you put the money in?" "

At least Wendy seems to have gotten the hang of mobile phones, but she might be a bit embarassed by her close association with MP George Galloway, given his record as a thorn in the People Party's side.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Hitting the target, Archer.

Mr Smith is hardpressed not to agree with Mr Archer's comments in the Scotland On Sunday about Wendy Alexander MSP becoming Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, "Alexander isn't the solution, she's part of the problem."

Mr Archer should know. As well as being a former adviser to SNP Leader Alex Salmond, he was also a sixteen year member of the Scottish Labour Party and Labour Councillor in Govan until he defected to the SNP. His other claim to fame is that he stood against former Labour MP Ernie Ross in Dundee in 2001 ... and didn't manage to beat him.

Wendy's 7%.

So, according to the Sunday Times only 7% of Scottish voters want the likely Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Wendy Alexander MSP, to be Scotland's First Minister.
Their opinion poll suggests that Wendy's 7% rating compares with SNP Leader Alex Salmond's 38% approval rating, former Labour Leader Jack McConnell's approval rating of 10%, Conservative Leader Annabel Goldie's rating of 7% and Lib Dem Leader Nicol Stephen's 5%.

Now some political traditionalists might think that such a poor rating was good enough reason not to have Ms Alexander get the "top job," but the reality is that it is probably too late for those sorts of thoughts to enter the minds of the 40 odd of Labour's 46 Members of the Scottish Parliament who are apparently supporting Wendy's election. The die is cast ... but perhaps it's still not too late Labour people?

Too much red meat Mr Hutcheon?

Mr Smith has noticed over the last few weeks that perhaps the Sunday Herald's Political Editor, Paul Hutcheon, is eating too much red meat these days. Last week he called for a "cull" of Scottish MEPs in rather impolite terms and this week he turns his ire on Jack McConnell following his resignation as Scottish Leader of the Labour Party.

In an article, Paul comments: "A leader without a legacy... Of all the compliments paid to Jack McConnell last week, the most phoney was how he had helped "steady the ship" of devolution in 2001. According to this argument, the Scottish parliament was out of control and on the verge of implosion. Then Jack showed up and made everything right ... McConnell's key achievement was in how a man of limited ability rose to the top job in Scottish politics, a feat which reflected his core principle: the ruthless pursuit of his own interests. Like a climber who reached the summit of Everest but forgot his flag, McConnell put his energy into reaching the top without ever having a plan once he got there. He forgot that leadership was a process, not an event."

Mr Smith thinks Mr Hutcheon should perhaps be reviewing the red meat content of his diet, but we await next week's victim with trepidation.

Goodbye Mr Tymkewycz.

So it has only been just under three and half months since the Scottish Parliament elections and we have the first resignation of an MSP, namely the SNP's Stefan Tymkewycz. His resignation sets a new record: the previous shortest serving MSP was Ian Welsh who still managed to last 230 days before he bowed out of the Scottish Parliament.

Now, Mr Tymkewycz's departure from the Scottish Parliament could be interpreted as saying a great deal about the nature of modern Scottish politics: the fact that he seems to feel being a member of Edinburgh City Council is more important than being a member of the Scottish Parliament; and the suggestion that running his property empire (£2.2 million worth of flats with an annual income of £115,000) is more socially productive than being an MSP.

But either way, Mr Smith is saddened by this announcement which probably says more about the staying power, or lack of it, of Mr Tymkewycz, than anything about the Scottish Parliament. But it now turns the spotlight on to the handful of MSPs who also seem to want to combine being in Holyrood with being a councillor. Perhaps they also need to decide which of their two elected positions they are more committed to.

Making political history.

It's not every day that a lowly councillor makes political history, but that's what happened last Thursday when the SNP's John Corall was elected to the Midstocket/Rosemount council ward on Aberdeen City Council, becoming the first councillor ever to be elected in Scotland using the new Single Transferable Vote in a multi-member ward at a by-election.

Congratulations to Councillor Corall and commiserations to the Scottish Conservatives who also became the first Scottish political party to lose a council seat under the new voting system, with a gain for the SNP, albeit at a very late stage in the iterative voting system.

Mr Smith suspects the result will have ramifications for all political parties, because it probably means that unless a candidate manages to get themselves elected with a majority of the vote at stage 1 of the ballot process, It makes it virtually impossible to predict what then happen when the second, third and fourth stage voting preferences of the rest of the voters come into play, and there are no prizes for coming second in a by-election.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

278,000,000 Malawian kwacha = 1 Jack McConnell.

So, hardly was the Kleenex less moist after Jack McConnell’s announcement that he was to stand down as Scottish Labour Leader than British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was announcing his elevation to the role of British High Commissioner to Malawi, a role the perks of which the Scotsman reports in tremendous detail.

Now Mr Smith is not exactly sure how this can possibly work in practical terms given Mr McConnell’s avowed intention of continuing to serve as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, presumably, until the next parliamentary elections in 2011, given that presumably as High Commissioner to Malawi he may, actually, er, …. have to spend a lot of time in Malawi, at least after 2009.

So Mr Smith expects that in the not too distant future there will be a by-election in McConnell’s Motherwell and Wishaw constituency, perhaps even after an Ermin-clad McConnell has been raised to the House of Lords, meaning he will then have three jobs on the go at the same time.

But Mr Smith cannot help but notice that Mr McConnell appears to have settled for such a medium rate governmental role. After all, when former Labour MP Helen Liddell opted to bail out of Lanarkshire politics to “free up” a seat for John Reid et al, she was rewarded with the High Commissioner to Australia job. McConnell gets Malawi albeit on a six figure salary or 278 million Malawian kwacha, to go along with his First Ministerial pension.

Going to Graceland.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the “King,” it would appear that Wendy Alexander MSP is almost certain to be crowned Scottish Labour Leader given the absence of any serious mainstream challenge to her coronation.

It would appear to Mr Smith that the only possible challenge to her will come from not so much the Labour Party’s left-wing, as from its far left-wing, as exemplified by the Campaign for Socialism, and even then they will be hard pressed to come up with a credible candidate, assuming they come up with the required six votes to nominate their selected kamikaze.

The most likely challenger is probably current Deputy Leader Cathy Jamieson, although even our Cathy has mellowed somewhat since her firebrand, spiky haired and doc martin-booted days as an Ayrshire left-winger. So, really the contest to find Labour’s new Scottish Leader appears to be all over bar the shouting, and Mr Smith cannot say he is too impressed by Labour MSP Andy Kerr’s comments that there is a need to have a contest, to have a battle of ideas - at the same time as he rules himself out as a contender.

And whilst Mr Smith is on the subject, does anyone else thing there may be a resemblance between “the Queen of Scotland” designate Wendy Alexander and Elvis in his prime? The petted lip perhaps?

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Jackin' it all in.

So, Jack McConnell MSP has bitten the bullet and announced his resignation as Scottish Labour Leader and his intention of accepting a role on a "voluntary basis, unpaid" with the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative in relation to promoting "opportunities for young people" in Malawi; in between continuing to represent the good burghers of Motherwell and Wishaw in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Smith was intrigued to read his comment, "having given over twenty years of my life to Labour politics locally and nationally in Scotland, and the last fifteen to modernising and then leading the Scottish Labour Party, I want to use the skills I have acquired, and the commitment I have to tackle those challenges." Mr Smith is not exactly sure that these "skills" are very readily transferable to Malawi, then again there may be more similarities between deepest, darkest Lanarkshire and Africa than are evident at first glance. Mr Smith is also hard pressed to see much evidence of McConnell's modernisation in the "new model" Scottish Labour Party.

But Mr Smith wonders if Sir Tom Hunter first tapped our Jack to take the Malawi job when the former First Minister chaired a lecture by Sir Tom as part of the Edinburgh Lecture series on 6th February this year, an event which was amazingly and wholly coincidentally "presented by" the Scottish Executive.

Motion sickness.

Despite the fact the Scottish Parliament is technically in recess until 4th September, that hasn't stopped Members of the Scottish Parliament tabling motions in Holyrood raising issues of concern to their constituents. But, unfortunately this has also lead to our MSPs exhibiting a rather competitive streak in tabling more than one motion on the same issue, and then indeed tabling amendments and then counter amendments to each other's motions.

The latest example is Motion S3M-354 in the name of Labour MSP Irene Oldfather on NACCO Material Handling Group Job Losses, Irvine, which is competing with Motion S3M-353 in the name of SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson on the Closure of the Hyster Forklift Plant in Irvine (the exact same issue). Another example is the on-going ding-dong between SNP MSP Christine Grahame and Opposition MSPs around her campaign to get the saltire flying more often on Edinburgh Castle which has so far generated no fewer than five Motions: S3M-333 on the Ownership of Edinburgh Castle, Amendment S3M-333.1 from Labour MSP Tom McCabe, and Motion S3M-327 by Christine Grahame on The Saltire for Scotland’s Capital, which has generated two Amendment Motions S3M-327.1 and S3M-327.2.

Mr Smith asks if the spirit of the "new politics" shouldn't now also extend to the practice of tabling parliamentary motions, and surely our elected representatives have something better to be doing with their time? Well actually at the moment they don't, because they are in "recess."

George the Lyon.

Mr Smith was wondering what had happened to former Lib Dem Member of the Scottish Parliament George Lyon who was one of the MSPs who lost their seats at May’s elections.

Mr Smith notes in today’s Scotsman that “a former MSP who lost his seat at Holyrood is now aiming to be elected as a member of the European Parliament. George Lyon, the Liberal Democrat deputy finance minister in the previous Executive, will stand in the 2009 poll.”

Now Mr Smith was never aware of Mr Lyon’s strong belief in Europe and thought that the only thing Mr Lyon had in common with the European Parliament was the fact that he submitted a rather dodgy
expenses claim to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year which he was forced to amend. But it begs the obvious question as to whether Mr Lyon is really that bothered about standing for the European Parliament in 2009 given that as recently as May he was trying to get himself elected back to the Scottish Parliament, unsuccessfully thanks to the voters of Argyll and Bute.

Mr Lyon appears to have become a politician in search of a Parliament, which may indeed be a very good reason not to let him have one.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The National Conversation.

Mr Smith has flicked with interest through the White Paper, "Choosing Scotland's Future: A National Conversation: Independence and Responsibility in the Modern World," launched by the Scottish Government on the options for Scotland's constitutional future.

Whatever the merits of the document itself or the political argument, politicos may be interested in the word count on some key issues, as collated by Mr Smith: there are 88 references to "independence" in the document; 92 to "devolution"; 319 to "Scotland" and just 10 to "England"; 5 references to the "Scottish Executive" and 74 to the "Scottish Government." There is only one mention of Alex Salmond.

Mr Smith has no doubt that these numbers would have been very different if the document had been produced by the last Scottish Executive.

Working from home.

New Prime Minister Gordon Brown has decided to "work from home" this week. Well I guess there are some perks associated with being the boss, but Mr Smith is not sure if Mr Brown's sojourn in Fife will be very welcomed by his neighbours in the small town of North Queensferry.

Having the PM "in residence" will certainly raise the town's profile but it also likely to lead to a bit of disruption because of the guaranteed increased police presence and possible media attention. Something which may be a bit much for the road network of what is basically a fishing town. Never mind at least he'll be able to take Sarah and the kids to Deep Sea World ...

Goodbye Bush's Brain.

Given his trans-Atlantic inclinations, Mr Smith was sorry to read of the departure of the main political adviser to President George Bush, Mr Karl Rove (left). Whilst Mr Smith has little empathy with the right wing politics of President Bush or indeed Mr Rove, there can be no doubting the political impact which Mr Rove has had on American politics, and the fact he has forced Democrats in the U.S. to take a long hard look at themselves.

But from now on President Bush will be truly "brainless," and it's official.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Labour's by-election success.

News of one more former Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) who lost their seat at May's elections and who has now moved onto another form of gainful employment, namely former Labour MSP for Livingston Bristow Muldoon.

Today's press mentions that the "The Royal Society of Chemistry and Royal Society of Edinburgh have jointly appointed chemistry graduate Bristow Muldoon, former MSP for Livingston, as their first Scottish-based parliamentary liaison officer. The two societies stressed the appointment was non-political and said the new post had been created to make it easier for MSPs and researchers of all parties to tap into their knowledge and expertise."

Mr Smith notes the irony of Mr Muldoon's new role in that he probably wouldn't have got it if it hadn't been for the Liberal Democrats success in winning the Dunfermline West by-election. 'How so?' Mr Smith hears you ask. Well the previous parliamentary liaison for the Royal Society of Chemistry was none other than Willie Rennie, now MP for Dunfermline West, who had the gig whilst working for Edinburgh public affairs consultancy, McEwen Purvis. If Oor Willie hadn't been elected, because Labour had held the Dunfermline seat, then Bristow might still be "on the dole."

But will Mr Muldoon really be satisfied with being a lowly "parliamentary liaison officer"? At least he is one member of the Labour Party who got some belated benefit out of the Liberal Democrat's by-election success.

Not so enterprising.

So, Scottish Enterprise has been criticised for a "botched" £14 million IT computerisation project which took three years to deliver and which is now itself being replaced.

Mr Smith has often asked himself the question, why it makes sense to spend hundreds of millions of pounds of public money every year in delivering economic development through Scottish Enterprise and its local off shoots rather than just spending the cash on other public spending priorities. The state and government has a really awful record at picking business winners and propping up business with public money seems to run counter to the entire concept of capitalism.

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

No, Mr Smith didn't come up with that expression but he has no doubt that its relevance is as strong today as it was when Benjamin Disraeli was first credited with uttering the phrase.

Mr Smith notes that the latest casualty of the statistics syndrome is none other than new Prime Minister and former Chancellor Gordon Brown who has reportedly been criticised by The Statistics Commission for "misleading parliament by using incorrect statistics."

Mr Smith always knew that many of our politicians never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Hey Mickey.

Mr Smith notes that former Scottish Conservative Minister, now peer, Lord Michael Forsyth of Drumlean, has apparently backed plans by the SNP administration at Holyrood to hold a referendum on independence, not because he supports the idea of independence but because he feels that having one sooner rather than later will take the momentum out of the issue.

Now, its not for Mr Smith to question Lord Fosyth's political judgement which has been gleaned from serving in some of the top positions of Scottish government pre-devolution, but it says a great deal about Scotland's "new politics" that we have former arch opponents of devolution, now at least prepared to countenance the idea of a referendum of independence, even if it to bolster their own unionist position.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Losing on penalties.

The news that the Scottish Parliament's MSP football team lost their Parliamentary crown to a team of Westminster MPs in the interparliamentary football tournament in London, perhaps didn't come as much of a surprise given that the recent Scottish Parliament election campaign probably got in the way of squad training, but Mr Smith cannot let pass the fact that "new boy" MSP Mr John Park let the team, lead by Kenny Dalglish, down by missing an early penalty in the penalty shootout, putting the MSP team on their back foot.

Hopefully, Mr Park is better off the park in the Scottish Parliament than he is on it.


Mr Smith appreciates the candour of Nicola Sturgeon MSP's disclosure in the Sunday Mail that "I'm no Hillary Clinton and he better not be a Bill Clinton" in a profile piece on her herself and her "boyfriend" Peter Murrell, who coincidentally happens to be the SNP's Chief Executive.

But the article contains a few choice nuggets which give us an insight into the world of the happy couple, " ... "He does what he does, I do what I do, and we complement each other. Though I do iron his shirts. In my head, that absolves me of all other responsibilities" ... The bike Peter bought Nicola for Christmas has never been out of the garage. She added: "But I've got an exercise bike and I use that occasionally" ... In her home office, from among the books on politicians and spin-doctors and Scotland, the face of Margaret Thatcher smirks down. The two women might have very different politics but both can see the benefits of a female in charge of her own country. Nicola said: "After Alex has had a good crack of the whip, I'd love to see a woman First Minister." "

Mr Smith really thinks that Nicola should get out more, and he's not sure this article was a very good idea.

Cull Scottish MEPs.

Mr Smith welcomes the support of Mr Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald, for his comments supporting an "overdue cull" in the number of Scotland's Members of the European Parliament from seven to six as advocated by Mr Smith.

Mr Smith notes Mr Hutcheon's closing comment in which he says: "Former Bush administration official John Boulton once said the UN building in New York could lose ten storeys and nobody would notice. Ditto for Scotland's seven MEPs."

Come to think of it why stop at the UN building, or even the European Parliament?

Received Pronunciation Scotia-style.

So, it official. For years Scots thought secretly that their elected representatives had amended their accents to make themselves more acceptable in the Big Pond of the Palace of Westminster, but now we have official research to prove it.

In today's Scotland On Sunday, they suggest "top Scottish politicians barely know their rolled Rs from their elbows due to the pressure of the Westminster hothouse. A study of the speech of major political figures has shown that senior Scots at Westminster have changed their accents to sound more akin to their English counterparts - dropping their pronounced Rs and changing their vowels. Those who have altered their speech include Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Tory Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind and Lib-Dem leader Menzies Campbell. However, the study shows that SNP leader Alex Salmond has not changed his accent, despite spending two decades in the Commons."

But never mind, at least we now have devolution and our MSPs don't have to bother. It just means that their Scottish consituents still won't be able to understand what they are saying in Edinburgh, never mind London.

The "next Queen of Scotland."

So, it would appear that the die is cast and that Wendy Alexander MSP is virtually certain to be the next Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Mr Smith is reminded of that old expression about winning the battle, but losing the war. Mr Smith thinks that Wendy and her "new model Labour Party" will lose the war with her as its Leader, but hey-ho in the immortal words of the Catholic Church: "there are sins of commission and sins of omission ... and the bottom line is that you learn from the mistakes you make, not from the mistakes you don't make."

Mr Smith did try to warn people, honest. Remember the Very Hungry Caterpillar .....

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Because he's gorgeous.

The Daily Record reports that former Scottish Labour MP George Galloway, now Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, is to challenge Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, at the next General Election.

Mr Smith thinks that there won't be many takers for bets against Mr Galloway winning Mr Fitzpatrick's seat, which would require him to overturn a 7,000 vote Labour majority, especially given that Mr Galloway managed to oust then Labour MP Oonagh King in 2005 with a swing of over 26% against the Labour Party.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The price of democracy?

Today's Glasgow Evening Times, helpfully reports on the recruitment of two new "policy advisers" to help out the city's "busy" councillors at a cost of £70,000 a year.

But Mr Smith says hang on a second. Haven't all of the recently elected 1,222 councillors in Scotland, for the first time ever, been given a basic salary of £15,000 a year plus expenses, with some councillors receiving even higher salaries if they chair committees and so on, which was meant to compensate these councillors for the additional work involved in doing the job and mean they could take more time off their day job to fulfil their duties?

So Mr Smith thinks our current councillors should be getting on with the job they opted to do and not rely on "policy advisers" to give them advice which should be obvious to anyone doing the job.

Sampling opinion.

Mr Smith noted press reports of the latest Scottish opinion poll which suggests that, at the same time as support for the SNP has increased fifteen points to 48% since the Scottish Parliament elections in May when they seized control of the Scottish Executive, support for independence has fallen from 51% to just 31%.

Now Mr Smith has no reason to doubt the veracity of the opinion poll's findings, but if they are to be believed, then it makes clear that Scottish public opinion is about as volatile as it has ever been in modern Scottish political history, and about the only consolation that politicians of all parties can take is that they have just fought an election, and won't have to do so again until May 2011. Otherwise MSPs would all be quaking in their boots at trying to get them themselves
elected given the swings in voting intentions which this opinion poll suggests would be likely to take place. MPs however may not be so lucky is a "snap" general election is called by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Mr Smith also notes that strangely support for independence is greatest in Fife, at 43%. Perhaps the solution would be to give the "Kingdom of Fife" independence and then Scotland wouldn't have to bother.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

More Fife life..

Readers may recall Mr Smith's post from yesterday highlighting the proposal from Councillor Alex Rowley, "Opposition Leader" on Fife Council, in which he suggested the Council should toughen up its approach on smokers lighting up outside pubs.

Mr Smith couldn't help but notice the irony of a story in the Dundee Courier which reports that a Fife Council employee has had his fine for smoking in a Fife Council vehicle quashed because the Council hadn't complied with the law by putting up the proper signage in the vehicle involved. Perhaps Mr Rowley should be writing another letter to Fife Council's Chief Executive to make sure that they are complying with their current legal responsibilities before proposing going even further than the smoking ban requires.

Oh, and Mr Smith would like to know if Fife Council has now been fined, by its own enforcers, for not complying with the law on smoking, which it is meant to be enforcing on everyone else?

Light Executive fingers.

So, Freedom of Information requests have revealed the list of items which have been stolen from the Scottish Executive over the last two years. Amongst the items to have been mis-appropriated include: "money, computers, laptops and a hi-tech Blackberry electronic device. Thieves have also stolen a kettle, an unofficial file, a suit and the bolts from a bike pedal. Details released under Freedom of Information showed that there had been 44 thefts over the two-year period, with 33 of these occurring in 2005-6 and 11 in 2006-7. "

Now Mr Smith has had to navigate his way through the security arrangements at Scottish Executive buildings and can have no doubt that it won't have been Executive visitors who will have walked off with the items above, but it does beg the question as to why Executive security staff didn't notice the rather well dressed thief walking out the front door of St Andrews House, talking on his new Blackberry, with a kettle under one arm and a laptop under the other. And what is an "unofficial file" anyway?