Monday, 28 November 2011

BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011

Yes, it's that time of year again when viewers will vote for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011 (thank goodness for copy/paste!).

The nominations are in and likely to cause a bit of a stir.

First of all - no women. That will upset the feminists and those who like to admire female beauty. But never mind, beach volleyball will be at the Olympics next year so that will keep everyone happy, especially me if the wife lets me watch.

The full shortlist of ten is:

Mark Cavendish (cycling)
Darren Clarke (golf)
Alastair Cook (cricket)
Luke Donald (golf)
Mo Farah (athletics)
Dai Greene (athletics)
Amir Khan (boxing)
Rory McIlroy (golf)
Andy Murray (tennis)
Andrew Strauss (cricket)

An interesting list and all are dedicated and highly motivated sportsmen.

My betting is on either Darren Clarke or Rory McIlroy, with Andy Murray possibly up there as well.

It would be particulalry fitting for Darren Clarke to win, having been runner up in 2006, not long after the death of his wife. He stated then he did not want a sympathy vote.

This year he won the Open Championship, a major achievement for any golfer. That is worthy of the award and would certainly be a popular choice.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Public Sector Strike

Since it is a rather wet and windy morning, preventing me going into the garden (so upsetting) I thought I'd put in my tuppence worth about the forthcoming strike on Wednesday.

I'm not a member of any union. Never have been and never will be. While they have their place, some of their leaders are overly militant and will call a strike if someone breaks wind in the wrong place. There are times when union leaders seem detached from the real world. Not difficult if you are on a subtantial salary.

Politicians too are detached, and in this current dispute even more so.

There is no need to go into details about the dispute. There are few people who do not realise what is happening. But if you look into some of the unions who are taking part, there is an indication as to how strongly people feel.

The Immigration Services Union has never taken industrial action (according to their representative) in it's 28 year history. What does that tell you? This is not on the face of it The Brothers of Arthur Scargill Reborn. Far from it. But they see themselves hard done by while the politicians who are pushing through these changes enjoy pension schemes unheard of elsewhere.

What is becoming apparent is that the unions do not seem to have firm support from any of the major political parties. Ed Milliband is dithering, the Tories and Lib Dems are playing hardball, although to be fair they are the Westminster government. Even the SNP will not make any firm offers of support.

So politicians remain detached from the public, let alone the unions.

A friend of my wife said this morning all she wants is enough money to live comfortably, without worrying if she has enough to heat her house, feed her family and travel to work.

I think you will find most people feel the same.

Whether or not people agree with the strike is irrelevant. What is clear is that many people feel that politicians are not listening.

Friday, 25 November 2011

CBI Questions on Independence

CBI Scotland's Director, Iain McMillan has aimed some questions at the SNP, with the predictable response from nationalists that he is "talking Scotland down". He does have a record of attacking the SNP, but this time he might score some points.

The questions mainly focus on currency, and that is a deliberate ploy, since the Euro is not in the best of health, nor does it seem very popular. Facts aside, the general voting public see lots of countries who use the Euro all falling over. Because the SNP are sticking to the "wait until after independence, then we'll have an referendum on the Euro" argument, they are allowing their opponents to take the initiative.

I keep returning to the subject of Europe, because it is a weak spot for the SNP, and they are not dealing with it. The currency approach by the CBI is a tactical move and it will have an effect, and it is no coincidence that it comes just after Swinney's spat with Osbourne.

The SNP need to respond to such questions in a manner that can be understood by the average voter. They need to get away from "White Papers" and "talking Scotland down". Weak responses that only seem to find favour in the most committed of nationalists.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Journalistic Standards

The Levenson Enquiry is certainly an eye-opener for those who have never really bothered about how some journalists obtain their stories.

The press has always behaved rather strangely; go back to Victorian times and they were just as bad, although the methods were different.

One thing to remember is that newspapers and television news channels are run as meritocracies - in short, if you get the exclusives you get the fame, fortune and promotion. Many organisations do not care how you get your information, as long as it doesn't come back to bite the organisation on the backside. Sales without ethics.

Journalists and especially photo-journalists can make a year's salary from a single story or photograph. The rewards are huge and the risk are relatively low, so it is no wonder that some will rake through bins, camp outside a house in all weathers for days on end and resort to illegal methods.

So how can this be countered? I don't want to see tightened legislation and rigid privacy laws, but there has to be some form of legislation to balance the rights of individuals against what is considered to be in the public interest.

Yes, the public appetite for scandal is out there, and to be truthful always has. Major events attract an audience. But the lines have been crossed too many times, and the Milly Dowler phone hacking incident is simply unforgiveable. But it is not one organisation - it's many of them. Even as the enquiry is proceeding, some sections of the media are attacking those who have dared to appear as witnesses.

The culture in the media allowed this behaviour to happen when it should not have even been considered. I've always said that responsibility comes from the top. It's about time the media accepted this and behaved in a more responsible manner.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Danger of Protesting

The right to protest is one of the advantages of democracy, and one that can and is abused at times.

Protests are a regular news item these days, and the latest is the Occupy protests around the world. Some people may say the protesters take things a bit too far, and so it seems do the authorities, taking into account the pepper spray incident in the USA.

Political activists will at times try to encourage civil disobedience to further their cause, especially when it appears that the establishment are paying no attention to their demands. At the extreme level, it can topple a government or split a nation.

But therein lies the danger. It is one thing to carry out a coup, but then you have to pick up the pieces. Added to that are the expectations of those who supported the action. They want results, and fast. Failure to recover the situation can simply reignite the protests, as we have seen in Egypt, or even kill off further actions as people lose interest.

Any protest absolutely must have rock solid organisation and planning behind it, with contingency plans well rehearsed and effective. Control is essential. For a political protest, that requires some heavyweight leaders with the influence to direct and control the protest.

Why this article? Recently, some commentators elsewhere have been pushing for a campaign of such action against an organisation, without really considering three things:

1. Can they gather sufficient support.
2. Have the consequences of any such action been considered.
3. Secrecy.

Let's say that none of the above points have been thought through; rather a few individuals with very strong views are wanting action against this organisation. Now while the reason for this protest action could be considered valid, the proposed method of delivery is wrong, and bordering on illegality.

The volume of support is simply not there, and that leaves these protestors isolated. That makes them vulnerable should the appropriate authorities ever decide to take positive action against them.

Secondly, the results of their action would almost certainly be counter-productive to their root cause, and be of considerable embarrassment to those whom they support.

Thirdly, the protest is likely to stall before it even starts, since they are openly discussing their plans on public forums.

It may be that some of those involved are reading this, and they will realise what I am talking about. Probably unlikely but in case they are, here's a small piece of advice: try getting a professional to plan and organise a protest instead of allowing your emotions to control your actions.

Protesting can produce some surprising results. But it can also play right into the hands of those whom you oppose if you get it wrong.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Referendum Options

Every since the SNP's victory in May, the media and Internet blogs have been rife with opinions as to how many options will be in the Referendum. Even the Big Man himself has not been clear on this.

We've had "expert" opinion. "Reliably informed" opinion. "A guy down the pub" opinion. There have been numerous comments from all sides with the Blood Pressure Level ranging from comatose to "We're on our way, Houston!"

The unionists are convinced there should be only two options. Or was that three? Perhaps four?

The nationalists think there should be one question with an option of Yes or Yes. Or is that two options? No sorry, it's three options but the unionists have to come up with a bloody good reason for three, unless of course Alex decides three is a good number in which case it will be a sound tactical move.

The truth is simpler.

Alex Salmond will decide on how many options are on the Referendum paper at the last possible moment. Why? Because he and his team will be paying very close attention to the polls, and one hopes listening to the people as they carry out the Doorstep Challenge.

People can rant and rave all they like, and the media can speculate until my lottery numbers come up, but Alex Salmond will choose the option that gives the SNP the best chance. And if that means allowing an option for DevoMax (or whatever they want to call it) then so be it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Europe - In, Out or Somewhere in the Middle

What is Scotland's future in Europe?

At present, we come under the UK. And despite all the issues, let's be honest and be thankful Westminster did not have us joining the Euro, something that appears will now never happen. David Cameron is even talking about taking powers back from Europe. Whether he will actually do this is debatable (look what happened when Greece had the temerity to be non-conformist) but he is playing to the political galleries - anything to take the heat off his Home Secretary.

Europe is a political bag of nails from a lay point of view. The vast majority of voters do not have the time or inclination to look deeply into the issues. But if they did, things would look even less palatable.

 Ignoring the legal arguments, let's assume an independent Scotland would get automatic membership to the EU.

Alex Salmond has stated we will not be allowed to decide for ourselves - via a referendum - until AFTER independence. It is ironic that a party which has demanded, and is now going to hold, a referendum to leave one union, is not allowing the people of Scotland the opportunity to decide if they want to be part of a larger - and more corrupt union.

Norway is held up as a model for an independent Scotland, and it too has vast energy reserves. Yet the people chose not to be part of the EU and the politicians respected that decision. They were given the choice at the time.

We are not.

Alex Salmond is refusing to discuss about what legal advice - if any - was given to the SNP about Scotland's place in Europe.

He has put up  a political brick wall and I think this is a serious misjudgement.

Could any of the following be a possibility?

1. No legal advice was asked for or given. If that is the case, why won't he simply tell us?
2. Scotland would need to wait a period of time prior to joining.
3. Scotland can join immediately, but membership of the Euro is optional.
4. Scotland can join immediately, but membership of the Euro is compulsory.

Being the cynical type, I think Number 4 is the advice that Alex Salmond has received. Why? Because the other three options do not damage SNP politically. Compulsory membership of the Euro would kill the independence campaign stone dead in its tracks.

Now I could be wrong, and Salmond is simply ingoring Unionist party demands. But is he thinking about the impression being made on voters? Some will ask why he is refusing to discuss the question.  Normally, Alex hammers any attempt by his opponents to criticise him, but this time they are going to score points.

In my opinion, there is only one safe course of action for the SNP:

They must state categorically that membership of the EU and adoption of the Euro will only take place after a referendum, and that this will be legally binding. No ifs, buts or maybe's. It kills off the arguments on Europe and allows the focus to be on the main referendum itself.

The current argument that we will have membership of the EU once independent, and that a referendum will take place after is open to question. Look what happened to the Greek Prime Minister. France and Germany said "Non" and "Nein" and forced him to retract.

The SNP is in danger of defeating their own purpose of achieving self-determination and independence. The way things are standing at present, Scotland would finally break away from Westminster, only to be swallowed up in the political slurry of Europe.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A Fair Trial?

There is an ongoing issue at the Home Office, in case you didn't notice, regarding the relaxation of immigration checks. The key point is whether the now ex-Borders Chief, Brodie Clark, exceeded his instructions given by the Home Secretary.

Giving evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, he has said his reputation built up over forty years has been destroyed.

Labour have gone straight for the jugular here and are basically wanting the Home Secretary's head on a platter. She is already damaged over her ludicrous comment about asylum seekers who own pet cats, but to be fair all the evidence must be heard. It may turn out that she has acted correctly, and that Brodie Clark has overstepped the mark. On the other hand, it can be rightly said that she has overall responsibility and should be punished accordingly - ie resign.

The Home Secretary's position is perilous. Even if she has been found to be acting correctly, Brodie Clark has said he will claim constructive dismissal, and judging by some articles he will almost certainly win. If he does, that will cost the government a considerable amount. It has similarities when Ed Balls opened his mouth over the Baby P case not so long ago.

A fair trial applies to everyone. But it appears that the main players are into "Cover Arse" mode, and are feeding both the Opposition and media frenzy.

To be honest, the issue of Brodie Clark's actions - if true - are relatively minor in comparison to the policy of relaxed immigration checks, most especially with the Olympics next year. The Government constantly urges us to be vigilant, yet it seems they have left the door wide open.

Personally, I think the Home Secretary will be forced to resign, regardless of the investigation. Too many questions have now been raised. If she does go, we will have the unbelieveable situation of both the Home Secretary and Defence Secretary resigning in a very short space of time. That will then raise questions about David Cameron's judgement.

This issue could have been dealt with correctly using internal procedures, with the result then being made public. Quick, efficient and with the minimum of fuss. That would have been fair both to those involved and their department.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Convincing Argument - Third Time Lucky?

Support for the Union, as things stand, significantly outweighs that for full independence, but support for increased powers in turn outweighs the status quo.

The unionist parties in Scotland - or as I like to describe them, the Unionist Underground (thanks to a certain Mr Gray and a takeaway for the idea) - seem hell bent on toppling Alex Salmond. To date, the most they've managed is a small flesh wound when Alex tried to cover up information using the courts (and he's playing with fire over Europe in a similar fashion).

They thinking that by removing Salmond, the SNP's dream of independence will be over. That may be a false assumption. It would take a major scandal to topple him, and he's been around long enough that any skeletons in the closet would have appeared by now. But Sturgeon and Russell could carry the party provided Alex Neil keeps his mouth shut.

In addition to this, the Unionist Underground have opposed nearly every SNP policy and bill just through sheer bloody-mindness. And people have seen this. Where is the effective opposition? You don't necessarily need a leader with great oratory skills and confidence - there are those who thing Big Eck is a bit too smug - but you most certainly need a coherent and disciplined opposition.

Their cause is not helped by the current Westminster government, made up of one and a bit parties, neither of whom achieved anything much in Scotland. Then you have a Labour leader who appears like a Tory who got off at the wrong political bus stop, and has little in common with Labour voters let alone Scotland.

So, like the Nationalists, the Unionists are unable to provide a convincing argument for their political aims and beliefs.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Convincing Argument Mark II

This time it is the turn of the Lib Dems.

A bit easier to deal with, since the only argument they need to worry about in convincing people to vote for them.

Following a high point under Charles Kennedy, they have descenced into the pits of despair. Losing deposits in elections now seems the norm for them, and there appears to be no way out of their current situation. From what seemed a powerful position holding the balance of power, it is now clear that this is a poisoned chalice.

Next year's council elections may not be that bad for them, since personalities, rather than party politics, can have a major influence in the results. But come the next Scottish and Westminster elections, they may be headed for politicial oblivion.

But they could have a recovery plan, at least in Scotland. I'm tempted to put money on the Lib Dems siding with the SNP when it comes to the Referendum. But not led by Nick Clegg, but rather a true breakaway party. Murdo Fraser of the Conservatives has already tried without success, but the Lib Dems are a funny bunch. Whoever takes the plunge might be able to take the party rank and file with him. That would certainly kill Nick Clegg's leadership stone dead, and create a huge political storm. It could even destabilise the Westminster coalition.

But........ would the voters be convinced enough to trust the Lib Dems once more?

A Convincing Argument

There has been much talk about the Referendum ever since the SNP gubbed their opponents in May. So much in fact, that I am not going to attempt to summarise the arguments.

Bottom line as we stand: the SNP are in Government, the opposition are a mess and the Referendum is going to happen, like it or not.

As to the exact nature of the questions of the Referendum, I think we'll leave that aside, since every possible permutation has been discussed on the various political blogs, in Parliament and probably in some dingy wee pub in Glasgow.

It doesn't matter how much money will be spent on the campaigning. Not does it matter what the media comes out with. And what is debated in Holyrood and Westminster matters even less.

What matters is the opinion of individual voters, and what independence will do to them.

To date, the defence of the status quo has been incoherent, disorganised and a mixture of fact, semi-fact and pure fantasy. Yet support for full independence - according to the polls - still remains well below what is required. Yes, polls can be wildly inaccurate, but I'd argue they are generally correct.


Where are the mass protests on the streets? Where are the petitions to government with a million plus signatures?

The SNP are likely to be concerned, and this is highlighted by Alex Salmond's response to the most recent poll where he stated that over two thirds of Scots were in favour of more financial powers - that can also be interpreted as two thirds of Scots are not interested in full independence.

The SNP are most fortunate as they are about to receive a huge donation to the cause. But will it be enough?

Here's the three areas the SNP must keep clear of:

300/700 years of oppression
Probably the worst argument for the doorstep. Only relevant to the Fundamentalist Wing of the Alex Salmond Appreciation Society

Erm, from what?

Arc of Prosperity

Now we've got those little gems out of the way, let's look at more relevant issues.

A few thousand public sector/quango jobs are most certainly dependent on Westminster. I'm not detailing them since they will detract from my main point. Will the promise of no compulsory redundancies be kept? The economy is not suddenly going to produce replacement jobs, so will these people vote for redundancy? And given the circumstances, Holyrood may be powerless to prevent the job losses, with Westminster paying the legal minimum. How many votes will that lose? The private sector too is teetering in many cases. We can't all work for Tesco.

A bit topical at the moment, but the fine details will have to come out. If welfare is cut, more votes in the bin. There is also the subject of public sector and military pensions that are due. Who is liable?

In my opinion, the one subject that will - for the moment - defeat the SNP. At present, Alex Salmond wants Scotland to be part of the EU, and to eventually join the Euro. In other words, he wants Scotland to leave one union in order to join an even more corrupt one. Scotland will be no big player in the EU, regardless what people think. France and Germany control the EU in a blatant undemocratic fashion. Why on earth would any sane person wish to join them? If things in Europe get worse - highly likely at present - it will make the subject even more controversial.

Many commentators quite rightly moan about the unionists having problems producing a convincing argument to retain the status quo. And to be honest, they are not wrong either. But the SNP is also failing to produce a convincing argument for full independence. What will convince most people is that their jobs and money are safe. Anything else is a distraction.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Remembrance Day

Tomorrow marks Remembrance Day, where those who have died in the line of duty - not just in conflict - are remembered.

The Poppy Appeal collects millions of pounds on behalf of the Earl Haig Fund. The donations are used to help ex-service personnel. It is not, as some would have it, used as some sort of front for political or religious beliefs.

It is a unique date in history: 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year. Such a date will not occur for 100 years, and who knows what state the world will be in then.

Even if you do not donate to the charity, and whatever your political and religious beliefs, at least spare a thought for those who did not get the opportunity to have the choices you enjoy.

Ministerial Responsibility

The big guns are going at each other in Westminster over the issue of relaxed immigration.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is in denial over the relaxation of immigration rules. "A big boy did it and ran away" is her defence. In this case, the big boy in question is Brodie Clark, the former Borders Chief, and he has certainly not run away, having stated he intends to lodge a constructive dismissal case, something he is likely to win.

The question that must be asked is how responsible is a cabinet minister for the actions within their department. If Brodie Clark was acting outwith procedures, then it could be reasonable argued that she cannot be expected to know every detail of what is happening, especially if it is not reported to her. Ministers receive high level reports, and only get a drilldown of the facts when an investigation is warranted. This applies to all departments.

However, it could also be argued that with such a serious issue as immigration controls being relaxed, and potentially allowing all manner of undesireables into the country, then her ignorance is no defence.

The Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper seems to be using this line of attack, and it is getting results. The Prime Minister is once again being forced to defend a minister, and stating that they have "his complete confidence" (ie she'll be gone soon!).

It is an interesting situation, and we saw a similar episode with Stewart Stevenson last December in Scotland.

What it boils down to is confidence. If Parliament - not the Government of the day - does not have confidence in a minister's abilities to do the job, then that minister must resign. To hang onto office merely amplifies the problems and is a distraction to finding a solution to the problem.

Prime Ministers and First Ministers do not like forcing ministers to resign, usually because they are political allies within their own parties. But loyalty has a limit - the country comes first.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Scotland's Place in Europe

Where will an independent Scotland sit in Europe?

Do people want monetary union? Political Union? Political Union but not the Euro? Be like Norway?

Several options but no clear message from the SNP. Talk about "letting the people decide" is not clear, and no matter how trustworthy they SNP may be, it still does not commit them. For all we know the makeup of the SNP may change by the time such a question arises. And looking at what happened to Greece, will the Scottish people be allowed to decide for themselves?

What is clear at the moment, even to the politically apathetic, is that the Big European Project is in serious difficulty. And what is also clear is that democracy is out of the window - how else do you explain the Greek PM's about face? France and Germany are pulling the strings of Europe.

At the moment, it appears that should Scotland become independent, the SNP want to remain as part of Europe. However, it is uncertain precisely what that would mean. The Internet blogs are full of debate but I doubt if anyone really knows what will happen, not even the SNP.

This is creating a lot of uncertainty, and already the opponents of independence are working on this.

Europe, as it stands, is a bigger problem for a union than Westminster ever has or ever could be. Even the most faithful of the SNP supporters are realising that selling independence within Europe is probably the worst possible idea. There are some who justify their support by stating they want independence first then sort out Europe later - that comes across as an argument for leaving the UK at any cost.

My own view is that unless Salmond cleary states that Scotland will not join the Euro, and will not aim for closer political ties, then the Referendum will be lost. And without an option for "Devo Max", then a failure of the Referendum will kill off independence for many years, if not a generation.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Leadership Woes

Ruth Davidson has been appointed leader of the Scottish Conservatives, not that it will really make any difference to the party's fortunes in Scotland in the short term.

I cannot see the Scottish electorate warming to Ruth Davidson. She comes across as a Cameron clone, and her background makes easy pickings in a debate, given her total lack of political experience. I think she got more votes because the party members got a bit huffy about that upstart Fraser.

No matter how articulate she is in a debate, you can bet Salmond will be slapping her down at the first opportunity. If she can hold her ground against him, then she might shut up the doubters in her own ranks. Failure to be effective will result in a coup. The Tories are rather vicious when it comes to toppling leaders.

And Murdo will be first in line when that happens.......

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Dirty Politics

You couldn't make it up. But someone in the Lib Dems had a go anyway, with an effort a ten year old could have bettered.

Big Eck was shown with his arm around a camel (we assume one of the fairer sex), standing on the beach with Edinburgh Castle in the background. Three big phrases completed the picture, with allegations that Alex has a bad cold and suffering from cattarh.

Alas, it was a case of the Lib Dems leader, Willie Rennie, smearing Alex Salmond's visit to Qatar, and it has backfired in spectacular fashion. His excuse is that "a big boy did it and ran away". Maybe his Facebook account was hacked.

Meanwhile, the spat between the SNP and Mr Davidson (of the "gonnae gie you a doin'" fame), has the SNP shooting itself in the foot. Joan McAlpine's researcher apparently sent an email round which makes out that Davidson is of the "bunga bunga" party type. Turns out this was complete bollocks. The excuse from the researcher is that she's just a wee lassie.

What is it with political party activists who seem hell-bent on blowing their political careers - and their parties - out of the water?

The Lib Dems do not surprise anyway these days. If they didn't do something strange the men in white coats would be summoned. But the SNP researcher has been really stupid, making allegations that are serious. With her actions, she has completely reversed the attention on Davidson and make a mockery of Eilidh Whiteford's original complaint. What the SNP will do with her is their business, but I'd suggest that Joan McAlpine finds another researcher, ideally one that will not embarass her or the party.

While we expect politics to be interesting and full of heated debate, one or two individuals are getting close, if not stepping over, a big red line. It needs to stop now.

But don't hold your breath.......