Wednesday, 7 June 2017

No words for Tory insolence

(I meant to post this a few weeks ago. So there will be a lot to add to my post. Please excuse spelling and grammar as I'm writing this hurriedly.)

The Scottish Tories' campaign this year as last year is all centred on one thing: who will stop Indyref 2. Quite understandably last year they had conceded that the SNP were going to win without doubt. The question was who would form the effective opposition and that for them was all about who would be most vocal against another independence referendum. They proved to be very good and took a lot of seats with Labour doubtlessly losing votes to the Tories.

SO then they took their campaign against independence to a new level and dragged it into an election where it was quite simply irrelevant, the council elections. Ruth Davidson and her party were complaining that the SNP were obsessed with independence and that the people needed to elect Tories back on May 4th to stop the SNP's "second decisive referendum" because that was what they were "obsessed with." And yet it was the SNP who were actually out campaigning with regard to the local services that mattered to local people and producing leaflets that outlined their programme for the local council if they were elected and formed an administration. So who was it that were really obsessed with independence during the local elections? Ruth Davidson and the Tories!

I would say that this could only make cynical voters wonder more if in fact it's time for local councils to actually be non-partisan with elected independents running the councils so local issues don't get caught up so much in wider national arguments. I might find some agreement there from the likes of Lesley Riddoch.

Then there was two years ago when we living in the immediate post-indyref climate and we then had to turn our attention to the 2015 General Election. I was of course dissapointed with the result of the referendum but a large part of me then thought that maybe this was really a blessing in disguise because it would really test the convictions of what the Unionists argued during the referendum.

Vote No to stay in EU. Vote No to gain more powers. Vote No to lead the UK not leave it. All this pointed towards the need post-referendum to make sure Scotland's voice was heard and tolerated at a UK level. And so that was what the new First Minister of Scotland was focussed on making sure the SNP set out to do by campaigning for SNP MPs to be elected. If we were really voting No to make sure Scotland 'punched above its weight'

I accept that Ruth Davidson is trying to protect a union that she loves for whatever reason like, well, identity. Nothing like a bit of nationalism that doesn't self-identify as nationalism to combat the progressive forces of civic nationalism. I wouldn't expect anything less from a party who's very purpose is to defend the Union of Great Britain. So her party's inevitable complaints about the First Minister unveiling plans to hold a second independence referendum sometime around the end of the Brexit process was just something I shrugged my shoulders at.

But in the weeks after Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to move towards holding another vote, with the circumstances changed how the Tories were allowed to get away with castigating Nicola Sturgeon over acting as an ambassador for Scotland in the World I will never get my head round. Shortly after her big announcement about the second independence referendum she jetted off to America to do what anyone leading a country should do, attempt to make responsible trade deals with other countries. It also included the signing of a pledge with the democratic governor of California to pledge to work together on tackling climate change, one of the biggest issues of modern times and something Donald Trump is all too keen to sweep under the carpet. She also attended the Women in the World summit where she was interviewed in front on a sell-out crowd and was well received by those in attendance. The Scottish COnservatives however, instead of actually considering the common ground they should surely find with the SNP on the need to make sure Scotland is selling itself to the World, chose to carry forth their their accusation of Nicola Sturgeon supposedly neglecting her post of FIrst Minister and 'grandstanding' on the World stage. The demands of Tory MSPs John Lamont and Annie Wells that she 'got back to her day job' were all that they could come up with in response to an important trip that happened, not during parliamentary time, but during recess. Yet in the same recess David Mundell was in Burma and SIngapore promoting Scottish whisky, technology, oil and gas. Were they complaining about that visit? Of course not! So to John Lamont and Annie Wells, what was the difference between the Scottish First Minister visiting New York and the Scottish Secretary visiting South East Asia on similar trade missions? Nothing except the fact that one was SNP and the other was Conservative. What's more Sturgeon's visit to New York coincided with Theresa May visiting Saudi Arabia to continue with the usual business including arms dealing with a country that has an atrocious human rights record. Why was that okay but Nicola Sturgeon's progressive trade visit to America not? 'Blah blah tax payer's money, blah blah grandstanding, blah blah get back to your day job.' No don't give us that bullshit!

The Tories moaning about Nicola Sturgeon's visit across the North Atlantic was as petty as it was demeaning. It was demeaning not just to the role of the FIrst Minister but I felt more widely to the nation of Scotland. What was the point in spending the No campaigning talking up Scotland 'being a proud nation, punching above it's weight in the World' when you don't want its very leader to promote Scotland in the World and then talk about shutting her out of the Brexit negotiations? They told us to 'lead the UK not leave it' yet seemingly that didn't apply to single biggest issue that affecting the UK right at this moment. The mask is slipping and it's quite clear that the unionists are more interested in shouting down the SNP and antagonising its supporters than actually offering a vision of how the UK can work in harmony with the Scottish Government in the best and diverse interests of the people of Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon kept everything on the table including Scotland staying in the UK but keeping access to the single market. That was until the fight to defend Scotland's interests fell flat against a UK Government keen only on its own hard-Brexit agenda. And when the Conservatives hand round leaflets complaining about a second divisive referendum and indeed when WIllie Rennie and Kezia DUgdale do the same it is THEM who are being DIVISIVE just by talking about it. And given the three of them were all too glad of a snap general election which meant weeks more of heated political debates only two years after the last general election and a year after the Brexit vote who are they to preach about the causes of division?

The thing is of course, that when all they can attack their opponents for is a plan to hold a one-day exercise in democracy that may only involve a few weeks of campaigning, you can't help but wonder what it is they're actually trying to deflect from. Well we know full well, because it's the Tories. £12 Billion benefit cuts, an NHS under pressure with doctors struggling under contracts, cuts to police numbers, council cuts, the Dementia Tax, the Rape Clause, government debt, the list goes on. So perhaps I'll just leave this link with you from an article in the Guardian a few days ago.

Along with all the other crap we're having to deal with from the Conservatives people should keep in mind the insolence of unionist politicians when they cast their vote. A vote for the SNP is a vote for Scotland to make its own voice heard within the UK and taken seriously. I just hope Jeremy Corbyn realises that the party led by Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson is Labour's natural ally against more years of a nasty Conservative government.

So allow me this once to repeat a recurring cliche among those of us on the anti-Tory side:

Make June the end of May.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The beautiful game - but an ugly establishment

Happy New Year! Am I a little late saying that? Well anyway, how was the old year for you? A lot worth talking about, eh? Well it's fair to say 2016 was a terrible year for English football. The 'home of football' as it is so affectionately viewed, England nonetheless has not had the easiest reputation in the beautiful game. And if last year is anything to go by a lot of the current issues reflect very badly on the FA themselves.

Okay, so lets start with something positive - Leicester City, 5000-1 outsiders and look what they achieved. Premier League glory! Yes, that's starting to become a distant memory now with the same team dangerously close to the relegation zone. I hope for them they survive but it goes to show when you suceed where others wrote you off, live in the moment because far from being the start of a golden era it could just be a one off, something womderful to savour before normal service resumes. But a lot of other teams will take inspiration and say 'why not also us one day?'

So Leicester was England's pride for 2016 because the national team's humiliation against Iceland in Euro 2016 is one few of us will ever come to terms with. Far from hoping for the big prize we should have just looked at a quarter-final match with France as a decent enough place to exit being that the host nation was playing impressively enough. A friendly victory a few months earlier against arch-rivals Germany had shown us massive potential that we all thought could be put together in the finest England team for a generation. But once again we were to be dissapointed and worse against a team we were supposed to beat! It raises questions about how well our grassroots system prepares young footballers for their career ahead but also how far they manage to go in a league system which maybe stacked against them compared to other countries. After Germany won the 2014 World Cup the pundits were commenting on just how developed their academy system but there is something even deeper about Germany's clinical approach that has made it one of the most successful teams in the history of both the Euros and the World Cup. It is fair to say Germany does a lot of things better than England, I could go on all day about that, something in a country's mentality makes all the difference.

So out went Roy Hodgson and in came Sam Allardyce. I looked at his philosophy and his approach to training and couldn't help feeling we were on to something. This was surely the man to rescue England from abyss, the man who had been waiting in the wings for so long. But then it was all over so soon in a shock revelation about Big Sam's dealings caught on a hidden camera. What a fool, the man had let us all down and now, as Alan Shearer said, we're a complete "laughing stock"! How much lower could England go? Well, we have Gareth Southgate now and whatever his flaws our trust in him isn't likely to be tarnished anytime soon.

Outwith the national England's football establishment itself, the FA, has shown recently just how retrograde and stuck in the past it can be. In the autumn several former professional footballers bravely waived their right to anonymity to reveal that they were sexually abused when they were young players. No doubt we can expect the FA to do something about the predators in the system but we have to ask the obvious question: was there something they could have done earlier but didn't? Even when no victim comes forward surely somebody in a position of authority should have been able to spot the warning signs and also be able to properly vet people apply to work with children and young people. We know only now in recent years that this has been a long running problem in other areas of the establishment like the BBC and the damming thing there has been that the controllers should have picked up on the allegations early and acted appropriately. And the FA is the latest institution thaat will need to confront this issue so it is seen to act when it matters the most.

This article will be updated later. I can't be asked to finish it just now.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Three times Olympians got folk telt at Rio.

I meant to post this back after the Olympics but as it's now Sports Personality of Year, here is a small selection of Britain's Olympic personalities at Rio hitting back at some total eejits:

Bradley Wiggins pricking the conscience of Piers Morgan

After winning a team gold for Team GB the legend that is Bradley Wiggins, being the dude he is, poked his tongue out to help prevent him and his team crying on the podium. Piers Morgan however was not impressed and tried shaming him for not singing God Save the Queen. But Wiggo, as Colm Quinn, was quick to remind him where his moral responsibilities really should lie:

Andy Murray correcting John Inverdale who forgot about the Williams' sisters

What a year Andy Murray has had! In fact I'm writing this just as Gary Linekar is talking to Andy on SPOTY. Anyway, when being interviewed by John Inverdale who congratulated him on being "the first person to win two gold medals in tennis", Andy Murray managed not to let his moment of glory cloud his memory so he could remind John Inverdale that Venus and Serena's achievements shouldn't be rewritten.

Callum Skinner telling the Leave campaign not to hijack his success.

Callum Skinner makes the point perfectly. While political campaigns are welcome to voice their support for athletes they shouldn't then start using that to promote their agenda. That's what the Better Together campaign did in 2012 during the London Olympics to try and use emotion against Scottish independence and it was repugnant. It's no different with the more recent referendum campaign that flew the Union Jack so passionately, Leave.EU. The rhetoric of those promoting Brexit was hideous enough without it drifting into the very arena where we should have been able to escape from it all.

If you can jog your memory and remember others with such personality from Rio 2016 drop a comment below and tell us how they got someone telt!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The monarchy can fund itself

I have an admission to make: I don't really mind the monarchy. As far as I care the Queen can remain Head of State as long as we have the right political system for a fair and progressive society. It's perfectly possible to be such a country whilst retaining a royal family, think of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, all with a King or Queen as head of state yet all considered among some of the most progressive countries in the developed world. Meanwhile we have France, Russia and America with executive presidents but these are not exactly the best of countries for liberal politics at the moment. Of course we also have Iceland and Finland as progressive republics. And then we have Spain and Britain with constitutional monarchies but political elites that leave a lot to be desired. So what can we really draw about a country based simply on what system it has for the head of state?

But whatever we think of the monarchy in this country, how it's funded is always going to be a source of controversy. The latest issue to emerge is that of the maintenance bill for Buckingham Palace, a whopping £370 million for the taxpayer. We can argue the exact technicality of the funding arrangement that will pay for this - the sovereign grant drawn from the crown estates - but it's still an issue. The crown estates should be full public property while the monarch's actual properties, Buck Palace, Balmoral, Windsor Castle and so on should all be paid for by something other than the public purse. There is little reason why the monarch and the rest of the Royal Family couldn't be privately funded. The Royal Family is known for being most popular among the wealthiest people in the country. If they are all keen to keep the monarchy and funding them by donations is the only option then they surely won't hesitate to do so. Buckingham Palace recieves around half a million visitors which isn't going to be enough to cover the costs of the bill but crowd-funding and not-for-profit heritage contributions ought to go some way.

What we ought to do is get politicians to back a bill that ends all public funding to the monarchy and its assets. We may only give them less than £1 a year per person or we may give them much much more. But we have to think about public perception here. When the Royal Family are rich enough, giving so much as an extra penny to them is not a savoury thought when there are many other families across the country in greater need. When there is legislation that specifically states public funding should not go to fund the monarchy, that's when public perception of the Royal Family on the side of its skeptics might begin to change. But even then that's not really going to make a difference to people's overall opinions.

The thing is, the debate about the Monarchy, whether we should have it or not, is really less of a financial debate and more of a discussion concerning either how sentimental we are about the institution or how much it is a matter of democratic accountability. Because after all, an elected head of state still has to be paid for and that would generally be done by taxpayers. I'm not arguing for one moment that the monarchy makes any net contribution to the economy, that's more or less negligible. But if it is entirely self funding or funded by donation we could end contributing far more in public funding to the office of President of the United Republic (and wouldn't there also be a small cost involved in having to change the country's name?).

United Republic OKay? All I can say to the designer of that flag is U-ROK!

All the Royal Family needs is the support of wealthy donors, possibly the selling-off of its private assets to be enjoyed by the public in free museums, regular high-end jobs that as prominent public figures they're in a prime position to be offered or just the good old tapping into their bank accounts. If the reigning monarch is so enthusiastic about undertaking his or her role as head of state, a lack of salary isn't going to be a put-off - it's still going to feel like a privilege to be in that role.

Friday, 28 October 2016

I really don't do football tribalism

One weekend, about two months ago, there were two footballing derbies played out in two of the great  cities on this island. I've often had reason to compare Glasgow and Manchester with the civic grandeur of both their centres born out of a seismic 19th century industrial landscape that has become the cultural and economic heartland for many millions of people in the nation/region of which it is the biggest city. And likewise both have inevitably come to each have two big teams playing in some of Britain great cathedrals of football. Yet there is still something of a difference between the Manchester Derby and Old Firm derbies in the reputation of each rivalry.

I do not support either Celtic or Rangers though I may make an exception when it comes to the big European competitions in which case it becomes a matter of Scottish national interest whoever gets there. But I generally prefer to stay out of it and away from the politics of committing myself to an Old Firm club. Yes, I do have more of an affinity with the traditional fanbase of Celtic whose general political leanings are to the left - anti-establishment, anti-imperialism, socialist ideals, Irish reunification, Palestinian solidarity etc. The broad-left is where my political home lies but it does not give me any reason to support Celtic. Because when you have a footballing rivalry as big and divisive as that I want no part of it. The team I support is Liverpool while here in Scotland my allegiances lie more with local teams in the South-west - Queen of the South and Stranraer, both of whom could bring something of a boost to their clubs and local communities if they advance further in the leagues. In the Premiership, if there's any team I want to win it then it will be anyone but the Old Firm. So my support goes to whichever club can end the dominance of Rangers or Celtic. Last season that was Aberdeen who sadly missed out on beating Celtic to the top-spot, this season so far its looking like Hearts might be the contender. But I'm just sick to death of Glasgow's dominance in the top tier of Scottish football, unless Partick Thistle were to come along and steal the Old Firm's thunder.

More of this would be nice

Of course Celtic and Rangers have been good business for Scotland to an extent though the cost of policing them makes for a heavy bill. As football clubs they have their fair share of fans who are there just because they love football and have found their place in the family of one club or another. For them and many Celtic and Rangers fans across Scotland it isn't about sectarianism or ideology. They just support the clubs for similar reasons to why other people support other clubs be it a local connection, a family connection or maybe even a classroom influence among peers. Sadly however, at the heart of Scottish football lies this most tribalistic of rivalries. How about considering other rivalries for a change? Like one between Celtic and Hearts to echo the less acrimonious rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, though that would probably just end up like another sectarian derby. It seems there's actually one between Rangers and Aberdeen that started relatively recently in a single match. But how about people just put aside their religious or political bias in finding their club of affinitiy? The thing with the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers is that the bigotry really cuts both ways. In the showdown between the two at Parkhead in September, a number of Rangers fans went and trashed the toilets while someone in the Celtic camp had the wise idea (n.b. irony) of hanging a pair of dolls possibly to symbolise what they saw as a club who died in 2012. We can call all this banter but it's really hard to know what to make of it. Certainly such behaviour can be highly provocative.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Europe: More control when you're in the room than knocking on the window

We are now in the middle of the month when we are talking about little else but Europe, whether that's the football or something more important, a certain referendum that is less than a fortnight away. As someone on the left and a supporter of Scottish independence, the European Union ought to be the sort of thing I despised as a bureaucratic corporate centralising force with its  unelected headquarters in Brussels. Yet the main advocacy of Britain's exit from this club, a 'Brexit', is coming from the right and perhaps feels too jingoistic for comfort.

Twenty months on from the independence referendum it's easy to see the parallels emerging. The Brexit side saying "we are strong enough not to need dictating to by a foreign power" while accusing the other side of "Project Fear". But for me this is quite a different referendum needing quite a different debate. I personally favour remaining in the European Union and so it feels weird to find myself on the same side of the debate as David Cameron and George Osborne. Nonetheless we will be singing from completely different hymn sheets. The British Unionists are still having a dig at Alex Salmond even when they both agree on continued EU membership because we are contemplating another referendum especially if Britain as a whole votes to leave the European Union. We even have the cheek of Willie Rennie suggesting Alex Salmond should leave the Remain campaign because "he's an embarrassment". Talk for yourself mate! Not only that he thinks we "nationalists" will be voting to leave to ensure Britain gets taken out of the European Union so it would create the grounds for that second referendum. Well anybody with half a brain would realise how stupid that would be when the whole point with arguing for a second referendum in the event of a Brexit is because there is a strong Scottish vote for remaining in. So on that basis what we in Scotland should be campaigning for is a very strong vote north of the border (and in the short time we have before the referendum it is best for most politicians and campaigners to focus on one part of the UK when campaigning, whether Scotland, Wales, Wessex or Yorkshire) and let the rest of Britain decide for itself. The simple truth is that polls suggest there's going to be a strong vote to leave south of the border while in Scotland it will be quite the reverse. But Nicola Sturgeon is expressing strong support for a vote to remain in the EU not just within Scotland but across the UK. I certainly don't want the future for a Great Britain of three independent countries to include an England that is detached from the European Union while all its Celtic neighbours are committed members. But if it comes to the rump of the UK choosing to stay out of the EU then I would want an independent Scotland as soon as possible in order to bring the European Union back to at least part of our island.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A RISE vote is an unwise vote

It's nearly that time of year again. Hard to believe almost 12 months have passed since that historic day when the SNP achieved a near clean-sweep of Westminster's 59 Scottish seats. A day that saw a number of familiar faces from the Yes campaign, some having only joined the SNP since the referendum, gain their spot on the (in)famous green benches. One of those was of course particularly remarkable - a 20-year old politics undergraduate called Mhairi Black unseating Douglas Alexander one of New Labour's stalwarts who had been there since the girl who would become the youngest MP for some three hundred years was still in nursery. I think I felt my age when I remembered back then in 1997 I was revising for exams that I would be sitting at the grammar school in Penrith!

It was easy to feel some gleeful schadenfreude with the enormity of Labour's collapse in Scotland - served them right for how they behaved towards us during the referendum! Yet that feeling soon gave in to a sense that actually Labour were finally eating humble pie and realising what was wrong with themselves. They weren't the great victors of the independence referendum that John McTiernan had so pompously predicted a few months before but rather the lambs that had sacrificed themselves to protect the union by a swing margin of just 5%. They sound like a shadow of their former self but the tone of humility they seemed to adopt wasn't going to make me forgive them anytime soon. They were well and truly tarnished by standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in 'Better Together'.

One set of seat predictions for May 5th

Now the time comes for their painful reminder. Whilst last year we could take nothing for granted in the pro-indy camp where most of us were united behind the need to vote SNP, the result this time is pretty much in the bag. The SNP will win the Scottish Parliament elections this coming Thursday and most likely they will increase their majority. But alongside this already-won contest for first place there are another two battles in play. The Tories fancy their chances to be the main opposition party ahead of Labour (I'd hardly be looking forward to that!) and the Greens sense a real opportunity to make a bigger impact on the back of their own increased membership since the referendum with the possibility of winning a few more seats and replacing the Liberal Democrats as the fourth party in Holyrood.