Disowning idiocy

Neat move from Carole Erskine. Rather than take personal responsibility for the ill-informed drivel, she dumps blame on some anonymous dinner guest.

One can readily understand why she would want to deny ownership of comments such as the threadbare inanity about a “one-party state”. And, as a self-styled ‘politics reporter’, it is not unreasonable that she would be eager to disown the fallacy about using the second vote to “ensure an effective opposition to the SNP”. But it seems a little unfair to make some quite possibly entirely innocent third party the unwitting butt of others’ ridicule.

It can hardly have escaped the notice even of one so obviously immersed in the cosy consensus of the mainstream media that there are actually numerous parties standing candidates in the coming election. Not that ‘numerous’ is necessary. It would require only a single party other than the SNP to make a nonsense of the claim that Scotland is a “one-party state”. As pretty much everybody apart from Carole Erskine… Sorry! Carole Erskine’s unnamed dinner guest will willingly acknowledge, two is more than one.

But the pish about a “one-party state” isn’t only an insult to arithmetic. It is a slur on all of Scotland and its people. It implies that we are no more than the pawns of some arch-manipulator. It portrays us as mere ciphers, rather than effective actors. It discounts the fact that the electoral dominance of the SNP is something knowingly and purposefully engineered by Scotland’s voters.

With an arrogance that is offensive in a scatter-gun sort of way, Carole Erskine (and/or some random diner) supposes that the people of Scotland are no more than biddable sheeple being herded by devious politicians. Their sneering contempt for Scotland precludes consideration of the possibility that it might be the other way around. That it may be the people of Scotland who are using the SNP as a tool to shape a new politics of their choosing. That the SNP is being deployed by Scottish voters as a weapon with which to defend Scotland against an increasingly antagonistic British state.

And what of the suggestion that the regional vote can be used to “ensure” anything? If Carole Erskine is truly qualified to be a ‘political reporter’, why does she not immediately shoot down this daft notion? If it really did come from this mysterious ‘dinner guest’, oerhaps she was just too polite to point out to them how misguided this is. That must be it! Because it surely couldn’t be that a professional journalist was seeking to mislead voters into imagining that Scotland’s voting system could be gamed. Perish that thought!

The biggest lie

It is frequently pointed out that “Scottish Labour” is not a real political party. Although not often enough to prevent them persisting in the pretence. There is no such party registered with the Electoral Commission. There is only the British Labour Party. “Scottish Labour” is, in fact, British Labour in Scotland (BLiS).

But they are not alone in attempting this ruse. The “Scottish Conservatives” and “Scottish Liberal Democrats” are no more real than “Scottish Labour”. Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie are no less mere proxies for their bosses in London than Kezia Dugdale. Of all the deceptions perpetrated by the British parties in Scotland, surely the most reprehensible is passing themselves of as autonomous Scottish parties able to formulate policy independently of the ‘parent’ party.

This has profound implications for democracy in Scotland. As Scotland’s political culture diverges from that of the rest of the UK (rUK) the fact that the ‘leaders’ of the British parties in Scotland cannot formulate policy that is informed by this distinctive political culture is increasingly relevant. Ultimately, policy is formulated by the real party leadership in London. A leadership which shows no signs whatever of being aware of the prevailing political culture in Scotland. A leadership which is, in fact, determined to deny any distinctiveness whatever. And to eradicate those differences that cannot be denied.

Whatever the ‘leaders’ of the British parties in Scotland may say, they are subject to the authority of the ‘parent’ party in the same way as any ordinary member of that party. They are prohibited from promoting any policy other than that adopted by the UK party. However much they may pretend otherwise, they cannot make policy for Scotland.

And make no mistake, this applies to devolved areas every bit as much as to reserved matters. It may be that the ‘leaders’ of the British parties’ operations in Scotland are occasionally consulted on policy in devolved areas. But that is as far as it goes. The final decision will always be in the hands of the real leadership. And that decision will always reflect the interests of a UK party immersed in the political culture of rUK. A political culture that is significantly different from that in Scotland. A political culture which steers policy formulation in directions that bear little or no relation to the needs, aspirations and priorities of Scotland’s people.

What this means is that the British parties in Scotland are touting for votes on a false prospectus. They are presenting themselves as Scottish parties when they clearly are not.  Voters may want to reflect on the fact that, by voting for any of the British parties, they are effectively voting for London rule.

Infantile antics

“Questions raised over SNP’s £10bn Chinese trade deal”, declares the STV website. But are they sensible questions? Is it even a “trade deal”? And, whatever it is, was it actually shrouded in secrecy?

Or is this no more than the kind of infantile antics that have come to characterise the British parties in Scotland?

There was no secret. The signing of the memorandum of understanding was reported. If it was only reported in the niche media that’s because it is a matter of only niche interest.

It isn’t a trade deal. It’s an agreement to have discussions about meetings to have talks about talks about something as yet unspecified which may, some time down the line, become something significant. It’s a trivial procedural matter such as is part of the day-to-day business of any government. If the Scottish Government didn’t release any “details”, it’s because there are no “details”. There’s nothing to report. Nothing has happened, except the opening up of the possibility that something might happen.

There are no sensible questions to be asked. There is nothing more to find out. Everything there is to know is already known. And none of it is stuff that we needed to know anyway.

The overblown, theatrical hysterics of the British parties would be comical were it not for the fact that it is yet another attempt to deceive the people of Scotland.

Are the people of Scotland fooled by this? Only those who want to be. Are voters impressed by the screeching of Jackie Baillie or the whining of Willie Rennie? Not if the polls are within an astronomical distance of being accurate.

Will the British parties ever learn that the people of Scotland are no longer susceptible to their puerile efforts at manipulation? It seems not.

Dugdale dumps on doctors

Once again British Labour in Scotland takes the pish out of the people of Scotland with ill-thought, half-baked pronouncements that have more to do with grabbing headlines than offering cogent policies. Pretendy wee party loyalists and British nationalist fanatics will lap this up like Pavlovian dogs. Thinking people, on the other hand, will ask the pertinent questions.

Questions such as: is there actually a ‘crisis’ relating to GP appointment waiting times? British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) and their allies in the other British parties declare a fresh ‘crisis’ in NHS Scotland almost daily. And yet our health services continue to function rather well. Users of those services are, according to surveys, reasonably satisfied. While the British parties and their friends in the media constantly paint a picture of NHS staff of failure and a system in a state of collapse, the people who actually use NHS Scotland appear bafflingly oblivious to the catastrophe unfolding around them. You’d really think they’d be the first to notice.

Alternatively, we might conclude that the ongoing denigration of NHS Scotland by BLiS and their Tory allies is all malicious, politically motivated distortion, exaggeration and downright lies. So, when Dugdale starts screeching about yet another ‘crisis, we’d be well advised to be sceptical. Very sceptical!

The reality is that the majority of people get to see their GP in good time. Not all visits the the doctor are urgent. If it is, then most GP practices have arrangements for emergency appointments; or early/late sessions; or facilities to refer the patient to another doctor.

In many cases, it isn’t even necessary to see your GP. Increasingly, practice nurses are the appropriate person to see. Many have specialist skills. Some even have the authority to prescribe. Others have rapid access to persons who may prescribe on the strength of the nurse’s recommendation.

Pharmacists offer a Minor Ailments service and will often be able to provide advice and access to medication without the need for an appointment.

In short, there may not even be a problem, far less a ‘crisis’. And to whatever extent there is a problem, measures are already being taken to address this. I don’t doubt that there is scope for improvement in GP services, as there is in any endeavour. But I see absolutely no reason to put my faith in politicians who are all too evidently concerned mainly with petty politicking when we already have an administration which seems to be doing a passable job.

We might also wonder how feasible Dugdale’s ‘plan’ is, even if there was any pressing reason for it. We might ask pertinent questions such as whether GPs were consulted before she started making commitments on their behalf? At present, each practice has its own system for appointments. As must be the case with every practice being different in terms of number of doctors; number and qualifications of ancillary staff; facilities for various treatments etc.

Is Dugdale proposing that a Scottish Government under her leadership [a shiver runs down the spine] would impose on GPs a unified system for handling appointments? How would this work? Have GPs given their consent?

What about the cost? There surely will be a cost. Talk of online booking suggest yet another big government IT project. Experience tells us that those tend to be very expensive.

And the costs may not all be financial. What about the additional pressure on GPs and their staff? At present, people will be reasonable about appointments. If it is a non-urgent matter, they will be content to wait a week or more. A guaranteed 48hr waiting time changes the landscape completely. Bad enough if there is only the expectation of an immediate appointment regardless of need. Much worse if there is a contractual requirement for doctors to see patients within 48hrs without regard for clinical considerations.

This is reckless, irresponsible stuff from Dugdale. Once again she demonstrates that she is unfit for office. And that BLiS is unfit for government.

Rising to the occasion

Even as the Holyrood election campaign is only gathering pace, we have already heard all manner of nonsense from representatives and supporters of the OPIPs (other pro-independence parties) as they are sent into a feeding frenzy by the almost totally illusory prospect of electoral prizes. Carolyn Leckie is to be congratulated on managing to avoid such nonsense right up to her final paragraph.

Not that the article was entirely without its puzzling aspects. Ms Leckie appears torn between a partisan urge to castigate the SNP administration for its supposed timidity in relation to Council Tax reform, and her entirely rational appreciation of the reasons for caution. As she points out, consensus is required if we are to find a lasting solution to the issue of funding local services. But even as she acknowledges this need, she is critical of the Scottish Government for failing to act on a consensus that she admits doesn’t exists. That left me scratching my head.

The question we should be asking of the reforms announced by Nicola Sturgeon is not whether they are sufficient, but whether they are as much as could reasonably be expected under the circumstances. We know that they don’t come anywhere close to fully addressing the issue. But that was never going to happen at this stage. Those who pretend that the SNP has missed an opportunity to pull a perfect new system out of the hat are either being extremely foolish, or deeply dishonest.

To her credit, Carolyn Leckie looks to have recognised that most of the attacks on the SNP’s proposed tweaking of Council Tax are ill-founded. But she can’t resist the temptation to have a dig which only looks the more gratuitous in light of the commendable pragmatism that characterises the bulk of her assessment. To say that the decision on Council Tax “casts a shadow of a doubt over the SNP’s stated goal of reducing economic inequality to Scandinavian levels” is plainly silly. That is a long-term goal that wasn’t ever going to be achieved in the space of a single election manifesto. If anything, the SNP’s willingness to at least ‘do something’ with the existing system bodes well for the prospect of more meaningful reform once the party – and Nicola Sturgeon – has secured a further mandate from the Scottish electorate.

Which brings us to that hugely disappointing final paragraph and the daft claim that,

“…we need a rainbow pro-independence parliament after May 5, with fresh, eloquent voices from Rise and the Green Party to remind everyone that the independence movement is multi-dimensional.”

There is just so much self-serving fallaciousness crammed into that comment. Firstly, the possibility of any of the OPIPs winning seats is so vanishingly small as to be not worth considering. And what could they add to an SNP majority in any case? Eloquent voices? Perhaps! But they would be voices raised in support of policies that would either already find favour with an SNP administration in a position to implement them, or that would be beyond the reach of any administration.

Even if they could get elected – which is extremely doubtful – OPIP MSPs could only have a positive impact when supporting policies and actions that would be more effectively progressed by an SNP administration with an unchallengeable mandate. There are no circumstances in which even a number of OPIP MSPs could significantly influence an SNP administration even if said OPIP MSPs could somehow miraculously agree on a common position.

In terms of the constitutional question, what could the conditional support for independence of the OPIPs possibly add to an administration formed by a party which has an unconditional commitment to independence written into the very top of its constitution? None of the OPIPs is more dedicated to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status than the SNP. Mostly, they are less committed because their support is conditional on a particular policy agenda.

To whatever extent you may be treating your vote in May’s election as a vote for independence, there is no way to express that preference more unequivocally than by voting SNP on both ballots. And, to the probably greater extent that you are voting for a competent administration, there is no way that denying either of your votes to the SNP can serve that end.

Another thing that Carolyn Leckie does not take into account is the way the British media would use whatever OPIP success might, by some remarkable happenstance, come to pass. The harsh reality is that OPIP MSPs would be entirely disregarded by a mainstream media capable only of portraying politics in terms of simplistic dichotomies such as that represented by the faux rivalry of the two main British parties. Media which, in any case, is only interested in perpetuating a caricature of the independence campaign being ‘all about the SNP’.

The only exception to this blanking of OPIP MSPs would be those occasions when they said something that could be spun as anti-SNP and/or anti-independence. At which point said politicians would be splashed all over the front pages. With the distinct possibility that they would be encouraged to make further ‘controversial’ statements just so as to get some attention.

Thus, there is the very real possibility that those “eloquent voices from RISE and the Green Party” could have a decidedly negative impact on the closest thing to a progressive government that we can hope for at this time.

One final bit of foolishness from that fatally flawed final paragraph. Does Carolyn Leckie seriously suppose that we need to be reminded that “the independence movement is multi-dimensional”? Does she think we don’t know that? Among the audience she is addressing there is surely not one of us who didn’t spend the first referendum campaign working alongside others from different parties and none, united in our aspiration to bring our government home and create a better, fairer, greener Scotland.

Now, at least as much as then, we urgently need that same unity of purpose. Now, every bit as much as it did then, our purpose must be bent to a particular aim. Then, it was a Yes vote. Now, it is an SNP majority with the most powerful mandate achievable. Not for any partisan reasons but simply because that is the outcome which best serves our common cause.

The ultimate folly of that final paragraph is that it argues against the #BothVotesSNP strategy which will be most effective in achieving what we might safely assume to be Carolyn Leckie’s long-term aims, in favour of some dubious short-term party political advantage. Surely now is the time to rise above such foolishness.

Relics and rejects

The fact that a British Tory Prime Minister can venture out of his London lair to seriously suggest that the Scottish branch of his party might become the opposition at Holyrood is a measure of the abject failure of British Labour in Scotland. To mistake the dismal decline of one of the British parties for the rise of another is nothing more than shallow-minded folly. Or, perhaps, desperate wishful thinking.

There is more to being the official parliamentary opposition than throwing infantile taunts at the party of government and its leader. It requires something other than dumb, knee-jerk adversarialism. If unthinking prejudice and blind hatred born of an offended sense of entitlement were all that was required to qualify as a credible opposition party then British Labour in Scotland would have no rivals.

It is not merely the British parties that have failed the people of Scotland, it is the entire British political system. Scotland has changed. We’ve moved on. We’ve developed an increasingly distinctive political culture. We’ve outgrown the ritualised pettiness of British politics. The faux rivalries of British Tory and British Labour are gratingly irrelevant. The threadbare rhetoric of right and left rings totally false within Scotland’s refreshed political discourse. The obsessive focus on economic orthodoxy no longer distracts us.

In our new politics, aspiration has supplanted despair. We are moved more by what we wish to achieve than by what we are afraid of losing. Where once we flinched in fear, now we reach in hope.

The British parties are squabbling over a role neither is fit to fulfil. They are fighting over which is most representative of the failed politics for which we no longer have any use. It is a regrettable but unavoidable fact that, after May’s election, one of these relics will trespass on the place in our parliament that should be occupied by those better fitted to serve the people of Scotland as the official opposition. It matters not at all which it is. It matters only that we be assured of the temporary and passing nature of their intrusion.

So long as we ensure a majority SNP government with a powerful mandate then we will have the opportunity in a future election to complete the transformation of our parliament. The British parties are desperately trying to drag us backwards. We have the means to resist them. The SNP is our best weapon. Let’s use it!

The art of politics

The SNP’s rivals – by which I mean both the British parties and the other pro-independence parties (OPIP) – are obviously massively disappointed that the SNP has not obliged them by providing ammunition to be used against them. In a characteristically clever piece of political manoeuvring, Sturgeon has done just enough to qualify as meaningful reform in the eyes of the wider electorate, but not so much to scare off the voters expected to give the SNP another term in May.

For many of us, this is the way politics should be done. A carefully calculated amalgam of principle and pragmatism. Quietly effective administration that allows incremental change while eschewing the kind of grandstanding that can, and so often does, go badly awry.

We shouldn’t take too seriously the raging and petulant foot-stamping of the British parties and the OPIPs. The former, as we know, will react with indignant apoplexy even when the SNP administration makes the very concessions they demand –  for example, on the budget. The latter know damned well that there was not the slightest possibility of any inevitably disruptive and controversial plan to abolish the Council Tax this close to an election. Their outrage really is no more than worthy but theatrical posturing for the benefit of their already committed supporters.

None of this will make the slightest difference in the coming election. Cautious as the changes to local taxation may be, even timid from some perspectives, they represent precisely the kind of measured policy-making that has won the favour of a huge swathe of the Scottish electorate.

Of course it is plodding and guided to an evident extent by the electoral interests of the party. But anybody who imagines Scottish voters are offended by such hard-headed realism is guilty of the kind of naivety that they attribute to others. And so long as the plodding is generally taking the country in a direction that people are comfortable with – or, at least, not terrified by – then the SNP will continue to win elections, while their rivals flail around looking for a way to emulate this winning formula.