Thursday, 20 November 2014

Au Revoir, Mr Salmond

Alas, man-flu sufferers in the City of Perth!  Last weekend, if you desperately needed to wipe your nose but your hanky was in the wash, your only options were shirt sleeves, scrunched-up chunks of toilet roll or the nearest small dog. There wasn’t a single box of tissues left on any shelf within five miles of Perth Concert Hall, as the SNP conference collectively welled up to mark Alex Salmond’s transition from inspirational leader to freelance troublemaker.

The reverberations of this momentous event spread far and wide. Deep in the bowels of New Broadcasting House a chill wind rattled the bars of Kirsty Wark’s cage and garlanded Nick Robinson’s peely-wally heart with icicles. In a fashionably postcoded Edinburgh attic Alan Cochrane, the Telegraph’s Scottish Editor, muttered darkly as he began the task of converting his 57,263 Salmond voodoo dolls into mini-Sturgeons, complete with wee tartan shoes.  And, with his Inverness constituency programmed into the Sat-Nav of Salmond’s 2015 electoral bandwagon, Danny Alexander glanced nervously at his CV, wondering how the career highlight “wretched lickspittle of Osborne and his nest of vipers” might fare in the local job market.

To those of us who woke on 19 September to a breakfast of sawdust and ashes, the transformation of the last two months is surely a modern-day miracle. Salmond hasn’t simply treated defeat as an impostor; he’s shoved a custard pie in its face, pulled its trousers down and invited us all to laugh at its microscopic willy.

His legacy? A humungous upsurge in political engagement in Scotland, in clear contravention of our masters’ advice that it’s dangerous and best left to the experts. Meeting organisers previously unsure if they’d draw a crowd big enough to justify buying a packet of Hob-Nobs are now wondering how many folk they can cram in without Health and Safety getting antsy.  All the pro-indy parties are bursting at the seams, and the SNP conference was so over-subscribed that they’ve had to organise a 12,000-seat reprise at the Hydro. I bet the Nawbag Chorus, with its constant refrain “Back in your box, Yessers”, wasn’t expecting us to need a box that large!

It’s also principally thanks to Alex Salmond that independence, previously unmentionable at parties unless you wanted to end up talking to the hatstand, is now part of mainstream political discourse. The other 200 or so countries on Planet Earth may not fully appreciate this achievement, since they’ve never had a problem taking themselves seriously. But, for a nation whose government from 1999 to 2007 couldn’t even be bothered to call itself a government, it’s a massive uplift in self-confidence.  And, even better, it totally gets on Alistair Carmichael’s tits.

In these first nano-seconds of the early days of a better nation, we’re finally shrugging off the Scottish cringe that’s intruded on our political thinking like a Dalek gatecrashing a poetry festival. For broadcasters in London complacently pre-scripting the democratic process, or pyromaniacs in East Sussex metaphorically engulfing it in flames, this is a huge culture shock. Is there a danger, as even some rock-solid Yes commentators have warned, of us occasionally wandering too far along the assertiveness/chippiness spectrum? Perhaps, but that’s an unavoidable part of discovering a voice. And, frankly, zero tolerance for business-as-usual bullshit is exactly what we need right now.

So, for the avoidance of doubt, we’ll not stand for INEOS fracking seven shades of shale out of our back gardens while we strain our drinking water through a pair of tights. To hell with West Central Scotland being put at risk of vaporisation just to ensure UK ministers’ bum-cheeks grace a UN Security Council seat. And a wee message for the First Sea Lord:  stick to being a Gilbert and Sullivan character and stop bumping yer gums about handing shipyard jobs to France.

Our self-belief would never have flowered in this exciting, potentially earth-shattering fashion were it not for Alex Salmond.  If, back in 2007, he’d been run over by a bus driver under the hypnotic 
control of Margaret Curran, the face of present-day Scotland would be very, very different.

The Labour ‘B’ team would still be in office at Holyrood, ineffectually managing decline with mournful expressions and a #supinesocialism hashtag, while the country’s brightest young talents headed off to London in search of jobs to pay off their £27,000 student debt. Glasgow would have abandoned its 2014 Commonwealth Games bid on the grounds that it was awfy expensive and we’d just muck it up anyway. Meanwhile, crowds would be spontaneously gathering at Pacific Quay to congratulate BBC Scotland on its BAFTA-winning documentary series God, What A Depressing Place, And It’s All We Deserve.

Of course, for the cadaverous UK establishment whose lifeblood is the status quo, this represents a dream scenario that Salmond has irritatingly thwarted. That’s why, bereft of arguments but making full use of the media’s relentless megaphone, they launch ad hominem attacks, vilifying him for being divisive, egocentric, selfish and bullying and writing off the thrilling campaign that set 1.6 million aflame as “Alex Salmond’s Vanity Project”.

Divisive? Well, I was busy cheering for Judy Murray on Strictly, so I must have missed the riots. But I’ll suspend judgment until I get through Christmas dinner without my family using the carving equipment to hack out my black separatist heart and impale it on a broom handle.

Egocentric? You mean they’ve invented a politician who isn’t? Anyway, since I'm convinced that I inhabit the centre of my own personal universe, and that my farts have the sweetest aroma of any I’ve encountered, I’d be a hypocrite to blame Salmond for that.

Selfish? It’ll be fun watching the nay-sayers try to push that one after he donated his First Minister’s pension to charity. Ah, but isn’t absolute altruism impossible?  He probably just did it for the warm glow of satisfaction. Now, if he’d done proper ex-leader stuff, such as racking up a tidy property portfolio, masquerading as Middle East Peace Envoy and inexplicably avoiding arrest for war crimes, everyone could surely respect that.

Bullying? I certainly wouldn’t want to be a butterfingers intern on his payroll, because I daresay a full-on tirade from him would shred several layers of skin. Still, his staff appear to be pretty loyal to him, which suggests that either his cuddly moments outweigh his fearsome ones or he’s a whiz at selecting masochists.

The truth is that Salmond could discover the cure for all known diseases and still be lambasted for hogging all the glory and creating a pensions bombshell. To the Labour Party in particular, he’s a usurper who robbed them of the Scottish people’s votes against rhyme, reason and the clear instructions of the Eleventh Commandment. Obviously the electorate let Labour down too, but, as they have the excuse of being bamboozled by Salmond’s roguish charm, they’ll be forgiven as long as they behave themselves in future.

Me? I don’t know Alex Salmond personally, although, as his unauthorised biographer David Torrance has demonstrated, that’s no barrier to pontificating emptily about him.  If pressed, I’d say he seems to have some interesting flaws, in common with roughly 7 billion human beings, and some phenomenal good points, in common with a great deal fewer. And, even if I’d never seen him in my life, one look at most of his enemies would suggest to me he’s one of the good guys.

He’s given 1.6 million of us the roller-coaster ride of our lives, something no-one else could have done without actually possessing super-powers.  He steps out of the spotlight (not off stage; please get something right, BBC) with a frighteningly impressive successor in place and a truckload of reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Best of all, he’s free of the restraints of office, with no obligation to hold back any more, and there are several targets out there who could really do with a barrage of withering scorn. Significantly, at the end of Salmond’s calculatedly gracious Bonfire Night response to the burghers, or however it’s spelt, of Lewes, he observed, “If they think I’m a threat to the Westminster establishment like Guy Fawkes, they’re right.”

See you soon, Alex.

Monday, 10 November 2014

I Want My Devo Max

By Wee Ginger Dug

Thanks to Wee Ginger Dug for his permission to re-publish this post, which sums up where things stand with devo max better than I ever could!

So where’s my devo max then? Like most people in Scotland who have been following political developments over the past few years – which is most people in Scotland – I fancy I have quite a good idea of what the phrase “devo max” means. It means that the Scottish Parliament raises all its own revenue including oil revenues, and exercises all powers except those to do with foreign affairs and defence – which would be retained by the UK Parliament. Seems straightforward enough doesn’t it. There would be no arguments about supposed “subsidies” from England, no disagreements over Scottish MPs voting on English only matters. What’s not to like? And as the icing on the devo cake, this is the settlement which, according to opinion polls, is consistently favoured by a large majority of the Scottish population, and had it been on offer prior to the independence referendum campaign, there wouldn’t have been an independence referendum campaign.

I seem to recall that during a certain referendum campaign a certain ex-prime minister promised us the most maxiest devo you could ever find this side of a federal state. In fact, we were promised the most federalest devo maxiest in the history of this most perfect union of nations ever seen in the history of the multiverse. It was all over the BBC, which as we all know is famous for its realistic depiction of all things Scottish – just watch Waterloo Road for its realistic depiction of a school that follows the English curriculum even though it’s in Greenock. Point proven.

Onieweys, this promise – or dare I say vow – came when yer actual prime minister and the heads of the other Unionist parties were all quite happy for the ex-prime minister to act like he was still prime minister, although to be fair Gordie Broon’s relationship with his employment status has always erred on the side of fictional. This is after all the man who described himself as an ex-politician while he’s still the MP for Kirkcaldy and who can rarely be arsed to turn up to represent them in the House of Commons.

What we were promised by Gordie and his tangential relationship to reality was for Holyrood and the other devolved administrations in the UK to have “the same status” as the Westminster Parliament. The new sort of federal government, according to the ex-politician ex-prime minister, would retain powers over defence and foreign affairs – everything else would be left to the control of the national parliaments. Gordie’s promise was going to save the UK, and that’s what Gordie’s promise did. Only Gordie’s promise was never going to be realised and it has now gone much the same way as the Labour party’s prospects of re-election in Scotland. There’s more chance of reviving a velociraptor for Jurassic park than there is of resuscitating devo max – or the Labour party.

Just a few days before the vote, Gordie vowed:

“The status quo is no longer an option. The choice is now between irreversible separation, or voting for a stronger Scottish parliament. We are talking about a big change in the constitution. It’s like home rule in the UK. We would be moving quite close to something near to federalism in a country where 85 per cent of the population is from one nation. Change is in the air and change is coming.”

Two months after the event and it doesn’t look like the Unionist parties are going to deliver anything close to that. Gordie himself stood up in Westminster and laid into the Tories because they wanted to devolve more taxes than he did. That’s the Tories, offering more devo than Labour – the self-described “party of devolution”. And then Labour wonders why its polling ratings have plunged further than a jobby that’s been flushed from a tenth floor toilet.

Still, Unionist politicians don’t have to keep their words, because Unionist politicians’ words mean whatever the Unionist politician wants them to mean at any given moment. Gordie might be an ex-politician, but he’s not an ex-fantasist. The devo max Gordie promised bears a similar relationship to reality as his promise to end boom and bust. That’s devo max bust then. As are the Unionist parties.

Devo max is not on offer after all, not even close. The Unionist parties are proposing minor tinkering with the existing settlement, arguing about what percentage of income tax revenues can dance on the head of a Holyrood pin. It’s devo-get-what-you’re-given, devo-dae-as-yer-telt. It’s the devolution that suits the political requirements of the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem front benches.

Devo max will never be offered by the Unionist parties for one very simple reason – it stands the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster on its head. Under the current devolution settlement, powers devolved are powers retained – and the ultimate power rests very firmly with Westminster. It means that they can preserve the fiction that only the Westminster Parliament is sovereign – and not the Scottish people. So Westminster collects all the taxes, and decides how much Holyrood is going to get. In the process it is conveniently able to obscure just how much of a contribution Scotland and Scottish resources make towards the extremely expensive upkeep of the United Kingdom and its addiction to nuclear missiles, foreign wars, and transport infrastructure in the South East of England. Then when Scotland gets uppity they can threaten us with warnings of financial meltdown without the kindness of Davie Cameron and Ed Miliband to look out for us.

With proper devo max, that couldn’t happen. Proper devo max means that Westminster’s fiction of the sovereignty of parliament is rendered meaningless and toothless. Holyrood would be responsible for raising all Scottish revenues, so Westminster would no longer be able to cook the books and tell us we were dependent upon them. And Holyrood would no longer be dependent upon a block grant from Westminster, it would be the other way around – Westminster would receive a grant from Holyrood to pay for those services which remained under centralised UK control – defence and foreign affairs. In effect this gives Holyrood a veto over Westminster’s foreign adventures – should there be another Iraq, then the Scottish Parliament might just refuse to pay its annual subvention to Westminster to pay for Scotland’s share of the costs of an illegal war. That’s why the Westminster parties won’t allow devo max, no matter how popular it is with the Scottish electorate, and no matter how often or loudly we demand it of them.

So if you want something that is yours by right, but the other party is not disposed to give it, then all that is left is to take it. We can do that by ensuring that at the next Westminster General Election and the next Scottish elections we return a majority of pro-Scotland MPs who can block any attempts by Westminster to impose a devolution settlement which falls short of the devo max they promised. It’s up to us to ensure they keep their promises, and to punish them if they try – as they most assuredly will – to weasel out of it.

You can follow Wee Ginger Dug's continuing excellence on his own blog at

Monday, 3 November 2014

Dial M For Murphy

Well, thanks a bunch, guys. Leaderless, rudderless and beset by poll figures more terrifying than all the Halloween movies rolled into one, the Labour Party (North British Branch) has finally drifted beyond the reach of satire. At least, that’s my excuse for spending the past week periodically staring at a blank screen, muttering “Bugger it” and flouncing off to watch Family Guy.

Comedians usually have a gift for timing, but even that seems to have deserted Scotland’s natural party of merriment. Johann’s detonation of the world’s largest-ever irony bomb, featuring the nation’s sarkiest anti-independence campaigner girning about her work unit’s lack of independence, ensured that all eyes were fixed on Labour at the very time they’d organised a £200-a-seat knees-up in a city containing 34 food banks.

The Twittersphere was agog with the possibilities. Would Ed Miliband unphotogenically choke on a dodgy prawn? Would Margaret Curran place the poison capsules in the wrong wine glasses and wipe out half the Shadow Cabinet? Would Johann’s blood-stained ghost appear, anxious for a “debate” with her betrayers? Did Jim Murphy’s publicity-stunt grocery bag for the food bank protestors contain eggs, and if so was he trying to provoke them?

As the world now knows, the headline-snatcher of the evening was something no-one could ever have predicted. Anas Sarwar, whose reputation for uninterrupted inane wittering had been surpassed only by the legendary Havering Fruitbat of Madagascar, finally said something interesting. All right, it was only his resignation as deputy leader, but it got him the only standing ovation he’s ever likely to earn. As for his “soul searching”, did he really mean “shoulder-blade searching”? Always a possibility when the political “family” you’re constantly gabbing about turns out to be the Borgias.

But step away from the Kleenex, folks! We needn’t weep for Anas, for there’s always a place in Labour’s Westminster hierarchy for a privately-educated millionaire with a humungous inheritance in the pipeline. And if that doesn’t work out, his inability to shut up makes him a shoo-in for next year’s Mercury Music Prize, as part of the rap outfit “Young Fatheads”.

Observers of the bleedin’ obvious soon clocked that this was a complete stitch-up, paving the way for Jim Murphy to call the shots from Westminster, with a suitable poodle established as deputy in Edinburgh. In this context, it may be significant that Kezia’s surname is an anagram of “dug lead”. Of course, the rules will force Jim to shift to Holyrood by 2016, but that’s bags of time to adjust the Barnett Formula to cover his expense claims.

It’s difficult to imagine Ed Miliband enthusiastically endorsing anything, apart from possibly fratricide, but having Murphy in the hot seat here would suit him nicely.  For one thing, it would give him one fewer explosive sociopath with a Messiah complex to worry about at Westminster. And, with Jim drawing most of his policy influences from the mean streets of Giffnock, there’d be no threat to the people’s flag remaining consistently Blairite beige throughout the UK.

Predictably, the broadcasters appear totally awestruck that a Westminster “heavy hitter” (hey, watch out for these elbows!) has deigned to take an interest in us. “He’s the candidate the Nats fear most,” runs their mantra, although the SNP’s biggest fear is of needing Paracetamol for their aching sides. Interviews, conducted with the ferocity of a Care Bears group hug, are painstakingly pitched to cultivate Jim’s image as “the self-deprecating bloke who goes to football”. Your granny would adore him, as long as she hadn’t attended one of his Irn Bru summits and asked an awkward question on Trident, or the Middle East, or student fees, or never having had a bloody job in the real world.

If you keep watching long enough, you’ll discover there are two other leadership candidates, who are generally given as many seconds on screen as a photo-fit on Crimewatch before we’re whisked off to the next gargantuan slice of Murphy hagiography. Yes, I know I myself haven’t mentioned them yet. Looks like bias is contagious, so after I finish this blog I’d better make sure I go into quarantine, preferably where there’s plenty of beer.

Sarah Boyack might, astoundingly, be a decent shout for the diminishing number of people who care whether Labour can ever pull its shivered strands together into a coherent political force.  She’s reputed to have no enemies within the party, even though that’s technically impossible. And, while carrying out the 2011 review of Labour in Scotland, she managed to work with Murphy without smashing a chair over his head, indicating either Zen-like levels of calm or inability to recognise a chair.

Her problem is that, even though she’s been in the Scottish Parliament since 1707, half the media movers and shakers have never heard of her and the other half think she’s that wumman who sang "I Dreamed a Dream" on Britain’s Got Talent. Still, she was once sacked by Jack McConnell, so that’s surely some sort of accolade.

Neil Findlay is definitely the candidate most likely to wear a T-shirt saying “This is what a socialist looks like”. His left-wing credentials, plus an interview with Andrew Neil best summed up in the words “rabbit” and “headlights”, got him soundly patronised on the BBC’s Daily Politics by irritating celebrity polymath Gyles Brandreth. However, at least it was a profile-boosting moment for Neil, since previously Gyles wouldn’t have been able to spell his name even if you’d given him 11 Scrabble tiles in the correct order.

Neil’s selling point is his “life experience”, which is (1) a neat counterpoint to cocooned greasy pole climber Murphy, and (2) his way of deflecting criticism that he’s only been an MSP for five minutes, albeit the same five minutes as Ruth “Instant Stardom” Davidson. His varied career has encompassed being a bricklayer, a teacher, a housing officer, a councillor and, in originally backing Gordon Brown for the leadership, a spectacularly bad judge of character.

Of course, the contest isn’t as open to media jiggery-pokery as certain other political events I could mention, because the choice will be made by an electoral college, not a sofa-supine public brainwashed by Jackie Bird while eating baked beans straight from the tin. The “Murphia” support team, festooned with old Better Together super-villains such as Blair McDougall and blessed with the enthusiastic backing of ermine-bound Alistair Darling, may have more of a challenge on their hands than they think. One shouldn’t intrude upon private grief, but there could be mouth-watering schadenfreude opportunities in prospect.

As for satire, we bloggers may have to wait a little while before we reclaim that. Hmmm, I wonder where I put my box set of the early seasons of South Park?