Tuesday, 31 March 2015

On the Nigerian Presidential Election

The Independent National Election Commission in Abuja is on the verge of the formal announcement that the All-Progressives Conference candidate and former military dictator Mohammadu Buhari has defeated incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party.

General Buhari is over two million votes ahead in Africa's most populous republic with only one state left to announce their results: the (Muslim-majority and Buhari-supporting) state of Borno, with only 1,4 million electors: an insurmountable lead for president Jonathan to overcome. President Jonathan has telephoned General Buhari to concede defeat.

The election is only the fifth to be held since the end of military rule in 1999, and is six weeks late after being postponed owing to unrest in the north east of the republic. 

President Jonathan's campaign may have been torpedoed by his ignoring of the unwritten rule that the PDP candidate alternates between citizens from the Muslim-majority north of Nigeria and those from the Christian-majority south. His PDP is a centre-right party which has governed Nigeria for sixteen years, but his own personal approval ratings have nosedived after his disastrous handling of the mass abduction of schoolgirls by the Boko Haram terrorist group.

General Buhari's party is an alliance of conservatives and progressives, founded specifically to contest this election. 

Opinion polls throughout the campaign have been roughly as stable as Eric Joyce - reporting anything from Buhari on 79% to Jonathan on 64%, with an Afrobarometer showing a 42%-42% dead heat.

The difference between the two candidates seems to have been the result from the mainly-Muslim state of Kano in which Buhari received almost two million votes against Jonathan's 215.779. 

Nigeria is bitterly divided between its two main religious groups, and given its strategic importance to global events, western governments will be hoping that the country remains at peace and does not split along ethnic lines.

Salazar, slithering

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was a Portuguese politician. He was known for his neglect of the Assembleia da República, one example being that during his time as a deputado de Portugal he made his maiden appearance in the chamber and never returned

He was a finance minister who took the job on the basis that he had control over the budget of every government department

When the premeiro-ministro resigned, Salazar, lauded by his allies as "intellectually brilliant", took over at the head of the government, seeing no need for an election to legitimise his administration.

When the ex-king of Portugal died, Salazar, seeing an opportunity to gain the approval of his political opponents, awarded him a State funeral at the public expense

Salazar ran a corporatist regime intended to subdue any notion of class struggle in order to make economic considerations secondary in the public thought to social values. His regime was ultra-nationalist in its nature, and its failures led to economic and social collapse, leaving many Portuguese municipalities amongst the poorest in Europe.

After he was removed from power and replaced, his grasp on reality had become so tenuous  that he believed he was still prime minister and continued to "rule" Portugal from his home, dispensing "orders" to government ministers and departments. 

Gordon Brown is 64.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

All-women shortlists

In an ideal world, there would be no need for all-women shortlists for any political party. 

In an ideal world, women would feel empowered to put themselves forward for selection, in the knowledge that their male colleagues would consider their candidacy with the same respect and seriousness that they would consider a man for the seat.

I don't support shortlists which are not based on merit alone. 

But it's not an ideal world.

But in a situation where we do have institutional discrimination against women - and if you don't believe we have, ask yourself why women are so systematically under-represented at every level in politics, from branch officers at constituency level, to candidates for all political parties in winnable seats, to councillors, MPs, MEPs and MSPs, through civil servants to political analysts in the newspapers and talking heads on the television - it is clear that simply "allowing" women to enter a male-dominated system and hoping that things will even themselves out hasn't worked. 

So as long as there isn't an organic development of 50/50 representation, and no sign of one on the horizon, we are bound to develop it synthetically. 

Is it unfair? Yes, to the odd individual here and there. Imagine a man who's worked for his constituency Tory party, say, for his whole adult life. The sitting MSP stands down. He might very reasonably expect to be next in line for the seat - but Northumberland Street imposes an all-woman shortlist, depriving him of his chance.

Is that unfair to that man? Yes, clearly. But he'll just have to cope with it and offer it up to the holy souls, frankly. Because if we have to make the decision whether to do a disservice to the odd individual here and there, or do a mass disservice to an entire section of society, I'm afraid the decision is not one which ought to require a very lengthy thought process. 

Now, all-women shortlists (and there's no point in Labour having an all-women shortlist in a seat in the Highlands, or the Tories in Glasgow, which they know they can never win, and then shouting "look at us! Look at us!" - they must be imposed on winnable seats, and preferably one in which the sitting member is standing down) can't be imposed centrally - each political party must be free to develop its own procedures. 

But there is a way that the government, centrally, can make a huge step towards ensuring 50/50 representation and if they're serious about doing so, I urge them to take. 

It doesn't necessarily deprive a man of a seat he's "entitled" to, and nor does it give any ammunition to those who so tiresomely moan "oh, x only has that candidacy because she's a woman". 

In the French départementals recenctly, the system was changed slightly. The number of cantons within the départements was reduced from 4.035 to 2.054 (halved, essentially) with each département containing roughly twenty cantons apiece. For the first time, the elections were held under a new binôme system with seats being filled by tandems instead of candidates; each tandem being composed of one man and one woman. 

This meant that automatically, there were 1.027 women elected to the cantonal assemblies. This is in sharp contrast to the previous elections in 2011, when less than one quarter (23,2%) of first-round candidates were women, meaning that even if every single woman candidate won her seat, only 936 women would be elected. And of course, in practice, many of those women would be standing against each other. Progress has been painfully slow: it was an improvement from 1992, when only 14% of candidates were women, but nowhere near 50/50.

In 2008, only 34,8% of conseilleurs municipaux elected were women, with only 13,9% of mayors being women. And in the municipales, only 17,8% - less than a fifth - of elected councillors were women. The highest proportion of women councillors in a département is only 35%, plunging to as low as 3% female representation. Clearly, something had to be done. 

For us to do something similar would not be tremendously difficult. We currently have 73 constituency MSPs. Why not, French-style, merge constituencies to halve the number, and run tandem votes there? If there was, for instance, a Southside-Pollok constituency represented by two deputies, the workload for each individual deputy would not be increasing (and it would be unlikely that the two MSPs would not come to some sort of "you deal with Southside and I'll deal with Pollok" arrangement anyway). 

The provincial lists would be slightly harder to deal with. But one way of doing it might be to say that of the eight provinces, four of them (chosen by lot at first and then being rotated at each subequent election) will be reserved for women alone, and the other four open to candidates of either gender. This would have the effect of electing 50% of constituency MSPs being women, and at least 50% of list MSPs being women. 

Radical action is needed to increase female representation in our public life. The lower limit of our ambitions in this regard should be the Scandinavian representation of 41,5% - but we can and must do better. And by this system of positive action in Holyrood, it would normalise the notion of women in politics, meaning that this would filter into other areas of our civic and political life. 

I don't think all-women shortlists, in isolation, can achieve that. That said, the SNP's decision to implement them is welcome - and long overdue (Labour introduced them fifteen years ago). But all-women shortlists won't work unless there's a genuine will at government level to increase womens' representation in parliament. 

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Who I'd vote for in May (Revised)

In light of the declaration by television "personality" Kathy Hopkins that she will leave the country if Labour wins the Westminster election in May, I should like to revise my post from Thursday of who I would vote for if I lived in each constituency.

Aberdeen (North): Labour
Aberdeen (South): Labour
Airdrie and Shotts: Labour
Angus: Labour

Argyll and Bute: Labour
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock: Labour
Banff and Buchan: Labour
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk: Labour
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross: Labour
Central Ayrshire: Labour
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill: Labour
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East: Labour
Dumfries and Galloway: Labour
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale: Labour
Dundee (East): Labour
Dundee (West): Jim McFarlane Labour
Dunfermline and West Fife: Labour
East Dunbartonshire: Labour
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow: Labour
East Lothian: Labour
East Renfrewshire: SNP
Edinburgh (East): Labour
Edinburgh (North and Leith): Labour
Edinburgh (South): Labour
Edinburgh (South West): Labour
Edinburgh (West): Labour
Falkirk: Labour
Glasgow (Central): Labour
Glasgow (East): Labour
Glasgow (North): Labour
Glasgow (North East): Labour
Glasgow (North West): Labour
Glasgow (South): Labour
Glenrothes: Labour
Gordon: Labour
Inverclyde: Labour
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey: Labour
Kilmarnock and Loudon: Labour
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath: Labour
Lanark and Hamilton East: Labour
Linlithgow and East Falkirk: Labour
Livingston: Labour
Mid-Lothian: Labour
Moray: Labour
Motherwell and Wishaw: Labour
Na h-Éileanan an Íar: Labour
North Ayrshire and Arran: Labour
North East Fife: Labour
Ochil and South Perthshire: Labour
Orkney and Shetland: Labour
Paisley and Renfrewshire North: Labour
Paisley and Renfrewshire South: Labour
Perth and North Perthshire: Labour
Ross, Skye and Lochaber: Labour
Rutherglen and Hamilton West: Labour
Stirling: Labour
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine: Labour
West Dunbartonshire: Labour

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Who I'd vote for in May

I believe that all candidates have now been selected for the upcoming Westminster election in May. 

These are the candidates I would vote for in each constituency if I lived there. I wouldn't presume to advise anyone how to vote, or try and guide anyone, this is purely how I would vote in each seat if I had the chance.

Not how I'd vote to best destroy Labour, or to return a pro-independence majority to Westminster, but who I see as the best candidate. 

Aberdeen (North): Tyrinne Rutherford (TUSC)
Aberdeen (South): Dan Yeats (G)
Airdrie and Shotts: Neil Gray (SNP)
Angus: Mike Weir (SNP)
Argyll and Bute: Brendan O'Hara (SNP)
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock: Corri Wilson (SNP)
Banff and Buchan: Dr Eilidh Whiteford (SNP)
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk: Pauline Stewart (G)
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross: Paul Monaghan (SNP)
Central Ayrshire: Dr Philippa Whiteford (SNP)
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill: Phil Boswell (SNP)
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East: Stuart McDonald (SNP)
Dumfries and Galloway: Richard Arkless (SNP)
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale: Jody Jamieson (G)
Dundee (East): Stewart Hosie (SNP)
Dundee (West): Jim McFarlane (TUSC)
Dunfermline and West Fife: Lewis Campbell (G)
East Dunbartonshire: Ross Greer (G)
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow: Lisa Cameron (SNP)
East Lothian: George Kerevan (SNP)
East Renfrewshire: Kirsten Oswald (SNP)
Edinburgh (East): Peter McColl (G)
Edinburgh (North and Leith): Bruce Whitehead (Left Unity)
Edinburgh (South): Colin Fox (Socialist)
Edinburgh (South West): Richard Doherty (G)
Edinburgh (West): Pat Black (G)
Falkirk: John McNally (SNP)
Glasgow (Central): Alison Thewliss (SNP)
Glasgow (East): Liam McLaughlan (Socialist)
Glasgow (North): Martin Bartos (G)
Glasgow (North East): Zara Kitson (G)
Glasgow (North West): Zoe Hennessy (Communist)
Glasgow (South): Stewart McDonald (SNP)
Glenrothes: Peter Grant (SNP)
Gordon: Alex Salmond (SNP)
Inverclyde: Ronnie Cowan (SNP)
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey: Drew Hendry (SNP)
Kilmarnock and Loudon: Alan Brown (SNP)
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath: Roger Mullin (SNP)
Lanark and Hamilton East: Angela Crawley (SNP)
Linlithgow and East Falkirk: Martyn Day (SNP)
Livingston: Hannah Bardell (SNP)
Mid-Lothian: Owen Thompson (SNP)
Moray: James MacKessack-Leitch (G)
Motherwell and Wishaw: Marion Fellows (SNP)
Na h-Éileanan an Íar: Angus MacNeill (SNP)
North Ayrshire and Arran: Katy Clark (L)
North East Fife: Stephen Gethins (SNP)
Ochil and South Perthshire: I would not vote for any candidate declared so far
Orkney and Shetland: Danus Skene (SNP)
Paisley and Renfrewshire North: Andrew Doyle (CISTA)
Paisley and Renfrewshire South: Sandra Webster (Socialist)
Perth and North Perthshire: Pete Wishart (SNP)
Ross, Skye and Lochaber: Anne Thomas (G)
Rutherglen and Hamilton West: Margaret Ferrier (SNP)
Stirling: Mark Ruskell (G)
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine: Stuart Donaldson (SNP)
West Dunbartonshire: Martin Docherty (SNP)

In Wales, I would vote Plaid Cymru candidates in each constituency, and in Irish seats which still return MPs to Westminster, I would vote Sinn Féin. In England, I should vote Green in each constituency except Bolsover (L), Bradford (West) (Labour, to get rid of George Galloway) and Doncaster (North) (Labour, because I want Ed Miliband to be prime minister).

What do One Direction and Scottish Labour have in common?

The popular band One Direction has been much in the news recently with the departure of a vital cog in their operation. The name of the band made me think of the trajectory of the Scottish Labour party in elections to Holyrood, which displays much the same tendency.

Yes, it's one direction for Scottish Labour - downwards. They have never gained a seat in the Scottish Parliament elections against their previous tally. 

Opinion polls seem to show that under-pressure "leader" Jim Murphy is failing to reverse the slow collapse of the struggling party, with the most recent, Monday's ICM poll, showing that Labour will be reduced to 26% of the vote in both the constituency and list votes next May, a collapse from their previous low of only 31,7%/26,3% at their "rock-bottom" election in 2011. This would see them on only 33 seats. 

That projection of 33 seats includes 28 provincial seats and only five constituencies. It is certainly not outwith the bounds of reality that local factors and the loss of money, activists and full-time campaigners after a 2015 wipeout would see Labour losing every one of those constituencies to the Nationalists.

It doesn't take a great deal for the story to get even worse for them. An eight-point swing from the unionists to the National party in the constituency vote would see the latter retaining its majority, with 71 seats (+2), whilst Labour go from the 33 seats predicted by ICM (using the Scotland Votes model) down to 31 (-6).

And given the history of the Scottish Labour party in trying desperately to get its "luminaries" back into any sort of position of power once they've been rejected by the electorate *waves to Cllr. McAveety*, it's certainly not out of the question that they are likely to react to wholescale defenestrations of its MPs in 45 days by trying to force them into Holyrood. The scenario of Labour promising to "learn lessons and listen" after Maggie Curran is thrown out of parliament by the people of the East End, and then inviting them to rectify their mistake and stop letting Labour down is not an unlikely one. 

A similar swing in the provincial vote given that swing in the constituency vote would make little practical difference: the Nationalists would remain on 71 seats, but with Labour down to 27 and still remaining the largest opposition party (the vagaries of proportionality would see the Liberals actually gain a seat and also introduce fascism to the Scottish Parliament for the first time in the form of Ukip, the National Front). 

Even if an 8-point swing went directly from Labour to the Green party, it would still have very little difference. Labour would be another seat down (it hardly matters as they'd have no chance of being in government or not being the largest loyalist party anyway). The fascists would still be infesting our national parliament, and the Liberals would still be picking up an extra seat.

But here's a thing. 

Let us imagine that nothing changes from the ICM poll on Monday and that those constituency results are the final results (SNP 46%, L 26%, C 13%, L/D 6% Ukip 5%) but that the Nationalists choose not to seek support on the List, and instead encourages its supporters to vote Green. Assuming that they all listened, that would give the following number of seats in 2016:

The headline figures are that the SNP would fall slightly short of a governing majority in the parliament (although as Scottish Labour insist that the largest party always and automatically forms the government regardless of its status as a majority or minority administration, this would clearly be no problem); that the combines strength of all the loyalist parties would be unable to outvote the National party (or the Green party, come to that); that there would be no Ukip MSPs tainting our young democracy with their racism and misogyny, and crucially, that the (minority) Government and Official Opposition are both in favour of independence. 

With the Government and the Official Opposition supporting a Yes vote in the referendum almost certain to take place in the next parliament, it would be much more difficult for the BBC in Scotland to behave with the astounding bias they did during the first referendum. 

And if there's a Grand Coalition at Westminster, with the SNP as the Official Opposition there, then it would be hard to see how the BBC and STV could get away with loading panels on every show in favour of Unionists this time round. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

The SNP's seats target in May? History and legitimacy

In the 1918 election, Sinn Féin (the original Sinn Féin led by Arthur Griffiths, incidentally, like the SNP today, favoured* a dual monarchy) won 73 out of 105 Irish seats in the Commons - 69,5% of available seats. They won, incidentally and partially, because the British regime of the time reneged on a promise to deliver devo max.

The next month they convened the First Dáil to form a breakaway Irish government, and declared formal independence from the United Kingdom. 

The Irish Republic had much of the machinery of State, just as Scotland does today: its central policy-making body was a unicameral parliament which elected a president of the ministry (Príomh Aire, or, in English, First Minister). He was answerable to Parliament and appointed the ministers.

Effectively, to exist as a functioning state, a state must have four fundamental internal attributes:

1. A parliament
2. A courts system
3. A police force
4. A constitution

The Irish republic had control of all of those - with Dáil Éireann, the Dáil Courts, the Irish Republican Police, and the Democratic Programme. Modern Scotland has three of these attributes, controlling the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Courts Service and the Police Service of Scotland.

Before the creation of the Scottish Parliament, demands for independence were invariably met by the line from Unionists: "if you want independence, elect a majority of SNP MPs", a bar so impossible to clear as to be, deliberately, ludicrous. It's not so ludicrous today. 

The point is - Scotland already has much of the functioning machinery of statehood. She has a pro-independence parliament. The British have already conceded the principle that if Scotland's people choose to be independent, so we shall be. 

A pro-independence majority of Scottish seats, as in that far-off khaki election, would legitimise independence as never before. 

If the SNP was to win a similar share of seats than the Sinn Féin romp which resulted in the creation of the Irish Republic, it would demonstrate to the world that independence remains very much on the agenda. 

Clearly, the environments are entirely different. The British do not oppress Scotland as they did Ireland. There is no threat of looming war. The British have conceded the principle that they cannot hold onto countries against their will. And, despite the hysterical shrieking of the more unhinged fringes of Unionism, there is no prospect of the national territory being carved up and partitioned.

Forty-four seats would be an astonishing result for the Nationalists and difficult to achieve. It would be 75% of Scotland's seats - a supermajority in many national parliaments enabling those who hold it to change the constitution - higher than in 1918, and it would force the British, at a minimum, to concede at once the Home Rule the Scottish electorate were told they were voting for in May. 

And if the British renege on their Home Rule promise as they did in 1914, then pro-independence majorities in both Holyrood and of Scottish seats at Westminster would perfectly legitimise a scenario where in 2016, Scotland goes to the polls to elect a parliament on a manifesto commitment of independence. A referendum is not the only way to independence.

* To avoid unnecessary diversion in the body of the post, a short explanation of Sinn Féin's attitude to the monarchy is this:

The original Sinn Féin, founded by Arthur Griffiths, who later became President, supported a dual monarchy, inspired by the example of Hungary, which had in the previous century moved from being part of the Austrian Empire to a separate, equal kingdom within Austria-Hungary, and which is potentially the very best example of the potential extent of Home Rule. 

When Griffiths' Sinn Féin merged with republicans under Éamon de Valera (himself later three times Prime Minister), a compromise was reached between the monarchist Sinn Féin and the republicans that the new Sinn Féin party would pursue a policy of a republic in the interim, with voters later to decide on the exact form of government, subject to the condition that no member of the Windsor family would ever be invited to serve as monarch. 

On independence, Irish leaders such as Kevin O'Higgins discussed retaining the monarchy in the long-term in return for the end of partition. This viewpoint went out of fashion after O'Higgins, the Minister for Justice, found himself assassinated. 

Ultimately, when Ireland became independent, it was as a kingdom sharing a monarch with the United Kingdom, until the repulsion of the External Relations Act stripped George Windsor of all of his powers and transferred them to the new office of President. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Scottish Labour claims 432 is a smaller number than 218

Scottish Labour's entire election campaign appears to be to screech as often as possible that the largest party automatically forms the government, because it has done so ever since, er, Labour formed the government as the second-largest party.

Ok, let's take them at face value and imagine an (unlikely) outcome of the General Election being as follows. 

Labour and the Liberal Democrats win 216 seats apiece. The Conservatives win 218 seats. (The target, of course, is 326 seats for a majority). No other party wins a seat.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree to form a single voting bloc in the Commons.

The composition of Parliament looks thus:

Yeah, I know it says 434 instead of 432. Sue me.

What Jim Murphy is trying to tell you is that the bloc on the right which is well over one hundred seats short of a majority is automatically appointed as the government, whilst the bloc on the left - graphically, at least... - which has a comfortable Parliamentary majority of substantially over one hundred (which has, to put the enormity of Labour's lie into context, only been beaten once since Thomas Pellham-Holles was reappointed Prime Minister by George III after the Whigs won the 1761 General Election) would be banned from being the government. 

This is, clearly, balderdash. 

Jim Murphy, his party and his in-house broadcaster BBC Scotland, is genuinely trying to convince Scottish voters that a bloc one hundred seats short of a majority is automatically appointed as the government, whilst a bloc with a majority of 112 is banned from office. 

This is how stupid Labour think you are.

Let's not fall for their lies and tricks, and let's make them pay for their Tory alliance. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Scotland's A&E crisis? What crisis?

I had a bit of an accident while dealing with powerful, 1 kg magnets in the laboratory today which resulted in them flying together at considerable speed. My hand was in the way, and I suffered crush injuries and lost a minor part of a hand. The accident happened at 15:30. 

After waiting for the ambulance, having pain relief and first aid administered; being triaged at A&E, given pain relief and initial hospital treatement; being sent for an X-ray; being X-rayed; having the results of the X-ray analysed; getting immediate necessary treatment to remove some of the fragments of bone which were embedded in the wound; having the wound cleaned, dressed and treated; having antibiotics and painkillers prescribed; having the prescribed drugs dispensed; and registering at the Royal Infirmary's trauma clinic for appointments to have my dressings and strappings changed and the progress of my healing observed, I was released.

It was five to five.

This is an A&E unit serving the centre of Scotland's largest city, and the areas of our country which suffer the poorest health and social conditions, yet from accident to release took less than 90 minutes.

Perhaps it isn't true that Scotland's A&E units are in crisis. Perhaps our great NHS staff - in A&E and beyond - are doing their very best to serve us. 

Perhaps the continued slurs on them by those who don't have the best interests of either our country or our National Health Service at heart is a politically-motivated and downright malicious attack. 

When I broke my ankle while living in Ireland, I had to pay €350 for treatment at Our Lady's Hospital in Drogheda because the Irish health service, the Health Service Executive, is privatised - to less than the extent that the Tories, Ukip and some elements of Labour want to privatise Scotland's NHS.

So instead of continuing their despicable attacks on our NHS and its staff, perhaps it would be more becoming for everyone in our body politic to recognise and praise their achievements. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A perversion of democracy

The leader of the Scottish Labour party, Ed Miliband, has made clear that he intends to abolish the House of Lords should he be appointed Prime Minister following the General Election in May. I, and I am sure everyone else on the Left joins me in this, thoroughly welcome this promise: the existence of the Lords is an outrage; the lack of accountability for its members and the lack of any public input into its membership and composition shows that the Lords exists as a chamber to protect the Parliament from the people. It is plainly not acceptable that a country with pretensions of being a modern western democracy should be one of the only two Parliaments in the world which allows clerics to sit in it ex-officio (the other is that paragon of modernity, equality and integrity, the Majlis of Iran) and allows people to sit in it as a result of parentage and patronage rather than anything such as an election. 
Given that the Labour Party is now committed to abolition of the Lords, and thus the principle that the people deserve to decide who governs us and makes our laws, it would thus be a perversion of democracy of unimaginable proportions if the party was to use the Lords to save the political careers of Labour politicians thrown out of Parliament by Scotland's electorate in May.
When the electorate speaks, our rulers ought to tremble with fear in the face of their voice. To react to the choice of the Scottish people to defenestrate Scottish Labour MPs simply by putting them back into Parliament by some anti-democratic jiggery-pokery, would be unacceptable in the eyes of the Scottish people. 
The party, therefore, must rule out at the earliest possible opportunity - and certainly before the election - the idea of any Scottish Labour MP who loses their seat at the General Election being elevated to the Lords in the next Parliament. There must be no Baroness Curran of Mount Vernon; no Lord Murphy of Barrhead; and certainly no Baron Davidson of Govan. 
Scottish Labour should learn from the principled example of the Scottish National party which seeks to abolish the Lords and as such refuses to nominate peers to that, ahem, august body. But in the interim, they certainly have to make their position clear on whether they intend to subjugate democracy by sending Parliamentarians thrown out of Parliament by the public back to Parliament by the back door. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Time for Murphy to walk the walk on abuse

The Labour Party in Scotland have made something of a hobby out of "abuse" in Scottish political discourse. They whine, incessantly, about it, and are desperately trying to make it an issue which the public cares about. 

Barely a day goes by without Slab MSPs, stenographers and supporters being told to choosing to write some pitiful, patronising piffle about how perfectly innocent Slabbers are just sitting at home, peacefully bombing Iraq, cutting the £0,10 tax rate, or using racist language against Poles and Pakistanis, and all of a sudden they receive a tweet (these seem to disappear awfully quickly, and screenshots are surprisingly almost never captured by the quaking victim). Every so often, these stories make it into the newspaper (often, by coincidence, after a particularly bad news day for Labour in Scotland), accompanied by the inevitable photograph of Daily Mail columnist Kezia Dugdale wearing the Sad Face and holding up a mobile telephone. 

Poor Johann Lamont, God love her, even accused Alex Salmond of spending the time in between running the country and fighting a referendum campaign setting up social media accounts to "abuse" her. The pitifully inept former Labour "leader", whom last year, Labour members were still insisting was senior to Ed Miliband in the Labour pecking order, before she was unceremoniously sacked, claimed that "all the bullying that goes on, wherever it comes, is done by order, by design. By him." 

The "abuse" line is trotted out to silence debate. When Labour, in a malicious fraud, trotted out a member of their Shadow Cabinet at a joint Labour/Tory rally and lied that she was "just an ordinary mum", the lie was discovered. However, to even point out that this was a false representation of her political activism was condemned as "abuse". Rage-filled attacks were made on Campbell Gunn for "bullying" the Lally concerned by, er, e-mailing journalists and pointing out that far from being some kind of political innocent, she was actually a very senior member of the Labour Party in Scotland who was appointed to an exclusive group by the "leader" of the day.

Criticism of Labour MSPs for telling lies on television? Yup, you got it, that's "abuse" as well.

This bilge has two aims at its heart: to try and win some sort of moral high ground for Scottish Labour ("yeah, we murdered a million Muslims, but look, someone's just called Jimmy Hood a big fat wanker on Twitter!"), and to act as a desperate, last-gasp effort to take political debate back from the mass engagement which has so horrifed and terrified Scottish Labour into the safe, secure middle class boys' clubs where they feel it belongs.

Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that there aren't some lonely one-handed surfers out there in their darkened bedroom in their mammy's house sending actual abuse to people. And that's wrong. Some of the abuse Margaret Curran and Nicola Sturgeon receive online is disgusting, misogynistic and downright scary. And those involved should stop it; and if they don't, then the courts ought to stop them. (Scottish Labour, of course, would be absolutely horrified if it stopped, and would reinvent it).  But to suggest it's an issue unique to Scotland, or - as Labour claim - unique to one side of the constitutional debate, is simply a lie. It's a manifestation of bams having access to the internet (my solution to this would be to ban anonymous accounts on the likes of Twitter). 

But Scottish Labour have made this their issue. They've been strident, almost hysterical, on the issue. They need "abuse" to be a new fad for the media because it avoids any criticism of their policies or their behaviour. They talk a good game. 

They've talked the talk, and now they've got a golden opportunity to walk the walk and show that they're prepared to take steps to deal with misogynistic abuse. 

Yesterday, at a Scottish Labour conference in Edinburgh, David Hamilton, the white, old, male Labour MP for Mid-Lothian, got up on his hind legs, strutted onto the stage, and embarked on a sexist rant that was quite extraordinary, even by the standards of the Scottish Labour boys' club. 

Nicola Sturgeon, a 16-year veteran of parliament (David Hamilton has sat in parliament two years fewer), the first female First Minister of Scotland (there have only been 53 other female heads of government in the entire world) was dismissed as "a wee lassie" (she's 44) by the Labour MP.

To shrieks of laughter and wild applause from the sea of middle-aged, middle-class white men in the audience, he went on to mock her appearance. Instead of concentrating on a denunciation of, say, her policies, the 64-year old member of Ian Davidson's parliamentary committee denounced her hairstyle. This was described, variously, as "brilliant" (Blair McDougall), "great" (Iain Gray), "a hero" (Duncan Hothersall). 

Scottish Labour has chosen to set itself up as the fearless crusader against "abuse". Here's a clear case of actual abuse.

Today is International Womens' Day. Labour has two options: it can either apologise for Hamilton's misogynistic rant, remove the Labour whip, expel him from from the Party, and send a clear signal that this is how personal abuse of opponents should be punished; setting an example for all other parties to follow. 

Or it can be a supine, cowardly gang of hypocrites, with the Good Ol' Boys at the top chuckling away at Hamilton's sparkling banter.

I know which one my money's on.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Who lives in a h̶o̶u̶s̶e̶ country like this?

Wouldn't it be awful to live in Putin's Russia?, we're asked. A place where corruption runs rampant, who you know is more important than what you do, and where opposition to the government ought to carry a health warning. 

Just imagine how awful it would be.

An agent of the Federal Security Service (the new name for the old KGB, the Committee for State Security), believed to have been on secondment from the Foreign Intelligence Service, is found dead in his locked flat in the heart of Moscow. 

The Militsiya, Russia's police force, which is directly answerable to the Interior Minister, and, through Zhitnaya Ul., to President Putin, conducts a cursory investigation, overseen by a judge who is appointed by the regime, and can be dismissed by the regime. 

Despite the fact the flat is locked from the inside, and the KGB agent's corpse is padlocked inside a bag, which is found in the bath, neither the Militsiya nor the judge find anything suspicious about the case, and put it down to a laughably-supple suicide. 

Years earlier, a lawyer, and senior opposition leader of one of the satellite republics is found dead in his car in the countryside hundreds of kilometers outside Moscow. He had been shot twice in the head. The authorities declare it a suicide. He had become a prominent critic of Soviet military policy, and was a widely-known figure calling for his republic to secede from the Soviet Union. The Interior Minister of the day, who oversaw the police investigation, and current member of the Federation Council, who served in Gorbachev's government, is publicly accused of rape and of covering up a child abuse ring. He dies suddenly a matter of months later, from a cancer which had never previously before been announced. It is the latest in a series of scandals at the top of Russian society: several well-known former members of the Supreme Soviet are unmasked as child abusers shortly after their deaths. There is speculation of a child abuse ring at the top of Russian society, with members of Putin's own family implicated in it, with one of his sons accused in court of statutory rape of a child.

In an eerily-similar case, a lawyer who was in the public eye for defending Chechen separatists was the subject of death threats not only from Russian nationalist extremists, but also had been threatened by the Militsiya themselves. The KGB were known to be following the lawyer. Amnesty International strongly criticised the Russian government for their harassment of her. When she was assassinated by a Russian fascist group, there were rumours of collusion between the Russian government and the fascists.The government, however, quickly cleared themselves of any responsibility for the murder. 

A prominent critic of the regime resigns from Putin's government in disgust at its foreign policies. Two years later, while walking in a remote region of the restive Chechnyan republic, he is taken ill on a lonely mountainside and dies. The mountain he dies on belongs to Russia's richest man, who also, by coincidence, happens to be a senior Russian military figure, in charge of the army reserve. Putin, relieved of a major internal critic, refuses to attend the funeral. 

A former wife of a senior figure in the regime and the mother of a rising star goes on holiday to a Warsaw Pact capital city where she is killed in a mysterious car crash. There is evidence of outside involvement (traces of impact with another vehicle, which was never found, were discovered on the crashed car), and witness evidence showing her chauffeur was sober at the time of the crash. There were no fewer than fourteen CCTV cameras along the route taken by the car, but coincidentally, not one of them managed to capture any evidence. And the only camera pointed at the crash scene wasn't being monitored as all of the police officers in the control room had been sent home at 11pm. The official verdict was that the chauffeur, who was believed to have had contacts with elements in the KGB, was drunk and lost control of the vehicle. 

A man who spent eleven consecutive New Years with Boris Yeltsin and who was given the Hero of Labour and Order of St Catherine by presidents over a span of decades; who spends time with the most important people in Russian government and society and is a personal friend of the second in line to the presidency, dies of old age. Within days, he is unmasked as one of the most prolific sexual predators in the history of Russia. Operating at the top of society, a friend of presidents, members of the Duma, and a top broadcaster with State TV, it emerges that he was offending in plain sight with his exploits common knowledge amongst the elite. Because of his connections to the top of Russian society, nobody holds him to account or stops the abuse. 

Yeah, it would be awful to live in a society like that. Thank goodness we live in good old transparent Britain, governed by the warm embrace of Westminster and the Windsors.