Monday, 29 June 2009

What a difference a decade makes

Ten years into the era of devolution and we live in interesting times. I'm reminded of the tale of George Bernard Shaw in conversation with a young lady: "Would you sleep with me if I gave you 10,000 pounds?" he asked her. She thought about it and decided that she would. "Good," said Shaw, "so would you also sleep with me for sixpence?" The lady was outraged. "What sort of woman do you think I am?" she thundered. "We've established what sort of woman you are," Shaw replied, "we're merely haggling over the price."

It seems to me that Britannia finds herself in a similar position to that young lady. The referendum in 1997 established the principle that Scotland was entitled to self-determination. The resounding Yes-Yes vote further established the principle of self-governance. And the argument was essentially over at that point. Scotland firmly established what sort of a union it has with the rest of the UK. Scottish sovereignty resides with the Scottish people, not with Westminster (nor indeed with Holyrood!).

Since then there has been much "haggling over the price": which powers to devolve, which to reserve? But the principle of Scottish sovereignty towers above the debate, the Scottish people must decide.

Which brings us to the question of a referendum on Scotland's future constitutional arrangements. Do we need one? Or are we all content with the current model of devolution?

Over the last decade it has appeared increasingly clear to me that change is needed. The rise in the share of the vote for the SNP has been remarkable, as has the demise of the New Labour project. Not all of this swing can be ascribed to a protest vote. Many people will have voted for the SNP precisely because they want Scotland to have more power. This has become all the more likely in light of Westminster's travails over the last year or two. For all its faults Holyrood looks like a paragon of probity next to "Wastemonster".

Meanwhile, the once barely audible discontent south of the border at the "subsidies" and "privileges" that Scotland supposedly enjoys has increased to a low rumble. As swingeing public sector cuts are applied over the next decade this perceived grievance will loom ever larger. How will a Tory government in Westminster respond? How will they handle an SNP government at Holyrood? What mandate will the Tories have to decide on reserved matters, such as Trident, for Scotland?

Alternatively, how will England react if it votes Tory but Labour's tally of Scottish MPs helps bring about a hung parliament? Suddenly that democratic deficit that Scots have railed against for so long might be keenly felt in middle England. Will the Tories happily leak votes to the English Democrats? I suspect not.

How then should Scotland face the challenges of the next decade? With a system that breeds misunderstanding and a sense of injury on both sides of the border? Or with a cleaner, simpler constitutional arrangement backed by a strong democratic mandate?

Quite simply Scotland must be given a direct choice. Not some sleekit, skewed choice, with arbitrary thresholds imposed as a spoiling tactic, nor an extrapolated choice based on the results of a general election fought over many different issues. No. We need a straight, honest choice between the main options: full independence; devolution max of whatever flavour (federalism? confederalism? Calman?); keeping the status quo; or direct rule from Westminster.

For me the choice remains clear, the principle of self-governance has been established. Independence is the logical outcome of that victory. Not "isolation", as Gordon Brown would love you to think of it (Why Gordon, do you think the Scots would vote for isolation? Is your opinion of us really so low?). But simply the freedom to run our country in a fair and just fashion according to our ever-changing needs, choosing when and on what terms to cooperate with our neighbours as common interests arise, and playing a full part in the international community.

As ever the consitutional poll remains open in Brigadoon: cast your vote in the poll on the right hand side.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Poll results: What do you think of Scotland's target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020?

Noble gas 4 votes
Laughing gas 1
Gas bags 3
What a nerve gas 1

A pretty even split then between those admiring the good intentions and those sceptical of whether the targets can, and perhaps should, be met.

Perhaps the Scottish government would persuade more people by seeking an endorsement from a prominent celebrity? Susan Boyle for example - I can see it now, Boyle's Law. And if anyone can think of worse gas-related puns please share them!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Well, the past few weeks have been very busy here in Brigadoon. Not enough time for eating, sleeping and entertaining forfar-quine, let alone for blogging. Looks like the next few weeks could be similarly busy (the mist machine is making an ominous clanking noise) so just to keep things ticking over here's some puerile fun in place of the substantive political commentary and insight that I normally indulge in (ahem).

Whilst browsing the news I was struck by the eery similarity between the two images below. One shows a snarling, treacherous beast operating from the basest of motives, interested only in the preservation of its hideous brethren at the expense of any human being foolish enough to stand in its way. And Sigourney Weaver saw to the other one (her husband is a Forfar loon in case you didn't know).

Friday, 12 June 2009

Poll results: Which voting system do you favour for elections to Westminster?

FPTP: 2 votes
STV: 22 votes
AV: 1 vote
WTF?: 3 votes

So STV by a landslide. Assuming most visitors to Brigadoon are independence-friendly (as suggested by the onward rumbling constitutional settlement poll) I guess that makes sense. After all, the SNP have routinely gained many fewer MPs than their share of the vote would justify.

It's been interesting to see some of the arguments from various corners of Westminster about PR vs FPTP. Essentially the argument seems to have been that yes, PR is more democratic, but it precludes the formation of a strong government (unless of course a single party polls >50%). Perhaps they should cast their eyes northwards to see a strong minority government in action, aided by a few fleeting glimpses of a new, more consensual style of politics...?

Sadly I fear the BNP gaining 2 MEPs will scupper any chances of PR appearing in Westminster elections any time soon: it's the perfect excuse to keep the cosy Lab/Tory duopoly for evermore.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Beith for Speaker

Ian Dale is pondering who the next speaker will be.

From the short list it has to be Sir Alan Beith for me. In these newly-enlightened days of transparency and propriety (ahem!) it would serve the interests of both Labour (until the next GE) and Tories (thereafter) not to have one of their own as speaker.

Alan Beith has huge experience of parliament and its machinations, hasn't been mentioned too badly in the expenses scandal, has little in the way of "baggage" and would command respect across the house.

As MP for Berwick he sits neatly between England and Scotland at a time when we might expect Westminster-Holyrood relations to get a little testy between Tories and SNP.

Finally, his seat is not exactly marginal, so little to lose for Labour or Tory in seeing him returned unopposed as speaker. I rest my case.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Labour grief in Monifieth

Interesting news from Monifieth (and how often does one get to say that?), where the poor benighted soul earmarked to be Labour's candidate for the June 25th council by-election has taken the only remaining course of action to avoid utter humiliation...he's moved house out of the council ward, thereby disqualifying himself as a candidate! (BBC:; Courier:

But never fear! Labour, dogged as ever, are unwilling to let a trifling matter like not actually having a candidate stand in their way. They have been eagerly sending out leaflets exhorting the masses to vote for their (invisible) man...erm, even though he won't be appearing on the ballot paper. Not only that, but the Labour foot soldiers are so impressed with Iain Gray's attempts at leadership that they can't even spell his name correctly! I wonder what Alec Summoned, Anagram Goldfish and Travis Scout make of it all...?

That said, underestimate the formidable Labour machine at your peril. A flood of postal votes must surely already be in preparation...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Scotland doesn't exist

Well, what a pleasant couple of weeks away that was. No chance to read the papers or browse the web, barely a thought given to football or politics...have I missed much while I was away?

On my travels in the misty Carpathian mountains of Romania I was fortunate enough to purchase the stamp shown below. It's one of last year's stamps for letters to Europe (and has recently been replaced by a fetching picture of some storks). Now I'm not usually very interested in stamps but look again closely...isn't there something missing there...?

I guess this is all part of the Union dividend - invisibility to the outside world.

Not content with seeing Scotland the victim of a bad Romanian stamp (again) I also had the near impossibility of an unpleasant conversation with a Finnish lady. "Where are you and your wife from?" she asked. "Scotland and Germany", I replied. "Ah, England and Germany", she mis-repeated. For the sake of international relations I resisted my more bloodthirsty instincts and let it slide.

One day, hopefully soon, such irritations of Scottish invisibility will be a thing of the past.