Monday, 31 October 2011

Is this Willie Rennie's "Subway" moment?

It would appear that the Scottish Libdems and Willie Rennie have shot themselves in the foot. With a very large canon.

Earlier this afternoon I was doing my normal rambling around the interwebs and blogisphere, when there began a few disgruntled stirrings about the "Scottish" Libdems Twitter account. Naturally, being a nosey wee besom at times, I had a look. And there for all to see was a "photo-shopped" poster of Alex Salmond.  He had apparently acquired a fine suntan and was bedecked in traditional Keffiyeh and thawb with an arm swung casually over a camel's neck. Not that shocking - until you read the text which accompanied the picture.

The "artist" had taken a quote made by Mr Salmond today, that Scotland and Qatar shared "remarkable similarities". However, the bullet points beside the picture severely contort the imagery into rather ugly and unedifying contortions. 

They read as follows:
  • Absolute monarchy, controls all aspects of life.
  • Gay rights suppressed and no legal recognition of same sex marriage.
  • Death penalty used for crimes against the state.
With "Mr Salmond's "independent Scotland" emblazened across the bottom.

While each of these things on their own don't add up to much, when put together in this fashion, it all of a sudden becomes quite disturbing and shocking. It also elicited from me a bit of a gasp and a WTF?

Initially I thought, this was a set-up, you know, some group is trying to illicit a reaction from SNP supporters. I also thought that perhaps it was a result of account hacking. Therefore, I surfed around to see where the tweet had come from, and sure enough, it appears to be directly from the Scottish Libdems official Twitter account.

Well, as you can imagine, by this stage I was as incredulous as the next Tweeter as to the potential of this rather obscene tweet. Not only did it portray a narrow-minded Western ideal of an Arab in a rather stereotypical camel hugging fashion, it uttered three rather unambiguous lies about Scotland and her people, Scottish politics and Alex Salmond.
  • The fact that the people of Scotland had DEMOCRATICALLY elected Mr Salmond into office in a landslide victory in May seemed to have escaped the poster-maker's memory. Perhaps they were still banging their head on the wall wondering how it happened in a system designed specifically to prevent this. However, that's not the point. This poster alleges that Mr Salmond has somehow rigged the electoral system to his own ends for the forseeable future. It also alleges the Scottish people were too dim-witted to have noticed this.
  • It also claims that gay rights are in danger of being dismissed in Scotland, when it has been shown that this isn't the case. Especially as Mr Salmond has gone on the record in support of marriage equality. Furthermore, there was a recent poll in Scotland showing a majority of the public were also in support of legitimising gay marriage. This particular bullet point alone is one huge dirty lie, perpetrated by the Libdems to do no more than fear-monger among folks who feel vulnerable to start with. Nice one.
  • As for the reference to the death penalty? Need I really comment? I am completely unable to wriggle into the psyche that set this to paper as being something which is connected to Scotland and/or Mr Salmond. I'm actually speechless, bereft of words, and as of right now unable to formulate an opinion on that particular part of the picture content. I'm sure I'll think of something... eventually.

 Then, this tweet appeared. Not only was the first one deliberate. They were proud of it. It was starting to look like "attention for attention's sake".

By mid- late afternoon I was tweeting and posting to Facebook and was deep in discussions with various folks online, all of whom were voicing their outrage and disgust and the dirty tactics, when someone mentioned Facebook. 

One of Willie Rennie's Facebook pages to be precise. He apparently has two. Again, my immediate thought was - naawwwww! So I toddled over and looked and... Ayyye... there it was.

Over and again I kept asking myself, "What" and "Why"? 

What makes the leader of a political party do such an incredibly stupid thing, such as this? 

Why does he think that using such negative imagery and blatant lies is something he can do without any sort of sanctions being brought against him. Or why and how does he think this will enhance his standing with the electorate in Scotland and the members of his own party?

What seam of angry, peurile hopelessness runs through the man's - or the party's - veins to allow this to happen on his watch? Where are the checks and balances on the side of common sense which would have screamed -THIS IS WRONG?

Why can't he and his party engine channel all this energy into consrtucting, positive  and effective opposition to the SNP, rather than dissolving into gutter diplomacy, the likes of which we see here.
As the afternoon passed into early evening, it had become increasingly obviously that he didn't disapprove of the picture and its content, because after hours and hours of speculation and questions asked, there was nothing eminating from the "Scottish" Libdems's camp. 

The Facebook page is unchanged nor has the tweet been withdrawn, and certainly no comments are forthcoming from Libdem central or Willie Rennie. Business as usual, nothing to see here, move along.

Even Libdems were disgusted.
However this is, in my opinion, one mega-sized shot in the foot. And may well be the final nail in the coffin which contains the decomposing remains of the Liberal Democratic representation in Scotland. 

On my last veiwing of a few minutes ago, there are 98 comments and 29 have "shared" the photo on Willie Rennie's page. Almost to the number, every one of them condemns the the publication and its content. There are one or two that have chosen not to see the nastiness therein.

Among those who commented, there are several Libdem supporters who are beyond angry. In fact they are rightly outraged and these include at least one who has now signed up and joined the SNP.

 It has been said on several occassion recently, the Unionist aligned parties in Scotland are in total disarray. They are contributing to the cause of independence day and daily. I say more power to them. However, it would be far preferable if they left their nasty, racist and narrow-minded ideas out of the Scottish political picture. This type of unseemly behaviour is really uncalled for.

UPDATE 1: Willie Rennie apologises on BBC Scotland

UPDATE 2: Despite the apology, I think Rennie's credibility is now in the gutter and will be very hard to ressurect to any position of respectibility. 

Sorry Willie, "Run wae the craws, get shot wae the craws". This is the best example in Scottish politics for quite sometime (well, April and a sandwich shop incident with some other guy) which reflects the axiom, it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only seconds to destroy it. The worst of it being of course, by his own hand.  

UPDATE 3: There has been talk there are two Facebook pages for Mr Rennie. Indeed there are. The first one had reached its friend subscription limit and a second one was started. Both were his pages and both appear to be affiliated to the Libdems.
The announcement where Mr Rennie guides followers and friends to new page.

As you can see, it was the most recent FB page on which the picture appeared. 

Political party funding reform

Just emerging from the committee-enquiry stage after a 17 month deliberation, is a proposal for political party funding reform. The working committee which had representatives of the Lib-Dem, Tory and Labour parties as well as six independents was chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly.
Reform is long overdue as it has been the ability of single large donors to influence party policy that has been a fundamental flaw in the Westminster political system almost since its inception.

Democracy has many costs, the financial one must be borne from the public purse to ensure we limit as much as possible the destruction or subversion of democracy by vested interests or greed.

The proposal currently being mooted is worth about £100 million to the parties from the public purse and is being proposed as a method to make up a shortfall created by the donation cap system. £100 million over 5 years is less than £2 a person, or less than 1p per week – cheap democracy. 

The initial draft proposals had individual contributions limited to £10,000 until the Tories tabled an amendment to increase that fivefold, claiming discrimination.

Discrimination is a valid claim, but not in the way the Conservatives would have us believe by way of Lord Feldman of Elstree the Tory co-chairman.  £50,000 donations will still command substantial allegiance, especially as there is no organizational or familial cap apparent in the recommendations.

Without a familial or organizational cap there is nothing to prevent an individual such as Rupert Murdoch donating £50,000, then giving the same again to a dozen or more friends, family or colleagues to do likewise.

There also must be a proof of source of funds, this would ensure that frauds like that perpetrated when the Liberal-Democrats received some £2.4 million from rogue trader, Mr. Brown, who then fled to and is currently living in the Dominican Republic would not re-occur. The Lib-Dem’s have stubbornly refused to return the funds to the individuals defrauded.

The proposed original £10,000 or even a lesser cap could therefore be viewed as more appropriate with parties raising additional funds through individual party membership and allocated vote share.

The proposals call for the funding to be shared out on a per-vote basis with a suggested value of £3 a tick.

It would be better and fairer to allocate the funding to all registered political parties, minor parties must also obtain a share if they are to have an opportunity to establish and flourish. There should be perhaps some 20% of the pot set aside for equitable distribution between all registered political parties with the remainder going on vote share. Safeguards require to be built in to ensure funds are only spent on a limited range of political activities. Penalties must be severe.

The current recommendations are certainly drafted towards maintenance of the status quo.

One of the most substantial arguments for the “per vote” funding is it will encourage parties to get their voters out to the polls with parties now having a strong fiscal incentive.

The driving force behind these changes is the Liberal-Democrats who, basing figures on the 2010 GE would have reason to believe they stand to gain most from the proposals, however all parties are acknowledging the need for reform. That the Lib-Dems are in dire need of ongoing cash infusions is testified to by the layoffs at party HQ and the sale of their party headquarters. If current polls are an indication Nick Clegg’s party might end up worse off than before.

Interestingly, the Conservatives are pushing for an opt-in system for Labour’s union donations rather than the present opt-out, anticipate this to be just one area of acrimony as when this system was adopted in N. Ireland it saw the Labour party union contributions drop by over 60%. Any donation system should always be opt-in.

There’s also proposed modifications to the electoral spending caps at all levels.

The proposals don’t contain an obvious clear methodology for dealing with devolved parliaments, and highlighting the adequacies or inadequacies of those systems.

Electoral funding reform has been tried before at Westminster, each time it’s failed, primarily because privileged and vested interests have wished to retain a status quo that works for them rather than the electorate at large. Most recently Gordon Brown’s attempt sank without trace after accusations of bias and bad faith.

Speaking to the present commission’s findings Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was of the opinion there was little public appetite for this type of reform at present, mainly due to the recriminations and perceptions lingering in the public consciousness from the expenses scandal.

Mr. Maude is entitled to his opinions, but nothing endangers true democracy more than purchased political privilege. The system as suggested for comment is an improvement on what presently exists but is woefully inadequate when compared to the simplest of public electoral funding systems.

A system is needed where each party raises its own membership donations with an indexed linked individual donation cap. That cap would perhaps be 5% of the median wage. It would apply annually. The only other donation source permitted should be public funding on an even basis for a set percentage of the total and a proportional basis for the remainder. Funded lobbying would be illegal.

If Westminster or Holyrood enacted such legislation it would truly be setting its feet on the path to real democracy, a democracy far less impacted by vested interest than what exists today.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Hobson’s choice for “the feartie” PM.

The SNP conference draws to a close amid polls that continue to demonstrate accelerating trends towards their primary goal - Scots autonomy. One significant question waiting in the wings is the final destination of this Scottish march, full sovereignty or just a little less.

With You-Gov’s acknowledgement that it’s loading factors for internal polls were wrong, pollsters are in broad agreement. The trend to a new constitutional settlement within the British Isles is imminent. 

Current polling indicates full fiscal autonomy [FFA] or Devo-Max remains the preferred destination of many Scots, as it has for several years. 

Paddy power’s astute political betting machine has Scotland almost at evens’ for full sovereignty. The status quo is swiftly being ruled out, the odds are consistently trending one way now.

Against this background a plethora of Westminster’s ministers are reported to be going North in an attempt to “force the Poll and end the uncertainty”. Some have already arrived as Alexander’s recent vacuous witterings in Stirling demonstrated. 

These fruitless Union junkets are a wasted taxpayer expense; the referendum Unionism wants “forced” can’t be held until either Unionism, specifically Cameron frames or discounts part of the debate or the Scottish government forces his Hobson’s choice on the UK PM.

This doesn’t stop prominent Unionists strongly beating the Devo-Max drum, most recently Malcolm Chisholm. These Unionists are aware it may be their best hope of avoiding unemployment. 

Chisholm like all before him is simply grabbing empty headlines until Cameron makes a decision.

David Cameron appears “a big feartie” when it comes to doing just that. In fact Cameron gives every appearance of hiding behind Scottish Office skirts.

Cameron must make his statements on Devo-Max soon or be forced to it by Salmond. It is still within the PM’s power to agree to the last significant compromise upon which Scots might vote. The evidence so far is that he’s afraid to voice an opinion. That is not a mark of leadership.

Before Holyrood, through a Scots poll, agrees to one last try inside the Union with Devo-Max it will be up to Westminster to state acceptance of the results of the referendum. The Scots can’t vote on the option until they know what it means, what Westminster will accept. Cameron is steadfastly refusing the responsibilities of leadership by saying nothing on the subject. 

Cameron is not only failing Scotland, he’s failing all nations of the UK, because the Scots settlement will have profound implications for everyone in our polity.

Will Cameron accept and work with Devo-Max in a final attempt to save his cherished Union, or will he force a single choice referendum? By his response, he could confirm that a future Tory England is a good alter upon which to sacrifice his espoused principles of unity.

David Cameron and his Union cohorts must give an unqualified assurance that such a fundamental leap in perspective as Devo-Max is something which can exist within their collective psyche. 

He and they must cease with the belligerent attitude and enter into full and open cooperation with Holyrood to work out an acceptable settlement we can all be comfortable seeing on the ballot. It may even attract some votes, but we can expect the number to dwindle as time passes.  

Indicators are strong that the battlefield will be between Devo-Max and full sovereignty. The status quo is no longer an option for the vast majority. The fight to continually advance the status quo is now more about adjusting the Scots mindset to additional Holyrood autonomy.

It is clear in international law that Scotland can reassert independence at any time a majority of her citizens express the will to do so. Witness the international delegations to the SNP conference that Scotland’s media gave scant coverage to.  

It is just as clear that Westminster will be happy to enforce the present or lesser level of devolution. The gray area appears the presently preferred option. Devo-Max requires Westminster agreement.

Before the interim option of Devo-Max is put to the electorate in a poll there are at least six key areas on which Alex Salmond and our nation must have clarity. David Cameron is the only individual who can credibly give such clarity to both the Scottish government and its electorate. Cameron must both frame that debate and prove his sincerity or deny the discussion entirely.

Cameron must do this in the very near term.

Lacking clarity from Cameron an official communication must be issued by Bute House to Number 10 that requires replies within a set time, and it must be made public. The responses also need full disclosure.

Cameron’s answers may severely test his respect agenda; any commitments should also bind future administrations. These responses will be a referendum litmus test. Scots will conclusively know what to expect of Cameron and his lackeys as the poll approaches, there will be no spinning these retorts.
1. Revenues; will Westminster support a Devo-Max option where it includes Scotland retaining 100% of its own tax base, including that now allocated to “The City”.

2. Civil Service; will Westminster immediately and actively engage with Holyrood to resurrect HMRC Scotland, removed under Margaret Thatcher, and all other branches of government required to administer the revenues collected or services Scotland requires.

3. Intergovernmental relations; will the UK government agree to a cooperative rather than dictatorial relationship with Holyrood, the path of equality being one which the UK government could initiate immediately. As an act of good faith it could begin by following previous pledges at Westminster and eliminate the Scottish office.

4. Reserved Issues; As a result of the ‘90s devolution settlement there are areas which Westminster perceives as “reserved”, will the UK parliament agree to the removal of such? 

5. Fiscal Policy; both nations would remain sharing Sterling under a Devo-Max poll. Will David Cameron agree to both nations having equal say in all fiscal policy?

6. Foreign policy; would remain jointly funded, with embassies and consuls having a proportionate cost sharing allocation between the nations. Will Westminster agree that Holyrood is to have full consultation and veto power on present and future foreign policy including all military placement, expenditure and campaigns? Do they also agree that there should never again be a situation where a UK PM denigrates Scotland as Cameron did in Washington last year over the Megrahi release and has done several times since?

These are the primary issues that stand before “Devo-Max”, but they are not the only issues.

Should he refuse to agree to Devo-Max David Cameron will simply free up the minds of those among us that were seeking compromise. 

Based upon current trends the vast majority of Scots will simply convert over time to independence. Cameron has sworn to oppose that with every fiber of his being, therefore he has a conundrum. That conundrum and his refusal to even acknowledge these questions are what clearly demonstrate the real “big feartie” of politics in these British Isles.

If Cameron’s cowardice forces Salmond to ask the above then the UK PM will gift himself his own Hobson’s choice. Failure to give a clear answer will be another sign of weakness or cowardice. Yet an answer acceptable to Scotland is unlikely to be such for Westminster. Meanwhile refusing the option point blank will place old Britannia in front of the firing squad with the blindfold already applied.

David Cameron, dammed if he does, dammed if he doesn’t and dammed if he dithers.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Cameron proposes a solution to the West Lothian Question.

Attempting to wrong-foot Alex Salmond, David Cameron and Nick Clegg are reported to want Westminster’s MP’s to agree to a universal block on Scottish MPs voting in English issues. With Scottish MP’s either outnumbered by more than 10:1 or aiding and abetting in this process it should be expected the coalition will prevail.

Cameron wants to see this major constitutional amendment in place before the Scottish Government’s referendum on autonomy for Scotland.

Cameron is right in this wish, SNP MP’s typically don’t vote on English only issues, but the Unionist parties, particularly Labour require those Scots votes or they are severely diminished at Westminster.

The UK government coalition agreement has now pledged to establish a commission to examine the barring of MPs from any devolved nation from anything except UK-wide issues. 

Effectively this is back door federalism without a vote from any constituent nation.

The West Lothian question was first raised by Tam Dalyell on November 14th 1977 when he was Labour MP for West Lothian. It has been unanswered since then as any proposed resolution has been a potential constitutional minefield for Westminster.

The fact that a serious proposal to answer the West Lothian question is now on the table is the clearest indicator to date that the UK Unionist parties are severely rattled by political events in Scotland and are clueless as to an effective response.

The optimum response of brutal honesty with the Scots electorate, coupled to an even, fair and balanced reporting of the referendum campaign, with the democratic will being paramount afterwards doesn’t appear to be an option that has yet occurred to Westminster. If it has it has evidently been dismissed as unworkable.

A senior Lib Dem source was reported in the Independent as saying: "The Government is confident we can get the commission out before Salmond has a referendum, but it is hard to say because Salmond has not been brave enough to come forward about when he will hold it or what the question will be, and he continues to avoid telling the Scottish people what he has planned for their future."

The statement above is an example of the delusional propaganda which continues to be issued at Whitehall. Contrary to the UK Government assertions that the Scottish Government has not been fully open with the Scots electorate on the issue is the fact that a referendum was promised.

Nothing more than a referendum was promised, and it was indicated it would be towards the end of the parliamentary session and that the questions would be set over time by the Scottish government.

A matter of a few weeks into the first of five full legislative sessions there have been more immediate issues to be addressed, such as untangling Edinburgh’s trams mess after the government were overruled by the block vote of the Unionist parties, initiating a national embarrassment.

The coalition’s proposed legislation and its ultimate outcome for this Disunited Kingdom is of far greater universal importance than Alex Salmond’s timetable. Cameron’s outlined commission and its eventual path has been pre-determined to stopping the Celtic nations from voting on English only legislation.

With the Sots limited to voting on issues that only affect themselves at Westminster, and with the vast majority of issues being devolved it will be a very short time indeed before Scots and the other constituent nations ask, why bother with Westminster?

An extreme case perhaps but allowing that we can keep Westminster scandals from becoming UK wide issues, then UK wide issues might well be set aside for the second Thursday of each month, in the morning.

In the course of natural political evolution there would be no justification for the continued existence of a several hundred strong unelected chamber of decreed lords at the UK level.

This coalition proposal would quickly evolve in constitutional terms to a federal UK. The infrequent bills proposed at Westminster being referred to the national parliaments for ratification where they are ratified or rejected.

It is difficult to foresee any alternative constitutional arrangement that is workable. Anything short of such a final outcome will create previously unseen levels of disenfranchisement and unrest in the Celtic nations.

This Cameron/Clegg proposal is just as extreme as the suggestion of Murdo Fraser, that his party in Scotland should change its name and cut links to Westminster. Both illustrate the establishment's utter confusion and lack of comprehension when viewing the inherent needs of the constituent nations. Neither appears to have presently viable options.

To all intents and purposes, Cameron/Clegg are now acknowledging that the totalitarian institution of Westminster has passed its “sell by” date and is superfluous to the needs of both the Celtic polity and the English nation.