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Tuesday 1 October



Primus inter pares?

Feart or sensible? The Prime Minister has declined to debate indyref with the First Minister, instead handing the poisoned chalice to the chairman of Better Together, Alistair Darling. Mr Cameron’s rationale – outlined in Sunday’s Andrew Marr show - is that it’s Scotland’s business (as FM never fails to point out when it suits) and should stay in Scotland, and, unsaid, he’d far rather the SNP and Labour knocked six bells out of each other and left the Tories taking pot-shots from the touchline.

Two weeks ago, as both were feted by the Political Studies Association for their part in the Edinburgh Agreement, FM stepped up his demands for a TV debate on St Andrew’s Day; as Severin Carroll pointed out in the Guardian at the time, “Salmond is one of the most accomplished and gifted political debaters of his generation, Cameron's advisers will know this too. From their perspective, the potential for a damaging cultural and political clash in a debate framed by Scotland versus the Tories rhetoric would be too great.” Now the Prime Minister has formally written to decline the offer. Not to be outdone, the First Minister has fired back anther missive – the [edited] text of which was reproduced in yesterday’s Scotsman.

The Wall Street Journal sees this ping-pong getting increasingly personal. Indeed, with Cameron telling Salmond, "I understand why you might wish to pursue a diversionary tactic. It is a convenient means of deflecting attention away from the real issues--the lack of credibility of your plans for a currency union, funding pensions and managing volatile oil revenues," and Salmond responding, “The government in which Mr Cameron serves as prime minister is central to the entire referendum debate from the perspective of the No campaign...I believe his refusal to debate Scotland's future with me can be summed up in one word --'feart'," it must seem like that from across the pond.

Severin Carroll’s Guardian blog yesterday looked at the different independence movements across Europe – many of whom were represented on September 21st’s Edinburgh gathering. Despite allegations in the Telegraph at the time that the Yes campaign was allying itself with right wing European nationalists, Carroll says “Each had different motives and perspectives: solidarity for the largest; inspiration and succour for the smallest. And Scotland's status in the nationalist spectrum too varied, from being the flag-bearer with next year's ground-breaking referendum, to being second string to Catalonia's far stronger mass movement.”

Expect further excursions into Indyref at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester – especially since, as Tom Peterkin and David Maddox reported in Scotland on Sunday, Ruth Davidson has been chosen to introduce David Cameron’s keynote speech at conference on Wednesday.“It will be a big moment…when she stands up in front of the true-blue faithful – many of whom will probably only have a fleeting notion of who she actually is…the fact that she has been given what has become seen as one of key conference slots is a clear attempt by the UK Conservatives to bring the battle to save the Union to the forefront of British politics. putting Davidson at the heart of the ­action before Cameron speaks, the ­Conservative Party is trying to send out a signal of the importance it attaches to next year’s referendum”. Yesterday’s Scotland edition of The Times led with the revelation by Lindsay McIntosh (£) that Cameron’s keynote speech would “lead senior figures in attempting to portray the party as having left behind their opposition to devolved government in the 1990s”. Good luck with that – there are, as McIntosh points out, some long memories around.

Yesterday’s Scotsman previewed Ruth Davidson’s speech at a fringe meeting today, challenging the SNP to tell us where the money’s coming from to pay for its promises.



Two aircraft short of a defence policy?

The Commons Defence Select Committee’s report, ‘The Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence’, took a look this week at the SNP’s plans for defending an independent Scotland, and wasn’t particularly impressed. “Information published so far by the Scottish Government on the defence and security implications of Scottish independence falls far short of requirements…the Committee is unconvinced that the proposed budget of £2.5bn can support both the proposed Scottish defence force and the purchase of new equipment including fast jets and submarines”.

Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph was even more unimpressed. In a piece headed The Nutty Nats sruggle to explain their defence plans’, Mr Cochrane said the problem is to “get the SNP to deliver an honest assessment of how they’d defend Scotland properly”. He went on to compare the proposals with the capabilities of Norway and Denmark – not only better air power, but, he says, they’re prepared to use them – “something the more squeamish Nats might not fancy”

An opposing view from Prof John MacDonald, director of a new Scottish think tank, Scotland International, appeared in the Sunday Herald. The Professor maintains that “the HCDSC report draws disappointingly from an array of recent defence reports and defence commentaries which are largely pro-unionist in outlook and which appear less interested in offering bold innovative analysis than in opining negatively about Scottish independence. This approach is disappointingly evident in the HCDSC's report: it consistently emphasises the likely incapability of an independent Scotland while assuming a degree of credibility for the rest of the UK (rUK) which may be overstated”. He goes on to refute many of the threats identified by the report.  You pays your money…


A wee small voice of calm (1)…

Professor Paul Cairney of Stirling University posted a piece this week on The Conversation website pondering whether an independent Scotland should look to Sweden as a model for governance. As a break from the yah-boo that characterises what usually passes for indyref debate (see above), it’s worth reading; we need to look beyond 18th September and see what is possible and what is not.

Prof. Cairney concentrates on the practicalities of setting up a new political system – These comparisons could form an important part of the independence debate if done correctly”, but he also warns “We need to get beyond the idea that Nordic countries provide broad inspiration. They should be researched in detail to see what would work – and what people would prefer – in Scotland. This is important because modern Sweden is not like its postwar romantic caricature. Scotland will never look like a Swedish-style consensus democracy if we compare it to a Sweden that no longer exists. Drawing lessons from the politics and policies of another country should be based on one-part hope and nine-parts research”.

Meanwhile, according to Tom Gordon in the Sunday Herald, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has arranged for her MSPs to hear from the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal how the Scottish economy could be overhauled along Nordic lines to provide an expanded welfare state with cradle-to-grave public services paid for by a high tax take.

A wee small voice of calm (2)… 

Eco-warriors look away now. You won’t like this. Another vision of how Scotland is governed comes from Kevin McKenna in the Observer.  It’s a rant. Perhaps we'll never know which Holyrood star chamber decided in the twilight years of the 20th century to model Scotland on ancient Sparta. Indeed, we only know of its existence at all because of the implacable slew of ordinances and diktats handed down over the last 15 years with the apparent aim of making Scotland the hardest wee nation on Earth.” And so on…  A must-read.



Nanny knows best. Really?

An excellent article from Gillian Bowditch in the Sunday Times this week – a more serious version of McKenna’s rant against the nanny state. Serious, because it is a wake-up call that this week Holyrood debated the Children and Young Peoples’ Bill which, if passed, will come into effect next year. Its stated aim, said Bowditch, is “to make Scotland the best place for children and young people to grow up”. Thus there will be more state-funded nursery places, more support for children in care, and a wider remit for the Children’s Commissioner.

But the Bill also makes it mandatory for every child born in Scotland – not just those in need of care and protection, but every child – to have a ‘named’ guardian. Not a family member, but a professional ‘employee of the service provider’. This person will have access to all the information held on the child, and, as Bowditch points out, by default, on their family. Well-meaning it might be, but necessary? Wouldn’t the huge cost be better targeted where it is so evidently needed?

As Bowditch concludes “The politics of behaviour means there is now a huge teeth-sucking, finger-wagging industry questioning our parenting skills… it lobbies government and churns out endless reports… somebody needs to tell the government that every child in Scotland already has a named person. Most have two. They are called Mum and Dad.”


Cats in a Sack…continued…

Fall-out from Falkirk continues to spread – this time possibly affecting all of us. You will remember a little local difficulty involving the local Labour Party selection committee and the Unite union, in the course of which Unite’s Scottish chairman Stevie Deans, who is also Chairman of the Falkirk West constituency Labour Party, was suspended while investigations were going on.

The police found no case to answer, and neither did an internal Labour inquiry, and Mr Deans was re-instated. But he is also a shop steward at Ineos’ Grangemouth refinery, and it seems, according to an excellent piece by Steven Vass in the Sunday Herald, that Ineos decided it would carry out its own disciplinary investigation into Mr Deans. Unite sees this as victimisation and part of the management’s long-running dispute with the union over pensions, and a ballot of members has supported strike action. Grangemouth is losing Ineos serious money and the chairman has voiced thoughts of closure. Remember the chaos last time Scotland’s only refinery came out on strike? Prepare for queues at the pumps again. As Vass says, “Where things go from here is anybody's guess. This is battle chess, industrial style. To avoid missing the next move, the last thing to do is look away.

Jason Allardyce in the Sunday Times (£)reported Tory party chairman Grant Shapps’ accusation that Ed Miliband was guilty of causing potential strike action by ducking the issue with Unite. Alongside this Allardyce also reported (£) that the report of the Labour Party inquiry into the allegations of vote-rigging has not, nor will not, be made available to the executive committee of the party in Scotland. The UK Labour party insists that its findings are confidential. The executive committee thinks the report should at least be available to them, and preferably published, says Allardyce, to prove that there was nothing untoward. Michael Matheson, local SNP MSP commented, “This is an extraordinary situation that lays bare the myth of the ‘Scottish Labour party and any notion that Johann Lamont is in charge of her party in Scotland”.

Meanwhile, Major Eric Joyce, still the local MP, and the root cause of all the trouble, has denied that he caused a fracas at Edinburgh Airport way back in May, plus assaulting police while being taken into custody at St Leonards. Such are the law’s delays that we’ll have to wait until next March to see if the courts agree.


Not quite the cutting EDGE…

Woops. We normally support Scottish Enterprise attempts to aid business start-ups in Scotland – if the economy is to grow, we need many more. But the Sunday Herald has discovered that SE has awarded £50,000 of our money to a company founded by a director disqualified previously from holding office for failing to pay National Insurance and PAYE contributions and VAT.

Log Six Systems was given the money in a Dragons Den type competition Scottish Edge, which has a £2million pot from the Scottish government. £50,000 is the maximum award. The company claims to have developed a chemical that will kill every superbug known to man.

Despite being disqualified, the Sunday Herald says director Stephen Roberts was part of an overseas trade delegation organised by Scottish Enterprise only this weekend and the company is still seeking to raise many on crowd-funding websites. Mr Roberts says SE knew about his previous history; SE confirmed this, and said it still considered the company met all the criteria for an EDGE award. But as Tory MSP Murdo Fraser comments, "A business failure in itself is not a reason to criticise someone, but in this case the matter is much more serious, with damning findings in court against Mr Roberts. Scottish Enterprise, who are distributing taxpayers' money, have serious questions to answer."


New rules in the scrum?

The Murrayfield blazerati will be choking in their tankards this week, as the first female member of the Scottish Rugby Board takes her place. Step forward Melrose’s Lesley Thomson, currently Scotland’s Solicitor General. But Ms Thomson has more than just a distinguished legal career. As Saturday’s Southern Reporter points out shehoned her rugby management skills at the Greenyards where she ruled over the midis and played a prominent role on the general committee…women have always played a role in the rugby – long before they took to the pitch. But mostly it was warming pies, making sandwiches and keeping the kettle on the boil.” Winds of change? Dare one hope for at least a breath of fresh air…

Meanwhile, with the other shaped ball, a stooshie over football pundit Tam Cowan that explains just why Ms Thomson may have her work cut out.  We missed Tam on Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball on Saturday – the Sunday Herald front page and lead story told us why. Mr Cowan let rip in his Saturday Daily Record column and treated readers to his views on women’s football. It was so bad the paper felt the need to add a disclaimer – personal views, complaints addressed to him, etc.

Not pretty – and although Mr Cowan sometimes passes himself off as a comedian, not terribly funny either. The BBC has taken fright, and him off the air (though apparently not suspended). The sisterhood is suitably enraged – “disgraceful”, “narrow-minded”, “not funny” (C’mon girls, you can do better than that - the man’s a good old-fashioned knuckle-dragger). Not helped by the now mandatory apology after a spot of foot-in-mouth; in yesterday’s Herald Cowan opted for the ‘tongue in cheek’, ‘spectacular own goal’ ‘donation to Women’s football’ defence. Sorry Tam, it won’t do. And this in the week when the Scottish women’s team won their international 7-0; if only their male counterparts could do half as well…


And finally…

If you go down to the woods today…

Take great care. The Telegraph and Times yesterday both carried a picture of a roaring stag as it tried to attract female deer in Richmond Park. It’s the rutting season again and, as the Times points out, in Scotland there may be 350,000 native red deer, and while rutting males are amorous, they also like to fight. Walkers, stay well clear.

This annual love-in might explain why Honey came back from holiday to find the local Bambis had scaled the field fence to stock up at their version of Waitrose. Not a plum left on the tree that was groaning- but not yet ripe - two weeks ago, and the last rose of summer? Forget it. All gone and stripped. However, the crab apples also fell victim, so a little schadenfreude may yet be in order…