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Thursday, 10 May 2012

12 Point Plan To Win Glasgow City Council

A variety of pointers will have been picked up by other political parties who may wish to emulate Labour's admirable success in securing a majority on Glasgow City Council in future elections.

1. Make threats against people who have the temerity to display SNP window posters on your 'patch'.

2. Promise to fix potholes in roads you have left to deteriorate over 40 years.

3. Harangue old ladies at their own doors by chastising them that the 'Nats have filled yer heid wi' rubbish'.

4. Promise free wi-fi for everyone.

5. Tell Rangers fans that the SNP are working hard to secure the Catholic vote.

6. Tell Celtic fans that Alex Salmond intervened with HMRC to try and get a 'sweet deal' for Rangers.

7. Tell both Rangers & Celtic fans that the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 is a SNP attack on over one hundred years of working class tradition by middle class Tartan Tories.

8. Claim the council elections are about local issues for local people while reminding everyone that you're all about protecting the Union.

9. Seek assistance from friends, like the Orange Order. Tell them about #5. Don't tell them about #6.

10. Work hard to get impressive postal vote results.

11. Make repeated spurious accusations against main opponent in period immediately prior to election. Ask more friends in broadcasting and press to help with this.

12. If any of the above is uncovered during or after election period, ask friends in media to ignore.

Conversations With My MP: Willie Bain

The social media revolution has, in my opinion (never humble), created a number of problems.

The first is that many of us can feel the need to be 'linked in' for too many hours in the day just to be sure we get that one 'micro blog' that will aid our current understanding or make us aware of ever-changing news stories.

The second is that it may be affecting our ability to communicate effectively 'offline'. It seems some of us prefer the anonymity and barriers of online discourse. Only today 'writer, commentator and broadcaster' David Torrance admitted he was uncomfortable during an unexpected real-world encounter with SNP MSP Roseanna Cunningham; perhaps because he feared she might challenge him on the subtle poisoning of minds against the SNP he accomplishes in the media utilising his 'reasonable, uncommitted man' schtick. But he's not the only one startled by real conversation. One can easily imagine hordes of online daters taking laptops to the bars where they meet up with potential mates in order to communicate satisfactorily.

Additionally, there are severe privacy issues; particularly amongst the young who so readily submit personal information, tastes, likes/dislikes, affiliations and photographs to the corporate owners of Google, Facebook, Twitter and a whole range of other networks. Information, incidentally, that then becomes the property of those corporations and can then be used in a variety of ways - aggressive, focused marketing being amongst the least worrying. We are not consumers of these services; we are being consumed by them.

On the plus side, it does mean we can interact more with those elected officials and opinion formers who deign to engage with the ordinary citizen - sorry, subject. Whilst I would not wish to discourage them from doing so, I am aware that there are dangers for those individuals who utilise social media platforms. My own MP found himself in a little difficulty recently when he tweeted about the Parliamentary Labour Party's long-held 'principle' that it would never support Nationalist motions in the House - presumably regardless of how that might benefit society, the country or, indeed, his own constituents. The now infamous Bain Principle entered the Scottish political lexicon and Oor Wullie had earned his place in posterity.

Since then I've had a number of exchanges with William Bain MP. Perhaps because he's MP for a constituency which is one of the most deprived in the country and also has chronically low educational attainment, I've always felt a slight condescension in his tone. Something along the lines of, "You can't possibly know more than me about anything, so listen carefully, I'll talk slowly, and explain to you how things really are in the world." Fairly standard Scottish Labour fare then, I suspect some of you are thinking. Of course, this overconfidence does occasionally mean they get caught out spouting rubbish.

Today's Twitter exchange was one of those occasions.

Another 'tweeter' had challenged Mr Bain about the absurdity of Labour councillors entering into local coalitions with Tories when he (Bain) constantly tweets about Tory cuts on local services and the damage they do.

I responded in both their timelines that the #BainPrinciple prevented Labour from supporting SNP motions and policies but not Tory ones.

Mr Bain's response: 'No, on @NewsnightScot last night, was some agreement between us on how badly Osborne is messing up Scotland's economy'

My default position with regard to BBC Scotland programming is to avoid their manipulation of news and facts, so I hadn't seen the programme and wasn't sure who had joined in this agreement. I tried to get some clarification.

'ScoLabour and Tories!?! agree that Osborne wrecking economy so coalesce in LA's to fight Osborne cuts?' was my tweeted question.

You can imagine my incredulity that Tories in East Lothian, Aberdeen, South Ayrshire, Falkirk and Stirling might support Willie's views on Osborne's management of the economy and that could be a conceivable point of unity that allowed them to keep SNP councillors out of administrations. Of course, I knew this wasn't the case (or his suggestion); it was classic political obfuscation and I merely wanted to flush out the real reasons. His response was interesting to say the least...

He didn't respond. Instead he waited for my next tweet when I was responding to someone else who had asserted that Speaker of the House John Bercow had commented that there was little difference between Labour and the Conservatives. I wrote ' Bercow makes a fair point, I think. Should both just form a Union Party.'

Mr Bain replied, 'I know how it feels to be a little sore after poor election results, but you're incorrect on this point.'

Ignoring the jibe about election results - mainly because I was perfectly happy with them - SNP win most seats, popular vote and increase lead over Labour from 2007 - I responded, 'Poor defence of Labour-Tory council collaboration. Nice you both have to deal with your CT cut in Stirling though'.

Many of you may remember that the minority SNP administration in Stirling were prevented from passing a budget earlier this year by the combined forces of Labour and Conservatives who then joined to propose and pass a budget with a 1% Council Tax reduction. This saved householders pennies each week but cost the Council millions of pounds. The Unionists did so, spitefully, in the belief that a majority SNP administration post-election would suffer politically in attempting to provide council services on a reduced budget and, no doubt, introduce service cuts.

His response was where he, metaphorically speaking, fell on his arse. 'STV voting system means coalitions more likely than not - up to cllrs to reach agreement based on local circumstances.'

This was a strange one. Throughout the election we heard cries from Unionist party activists that the SNP were fighting a national campaign while they were fighting on local issues. This despite a plethora of election leaflets being produced with slogans like 'Save the Union', 'Don't Split Up the UK' and similar. And, when questioned by the media about the Tory-Labour coalition in Stirling (when SNP and Labour policy locally are largely identical) Labour Group Leader Corrie McChord stated he couldn't work with the SNP. 'It's the big question of separation,' he said.

Well, Mr McChord (and Mr Bain), as a member of the SNP Dunblane & Bridge of Allan branch which is part of the Stirling council area, I can confirm we have no local plans to separate from either the UK or the rest of Scotland. So, the reason you can't work with the SNP locally is because of a national issue? Or could it be that in the run up to 2014, with the symbolism of Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument and Bannockburn, it was decided Stirling could just not be in SNP hands?

I tried to point this out to the (Honourable) Member. "I understand that. Local 'circumstances' though according to Stirling Labour leader was 'separation'."

Hours later, I have received no response from my MP. I don't expect one either. I know he's a busy man and probably had to run off somewhere. With his tail between his legs. Labour 'principles' exposed yet again. The Bain Principle intact.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Future's Bright. The Future's Orange.

Sensibly, I hope, I've waited for the events of election day to settle a little before having my say. When you're passionately committed to one side or the other it's easy to be carried away by the elation of victory or the despair of defeat and write something you may think ill-considered further down the road. Especially when, as events unfolded on Friday afternoon, some people seemed unclear on who had won and who had lost.

In my opinion, the first important thing to acknowledge is that the Labour Party performed better in the Scottish local elections than many of us suspected they would. That 'many' includes, I should point out, a substantial number of Labour supporters and activists. The reactions of newly-elected councillors and activists at Glasgow's SECC confirmed that. As the counts progressed there was genuine delight and barely-disguised surprise.

The Labour Party's mantra at recent elections, particularly in Scotland, had been that there were 'lessons to be learnt'. These elections have shown, I think, that some have been paying attention. Clearly, in Glasgow, Labour out-thought and outmanoeuvred the Scottish National Party who, previously, had been universally acclaimed for the effectiveness of their campaigning and their electoral strategy. This time, though, the Nationalists missed a trick or two. Not, as many commentators have suggested in the management of expectation. I think both parties (at a national level) were careful to downplay predictions of success though undoubtedly some SNP supporters were bullish about the prospects of taking Glasgow. Rather, it was that the Labour Party understood more effectively the ramifications of Single Transferable Vote and how to get an even spread of support for each of their candidates. This meant, that in a number of wards, the SNP had a clear lead in first preference votes but still ended up getting only one councillor elected against three Labour councillors. This is something that must be looked at by the Nationalists in future.

Unlike some, I also make no criticism of the Nationalist decision to try and get three councillors elected in the Govan ward. It was always a risky policy (and they would have gained an extra elected councillor had they only shared their vote over two candidates) but, if they were ever to take control of the city, it was probably essential to get three candidates elected in what was assumed to be their Glasgow power-base. If they failed to achieve that success in Govan it was unlikely they would secure control of Glasgow regardless of other votes across the city.

Their other mistake in Glasgow (and I did write about this prior to the election in this blog) was to have Allison Hunter as leader of the SNP group. I know from speaking to others that Allison has many excellent qualities. Unfortunately these do not extend to effectively communicating SNP plans for Scotland's largest city. If the SNP were serious about showing how efficient and common-sense governance of Glasgow could, by extension, demonstrate their ability to do the same for an independent Scotland they should have chosen a figurehead that would at least have given them a fighting chance to win the election in the first instance. Hunter's public appearances in the lead up to the campaign and during it were hardly likely to inspire confidence. This must also be addressed. Loyalty to those who have provided sterling service to Party is admirable (and, unquestionably, Allison Hunter has) but when it compromises electoral success, it is misguided.

Football, it seems, may also have played a part in the Glasgow result. During the campaign I heard stories that some activists had 'reminded' voters that the SNP had pioneered the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which some 'supporters' believe tramples on their human rights by trying to prevent them spouting bigoted bile at each other. I hoped these stories were apocryphal. However, I was also made aware of others being 'reminded' that the First Minister had 'intervened' with HMRC on behalf of Rangers in their ongoing tax case. I was asked by one visitor to my door, during a lengthy discussion about the vote (my theory being that time spent trying to convert me was time denied to the task of converting others), which team I supported. Living in prime Celtic 'territory' in the East End of Glasgow, I wish I had had sufficient wits about me to answer disingenuously to see where the conversation would have gone. My truthful answer (Kilmarnock) didn't lead anywhere of interest other than some gentle ribbing about not following a 'real' football team. Of course, some of us used to get the same ribbing about not voting for a 'real' political party.

Many, of course, might see the football issue as fair game in Glasgow. Obviously these were local elections about local issues and some may think the Offensive Behaviour Bill and the Rangers tax case as legitimate concerns to voters. Certainly local issues contributed to results in Aberdeen (Union Terrace Gardens) and in Edinburgh (trams) to the benefit, it would appear, of the Labour Party.

The local issue, though, used by Glasgow Labour in a pre-election briefing to the Orange Order will raise many questions about Gordon Matheson, his team and the tactics they were prepared to use to retain power. On the Monday before the election, Matheson effectively prostrated himself (and his Party) before a meeting of the Orange Order and conceded his own policy of restricting marches was wrong. Presumably this volte-face was in Glasgow Labour's election manifesto - I'll search out a couple and check.

Hmmm, perhaps I didn't get the right leaflets through my door - nothing in these about a 'review' of policy on Orange Order marches.

Johann Lamont has made much political capital over the last two weeks by asserting that you learn a lot about the man by the company he keeps. Presumably, then, her warm embrace of Matheson on Friday at the SECC count means she is happy with the company wee Gordon keeps.

This is becoming a pattern where Labour are bent on supporting both sides of an issue.

Obviously we support anti-sectarian legislation but Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is flawed.

Obviously Salmond shouldn't have support of Murdoch; we want him to support us again.

Obviously we oppose Coalition cuts; we'd cut much slower than this.

Obviously we don't like nuclear weapons but it's a dangerous world out there.

Obviously we don't agree with lowering tax on super-rich but we won't support Nationalist motions.

Obviously we hate the Tories but we'll enter into coalitions with them.

Of course the SNP are anti-Catholic (to Celtic fans) and we support the Orange Order (to Rangers fans).

We are Labour. All things to all people. No heart. No principles. Other than the pursuit of power. And more Orange marches in Glasgow.

Labour voters; think about it. Is this the country you want?