Monday, 30 March 2015

Breaking Barriers

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The A4ES blog site crashed through another big barrier the other day and has now recorded 1.5 million visitors.

Intriguingly this happened on the same day that North Lanarkshire Council finally agreed to face up to its obligations over equal pay.  

Which is very appropriate, don't you think?

Red Letter Days (26 March 2014)

I came across this post from the blog site while looking for something else, but it's interesting to note that the first 500,000 visitors to the A4ES blog site took five years - whereas the next 500,000 took less than six months.

As of March 2014 the number of visitors to the blog site is 1.03 million - and counting.

Red Letter Day (27 March 2012)

Today is a Red Letter Day.

Because later today sometime the number of visitors to the blog site will crash through the 500,000 barrier.

Now I don't know if I'll still be writing the blog site long enough to reach another big milestone of let's say 1 million visitors.

But it has been a very interesting and rewarding experience, so far.

Because without Action 4 Equality Scotland I think it's fair to say that equal pay would still be dead in the water.

To my mind the all too cosy relationship between the council employers and the trade unions had managed to stifle and strangle the fight for equal pay to such an extent that nothing was happening.

Despite all kinds of promises the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in Scotland had not been implemented - vital deadlines came and went without a fuss on either side.

The council employers and the trade unions just turned a blind eye to the big and ongoing pay gap - between traditional male and female jobs.

No one struck a blow in anger, threatened industrial action or forced the issue by taking legal action in the Employment Tribunals.

Until Action 4 Equality Scotland came along in 2005 that is - then things finally started to change.

To my mind the council employers and the trade unions should both be ashamed of their behaviour, not least because council budgets in Scotland doubled in size during the ten years up to 2007.

So the truth is that what really thwarted the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in Scotland's councils was not a lack of money or resources.

But a lack of political will on the part of the council employers and the trade unions some of whom are still joined at the hip, politically speaking.

Accidents Will Happen

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Philip Collins wrote a perceptive argument for The Times the other day in which he highlighted the fact that by accident rather than design a Conservative chancellor has ended up in exactly the position advanced by the Labour Party back in 2010, at least as far as public spending is concerned.

If you ask me there's some real truth in the argument that the electorate believes the Tories are more likely to take tough decisions and are therefore competent in terms of running the economy, but that they'd like a more cohesive overall approach. 

Osborne: a Tory carrying out Labour policies 

By Philip Collins - The Times
The chancellor has turned failure into success by stealing the opposition’s clothes and passing them off as his own

This is an election to produce nightmares and George Osborne’s task in the budget was to make his colleagues sleep more easily. Scare stories haunt the Tory party as the polls sit stubbornly still. The outcome that keeps them in suspense runs as follows.

The Tories run a campaign on economic authority, which, to their own satisfaction, they win comfortably. The prime minister, an unloved but respected figure, puts the central case: “We’ve started a job together. With your will, we shall go on and finish the job.” Labour campaigns on the promise of a “shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families”. Occasionally, the issue of renegotiating Britain’s place in Europe and subjecting the result to a referendum intrudes.

Nationalist parties of all kinds perform well and the two main parties poll an unusually low percentage of the vote. In the tangled mess, Labour wins the most seats in parliament even though the Tories win the popular vote. An abortive attempt to construct a Tory and Liberal coalition falls victim to the arithmetic and Labour takes office as a minority administration looking to govern with the episodic aid of the Liberals and the Scottish National Party.

That is not just the modern Tory’s bad dream. It is an account of the general election of February 1974, the template for how it goes awry for the Conservatives. There is one detail on which the parallel does not hold. The party seeking a referendum on Europe was Labour. Apart from that, the Tories, screaming with heads in hands, can see David Cameron playing Ted Heath and Ed Miliband, the new Harold Wilson, installing a second kitchen in 10 Downing Street.

The distant echo of 1974 is no beautiful augury for Labour either. A thin victory in February led to a second election in October and, thereafter, five years of dismal industrial relations that tarred the Labour party as unelectable for a generation. In his budget on Wednesday, Mr Osborne made a few gratuitous references to Fran├žois Hollande but Labour should be more wary of late-period Wilson. As well as late-period Neil Kinnock, of course. Labour hopes the election will not play out like 1992, when an expected victory dissolved in the final days. But Mr Osborne has shown that he is living in neither 1974 nor 1992. He is going to party like it’s 1999. If there are parallels in previous elections, the budget is a portent of 2001.

The crucial item in the budget was Mr Osborne’s sotto voce confession that the autumn statement was a mistake. His plans last year were to produce a surplus of £23 billion by 2019. This had allowed Labour to say that the Tories were taking provision of services down to a level last seen in the low, dishonest decade of the 1930s. Rather spooked by the connotations, Mr Osborne altered his plan, choosing to “spend” money that, by his own magic, he had created in the first place and thereby ensuring that, in 2019, spending will be 36 per cent of GDP, the same figure it was under Gordon Brown in 2000.

The 2001 election was a contest the British people could have done without. The campaign produced the habitual sound and fury, quite literally in the case of John Prescott, who took to punching the electorate. Labour’s campaign slogan, though, was a functional but inspiring “A lot done; a lot still to do” and the country recorded an almost identical verdict to 1997. This is the campaign the Tories will fight, with the hope of the same result.

This is why Mr Osborne had to go rapidly into reverse. In a steady-as-she-goes election you do not wish to be branded an ideologue. Fortunately, nobody turns failure into success more cutely than Mr Osborne. You may recall that he spent a couple of years saying there would be no economic Plan B which, when it appeared, had two elements — a big infrastructure plan and a blanket denial that this amounted to a Plan B.

Mr Osborne understandably forgot to mention his failures on Wednesday so it is only fair that I make good the omission. Besides, he is a politician who is best understood by the story he strings together from his defeats. Mr Osborne did not say that, on his original plans, the deficit should have disappeared by now. He forgot to admit that he was reinstating a target he had abandoned because, now he had some assets to sell, he could see a way to hit it.

Mr Osborne did not chant, as he incited his pantomime audience to sing along, two important facts about the meagre recovery: “Productivity Down! Immigration Up!” It must have slipped his mind that the deficit in the balance of payments is the worst in peace time since 1830. Cutting the data to suit himself, he failed to point out that the bottom 40 per cent of the income scale has taken the same share of the burden of austerity as the top 60 per cent.

Mr Osborne was the chancellor who believed in all manner of impossible things before breakfast. The sums Mr Osborne did in 2010 added up only if each of the following three years saw the largest rise in business investment on record and the best year for export growth since the nightmare year of 1974. Instead, we got a recovery based on household debt, consumer spending and government schemes to stimulate the housing market, a glass menagerie of a recovery, both precious and fragile at the same time. Mr Osborne must be tempted to head to the Foreign Office after the election and let Sajid Javid clear up the mess that is accumulating.

That’s the bitter fruit of victory. For the moment, through the smoke, a grinning Mr Osborne is visible in the mirrors. After declaring Alistair Darling’s plan for deficit reduction would turn London into Athens, Mr Osborne has actually carried it out by accident. Labour has been right on the deficit all along and Ed Balls is right now. The implied cuts to the police, defence and border control in Mr Osborne’s revised projections are too severe. Already, by the end of 2015, they will have been cut by 30 per cent. To try the same again will mark the outer limit of public acceptance of austerity and Mr Osborne, if he is still in situ, will revert once again to Labour spending plans.

The opinion polls are locked because neither party offers what a plurality wants, which is the Labour party, led by Tories. The sum total of his many failures, allied to a flinty political will which is a genuinely rare political virtue, is that George Osborne has turned into a Tory man carrying out Labour measures, the best chancellor Labour doesn’t have. The sort of chancellor Labour had in the year 2001.

Elvis Costello

When I wrote my post about 'Accidents Will Happen' I was reminded about the track of the same name by Elvis Costello from 1979.

The Invisible Man

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The Guido Fawkes web site ran a funny piece the other day which contained a wide selection of Labour election materials featuring the same glaring omission - the party leader, Ed Miliband. 

Now if this phenomenon was occurring only in Scotland I could well understand, because even David Cameron is more popular north of the border than Ed Miliband.

But across large swathes of England the Labour leader seems to have turned into the 'Invisible Man' as far as many Labour candidates are concerned.


The excellent ElectionLeaflets.Org allows voters to upload and monitor the gazillions of leaflets currently being stuffed through letterboxes up and down the country as polling day approaches. Flicking through the site, Guido was struck by something:
Where’s Ed Miliband on all the Labour leaflets?

Voting Fodder

The Herald reports that the Labour Party is continuing to lose credibility in Scotland which doesn't surprise me because I think that increasing numbers of voters realise that the most likely way to secure real change at Westminster is to elect MPs who are prepared to stand up for Scottish interests over party interests. 

Home rule for Scotland, a federal system of government across the UK, proportional voting at Westminster, abolition of the House of Lords and the use of referendums to decide on big policy issues: all of these and more are much more likely to happen with a strong contingent of SNP MPs instead of the usual suspects, also known as Scottish Labour voting fodder.  

Poll: voting gap between SNP and Labour is widening

The SNP has been boosted by a new poll which reveals continuing strong support for independence and the party in the run up to the General Election.

The survey of 1,027 over-16s found SNP support is up by two points at 47 per cent, with Labour down one on 26 per cent. The Tories have gained one point and stand at 16 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on four per cent, down one point.
On the issue of independence, 45 per cent said that they would vote Yes, compared to 43 per cent for No.  More than 11 per cent of people questioned by the Survation/Daily Record poll between March 12 to 17 were either undecided, or declined to answer.
Former First Minister Alex Salmond, addressing an event in the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow to mark his new book, said: "The General Election on May 7 is about who is trusted to represent Scotland's interests at Westminster and the fact that only four percent of Scots trust the LibDems will make for depressing reading for Nick Clegg and the LibDems."

Named and Shamed

The Daily Record reports on the naming and shaming of a moron from Tranent, Marc Hughes, over his cowardly comments on Twitter.

So well done to Ruth Davidson for standing up to this kind of nonsense and to Nicola Sturgeon for acting swiftly to condemn Hughes' behaviour and suspend him from the SNP.  

Pictured: The cybernat troll suspended by SNP over homophobic rant against Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson

By Mark McGivern - The Daily Record

VICIOUS Marc Hughes, 45, was condemned after subjecting the Scottish Tory leader to vile homophobic abuse on Twitter.

Marc Hughes called Ruth Davidson to apologise after outrage over his remarks

A CYBERNAT internet troll has been thrown out of the SNP after a vile homophobic rant against Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson.

Vicious Marc Hughes, 45, was widely condemned after tweeting the obscene remarks.

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed action had been taken, telling MSPs at First Minister’s Questions yesterday that the culprit had been “identified and suspended from membership of the SNP”.

She had earlier tweeted: “Homophobic abuse of @RuthDavidsonMSP or anyone else is unacceptable. End of. Anyone engaging in it is no friend of my party.”

Hughes, of Tranent, East Lothian, posted under the user name @Sparkybhoyhh and the pseudonym Laird O’Callaghan.

Davidson, who is gay, tackled the abuse by tweeting: “Nice. Classy. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Bet she’s proud of you.”

As the storm of protest grew, Hughes phoned Davidson to apologise. He also renamed and later removed his account.

He tweeted: “She has generously accepted my sincere apology, so can we please move on.”

PA - Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson

Hughes told reporters he was sorry but claimed he could not remember making the comments.

Davidson said she accepted the apology as he had shown “genuine contrition and says he won’t make anti-gay statements again”.

She thanked those who came to her defence, adding: “I call out a selection of the homophobic abuse I receive because people – especially young people – need to know that they don’t have to just sit there and take it.”

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Shaking Up Politics

I agree with the thrust of this article from the BBC in which Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, argues that the UK's crumbling political institutions are in desperate need of an overhaul.

The obvious changes to make are to get rid of the unelected House of Lords and introduce a system of proportional voting for the House of Commons so that Westminster becomes a properly representative national parliament which it's not at the moment, of course.

Now that would be a good start, but the only way it will happen is if Labour and the Tories are not in the driving seat because the establishment parties have too many vested interests in keeping things just the way they are.  

Nicola Sturgeon: UK 'needs an overhaul'

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she has "clear and constructive views" on many policies that affect the whole of the UK

The SNP could help overhaul the UK's "crumbling" institutions, Scotland's first minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon told students at the London School of Economics that her party could work to bring "positive change across the UK".

Recent polls have led to speculation that the SNP could hold the balance of power following May's election.

Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls has described talk of a coalition with the SNP as "nonsense".

Ms Sturgeon's speech at the London School of Economics set out her approach to tax and spend in areas such as Trident nuclear weapons, the North Sea oil and gas industry and the work allowance.

New study

The speech, which came ahead of Wednesday's budget, also contained a pledge that the SNP would serve not only Scotland's interests, but those of the whole of the UK.

Labour has downplayed speculation that it could enter a coalition or "confidence and supply" arrangement with the SNP if there was no outright winner on 8 May.

Appearing on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Balls was repeatedly asked to rule out a deal.

He told the programme the SNP, which campaigns for Scottish independence, "wants to break up the United Kingdom" and could not "stand up for the whole of the UK".

"We don't want any deal with the SNP, it's not part of our plans, it's nonsense," Mr Balls added.

Ms Sturgeon's speech on Monday morning came as a new study suggested a majority of people in the UK believe Scotland will become an independent country despite the "No" vote in last year's referendum.

Ms Sturgeon said the Palace of Westminster was in a "dilapidated condition"

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh said 69% of people in Scotland believed there would be a split, while 59% of those surveyed in England, 54% in Wales and 59% in Northern Ireland thought that Scotland would eventually leave the UK.

The findings were from a survey of more than 7,000 voters across Britain.

In her speech, Ms Sturgeon argued that the UK's most powerful institutions were crumbling and needed urgent reform, and said the SNP could help to overhaul them.

And she said the UK Parliament's "arcane" processes and headline-grabbing surprises "often limit debate on genuinely complex issues".

She said: "The Palace of Westminster is in such a dilapidated condition. Its fabric is crumbling, some areas are prone to flooding and other parts haven't been properly refurbished for generations.

"It's not just the building that needs to be overhauled. It's the institutions."
Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls said his party had no plans to go into coalition with the SNP

The first minister also said: "The process UK governments follow now allows virtually no time for proper deliberation or consultation.

"That problem is made worse by the way in which successive governments have approached the Budget.

"Chancellors take pride in pulling rabbits out of the hat. Surprises are seen as a virtue. They help to create headlines and wrong-foot the opposition.

"It's much more difficult for that to happen in Scotland. The Scottish government has to publish a detailed draft budget each September, four months before the budget bill is laid before parliament."

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that "none of this is easy" and that "neither my party or my government has all of the answers, far from it, but we know we need to try and we do want to be part of that effort."

And she pledged: "If we get the opportunity we intend to be constructive voice in the months and years ahead. We won't just serve Scotland's interests, although we will most certainly do that.

"But we will seek to do more than that if we get the opportunity, we will also seek to play our part in bringing about positive, long lasting and progressive change right across the UK."

Public funding

This was Ms Sturgeon's second high-profile speech in London in recent weeks.

Last month at University College London she attacked the "austerity economics" of the main Westminster parties and called for an extra £180m in public funding to be made available.

Responding to the speech, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was "farcical" for the first minister to claim that the SNP would bring positive change for the whole UK.

He said: "It is farcical to suggest a party which is sworn to break up the UK would be capable of bringing positive change for the UK.

"If the first minister's idea of positive change is breaking NHS waiting time targets, increasing school class sizes and misjudgements on the economy then I suspect people will reject her plans."