30 March 2009

"Nigel Griffiths has a small majority..."

Let me begin by being upfront about one detail: the notion of this man having sex - anywhere, with anyone, however old he is, however youthful they might be - is something I'd prefer not to envisage. The traditional media, however, are doing their weather best not to let something gleefully innocent pass them by without lathering the news cycle in the greasy, comfortable anti-sophistries of tripish troping.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen: its time for another edition of the Catechism of Cliché.
How, in one word ought Mr Griffiths act of coitus in his Commons Office be defined?

A romp.

What species of embarrassment did this "romp" provoke?

A sex shame.
It isn't that I find anything particularly admirable about the whole affair. His sausage-fingered attempt to shut the door on proceedings - only to make his judicial spanking another breath of life - the paltry denials, the cringing submission to ostensibly felt but palpably dishonest "shame".

The point I want to raise is a simple one, but readily overlooked in the apparently serene pleasure of chortling at a tribune with his cock out and his ageing virility pendulously and ludicrously on show. I loathe betrayals. There is nothing smaller or meaner or crapper than a man or woman indulging in fumbling, ill-concealed affairs - all the while fostering the ignorance of their partner and gently excusing themselves on some imagined testosterone-predicated basis. After all, when one considers, even for a moment, how few people truly in life one owes stern moral honesty towards - how little labour that must be in the eddying space of moral emptiness where popcorn monad souls frazzle and crack all around you - to fail is unthinkable, it is lazy and utterly, uttlerly contemptible.

However, who says this is an example of that, necessarily? I suspect it probably is, but have we checked before casting Sally McLaughlin as the shallow-pated, betrayed woman who knew nothing but whose ignorance is now cacklingly and mercilessly draped out in public for all to see? Methinks the answer is no, and that being so - it demonstrates the narrow, nasty side of the "family values" press. Is it impossible their relationship may be governed, freely and in agreement, but alternative sexual norms? If not, why not, such that breezily one could feel free not to explore the possibility.

And here is the nub. Public interest shagging exposés mercilessly replicate dull sexless middle-class stories - where tired fidelity is kept to drab spouses - and the physical act of love itself becomes the object of loathing or contempt. Deeply implicated, here, is the classic Silly Old Man take on it, the lusty quasi-geriatric who makes a fool of himself over a younger, riper partner.

It is that judgement - that hypocritical, body-hating judgement - all of the conservative, assumptive dishonest pictures of family and physicality peddled underneath these tales which bores me rigid and wipes off my smile. It underlay all of the Max Moseley case, that prim frown-faced judgement of the editor which transforms the ordinary into the transgressive - which offers only a relentless conservative vision of life and love.

Of course, per the above, I suspect the blander more likely tale is the one told by the idiots - but these assumption I can't bear.

28 March 2009

Alba's Nashi!

Considering how everyone's favourite bottom-of-the-bottle Scottish Labour MSP - Screaming Lord Foulkes - responded to Scot Rail's innocent Saltire themed design enterprise, imagine what glee he might have had if this headline had read "Salmond Calls for Volunteer Army".

Think of all the happy references he might have made to the Salmond-Jugend, and whatever potato-faced SNP flunky or gormless "kumbaya" social worker was anointed first Reichsjugendführer. Or for more modern resonances, Escotia's "Nashi", Putin's rustic, firm-fetlocked youthful equivalent, which I suspect is simply a fora for horny youths to push their rough hides together, pop the skin of every low-hanging cherry and generally have a jolly, randy old time of it in the sunshine. As well as being vaguely sinister and uniformed. Alas, it was not to be. It is a Labour wheeze. Actually, from spending time with our European chums, I'm aware that this sort of thing - or the hideous prospect of the gloomily servile sentence to National Service - is rather common elsewhere. Indeed, I gather in Israel it is rather traditional to acquire your spouse while under orders.

As if ordered by the benevolent hand of a rational creator, you'll see that transforming the Nashi flag into something more Scottish shouldn't prove terrifically difficult...

27 March 2009

A reformed Baillie: Or to batter no more...

Oh dear.

Per my "exclusive" of last week, reporting that Baillie Bill Aitken MSP - scourge of someone and bastion of petty-bourgeois Glaswegian Conservatism - was boozily denied entry to Glasgow University's Queen Margaret Student Union's "Cheesy Pop" Night - I awaited with bladder-pinching anticipation his treatment of the mooted alcohol strategy of the Scottish Government.

Would he have reformed? Learned from his friday night on the town? The afflicted shouldn't mock, as they say. The pious, to my mind, should eschew rank hypocrisy where possible.

At FMQs on the 26th of February, quoth the People's Baillie:
"The First Minister is perfectly correct to highlight the difficulties that are caused by Scotland's relationship with alcohol. However, does not the First Minister agree that, before bringing in any further ideas—many of which, I say frankly, have been unworkable—it would be much preferable to ensure that the existing law is exercised to its fullest extent, ensuring that prosecutions are brought against those who sell drink to underage people, those who enter licensed premises when drunk, and those who are on licensed premises when drunk? The present levels of prosecution and conviction are derisory."
Come yesterday, had the doughty tribune traded in his old conceptions, having indulged in a spot of "participant observation" with Glasgow's youth? Tragically, apparently not. Resolute little chipper, he is too.

Qua, yesterday 26th March 2009, Bill confided to our rapt assembly... (edited for pith)
"It is an offence to enter licensed premises while drunk or to be in licensed premises while drunk, and it is an offence to serve a drunk person. The number of prosecutions for those offences has been derisory, and only with test purchasing have any significant moves been made to combat underage drinking and the difficulties that it causes....

We have to recognise that problematical drinkers in Scotland represent a minority of the population, and we must take action that is properly targeted and effective.

"We do not want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to have to pay more or suffer as a result of the excesses of a small minority."
Ooo. That is a new category if ever there was one. One is not, now, apparently simply drunk or not drunk - but a "problematic" old lush. No doubt this includes the innocent people's representative who allowed himself - just this once you understand, not often, not several times a year - to overindulge and go tippling one crisp, fresh-spirited Friday evening. As long as one soaks only on and off, however wet one gets on those occasions, it doesn't count.

What happens in Glenrothes, stays in Glenrothes...

The Consensus Lushes...

Just a small thought about the SNP/Lab (So something like Slab, SlaP, the media will call it) coalition which formed for - oh a goodly fifteen minutes yesterday in the Parliament. I recall a while back a journalist comparing Scotland's electoral arithmetic to Germany's, inferring the possibility of a Scottish Grand Coalition. Naturally, this hasn't terribly appealed to either side - more historically minded souls justifying the visceral hatred that tears through both parties as the natural substrate of the Callahan 'no confidence' vote of 1979 and the SNP's role putative role as handmaidens for Margaret Thatcher.

Of course, the fact that both sides are roughly scooping for the same sort of votes - this hardly helps either - creating the dirks-out, haggis-totting atmosphere which seems largely to prevail. Contra this cheery loathing, however, how rational is it, really? While certainly there are divergent goals - Labour seeming to regard any decrease in taxation for anyone as some sort of uncivic theft, obviously the Unionist cladding proving the tightest straight-jacket to unpick - but mostly, as far as I can tell, Labour's disagreements with the SNP are not grounded in principled objections, while contingent practical objections can mostly be smoothed out by a spot of sagacious adjustment.

I would be delighted to be corrected on this point, however, if evidence can be provided. Note to potential respondents: vague, unphilosophical claims that Labour is for "social justice" don't count. We all (or perhaps, almost all) believe in some concept of social justice: unfold their particular conception, their small-fibered definitions. They are what matter.

It is testament, then, to the depth of that gutsy, gusty dislike between the brace of parties - that the agreement(ish) on alcohol strikes the mind as unusual. One gets so fixed on thinking of parliamentary votes in terms of the magic, minimally consensual number of 65. It is easy to forget that all it takes is for the SNP and Labour to reach quiet agreement, and one instantly achieves the dizzy heights of 93 for.

Not, of course, that I'm advocating a Tubby Coalition. However, in this "parliament of minorities" I think we ought to be mindful that mindless opposition, without alternatives, without grounded objections becomes culpable. Along with emancipation from Westminster's style and forms, all of the parties ought to appreciate that no-longer are the opposition simply entitled to shuffle in shabby columns through the "no" corridor out of a vague and unstructured idea that to do so is "Political" and therefore somehow admirable. Labour "noing" has to be unnaturalised, become more politicised, our coverage and analysis more thoughtful.

At least until 2011. Then the Supreme Lecturer only knows what will transpire.

25 March 2009

Vandals/Goodwin

I see - shock horror - that the verbal tarring and feathering which has been administered to plump-pursed Fred Goodwin has prompted a few economic terrorists to enjoy a small bout of havoc at his Edinburgh home. With our horror for public disorder, expect condemnation.

Nevertheless, as a conscientious representative of the sans-culottes - what devoted follower of Robespierre could be otherwise - my mind turned to this scene from Peter Weiss' play Marat/Sade performed by the splendid and sadly deceased Ian Richardson.

Apposite, methinks.

21 March 2009

Baillie on the Batter...

Now, lets be fair. Up front. Disclosing.

I don't approve of tale telling. I don't feel particularly pinched about our tribunes enjoying themselves, but what I observed in Glasgow last night is simply too juicy - and vaguely strange - to pass up reporting.

While cheerfully (and bibulously) toasting the end of term in the West End - I happened to saunter by Queen Margaret's University Union, where the "Cheesy Pop" Night was sweating itself gyratingly towards dawn.

Thinking myself well-acquainted with this type of habitat - and assuming therefore, that I'd be familiar with the animal population which frequented it - imagine my surprise to see a Unionistic pate in the line of emoesque students - discreetly wobbling on its pins, and I daresay, with more than a splash of the drink about the mouth.

Baillie Bill Aitken MSP, some flame-haired damsel in toe - begging admission to the QMU. Hardly marking down the Conservative Justice spokesman as a keen "Cheesy Pop" afficianado - I remonstrated with the tribune, suggesting that this was "hardly the sort of place I imagined Bill Aitken would traditionally frequent."

"I do many surprising things"
quoth the 61 year old disco solicitor, a twinkle in either eye. Good on him.

Imagine my disappointment - if you can - seeing the people's Baillie turned away at the door, his moves unbusted out, snake hips denied the chance to slither. Then again, I gather the QMU have a policy of not admitting the tired or the emotional...

17 March 2009

A progressive conservative agenda...

If one were to attempt to cross the threshold of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee and press your flesh into the discursive space - one could reasonably expect one of the people's tribunes to ask you "are you a stakeholder?" By this, the goodly elected souls would mean: what organisation do you represent, what form of officially sanctioned - and probably not too outlandish creed - do you subscribe? I loathe the self-regarding inwardness of the jargon, the lobby-lobeless expertise-asserting and self-satisfied bourgeois doctrine of NGO professionalism envisaged at times by the notion.

Let me be clear: I don't object in particular to partisan sections of that rough beast "Civic Scotland" rearing up and roaring for its causes. The sense that meaningfulness is exhausted, however, by touring Edinburgh & Glasgow's well meaning moralisers seems to me repugnant - not least because of the strangling toehold Scotland's various noxious religious groups have on this process. We do not, I trust, live in a stakeholderochracy - if you'll forgive a transmuting verbal barbarism.

Nowhere, however, is this pecking priority more visible than in the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, presently in its second stage towards final enactment. While elsewhere I have praised this particular piece of legislative labour - a note of caution needs to be sounded, I think, more generally - about precisely what social outlook our doughty representatives drag - like an outsize and painful haemorrhoid - to Holyrood's committee rooms and chamber.

What do we actually know about the social views of our MSPs? Our First Minister? I recall, vaguely, a piece elsewhere asking this precise question. I remain unaware, increasingly unsatisfied not to know. To pluck an apposite example from the legislative firmament - the "age of consent" question in the ongoing process, squeezing the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill through Holyrood.

Surprise, surprise: the Government shrunk away from pursuing the more spicy theme emerging from the Scottish Law Commission's final report on the subject, determining that children must pertly be discouraged from engaging in sex by sexless adults in grey suits, warned of the evils that lurk, occult, inside the youthful vagina - which is, apparently, cheerfully cast off by achieving the age of majority. Consider another example: Margo's private member's bill on assisted suicide. Time and again, all of our parties shrink away from blistering a bright and liberating spark across Scotland - on and on they replicate careful, dusty, orderly policies - eschewing the radical and the challenging just in case.

Salmond - the Maximum Eck - may yap a good yap - and in many ways for me is a more satisfactory FM than the alternative true-"red" consuls of Clydebank - the endless wobbling dotard gibbet taunters from Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley.

Don't lets dream ourselves into the position, however, of imagining that any of this is particularly radical or interesting. As I've argued heretofore, the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill is a good thing in general terms - more of such labour is needful - but the ruling spirit of the legislation remains a progressive conservative agenda - a commonsensical expansion from feudalism - certainly not a particularly interesting or individualistic response to a creaking, dust-encrusted system of sex laws fit, only perhaps, for a 17th century gentleman and his wife.

At every point, interesting or difficult issues are avoided - and lusty "children" - usually boys - remain criminalised. For me, just another standing testament to the fact that it isn't children who are terrified of sex, but adults - and in their fevered, fitful reflections on the subject, quaking with inadequacy - invent themselves comrades in awkwardness, and thoughtlessly - even with fine consciousness of their own morality - set the wheels of prosecution churning, relentlessly and satisfyingly towards someone else.

I'm not suggesting that any of this is particularly easy or self evident. I'm just bored by how often Holyrood dodges the interesting questions.

Cathecism of Cliché (Higher Education Edition)

How do university vice-chancellors seek higher tuition fees?

They push for them.

Whom do them push?

David Lammy.

What would such an increase represent?

A hike.

The press really do poorly conspire to dramatise bureaucratic exercises. Push me here, pull me there - a sharp hike for all lollygaggers - and a generous pot of debt for every foolhardy cretin who gets A*AA in their A' levels. Given that most of the gurning faced lags of the media are graduates of some character - many of them blessed with three or four years of English literature - the predictable, endless, empty-headed troping is enough to cause one's blood vessels to implode as a consequence of extreme hypotension. Alas, the rumours of my emancipation from extreme busyness have proved grossly overrated. However, I can't resist a small discursive outing in response to the peeping canard of student funding, which has proudly waddled back into the Scots and wider UK political discussions. Via the Numpty - I see that wur ain parliament resolved the aforesaid last week:
That the Parliament recognises the importance of the higher and further education sector; notes the outcome of the New Horizons: responding to the challenges of the 21st century report and the need to involve key stakeholders in discussions about the funding of the university sector; believes that Scotland's students have been let down by the SNP government's failure to deliver on its manifesto pledge to dump student debt; notes the Supporting a Smarter Scotland consultation on student support and rejects all of its proposals for not adequately addressing student hardship; expresses serious concern at reports of childcare and hardship funds being stretched to breaking point across colleges and universities in Scotland; recognises the calls of the NUS and other student representatives for a £7,000 minimum income guarantee but believes that a £7,000 minimum income for all students in Scotland is unachievable with the funds allocated for student support by the Scottish Government in this spending review period, and calls on the Scottish Government to come forward with new proposals that focus the available resources at the poorest students to genuinely address student hardship in Scotland.
Wee Claire Baker referred to "Scotland's poorest students" during the debate. What interests me is quite who these people are, what markers might be used to identify them, and what counts as hardship? From my experience - in the absence of a fat inheritance - students are hardly flush. Governing here, then, is bankers' willingness to shell out to undergraduates in the expectation of the capaciously remunerated character of their future employment - or in alternative social strata - whether parents can be shoehorned into dipping into the family income to fund their kids' education.

While I don't want to minimise the barriers of social capital faced by these "poorest students", from my own experience the principle of parental reliance claims a few scalps of its own to boot. Student loans paid out (at the bottom rate) run to about 900 quid a year, now spread out across the months of term. Enough, round about, to pay for 3 months rent in a student flat in Edinburgh - probably not including the leckie and gas - leaving bugger all for anything else. Implicitly engaged in the calculation was what was described in my day, rather demurely, as a "parental contribution". Folks I've known, for whatever reason, blessed with mean mouthed mothers and fathers - themselves sufficiently flush to stump up, but tight-fistedly refusing to do so - face particular problems. State expectation of continued parental support assumes certain facts to be in evidence in families, another extension of the ongoing responsibilities accruing by consequence of insemination.

I would argue even to try to identify Scotland's poorest students - assuming we are speaking wholly financially - requires an inclusion of some wean's claim against the parental patrimony. Save for the small - probably profoundly small - section of students who have inherited - we are all asset and income poor.

Progressive, Hum?

Whilst binarising to progressive/conservative isn't terribly to my tastes - according to the Centre for American Progress I am 275/400, and get the gratifying shoulder squeeze of being advised that I am "very progressive" compared to my fellow Americans.

"Yes I can", I suppose?

13 March 2009

Menzies "the Licensee" Campbell

For those with ears to hear public caterwauling, Ming Campbell lost much of his attraction once he tottered to the helm of the Liberal Democrat sloop and laid a veiny paw on the woodwork. His Question Time appearances would never be the same again. Opportunities, many might think, for a distinguished obscurity and a learned oblivion were missed. By laying his liver-spotted fin on the steering mechanisms, poor Ming's credibility was totally shot through.

Not me, however. My interest fizzled out when I learned that this "elder statesperson", prone to prosing on matters international and indulging in stultifying rhetoric absorbed at the dusted knee of Edinburgh's Faculty of Advocates - made a habit of appearing in licensing cases. For me, the vision of a Great Man died moments later. A soul with philosophy on its tongue and in its head couldn't trouble itself with such things. Nor, as it transpired, could he work out how to work the Liberal Democratic tiller.

I was interested then, to see that apparently he objects to the Clinton/Salmond moment, inventively, originally and insipidly insisting "This is no time for a novice." The next bit, I thought, at least had the benefit of a healthy dose of condescension:
"These are difficult times, they require experience and sophistication –and its best to leave it to those who have both these qualities."
Quite who the Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP MA LLB LLD is referring to here is something of a mystery to me - although no doubt he includes some healthy self portrait in this indulgent picture of the gerontocratic hero of our time. Of course, what is touching about the suggestion is that at least our dear Licensee admits that the Maximum Eck's meetings are significant enough to go significantly wrong. Sounds like progress to me. Nevertheless, I must confess a sneaking suspicion of agreement with the first part of this small stiletto to the spleen-

"Menzies Campbell sounds like a pompous ass. He has never been in office in his life, and was so bad as Liberal leader that he wasn't even allowed to fight a general election. For the few dozen Liberal delegates who were there to hear him, this was less Ming the Merciless, more Ming the Meaningless – the Liberals are in such a bad way they can't even think of their own silly jibes anymore. His daft and negative remarks indicate exactly why the Liberals are in such a parlous state in Scotland, struggling to get into double figures in the polls."
Surely there's some small licensing dispute in Falcrack or Buckie which the tremulous old cove could shabbily resolve? Play to one's strengths, darling.

Stick to licensing.

"Dundee, no more..."

You'd have to be heartless not to find this vaguely amusing.

What timing poor Gordon has.

12 March 2009

Head planted in the elephant's colon of effort...

Hideous quantities of work distracting me at present. I hope to excise my napper from the capacious confines of the proverbial heffalump's digestive tract of helotry imminently.

Abnormal service shortly to be restored.

8 March 2009

"Defend the children of the poor & punish the wrongdoer..."

So reads the inscription above the main entrance to London's Old Bailey.

It is not my intention to address the Brandon Muir case particularly - or any other individual set of appalling facts or circumstances. Any comment I could make on such matters would, of necessity, be rather ill informed. Nevertheless, I noticed that Iain Gray MSP used his conference speech to raise the issue:
"And a child born today will not live and grow as they should unless they live and grow in safety. Brandon Muir died in Dundee. But this was not only Dundee’s tragedy. We must all take responsibility. And we shall."
He continued:
"We will press the Scottish government to legislate, as we had planned to do, to require the sharing of information between agencies for child protection purposes. No child’s life should slip through the bureaucratic net. We will demand that action is taken to identify the 40,000 – 60,000 children living with drug addicted parents, and the 80 – 100,000 children who live with alcohol addicted parents. And if the SNP government do not respond then we will consider how we can introduce the necessary legislation ourselves from opposition. And Conference I think the time has come to re-examine when and how we remove a child from their home to keep them safe."
I would want to highlight one crucial dimension to all of this which is too readily neglected: the ugly class dynamic underwriting some of the analysis. Manufactured outrage about social workers aside - we must address these issues in the real world, and not abstract dream systems where information magically filters out. How is knowledge about the internal workings of households uncovered? How should it be? How should it not be done?

Don't lets pretend any of these things is self evident. For all of the cameras, churning out gurning footage of many of us, tramping the public quarters of our towns and cities - Big Brother isn't watching. But nor, I think, would we want that aforementioned bureaucratic net to become a universal noose - the parental head perpetually wagging in its grip. Nonsense, it might be argued, scare tactics and worse, followed by an conscientious invocation of how nothing can be risked when a child's life is at issue or under threat. In a sense, respondents who took this line would be quite correct - that netting of public oversight wouldn't effect everyone - for the middle classes it could prove a light - even non existent gauze. What Gray is referring to - and the ugly sub-current eddying beneath media discussions about these issues - is the tacitly class-based analysis.

Those in sickly poverty should present themselves at the counter for perpetual examination - their bodies and souls being uniquely accessible in a way which an appalling abusive lush who maintains a veneer (or creosote coat) of respectability from Newton Mearns or Morningside - would not suffer. At every point the media conspire to demean and cheapen the lives of those in poverty. While the middle classes have partners, girlfriends, boyfriends - the poor have lovers - rendering even the most ordinary and tender parts of people's lives lurid and squalid if they do not fit the dreams of an idling and self indulgent bourgeoisie.

These issues are intimately involved in public discourses around child abuse and child cruelty, however little we may choose to address them. Although some might see the questions paling beside the dreadful sight of a small coffin being consigned to the earth - we cannot let horror blind us - and cannot let the bad acts of one bad man or woman provide the principled basis for a complex edifice of social judgement. To adapt a legal phrase somewhat, "hard cases make bad law" - horrid cases can equally prompt horrid, intrusive and patronising social agendas.

I am interested in what anyone else thinks about some of these issues.

Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira?

Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira, Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
Et leur infernale clique And their infernal clique
Au diable s’envolera. Shall go to hell
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
les aristocrates à la lanterne! aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
les aristocrates on les pendra! the aristocrats, we'll hang them!
Et quand on les aura tous pendus And when we'll have hung them all
On leur fichera la pelle au cul We'll stuff a spade up their arse

Continued droplets of coverage concerning Mike Rumbles' amendment of earlier this week, sticking a marlin spike into the soft, glistening underbelly of the argument for a referendum on Scotland's constitutional life by:
“{calling} on the Scottish Government to concentrate its efforts on economic recovery and abandon its divisive plans for a Referendum Bill for the remainder of its term of office.”
I choose my words carefully - just as Mr Rumbles judiciously selected his. What is the issue here? Ought the debate centrally to focus on the legitimacy or otherwise of national self determination - or ought the gorgon-attentions of public strife to squint instead at an alternative point - what role the public ought to have in setting that agenda and resolving the questions? One doesn't have to be determinedly subtle to see that the two threads weave in and out of one another, and that antipathy to the notion of Scotland as a new state need not entail hostility to the latter.

My question, centrally, is this: how frantic and vexed are the public apt to be about what Kenny Farquaharson describes as a "cosy political stitch-up – which is little more than a happy coincidence of self-interest"? If one asks the public, it seems apparent that most are happy to don the mantle of judgement, and would be quite happy to swing their gavels with great force, if given the opportunity. Rather more difficult to resolve, however, is how insulting not being asked will prove in the 2011 analysis. We can be certain that the Maximum Eck will crease his folds with raging denunciation - channelling John Knox's old villain spirit - dreaming that he is an Old Testament prophet with a droplet of acid on his tongue. Those who feel particularly ardently about this will undoubtedly hark to the bark and scratch out the voting 'x' where indicated. But more timid souls, who like a small Unionist parp on and off? I remain unsure how that demographic will respond to Salmond's argument - if they will respond at all.

Certainly, it hardly casts the Unionist scallcrows in a particularly attractive light - and smells of a sort of self satisfied tyranny that knows best what the public ought to swallow - and teacherly - chastises and corrects in the face of childish flirtation with constitutional revolution.

But à la lanterne for the tribunes of the plebs? Should we be sharpening our spades by consequence? Chortling with sans culotte glee?

I remain unconvinced.

5 March 2009

A spanking from Doctor...

After a brief frolicking period away from my gummy, coffee-stained keyboard - tentatively roaming the Oxfordshire countryside and admiring the ludicrous elephant that props up the town's coat of arms - I was reduced to reading of matters Scottish via that benighted lens: the UK press. And, cheer be, the beer goggles are on again. As a juvenile tippler myself, it is with a foam of alcoholic happiness that I see the proposed age shifts for early evening looting of off licences have been finally tipped into the scummy trough, to be ruminatingly supped at no more. On the more substantive point, I am in at least three minds about the alcohol proposals. Thus, I too, shamelessly – and with a gallant, brandy-bodied gambol – will evade the substantive point and pluck on a thread fingered by Ms Dugdale from atop her proverbial sudsquare.

I read with interest, along with Ms Dugdale, that Nicola was strapped to the prow of the legislative ship, or at least had been carved into a fetching Janus-ish Justice-Health Minister alongside the typically disordered and gusty Kenny MacAskill. Although I see some small poo-pooing comments on her blog, I agree with her – the inclusion of the health angle is curious.

I must confess, Kezia is someone I rather regret. I want to feel significantly more sympathy for her than I do, cramped as she must be beneath the grey-flecked, perspiring oxter of Screaming Lord Foulkes. She’s clearly no numpty, and is of a mind to have a somewhat open mind. And then, cowled and cudchewing – the shriek seems to sound in the blogging equivalent of her red-painted belly – and from the blogging equivalent of her throat - there suddenly emanates a poignard-pointed croak, filthy black-biled stuff of little illumination, sluggish consistency, brazenly partisan in the least charming fashion conceivable. It must be a trial being a Labour apparatchik.

Nevertheless, I’ve never quite understood the appeal of Kenny MacAskill. The flickering note of doubt is largely his own breathsome, staggering capacity to speak without apparently reviewing his vocabulary or sentence construction – a burbling gutter of words. And he says “matters”. A lot. But back to the point. Why the health angle? Basically, from a strategic perspective, it’s a classic piece of manipulation. Of all of the justifying bases for constricting the alcohol supply in public discourse – the allure of the white-coat rectitude – the charisma of Dr Knows, if you will – is a powerful expert system folk find it difficult consciously to refute. Most people don’t have the skills, training etcetera to evaluate the rightness or otherwise of medical claims. More political – and under this head, I would include strictly justice matters – are far more amenable to a construction which every Tom, Dick, Harry, Irma, Isa and Isobel can comment on. Although few people might be wholly au faix with the criminal justice system, it has an accessibility which medicinal ordinances seem gracefully to avoid.

They don’t succeed, in point of fact – and the ultimate decision must be made on social values and a social computation – on which issue, as I mention, I am conscientiously triune. Tactically, however, attempting to frame the issue – with a potent health basis may be a cunning move.

2 March 2009

The general and the particular...

Harriet Harman's comments on the BBC have been well-covered in the press today and yesterday. She is being liberally peppered with the wholly legitimate scorn of many commentators.

What concerns me is the interaction between the unappealing particular - the strangely unctuous looking Fred Goodwin - and the presumably general form of any proposed legislation. Since it seems unlikely, even when one is indulging in conscious legislative smallness, that the text of the putative Fred Goodwin Pension (Removal) Bill will read:
"All contractual obligations accruing to the aforesaid Fred Goodwin esq. (to be defined in Schedule 2: Definitions) in respect of the Royal Bank of Scotland plc shall hereby be rendered unenforceable."
Rather more likely, any such bill would assume a general form, giving some obligation defusing power to a secretary of state in particular circumstances. It is the only thing which could make the legislate-and-grab proposition seem remotely decorous - by concealing the narrow particular in the haughty certainty of legal universals.

As such, even if some people might have a chortle at Goodwin's bank balance shrinking like a cold scrotum - one must keep an eye to more general consequences - and the strong probability that any enactment will not only permit Fred's pension to be cropped, but heaven knows what else.

1 March 2009

The Incredible Unionist Cap...

Incredible to see today that the Sunday Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph haven't bothered to cover or comment upon the news, publicised by the Herald yesterday that the Liberal Democrats failed to stitch together their submission to the Calman Commission on time - and that the Conservatives weren't bothering their posteriors either way on the issue.

Willful wall-to-wall silence about the ostensibly incompetent spirit ruling what is often presented - in my view erroneously - as the key engine of constitutional change in Scottish politics today. Imagine, if you will, a symmetrical Scottish Nationalist screw up on a similar scale - or if the government behaved with the bland indifference towards their own policy which the hopscotch Conservative and Unionist Party seems to be indulging in - would a discreet press cap be placed over the dangling embarrassment? Think at least of the cost. If the Tories were contented well enough with the prevailing legal framework - why spend all that money to find that out? One does not need a squadron of dozy Commissioners to manage the inertia.

So why leave all of this unsaid? Whatever one's position on Scotland's "place in the United Kingdom" - etcetera - shouldn't the public be informed, considering that we pay for the Commissions activities and it was constituted under the auspices of the Parliament? It is difficult to see how the absence of coverage cannot be construed as a conscious silence - a generous gift to proponents of continued Union - and something of a fraud on the public.

Could it be that yon chapeau - its editorial ticket tucked jauntily beneath the brim - gingerly conceals its silky Union-Jack-stamped lining?